“And where state and local governments have chosen to provide education, it must be provided in equal measure. ” – Brown v. Board, 1954
We asked for equal education.
Over 60 years later and we are here. We are burdened with the weight of being used as placeholders in the pursuit of integration. Black people are asked to hold the place in the picture, yearbook and on the school website to make our schools look diverse. The reality, when the camera is removed, is that in many cases throughout Jefferson County Public Schools, we are also removed.
For more than 40 years, JCPS has held our place and kept us in place. This is a place of inferior programming, inferior facilities, inferior staffing and most damaging inferior achievement. To be clear, the place has not been created by any one superintendent, Board, Central Office or individual school. It has been created and perpetuated by the system of forced integration and it is time for the system to change.
Now that JCPS seeks to change the School Assignment Plan for reasons of choice and diversity, I must remind them that is not what we asked for. We asked for equal education.
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Integration that isn’t forced is a beautiful thing. Integration that is forced is a disaster for both sides. Far too many Black children, some now adults, have stories that forever changed the way they saw school and even themselves because they were forced to integrate spaces that never wanted them there. Many white families, oblivious to the idea of community outside of their own neighborhood, sought to protect their own way of life.
They made decisions that crushed the spirits and capabilities of those children from downtown to support that way of life. If on the other hand Black families, who have made the decision to integrate their lives into the way of life of white families, these families have welcomed their assimilation and it can be mutually beneficial. White families who have made the decision to step into the Black communal space for education have been welcomed and invited to the picnic for the entirety of their lives.
In JCPS, current attempt to give back to most white families what they believe they lost to integration, the school district has proposed a Student Assignment Program that would give Black families a choice of staying in their own communities for education. We agree.
We no longer want to be somewhere we are not wanted nor supported. We cheer being able to attend, by choice, schools in our own neighborhood. The problem is that those schools were intentionally ignored for the last 50 years and the urban core dismantled for the last 20, so we now have schools in the Black community that no one would choose for education.
Obviously, for belonging, for engagement, for convenience and for family, those schools in our community would be our first choice. But for education, well …
In the new SAP proposal students in West Louisville (Choice Zone) may attend a school close to their home with the exception of Brandeis, Brown, Carter and Lincoln. What are the only high-performing schools in the Choice Zone?
You guessed it. Brandeis, Brown, Carter and Lincoln all perform in the top 100 schools in Kentucky. All the other Choice Zone schools, the ones where JCPS touts all West Louisville families can attend, are in the bottom 100 schools in Kentucky. See the problem?
What’s the solution? Glad you asked.
What if all schools in West Louisville (Choice Zone) were like Brandeis, Brown, Carter and Lincoln elementary schools? What if Black families could attend schools that not only provided that sense of belonging but also education, equal education?
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How? The Magnet Schools of America report that JCPS has used to justify the necessary changes to the current SAP proposal also suggested this same thing. In their report, again, which JCPS identifies as the expert-based rationale for their changes reports that students perform better in whole school magnets than in schools that only have magnet programs within them. Brandeis, Brown, Carter and Lincoln are whole-school magnets.
The other Choice Zone schools are not. JCPS has capitulated and suggested Foster become a whole school magnet and Coleridge-Taylor become one also. But they remove the whole school magnet from Kennedy elementary. Huh?
So, Maupin elementary should be a whole-school magnet as MSA recommended.
Kennedy should remain a whole-school magnet as MSA recommended. King elementary should be a whole-school magnet as MSA recommended. McFerran should be a whole-school magnet as MSA recommended. Wheatley should be a whole-school magnet as MSA recommended. Atkinson should be a whole-school magnet as MSA recommended. Breckinridge-Franklin should be a whole-school magnet as MSA recommended. Byck should be a whole-school magnet as MSA recommended.
Portland should be a whole-school magnet as MSA recommended. All the identified schools should be replicated Math-Science, Technology (MST), Self-Directed, Traditional, Visual and Performing Arts and Montessori magnet schools. To ensure quality replication JCPS should consider organizing upper (3,4,5) and lower (K, 1,2) campuses for each of the magnet schools. How innovative!
All students in the Choice Zone should have a guaranteed choice of any of these schools, including Brandeis, Brown, Carter and Lincoln. After which, all additional spots should be opened to receiving students from throughout the city through a centralized lottery. There is room.
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Oh, while we’re at it MSA also recommended that Cane Run, Fairdale, Hawthorne, Indian Train, Jacob, Mill Creek, Price, Rangeland, Rutherford, Shelby, Wellington and Young be reorganized as whole-school magnets. Imagine how this could help equally educate the children in Newburg and Shively whose neighborhoods have been dismantled by benign neglect.
Finally, we don’t need to wait another six months or six years to investigate what works and what doesn’t. As they say in my community, Stevie Wonder could see this truth. Ron Edmonds, the famous educator once said “We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it, must finally depend on how we feel about the fact we have not done it so far. “
We asked for equal education.
Michelle Pennix is a retired principal in Jefferson County Public Schools. She is a speaker and trusted consultant for educational leadership development and community engagement. Her website is PrincipledPennix.com.