We can't wait for schools to get better.
I love living in Walla Walla. Most places I go, it seems I know someone. The grocery store seems like the hub of my social life at times.
I recently ran into a friend in the produce aisle and we started talking. Although she has known me for years and knows that I am working to open Willow Public School, she still had questions about the school. She recounted that her kids seemed to do just fine in district schools, and so did the kids of her friends. Why then, she asked, do we need Willow?
While this seems like a simple question, it is quite complicated and influenced by economic status, race, and privilege. It is true, many students do well in traditional public schools. Both of my kids spent their entire K-12 careers in Walla Walla Public Schools and did fine. However, there is no disputing the fact that there is a huge opportunity gap based on race and income. This is not new and is not specific to Walla Walla. Most communities in our country face similar issues.
I recently read a blog post by the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year, Nate Bowling. He wrote, “The loudest, most vociferous opponents of charter schools I see are middle class, white, college educated, liberal-progressives entrenched within the educational establishment. In contrast, charter parents are typically from low-income neighborhoods that are serviced by under-resourced, low-performing public schools. Understanding that dichotomy is essential.” It’s important to note that Mr. Bowling teaches in a traditional district school, and identifies as a charter school “agnostic”.
Let’s address the “white” elephant in the room: as an affluent white male, I have many more privileges and choices when it comes to education for my kids than a parent of color or a parent who struggles with poverty. This should not dictate who gets a quality education.
I taught in Walla Walla Public Schools for eight years. Before I started teaching in the traditional public school system, I was one of the anti-charter school people Mr. Bowling writes about. Then my eyes were opened to the reality faced by our most vulnerable students and families on a daily basis. At that point, there was no turning back. The question I had to ask myself was, how much longer do we sacrifice our students on the altar of “it will get better someday?” For me, the answer is simple: we can’t wait any longer.
In his poem Ruthless, James Squires writes “For those amongst us who sincerely care about children, the time has come to be ruthless...for if we are not ruthless, we have truly lost our compassion.” As a school, as a community, and as a nation, it’s time for us to get ruthless for children. And Willow intends to do just that.