Kevin Wendt, editor of The Huntsville Times, wrote today’s editorial “School dilemma no easy fix” (no link available yet).
Wendt writes about the “conversation” and “community-wide discussion”, then identifies types of “dialogue” that “do not help”. Wendt uses the example of the NAACP’s “provocative quote” (“violent revolution”) then overreaches to balance it with an example of south Huntsville “passing letters to parents about the inevitability of busing”, in effect blaming south Huntsville parents for responding to NAACP provocation. Of course, if all you read is The Times, you may not know that the NAACP proposed busing as a solution.
Wendt asks “What is the solution?” to the “enrollment demographics” of a school system divided into “predominately black” and “predominately white” neighborhoods. Wendt then highlights three points: “transformative” Lee High School, new construction to replace some north Huntsville schools, and the “spirit of community involvement” at Lincoln Elementary.
I think that Wendt makes some good points, but he overstates the success at Lincoln when he says that “involvement from churches and volunteers helped generate some of the best test scores in the city”. The 10 to 1 student teacher ratio and hundreds of volunteers and an innovative principal did have a tremendous impact, but Lincoln wasn’t transformed into one of the best schools – it was average – and Wendt should’ve known that from reading his own newspaper.
Lincoln could have been expected to score in the 20s (like MLK) on 3rd grade SAT tests, but scored in the 40s (like Providence). The best schools in Huntsville scored in the 80s (and all schools in Madison scored in the 70s and 80s). Lincoln’s 5th grade performance was better with scores in the 60s (better than Providence), but still, not the best.
As for new construction in north Huntsville – I agree with Bob Harrison – the next new school built in Huntsville should be in north Huntsville (located where the demographic study supports construction).
And as for the new Lee High School – it is an ongoing train wreck. The new location is terrible – the campus is split by a busy railroad track. Students must cross the tracks to reach the ball fields. Then there’s parking… Parking at the new Huntsville High is a problem at times, but at least there is a neighborhood for on-street parking to handle the overflow. The new LHS has limited parking and no overflow. Then there are the demographics, and I’m going to agree with Bob Harrison twice in one article – there may not have been a need for a new school in that area. Expecting the new LHS to be “transformative” when it starts with these self-imflicted limitations may be a bit too much.
Wendt (who I like in real life) ends by asking for ideas:
“But this is just a start. There are hundreds more ideas that could lead to a better system overall.
The Department of Justice letter highlighted the depth and complexity of the challenge.
So here is a question to you: How would you define success in our school systems?”
BTW CSPAN is airing the National Governors Association meeting - the education panel was worth watching. Summary: discipline, high standards, better teachers, better principals. One of the world-class techniques discussed involved tailoring instruction to individual students – Huntsville’s own Appleton Learning Center has researched and developed assessment tools to do just that. Appleton is developing cutting-edge education methods that measurably improve student academic performance. That is success.