We reported last year on the insanity of the Grand Rapids Public School District's desire to spend millions on a new elementary school on the Northeast side of town where existing schools are closing because students are fleeing to suburban, parochial, and charter schools -- 500 in just the past decade. North of Knapp Street alone there were once six elementary schools: Huff, Aberdeen, Riverside, Crestview, Wellerwood, and North Park. Now there are only two, Aberdeen and North Park, which are under-used. However, the school district has $8 million burning a hole in its pocket for new construction on the Northeast side, and so the money's gotta be spent. (Apparently the idea of returning unneeded construction funds to the taxpayers isn't within the comprehension of school bureaucrats.)
So now the new school superintendent Bernard Taylor needs to come up with a plan to shuffle around the kids on the Northeast side of town (and also the Southeast side which has lost even more kids, 800, during the past decade). It seems that one of the favored options is to close down Eastern Elementary. However, Eastern is the one school on the Northeast side at full capacity that has a good community base. But the school district says that the building needs renovation and renovated buildings don't draw new students, only new buildings do. As evidence of this, the district points to Coit School which was renovated a few years ago and is only half-full, whereas the three new buildings the district opened this fall (elsewhere in the district) were packed.
What a load of rubbish. First of all, those new buildings did not draw new students INTO the Grand Rapids district. They pulled in existing students from other parts of the districts. The task on the Northeast side isn't to re-shuffle existing students, but to attract students currently attending non-district schools. There is no evidence that new construction does this. Second, the renovation of Coit School failed to draw new students, because they aren't enough students in the area with East Leonard and Eastern so close to it. The renovation was a stupid idea based on emotion and misguided notions of historic preservation. Third, renovated or not Eastern is succeeding. That is testament to the disconnect between bricks-and-mortar and community. One does not necessarily follow the other.
Fourth, and most important, the Grand Rapids public schools are failing because their communities are dysfunctional or non-existent. Granted a sense of community more readily develops around a school that serves an immediate neighborhood. Geography does play an important role that is difficult to exploit when city schools must be consolidated to cope with the massive outflow of students to other schools. But then that begs the question of why Grand Rapids public schools are losing students in the first place. No doubt the teachers' union is a primary culprit as the government school bureaucracy was perverted from educating students to serving educators. Of course, that didn't happen without the acquiescence of supine school superintendents. In turn, past school boards deserve their share of blame for hiring careerist hacks for the top job rather than innovative outsiders. But then we the voters elected those school boards, didn't we?
We also voted another way. We voted with our feet and sent our kids to suburban, parochial, and charter schools instead of city schools. And this brings us back to the same question: Why are the city schools losing students? Why has the trickle become a torrent? The increasing lack of discipline in those schools, even the elementary schools. The community necessary for a successful school will not develop where mayhem, intimidation, and violence reign. The pathetic response of Superintendent Taylor to this is that the principals and teachers of the Grand Rapids public schools are not sensitive to the culture of their students. Translation: White educators don't understand black and brown students.
Again, what a load of rubbish. If Taylor wanted to argue that careerist educators are too busy ticking off the days to collecting that pension check and so are too lazy to mete out the discipline kids from unruly and broken households need to get a good education, that would be one thing. But it is another thing to argue that a kid's skin color makes him incapable of understanding the normal and ordinary demands of discipline needed in a classroom. All kids thrive on those demands. To deny it to them is cruel. If they don't get it from home, then they must get in school. If they aren't getting discipline in school, because the teachers and principals won't provide it, then Taylor needs to get his cattle prod out. However, if it is because the teachers and principals can't provide it, because they are hamstrung by the district's bureaucracy, then Taylor needs to bust through the bureaucracy and clearly establish discipline as part of the school district's mission.
The problem with the lack of discipline is that it is both "won't" and "can't", which leaves everyone collecting a paycheck from the Grand Rapids Public school district in the happy position of pointing fingers at each other as an excuse to do nothing. Meanwhile, the students in our city schools remain ill-served, the remaining communities supporting those schools continue to break up, and the blueprints get drawn up for a new school for no students.