This Moment of Pres.Obama’s visit to the Dorchester Education Complex is pregnant with significance
The following was written by Dorchester Academy teacher Andrea Doremus Cuetara (firstname.lastname@example.org) and is shared with her permission:
This moment of President Obama’s visit to the Dorchester Education Complex March 8th is SO PREGNANT WITH MEANING AND SIGNIFICANCE for our most challenged “failing” schools throughout the country. There needs to be equal responsibility taken. If our system has been able to create a shining Tech Boston (and honest congratulations to them!)…it is our system that has also produced her lame half-sister “Dorchester Academy,” the other school in the building who is now hidden away from view in the attic. It is our whole system – a plurality of factors – that has produced this inequity, and NOT just because of bad teachers and the Unions, as ed “reformers” from NYC, to Los Angeles, to Providence and Wisconsin are trying to portray it.
The PR backlash seemed ripe on Tuesday, for a very powerful media story, but most likely everyone was counting on what will actually happen….NOTHING. Our staff at DA, our students, our community will just be quiet and go about our business. We are a marginalized, disenfranchised community, we are being treated that way, and we will comply and simply act that way, as well.
Why does one group of students in a building, who are basically all the SAME students, get so much?! (by the luck of the draw — they had someone who advocated to get them into Tech Boston), and ANOTHER group of students go through 4 Principals in 6 years; have some of their best teachers and cherished/much-needed support-staff shipped off to other schools (over and over again…it has been very painful); have guidance and support staff for almost the same number of students be cut from 8 positions to 4 and have to lose 15+ of those individual people over 7 years; not have adequate technology to even have regular ACCESS to a student computer lab, much less a personal, individual computer?; have the In-Focus that was in my room for 3 years be removed, and over the summer a ceiling-hung mounting site built for a promised projector, but it is mid-March and I still haven’t received one (1/2 our teachers received them) (this is starting to dramatically improve in the right direction); not have decent textbooks in a whole number of classes (this is inconsistent and improving); not have all teachers been told what they are expected to teach (this is dramatically improving) or been informed about system-wide teaching resources that are easily available; constant shifts in course load, so summer-planning is perhaps a useless luxury; classrooms switched around repeatedly; be a last stop dumping ground for a few Union teachers who have been evaluated out of other schools, who are sometimes a little crazy; have decent teachers be targeted and evaluated in a negative way, or just shipped off, by administrators who want to “get rid of them” for personal or political reasons; be a dumping ground for many, many students who are way over grade level (16 and 18 year-old 9th graders), have 3rd and 5th grade reading levels, and/or have long histories of mental illness, petty crimes and/or violence and have therefore been recently released from DYS facilities showing up to well-gelled and humming classrooms with no warning or preparation or psycho-social support, only to wreak havoc for a few days (or weeks). Why???
Everyone acknowledges that we get some of the students that “Tech Boston” needs to kick out. Because Tech Boston feels they will not be successful there. And many of DA’s most motivated kids manage to transfer to Tech Boston. Every year, we receive a whole bunch of students from all the “elite” schools and the charter schools who just have not been able to make it and then get kicked out: Tech Boston, Boston Arts Academy, the MATCH School, The METCO program, the exam schools – BLA, BLS, O’Bryant….
And we welcome them. Because OUR KIDS ARE GREAT, and smart and amazing and wonderful, they really are, and we are committed teachers (ALL of our staff and administration). There will always be kids who have special needs. There needs to be a place for them, and WE COULD BE THAT PLACE. But then plan, and design, and staff, and fund, and structure a school in a common sense way that will truly provide these students with the clear and appropriate support resources that will ensure them success. My understanding is our school is changing and being restructured to perhaps address some of these needs! Start by not going through 8 guidance counselors in 7 years, and just as many (8) “deans of discipline” (whatever is the current title they give them).
The problem is NOT about money (though having it definitely helps). Along with carefully and creatively planned, scaffolded, differentiated, student-centered, workshop model curriculum……the solution is good, strong, honest “I know I can count on you,” relationships between all members of the community. What our students need most of all are consistent relationships with adults who know THEM and believe in THEM to live up to high expectations. Adults who create, understand and enforce the stated agreements, and do what they say they are going to do (just like a successful family, I guess). And due to a multiplicity of causes (a small part of those being Union rules, but mostly administration-driven staff-scattering and program-smashing directives, as well as repeatedly inadequate support services and early identification safety nets), we have just not had that community in this building, on a regular basis, for the seven years that I have been here. And THAT is the major problem. My hunch is this is a similar problem in “failing” schools across the country. I know for sure that high-stakes testing, simply longer in-class hours and punitive, adversarial, manipulative, lying, self-serving, oppositional attitudes and actions between administration and teachers is definitely not the solution.
The contrast between the schools is so stark, and therefore obvious. For 5 years I have been resorting to hyperbole and calling it “apartheid.” It has been obvious apartheid in our building for many years and now, the President of our country has come here….
And THAT is the question that President Obama SHOULD be asking. THAT question is what I wish was the focus of Tuesday’s speech. THAT is why I worked hard, like many Union teachers around the country, to elect Mr. Obama because I thought he would ask that question.
Why is there such a difference between our two schools? What does it take to build a successful school? And what does it take to destroy a successful program? If we could look at the story of these two schools, we have a playbook for what it takes to change and fix public education in our country.
I don’t blame any one individual or even group for what is happening in our building, but our situation is the same and what is real across the country in many and all public school systems, and it is THAT which I wish Mr. Obama was choosing to focus on when he arrives on Tuesday.
My quote: “And now we are the Cinderella sister who can’t even be OPEN, just running as a school with regular classes for our students, but shut down and hidden from view, our kids sent home, while the shining prince comes to town. Seems like a PR nightmare to me, frankly. And as teachers of our dear students, we are being ordered to just be quiet and not even talk to each other or the media about it, and to just let this happen. Seems sad and odd, I think.”
Of course he can’t, because of the nature of media and political discourse. Barack Obama cannot deal in the whole truth because he is forced to DEFEND, DEFEND, DEFEND and SPIN, SPIN, SPIN from the onslaught of lies and distortions from the opposing political party, because of deadening financial constraints due to the “economic crisis,” and powerful interests within the “education establishment” that want to promote their own “reform” agenda (that they believe in) and want to blame (and destroy) the Union rights and normal worker benefits of experienced, dedicated and hard-working teachers.
But I wish it were the regular people/folks from both parties who would just rise up and demand a stop to the ridiculousness and demand an honest and common sense discourse about the real problems with public education in this country. Like in Egypt. Like in Libya. Like in Sudan. It is not rocket science.