There are times when I will defend our local school district. Aaron is a product of that district, and had a (mostly) positive experience with it, and so I often make an effort to remember that when others bad mouth our district as being poor and not living up to the standards of surrounding districts.
After all, this was the district that helped us diagnose why Cordy wasn’t like other kids her age. The special education office worked so quickly to get her enrolled in preschool and provided services to help her adjust to the world she was so apart from. Her first preschool teacher is a woman I will forever speak fondly of, a woman I’d gladly consider to be a part of our family, and when Mira qualified for special needs preschool, I immediately asked for her to be placed with this teacher for the upcoming school year.
The principal at Cordy’s current school also worked with us to make sure that Cordy wouldn’t have to go to her “home” school for kindergarten – a school we know nothing about – when she wasn’t selected for any school in the lottery, including her current school. A quick e-mail to the principal pleading our case, and a seat opened up for her. After all, the principal has been just as charmed by Cordy as everyone else who spends time with her.
But the district isn’t perfect. I truly wanted Cordy to be mainstreamed this year – placed in a classroom of her “typical” peers where she would inevitably struggle with social rules and routines, but would hopefully be surrounded by a supportive team who would help her learn and grow and rise to the challenge like she always does. However, it wasn’t the recommended choice and Cordy will instead spend kindergarten in a special needs classroom with some “inclusion” time allowed in the mainstream kindergarten class each week.
I struggled to be convinced of why this was the best option for her. Her team gave us such glowing reports at the end of this school year: she no longer qualifies for speech therapy. She’s academically at a kindergarten level already and they recommend testing her for the gifted program next year. She’s still uncoordinated and does need assistance with some fine motor tasks, but she’s improving. Why should this child be in special needs?
She has trouble adjusting to a change in routine, they explain. The normal pace in a kindergarten class may be too fast for her. (A kindergarten class has a fast pace? Remember when we spent kindergarten learning to cut with scissors and had nap time?) She’s sensitive to some sensory stimuli. She would require too much attention from the teacher, and there are too many kids in the class for the teacher to spend a lot of time with her. Yes, if she had an aide she would probably do well, but that just isn’t possible.
It doesn’t make sense to me. What I hear is: our schools are overcrowded and our teachers are spread too thin already. And I also hear, loud and clear: your daughter would do well in a mainstream classroom, but we won’t pay for an aide for her to make this possible.
I’ve tried so hard to rationalize this information. I know Columbus City Schools is cutting corners just like every district to save money. They closed several schools this year, shifting the students to other schools to save money. And at the end of the school year, 133 teachers in the district were laid off. With this poor economy, other staff received no raises, but at least they were able to keep their jobs. A levy was passed in recent years, but apparently it’s not enough to help the school district.
I try to remember that Cordy isn’t the only child in the district, and that the cost of an aide for a child like her might be too much for the district to handle.
Then I read the news about the school board voting last week to give the superintendent of our school district a raise – a raise far larger than any teacher or staff member in the district is receiving. For the next four years, she’ll receive annual 3% raises along with a retroactive 4% raise that she deferred last year. Her total salary at the end of the four years will be $217,000, making her the third highest paid superintendent in Ohio.
This is not a reward for a stellar performance. The test scores for our district are abominable. (And the average high school student in our district probably couldn’t tell you what abominable means, other than something to do with a snowman, or spell it.) The superintendent is getting a raise for a graduation rate that has made an “improvement” to 73.9%.
I don’t see the reason in it. Schools are closed, teachers are laid off, they threaten to scrap bus transportation for some students, and yet the person who has the least to do with educating children gets the largest pay increase?
On a more personal note, the district can’t provide my daughter an aide in the classroom to give her the legal right to a “least restrictive environment”, but they can make sure their superintendent is the third highest paid school administrator in the state?
I really feel the district has a screwed up sense of priorities. I have no doubt in my mind that the teachers are doing the best they can with the resources given to them, but the school board and administrators aren’t properly appropriating those resources. The teachers need more help. They need fewer students in a class, and aides to help out students who are academically ready for their grade, but might need some assistance with adaptive skills and transitions.
If Aaron wasn’t laid off in May, we probably would have enrolled Cordy in a private Montessori school. After all, she’s doing extremely
But, like the teachers in the school district, we also can’t provide the best for Cordy because of money. It sucks.
The plan at this point is to be the best advocates we can for Cordy this year, watching her progress at school closely and pushing for more integration and moving away from the special needs classroom if possible. Assuming we’re both employed next year, Cordy will then go to the Montessori school for first grade. Seeing the superintendent get a large raise when teachers are laid off, classrooms are stuffed full of more students, and when my daughter can’t get the most appropriate education because it’s not in the budget has completely turned me off from this school district.
I want to support public schools. But I can’t support a school district that I feel doesn’t use its money properly. I will vote against the school board members who voted for the superintendent’s raise, I will not support this superintendent, and should the district cry “poor!” and put another levy on the ballot in the next few years, I will not forget the actions of the district this year when I cast my vote. And I will find another district, or save all we can for a private school, for my children where I feel they will get the best education possible.