Revisiting School Choice
Looking at the challenges ahead
BY NANCY WILLARD
Is the school choice issue really off the table? Interesting. George Russell, the 4J superintendent, recommended that the School Board not seek public and staff input on the district’s school choice policy as part of the new planning initiative (see www.4j.lane.edu/files/reports/shaping4j/4J_SH4J_ThinkTank_Superecs.pdf). In fact, the issues of the segregation and inequities related to the alternative schools will become a major focus of the continuing planning effort — especially if the district seeks to find ways to sustain the segregated, too-small alternative schools while it closes and merges the less advantaged neighborhood schools. So let’s look at some of the challenges.
The district has indicated that the alternative schools that are co-located with neighborhood schools will be moved because of the tensions related to the “have” and “have-not” status of these two kinds of schools. The district intends to separate these schools rather than address the “have” and “have-not” problem.
So what is this going to look like in the Sheldon region where Buena Vista is co-located with Meadowlark? There are no empty buildings in the region.
Will the district have to merge Meadowlark and Willagillespie in order to make space for the stand-alone independent segregated Buena Vista?
There is no way that highly segregated Charlemagne can ever hope to become integrated at its location way up in the south hills. A move to the Willard building makes some sense. Not sure where the two charter schools will go.
But where, oh where, will the district put the equally highly segregated Eastside with its 144 students? There is one other too-small alternative school, Family. Putting these two school cultures together would be like trying to mix oil and water. Wouldn’t work. And where would the district put them? Close Adams and put them there? Where would the Adams and soon-to-be-closed Hillside students go? Or put these two alternative schools at Willard? But then where would they put Charlemagne so that it could have a chance of becoming integrated?
How about putting the two most highly segregated alternative schools, Eastside and Charlemagne, in the same building? At least their elitist school cultures would not clash. But this would be a total of around 450 students. So where would the district place these two schools? Well, I guess we will have to build a new school. Raise your hand if you are in favor of passing a bond so the district can build a brand new school for the two most elitist, segregated schools in the community. And then where would the district put Family?
And of course, we have not solved all of the problems in the north region, where the neighborhood schools have an average of 57 percent of students on free and reduced lunch whereas the average of the two alternative schools is 33 percent. In the alternative school review process, the district hid this degree of segregation by comparing Corridor and Yujin Gakuen to the district average — when it is clear from the transfer data that most students come from the north region.
Whether or not the superintendent and the board want to think the problems associated with school choice have been resolved, it is clear that they have not been. In the very near future, this will become more obvious.
Raise your hand if you are in favor of passing a bond so the district can do anything if it refuses to address the inequities and segregation associated with the alternative school program.
Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D., is known in Eugene as the 1985 Eugene Celebration S.L.U.G. Queen and self-described “chief complainer” about Eugene 4J segregation and inequities. She is also director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use and a mother of three children who attend 4J schools.