School of Lowered Expectations

I really want to like our neighborhood school, where Kelly is currently going. I know she loves it, because every day after school, she can’t even wait to walk home before showing me the work she’s done. She’s putting more effort into reading independently than she did when she was with me, she asks me to get the books the teacher has read, and we already have a wall of the little crafts she’s brought home. So realistically, she’s doing great.

But we still long for Neil’s kindergarten experience, with a strict teacher who demanded the utmost of students, including coloring inside the lines, and memorizing a poem each week. And maybe Kelly’s teacher would be able to do that, if she had the level of parental support Neil’s kindergarten teacher had. But Kelly’s school still has an air of parental indifference which shocks Peter and me.

The point that really tipped us over to a feeling of despair was the school’s Back to School night a few evenings ago. This is the day, in all the schools, where parents (sans children, who must be left at home) get to see the classroom and get a presentation from the teacher about what will happen over the school year, and what the expectations are. At Neil’s magnet school, every family in every grade showed up, and it was a full on do, with the robotics club selling hot dogs and the home-and-school club selling uniforms. At Kelly’s school, there were maybe 50 parents gathered about before the classrooms opened, and a small bake sale, only of store-bought goods, given that homemade stuff is now illegal. And when we went to Kelly’s classroom, we had the impression only 5 families cared enough to come in.

It just left me at all ends regarding Kelly’s education, and brought up a lot of dark feelings I had. I love homeschooling, but she really is thriving in an environment without mom and with children her age. I want to be part of the solution, but I still consider having to put my fingerprints on file with the FBI just to help out at school to be insulting: I have never committed a crime in my life, but suddenly I have less rights than an accused serial killer. In despair, I looked at my options, since her odds of getting into the magnet school are slim (though I may end up grovelling). Most of the (outstanding) elementary schools in a neighboring school district are charter schools, so I’ll tour them later this year, even though, like the magnet school, they’re full up with a waiting list.

And I found out there is a new charter school in downtown San Jose: Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary. Before I tell you about Rocketship, I need to give some San Jose Unified history. Several years ago, they threatened to close Neil’s magnet school because (to all the parents’ surprise), it wasn’t actually a science magnet, but rather a desegregation magnet. The district dredged up a 1986 court decision which accused them of discriminating against poor Hispanic students downtown because the downtown schools didn’t offer the same level of education as the schools in the more suburban parts of the city. And thus, the magnet program was born. So, now because of threat of closure under this spectre of this court decision, the science magnet sends its volunteers downtown each year to recruit poor Hispanic students, because if 40% of the students aren’t such, the district swears the courts will descend upon them for being evil racists.

And now back to Rocketship Mateo Sheedy. One of the best local colleges (and both Loretta’s and Shiaw-Ling’s alma mater) is Santa Clara University, founded by Jesuits and including on its campus the Santa Clara Mission, dating back to Spanish Imperialist years. The university asked Mateo Sheedy, the pastor of one of the local Jesuit parishes, to recommend children for a scholarship to the university. To his surprise, Sheedy couldn’t find a single child qualified for Santa Clara University. And so, he founded a charter school that would prepare children in his parish (or from anywhere willing to drive into downtown San Jose) to be able to go to a top-notch university. Like other local charter schools that are now serving children from ambitious but poor families, it runs on regular business hours: it starts at 7:30 am and ends at 5 pm. As much as I love having my children for family time as much as possible, I have to wonder if that sort of a school schedule isn’t more realistic in today’s world: when schools were founded, children left in the early afternoon to do farm chores or work, but today they often just go into daycare or play videogames. And, perhaps even more appealing to people who live downtown, their children don’t have to sit in a bus seat for up to 2 hours a day just to go to and come back from school.

Rocketship Mateo Sheedy is wildly popular, and its waiting list is longer than the one at Neil’s magnet school. It is open to all–it has no race or poverty quotas, unlike the magnet schools–but 70% of its students have parents who don’t speak English, and 92% if the students are officially poor. And yet, thanks to less restrictions, and a longer school day, it’s getting the results it wanted. Now the school wants to open another charter school just east of the old one, to serve the many who are still on the waiting list. But where is the spectre of the discrimination lawsuit now? Convenietly forgotten: the district turned down the request, even though this charter school serves exactly the people the court said the district wasn’t, and it’s a better option that putting 5-year-olds on busses for a good portion of their day.

I know I’m jumping all over with my educational rant, but I have one amusing story to end it all. On Monday, Kelly went over to her school to get a preliminary assessment test by her teacher. It ended just as school was ending for all the students, and I had to go over to the office to fill out some paperwork for our upcoming vacation. As we were there, a 1st-grade boy who lives almost across the street from me came in with his teacher. She complained no one had come to pick him up after school, and now she had to call his family. I offered to take him home if it was ok with the family. To my surprise, when she called the family, she spoke to them in bad, broken Spanish, trying very hard to explain he was at school and she was his (masculine) teacher. After she got off the phone, I let her know that while the family does speak Spanish, they all speak English, quite fluently in fact, given that they’re native-born Americans. As you might expect, the communication wasn’t quite as accurate as you might expect, so I didn’t walk the boy home, though I saw my neighbor coming to fetch him, wondering why she’d been ordered in bad Spanish to get herself to the school immediately by a woman claiming to be a man.

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