Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bad Moon Rising?

Just as this week's Buck Moon was rising I happened to hear from yet another long-time Fayette County school administrator complaining about a lack of educational leadership from the top. The stories, if true, are disappointing. KSN&C readers may recall I opined that FCPS Superintendent Tom Shelton (and unsuccessful candidate Lu Young, who was later hired by Shelton) were both good candidates. I greatly respect the work of the Council for Better Education which Shelton also heads. 

But I have heard from a handful of FCPS Administrators now. (I know half of them to be very well-respected. While I am not personally familiar with the work of the other younger administrators, they seem like good folks who don't have a bone to pick with anyone.) Surprisingly, the most common complaint: a lack of communication, and therefore, leadership. "We're on our own," one principal said as she swirled her index finger in a downward spiral and shook her head in dismay. Down the drain. "I've never seen it this bad. It takes three weeks to get answers to important questions," she told me. Uh oh. Sounds like the Fayette County schools might be getting the old administrative swirlie?  

Superintendent Tom Shelton (who was hired in large part for his business acumen rather than education background) has been under a lot of pressure lately - awaiting the State Auditor's report on alleged irregularities within the school districts' finances; which may or may not have led to a budget deficit of nearly $20 million; just as a redistricting discussions are getting warmed up...

Then, there's today's Herald-Leader which reminded us all that there are rich schools and poor schools (same as it ever was). Bad timing. Ouch.

Redistricting is perhaps the most naturally divisive aspect of public schooling; but necessary. And even if done well you are guaranteed to have a bunch of hacked off people. Despite what the district tells parents, all schools are not equal. It is a political exercise comprised of winners and losers. The concern is always the same. I want my child in that school...not the one you're telling me I'm going to get. Nearly all parents will argue that they want the best for every child. But most of them want any equity solutions to be worked out in a different part of town. 
I see trouble on the way...

Rich schools/poor schools: 

Activity funds show growing divide among Fayette County schools

This from the Herald-Leader:
There's an economic divide among schools in Fayette County — and one of the most glaring examples is fundraising by parents and students.

The amount of money raised for trips, athletics and extra academic supplies varies widely — from Rosa Parks Elementary, which anticipates $445,700 in revenues in 2014-2015, to Harrison Elementary, which is forecasting revenues of $21,335.

In the tentative budgets for school activity funds, which were approved by the Fayette County School Board last month, "you can see dramatic increases between schools based on the ability of parents to do fundraising," said Superintendent Tom Shelton. "We've become a society of the haves and have-nots, and that's not good for anybody."

School officials say the activity funds highlight the economic divide in Fayette County schools, some of which have concentrations of wealthy students or poor students. That divide is under increased scrutiny as the district prepares to redraw attendance zones in a process that could balance out some of those differences.

District officials have decided that a primary goal of the redistricting process is achieving socioeconomic balance.

But some parents are balking. They want their children to go to the school nearest their homes, even if it means that schools are not diverse.

Rosa Parks, where 8.3 percent of students receive free and reduced lunch, had $535,666 in revenues in its school activity fund in 2013. The elementary school sits near half-million dollar homes in the Harrodsburg Road area.

This past year, Rosa Parks made about $27,000 on one 5K-run fundraiser, more than Harrison Elementary's anticipated revenues for all of 2014-15. At Harrison, where some surrounding homes sell for $60,000 to $80,000, 97.6 percent of students receive free and reduced lunch.A petition was posted last week on signed by parents upset that socioeconomic status is a primary consideration in redrawing Fayette schools attendance zones.

And this:

Parents sign petition supporting neighborhood schools 

as primary factor in Fayette redistricting

Read more here:
The petition had more than 500 signatures by Friday afternoon [636 by Saturday evening]. It said the district should "not force redistricting on any family."

The petition to the school board reflects comments made Thursday at a public redistricting forum at Lafayette High School.

Earlier this year, the school board adopted goals for a redistricting plan that will be proposed to the board in early 2015.

No one goal is weighted more heavily than others, Superintendent Tom Shelton said Friday.
But socioeconomic balance — having a mixture of students from varying social classes — "is a primary consideration identified by the school board because it is directly tied to student achievement," Shelton said.

"Education research demonstrates that all students achieve better in diverse settings — including those from high income families, middle income families and low income families," he said.

"We understand and respect that every person who has signed the petition wants what is best for kids, as do we."

In Fayette County, some elementary schools have less than 15 percent of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Others have well over 90 percent.

Parents said having children go to the school closest to their home, not socioeconomic balance, should be the main goal.

Shelton said the school board "also recognizes the desire of some families to attend schools close to their homes, and has identified proximity as another desirable outcome."

The website did not indicate who is behind the group called Fayette County Citizens that posted the petition on June 6.

But the web page explaining the petition said, in part, "Although balancing socio-economic status in schools has been stated as a primary consideration in drawing school boundaries, it is widely documented that letting students go to the local school in their community, even if it means that most of the students would be the same race or socioeconomic status, is greatly preferred by a majority in the community."

Redistricting all of Lexington's public-school boundaries is being necessitated by a new high school on Winchester Road and two new elementary schools, one on Georgetown Road and another east of Interstate 75.

Officials said the elementary schools should open in fall 2016; the high school should open in fall 2017.

The petition said the Fayette County School Board should reach a resolution that improves academic achievement for all students. The resolution should be one that delivers "the resources necessary to improve the learning environment in schools with students of relatively lower socioeconomic status," the petition said.

Shelton said the school board also placed "the achievement of all students as the foundation for every decision related to new attendance boundaries."

The petition said district officials should "pursue as its primary consideration the principle of attending a school close to your home and with those that live in the same neighborhood rather than socioeconomic status."

At least 90 signatures were anonymous.

One woman who signed her name to the petition, Carrie Rudzik, said she had no problem with socio-economic balance being one factor, but she thought neighborhood schools should be the primary goal.

Rudzik said in an interview that she signed the petition because she lives across the street from Glendover Elementary and she does not want her children to be reassigned to another school.

"My husband and I just purchased a home with the primary factor being the school district," Rudzik said in comments attached to the online petition. "I'm sure there are many other families who have done the same."

Parent Lindsey Ingram, who spoke at Thursday's public forum, said he also signed the petition.
"We are very concerned about this process and how it's going to play out," he said.

Ingram said he thought that parents at all socio-economic levels want their children to finish at the elementary school where they started and attend a school that's close to where they live.

Meanwhile, school board member Amanda Ferguson said she wanted to make it clear to citizens that when the school board approved the goals, they were in no particular order of priority.

The committee that is developing a redistricting plan includes school board members, business leaders, Equity Council members, parents, Realtors, home builders, principals and city planning officials.

The last time redistricting was undertaken on a large scale was in 2002.

At this point, the redistricting committee is early in its work, Shelton said, and has not begun discussing any specific proposals.

Committee members "will grapple with how to achieve the very best solution for our entire community, using student achievement as the arbiter in decisions," Shelton said.
more here:


Anonymous said...

At one time I have heard that parents, when presented with contradiction between their child's description of an event and their teacher's, would pretty consistently side with the teacher. I speculate that at the time parents held a higher regard for teachers as well as the institution of school.

Now it seems that individuality and exceptionality often win the day when it comes to parent/students and the school. No one would certainly fault a parent's desire to seek the best education and resources for their individual child but now that effort often seems to come with the a lack of social consciousness where by one's child must always be first - right or wrong - and for the others let the chips fall where they may.

Anonymous said...

Fayette County is just a microcosm of what is occurring throughout the state. As I have said before, do we really think that Owsley County and Oldham County have equitable resources and equal opportunities just because they function under the same SEEK formula?

On a different note, perhaps the disparity between opportunities is not just rooted in the SES of specific school neighborhoods but also the mission sprawl which has occurred within schools. As one of the principals points out in the L-H article, any additional funds her poor school can generate have to go to supporting more immediate/basic needs of students as opposed to enrichment types of opportunities which higher SES school communities can support through external fund raising.

We live at a time when schools are expected to provide food, transportation, health care, clothing and technology in addition to high quality instruction to students who come from poverty and low SES households. On the other end of the spectrum we have schools' with middle and well-to-do parents whose kids don't have to worry about basic needs and whose parents have expectations that the school will to create, supply and sustain various teams, clubs and travel experiences.

There isn't going to be any additional funds coming into school coffers and we are going to have to start drawing lines in regard to what a school is practically responsible for achieving and supplying to students and what parents need to be doing outside those school operations. Why shouldn't parents be responsible for organizing and funding out of state trips for groups of students, forming clubs for students and even sports for that matter. That isn't to say it will make matters any more equitable for individuals but it might decrease the pressure and responsibilities on schools and educator so that they can focus on what I thought we were suppose to be doing - teaching students.

Richard Day said...

July 14, 2014 at 1:46 PM:

As a kid I always got spankings in even numbers. Spanked at school? Expect another when Dad gets home. In front of me, my parents always supported the teacher. My classmates and I were taught the same rules about how to go to school. There was a generalized mutual respect.

White middle-class society at midcentury – at least the northern Kentucky society I knew - was much more homogenous than today. And for good or ill, local cultural norms prevailed. Of course, the existing homogeneity was directly attributable to the fact that blacks were educated in a separate system. Even a decade after Brown v Board of Ed (1954) less than 3% of blacks went to schools with whites.

You have alluded to what I suspect, but I think of it a little differently. Instead of individuality v exceptionality, I tend to see me v us. But I suspect that we are looking at the same thing.

There is a line of political thought that argues government works best when everyone looks out for themselves. I don’t buy it because in some measure, it runs counter to my Christian faith. It also produces winners and losers, which the majority of the public readily accepted in 1964, but would melt under the scrutiny of today’s goals.

FCPS is grappling with a fundamental question? Does “all” really mean “all?” If the schools were more adequately funded, the superintendent would be better able to address equity without harming excellence. Whenever school funding is inadequate, equity and excellence are forced to compete.

Richard Day said...

July 14, 2014 at 2:04 PM:

I just happen to have some old data on this phenomenon from my 2003 dissertation. Allow me to point out the “rich” school’s point of view:

”The broad inequities that existed at the district level before KERA still exist, albeit on a smaller scale, and now at the local school level. This has resulted in identifiable groups of students who are not realizing the promise of KERA and the Kentucky Department of Education appears powerless or unwilling to address the problem. The rhetoric of reform assures the public that no child will be left behind, but old methods of distributing supplementary funds for extra school services continue to flow only to schools with high percentages of low-income students. Low-income students who may need extra assistance are not likely to get the programs they need if they attend a school with a high percentage of affluent peers.

In addition Federal dollars, particularly Title I funds, are distributed within the state in the same manner. This has the effect of leaving thousands of needy children without access to programs they would enjoy if they only attended a different school. For example, during the 2001-2002 school year, Cassidy Elementary School in Fayette County served approximately 125 free/reduced lunch students, representing about 27% of the school’s population. By contrast, Russell Elementary served approximately 200 free/reduced lunch students, representing nearly all of its population. Russell Elementary received approximately $173,000 in Title I assistance, enough to fund four teachers with change left over. Cassidy School received no Title I dollars. This is based on a distribution formula that provides funding for poor students, only if those students attend a school with a high percentage of free/reduced lunch students. All 325 students in question live in an urban area within a mile of each other, and all within the same school district. In the 2002-2003 school year, the percentage of Cassidy’s free/reduced lunch students rose to 31.8%, still with no assistance for poor students.

I am arguing here that this circumstance is improper under Kentucky law and is directly on point in the Supreme Court Opinion rendered in Rose v. Council for Better Education. Such circumstances reveal a flaw in the SEEK funding formula. It is the non-transferable duty of the General Assembly to assure that each and every child receives an equitable and adequate education. But presently, once the SEEK funds are allocated to local districts, there are no apparent controls in place to ensure an equitable distribution below that level. The state’s total reliance upon local districts to ensure equity is suspect.”

Anonymous said...

The district is in complete disarray. Communication from the top doesn't get to the people that actually do the work. The Superintendent has isolated himself from everyone in the building downtown. He parks in the back lot, slinks through the old gym and then darts into his side office door- never engaging with any of the employees. It is a shame. Tom has to go. His time here has been a total failure. And he needs to take his chiefs with him.

Budget cuts, redistricting, an audit. It has been a great year for FCPS! And who suffers? Kids.