City Schools: A Bad Scene, Some Say

Parents and former members of the Charlottesville School Board went before City Council on Monday night to complain about low morale among teachers, the over-testing of students, and bureaucracy replacing responsive leadership in the city schools. Former School Board Chairwoman Mary Susan Payne, Curry professor Walt Heinecke and former Burnley-Moran PTO presidents Karl and Jenny Ackerman were among those who testified that schools have come to spend all of their time on preparing students for standardized testing — the Standards of Learning and No Child Left Behind and changed their focus to the hiring of administrators, rather than teachers. Jenny Ackerman read a letter from an anonymous teacher, in which the teacher wrote that morale is at an all-time low, and that they are “being instructed to teach to the test, and that is not something I am willing to do.” Mayor David Brown spoke in support of the School Board, leaving Ackerman with the impression that he is unwilling to address the concerns of the community. John Yellig had the story in yesterday’s Daily Progress.

13 thoughts on “City Schools: A Bad Scene, Some Say”

  1. For those who don’t know, the Charlottesville School Board is appointed by City Council, and Council’s job from there is simply to allot a lump sum to the School Board each year, who budgets for and operates the schools with minimal control by Council.

    Some Republicans — Kevin Cox and Rob Schilling, notably — have favored moving to an elected school board. I mulled this over for about 6 months a couple of years ago before coming to the conclusion that it’s a bad idea. The mere fact that somebody can get elected in no way means that they have the slightest idea of how to run the school system. If anything, it would remove diversity (not just racial diversity, but sexual, geographic, experiential, etc.) from the board and result, if Council’s historic makeup is any indicator, in the board consisting of a bunch of white guys whose talent is getting elected, and not necessarily running a school system.

    Specialized boards like this — such as the Planning Commission, for example — ought to be appointed by Council, and it is Council that we must hold accountable for the School Board’s actions, or lack thereof, which is precisely what was done at Monday’s meeting.

  2. All I can say is that a single year at CHS made me suicidally depressed and almost gave me a nervous breakdown. It reminded me far more of a prison than any sort of learning envioronment.

    Then again, this was 9 years ago, so it’s possible that things there now are totally different… but from this write-up it sure doesn’t sound like it.

  3. The City Council members are effectively chosen by the city Democrats when they nominate their candidates and the nominees are selected by a small group of party stalwarts. Waldo almost upset the scheme but lost by a whisker. It’s very likely that the same people who would be elected would be appointed. Even so it wouldn’t matter very much how they got there since the majority would be unquestioning followers of the superintendent.

    The appointed school boards give the administrators lots of leeway in running the schools. The qualifications that the City Council wants of the appointed school board members are not anything special…the most important one being that they are active Charlottesville Democrats (except for a very rare token) who think like the City Council that appoints them.

    The number of people who actually vote in local elections is very small. Far more people, will vote in the upcoming presidential election than voted in the last city council election. Many people with Republican sympathies are actually content with the state of affairs in Charlottesville. Since the 60s the city has become a safer more attractive place to live and property values have gone up a lot. No more public housing is being built and the city is far less welcoming to poor blacks from surrounding counties than it used to be. Charlottesville used to be described a "magnet" for the poor because of the availability of public housing and social services. It isn’t like that now. If the Dems want to be happy about their good intentions to promote justice for minoritys and affordable housing that’s fine as long as they don’t actually upset the trends that are making Charlottesville a more expensive and exclusive place to live.

  4. It will be interesting to see if there is a change in the city in the ratio of Democrat and Republican votes in the presidential election as compared to the last city council election. I predict that even with a significant total increase in voters, the increase of Republicans will be greater. I may be wrong though because of the overwhelming support for the dems among UVa students, who normally don’t vote in local elections. Then again, the last Republican city council candidates were so bad that it is probable that many Republicans either voted for the Dems or didn’t vote at all. The Republican vote was really low.

  5. "All I can say is that a single year at CHS made me suicidally depressed and almost gave me a nervous breakdown. It reminded me far more of a prison than any sort of learning envioronment"

    It isn`t clear to me if you were there as a student or a teacher. It will be interesting to know.

  6. Thanks Waldo. I read his profile but couldn`t pin it down to the point of no doubt.

    Perhaps James will favor us with some first hand commentary on conditions then and perhaps a "now" comparison might be forthcoming from a knowlegeable source. Preferably another student.

  7. I couldn’t disagree more with James’ comment. I don’t know what CHS was like years, ago, but I am now a senior there and have found it to be a pretty good public high school experience. It has good people, good classes, and more extracurricular stuff than I could ever possibly do. It’s only the structure of the building that makes it seem like a jail (ie the lack of windows). As to race relations, which seems to have become an issue now, CHS has some degree of racial separation, but I haven’t noticed any sort of racial tension. Everyone gets along ok.

  8. The old saying when I was a student there oh so long ago was that CHS was designed by a madman chasing a butterfly (after of course they decided to steal the last large farm within the city limits from the little old lady that used to own it via Eminent Domain).

    As a student your perception of the school depended on whether or not the adminstration’s "tracking" of student’s benefited you or not. If you were amongst the schools academic elite, CHS was of course a wonderful place full of opportunity. That or if you were happy in the "box" where they decided you fit.

    As for the Racial issues- those are largely in the minds of the so called community leaders for whom the perception of racial inequity is necessary to perpetuate their role/status within the community.

  9. I agree.

    Ideally appointed school boards should be much more free from the political pressures of an elected school board.

    Having lived in cities that have had both.. an elected school board is more often paralized from making serious and much needed changes, by the political pressures of re-election.

    The Republican reasoning for an elected school board, well I’m going to say it’s simply about control. Primarily because they think they could mobilize their voting block more effectively to elect candidates that would be more responsive to their desires. Currently they probably see themselves as the victims of left wing city council.

  10. I read that story. I heard words used like.. "First rate teachers" and "diverse learning experiences" both of which are educational myths.

    The complaints I’m hearing in that story are similar to one’s I’ve heard in cities across the nation. It’s the teachers unions, and their vocal allies the "actively involved parents" (which are in my experence *Not* the majority of parents, but rather a vocal minority).

    What it all amounts to is that teachers are being held to actual "standards." And they don’t like it. So they run and lobby their allies "the actively involved parent" most likely informing them that the "uniqueness of their childs educational experience is put at risk by the new changes we are forced to use."

    What a statement like that masks is that unless your child is academically gifted, and of course all parents want to believe that. But unless your kid is already among the top performing academically… the new system is designed to make the majority of teachers actually have to "work" and "teach" the student who is only "average" in academic skill.

    When did teachers become such a protected job class? No other job enjoys as many holidays and time off as that profession.

    This is no different a situation than when someone knew takes over a new boss / manager / owner takes over a company and imposes changes on employees who are too used to "business as usual" inorder to increase productivity.

  11. When did teachers become such a protected job class? No other job enjoys as many holidays and time off as that profession.

    This is my sentiment also. In my experience, teachers are more often than not sub-standard but have the unions and sheeple parents behind them. They are paid for a full year of work whereas they work only about 40 weeks (3/4 a year). They complain, they moan, they demand and most yield little results. They are often pretentious, stubborn and and unwilling to perfect themselves.

    But… come to think of it, that’s the profile for the majority of people. I guess, after due reflection, they are just like everyone else except they can blackmail people into giving them what they want. Uh… that’s just like the medical community! Wow! Uh… State, County, City legislature and employees… Man, come to think of it, almost everyone’s got an angle.

    Darn… back to the drawing board on socio-politics, ‘cuz America ain’t working!

  12. My one conclusion to the whole school issue, is that if the teachers and a few spoiled but vocal parents are that upset… the school board and Superintendent Griffin, must be doing something right. They should keep up the good work!

    I’ll save my comments for the other professions (medical and legislative) for other threads. :)

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