Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Open Letter to Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson

Today, I mourn the loss of five Seattle Public Schools. The decision to do so puts a mark of shame and fault on the district, a mark identified not by its academics and success but rather by its failure to serve our number one commodity--students. This is an enormous social blunder. We are facing a loss to our community, one that will have impacts for years.

The closure of the five schools is an issue of social justice, not one of capacity management or financial relief. You have decided to uproot these students from their communities.

Let me share a story with you.

Two years ago, I worked for the district as a mentor at Meany Middle School. There I met with a boy named Deshawn---a shy, quiet, sensitive yet eager young man who thrived when he was at school. Deshawn was an amazing kid. He had the demeanor of a tough guy, but the swagger of a gentle soul. When we would be talking or working together, he would seek my approval. Deshawn would be proud when he got a question right, looking up to me for that "Great job" or a simple glance of boastfulness that "my" student had done something incredible. Seeing his face put a smile on mine everyday.

While his academics were below average, school was the one place he had consistency. Deshawn's father was not present in his life, and his mother had died. He was cared for by his grandmother. Late in the year Deshawn's grandmother died of a heartattack. He was devastated. While he had a minial support group at home, school was the one place he had as a source of safety and comfort. Meany Middle School became his family. His teachers, myself and his peers were his brothers and sisters. Deshawn became even more attached to Meany and the community that surrounded him. Without this at the time of his grandmother's death, Deshawn would have been lost.

It is this kind of story that stretches across your school district, and these stories that will be affected by your recent decision to close five schools. A consolidation of schools does not mean an increase in educational equality. What you fail to realize is that these closures signify a destruction of a community--a community founded on cultural competency and diversity.

What are we teaching our students by closing these five schools? That they don't belong at the school they've called home for the past 4, 6, 12 years? What does it tell them that the district is closing all minority, low income schools?

This is an issue that needs to be readdressed. Not for the sake of my arguments, but for the sake of the children who are being so dramatically affected. Transferring students like Deshawn to a completely new environment will only yield negative academic and personal results. Let him be. Let him thrive in a community he calls home.

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