I do believe in many ways we are our own worst enemy. Anyone who reads what I post or who will chat with me off-line knows that I support our teachers, parents and children in Chamblee and Cross Keys attendance areas and beyond with full dedication. It is when our PTAs turn into PACs that I get cynical and discouraged.
Could our most powerful PTAs and parent groups be steering our school board and possibly drowning out the voices of weaker, poorer parents? I was interested to see a report on Channel 2 News last night, that focused on DeKalb's redistricting, the parent groups debating the issue and the survey. The reporter actually showed the bar chart of the responses from the online survey which clearly shows that the majority (88.5%) of respondents are from north DeKalb and have children in elementary school. Less than 2% of the responses came from Sarah Copelin-Wood's district—the district slated to have the most schools consolidated and closed.
Now, TIME magazine has published an article on that very subject called "PTA Wars".
School budgets are so strapped these days that parent groups are not only battling to keep basics in the classroom, but some parents are even fighting one another. The superintendent in Albany, Calif., last fall suspended PTA-funded chess, music and art classes at two elementary schools after the parents at a third school complained they couldn't afford a similar curriculum. Why, the parents at Marin and Cornell elementary schools wondered, is the PTA at Ocean View trying to keep our kids down?
This is the same quandary we have in DeKalb. Some schools have those things listed in TIME: Chess Club, art and music classes, foreign language instruction, special curriculums, etc.—many don't. Is this what we want for our public schools? Is it acceptable to have extras funded by parent groups in public schools while nearby schools have so little by comparison? I would make the case that this is exactly the reason we are where we are right now in the redistricting battle. Our school system leaders have for far too long abdicated their responsibility to create a system of schools that are by and large equal in offerings, balanced in enrollment, staffed with similar teachers and administrators and focused on a quality education in each and every classroom. For far too long, our school system leaders have catered to the most vocal communities as well as individuals in order to quiet "squeaky wheels". The management policy has been, "no squeaking = no problems". There has been no formal overall districtwide educational plan.
Sadly, now that redistricting has pulled back the curtain we found that it is not only the numbers of students that need balanced, it is the education those students are receiving inside those schools that need to come into balance. Our school board and superintendent have an enormous task in righting this ship. It will require a clear vision and teamwork to get there. We are a decade into the "New Millennium" and many of our schools are not keeping up with the rest of the world. Our resources must be reeled in and more wisely spent. Our administration needs streamlining and updating. We need to truly become a student-focused school system.