Mr. Banks has graciously allowed me to reproduce his letter here. In my opinion, he hits on a lot of things that the Education Equity Excellence Committee is supposed to be doing, but for one reason or another, is stymied. It is a bit of a read, but I think it is worth the bandwidth.
[…] I wanted to send my comments and concerns about the
planning for the new school. First, I would like to express my gratitude to
the District for honestly seeking input from the community as to the
direction to be taken for the high school. I think that the planning for a
new high school should be used as a vehicle to examine the developmental
direction of the district pre-k-12 because it will be a capstone experience
for unit 4 students and families. I have a concern and several suggestions
regarding the high school.
I will express my concern first. I am very concerned that the District, when
thinking about its educational programs is still in a 20th century mindset
while trying to plan for 21st. century schools. In its approach to
diversity issues, the District, as a part of the local community, still
struggles with 19th century attitudes of race and class. I encourage the
District to resist 19th and 20th century thinking in both areas when
planning for a new high school. There are ways to do so.
One way is to enter the process with a full understanding of the “community”
that is to be served by the District. In my opinion there are several issues
and facts which should be preeminent for any meaningful discussion on how or
where to build a new school. These issues have traditionally been seen as
competing interests. I believe that meaningful dialog can minimize that
competition. First, the 21st century schools WILL reflect demographics
indicating that so-called minority groups in the aggregate will comprise the
majority of students in the District. Census data indicates that there will
still be a very large number of low income families with all of the
accompanying social dynamics. The other reality is that affluent families,
though in the minority when it comes to numbers will continue wanting to
consume a large portion of the District’s time talent and resources. The
District must begin to examine how the ideas expressed in its mission
statement are to be actualized for both the affluent and low-income and
underrepresented families. No meaningful discussion can occur without
acknowledging that the local community in general mirroring societal
attitudes has a contempt for poor people, and questions whether or not the
poor -especially Black and Latino(a)- are worthy of the time and energy
spent to provide quality education to them. And finally, but equally
significant, the whole notion of a 20th century model of labor and
management will continue to work, too often, at cross purposes with the
welfare of all of the children in the District. Responsible Board members
must consider all of these dynamics when determining the programs and
location of a new school.
So, what then would a good decision making process look like? I have several
suggestions. First, I would suggest that you incorporate a modified version
of the visioning process that was utilized for the “Great Schools Together”
initiative to drive your decision-making. Perhaps begin the process with a
specific question such as: given the demographics of the community what is
our expectation that a typical graduate of Unit 4, should have and be able
to do upon leaving the District? The make-up of the participants engaging
in this conversation is crucial to the process. The visioning process should
include proportional demographic representation. I would also place a
special emphasis on the current pre-k and elementary and school parents. In
other words, what would the school look and function like when it is time
for current pre k-5 grade to matriculate in high school? Therefore, those
families, care providers, and activities coordinators who are currently
working with those ages should also be significant contributors to the
visioning process. Certainly, the “blue collar” professions as well as
community and four year college personnel currently working or not working
with our recent graduates should be included in the conversations. Members
from the local Chamber of Commerce should also be invited to participate.
It is equally important to include current stakeholders: teachers,
administrators, support staff, current high school and middle school
families, and representatives from other governmental bodies and social
services agencies. This, by the way, is NOT re-inventing the wheel. Despite
the benefits of the last visioning process, there were significant gaps in
the proportional level of participation of those families who will actually
be in the District 5-8 years from now.
My second suggestion is directly in response to the facility issue itself. I
believe that Unit 4, rather than expending limited resources on an 80
million dollar complex, should consider moving to several smaller campuses.
The one-size fits all model of education does not include any meaningful
emphasis on 21st century vocational possibilities. There would still need to
be a basic level of expectation for the students feeding into the high
schools, but once they reach that level, they should begin experiences
leading them to some sort of career or at least a purposeful focus for their
post-secondary education. When it comes to low income students research is
clear that most successful educational programs targeting those students are
relationship based and conducted in smaller settings. I believe that those
students would be better served by several smaller campuses, not one huge
campus. The campuses should be located closer to the centers of population
so that they actually become integral parts of the community. The campuses
should also be seen as resources centers for students and community alike.
I realize that much of what drives current high school culture is sports. If
the District wants to have and build nice athletics fields for its students,
I am all for it. But we are a very mobile society. The fields don’t
necessarily have to be in the back yard of the facility.
In thinking about small rather than larger centers, we have to also
re-examine the ways that the educational program delivers its information.
Now that much coursework can be completed on-line, or even through
videoconferencing or Skype, we should be able to better address the
individual needs and paces of students. Therefore it may not be necessary to
build lots of 20th century classrooms when access to high speed internet
with the capability of bringing the world and its intellectual resources to
the laptop of any individual student will be a reality in the near future.
The ramifications of a delivery system that is on-line are many. The most
obvious being that there should not be a need to have students all in the
same physical classroom at the same time. Asynchronous learning could become
the norm rather than the exception. This has ramifications for attendance
issues as well. If students don’t have to be physically present but can be
virtually present, it eliminates the need to spend resources trying to get
them to “come” to school. Time becomes less important than the successful
completion of work. There could be small community locations where teachers
or facilitators would work with students who need one-on-one assistance.
Other students, at a certain point, could do most of their studies on line
while participating in internships, apprenticeships, etc. as part of their
educational programs. The facilities themselves would also be utilized as
full service entities where mental and physical health opportunities are
accessible. There are numerous local initiatives and entities capable of
working closely with the schools. Programs such as the Sankofa program or
the ACCESS initiative immediately come to mind. These cooperative
relationships that could be built are not “add-ons’. They are crucial to
meeting the needs of the 21st century students of Unit 4.
These are my individual thoughts, after viewing the schools from far and
near about how they might envision themselves in a 21st century way.
However, I also am a 20th century “boomer”. There are many other individuals
and families whose children will be the beneficiaries, both positively and
negatively of the decisions made on behalf of their children. Now would be a
great time for the District, whose very nature unfortunately is still
insular to significant segments of the community, to envision itself as a
vital community resource, rather than a stand-alone governmental agency.
Let’s have the conversation.
Nathaniel C. Banks