Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Redistricting: Test Scores, Money, Suspense!

Even if the words “Board of Education” and “redistricting” sound boring to you, keep reading. Stamford’s effort to balance its school population is one of our most important city-wide issues. At tonight’s hearing, parents and residents will have a chance to speak to the Board of Ed about the controversial proposal to close one school. The BOE has yet to choose which school to axe, so you can imagine the tension.

Redistricting involves ensuring schools are balanced in income and ethnicity. That’s cool: complicated, but cool, and in the best interest of the city as a whole. Four Stamford schools scored so poorly that they had to implement government-mandated No Child Left Behind interventions (school choice and tutoring). That’s a problem. Mixing high-achieving and low-achieving students has been shown to work, so let’s go for it.

The meeting also, and more controversially, involves the need to close one of Stamford’s twelve elementary schools. Oops, Stamford committed to building a brand new magnet school in the Cove before realizing our school population was not increasing as predicted. Closing a smaller school will provide kids for the new school, and according to a Jan. 5 Advocate article, save the city $5.4 million.

One of the schools at the top of the "maybe you'll get axed" list is Toquam Magnet Elementary-- one of only four of Stamford Schools that met NCLB standards. (Four out of TWENTY.) Kids apply for magnets in a lottery, and the student body is designed to be racially and socio-economically diverse. It makes sense to ask why the BOE wants to close that school, or any school that is performing well AND is racially balanced. Some Toquam parents suspect the board wants to disband Toquam because it would be easy to send those kids back to their neighborhood schools, and perhaps it wants the Toquam building for something else.

I’ve corresponded with a couple Toquam parents, and their feeling seems quite reasonable: the BOE needs to make a convincing case for whatever school they decide to close. In my opinion, if the BOE disbands Toquam, it needs to explain how the performance of that magnet will be replicated. While test scores aren’t the only indicator of success, it’s one measurement, especially when other Stamford schools are bombing out.

In the end, maybe it all comes down to money. Maybe closing Toquam saves the most money. Public education is always a compromise between cost and the best interests of kids, and choices are never easy. The Board of Finance will meet with the BOE at the end of the week to hear their reasoning and, I assume, decide if they agree with the BOE. Stamford, things are heating up.

School redistricting affects the future of Stamford as a whole. This is a segregated city except for a few areas. Mixing different types of people, again, can only help in Stamford’s quest to become a better city. We want a city whose student population is increasing. We want Stamford to be the place where people want to raise their kids.

I’d like info to be more easily accessible to interested residents. I don’t have kids, but I want to keep up with this issue. I want one place I can go for board notes, newspaper articles, and editorials. I don’t want to have to visit 5 websites (City of Stamford, Stamford Public Schools, Stamford Advocate, Stamford Times, Save Toquam) to find information. I’m not sure if SPS could maintain the site, or if a newspaper could do it, or if an interested resident would do it, but in today’s world, info needs to be online, and we need to be able to find it in less than five places.

I recommend two places for information:
1. At the Board of Ed section of the Stamford Public Schools site, you can read minutes of the 2007 meetings. However, each meeting’s minutes are in a separate PDF. It’s not very user-friendly, but it’s worth clicking around. I stumbled upon October 18 and found some thorough background on the situation.
2. The Save Toquam site is useful because it includes text from old Advocate articles, which DISAPPEAR FROM EXISTENCE after two weeks. The site also has commentary from Toquam parents and letters to the editor. I found Jeff Herz’s "January Situation Update" post helpful. If anyone knows how I can find old Advocate articles, other than keeping stacks of yellowing newspapers around my house, email me.

I’m going to end on a positive note: children are wonderful, children are resilient. We need to do whatever we can to give EACH ONE of them a safe, structured environment and capable, caring teachers. Once we do that, things will work themselves out. Happy, safe kids = good citizens and Stamford residents. Let’s give props to the teachers who work hard every day at a very challenging job.

*Last year the Supreme Court ruled that race can no longer be used as a factor in redistricting, so schools will use socio-economic and first language statistics.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for highlighting this important issue. The BoE's position on Toquam is a perplexing one indeed. Why take a success story like Toquam and close it down? It's troubling to me that KT Murphy may continue to exist right around the corner from a school, all the while continuing to fail Stamford's children. It's madness, and I hope the voters of Stamford watch these proceedings with great interest.

I value diversity in public education, which is why I send my children to public school in Stamford. Let's find ways to replicate the successes at Toquam. The Toquam model and staff prove that it cane be done.

Goodness gracious, people, use your noggins when selecting which school to close!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for those links. This is definitely an issue to be addressed.

Anonymous said...

The school to close that would save the most money is Rogers. It is heavily undercapacity (200 student below its target level) and has the most capital project needs at $9 million. It's facilities are lacking ... unless you are fond of asphalt playgrounds and I-95. It's magnet school program could be transfered elsewhere now that the EMM is opening only a short distance away in the Cove.