Sunday, August 22, 2010

Division in Huntsville

I will start by saying that I love Huntsville, AL! It is a wonderful town to live, work, raise a family, worship and prosper. But I have serious concerns about our school system. The horrible rift that surfaced this spring and summer is very discouraging to me. Then this week I read an article about the budget planning session that happened on Thursday. It is clear to me that the administration is not supportive of the magnet programs that Huntsville offers.

Our magnets are not like those in other places. The magnets in Huntsville were created following a court order for desegregation of the school district. The DOJ court order still stands and the system seems unwilling to do what is required to fix it. I am the first to admit that I am a huge fan of the magnets here.

My children have attended the Academy for Academics and Arts for years now. My oldest has just left after 9 years there to attend high school. This school has afforded my children an education that is not available anywhere else in the city. They have had art, dance, music, drama, strings and all of the academics as well. I know there are flaws at AAA. There are some programs that are stronger than others, but I see a group of educators and parents working together to make things great. We chose not to send our oldest into the high school magnet for arts because we knew she had a great foundation for arts already and it was truly time to concentrate on academics. She is enrolled in the IB program at another school. This program is not part of the DOJ order but its feeder school is part of the magnet system.

I'm very fortunate to live in a town that has choices outside of our district schools. Not everyone has a choice. And not everyone who has a choice will exercise it. I would encourage parents to really look hard at what these magnets offer your children. It can be a great foundation for your child. I really feel for the parents of Johnson and Butler who are eligible to transfer their children based on the low test scores of the children.

I found myself very upset this week with the article in the Huntsville Times in which the finance director for Huntsville City Schools really seemed to drive a wedge between the schools in this city. His comment about how the magnet high school would have more teachers than mandated by the state while another school would have less seemed very hurtful. Also comments about how the two top high schools were too full to accept transfers seemed suspicious to me. The only choices then left for the parents trying to transfer from a low performing high school are the magnet school or the high school where the IB program resides. On the plus side for these students, they have the opportunity to find a quality education. They may not be accepted into the magnet or the IB cohort but surely they will find a better school.

The magnet schools exist because of a court order but they provide an exceptional education for the youth of our city! To belittle them in this way seems wrong. Because our city has not done anything to remediate the situation that the magnets address, they will remain. But to treat them as second class schools will only perpetuate the problems that brought about the court order. Lee High School is home to the arts magnets but kids who excel in these arts are also able to excel in academics. If we do not support the academics in these schools, smart parents will not choose them for their children. Why would you want to send your child to a school that only excels in the one area? Children deserve to receive a complete education. Even now, many parents are supplementing the education that their children receive and I know that occurs in schools other than magnets. Smart parents look at all the options for their kids and try to make the best choices.

We chose IB for our oldest because it promises to be a wonderful way to further her academic career. She is already taking an AP course as a freshman and with hard work, will have college credit at the end of this year! This program came to Huntsville because of our military and civil service families. Kids that are educated overseas are frequently in these programs. It is also quite prevalent in the DC area suburbs. She may very well have a full year of college credit by the time she graduates high school and hopefully several scholarship offers! We are also supplementing her education with private voice lessons. She has a lovely voice and was accepted into the vocal magnet but she also a terrific brain and was accepted into the IB cohort class. The cohort class is very small, probably under 40, but what a great transition that made!

So sorry for the rant but I'm truly a concerned parent trying to make the best choices for my children. Selling my house and moving to another district is not an option at this time any more than paying for private school would be. Hence my rant. If you should read this, please consider all the issues confronting our schools, not just the one in your own district. We are a community that deserves to have top notch schools all over the city. Our children deserve a quality education. Vote accordingly in the school board elections!

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