The name of my school is Horace Mann Elementary. You may not have heard of it. Or maybe you're aware of all the schools across the United States named after the man who is considered to be the Father Of Public Education. Or maybe you have heard of it because it is a school in Oakland being considered for "consolidation (closure)." That last little bit of excessive punctuation is there to show that the way the Oakland Unified School District is informing the public is not mine. Rather than having meetings with the families affected, a form letter was loaded into a newsletter app and sent out to everyone on a list. A list of thirteen schools.
Thirteen communities. Hundreds and hundreds of families. Thousands of children. Families that have spent their lives connected to their neighborhood school. Their public school. The focus of the district's reasoning for closing these neighborhood schools, these community centers, is one of "revenue." As anyone in public education is painfully aware, the amount of money a school gets each year is determined by the number of students it is able to put in their seats. This is why we have an attendance team at our school, one that tries to figure out ways to get all the kids who are registered at our school into those seats every day. That's how our yearly budget is determined. For the coming year. The budget that has seen our principal scrimp and save and move money around to find ways to bring the best possible education delivered by the best possible staff to the kids in those seats.
And now might be a good time to mention the global pandemic. Into this mix of uncertainty, public schools have struggled to maintain that Average Daily Attendance while schools closed for in-person instruction. That was back in March of 2020. Since then schools, families and communities have sought out ways to recreate "normal" learning conditions. With a return to classrooms this past fall, this effort has been surprisingly effective, with air purifiers and hand sanitizing stations and a nearly constant refrain of "pull your mask up." Not just at Horace Mann. Not just at the thirteen schools on that list. But every school in the city.
During this time, we have kept our After School programs running. Through creative budgeting and grants, we have been able to supplement our regular day with art and music and dance, relative luxuries in an era of cutbacks. Moving forward, it is our commitment to our community to continue to give our students the best possible educational experience we can. At the same time, we are tasked with this list. This list that suggests our job is also to figure out a way to bring enough children through our doors to keep them from being locked and closed. Forever.
I wonder if this is what Horace Mann had in mind when he championed the idea of public school nearly two hundred years ago. I wonder if he expected teachers and administrators to have to justify the existence of their communities. These are not schools they want to close. They are communities.