Bronzeville and Jacksonville: What We Can Learn

By Greg Sampson


In case you missed it (yes, I will type it out; I’m too old to
keep guessing at texting abbreviations like ICYMI), in August a dozen members
of a community in Chicago went on a hunger strike to save their local high
school:
Enough of the links. The gist of the story is that the mayor of
Chicago and his toadies, known as the School Board of Chicago, disrespected the
wishes of the community about what they wanted for their community school.
These involved, engaged parents and community members were forced
to the extreme of a hunger strike—a willingness to starve themselves to
death—in order to have meaningful input into their school and what it would be.
Thank goodness we don’t need that in Jacksonville …
Or do we?
Our current superintendent has proposed a drastic repurposing of
many schools in our city. While working groups for community input have begun,
the timetable is so short that many suspect that these ‘working groups’ are
merely in place to rubberstamp decisions already made by the school district.
As has happened too often in the past. The current superintendent
might not know this because he tends to disregard anything that happened before
November 12, 2012 as irrelevant.
To our communities, though, it is not.
When Paxon Middle School began its magnet theme, the greatest
concern of the community was that it would cease to be a neighborhood school
despite the guarantees of the district that they would never do that. Because
that is exactly what happened with Paxon High School: the guarantee to the community
that it would never become to dedicated magnet with non-magnet students bused
to other schools was nullified after a few years.
Paxon Middle School no longer exists. It was merged into Butler,
kids bused over, so the campus could be given to James Weldon Johnson Middle
School, a dedicated magnet.
Maybe the superintendent needs to do more study of the history of
DCPS so he understands why he gets so much pushback, or as he expressed it to
the Times-Union Editorial Board, “Reform is hard as hell.”
You cannot find more engaged parents and community members than
those of Bronzeville, who are willing to starve themselves to death for the
sake of their school.
These working groups: they should not meet to consider the ideas
of the district. Their purpose should be to take the ideas of the
superintendent and others as a starting point, but to develop their concepts
for their schools. Should Northwestern be a vocational magnet or a school for
the arts? Let the community decide!
One of the most frustrating things for Jacksonville parents and
citizens is that they feel shut out. Give them the chance to shape their
schools, and you will see engagement increase exponentially. If they shape the
program, they will be invested in it and will make it a success.
That is the lesson of Bronzeville.
Oh, BTW: there is no difference between charter schools and public
schools. They both offer the same programs and techniques. But charter schools
(do the research), do not have local control. Despite state law, charter boards
are mostly out-of-state. The people serve on multiple boards around the
country.
Imagine a traditional public school system that honors that
proviso. Community boards guide the schools.
Our enrollment crisis would disappear.

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