Saturday, July 20, 2013

Separate and unequal--the story of (Saint) Philips Academy

 Philip's Academy dropped the "Saint"--the devil's in the details

For years I spent most of my awake time working with kids in neighborhoods most Americans either ignore or demonize. I saw people shot, stabbed, and beaten. I got to go home at night, but my young patients lived there.

I do not talk about the bad stuff much, because so much good stuff happened, too, and most of those I know, unless they've lived similar lives, would edit my stories to fit the world they believe exists, not the one that my kids lived in.

I do not begrudge any parent who sends their kids to St. Philips; I do not begrudge the staff and administration that runs St. Philips; I am aware that they only want what's best for kids.

And so do I.

I want to be very clear on this--I am not attacking the school, it sounds wonderful. I am attacking policies that drain public school monies that exacerbate the walls that keep our children from succeeding.

For all the grace provided by Philip's Academy, its policies are exclusionary. I'm OK with exclusionary--I'm never going to make it to the NHL, my chances of becoming a priest are just about nil, and the Glen Ridge Country Club will never offer me an invitation for membership (though I bet they'd let me work in its kitchen).

Berlin Wall by under CC by Matt Biddulph

When you compare "public" charter schools with my Title I public high school, open to all who can get here (and if you can't we'll send you a bus and an attendant to make sure you can), you are comparing cars the parking lot of my school with those at the Glen Ridge Country Club.

So what's the problem, Mr. Public High School Teacher? We hold a lottery "witnessed and verified by an independent certified public accountant," the ol' exclusionary sleight of hand trick.

The lottery is not the problem--getting your name in is. How is it exclusionary? Let me count the ways:

1) Transportation is not provided. This kindergarten through 2nd grade school sits on Central Avenue in downtown Newark. Even the few kids within walking distance would need an adult to walk them to school. You are not going to let a 5 year old walk down a busy city street on her own.

2) The guardian needs to provide three forms to prove residency. Most of the seven forms allowed require some domestic stability:
  • driver's license or other form of government ID,
  • recent property tax bill
  • recent bank statement
  • deed or mortgage statement
  • employment documents
Just for the record, the other two are recent utility bills or a voter registration card.

3) Uniforms are required.

Before someone gives me shit about how those kids wear expensive clothing, and uniforms are cheaper, there's a whole world of hurt out there where kids are wearing clean, worn clothing from the local Goodwill. 
I'm figuring those requirements would eliminate a good chunk of the kids that come to my high school, children who through no fault of their own manage to stumble into a chaotic clan.

My school has a bronze BHS Bengal statue outside its doors, but it may as well be the coppered lady gracing the New York Harbor just a few miles away. We take all comers.

 By Brian G. Wlson, under CC

The crippled, the future pro athletes, the undocumented, the slow of mind, the bound for Harvard, those who speak languages most Mercans have no idea even exist from countries they never heard of, the poor, the wealthy (who see the value of truly public education), the gifted, and everyone else, too.

More importantly, we're accountable for them until they graduate or move to another district. That's the law, and it's a good one.

Philip's Academy Charter School plays by different rules. I get that. They can afford to cap their classes at 21 students while my school scrambles to find more desks.

But they shouldn't get to play with house money, at least not my money. The school  raised 5 million dollars the past couple of years, and they "would like to see many of those dollars go into capital projects rather than operating expenses, and we can do that if we become a charter school.”

By using public money.

Hey, you want to send your kids to Philip's, no beef from me. 
But if you want to build shiny new campus toys with my kids' monies, I'm going to go after you.

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