‘Moral Sense of Community Obligation’

I was disappointed, but not surprised, by a recent comment on the Middle School Initiative’s Facebook Page regarding Pablo Valarezo’s encouraging fellow parents to join him and others in seeking open enrollment public charter middle and high schools in West Little Rock.

I assure you, Mr. Valarezo doesn’t need my help in defending his motives. But since the commenter painted our involved parents with such a broad brush, it occurred to me that folks new to this fight (and make no mistake, it is a fight) might need some encouragement regarding the moral clarity of our collective intentions.

The commenter opened:

“Hopefully you all won’t abandon our traditional public schools (with the excuse that they abandoned you first). Hopefully you will drive those few extra miles to put your kids in LRSD schools and work to make them even better. Every kid in our city deserves a good education, but its going to take active parents like you all to make that happen.”

Abandoned would mean they were there, then left. The correct word, in regard to the board’s actions or inactions, is “ignored.” As for parents, one can’t abandon what one never had.

Every day, parents all over this city drive extra miles for excellent (or at least better) schools, that is when they’re given permission. There is, however, no incentive to drive to a school which is neither excellent, nor better, but among the state’s lowest performing.

Our parents remain deeply involved in their respective schools. The difference this time is, instead of pleading and trusting and hoping that their board will finally do the right thing, they got active to improve the entire system by introducing choice and competition into a $360 million, unresponsive monopoly.

So, while we remain strong advocates for excellent public education throughout the district, we are concurrently and vigorously pursuing the public charter option in order to avoid further delay in the provision of an excellent public option.

In response to the Middle School Initiative’s answer, the commenter then wrote:

“Or you all could just help our city by going to the schools we have. You guys are a great asset;I hope the your moral sense of community obligation kick in. We can help our kids and help our community.”

My moral sense of community obligation kicked in long ago. It was my moral outrage that was late to the party. 

What is moral about being trapped in under or non-performing schools simply because of your zip code? What is moral about being denied entry into a magnet school simply because of the color of one’s skin? What is moral about spending $1.2 billion, including millions in attorneys’ fees, over 30 years to allegedly desegregate, only to see the racial gap grow from 40 points to 47? What is moral about over 1/3 or our students not graduating from high school? What is moral about schools among the highest funded in the state generating results among the lowest? What is moral about denying our most vulnerable citizens that most fundamental promise of an excellent education – entry into America’s meritocracy? What is moral about denying proximate public education to 2/7 of our population?

For over ten years, dutiful parents have tried to do the right thing by working within the system in hopes that their benevolent school board will bestow upon them what is concentrated in the rest of the city – neighborhood/community schools. Look at the map. There are only three schools each in Zones 4 and 5 (West Little Rock), five elementary and one middle. In the city’s other five zones, there are 43 schools – 14 in Zone 1, 7 in Zone 2, 8 in Zone 3, 7 in Zone 6, and 7 in Zone 7.

In 1957, those who challenged the state over equal access to excellence were derided by the majority and told they should stay in the schools they were given. Today, the state (school board) and its protectionist apologists are telling our parents the same thing: Pipe down, be patient, go to the school you are assigned, and compensate for our failure by working to make your assigned school better.

The unacceptable performance of the traditional public education system, and the blind, jaundiced or myopic eyes turned by much of the community, constitue the greatest public policy issue of our time. When states’ future prison bed needs are routinely projected by fourth grade literacy rates, the interconnectedness of education (or lack thereof) to every other aspect of society is painfully and urgently evident.

We are honored to be working with those parents who get it, not just for their kids, but for all students. It is, indeed, our “moral sense of community obligation” which emboldens us to endure the inevitable slings and arrows from those whose livelihoods and dogmatic world views are threatened when the needs of students take priority over the self interests of adults.

Little Rock School District Board Zone Map

Little Rock School District Attendance Zone Maps

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