Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Very Good Year

After going to a private school from Pre-K through 5th grade, our youngest daughter is finishing her first year in public school this week. And I have to tell you that we’re all very pleased with her experience.

This may seem a little odd to you for two reasons. The first is that for 19 years I taught at the same private school that she attended. The second is that she’s not in some fancy-schmancy, well-off, suburban school district; she’s attending school in the Syracuse City School District.

As a private school teacher, I had heard all the propaganda about how bad public schools were, especially in the city. I had heard about how bad the teachers were, because of how low the test scores were when compared to other suburban school districts. I had heard how violent city schools were compared to suburban school districts. I have to tell you that this has not been our experience.

Even when I was a private school teacher, I'd always maintained that the school test scores were a terrible way to judge a how well a school was actually doing, because it didn’t take into account the number of students in the district for whom English is a second language, or the number of students coming from homes where there is poverty or where education isn’t highly valued. I figured that if you took the same students and put them into Fayetteville-Manlius or Jamesville-DeWitt, you’d see their scores go down and ours go up. Furthermore, I believe that if you take those very same students into account, then the “poor test scores” that we see in those schools represent something of a miracle for those students, and the teachers should be given due credit for how far along they’ve helped to bring those kids.

In addition, even my eleven-year-old daughter was smart enough to say, “It’s not like their low scores are contagious. I’m a good student anyway. I’ll do just fine.” She also met people of many more different socioeconomic backgrounds than she did at her old school; and this is a very good thing.

I’ve met the teachers at her school, and they seem to be every bit as dedicated to their students as the teachers who I once counted as my colleagues. And the principal goes out of her way to make sure that every parent feels welcome in what is their school. Huntington may be much larger than the school we came from, but it is every bit the caring academic community that we grew to expect over the past 21 years.

Is there violence in the city schools? I’ve heard from people who grew up in the city that this was always said about our schools by people in the suburbs. For some reason they thought that there were knife fights in every school every day, and bars on all the windows…and this was 30 years ago. Of course there are some knuckleheads who can’t seem to go a day without getting into an altercation with someone, but isn’t that true everywhere?

Now don’t get me wrong, there was much that was good about our old school, and it was a wonderful place. But once you get past the propaganda and the fear, you’ll find that the city schools can be wonderful places too.

That’s what we found, and we’re looking forward to our next six years in the system.