Failing Schools, Failing Students or a Failing Public?
Quick, tell me. Do we have failing schools, failing students or a failing public?
In Mobile, Alabama there is an abundance of conversation about failing schools. As if all you have to do is remove the students from that particular school and they will be just fine. Well, I am one person that believes things don't work that way. Take for instance the "down the bay" district in Mobile. Last year that district had a failing high school (Williamson), a failing middle school (Mae Eanes), and a Blue Ribbon elementary school (George Hall), all part of the Mobile County Public School System.
(Above: portrait of Africatown's Mobile County Training Middle School, by James Hope)
I have often wondered how can the same students that started out doing so well in their first five years of public school end up doing so poorly in their last seven years of public education. George Hall Elementary School was a failing school years ago before a new principal was brought in and one of the first things she did was hire new teachers. Did anyone from the school system talk to her to see how she changed things from a failing to a Blue Ribbon School? Also was she ever offered the choice to move up to either Mae Eanes Middle School or Williamson High School to try and work her magic with those kids and those schools?
Last year, the Mobile Public School System had its share of failing middle and high schools. Mae Eanes Middle School and Williamson High School were two of those schools. However, if you look things up on your computer, you will see that the Mobile Public School System has one less failing middle school this year than it had last year. Problem solved, right?
The Mobile Public School System simply closed Mae Eanes Middle School and moved the students to the newly created Williamson Prep Middle School on the campus of William High School. Because it takes two years for a school to show up on the failing school list, the Mobile Public School System seems to have eliminated one of their failing schools. The emphasis here seems to be on moving the students around and closing schools, not solving the problem.
At a strategy meeting I attended recently, the question asked was "what would you do to help students learn at a failing school". Some of the answers were, "start a trade school on the campus for the students, let the students leave school early so they can go to work at a real job and earn some money while learning a trade and bring in tutors in the evening to help failing students.
While bringing in tutors sound good, I have seen too many situations where 10 tutors might show up but only two or three students show up. In those situations something has to be worked out with the parents that almost forces failing students to attend tutorial sessions. As far as trade schools on campus and leaving school early is concerned, they might be useful at a high school because juniors and seniors are ready to leave anyway, but that won't help at the middle school level. Whenever you have students go to a trade school situation or leave school you are taking them away from the classroom. Remember, we want to help them learn in a classroom situation, not remove them from a classroom situation.
I prefer the term Failing Public. To me that means the parents fail, public school system failed and the general public failed.
Africatown's Mobile County Training Middle School has 250 students with only eight teachers, which equates to more than 30 students per classroom. That is too many students per class for one teacher. So how do we get more teachers at that school? How about student teachers?
There are three institutions of higher learning in Mobile County: The University of South Alabama, Springhill College and Mobile College. Together, they hand out hundreds of teaching degrees each and every year. Those candidates for their teaching degree are required to put in months of practice teaching before they receive their teaching degree. However, I don't know of any circumstances where those teaching candidates were sent to failing school in the Mobile Public School System, certainly not to Mobile County Training Middle School. What better place to learn how to sharpen your teaching skills than at a failing school.
I believe the colleges in Mobile and Mobile's Public School System should work out some situation where college students are allowed to spend time at a failing school. In addition, what about those in school to receive their Masters or Doctorate Degree. A thesis titled " How To Improve Failing Schools" would be a great subject to write on. Also, what about bringing in the best teachers to teach at failing schools, as that principal at George Hall Elementary School did?
Right now the best teachers in Mobile are given a bonus and sent off to teach at the best school. How about offering our best teachers an extra financial incentive to teach at a failing school? That way we will really test the skills of our best teachers. If the problem is where will we get extra monies to give teachers a bonus to teach at failing schools lets have our City Councilperson, County Commissioner and School Board Rep talk among themselves and apply for funds through the city and county Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program.
Recently I learned that CDBG funds can be used for more than just fixing road and drainage, as we often do in Mobile. If possible, let's see if we can do more to help save our children. And by the way, do you know that Mobile County Training Middle School has had four principals in the past twelve months? That can't help the situation any.
In conclusion, let's all put forth positive efforts to remove ourselves from that failing public category. We can only do that by doing all we can to help our children learn. Once our children are able to make passing grades in all classes will we be able to eliminate failing schools and stop finding excuses to close public schools. Because after years and years of existence, communities become emotionally attached to their schools and do not want to see them closed.