Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ludlow_Taylor Revisited

I have to say, I wasn't expecting much from this open house at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School last night. I'm already on record with a strong opinion of both the school and its principal. I got a link to that post from DCist that spiked my hits up to an all time high of 125 in one day! I found that out through the magic of Google Analytics.

I was definitely much less than complimentary in my post and I stand by what I wrote. However as I continue to write about my experiences with finding a public school for my child I find that I'm, thinking of myself and, acting as a citizen-journalist. Which leads me to wonder if claiming that title for myself obligates me in any way? I believe that it does, so here's what I owe you: the truth.

The truth is that I'm not a journalist, I've never taken a journalism class, or wrote for the school newspaper or anything like it. I have no idea what the basic tenets of journalism are supposed to be, I know there's some bullshit myth about objectivity but I can't even pretend I'm giving an unbiased view. Nevertheless, here I am gathering intel and disseminating it to all who care to look.

I'm a Dad who's trying to ensure that his child gets the best education possible, I want everything and then some for my kid. If I don't have to spend $25K every year on tuition for a three year old then our family is free do things like give more to charity, travel, and save for college . . . when I expected to have to pay for school.

But my stake in this is not just financial, it's about what kind of world do I want to leave for my child? Not to get too dramatic, but the decision to forgo public school for the time being was one that I made with great sadness. I always went to public schools (including both colleges, state schools) and I take some pride in the fact that I represent public schools well. MommaRat is a proud graduate of DCPS and I hoped that her namesake (BabyRat and MommaRat share a middle name) would be the same. I know far too many brilliant, educated, accomplished people who went to DCPS, and just as many stunningly average folks who went to "elite" private schools, to believe that there is no value to be found in a DCPS education.

I believe in public schools and want to do what I can to ensure that they remain a viable and venerated part of American life. I'm grateful that I have options, but it doesn't change the fact that I know I'm part of the problem with public education because rather than staying and fighting I'm just throwing money at the problem to make it go away for me and my family. It's not that I'm not willing to work towards better public schools, but for right now (the next 8-9 months) this isn't a fight worth having. I've decided that discretion is the better part of valor and retreated to a Montessori school while we continue to gather information, prepare for the school lotteries for the 2009-2010 school year, and reload for the next battle in the war to educate my child.

So with all that said, my prejudices and motivations laid bare for all to see, I continue my story.

Word 'round the campfire was that Principal Cobbs wasn't really into doing a, "dog and pony show" at this open house. Which makes what happened all the more surprising. I arrived at the evening open house about 15 minutes after it started due to hellacious crosstown traffic on my way home. There were only about a half dozen other parents there, the two men that were there introduced themselves and we started not too long after that. Some of the other people there seemed to know each other (I recognized several members of the group Friends of Ludlow-Tayor) and I sat down at a table by myself when the presentation began.

Principal Cobbs started by going around the room and having each person there introduce themselves. I was surprised that she remembered my daughter's name when my turn to speak came. Ms. Cobbs launched into a detailed introduction of herself, talking about her background in education, her family, and the fact that she recently lost her father.

As someone who also recently lost his own father, my heart immediately went out to her and I began to wonder if I had rushed to a hasty misjudgment. I've been lucky enough to be able to keep my bad days and grief-stricken moments out of public view, but the principal of an elementary school isn't necessarily that lucky. Perhaps when Swiss Family Rat bum rushed LTES the day Christmas vacation ended, she was at the beginning of a bad day.

When she first got up in front of the group Principal Cobbs was hesitant and used a lot of verbal pauses when she spoke. But as she continued to speak, Principal Cobbs got more comfortable and started speaking with more poise and taking command of the room as she spoke about the professional development room that we were sitting in.

The difference between the seemingly indifferent administrative drone I met three weeks ago and the enthusiastic, dynamic educator presenting an optimistic and challenging vision for LTES couldn't have been more stunning to me. Moving smoothly through a PowerPoint presentation Principal Cobbs was charming and friendly while she laid out her educational philosophy.

LTES is only at about 50% of the capacity of the building, so there is a constant drive to improve enrollment numbers. The previous principal of LTES, Dr. Presswood, had a Phd in Special Education so he had increased the number of special education students to keep numbers up. Now it seems that Chancellor Rhee and Principal Cobbs have decided to move their focus away from special education and are concentrating on attracting more families in the neighborhood. During this time Principal Cobbs spoke with a rarely heard candor about the demographic makeup of the school and the issue of diversity.

While all this was going on I started looking through the materials that were laid out around the room. There were teacher bios, feedback forms, daily schedule breakdowns, detailed information on the 3-4 classroom and after school program, and e-mail addresses for the principal and the 3-4 classroom teacher. This was exactly the information that we had been looking for a month ago before we got back to DC!!

Now I'm totally fucking confused. On one hand I'm pleased to see that LTES isn't the black hole of confusion and apathy that it appeared to be during our initial interactions. OTOH I'm annoyed that basically everything I was previously asking for was obviously available in electronic form and could have easily been sent to me via e-mail in, literally, one minute. I don't know who's fault that is, but it's easily fixed; put all these docs in a zip file and as soon as a parent calls up, get their e-mail address, send them the file, and follow up with them via e-mail a week later. If the person doesn't have e-mail access take their address and send them hard copies. Is that so hard?

By now Principal Cobbs has made it through her initial spiel telling us about the tour of the school that's to come and yields the floor to the after school care coordinator and dashes out of the room to go deal with a lost kid. I was pleased to learn that there is a dedicated after school care teacher who hasn't been teaching all day. Ms. Harte (after school care coordinator) was energetic and said all the right things about not wanting after school care to just be babysitting. It was right in the middle of her presentation that I had to leave to go get BabyRat from her after care program.

The strong showing by Principal Cobbs and her staff at the little slice of the open house that I attended has confused the issue of where should BabyRat go to school more than ever. The school lotteries and shit start in like another week, so check back and I'll keep you posted on what I'm doing and where you may be able to find information you may need.


Nylonthread said...

It is bogus that you didn't get the info you needed electronically, beforehand. We had a similar type of thing happen, when nobody told us about Rosie's ES open house b/c it was "posted in local churches," at the school itself, and on the school's web calendar (which involves a 5-step search to find on NOTHING was mailed. Nothing has ever been mailed, and this is Fairfax County schools I'm talking about. We found out about the open house (that was in April? for a Sept start??) via her ballet teacher. You basically just have to know people who knew. Sometimes the Internet in all her glory fails us over plain face-to-face networking.

Hill Rat said...

Sometimes the Internet in all her glory fails us over plain face-to-face networking.

No doubt.

Anonymous said...

my assumption is that the information you found at the open house probably had not been put together yet by the time you had asked for it. I know the school has gone through (and continues to go through) a lot of changes (for the better), and putting information together like is hard to keep up with I'm sure. I'm glad you had a better experience.

Hill Rat said...


I suppose that could be the case, but my initial disappointment had more to do with the utter lack of responsiveness to my requests than with the actual lack of information. If someone had said, "I know you need info now, but we're having an open house in a couple of weeks . . ." I wouldn't have been happy, but it would have been something.

Anonymous said...

You've been hood-winked at a dog-and-pony-show. The school was/is in a panic over this blog.

Hill Rat said...

@Anonymous 3:33 said:
You've been hood-winked at a dog-and-pony-show. The school was/is in a panic over this blog.

Ya think?

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