Perhaps it is the proximity to Halloween, but what I find most troubling about the wrenching and difficult decision to close or transform schools are the ghosts: All of the kids who went through the school, received an education wholly inadequate to the demands of modern life, and are no longer in view. Traces of them linger, but they have largely vanished.
I see this with the controversy over Montbello. Many of the people attending public forums to comment on the plan are current students, their parents, and teachers. If the reform plan goes through, teachers will lose their jobs, and they are fighting intently for their positions and livelyhood. That’s their right, and should surprise no one.
Students and parents are fighting for the devil they know. I continue to think that the opinions of current students and parents are critical, valid, and almost hopelessly biased (in much the same way that all parents believe their children are beautiful – to them they are). Several years ago a survey of parents showed that 72 percent of them gave DPS overall a grade of “D” or “F”, however only 27 percent of them gave their child’s school a grade of “D” or “F.” As a parent, I implicitly understand this — how could any parent admit to themselves that they are sending their child off to a failing school each and every day?
How could a student get up each day with the knowledge that their school will not prepare them for full lives as adults? Students and parents in a school will always believe that it is better than it is, or that it is about to become much better. This hope is essential, but it is not a strategy.
No one questions Montbello’s numbers: Of the freshmen who start at Montbello, six percent graduate and go on to college without needing remedial work. 94 percent do not. The overwhelming majority of these 94 percent are the ghosts. Over a 10-year period when Montbello’s performance has been an ongoing issue, the school has had roughly 3,750 students pass through its halls. Probably about 3,300 of them do not receive a advanced degree of any kind. Maybe 10% of these can overcome their lack of academic preparation and are successful. Who is left? One decade, 3,000 alumnus ghosts.
These ghosts should be a haunting presence over the current proceedings. What is missing from the meetings where school closings are debated are alumni lining the walls to defend these schools. Where are the alumni who can point to the significant role that Montbello played in their future success? How the school nurtured and prepared them for the challenges they face as adults? How it fostered in them an interest, or kindled a passion that they were able to follow to be a leader in their company, industry, organization, or community? Not the odd alumni who succeeded despite the school, but legions upon legions who left its halls and prospered.
So when the voices are raised and rage, look to quietness. When teachers fight for their jobs, and students to stay with their classmates, and parents who want to walk their kids to school — all of whom are absolutely right to champion what they want — remember the absence of all the students who were once there, and consider where they might be today.
In the cacophony over school closings, remember the echoing, haunting silence of the alumnus ghosts.