Imagine the public school system as a house, Mary Cecconi said. The house is not working for us. Do we move? Do we tear it down? Do we renovate? To me, that sounds a lot like Love It or List It?, the popular HGTV program in which interior designer Hilary tries to renovate a family’s home to make it work for them, while real estate agent David tries to find and sell them a new home.
Cecconi was speaking to a group of people passionately concerned about our public school “homes” on May 23 at the annual summit of Parents United for Public Schools. Does anyone believe the public education “home” is working for all of us? Probably no one in the room — but lots of people expressed commitment to improving the house to better serve the needs of all of our children. I heard some great stories, and heard about some great projects. We’ll report on more of them in the weeks and months ahead, but here are two to inspire you to think about love and renovation, and a reading list to keep going through the summer.
Story #1: Overheard in the hallway
Student 1: “Miss Wade knocked on my door last night.”
Student 2: “Are you in trouble?”
Student 1: “No, she just knocked on my door and asked to talk to my mom.”
Student 2: “What did you do?”
Student 1: “I opened the door, and she came in and she sat on my couch.”
And then the students entered the classroom, and the second student asked, “Miss Wade, will you come to my house?”
The conversation was about a teacher home visit program pushed by the St. Paul teachers’ union — more on that in a future article!
Story #2: Scary moms
Mary Cecconi (Parents United for Public Schools): “African American moms are really scary. They come at you really mad, because they are really passionate. All of us are hot-wired to go from zero to a hundred for our kids. That’s scary.”
Radious Guess (panelist, consultant, African American mom): “She’s right! It does not surprise me when I make an appointment with my child’s teacher that the principal wants to be there also. I don’t do well at parent-teacher conferences … I’m passionate, I need more time. She’s right — I’m mean! …
“All we are doing is advocating for our children. Some of us advocate for every child in the building, because there may be no one there to advocate for them.”
Keith Lester (Superintendent, Brooklyn Center): “African American dads can be that way, too.” He described a heated phone conversation with a dad, and the subsequent visit in his office. “He walks in the door and he’s like 12 foot, 12 inches and weighs 400 pounds, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m a dead man.’ But he was the most thoughtful, caring, considerate man. He grilled me no end.” And they came to an understanding of how to work for the student, “once we saw each other and had a chance to connect.”
Connection. Relationship. Actually talking to one another. It’s happening, in summits and in parent-teacher conversations, in schools and out of schools.
I feel privileged to have heard the conversations at the summit, and the extremely funny improv growing out of them, presented by the Theater of Public Policy. Do you have a story you’d like to share? Write it, videotape it, send it to me <email@example.com> or ask for a reporter who can help you tell your story.
One step beyond
The summit’s suggested reading list is a great list for the summer, so here it is:
- The Coming Revolution in Public Education
- The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools
- A Different Story about Public Education
- Why We Still Need Public Schools (pdf)
- The Test? Find More Straight-A Teachers
- Rifts Deepen Over Direction of Ed. Policy in U.S.
- The Plight of Teachers’ Unions
- And for some historical perspective – The First Race to the Top
- Series of short videos on designing a healthy learning environment: A Year at Mission Hill