I live in a vote-by-mail state. I completed my ballot and hand-delivered it to the election office over a week ago. Later today, I will put on a pantsuit and gather with my family and like-minded friends to watch the election results come in.
Not only do I appreciate my right to vote, I'm also extremely grateful that I live in a country where I can safely and freely give voice to issues of importance to me. I consider it an extension of my civic duty to contribute my voice to local and national issues. I care deeply about my country. Our country. And, I care deeply about my community. Our community.
Since I'm not standing in line today to cast my vote, I felt it was important to spend some time giving voice to a local issue that has been of ongoing importance to me: My local school district's high school boundary adjustment and the resulting transition process for our local high school students. Here is the letter I wrote to my school district's Superintendent and School Board members earlier today:
Dear Mr. Grotting and Members of the School Board,
My heart is heavy today. Not only are we at the climax of an anxiety-ridden and divisive election cycle (both in terms of elected offices and school-funding-related ballot measures), but impacted students in the Class of 2020 have just received formal, personalized notification that they (or their friends) will no longer be attending the high school they currently call home. For some students, this letter in the mail was the first solid reality check that the changes they’d been hearing about were real, and the changes were happening to them, and/or their friends.
While students and adults in our community watch and wait for what will happen locally and nationally as a result of the election, students in the Class of 2020 have the added burden of processing personal and individual loss related to their own high school experience. Although you are clear in your communication that plans are underway to support students and families through the boundary transition, where you and others have fallen short is with respect to the support that students need right now. Their loss is immediate. It is happening during an already stressful time in our community and in our world. It is happening while they are navigating high school mid-terms for the very first time in their lives. It is happening while they participate in awards ceremonies for fall sports teams that they won’t be returning to next school year (and in fact will be competing against next school year), and it is happening while they are preparing for try-outs for winter sports teams that they will only get to play on for one year.
I appreciate your acknowledgement that students will need support as they navigate into their new school next year, but equally importantly, they need transition support right now, as they process the loss of their team, their mascot, their school colors, their school fight song, their current teammates and coaches, their newly minted favorite teachers and favorite school traditions, their longtime friendships, and their recently developed friendships and first loves. These students are processing a long list of personal losses, and they are processing those loses today.
Last night I observed a student, who will not change schools, answer call after call and message after message from friends who will be leaving their beloved school next year. These friends' emotions were raw and immediate. There was anxiety. There was anger. There was sadness. There were many “what if’s and what about’s.” Yes, these kids are resilient. Yes, these kids will survive this transition and the losses we adults have burdened them with, but WE need to acknowledge their losses and we need to offer them support and opportunities to process these losses.
There Their world is a now world, and they are processing loss, right now. How are WE helping them navigate the questions, concerns, and sense of loss they have today?
I am also disappointed (and sadly, a bit cynical) that the recent communication mailed to impacted families did not clearly indicate the sibling rule guidelines. Some of the students who received formal and personalized communication from the District yesterday will have the opportunity to claim the sibling exemption, but the personalized communication that they received offered no indication of this. I want to be certain that students who qualify for exceptions and exemptions receive every opportunity to exercise those exceptions and exemptions. I would also like to call for public oversight and for a transparent and accessible process for grievances and appeals to ensure that students of color, students with limited means and limited home support, and students with specialized academic circumstances (and not just specialized athletic circumstances) receive equitable treatment under the exemptions and Administrative Transfer rules. We need to ensure that students’ needs are genuinely put first during this transition.
Lastly, I would like to call for a full, complete and transparent public debriefing of the boundary adjustment process, and I would like the Board to call for a comprehensive and transparent District assessment of what has been learned through this boundary adjustment. What worked? What didn’t work? What will WE do differently next time and what will WE repeat? What did our learning community gain from the experience? What did our learning community lose from the experience? Likewise, I would like call for the School District to utilize the opportunity of this boundary change to gather and analyze data about the actual impacts of the transition on the Class of 2020 for the duration of their high school experience. For example: Their graduation rate as compared to other classes before and after them; their participation levels in extra curricular activities; their receipt of District and regional awards (academic and athletic) as compared to classes of students before and after them; their acceptance into college and their scholarship earnings as compared to classes before and after them; and their collective responses to mental health-related surveys as compared to classes before and after them. I would like to see the information gleaned via this debriefing, learning assessment, and data collection/analysis be used to provide foundational guidance to future high school boundary adjustments and to other district-wide initiatives.
Thank you for listening, considering, and hopefully acting on my concerns.
Parent, Community Volunteer and Voter