Sometimes closing a school isn’t a bad thing


I know it seems like there’s a lot going on in education right now. From graduation scandals to guns in schools to teacher strikes – life in education has definitely not been a crystal stair lately. In Washington, D.C., 21 public charter schools have closed in the city since 2012, mainly due to academic deficiencies or fiscal mismanagement. When looking at this from the context of ensuring students are being served in a way that’s most beneficial to them, I have to say – sometimes closing a school isn’t a bad thing.

Many of us in the education reform space tout accountability in schools as one of our critical core areas of concentration. However, sometimes we find ourselves in the intersection of how our sector feels and how the community being served by the school feels about a school closure. As a parent, I am constantly holding my children’s school accountable. I truly believe we all have a role to play in providing top-notch educations for our children. When one part of that team is not holding up their part of the agreement, the other one has to hold them responsible.

In the case of schools, when they are failing to educate children, they must close. According to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the DC Public Charter School Board is considered to have a strong portfolio of schools because of various means they have employed to ensure schools’ performance meets their standards for closure, schools are informed about its underperformance from the authorizer years before the actual school closures, and lastly and perhaps most importantly, the authorizer works directly with parents of students at said schools to smoothly move them to other schools in the cases of closure.

What does that all mean? For parents, it means the authorizer is on YOUR side. It means that there is a governing body that is working on your behalf to ensure that your school choices are quality options. After all, what’s the point of having your child attend a school that is not doing the job of educating your child? In my opinion, there isn’t a point.

I have worked in leadership capacities for an urban school district right outside of Washington, D.C. as well as for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington so I’ve been in the middle of intense debates of school and club closures. Communities can become tied to the brick and mortar of buildings and nostalgic about the memories made years ago. And while I understand all of that, I have also witnessed what it looks like when children aren’t truly learning and how bleak their futures become. So it quickly becomes less about the memories and all about the what’s actually happening with and to the students or lack thereof.

When you have a group of people who are able to protect the interests of our most vulnerable citizens – children, especially those from marginalized communities – you want to acknowledge them and breathe a sigh of relief that they exist. This message is not to focus on the DCPCSB, but to acknowledge their work as an example of what it means to have a significant body of people who truly put children first.

It’s what I think all schools should do. Unfortunately, that does not mean it happens. And when it doesn’t, after a great ability to change the school around, in order for our children to be put first, sometimes schools need to be closed.


Honoring my mom during Women’s History Month


By Cheryl Coleman

Women’s History Month is the perfect time to honor the greatest female I know - my mom. My mom did not grow up with a wealthy family. She did not attend college. She actually grew up in a small town in Alabama where there was no such thing as women’s rights. It was almost impossible for my mother to earn an education because she was not allowed to attend most schools. My mother left Alabama in hopes of finding a better life. After stops in Chicago, Indiana, and New York, she eventually landed in Washington, D.C. where she has called home for many years.

My mother had me at a young age and because of that I saw her struggle. She didn’t have the advantage of a good education so that made life challenging, but she fought through all of those obstacles and became a celebrated matriarch of not only our family, but of our neighborhood. We had plenty of “adopted” brothers and sisters who came to our house seeking refuge, a bite to eat, or to just be in a house full of love. My mother always helped others and never looked for anything in return.

Despite what anyone said or thought about my mother, she always holds her head high and wears a smile that will brighten any room. Because my mother was a single parent, she had to work two or three jobs to make ends meet for us. I remember she would come home from one job, fix my dinner and help me with my homework, and would be right back out of the door to another job. Looking back now, I understand life wasn’t easy for us. We didn’t have the finer things, but I had and continue to have unconditional love from my mother. She valued her role as my mother and wanted nothing but the best for me. She encouraged me when I shared my hopes and dreams. She prayed for me when there was uncertainty. She would always tell me, “My love, you can be anything you want to be. Never give up and keep the faith!”

So, as we celebrate women during this month, I would be completely remiss if I did not include my mother in this global recognition. She is, without a doubt: my hero, my rock, and my foundation. My prayer is we all have someone supporting us like my mom.


How much is school like a prison?


By Reginald Barbour

There was another school shooting this morning. This one was closer to home at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Great Mills is a traditional public school. A security expert spoke to a local news station about the shooting when he made a great point, which prompted this blog post. He said these shootings are happening in suburban schools where security is more relaxed than in urban schools. If you ride by any urban high school, you will see at least one police car in the parking lot. The mere presence of law enforcement at these schools, provides a sense that punishment is immediate if you decide to commit a violent act on these school grounds. “They don’t have that in suburban schools,” he said.

I agree with him. I do see law enforcement vehicles outside of high schools in the city where I live and in the neighboring urban counties. However, let’s take into account the experience you have when you walk into one of these highly-secured schools. Anyone coming into the school must walk through a metal detector including students, staff, parents, visitors, etc. Bags are examined in an x-ray machine. Students are expected to have clear backpacks so the contents are visible. There are police officers with guns and handcuffs visibly present to send the message of “follow the rules and nobody gets hurt.”

Students are shepherded to their first class by the use of a bell. In some schools, there is tape on the floor that creates a straight line students must walk inside of or face punishment for disobeying that rule. Teachers stand outside of their classrooms as hall monitors to ensure students aren’t loitering and are getting where they need to be on time and in an orderly fashion. Once inside the classroom, desks are lined up neatly facing the teacher. You are not to speak out of turn and must follow the rules.

This scenario reminds me so much of the prison scenes I’ve seen on television and movies. Everyone moves together, dresses alike, under the watchful eye of a prison guard who has a gun locked and loaded just in case someone gets out of line. The inmates move together from one activity to the next, in a straight line, without talking.

Geesh, this school to prison pipeline might be more real than we think.

Who created this reality? A better question is why do we allow our children to be a part of it by enrolling them in a school that’s set up to treat them like prisoners?

“What is happening in our schools?” people are asking. Some are blaming it on increasing mental health issues with students, but let’s be clear and remember how health services in school budgets across this country have been cut over the years. President Trump is continuing those cuts with his proposal to decrease the federal school safety budget by $425 million.  

I’m not sure what the answer is. Honestly, I’m not sure any of us do. However, there has to be a way that schools aren’t set up like prisons, students aren’t treated like prisoners, mental health issues don’t go unchecked, and increasing police presence at a school is the only way to deter mass violence.