I'm writing about this topic on my blog because, while most of my readers are runners from distant lands, at least two of you who read my blog are local - and well, what I have to say is too long for a Facebook status update. Also, as a disclaimer: I am not a writer so my grammar may be a little sketchy...I tend to ramble and take a while to get to my point....I tried to clean it up so that my English school teacher friends wouldn't cringe when they read this...so, with that out of the way, here goes -
My thoughts on the Macon Miracle Plan:
I have told everyone that would listen to me that I am "hopelessly optimistic" about this plan. I really want the Bibb County education system to succeed. Really, I do. Yesterday I watched with anticipation as Dr. Dallemand gave his address to the community on the Macon Miracle plan. I was a little confused in the beginning...it seemed a little unorganized, and as great as the Central High kid who sang "Hero" might have been (the sound coming over the live feed I was viewing it on was awful), I just felt like there should have been more haste to get down to business. People I know had taken off of work to be there. They didn't come for a dog and pony show...they showed up to have their questions answered, to have the plan more clearly defined, and hopefully (there I go with that optimism) walk away with a sense of clarity, calmness, and maybe even a little pride.
Sadly, I think Dr. Dallemand missed the mark. He had an opportunity to turn this whole thing right-side up and instead he took chose to talk about his own background, the late Dr. King, the Confucius Institute....and well, did he talk about anything else? I was disappointed, to say the least.
Shortly after the Chinese acrobats did their performance (and really? Someone thought that was a good idea?), I posted on Facebook that instead of being "hopelessly optimistic", I was now just "hopeless." I followed that up with some chatter about Macon Plans for Private School and other negativity.
I should know better. Facebook is not the place to vent my negativity. (And that's a whole other blog post.)
But, it wasn't until I got a message from someone that I respect greatly, did it dawn on me that I really am "throwing the baby out with the bath water" (credit to Chris Horne for that one). The message was regarding the teachers, and their disappointment with this whole fiasco. I thought alot about that last night. That through this whole week-long ordeal, I've not seen a whole lot of talk about the teachers...or for that matter, the students. We've all talked about how ridiculous it is for our kids - who barely speak good English - to be learning Mandarin Chinese. We've all Facebooked about our disgust that the plan would call for losing 300 teachers (through attrition, but still losing them) and closing of 12 schools. We set-up FB pages and Twitter accounts to get Dr. Dallemand ousted from his job.
And through all of this I never thought about 1) how the teachers - the majority of them ARE good teachers - how they must be feeling to not only feel like they don't have a say in the matter, but to also feel like they have really failed in the public eye 2) how we actually get to the root of the problem - which in our area is the kids - the one's who have parents who could give a rat's fanny whether the children succeed or fail and 3) what is an alternative to Macon Miracle.
I had an opportunity to chat with Troy's cousin and his wife a few weeks ago. They are newly married, and both embarking on their first year of working in the educational system. He is a middle-school English teacher in a more affluent suburb of Charlotte, NC. She is a guidance counselor at an elementary school in the heart of one of Charlotte's worst neighborhoods. 97% of her school population is on free or reduced lunch. I was picking their brain about their experience. Both of them had similar stories...that they loved their jobs but didn't see themselves being in that particular segment of education long-term. When I asked if it was the stress of lesson plans, the long hours (and yes, while they get the summer off, they are still putting in a 10 hour day 5 days a week until then), or the low pay...they both replied that it wasn't any of that...it was the parents of the kids they teach. That no matter how good things are in the classroom, or the counselor's office, those kids still had to go home and most (even the ones in the affluent section) go home to very little support and encouragement. The wife said that every time she has to call a child's parent, she ends the conversation with the parent and turns to the child and says "your mom/dad said to tell you they love you." For so many of them, it's the first time they've heard that. She said she has to fight back the tears when a kindergartner looks are her and says "my mom said that?"
So, in my opinion - problem #1 is the fact that you can't educate kids who have no support. We can't expect a teacher to be the primary support for entire class of 25+ kids. But we do. And because we do teachers get burned out, apathetic, and even lazy. I mean really, I'm not teacher but I think about previous jobs/careers I've had. Why did I leave? Because I found myself burned out, apathetic, and lazy. Teachers are not immune to this.
I wish I could be all graphic-"designish" but since I can't I will try to illustrate this as best as possible: parents who provide no support for their children do provide an environment where the kids tend to become "bad". Those bad kids come to our public schools and disrupt classrooms, other kids, and teachers trying to do their jobs. Teacher's hands are tied so they deal with it the best way they can and they eventually succumb to burnout. They no longer have the capacity or the energy to support all the kids, much less the bad ones, so our graduation rate doesn't even top 50%. Those 50% that don't graduate struggle to find a job, keep a job, and eventually end up being poorly providing parents for their own kids that they produce. And the cycle starts all over again.
Back to Macon Miracle. I saw a few focus points that addressed this situation above. But, they seemed to be "from-a-distance" approaches. Making parent's go through parenting classes is all fine and well, until they don't show up and the school system begins expending energy to get these parent's to show up. These are the same parent's who don't attend PTO meetings, parent-teacher conferences, or the dog and pony Macon Miracles presentation.
A few months ago, myself and someone else who has much more clout in this city then I do, had a conversation about the youth violence in our city. I suggested that every kid - all 25,000 of them in the public school system needed a mentor. One that stayed with them all 12 years, in all possible cases. If you've never mentored for Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Mentors Project, you won't get what I'm about to say - the gratitude and love that you get back from visiting with an at-risk child once a week or even once a month is something that I can never put into words. I will never forget visiting my "little" and having her astonished that I was actually going to continue to show up week after week. She hadn't ever experienced someone being so regular in her life. I still talk to her even now that she's grown up and moved away. Other people in our community have similar and much better stories to tell. I've never heard of someone volunteering their time to these kids and walking away thinking it was a waste of time.
So, instead of putting all of this time and energy into teaching our children a language that most of them will never use (by the way, I'm all for language immersion but I think we need to be serious about our current situation and the viable future for the students. Get to a 100% graduation rate and then we should be talking about teaching Chinese as an additional challenge), I say spend the money at getting to the heart of the problem: the students.
It's a lofty goal. Finding 25,000 people willing to actually make a difference in a kid's life...it's a stretch but it's a start. And it's an alternative to kid's going to school from 7am to 5pm.
Here are some other random tidbits that have come to my mind while I've been thinking about Macon Miracle:
1. We have thrown around the idea of moving to another school district. Sadly, the economy right now won't support what we want out of our house so we're staying put. But, I started thinking...so many people are moving to other districts. Won't it just be a matter of time before those districts can't support the massive influx of kids? What are their strategic plans to support and sustain a school system that might double in the next five years? I'm just throwing this out, but I bet they don't have a plan.
2. I've been chastised by a friend of a friend who gloats about his son's 4.0 in a neighboring school district. I think he's even thrown a low-blow by saying that we really don't care about our daughter if staying here is a consideration. I found out from a very reliable source that this guy's son (who is a senior this year) could not get into UGA. He wanted to be pre-med. He didn't get in because he was not required by the neighboring school district to take geometry or calculus. Really? Guess what? I would have had a 4.0 too if I wasn't ever required to take those classes. Just goes to show (in my opinion) that perfect grades don't equal perfect education.
3. Regardless of what happens with the Bibb County school system, so many of us forget the kids who are a product of this system are going to be the customers or employees at the businesses that we own or manage. They are going to be our co-workers, our child's daycare employees, or the person repairing our leaky roof...regardless of whether we choose to move or not. We are, in Chris Horne's words, throwing the baby out with the bath water.
4. I'm just as guilty as the next person of chanting "private school private school private school." Heck, I am a product of one. But, I forget often, that most of the population is not fortunate enough to be able to afford $10-12,000 per year. Troy and I estimated the costs, on average, for the "Big 4" and we are looking at approximately $150,000 over 12 years of education. And are we really certain that she will always have top-notch, 100% committed teachers? Nope.
So, this is strictly my opinion. I'm sure there are plenty of you who want to comment "that's why I left and why I'll never come back." And that's fine for you. But, there are a handful (a rather large handful) of us who call Macon home. And we aren't leaving anytime soon. Whether it's family ties, a good job, or any other reason - those of us that are staying need to stop complaining and begin our own plan....maybe one a little less shorter than 25 pages and maybe one that doesn't require the use of Chinese acrobatics.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it :)
Next post - about running. I promise!