Monday, December 3, 2007

Candid Conversation With An Assistant Principal

I had a very interesting conversation with an assistant principal who shall remain nameless but who does work at one of our Pittsburgh schools. I asked this person what in the heck was going on? What was being done about the increased violence? The decreasing test scores? The K-6, K-8, Middle combined with High School flip flops?

This person acknowledged that discipline was the biggest problem in our schools. Unruly/delinquent kids have no desire to learn, their disruptions keep others from learning, they obstruct teachers from teaching, and more often than not they have parent(s) who don’t give a flip. This person went on to say the “reorganizations” we’ve seen in the last few years are nothing more than the district trying to buy some time.

No Child Left Behind says non-performing schools will be closed at some point unless they show improvement OR unless there is a reorganization plan. The assistant principal said certain Pittsburgh schools did not improve enough and were in danger of being closed. So the district reorganized, trying the K-8 model. So far, He/She said, middle school scores look worse under this configuration than they did when middle schools stood alone. So, to again ward off possible closures, the district is planning to reorganize once more, this time placing middle school kids with the big boys in high school.

Did He/She really think scores would improve with this configuration? Did He/She really think discipline would improve by exposing 6th graders to 12th graders? So they could either be picked on or more quickly learn bad behavior from the big dogs? He/She answered “no” and “no.” He/She fully expects test scores to further decline, but the district will have bought themselves some time, which is what they are primarily after.

Nice, very nice.

Why couldn’t we do what was done when Ms. Pist was young? At that time in ancient history “bad kids” got sent to “bad kid schools.” These unruly delinquents were heavily disciplined in “special schools.” They were made to behave and as a consequence sometimes they actually learned. If their behavior improved, they could rejoin the mainstream schools. If not, then at least their disruptive (sometimes criminal) actions would not deprive other kids of a decent education.

“We already have such a school” the assistant principal answered. “The problem is Conroy is already full and we don’t have another.”

He/She was speaking of Conroy School on the North Side. It was news to me to hear that kids in this school spend their entire day in their own classroom. They eat lunch in their classroom and each classroom has its own bathroom, so there are no hall passes to abuse. The kids are heavily supervised all day long.

My vote? Provide each child with the best *opportunity* for learning which is possible. If a student is disruptive, on drugs, assaulting others, intimidating others, a disciplinary plan should be formulated with the parent(s). If the parent(s) do not care, do not show up, do not cooperate, the student should be transferred to Conroy. Or Conroy II, III, IV, or however many Conroys are necessary to get a handle on this problem.

Is this just “leaving these problem kids behind?” Absolutely not. The problem kid has some sort of chance at Conroy. If left where he is, the problem kid is likely to become a dropout statistic. Or if he does accidently graduate, it’s not likely he’ll even be able to read. He’s then doomed for sure. To a life of poverty and worse. And this is after he’s robbed everyone around him of their own best chance at a good education.

So why don’t we just do the sensible thing instead of the politically correct thing? Aren’t we all sick to death of politically correct? Why not worry about what kids learn rather than which building they learn it in? Bringing everyone down to the lowest possible denominator is not “fairness for all.” Instead, Ms. Pist believes this is fairness to no one.


Mark Rauterkus said...

Thanks for the post. I blog about your post at my blog.

Anonymous said...

This absolutely throws away these kids. It is a difficult problem what to do with disruptive and problem kids, I agree. You certainly don't want a few kids threatening, intimidating, harassing, or otherwise disrupting the kids who are trying to behave.

But most of the really troubled kids have a whole set of issues which need to be addressed. If we don't address them, if we simply warehouse them until they are 18, we are basically tossing them away and all but guaranteeing they will be criminals.

My psudo-adopted son spent his middle and high school years in an "alternative school" where he learned nothing. He is a smart boy who had two addicts for parents. When he finally came into our life at the end of his school career he had what probably amounted to an 8th grade education. You cannot recover from that (academically). This kid who might have been a doctor, lawyer, or simply a college graduate can barely read. What future do kids like that have? Mine was lucky enough to end up in a family with resources to help him and is now in cooking school, but how many other kids "graduate" and end up on the street with no hope? Most of the kids he graduated with are in jail or have been in jail at some point.

Right now all we do is warehouse them and throw them to the wolves. This doesn't do anyone any good. These "prison" schools should make us all hang our heads in shame.

Anonymous said...

Conroy isn't a school for bad kids, it is a school for handicapped and mentally delayed children. Maybe your friend was thinking of the newly opened Clayton School??