Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Good, Bad, and Ugly Of Daddy's First School Year

Next week is my daughter’s kindergarten graduation. Tomorrow is the last field trip. No one will be happier than I am that school is ending. She won’t be happy because she loves going but she won’t get any sympathy from me. It’s been a long grind and I after this first year I have new respect for my parents and all single moms especially those with more than one kids. If you all get those children where they need to be on time and still make it to work yourself no one in this world should have a bad thing to say about you. You all have my permission to call in sick the first two weeks of summer to sleep late if you want to. I won’t be mad at you.I got a little taste of what your day might be like and I don't know about doing that until high school graduation. You can have that. I salute you.

The big debate here is charter schools versus local school board control of the schools. Some people love the idea of charter schools and some people hate them. Like other decisions that have been made since the city’s recovery started, this is one of those things that have already been decided and there is no turning back. Once there was any improvement in those test scores that fight was already over. There won’t be less charter schools. There will be more. My personal feeling is that I want good education for the kids of New Orleans. At this point it doesn’t matter to me if its charters, vouchers or letting the school board run them all. As long as the teachers are qualified and the schools are addressing the needs some of these kids have then so be it. Regardless of what system we end up with, it needs to be easier for parents to understand. It is public school system after all and you should be able to go to one spot and apply and test for any school you want to. That goes for those privileged “public” schools where the principals make the big money. Since the year is ending I thought I would give my take on the good, bad, and ugly of my first year as a school parent. One thing I have discovered by being around other parents is that you can be totally satisfied with something going on while the next person thinks the entire school sucks. I guess it’s all about perspective. This is just my opinion.

The Good

The Principal: Any fears I had about sending my daughter to a first year school was settled by this guy. He’s a good guy and he really cares about those kids. I have a naturally apprehension when it comes to the intentions of people not from the community that decide to come in and work with the kids. From now on I will give them the benefit of the doubt because as long as he’s in charge of the school my kids will be going there. If he goes to another school I might follow him there. That’s how impressed I am with his operation so far.

The Student Environment: Every parent likes to see their child be recognized for his/her achievements but I think it’s a good idea if a school promotes the idea that all of the kids are in it together. The kids seem to understand this and pull for one another. I don’t know how long they can keep this up as they older but right now it’s a cool thing. When I was in Kindergarten I didn’t know all of my classmates names because as long as they were quiet our teacher didn’t call us out. Teamwork is a good thing.

The Level of Material: Addition, subtraction, units of measurement, Science, writing stories……what the hell happened to finger painting and nap time in kindergarten? I have a suggestion for the powers that be. If homework is going to be this involved going forward, there needs to be some kind of program for the parents who need to help the kids to get them up to speed on some of this stuff. I’m not trying to be funny at all when I say New Orleans doesn’t have the greatest academic record and by the end of the first grade some of these kids are going to know more than their parents. It’s going to be harder and harder for these kids to get help at home.

The Bad

The length of the school day: The regular school day schedule is 8:00AM to 4:00PM. When you add in the after school program and the bus rides, we are basically looking at an eleven hour day for kids ages 4-6. Add an hour of homework to that and I don’t know how they retain any of the information they learned. They should really think about cutting about an hour of this time down. There’s another big reason for this included in the ugly part.

The Behavior Chart: Teachers need a way to maintain order and discipline since they can’t slap kids on the hands with rulers anymore. I guess these behavior charts work but have you ever seen the look on a kids face with a negative mark on the behavior chart? It’s too much pressure to if you ask me. The guidelines seem to be up to the teacher’s interpretation and I don’t know if that can be fair. This especially bothers me for black boys because they are the quickest to be labeled and a few bad notes in a student record can follow them all the way to high school.

Mandatory Parent Events: I don’t have a problem with mandatory parental events in theory. I have a problem with the type of events they selected. You shouldn’t have to make parents come to the Thanksgiving dinner or the Mardi Gras parade. There should be some other mandatory things like helping with homework, PTA meetings or building that playground like we did.

The Ugly

Uninformed parents: Every Friday afternoon there are dozens of parents out there for early dismissal. Every Friday you hear whining and complaining about the teachers and the program. Every parent meeting the same ones whining and complaining are nowhere to be found. How do they even know what to complain about if they never visit the school or talk to the staff?I don't know how you can manage not talking to them when they demand so much of the parents.

The hood around the school: There’s a store on the back side that’s not so friendly. There’s a house across the street that isn’t so cool either. The few blocks leading up the school are a little rough to pass through too. It’s like one of the parents told the school recruiter about describing it other people “things are really good once you get inside the building”. I am not sure if there is anything we can do about this without moving the school or becoming vigilantes.

I would still rather have this same program around my own house: It's a good thing I work close to the school because there's a good chance I wouldn't have drove across town just for kindergarten. I don’t know how you have a truly functional neighborhood without your own school. New Orleans used to have elementary schools all over the place. We may have had too many before and now I don’t think we have enough. Going to school where you live helps you get to know the people around the area. Plus, it would help some of these parents who struggle to make it across town with their children. I may not change schools now because I like the principal so much but I would still like the option. Maybe they are building a new one and I don’t know because no one is communicating.

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