Op-Ed

How 'low-performing' schools in Raleigh are communities of quality

Now that public school “report cards” have been released, it should not surprise anyone that there is a correlation between low-performing schools and high-poverty students. What is surprising, at least to me, is that many of the people who complain we test our kids too much and say testing is not everything are the ones putting too much stake in these ratings.

They’ll be the ones abandoning the “low-performing” schools for a “better” program offered at a magnet school or who will leave the public schools altogether in favor of a seemingly higher quality education.

I want a quality education for my kids, too. And I believe they are getting one – at a “low-performing” school. I guess maybe my definition of quality is different from most. I am often asked why I send my girls to Lynn Road Elementary. So, here is my story:

Lynn Road was not our base school. Through a series of events, we were placed there, knowing very little about the school. However, I can’t imagine us being anywhere else.

The week that my oldest “baby” started kindergarten, my dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer. I had a 5-week-old baby in my arms and a toddler by my side as I dropped her off. I honestly didn’t have time to be concerned about her education at that moment. I was in survival mode. I remember rushing from Duke Hospital, where my dad was checking in for pre-op, to Lynn Road for open house. I told my daughter’s teacher that I didn’t know who would be picking her up the next day, or the day following, and that I really wasn’t sure of anything for the foreseeable future.

She quickly assured me that my daughter would be OK. That they would look after her during the school day, and it would be fine. Then she added that they were praying for us and my dad. Hmm – so much for that thing about no prayer in school.

I knew right then and there that this is where we were meant to be. Our community. Our people.

This is quality education. My girls are learning among a diverse population (we represent 35 countries!) and from the best teachers.

Teachers who recognize that students come from hard situations. That some students didn’t eat breakfast that morning or maybe not even dinner the night before. Teachers who realize the kids who need the most love show it in the most unloving way.

Teachers who still show up and teach, even when they don’t feel respected. Even when they are told they are “low performing.” Even when they are tired. Because they make a difference. And that example teaches my kids more than any test can measure.

So, when people ask me whether I am concerned about our school’s “report card,” I can firmly reply, “No! The only report cards or scores I am concerned with are the ones my daughters bring home.” And they are thriving. And they are learning so much about the world. And their community. They are learning to work with others, even those who speak different languages and believe differently from them and look a little different. Most importantly, they are learning that everyone matters. Education is important for everyone. Not just those with options.

This is a societal issue. If we (including “Christians”) are truly as concerned about our society and poverty as we say we are (and as Jesus says we should be), we cannot ignore this. The marginalized. The poor. The broken. Because that is all of us.

I don’t know how we fix this. But one way to start is to stop judging public schools and teachers. Stop telling them they are “failing.” Let’s start by being involved and being part of the solution to make things better.

Becky Chapman lives in Raleigh.

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