Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Our suffering schools

I had an engagement yesterday at Sumner-Kipp school deep inside the West Side. The school was locked like a fortress and it took me several minutes to get in.

Heavy doors, painted a spartan brown to cover graffiti, were shut up against a desolate playground. Empty lots dotted the streets between dilapidated homes and long-shuttered factories. Our post-industrial environment.

When I finally got in, I looked around the dimly lit basement for the person I was supposed to meet. Black children were filling the halls. They didn't seem unhappy to be there, but I did not sense much joy and light as I do when I walk the halls of Newberry, Lincoln, Lab, Latin. The Sumner teachers looked tired and sullen.

One white teacher was particularly nasty. She was desperately trying to push her kids into a single-file line. She bellowed to them, "Didn't I tell you what I would do to you if you didn't get in line?!" Her face bore the cruelty of oppression and furrowed lines of exhaustion - Thoreau's "confirmed resignation," it seemed to me. Then she turned to me. I asked where I could find Ms. W--'s room.

"She's upstairs," she answered in a voice that sounded at once annoyed, desperate, helpless. "That's a different school. We were moved from there and we don't go up there." (Kipp-Ascend is a charter school that occupies the upstairs rooms.) She turned back to corraling her children.

In the meantime, we have some of the most beautiful schools in the city here in Lincoln Park. Certainly, we pay higher taxes here, and the unspoken statement is that we deserve much better public schools because of it. But of course that is suburban thinking, so we don't say it.

Sumner does not lure top teachers and administrators, and its test scores are hovering around the 50th percentile. Sumner is not even one of the worst schools. And I've seen some triumphs in the many schools I've visited and worked in over the years. But I am not afraid to say to Lincoln Parkers that there are great disparities here and we of all people should be taking notice, taking action. This is a citywide responsibility.

Sumner report card
Lincoln report card

View all school report cards and other data here


Post a Comment

<< Home