Choice, Choice, Choice and Choice: 5

Just like the whole issue, this series has been a throbbing ache that makes me feel gloomy about the world at large. But the paper tries to end the series on a high note, on a Look! The school “systems” does work because look! This kid got into—wait for it, wait for it, get your grin prepped—LUSHER! Gasp! Grin! Applaud! Give thanks for the fracturing of K-12 education in Orleans parish! He never would’ve had that chance before the fracturing, right? WTMF?

Carr ends the series with an ambitious teen and mother and their spot of luck in this “systems”—a super-dedicated counselor whose daily focus is students on their way up and out of KIPP Mc 15:

More than six months earlier, Jamal [Encalade], an eighth-grader at KIPP McDonogh 15, had enthusiastically, if a bit nervously, embarked on his high school search. For many families, a great deal is at stake in the process. A yawning gulf seems to separate the top-performing high schools, like Franklin, Lusher and Warren Easton, from the bottom-dwellers, with not much in the middle.

How subtly understated. There’s even a gap in that short list.

Luckily, Jamal had a not-so-secret weapon on his side: [advisor Nicole] Cummins, working full-time for KIPP, helped the eighth-graders through the admissions maze, and continued to support them after they graduated. She kept students abreast of admission deadlines and requirements at high schools and regularly brought them on tours. She even showed up with Nutri-Grain bars for students taking early-morning admissions test to the city’s most competitive high schools.

Cummins has a lovely, working-from-the-heart story but what is more than likely missed here is that this is an individual effort and without her or her energy level or laser focus, the results would be very different.

Plus, it makes KIPP look good to get its kids in good schools. And deflects the public from any real scrutiny—It works, doesn’t it? Then shut up, ‘kay?

But the letter that finally arrived at his home with the Warren Easton return address last spring brought unexpected news.

Rejection.

“Even Warren Easton turned him down?” his mother said. “He’s had good grades since kindergarten, since forever. And he just can’t get into the schools he wants.”

Warren Easton officials said recently that they had no record of a rejection letter in Jamal’s folder, but sent a notice out in January indicating the family’s application was incomplete.

Regardless, the confusion dismayed Jamal.

“At this point,” he said late last spring, “I’m not really excited about high school.”

Think this is rare? Think so if you want. This “confusion” at schools has been common in this series, if not appearing in each and every installment. It is to be expected when each school is its own system, when each admission is a long process of weeding or quality checking or just plain multiple places and steps where it can all fall apart. I know no one wants his or her child’s health or education to rest on a piece of paper, an intern, or a single person’s understanding or misunderstanding.

Both Miller-McCoy and Sci Academy eventually accepted Jamal. But while he liked their ideas and plans, he wasn’t sure either would provide the best fit for him.

Like many schools, they are close-to-brand-new, untested [pardon the pun], unknown. And high school really is too important, especially for Jamal, to gamble. No one should be gambling. Some have no choice.

Cummins, who says she has a good working relationship with Warren Easton, ultimately called the school to inquire about the student’s case. Jamal, she learned, was actually in.

He was so miffed over the confusion, though, that he crossed Warren Easton off his list.

Only Cummins and her relationships with folks at Easton and her perseverance make it [almost] work out. And who can blame Jamal’s reaction? OK, I know someone will but that’s a knee-jerk, thoughtless reaction. High school students, including public school ones, are humans, too, with human emotions, egos, hurts, joys, needs and wants just like a student from Old Metairie who goes to a private school. Jamal is not the only middle schooler, high schooler, even grade schooler experiencing this roller coaster of acceptance v. confusion, misunderstandings and rejection. They are children, children forming self-images, human children with needs, tender places, and talents that can be all-too-easily discouraged or snuffed by some process, events or glitch an adult thinks hardly anything of.

I know many well-meaning, good people who would plotz if such a thing happened to their child but who might read this article, if they bother, and see nothing problematic with Jamal’s struggle. That as-long-as-it’s-not-me shit is pandemic around here. Also, the Bush family people-not-like-me-are-supposed-to-have-a-hard-ass-time belief/conviction/ideology.

Jamal wondered, after the grueling search was over, what would have happened without Cummins.

Yeah, what would’ve happened?

Also understated:

For decades, families have gone to great lengths to get their children into Lusher, even moving to the neighborhood to gain preference at the elementary school. After Katrina, Lusher became a charter and added a high school.

Whole lot glossed over there. “Moving” into Lusher’s neighborhood is not like standing in line for an application, driving to  school meetings after work, or taking afternoons off to tour schools. In a city plagued by segregated housing patterns, low wages, and a hard-to-believe-something-so-big-can-grow education gap, only certain people can afford to even consider buying or renting in Lusher’s district. Even though there are always bargains and good-luck-finds, it makes Lusher out of reach for most folks in the city. [The tiers are not in the Parents Guide. Are they gone or tucked inside the black box of charter school/former magnet school admissions?]

Then Jamal reassesses:

“Now there’s this choice of great schools,” he said.

This is contradicted by his experience documented in the article. This is contradicted by the reality of so few schools being accredited by SACS.

“It takes a lot of perseverance, and it can be discouraging at times. But when a last-minute miracle like this happens, it makes it all worth it.”

No, Jamal, it does not. Education should not be left to a “last-minute miracle.” If that is our collective belief, then this is not a democracy and we should send all the working-class and middle-class kids home so the resources can be left to those who are lucky enough to be able to pay, lucky enough to live in x neighborhood, lucky enough to be part of y family that has owned q for t number of years and given f number of thousands to something or someone. That’s also not a meritocracy. If you are born into it, you didn’t earn it. And if you didn’t earn it, how can you say with a straight face that you believe in hard work, perseverance, and intelligence?

I’m making myself sick saying this: public education should not be hard to access. That is why it is PUBLIC. In other places, it’s not perfect but not nearly so hard.

Why do we here so admire the extraordinary, over-the-top efforts of parents to get a decent education for their kids? Why does this irritate so few? Or seemingly so? Does anyone realize, or believe, that education is not a privilege, a game you have to be lucky enough to win? That parents should not have to fight or bargain with any number of devils just for a school? Why is this so radical in LA?

There should be a few competitive, harder-to-get-into schools for the hard-core scholar or artist. But that shouldn’t be the only chance to get out alive.

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“High school search frustrates ambitious student.” Sarah Carr. 11/12/2009. A1, A8. Print. [Web version is only available through paid archives at nola.com.]

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photo courtesy of Collin Allen, used under this Creative Commons license

About G Bitch

A mad black woman in New Orleans.
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2 Responses to Choice, Choice, Choice and Choice: 5

  1. liprap says:

    KIPP also has Shawn Datchuk, who I wrote about a while back – he handles the special ed in McNair, I believe. The huge problem I have with these superhuman counselors and teachers is their burnout rate in these positions that overwork ‘em and mightily underpay ‘em. The grateful kids and parents can only sustain someone like this for so long. No one should ever be expected to be a saint for their employer, but the charters seem to regularly demand that of their employees. That is NOT the way this should work.

    And I plotz every time I see a parent with that desperation in their eyes telling me he/she’s applied to get their kids into these schools – and I realize how powerless I am to even give them any sort of encouragement other than “Well, people move away and spots can open up – the mistake would be to not even TRY.” I want to shoot myself when I hear myself say such a pithy, pathetic thing, but that’s all that’s left when there aren’t even schools in the remains of the public education system here that ARE in the middle.

    All of this is mightily fucked.

Comments welcomed. Really.