Friday, November 6, 2015

School Days: My Adventures With the Exceptions in an Exceptional School District

Let me begin this post on a positive note: My children attended Beaverton Schools over a 26 year period and received a marvelous education.****  Of course, every school has room for improvement, but most of the teachers are really good, most of the curriculum is strong, and most of the rules and regulations are reasonable.  This post will be about some exceptions to the above.

We had the unusual situation of having children at both ends of the educational spectrum: Talented and Gifted (TAG) and Special Ed.  Thank goodness for both.  Schools have the potential to meet the needs of each.  Over the years TAG services in the lower grades have diminished, fallen by the wayside by the violent slashing of programs.  Yet at the high school level competent students can choose from dozens of AP classes or the IB program, or, they can attend our local community college to earn dual high school / college credit.  Special ed has beefed up over the decades due to the influx of  ADHD and "autistic" children.

Our high schools have students choose their classes for the fall term way early, usually in January or February.  One year my freshman student selected AP Biology in January, and by the time fall term came around 7 months later, was completely disenchanted by the idea.  This student had some struggles that made this situation more than just a whimsy change of mind.  The school had previously declared there would be absolutely no changes made to schedules, but the anxiety produced in my student was extreme.  I calmly explained this to the VP over academics, who reminded me of the policy.  But I did what I had to do: I camped outside her office, vowing not to budge until she gave in to a change.  I really hate to be that way--am not the power-trip type--yet this was critical.  Not even an hour passed when she gave in to my reasonable request, for which I was grateful.

Oh my, when I think of what a loser teacher Miss H. is I want to tell everyone to avoid this "teacher" at all costs.  I found out part way through one school year that she was spending most class periods doing one of two things: reading the assigned novel aloud to the students while stretched out provocatively ON her desk and second, showing Hollywood movies most of the other class periods.  When she found time to actually teach something, I don't know.  In a conversation with her I objected to her methods and she justified her reading aloud by saying she didn't have enough copies of the novel to send home (other classes used bought or library copies).  She has ADHD she said, so she has to lie on the desk.  And the movies?  She justified them by explaining how they related to the curriculum.  One of the movies was "Shrek."  She claimed it showed life in medieval times.  Seriously.  She must have thought I was born yesterday.  I reminded her that she was supposed to actually teach the setting to the students, not show them Hollywood movies.  Long story short, I turned in my complaint and list of movies shown to the principal who promised to take care of it.  I was satisfied.  But guess what.  The next fall my student was assigned to be in Miss H's class again!  Over my dead body, I thought.  I was immediately at the office who gave me a form listing the 4 and only 4 reasons for changing classes (things like if that class conflicted with a student's work schedule and so on).  On the form I added a #5: my student had this teacher last year and will absolutely in no way have her again.  An hour later the office called confirming a change.  It was a relief to win that battle without a skirmish.

One more experience pertains to transportation.  When we first move to our current house the area was quite rural, and the school bus stop was across a country road with no sidewalks or shoulders.  Students were expected to stand out there in the curve of that road, the perfect spot for an inattentive driver to veer off and take them all out in one swoop.  It took one simple phone call to inform the bus depot the students would in the future be standing in a safe spot on the other side of the road.  For the following 4 or 5 years I made calls to the bus depot every fall to have them fine tune the bus stops.  One year it was for my high school student who was expected to walk 1/4 mile down that same narrow country road around the curve with no sidewalk while cars whizzed by.  Another year I had them change the route for good, to come right through the neighborhood so that no student would be out on the main road (traffic was increasing).  Yet another year the path to the elementary school was threatened by development.  I informed the school who knew nothing about it.  They sent their transportation rep with me and two of my neighbors to meet with the county and between the 4 of us we were able to get the path designated as a permanent tract so that our neighborhood children would always have a convenient walk to school.

Moaning and complaining is useless.  I'm a quiet person who has found that speaking out can improve a situation for all.  We don't always get what we want but we often prevail when our request is reasonable. 

****So kill me for saying this.  It's in vogue to be angry at our public schools, to yank children out while proclaiming how ignorant the teachers and admins are, and to claim that sending your kids into that great and spacious building is to ruin their chances for a productive life.  For me to admit the reality of how good our schools are is, in a way, putting my life on the line.

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