Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Board of Ed Votes to Redistrict

The Board of Education voted tonight to accept three of four recommendations from the Ad Hoc Feasibility Committee:

1. The proposed attendance boundaries were accepted (see map here).
2. 4th graders have the option to stay at their current school if parents provide their own transportation and notify the administration of their decision to stay by May 15, 2010.
3. The BOE directed the Superintendent to establish uniform school welcoming and supporting policies that all schools will use to integrate new families into the school community.
4. The proposal to establish a new committee to study other JCJ recommendations was tabled until the next BOE meeting. Multiple board members wanted a chance to decide what they want this new committee to do.

During the public session, many parents bemoaned their lack of choice about where to send their child to school. Several argued that all children should have the choice to be grandfathered (not just 4th graders). Many also complained that their children would not handle change well, and that it didn't make any sense to move when their children were well adjusted and happy. Still others argued that they had bought specific homes in specific parts of town for specific schools, and it was unfair for the school board to suddenly change attendance lines.

On the other side of the spectrum, Ed McKeon (speaking as a parent of 7 year old twins) commented that Middletown's goal should be to have the best school system in the state. "We're not there yet, but this plan is a step in the right direction...we have to do it because it's the best for all our kids." A Macdonough parent and PTA member urged other parents to "make this a teachable moment...your child will do what you do...change is as hard as you make it." She challenged parents to visit Macdonough and to "check us out" because the PTA is doing everything it can to make new families feel welcome. Izzie Greenberg, Director of the North End Action Team (NEAT) and one of the Ad Hoc Committee members, rejected the notion that redistricting is "all Macdonough's fault." She specifically stated that racial imbalance was only one part of the puzzle that had to be solved: Moody's overcrowding and inequities in school resources and building usages were other major problems that had to be addressed. A Moody parent told me afterwards that "Moody has been so overcrowded for so long that everyone else in town got the benefit." This parent also added that while it's great that everyone likes their school, you can't have empty seats on one side of town when there aren't enough seats on the other side of town.

During the Board's discussions before the vote, several members did point out that a 2% change in Macdonough's minority population really isn't a margin of safety that anyone feels good about. Macdonough's Oct. 2009 enrollment population was 213, and its proposed population is 228. Two percent of 228 students is only 4.5 students, and it could take just two or three families to swing the minority population outside the alloted 25% of the district average. More than one parent commented that this isn't a significant enough change to justify the level of disruption for hundreds of families across the district. At the same time, though, several BOE members commented that parents had overwhelmingly told JCJ Architect that they wanted neighborhood schools, and that Middletown hasn't had neighborhood schools in years. As an example, 79 kids are bused out of the North End to Moody School, and most of those parents don't have transportation to attend school events or parent/teacher meetings. Additionally, the law requires that we achieve racial balance: as BOE member Bill Grady pointed out, "we don't get points for trying."

After the meeting, Mayor Giuliano commented, "How many Boards of Education and superintendents have faced this same issue? It's not new, and at some point, you have to just pick a plan and move forward." (Interestingly, the mayor mentors a 5th grader at Macdonough every Friday.) Giuliano also hinted that the BOE won't get the budget it submitted: "I think we trimmed about $140,000 from what they asked us for."

In the end, redistricting is happening and it is happening now. I will say that Middletown is a large city that acts like a small town - we're so spread out from each other than it's hard to remember that there are eight elementary schools and two middle schools and a high school. You can think small town in your individual school, but you can't govern that way when you have eleven buildings to manage. Furthermore, several populations have shouldered an unequal distribution of resources and space. While it may be inconvenient for some happy children to move, it's just wrong for many others to suffer overcrowded or under-resourced situations for even one minute longer.

And to all those parents who wanted a choice, I say this: you can vote with your checkbook and during elections. While it was nice to see you at tonight's meeting, where have you been all this long while? Sure, you might attend PTA meetings but have you been to a Common Council meeting? Do you even know how much our district will be hurting for funds in the next two years? Have you pushed for a more rigorous curriculum or a longer school day or a foreign language program? Our district didn't just fall off a ladder yesterday and land on the "needs improvement" square...the decline has been many years in the making. What are you going to do to change this? Will you pay for everyone in town to have the same community you wanted to stay with?

Don't misunderstand me. I was excited to see tons of new faces at a BOE meeting! I just hope you keep coming will take all of us working together to get where we want to go.


Anonymous said...

Great article until I encountered the heavy dose of self righteousness at the end. So much for uniting the masses!

I'm afraid that this redistricting plan is simply an illusion of educational equity for Middletown's schools. While many are heralding a social justice victory, no one seems to be looking at the startling and seemingly disturbing result of this purportedly "balanced" plan. In the end, Middletown will be left with one elementary school with free & reduced lunch numbers of a mere 31% while another school will shoulder numbers as high as 65%. Is this what satisfies us as a community? Social justice and educational equity have as much to do with poverty as each does with race or ethnicity. The numbers speak volumes and serve to remind us that we are far from declaring victory, despite what select individuals would like to believe. Seven weeks of frenetic meetings does not a responsible redistricting plan make.

Elizabeth Bobrick said...

I want to applaud Jam's comments at the end of his/her posting. You can have an effect on your child's education by pressuring for answers and action. You can be courteous while asking those pesky questions. But try to offer solutions and suggestions, too. Volunteer. Form action groups with other parents. And if you have an issue, you can go right to your child's school and talk to the folks there. It's a good place to start.

Anonymous said...

To Anon - Thank you. Your comment said so much of what my reaction to the article was. To Jam - It is clear to see where your loyalty lies. Your only quotes were from people in the North End or supporting the plan. A very skewed article if you ask me. I would like to point out that while the BOE keeps telling us this was done for 2 reasons, the reality is that it was not. Moody has been overcrowded for years and what has the BOE been doing to solve the problem? Nothing. The only reason that anything is being done now is because the state is coming down on Middletown for racial imbalance. I have no faith that the BOE would do anything about Moody if the state wasn't already forcing a change. I also do not think if we only needed to solve the overcrowding at Moody that so many families would be affected. I think we need to remember that fact. You are right though, for those dissatisfied with what they see, try to come to more meetings, show up at polls, get involved in your school. I know many of us can only do so much because we value time with our families and we all have busy schedules but Elizabeth had some great suggestions. As parents it is our job to advocate for our children and all children and I believe if we start coming together more we can have an impact on what happens. Do not let the BOE or the superintendent tell you what is going to be done. Go out there, come up with ideas/plans and tell them what needs to be done.

Peter Keating said...

Foreign language program? How about English? That seems to be pretty foreign to many students.
A more rigorous curriculum? The bar gets lower and lower every year.
As for a longer school day--I would like to introduce you to unions.Good luck there.
No amount of involvement is going to make a difference. Never has, never will. The Mighty Oz has spoken!

JAM said...

To Anon at 7:31am:

Actually, you don't know where my loyalties lie. My children should be at Moody, but we left at the end of last year because the overcrowding affected my oldest to the point where he was in trouble both academically and behaviorally every single day. Our family couldn't take it anymore and so we moved to private school.

My personal situation aside, I didn't specifically quote any of the "opposition" parents because their comments were so similar and so family specific: most said something like "my child won't like this," or "our family shouldn't have to make a change." I summarized the comments by category so that part of the article didn't run on and on. Perhaps I shouldn't have done that, but it also sounded much less selfish than the actual comments were.

Please don't misunderstand what I mean by that: I don't think this redistricting plan is the best it could have been. I think it was rushed and done in a pressure cooker. However, you also can't deny that there were severe inequities in several places, and I'm not just talking about race or space utilization. If we waited to affect change until everything was perfect, we'd never do anything.

I also agree that parents ought to fight for the very best for their children. That's why I'm still a part of this even though my kids aren't in this school system anymore. I might have the capacity to go to private school, but many others don't, and I'm not excused from making sure my tax dollars are spent wisely and fairly.

I appreciate that there are parents who are totally in love with their schools, and that's how it should be. But no family's welfare is more important than another family's, and if anyone is unhappy or unfairly treated, then we as a community must do something about that. I'm sorry that it has to be this way, but is this any different from company re-locations or military re-assignments? Change happens that we as parents don't have control over, and we have to tackle it head on and go for it.

My greatest concern, really, is for our town as a community. We can't afford to keep our heads down in our little parts of town and pretend that the rest of town doesn't exist. We face very real and serious budget challenges over the next few years, and if we're not willing to look at the welfare of our town as a whole, then it's not going to go well for Middletown.

Thanks for the criticism, though, it helps me to do better next time.

Baya said...

I'm a reporter from the Wesleyan Argus and I was curious if anyone involved (parents/board members, etc) would be willing to speak with me some time today about how they feel about the redistricting issue. If you're interested, please email me at Thanks!
-- Bea Paterno