Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Any Solutions?

Like pretty much any school I'm aware of, our school district is facing massive cuts. This has been a situation of some concern to me--after all, I'm trying to take the "advanced" classes, and, historically, those are one of the first things on the chopping block.

After track practice today, Sandy Malouff, the director of our local BOCES, gave me a ride home, and she was throwing out various solutions being discussed to this problem. One particularly struck me: the idea of "modified magnet schools." This is a system where, even though, technically, there would be one school district, the schools in each of our small towns would remain active in their own specialty.

Allow me to explain some background information: There are currently, within approximately a twenty mile radius of La Junta, six school districts (La Junta, Swink, Rocky Ford, Manzanola, Las Animas, and Cheraw). If you go down the road ten more miles from Manzanola, you run into Fowler, with another school system. Last year, when our schools were forced to make even more massive budget cuts, one option that was thrown around for a while was the consolidation of these districts. (Eventually, the option of consolidating our middle and high schools was chosen.) 

There is, or so it seems to me, major opposition to the option of consolidating these districts, because, potentially, this will result in, "the loss of the hometown feeling of the schools." Of course, this would also be an issue with the "modified magnet schools" idea. Although I'm not yet expressing support for this option--I want to hear what you think about its potential repercussions--allow me to explain it in more depth.

Cheraw is a small school district. The town itself has just over 200 people, so you can imagine the population of the school (K-12) itself. Swink, just to our west, has a population of 700, and runs another K-12 school. Rocky Ford is significantly larger, with a population of over 4000, and is in the same setup La Junta (pop. 7000) currently is (three schools, K-3, 4-6, 7-12).

Do you get the idea? Each town is struggling to run a school system that is becoming more and more burdensome. Now, the "modified magnet" system would, as I understand it, involve consolidating the districts--which means it's likely to meet opposition. However, each school would then offer more options to its students for a specific need of its region. (The schools that I will use in the examples below have been randomly assigned. There is no stereotyping based on the community whatsoever.)

Cheraw, for example, could be considered a GT school. La Junta could move to more of a vocational school atmosphere. Swink could become more of an artistically themed school, while Las Animas could be a general ed school (kind of like the setup of each of the schools now).

Now, of course, there are some problems with this idea. One major one that jumps out at me is that many students at this age do not know what they want to do with their lives, and many would simply choose one school to go to because it was the "easiest." Should we give personality tests to assign students to a school? Of course, then we only have one measure to judge which school will be the best fit for a particular kid. In addition, if this was the case, the student's interests themselves are ignored.

Then, of course, which schools get to host which themes? Should it be based on which school already has the greatest strength in each area? Of course, the students could be surveyed to see what the predominant interest in a particular area is, so that the school already in that area could be themed to that interest

Finally, what would happen to graduation requirements? Would each school have its own, tailor-made requirements that students would have to meet to earn a diploma from it? Clearly, each school would have to have some sort of general ed requirements--it couldn't just teach one subject. But I think that the primary objective of this option is to give more opportunities in a certain subject area to each school.

Of course, this is an issue that deserves a lot of attention, and many solutions should be examined. I simply wanted to see what other people thought of this particular solution. So...any comments?

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