Sunday, August 17, 2008

More insight from the all seeing eyes...

Schoolyard Shuffle Angers Jeff Parents!

Mr. Broach wrote a interesting article published today in the Times-Picayune.

In the spring of 2005, Jefferson Parish public school officials pulled a fast one.

With no public notice, the School Board waived its usual rules and abruptly decided to shift one of its new magnet schools, Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy, from an Elmwood office building to the campus of T.H. Harris Middle School in Metairie. Board member Martin Marino touted the move as a good way to accommodate the growing enrollment at the science school and make use of extra space at Harris, which, coincidentally, is in his School Board district.

Parents had other ideas. Shut out of the decision-making, scores of them just as abruptly erected a wall of opposition. Within three weeks, the School Board backed off and, for the time being, left the science school in Elmwood.

You might think the School Board, supposedly a bunch of astute politicians, would have learned its lesson. Yet board members have been at it again in recent weeks, trying to shift classes -- even entire student bodies -- at three more East Jefferson schools. In the process, they again have unwittingly illustrated the natural growing pains of trying to improve public education and the hazards -- easily foreseeable -- of altering schools without first soliciting public opinion.

Any fundamental change is difficult. Jefferson began discovering this in 2003 when the School Board hired Diane Roussel as superintendent with a promise to improve public education in a parish where it had stagnated for years. Along the way, the creation of magnet schools has proven to be enormously complex and fraught with controversy.

But some of the growing pains are of the School Board's own making. Such as making major changes without testing the political waters first.

A reasonable case can be made for closing Riverdale High School and dispersing its dwindling enrollment among other conventional high schools on the east bank of Jefferson Parish. High school classes, and the eighth grade, for the top-achieving east bank students could then be moved to Riverdale's campus from their current home at Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies, where Old Metairie neighbors are wary of growing enrollment. Haynes would remain a magnet middle school and take on the fifth grade now housed at Metairie Academy for Advanced Studies.

But in endorsing those moves last month, the School Board failed to consult with its constituents.

Had school officials held parent and community meetings on the proposal and made some adjustments based on the input, chances are they would have won some support and spared themselves much of the current controversy. Parents like to know what the plans are for their children's education. Some might even have suggestions. Nowhere is that more apparent than with magnet schools, which have a way of engaging parents like no other public schools.

But the Jefferson School Board didn't do this, and only now is the school system starting to hold community meetings.

Roussel can't be blamed for the misstep. Her job is executive: to run the school system and, with broad direction from the School Board, try to improve it. It's the job of board members, the elected officials, to take the pulse of the public.

More growing pains are likely as this school system lurches from mediocrity to what should be excellence in one of the richest and most populous parishes in Louisiana. Some of the pain is the inevitable result of trying something new.

But some, like moving schools wholesale across town without parental input, can be easily avoided if the School Board would do its job right.

. . . . . . .

Drew Broach is the East Jefferson bureau chief. E-mail or call (504) 883-7059.

Sometimes its good to know you are not crazy. What do you think?

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