Thursday, March 20, 2008

Community Meeting at Ludlow-Taylor (continued)

What Happened


I’m freaked out, I don’t know that I’ve ever been a part of a large-scale meeting or conversation that so accurately reflected our current national debate on race, class, education, and gentrification. All the usual suspects were there: well meaning White liberals who “just want to help”, outraged parents of current students (current stats show that NO children classified as “White” attend LT, take that for what it’s worth), and teachers & administrators caught between the two groups.

After Chancellor Rhee yielded the floor things heated up. A group called ‘Friends of Ludlow-Taylor’ (FoLT) seemed to be getting ready to start leading the meeting but they were interrupted by a parent of a currently enrolled student. He didn’t introduce himself to the crowd, but related an anecdote about getting the run around when he tried to find out more information about FoLT. The Gentleman went on at length, talking about his family’s fifty year roots in the neighborhood, gave a few thoughts on the meaning of gentrification, and finished up by saying, “They’re runnin’ game.”

People then moved into small (8-10 person) facilitated groups. I missed the initial setup while talking to someone, so I didn’t hear the instructions, but I ended up with an agenda and a page with the questions the facilitator was asking on it. The questions weren’t exactly meaningless boilerplate, but they didn’t seem to be much more than a jumping off point for how the people in attendance were going to remake the curriculum and programs of LT. At this point I kind of started wandering around a bit.

I moved over to another table to see how things were going there, the second facilitator seemed to have a slightly better grip on her group. At this second table I got a chance to speak with Dr. Pressler, the current principal of LT. Dr. Pressler struck me as a dedicated and committed educator, he explained to me that some sort of grant proposal had been submitted for him to sign off on that detailed an out of control school. Naturally no principal worth anything would allow themselves to be denigrated like that, so he refused to cooperate.

Judging from what I saw on the posters around the neighborhood, it looks like FoLT expected a new principal to be named at last night’s meeting, but that didn’t appear to be the case. However, WifeRat was still there when Chancellor Rhee was speaking about Dr. Pressler and came away with a different impression.

Analysis


It looks like a group of well intentioned parents got together outside of the regular channels of the school system to discuss how they could improve LT. It also appears that in their enthusiasm to try and raise the level of achievement at LT, these same parents neglected to include the current administration and parents in their plans. Understandably, the parents of the kids that already go to school there are a little pissed about a cabal of people coming in and attempting what could easily be interpreted as a coup.

Another thing that came out while I was talking to various people at last night’s community meeting was the fact that apparently Chancellor Rhee had met with FoLT and cancelled a meeting with the LT PTA. In her defense, Chancellor Rhee promised to correct that oversight (or diss, depends on who you ask) in the immediate future, but it’s a little strange that the Chancellor of DCPS would meet with a group of people whose children don’t attend a DCPS.

The one teacher I spoke to said that she and a couple of other teachers had been denied admittance to FoLT. I don’t know if it was an oversight or an intentional slight, but it strikes me as kind of strange that a group trying to help a school wouldn’t want input from the teachers at the school.

Now I'm finally ready to mention the big ol' elephant in the room: race. Let's be serious shall we? It's obvious that the members of FoLT are working off the standard model of participation (The Peace Corps, Teach for America, VISTA, etc.) for White people who "want to make a difference". Swoop in with the ink just barely dry on their diplomas, do some stuff that doesn't affect the structural/institutional forces that created the conditions they're trying to correct, and then leave feeling good about themselves. All the while completely ignoring the input and experiences of the people they're allegedly there to "help". I'll stop now because I'm enjoying this a little too much.

Don't think I'm going to let Black people off the hook, I'm not. When I asked if PTA meetings were usually this well attended (see the previous post) one of the parents I met during the table discussions clued me in to the fact that PTA meetings usually had less than five attendees. But the very idea that some White people were "trying to take over the school" had the parents of LT's current students crawling over each other to get to this meeting.

Conclusion


I'm not sure what the hell is going on at Ludlow-Taylor, it seems like everyone is mad at everyone who's not in their little clique. The one thing I saw that made me hopeful was that there were a lot of different people representing disparate interests and rather than folks just pitching a fit and storming out or throwing up their hands in frustration that their carefully laid plans had gone astray, people stayed and talked to one and other. Really, that was about all I could have hoped for out of that meeting.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

You seem to be the only one who's posted on the web about the meeting - nothing on the MOTH or Ludlow-Taylor Friends listserv. Yes, some of the comments at the meeting was a bit disturbing, but better to get some things aired. I was at a "breakout session" with mostly staff and teachers (and a volunteer), a few current parents, and one other white prospective parents. Everyone was generally conciliatory, if guarded. The current parents naturally said they thought it was a pretty good school.

I wouldn't exactly agree "that the members of FoLT are working off the standard model of participation (The Peace Corps, Teach for America, VISTA, etc.) for White people who "want to make a difference"." My additude is rather that I'd like to send my kid to LT because it's my local school, but based on what I know and have heard (admittedly not much), it's not a good school, in great part because they are dealing with a bunch of kids coming from difficult circumstances. (Though I was too chicken to say that directly at the school.) Thus, let's try to make it good - better for the kids there, and better for prospective parents. That's going to take a while, so we'd better start before our kids get there.

Hill Rat said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! If we're going to help LT live up to its full potential, it's imperative that we have a free flow of ideas between all of the stakeholders. It is probably going to be messy and contentious at times, but IMHO that is the price of creating the creative tension that is a necessary component of greatness. I just hope that everyone keeps their eye on the ball and we don't spend too much time dealing with people's interpersonal bullshit.

Spread the Word,

HR

ibc said...

This sounds like such a difficult situation. Of course, the "interlopers" are resented, but there's a powerful incentive for parents whose children are not yet of school age to do whatever it takes to force change. Without incredible sensitivity on *both* sides, it's just a recipe for disaster.

Our daughter just turned 17 months old, and we're in-boundary for Maury ES. How old is you daughter, HR?

Hill Rat said...

ibc,

Thanks adding your $.02. You're correct when you say that everyone needs to sensitive; a hostile "screw these white yuppies" attitude is just as damaging as a paternalistic "we're here to help these poor black people" one.

We need more cool heads like yours at the Ward 6 Education forum on 4/26. I'll post about it as we get closer to the actual date.

Also, to answer your question, BabyRat just turned 3 on Monday.