Today, I finally stopped standing on my soapbox and stepped up to the podium. Instead of lecturing my husband and rambling on to my friends, I actually spoke at the Wake County Board of Education meeting. The whole thing was rather anti-climactic -- the board members don't respond to any of the public comments, so it's hard to know if they're even listening. But I'm glad I did it -- plus it got me a pre-written blog post. Here's what I said, after introducing myself to the board:
I have a son who will enter kindergarten later this year and a daughter who will start school in 2013. I'm here today to express concerns about recent efforts to dramatically alter the Wake County Public School System.
As a former English teacher, I love language. And through my current work in writing and public relations, I also know the power of language. I believe that some of the tension in recent debates about student assignment policies lies in the language used to define these issues and the rush to make significant policy changes without appropriate study.
You talk about “mandatory” year-round, when in fact ALL school assignments are mandatory. Students are expected to attend their base school – whether year-round, magnet or traditional – unless they apply to and are accepted by another school. Assignments to year-round schools are no more mandatory than to any other public school across the district.
You talk about “neighborhood schools,” but how do we define a neighborhood? Is it the closest school? There are four elementary schools within a mile and a half from my house – certainly within the range to qualify as close to home, but only one of those schools actually sits within the boundaries of my neighborhood. Or is it the school that most of our neighbors attend? Considering that we have students who live within blocks of our house attending magnets, charters, year-round, private and parochial schools, the vision that every neighbor will attend the same school is an illusion.
You talk about increasing “parental choice,” yet recent proposals for community zones discussed by members of this board would actually decrease the numbers of schools available to each family. You say you're responding to concerns from parents, yet your own survey demonstrated that the majority of families are happy at the schools their children attend.
I am not afraid of change – and I believe there are many areas of improvement within the Wake County Public School System that must be addressed. But I am strongly opposed to reckless decision-making in order to fulfill campaign promises that resonated with less than 4 percent of the voting population in this county. I am opposed to reckless decision-making that ignores potential financial costs for taxpayers in the name of “taking action.” And I am opposed to reckless decision-making that will decrease learning opportunities for our students and lead to the creation of high-poverty schools.
Every decision made by this board – no matter how small it seems – can cause powerful ripple effects across our county. Rushing into decisions without research or regard for those changes is a dangerous game. As a parent, my primary job is to do what is best for my two children. But as a school board, your job is to do what is best for ALL children, not just the children of parents who voted for you, even if that makes you unpopular in certain situations.
Please take the time to study the research, to listen to students, parents, teachers and administrators, to ask for input from the two-thirds of our county who don't have children in school. Please know that not all parents are lobbying to convert year-round schools or to dismiss the diversity policy. And please – remember that you are responsible for the education of every single child in our community.
If you want some more soapboxing in print from me, check out my "Front Porch" piece from Jan. 27, 2010, in The Independent Weekly.