Flummoxed over charges of elitism at Teach Elementary

jtarica@thetribunenews.comFebruary 9, 2013 

As a spectator in the battle over Teach Elementary School, I’m rather flummoxed by the San Luis Coastal school district, which has apparently slipped into an alternate educational reality, or at least one that runs counter to much of the creative thinking that drove this campus’s success in recent years.

Here they are, with a program that routinely posts the highest school test scores in the county, that is praised lavishly by students, parents and alumni, and that offers unique methods to see that its kids reach their highest potential.

Yet, instead of applauding the effort of a school that has grown and thrived over more than three decades, instead of capitalizing on its achievements, instead of perhaps spreading its methods to adjoining Bishop’s Peak Elementary and beyond, the district is trying to tear Teach down.

To which I can only respond: What are you thinking, San Luis Coastal?

As a bystander, as I said, I’m perplexed. If I were a parent, I’d be irate.

It’s difficult to understand what’s really at work here, but I think it’s safe to say the school board and administrators aren’t being real honest with the Teach community.

Clearly, a quality education is being offered at this school.

And yes, that results from a combination of high-achieving students, involved parents who donate their time, and unique teaching that allows the kids to reach heights that may not otherwise be available to them.

But that doesn’t mean the program is somehow elitist, especially knowing its enrollment is determined via lottery and has been since the mid-1990s.

It also doesn’t mean the school somehow violates the “separate but equal” standard set in the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.

But this is the talking point that has apparently been adopted by the district, and it’s a disingenuous and underhanded one.

Despite problems with overcrowding, it does indeed seem that the school district no longer favors the model that has served Teach so well all these years.

Just listen to the words of the powers that be.

“The school is really contrary to the notion of equal access to education for kids,” school board president Walt Millar told Tribune reporter AnnMarie Cornejo. “I have yet to be shown what are they doing different than across the hallway at Bishop’s Peak or at all of our sites. And I feel that unless there is some significant reason for us to support a program that is substantially different/better, then it is really contrary to the district’s initiatives. … I need someone to show me what the program is supposedly doing and what parents are worried about saving that we are not doing at other school sites.”

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, trustee Jim Quesenberry echoed that sentiment, also citing this “separate but equal” issue while challenging parents to get more involved.

“I ask you,” Quesenberry said, rather audaciously given the audience, “if you think this program should be supported and expanded, what have you done to do that?”

You mean aside from volunteering, teaching electives and turning out en masse to protest what appears to be a united front assembled by the board and district administration?

Again, I’m not a Teach parent, but everything I’ve heard about the school suggests those parents do plenty, which would lead me to ask Millar and Quesenberry, do you even know what this program is about?

Cleary, they are doing something different at Teach. Clearly, the program is attracting families who find unique value in its offerings.

If that weren’t the case, if they could get the very same experience at a school closer to home, why would they enroll at Teach?

Beyond this obvious reality, the fact that Brown vs. the Board of Education is even being mentioned in this case is absurd. That landmark ruling was one of the high points of the civil rights movement and outlawed racial segregation in public schools.

The Teach case is not even close in comparison, despite the mental gymnastics administrators may employ.

Yes, Teach is a magnet school, but it is not substantially different in theory from other magnet schools, like one that draws kids who excel at arts (the Fine Arts Academy in Atascadero) or the one that draws kids who strive to be bilingual (Pacheco Elementary in San Luis Obispo) or the one that draws kids who want to pursue an education in science (New Tech High in Nipomo).

Each of these programs is serving the needs of particular students who desire a more specialized education, and they are open to any who wish to enroll.

When these types of schools become popular and run out of space, how does the leading solution come to be that we dissolve the programs entirely?

The answer is, it doesn’t, at least it wouldn’t in any reasonable district.

But San Luis Coastal is at the moment not a reasonable district, because it’s reasoning is transparently asinine, and the fact that the district would manipulate the debate by twisting an issue like overcrowding (which actually is a symptom of the program’s success) into justification to disband the school, only reveals that other motivations are at work.

What are they? I’m not sure.

But it appears that a philosophical shift has occurred in the upper echelons of the district that has allowed the board and administrators to single out Teach.

That is not wise, and that is not right.

If you agree, show up and make your voice heard at the next board meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 19 at Laguna Middle School.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at jtarica@thetribunenews.com.



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