The Speech Pete and I Gave to the School Board Tonight

2020 Update: We fought the good fight and still believe all the things in this speech, but we not only lost that battle–we lost the war. Small schools have been gone from Lima for about seven years, and most of the teachers we taught with have moved on. MI was a brief, shining moment…

2011 Note: Well, we wrote it together. Pete gave it, since I still have bronchitis badly enough that I’m jealous of Kermit the Frog’s melodious tones. We are responding to the proposal to restructure the city schools; the specific issue we mention is changing the high school bell schedule so all three schools housed in it operate on the same schedule (The three “small schools” were created about eight years ago by dividing out of the “old” Lima Senior.)

Address to School Board, January 13, 2011

Lima City Schools have some challenges ahead–no doubt about that. A gale of issues is swirling, creating an epic storm we have to ride through. We acknowledge that there are many different aspects and levels of the current situation that will demand action, but we’re very troubled by specifics in the current proposal.

To people who don’t understand the culture of the small school concept, requiring the high school to return to one bell schedule seems like no big deal. The reason given for returning to one bell schedule is so teachers and students can cross schools more easily. When students and teachers cross schools, the culture and purpose of small schools is compromised. We do
not support any action that threatens to stealthy chip at the integrity and fidelity of small schools. Anytime a teacher has to divide attention between multiple schools, anytime a student straddles schools, the culture of the schools is breached and school climate takes a giant step back to the
paradigm we said didn’t work eight years ago. As long as the number of students and teachers crossing over is very low, we compensate–but we need every teacher within a small school to buy into the approach and beliefs in the vision of that school; we need every student to be invested not only in their education, but in the belief that they matter personally to their teachers and principal.

In the School of Multiple Intelligences, we have a set of belief statements that defines our culture. It was generated over many meetings, proposed and word-smithed repeatedly, until we reached consensus. One of those statements reads: “We believe in asking hard questions, having difficult conversations, and seeking truth and wisdom throughout the process.” We
have spent years–eight years, to be exact–developing a school where teachers, students, and parents have a voice. We don’t always succeed in asking the hard questions–or the right questions–but we’re committed to trying. We have these common values, and we work hard to create a learning atmosphere where the teachers and the students matter–they are not just a number, their voice is heard. One hard question we are asking now is, why were the schools not given a part in the solution-finding process, or why only one of the high schools was.

We’ve heard for years about teacher ownership and the importance of teacher opinions and voice. The process of creating this proposal does not follow what we have understood we should expect as professionals, even professionals who believe in positive deviance as a mechanism of change.Yes, there are problems and economic realities we must face, but we
should face them as one. The district needs creative thinking to deal with the issues, and a united front to present to the public to explain why those are the best courses of action. But top down dictates such as deciding the high school must be on all one bell schedule is neither creatively dealing with the deeper problems, or bringing people together to build support for the solution. We have faith that if specific concerns were brought to the high school, and teacher leadership teams invited to sit down and look for solutions, there would be innovative answers. It takes time to do it that way, but MI has proven repeatedly that the results are worth it.

We had over seventeen years experience in the old Lima Senior. We did some good things there, and we have a lot to be proud of from the old days. But as we see it, there was a part of that paradigm that people don’t admit to: for the best and brightest, we had excellent options, almost an Advanced Academy. Kids who weren’t part of that were often floundering, on their
own, a random face in the crowd. As awful as it is to admit, there was a threshold of acceptable loss. We couldn’t save them all. Small schools changed that. Many of our teachers know every kid in our school, and no kid slips through invisibly. If the school board approves the requirement that we operate on one bell schedule with the intention that teachers and students will cross schools, we may quickly pass the tipping point where small schools only exists on paper, then we’ve rendered students into nameless faces in the crowd.

Albert Einstein had a sign in his office that said “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” We could barrage you with data to help explain why we believe small schools is a success–and many of those numbers are indicative of real gains in our ability to assess what kids know and how to teach better. We could show you data about the number of in-services we’ve attended, and the number of initiatives we’ve instituted with fidelity. But at the end of the year, those numbers may not matter nearly as much as this: there are many graduates of MI who are in college that we believe wouldn’t have been there if they
had just been a face in the crowd–if they hadn’t had the entire staff of our school cheering them on, yelling at them, and believing that they personally mattered.

Making the public aware of the strengths and assets in the Lima Public schools is a challenge, one that intensifies every time a new state report card is published. But playing a shell game by restructuring and renaming doesn’t address the core problems. If major restructuring will address those issues and revitalize our schools–by all means, it is essential. But if re-branding is the major effect, all we’ve done is confuse the community–which hurts our credibility. That undercuts all the truly wonderful aspects–and people–in this district. We need to keep our schools current and marketable in a way that looks towards the future, not merely reacting to
the present. Thank you for giving us a chance to share our concerns.

Pete Badertscher and Jeannine Jordan-Squire

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