Change of Plan

For at least the last two decades, the overly-large school district for which I work has had one major factor driving the long term planning for the system: next year we will have more students than we did this year. And not just a few kids. Thousands, many years tens of thousands.

Now it appears that those days steady, consistent growth are pretty much over, which leads to a whole new set of problems.

The end of the growth spurt will mean shifting boundary lines to even out enrollment between schools with empty seats and others that remain crowded — changes that won’t come easy in neighborhoods with strong ties to local schools. Emotions run high any time families are forced to leave the schools with which they have become familiar.

“Emotions run high” is an understatement. Anytime the issue of boundary changes come up, the board meetings are flooded with angry parents who either don’t want to their kids to be moved or are upset that their kids weren’t moved. It’s the ultimate no-win decision for the people running things.

But, if a few overcrowded schools was the only problem facing our district, we would be in good shape. We have a long list of other issues that need attention. And the shifting of neighborhoods and kids, with all the work and emotion that goes with the process, will suck up a lot of resources, offering no improvement of teaching and learning in return.

However, this kind of major change also offers many opportunities to review how the entire system works (and doesn’t) and make some long needed revisions that can actually benefit the kids. If I was running the system (no chance!), I’d start with the calendar which models an agrarian society that no longer exists around here, if it ever did.

Then I would move on to the comprehensive high school model which has changed very little in 60+ years and clearly no longer works for many students, even here in Lake Wobegon.

But I suspect that most of the alterations I have in mind wouldn’t go over well with the parents interviewed in the article. Too many of them want to see their kids attending the same kind of high school they attended, despite the fact that the world of knowledge has changed drastically.

education, school reform