Carbondale wants good schools, too
In Paul Harvey’s words, “now for the rest of the story,” in regards the article on Sept. 16, where Fred Wall mentioned “segregation created by Ross Montessori in Carbondale.” Fred and the board helped create the Ross Montessori School by eliminating the program in Re-1. Comments in the spring by the district office foreshadowed that the program would be eliminated and it was. The parents took up the challenge and created the new school. Surprise! CES went from well over 60 percent to well over 70 percent Latino. The numbers were a problem before and still are.
The kicker is that the superintendent and the school board has, until now, refused to be concerned in a meaningful way about parents taking their children out of the Carbondale schools or their reasons for doing so. Many parents over the last five years brought issues to the superintendent. Their concerns were largely ignored so their children left.
Advocates for Carbondale Education, a community-based citizens group, similarly attempted to raise this issue with the superintendent many times. The standard response (up until Fred’s comments in last week’s article) was “we cannot be concerned with the parents who chose to take their children elsewhere; our responsibility is with the children who come through the door each morning.” This was repeated to us by the superintendent, a principal and the president of the school board.
Parents in the past repeatedly expressed their concern with the lack of communication, rude attitude and unresponsiveness from the district office. For example, parents raised concerns about the lack of Spanish classes for English only speakers in our schools, minimal to no outdoor education classes, minimal classes for advanced students. Concerns with a previous principal’s inability to communicate with teachers and parents were not addressed in a timely way, which led to an exodus of students and 16-17 teachers and aides from Carbondale Elementary school in June of 2004. The district and new principal are now working very hard to rebuild faith in a situation that could have been avoided.
In 2003, ACE conducted a survey of other schools in the Valley. More than 450 students from the Carbondale area were going to other schools in the Valley including the Carbondale Community School. We surveyed some of the parents and based on a response from 84 surveys, we dispelled the standard comment from the district office and some board members that it’s strictly racial. The comments earlier in this column about the lack of courses, district and superintendent’s attitude, etc. were confirmed as the primary reasons for children moving. Certainly some parents do not want their children in the diverse schools of Carbondale, but this clearly was not the primary reason for the steady loss of students over the years from a growing community. Blaming the exodus of students on the Montessori School diverts attention from past failure by the district to focus on the issue. The Montessori program might have been kept in CES if it had been addressed in a positive effort versus being tolerated until it was eliminated.
The people of Carbondale want their schools to be equal or better than any school in the Valley, offer choices in teaching philosophy, and be inclusive of the diversity we have (a strength many disaffected parents wanted the district to build on). Casting blame on a group of parents who are but a small segment of the people who have said “enough” does not encourage solutions. A “marketing plan” with substance and a major change in attitude by the district office and board could change people’s minds. The district needs to put its money, resources and commitment into building the substance and image of all of Carbondale’s schools. A positive attitude and willingness to listen would be a good start. We have excellent committed teachers and at last, strong principals and leadership in all of our schools including the two charter schools. Let’s explore ways to work together and listen and act where attention is needed. Enough of the divisiveness, we need to put the past behind us.
Bill LaMont is retired and lives in Carbondale. He helped create Advocates for Carbondale Education.
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We can’t always put it on government to completely solve a problem, especially one with so many challenges and so much nuance such as homelessness.