Sunday, September 21, 2008

So How Many Master Plan Phases Do We Have Funding For?

Please, please, please read Sarah Carr's piece that profiles the proud history of Frederick Douglass High School on St. Claude Avenue. Douglass faces certain closure under the school facilities master plan.

How many snake oil salesmen have to come storming into town before we recognize the pattern?

Installed about eight years ago, the pipes might have brought cool air to the once-magnificent, now-decayed auditorium, but the school system never found the money to complete the second phase of the project.

The unfinished effort is emblematic of scores of well-meaning attempts to breathe life into the struggling academic program in recent years. Officials have repeatedly launched reform efforts, only to abandon them before they effect lasting change.

And there are scores of other unfinished projects, even if we're limiting our discussion to the facility itself. I'm lucky enough to have gone on a tour of the building and despite the appearance of decay, it is actually quite beautiful - not so far behind most other urban schools I've ever seen. The problem has been that on countless projects both before and after the storm, crews sent out to install things like light fixtures, intercoms, air conditioning systems, and ceiling tiles don't finish the jobs. They'll do things like only connect intercoms to some parts of the building or install outdoor light fixtures but not supply replacement light bulbs. Or as Ms. Carr reports, they'll install AC pipes but no AC unit.

Teachers, principals, students, parents, and community stakeholders operated under this neglect for years and years believing that - if they could just be allowed the stability and continuity to implement a strong academic program, if they could get the confidence and support of the school board, if they could just get basic facility maintenance - they'd be able to help our children succeed.

School communities like Frederick Douglass never quit on the kids. Instead, the city quit on the school communities. How else could a nationally acclaimed writing program like Students at the Center be discouraged from returning to Douglass? Instead, Paul Vallas and the RSD are implementing an experimental "theme" school at Douglass, a police academy, for the next year before the facility will likely be shuttered.

That's not change, it's more of the same failed slash and burn policy.

When you hire visionary principles who are well qualified and highly motivated and provide them a core of career teachers committed to the program, you can slowly but surely implement a healthy learning environment, a school culture - but only if you allow that community the stability, continuity, and basic resources necessary for parents and students to buy in.

When the district threatens schools with closure, castrates maintenance budgets, and constantly shuffles principals in and out, it is only natural for a school's academic and cultural fabric to unravel.

The RSD is sitting on $1.8 billion with the promise of a few "21st century schools" to replace the scores upon scores we'll be "landbanking" for other purposes.

Amongst other things, it's installing the pipes without the units. To play with Sarah Carr's characterization of the history of Douglass, it's yet another "launched reform effort" scheduled to be "abandoned before it effects lasting change."

'Scheduled' in the sentence above is my word and I choose it for a few reasons. First, in the case of Douglass, the brand new experimental police academy program is literally already being threatened with extinction after this school year (not that I care for that experiment anyway) AND the Douglass building is slated to be closed. Second, in more general terms, there is NO MONEY for any new facilities construction projects after the completion of the first phase of the master plan in 2013.

It is very easy to anticipate that this city may need facilities expansion after 2013. First, it is almost impossible to forecast the local and national trends that may contribute to population growth accurately enough to inform binding policy. Second, Concordia-Parsons has drawn up phases 2 through 5 in the master plan, admitting that phase 1 will drain every last cent but not finish the job. Spending every last penny to do half the job? Sounds sadly familiar, no?

BESE and the OPSB are seriously considering approval for the school facilities master plan. At a time when a traumatized community of children badly needs continuity and stability from their schools, we may be about to witness the blind rubber stamping of another poorly constructed, half funded, and experimental upheaval. The master plan abandons the neighborhood school model at the high school level in favor of a system that forces kids into the unfortunately sometimes hostile territory of a neighboring ward. Ask any teacher working in the RSD about the prevalence of geographic conflict but I'm sure you don't have to.

I don't have the stomach to continue this same pattern of half-assed and poorly-informed revolution followed by yet another yawning retreat in which nobody is held accountable.

Are people as mad about this as I am?



In May, I looked at a small piece of the Parsons Corp. preliminary site assessment of Frederick Douglass High School and compared it to the school as it stood.

Liprap Leigh recaps Thursday's community testimony in front of the OPSB.

Did you know that OPSB member Jimmy Fahrenholtz, who expressed his "100% approval" for the master plan without having even read it, didn't bother to show up? He's not credible to vote on this. A lot of people tell me he's a good guy at heart but he's got no business making such a critical decision for this community if he's going to be so close minded as to not even read the document and not even pay lip service to divergent opinion. It violates public trust. We know that he is close to Steven Bingler's sister-in-law via social network and campaign contribution.

How pathetic is it that none, NOT ONE, of the OPSB members that did bother to attend was engaged enough to ask a question of the planners?

Here is the current schedule for regional master plan comment opportunities as hosted by individual OPSB members in their home districts. Two of them were today. The big event is the hearing at City Council on October 1st.

I'm still looking into how to support SOSNola's petition to extend the public comment period to January, lemme get back witcha on that.


Leigh C. said...

Think they might want to keep Douglass "building name neutral", and THAT'S why they're running it into the ground? Or they just want to keep it from merging with the ultimate operator - the community?

I wish some Douglass people had been able to attend the Thursday meeting.

Editilla said...

"The master plan abandons the neighborhood school model at the high school level in favor of a system that forces kids into the unfortunately sometimes hostile territory of a neighboring ward."

I don't know how that concept sounds around the rest of the country but Down South here'ah we called it "Bussing".

Odd thought, eh? Only, this time around the parties have changed chairs and the one left out (or in) is "economic" rather than "racial".
National rather than Democratic socialism.

jeffrey said...

I was going to comment, "How many snake oil salesmen have to come storming into town before we recognize the pattern?" but you already wrote that in the post.

Francine Stock said...

How can an "experimental" program be expected to survive in this climate? It seems that Vallas is setting up the situation to fail. The kids don't want to go to Police Academy. Is that any surprise?

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