Friday, January 23, 2009

The Blanc Blues

My daughter is in first grade at Academie Lafayette. There are many reasons that I sent her to this school - #1 she has a French word for a name, so she was already one up on the rest of the class - #2 its like 5 blocks away from my house - #3 its a really good school - good free school, even better - #4 she would be going to school with a lot of the little kids I taught at the YMCA - I liked these kids, I knew these kids.

A lot of parents like to say that they have no other choice - but there are other choices.

Border Star Montessori is just as close to my house as Academy Lafayette. They even have a preschool program that could have saved us $7,000 before Elle started Kindergarten. But my kid is not one you would call a 'self-starter' - she's not even reliably a facilitated starter. Her first progress report this year said, "Elle spends a lot of time getting lost in her own pencils and not focused on the task at hand." So, Montessori is probably not the right choice for her - even though I really love the lessons of nurturing and mentorship you get in a classroom that spans many ages as it progresses at each child's own accomplishment and growth and not solely on age.

Troost Elementary is even closer to our house then either AL or Border Star. With a Great Schools rating of 1 out of 10, a parents rating of 3 out of 10, 0% of 3rd graders who read at or above proficient levels, 3% who are proficient in math by 5th grade . . . it just didn't make the cut. The white-guilted hipster in me would love to send my child to a school that would put her in the 3% minority, what a social experiment for me!, and the community-minded, public-school educated, urban education sympathizer inside of me would love to support my school district, but the big fat nerd inside of me who took the SAT's twice because a 1280 just wasn't high enough would never find solace with low expectations that would be fostered in a school that loses proficiency in every subject at every grade level each year.

Another charter school close by is Brookside Charter by UMKC. Elle went to the dayschool there for a year - faltering under the High Scope curriculum and an administrative staff that was over-worked and, I'm sure, underpaid - and it showed in their attitude. The learn-through-play approach is not carried through Kindergarten and beyond, but the I-don't-care-so-don't-bother-me approach to parents doesn't jive with me. I like to be involved - and I like to be liked. So, continuing at Brookside was not an option either.

#2 on my list was University Academy. Jeffrey went to temple at B'nai Juhuda growing up, and I watched the new school being built on that same site as Elle was a little baby, and thought how perfect . . . and it was a K-12 campus, with stringent curriculum, college-prep atmosphere, and started by a family I knew well, the Bloch's. The very visible library made my heart ache as I waited for Elle to be old enough to attend (and navy blue bottoms instead of khaki - much more fashionable uniforms!) But Jeff, in his very bossy way, vetoed the decision after having students from UA visit Science City for a field trip. He thought the students were unruly and the staff disrespectful and lazy. So -poof- no University Academy for Elle (just like -poof- no naming my 2nd daughter Trixie). He's a pretty laid-back guy, but when he makes a decision - man, it is made.

So, we were left with Academie Lafayette, and I have loved my time there. Elle had a hard time with the French at first, and I had a hard time with the culture of the educational environment at first, but we have thrived as a family in this short journey, and I have made many friends and enjoy a very tight-knit community of parents and students and faculty and staff. I still have some issues, but Elle loves school, can't wait to do homework, is showing such strength in mathematics, and will continue to learn words I will never know in a language I love to listen to, will learn a history of our nation - a history of our world - from a perspective I was never taught, will go from a classroom led by a Haitian man to sing with a teacher from Belgium, will befriend children from every corner of the city and every walk of life, and will, by the end of her 8th grade year, be ready for anything that should come next.

But, as was pointed out to me yesterday, I chose the 'white' school. Because it represents the diversity of the overall population, and not the racial makeup of the student population in the Kansas City Missouri School District, my decision to send my child to this school has perpetuated the exclusionary practices of the school's admissions policies. Because this school is successful and has a track record of good test scores, continuing student excellence beyond the 8th grade, stable and growing community involvement, and city and state-wide recognition for accomplishments, there is a demand for admission to a small and already over-stretched campus. They have an established early admissions policy that is open to all students in the KCMS district, with a lottery system that fills the remaining spots after the deadline. They only enroll in Kindergarten because of the immersion education, so this leads to a high attrition rate - which has actually been going down over the last few years, but still causes the upper classes to get smaller and smaller. But they have an over-abundance of interest with incoming Kindergarteners. The admissions policy allowed for only 8 minority students to get admitted in a class of 85 this year.

There is a proposal now for the Kindergarten classes to move to 80th and Holmes in the old Benjamin Bannekar campus, increase enrollment for the Kindergarten class and hopefully one day increase the size of the school. It would increase the incoming K class to 135 - with only 30 of these being non-white. So, it separates the community, utilizes a piss-poor site in a fringe-suburban location, and does nothing to solve an over-arching problem for education in Kansas City, and it doesn't even maintain the diversity of student population it thrives on. I don't like it. I don't like it at all.

So, my question is, how do we maintain the culture of the school, the needs of the students in the district, and keep the admissions policy fair to guarantee the continuation of the unique character of this mid-town, 'neighborhood' school? I think we should admit so many students from every sub-district - ensuring a wide-range of socio-economic, geographic, racial and ethnic contributions to the student and parent community. Its a hard thing for me to say because I think that community schools are the future of urban education, and having a school down the street encourages parental involvement and community activation - but its what will work right now.

The same person that told me that I chose the 'white' school told me that policies are judged by their outcomes and not their intentions. So, I had a choice for my daughter - one that results in her being part of a diverse population with test scores that are envied by suburban schools around the state, or one that perpetuates low-expectations and a quick-sloping funnel for success.

I'm not sure if its unconcious racism or an elite sense of entitlement or a fear of judgement by my peers that made me make this 'white' choice . . . I just know I made the right one.


Anonymous said...

my older son graduated from A.L. a couple of years ago (and now attends Lincoln College Prep); my younger son still attends A.L.

it's a "white" school? since when? - it's always been heavily mixed, in my view. and i've never heard of any kind of "quota" there, either - although, my children being caucasian, maybe it was never mentioned because it didn't need to be.

i wouldn't send my kids to 80th and holmes, either - fight, fight, fight!

KC Sponge said...

I agree with you - I love the diversity that the school offers. In my conversation, I was just told that since the school is 60% caucasion in a school district where the student makeup is 90% minorty, that there must be some policies in action that keep the school more white.
I know I get the emails and newletters that tell me to make sure I get any new students enrolled before the early admissions deadline - and to tell all my interested friends to as well. This keeps people that go there now in the majority of new enrollees for the future. However, I also know that they do heavy recruiting for minority students, so don't think the exclusionary practices are really intentional or even present at all.
But perception being reality, I look to these things and hope that the board comes up with policies that look to overcome these obstacles while staying steadfast in their mission and objectives. I'm along for the ride - at least for now.

Grace said...

We visited AL and loved it, a wonderful school. But I don't understand how its "admissions policy allowed for only 8 minority students to get admitted in a class of 85 this year"? According to everything we were told by AL's administration, they accepted the first 85 applicants. If the K class is enlarged per the proposal to 135, then all 135 applicants will be admitted. So how is this discrimination? Anyone who wanted to enroll their child in AL will be able to do so.

As a prospective (non-white) parent, I'm very interested in hearing more.

KC Sponge said...

I don't think the admissions policy is discriminatory in intention - I think being in a good school in a diverse, but mostly-white neighborhood, tends to keep neighboring parents with upcoming students ultra aware of admissions deadlines, where other parents aren't as aware of such time-sensitive regulations. So yes, the 135 parents who already enrolled their kids in Kindergarten 8 months before they go are guaranteed a spot. That still leaves a lot of kids without the opportunity.
Do I think I knew that I had to get my daughter on the list in time because I'm white. No, not at all. Do I think I knew I had to get my daughter on the list in time because I knew people that were going to school there, my neighbors had students there, I taught other young kids that were going there in the neighboring community center - absolutely.
So no, I think it is very abjectly opposed to the goal of the board, the parents association and all other stakeholders - but do I find it a reality? Even a perceived reality? Of course.

Anonymous said...

KC Sponge, you’re probably correct in your assumption that parental awareness accounts for some of the racial imbalance at LA. I teach in KCMSD and it is not at all unusual for Kindergartners to show up at the end of September (without shots) because their parents are so unaware and/or irresponsible. Now that the district is offering pre-school, perhaps more minority students will enroll early enough to get in.

KC Sponge said...

That is one of the proposals for Academie Lafayette, actually . . . to start a preschool/HeadStart program. We'll see what happens.

The board seems committed to keeping AL a diverse campus . . . we'll see.

It was suggested that they admit a certain number of kids per zip code - don't think they realize how many zip codes there are, and how population is dispersed - the district is already sub-divided, so hopefully they'll look to that.

Anonymous said...

honesty in publishing: my daughter attends AL now; my second will attend in the future.

okay. first off, your premise is wrong.

AL is NOT the KCSD, which body is formally charged with educating all the children of KC.

in response to the poor eductional results of the KCSD

ergo, AL is not legally charged to accept any particular % of any part of the overall population of KC. Period.

The above are facts, not opinion.

Morally, as was pointed out this past Thursday night by a board member, who does not believe it incumbent upon AL to do what they can to educate those who ask? And trust me here, no one in the room - and there were roughly 30 of us parents, along with several Board members and 2 teachers - responded in the negative. We all believe in assisting those who reach out for assistance.

However, the issue is not as black and white as portrayed by some.

The school charter delimits how admissions are handled, as well as the number of annual admissions. The board and school prior to this point (since 1999 in other words) have set as their goal -in terms of quality of eductaion - to accept no more than 85 kindergateners per year. This year - because the Board went out and recruited amonst the broader KC community to forstall a slightly declining divesity percentage - there were 135 applications.

The physical school itself is not set up for that many incoming kindergartners.

Add to that fact the anticipated $4 million dollar expansion loan has not (due to the worldwide financial meltdown) yet come through and you have a mess.

At Thursday night's mtg, the quandry was broken down into 2 parts.

Part 1 - total acepted adminssions this year. According to their charter, Al has 2 all applicants. In either case, again according to their charter, 30-odd of either total are already filled by siblings of already attending AL students. So, either AL holds a lottery for the remaing 50-odd spaces (85 total admissions) or simply accepts all 130 applicants.

If the 85 total admissions is chosen, AL is worried that their status will be harmed in the community because, again, this year they actively recruited outside of the Brookside area to keep their divirsity at no less than 50%.

If the 135 total admissions is chosen, where does AL put the incoming "lump" of kids? Trailers are an option, as is a temporary off-campus location. Should the little ones reside in the T/SC (trailers/seond campus) or the 8th graders? Should this be a one year plan, a 3 or 5 year plan? Will the teachers accept it. How about half day classes instead, for the incoming little ones? Will that exclude those AL is trying to include? And where's all this money going to come from?

All of these topics and more were discussed from 7 - 10 pm Thursday night. And, yes, the Board is leaning toward an offsite SC as a temporary measure to deal kindergarten class. Yes, they are also exploring the idea of perhaps adding a pre-school arrangement to their offerings, in order to reach deeper into the community earlier.

The same topics will be discussed this coming Thursday night in the auditorium. If you would like your voice heard, show up.

@sponge -

you have nothing to be guilty or ashamed of. you chose the best school available for your child, as did I and other parents. That AL has become, in some ways, an unwitting victim of its own success does not make you, me, other parents or the school racist in any way, shape or form.

Again, it is important to remember that ALs charter is NOT to educate every child in kC - that onus lies with the KCSD.

One could - by applying whaterever 'logic' you friend used on you to say you chose a "white" school - say exactly the same about University Academy: it is 95% black/minority.

We also looked at it, but they were frank in telling us their charter was to educate inner city children. They did open admissions to our neighborhood a year ago, but the diversity % is still the same.

So, again using your friend's logic, ought we not, as KC white, taxpayers, demand that UA knock down their diversity % to 50 percent black/minority so our children could also get what we're told is an exceptional education?

People, I swear...

In both cases it is what it is.

p.s. - what people ought to be doing is demand that the State come in and start running the KCSD. In fact, it should have been done over a decade ago. That the parents of KCSD kids have quietly accepted this national disgrace is beyond me. The Sen. Cleaver has not used his Congressional powers more wisely in the matter is his disgrace...

'course, that's just my opinion, your class size may vary...

Anonymous said...

yes - i type often, just poorly:

AL arose "in response to the poor eductional results of the KCSD."

Anonymous said...


"According to their charter, Al has 2 all applicants..."

According to their charter, Al has 2 options; accept 85 students, or all applicants...

i really ought to take a typing class.

Anonymous said...

My child is one of the 135 so this is an important issue to me. When we turned in her application a few days after the enrollment began, we were told that 45 had already applied.

One of the reasons we really liked AL was the tour we took. We LOVED the fact that the children AND teachers have such a diverse background.

I really loved the fact that the children all seemed to be completely paying attention to the teacher (maybe due to the language they have less of a tendancy to space off in class?).

I'm PRAYING they find a way to accept all 135. I don't care what building they are in, it's the program and the educational quality that we are desperately hoping our daughter can be involved in.

We were told that as prospective parents, we'd be invited to a meeting at the end of the month about the topic. Looks like that's not the case as I haven't received any invitation.

This has been such a nerve wracking experience since we were supposed to know if she was accepted by Jan. 15. Now it's mid-to late Feb.

Frustrating, but I'll give them more time to get their ducks in a row if it means my daughter will get in.

In the letter we received, it said they already weren't going to have enough room for 85 kids, let alone 135. The new construction wasn't going to be done in the fall, so why didn't they already have a plan for this situation already?

Anonymous said...

they had a plan - the financing fell through.

yes, perhaps they should have aniticpated that they would not be able to exand per the $4 mil. plan given the economy, though - honestly - the plan would have been to use trailers on site (perhaps for staff to free up rooms)for a year until the new rooms were available.

but, w/o that infusion of capital, and the extra 50 kids (assuming i have my numbers right), a one-off solution needs to be found.

there was one parent in your position last Thursday night, and if i were in her/or your shoes, i would probably show up this Thursday night, tooo.

Anonymous said...

I like many applicants didn't make it in within the time frame. However I am still hoping there is a mere chance that my little one can get the best education avail. Which I believe is possible at AL. I was dumb to believe I was getting a head start when we applied but had no idea of how difficult getting in would be. Even if I am just wasting my time I will be there this Thursday to listen out at the discussion.

Anonymous said...

@ 10:36

i believe that to be an excellent idea.

for the future, i can see more of a public "demand" for entrance into AL - this year isn't so much an anomaly as it is a reflection of our growinf reputation.

my hope is that the board addresses their admission policy - in minute detail - in the charter and then promulgates that policy far and wide so this year doesn't happen again.

while some of us would love a pre-school (and even a high school) down the road, the necessary legal, regulatory and monetary requirements make that an iterative process that would take at least a decade and a whole *#&@ pile of money as a feeder....

KC Sponge said...

Obviously, it is not in AL's charter or charge to educate all of the kids in Kansas City.

But as much as a lot of people would like to ignore it, it is also a race and class issue. That's all my post was about - whether inherent or intentional.

I do not feel guilty about sending my daughter to this school, and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to get her in. I was just expressing why I thought this school was the best choice for our family, wonderfully beneficial to my daughter so far, and hoping that some unique characteristics - namely the diversity - remain integral to the policies set forth as we look to grow our community.

I would have loved to have been at the parent's meeting on Thursday - and would love to be there this week. But I work - like many other parents out there who don't have the opportunity to be part of this conversation - and could not and can not attend.

I trust the board to come up with a solution that will work for all kids within its mission to serve. I think they will come up with a satisfactory solution for this year, but my main hope is that they develop a comprehensive plan for the future of the school that keeps the students and the future success of the school as a priority - and not just that of the Brookside parents who have the loudest voices. Even if I am one of them . . .

I'm taking in all the happenings in Kansas City and saving you all the trouble . . . I'll let you know whether to soak it up or squeeze it out!!