Last night I attended a school board meeting, not for my school, but for the district in which my school resides. I teach at a charter school. We have no district, other than our charter organization, which is consistently rated one of the best in the state, with 12,000 students from LA to Sacramento. However, unions don’t like us. We take students from district schools, schools that are often struggling to meet student needs. We take them and we teach them, successfully.
Still, it does not matter if my school is successful. What matters is that we take students from districts with unions with lobbyists that despise us because we also take away money. Our charter needs to be renewed, either by this district or the state. People are fighting against us, because of money, because of politics. There is a divide between public and charter schools, maybe rightfully so. Charters are a quick fix, a small band-aid to a system that in many places is not working.
However, this band-aid fixes real students. This week is conference week and I cannot count how many families have told me our school has changed their child, that before they struggled, but now they succeed. I get that a very real debate exists about charters and how they do not fix the system as a whole, how some fail their students, how there is so much inconsistency. But, if a charter works and the schools around it don’t, what kind of world do we live in where the schools that fail stay open and the ones that succeed close?
We’re not there yet, there are still multiple avenues to pursue, and the district has not decided whether to grant us a charter. Even so, listening to their board meeting last night, I could not help but be smacked in the face with the realities of bureaucracy. Members spoke candidly about how we take their students, their money, how they would prefer we just left, even if we’re doing a better job for our kids than the other schools in the neighborhood. A few spoke up about our success, those few gave me hope that we still have a chance. After all, this is the third board meeting I have attended, the other two at the state level, someone always dislikes us, someone else always disagrees.
Before our portion of the hearing, enraged families stood before the board, upset the district will not allow their children’s epilepsy drugs to be administered by volunteers at the school. Drugs that prevent brain damage, pain, and even death from seizures. Sitting, listening, I could not help but think we live in a bizarre world, where liabilities, unions, and finances stand in the way of life-saving drugs given to children, successful schools automatically approved to stay open.
What struck me most is that our system is slow and cumbersome because of bureaucracy. Panels, boards, committees left to ponder big questions with other interests seeping in. People who do not like successful charter schools must be very patient souls if they are willing to wait for the system to change on its own. They must not know the children and families that I know. They must not see the true depth of good created by this band-aid.
Still, it is too early to say how the board will rule, and maybe I am still young and naive not to see some sort of bigger picture. All I can really say is that I hope good triumphs.