Tuesday, May 18, 2004

School-free zones

The political hot potato in our town these days is the location of a new junior high school, which most folks seem to acknowledge is necessary as long as it's nowhere near them. I personally wouldn't mind having it in my backyard -- better than having to schlep my kids across town for grades 8-9 -- but my backyard already has a high school in it. The original proposal was to put it in the one part of town that didn't have a school already; there's a park the school board had specifically bought with the possibility of turning it into a school in mind. But folks in that neighborhood would rather have a park than a school, and they put up enough of a complaint that the plan changed to put it on the other end of town. But that neighborhood already had a middle school and an elementary school less than a mile apart on the same busy street, and the new school would be right in between. So their backyards are full also. And now there are rival angry citizen groups yelling at the school board and city council, demanding that those other angry citizens just shut up and put up.

Our town's really not that small -- it's really a decent-size city -- but at times like this it's sure got that small-town feel. Reading through the local giveway paper, seeing names I know in the lists of petition-signers and letter-writers, hearing of plans to storm the city council, catching impassioned discussions at school events ... people take this stuff so seriously. Probably I should be taking it seriously, too. Our schools are overcrowded, to be sure, and underfunded, and that doesn't help my service-needing kids. But on the other hand, I would be really happy to see this debate turn and turn and turn, argued endlessly without resolution, until the deadline for building the new school moves beyond the point at which my kids will be affected by it. Crowded schools may be bad for my two, but brand-new schools without solid routines and time-tested teachers and administrative policies are probably worse. It's bad enough that they have to switch from elementary to middle, and then middle to high school. I'm not nuts about adding an additional transition in there, especially if it's far from my backyard.

Maybe if it becomes impossible enough to find a place to build this big new school, they'll ditch the idea of having our kids go from a K-5 school to a 6-7 school to a 8-9 school to a 10-12 school and keep the configuration as is -- K-5, 6-8 and 9-12. Three schools during early adolescence, when we most want teachers and administrators to get to know our kids and keep an eye of them, seems kind of ridiculous. Which leads me to wonder: Are any other towns trotting their kids around that much? What's the grade configuration like in your schools? Post your answer on the Child.com Education and Reading message board, or use our comments feature below. With enough information about how other districts do it, maybe I'll be able to start a petition, write a letter to the editor, and rouse a little rabble.

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