Choice, Choice, Choice and Choice: 2

Another concern in the reshuffling and unshuffling of schools post-Floods is special education. When schools can pick and choose their students and are judged on test scores and attendance, why not limit the number of students who need the most resources? “Independent charter school” means the school needs its own social worker, special education teacher or teachers, etc., and when a school is not sharing or cannot share essential staff like that, someone or a group has to decide where the scant resources will go. LA schools are not well financed. Charter schools hypothetically can raise the extra money they need through grants, parents, fundraising, etc. But that brings us right back to the those-with-most v. those-with-less problem that has not been changed by the fracturing of the public school system.

Yes, the schools had deep problems. But the changes made were not based on the problems themselves. The reform wasn’t classroom-based but administration-based. We’ve all been told in a sense to keep our fingers crossed that changing who runs a school, from a school board to a private board or the state, will change what happens in the classroom. Sounds a little trickle-down-ish to me.

The Monday 11-9 article’s theme:

But even a family of educators struggled to navigate New Orleans’ dramatically altered school landscape.*

It’s hard to say that “the systems” is just fine and that it only fails because of parents’ laziness and lack of concern when two former teachers and a loving father with typical post-Flood issues struggle.

Last spring, [his aunt, Marlo Solomon, a former school teacher] scoured the Internet late at night, looking at the online Parents’ Guide to Public Schools, sending e-mail messages to anyone and everyone she could think of for advice.

Trajoan’s grandmother, Verdell Solomon, another retired school teacher and the family’s matriarch, reached out to longtime contacts about which schools might best care for him.

Meanwhile, Trajoan’s father, Thames Solomon, fought a legal battle in Texas, where he lived with Trajoan, trying to gain permission from a judge to bring Trajoan home to New Orleans in time for the start of school.

I know the system before was not good but is this really better? I thought the point of privatization and reform was to make good education available for more students and families? These people love this child. [My heart nearly broke when his aunt said,”He does not need to go through any more hurt.”] Or is this part of the not-working-100%-yet that Ms. Roemer Shirley referred to in the intro article? So we just wait? On paper, when your kid isn‘t involved, it may make sense. But.

They liked Abramson Science & Technology Charter School, close to where Trajoan, an incoming sixth-grader, would live with his father and grandmother in eastern New Orleans. They thought an independently run charter school would be safer than a traditional one, and that a technology-rich curriculum would appeal to their computer-loving nephew.

The school required Trajoan’s birth certificate and other paperwork the aunts did not have, however. Abramson staff also wanted to interview potential families in person, an impossibility with the boy in Texas. “I think that’s how they sort out the good kids from the bad kids,” said his grandmother.

Hasan Sazci, the principal of Abramson, said the meeting is not an interview, but an opportunity for families to ask questions about the school. He said the school used to require only a one-page application form, but found that many families signed up, and then didn’t actually show up on the first day.

The it’s-not-an-interview doesn’t work here either. Parents can ask questions at a meeting or series of meetings. This principal admits that the process to apply was made more complex to assure students actually showed up—you’re less likely to bail if you’ve filled out paperwork, attended mandatory meetings, an interview or put down a deposit or “materials fee.” It’s like the same old schools but amplified—if you have the time, the cash, the contacts, the school you want is yours, but only If.

And Abramson is an open enrollment school, “no academic entrance requirements” (NO Parents’ Guide 1).

Reality also is that people apply to multiple schools in a competitive system, their first choices and backups and last resorts, just like you are supposed to do for college. Local private schools know how this works. The former magnet schools often worked like this—if you waited, your child could get a slot someone was sitting on waiting for an opening at ___. I can’t blame parents for multiple applications. Does making it more complex change that or change the family/parent applying?

After their first choice fell through, another choice seemed impossible to get into, and another just didn’t look like it would be good for Trajoan,

Verdell Solomon [Trajoan’s grandmother…another retired school teacher and the family’s matriarch] went back to her contacts, former colleagues who still worked in education. They told her several schools refused to take children with special needs. One suggested Craig Elementary, however, a Recovery District school with lackluster test scores but, they said, caring special education teachers.

Not sure he’s in or not, they wait then wait then stop waiting:

Thames Solomon crammed into Soul Train Fashions that day to buy his son khaki pants for his school uniform, joining hundreds of other parents and grandparents out for last-minute back-to-school shopping. But he held off on buying a colored shirt for Trajoan until the family heard from Craig.

Trajoan was simply excited to be back in New Orleans for good. He had missed snow-balls, Rally’s, Slidell, even the familiar sight of public housing buildings.

On Friday, with no word still, Solomon drove his son over to Craig’s temporary campus in eastern New Orleans. He needed an answer.

Craig officials seemed baffled about why the family hadn’t shown up on the first day, the result of a misunderstanding. Trajoan was in. He spent that first day separated from his classmates, but joined them on Monday.

And the plotting for Abramson next year begins:

The family began plotting to get him into Abramson for the fall of 2010.

“With his special education needs, Abramson just couldn’t take him” this year, Verdell Solomon said.

“They could have taken him,” replied a skeptical Thames Solomon. The school says it serves 21 students with special needs this year.

“You’ve got to start talking to them now for next year,” said his mother.

Side note: Carr writes that Abramson “says it serves 21 students with special needs this year.” Abramson’s 2008-2009 enrollment was 351 (NO Parents’ Guide 1).

All this complaining adds up to this: I think this being about education and futures and minors that the reform process and short-term effects could have and should have been taken into account, mitigated or even prevented. If the schools aren’t working for former educators and loving, engaged parents, what’s being offered? And to what end?

Yes, I have 3 more in the pipeline.


*I link to the online version but am reading and commenting on the print version, which may have slight present or future variations.

A family searches for a nurturing environment for their son.” Sarah Carr. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, 11/9/2009. Web.

New Orleans Parent Organizing Network. The New Orleans Parents’ Guide to Public Schools, 3d ed. Oct. 2009. Web/PDF.

About G Bitch

A mad black woman in New Orleans.
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