Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Wacky Charter School Stories: A (weak) Call For Your Submissions

In my life as a public schoolteacher, I've worked at both "regular" public schools and a charter school. Both are places of craziness, but I've always used the analogy that working at a charter school is like all the wackiness of "regular" school combined with an atmosphere in which you'd swear all the staff members are on methamphetamine.

Of course I don't mean this literally, it's just that the energy level, passion and professional self-righteousness in the typical charter is crackling with intensity. The drug here, really, is the conviction that "regular" public schools are so screwed up. That and a true passion for the kids leads people to do some crazy, crazy things. Because they are, in essence, business start-ups, your average charter school employee is exactly like those relatives who start selling Amway (i.e. hard to put up with).

I bring up this topic after reading in the "only paper you will ever need" this morning about upheavals going on at Ralph J. Bunche Academy Charter School here in town. For reasons not exactly clear, the principal was recently put on leave, a new principal was just hired and the school was shut down for two school days last month. As Andrea Schoellkopf puts it this morning:
APS spokesman Rigo Chavez on Monday confirmed that Ralph Bunche students missed two days of school in March when a parent allegedly threatened the staff there.
If Burque Babble was read by more than seven people I'd love to open up the comments (anonymous even) to former/current charter school employees to share their stories. My guess is that a typical array of charter school war stories would shock, humor, infuriate and educate many folks who generally see charters as a good idea, but don't really know much about the day-to-day life at your typical charter school. Heck , let's open it up for you special seven and just see what happens.

I say that as a supporter of charters. I don't teach at one anymore, and most likely never will again, but charters can be powerful progressive instruments of an education far superior to that in your average "regular" public school. At the same time, charters have warts, pimples and all sorts of metaphorical skin conditions that don't get covered/analyzed much in the press and aren't terribly well-known by those who aren't involved in these schools.

Right now the public, Presidential candidates included, are pretty much reduced to saying "charters schools are a good idea". The end. It would be good to get beyond that to some real analysis of what's going on in these places, quantified via statistical analysis (ok, kinda boring) or through some juicy tidbits of high-level anecdotes.

I've got a few tasty bits of edu-gossip on the subject, but am, of course, far too high-quality a person to stoop to unsubstantiated shocking tales of charter school life. That's where you come in, oh seven readers,...anybody?


Anonymous said...

thinking back before this brew-ha-ha, what happened with the first principal?

Kelsey Atherton said...

I work at a charter school, through a weird round-about way that involves work study and literacy grants, and any 'wacky' I have has to be balanced against the fact that all but 9 schools in Orleans Parish are charter schools.
This overall charter-iffication is something that, were the science public education a huge field of academic study, would be the biggest thing to go down more or less ever. The school I work at is the elementary branch of an "Arts and Music" charter school that has in another location both a middle and a high school. What's meaningful about all this is that the kids got a new auditorium/performance space, complete with music room and dance studio, and most importantly modern bathrooms. The kids don't actually have a field, there being no room in this crowded filled-in swamp, so the kids play on concrete in this weird perimeter-lining area. The charter wackiness, if this is charter school stuff and not New Orleans school stuff, is the fact that about a third of the kids have long after-school stays at school, for the fun creative classes or for hours on the playground. Maybe that is public education in general; I'm bad at the small-picture aspect requests for wacky stories entails.

What I can say about charters is that in a state with perhaps the greatest catholic school enrollment in the nation, where suburbs sprung into existence following desegregation, and where anyone who can doesn't let public school in New Orleans educate their kids, the massive influx of charters is either a stop-gap or a step towards the privatization of education in Louisiana. Unions excluded, teachers more uncertain about their job futures, the flexibility of principles mainly consists of lenient hiring/firing practices, and the influx of short-term Teach for America idealists is all leading to a system anything that resembles the old days of public education is more or less doomed, for better or worse.


mizogan said...

Oh boy!! I have so many ideas, thoughts impressions and memories that it is hard to organize them all.
I was a founding member, grade leader, worked 7 days a week, custodian, carpooler, adviser, disciplinarian and a teacher at a start up charter school. Professionally it was intellectually stimulating and challenging. Personally it was great to feel so committed to something that made me a better person. Socially I involved my family and my new co-workers became my close friends.

It also almost killed me.

Apparently as I have sat here typing for the last 20 minutes I have a lot to say. I have deleted most of it at this time but I promise to get back to it for therapeutic reasons.


Joseph Lopez said...

School Jobs I Have (Barely) Lived Through

APS Police Dispatcher
APS Police Patrol Officer
APS Police Sergeant
APS Risk Safety Specialist
JeffCo School Security Supervisor
Charter Vocational High Safety Specialist/Security Officer

Each one on those job titles is a book on its own, I have thought of writing some thinly veiled fiction myself. What whacky nuts I have met, and what fine men and women too. I have seen children grow from tots to graduates, all on my watch. I had 17 years of it until I got my butt kicked in 2004.

I rode my mountain bike at work while my buddies turned GREEN with envy, me taking laps at a middle school as I made my rounds, throwing the bike in the trunk and going to the nextr school in the cruiser.

Sometimes I was unarmed, sometimes I was armed. I was a gunless cop and an armed security supervisor, go figure!

I discovered some crime, and not just drug busts and such, or fights that got broke up or responded to after the fact - I broke real cases. Whether the DA prosecuted or not always depended on the ...status...of the offender, but that is America, right?

I prevented some injuries, I KNOW it, I wrote the response portion of the APS Safe School Plan in 1997, and was a School Critical Incident Instructor a few years before we saw the Colorado cops paralyzed by two kids with a grudge and lots of little bombs, and a few BIG bombs that didn't go off, thank God.

I worked in that same district, Jefferson County Schools, I ran security for them after the tragic combination of lack of supervision and lack of LISTENING to kids resulted in some bullied boys becoming murderers.

I was there when they stripped us of our guns, so once again, there I was a walking target, a uniform with no damn gun. The Lawyers ,as with most things in School Life, are Supreme.

Chasing and managing chaos is what every school employee does, but my dispatcher was SURE to SEND me to the chaos - that was what I got paid for. I learned Verbal Judo, became a Non-Violent Intervention Instructor, learned police techniques and techniques that are only for instances of "He was gonna KILL me yer honner!"

It was fun while it lasted, and I miss it enough to want to go back, but I can't do the work anymore, it is beyond my capabilities, my brain was thrashed too badly and I am always cussing and being impulsive now, wanting to confront EVIL and kick its butt, but no one will SEND me to do that anymore...

So, yeah, I got crazy stories, but maybe I am the crazy one, several social security and disability docs with sheepskins can't be wrong, right? Left?

Ok, over and out, 10-7.