Dollar Signs – Not Students

    “Who will cry for the little boy? He never had for keeps.”

It’s my favorite scene in the movie, Antwone Fisher – when Antwone Fisher, played by Derek Luke, stands as a troubled man in front of his counselor, played by Denzel Washington.

It’s a question that can be juxtaposed to students, teachers and families when a school closes.

Who will cry for the students? Who will cry for the teachers? Who will cry for the parents? Who never had for keeps.

The students, families, teachers and community of Raleigh, didn’t have a school for keeps when Raleigh Egypt Middle School was taken over by a charter management organization authorized by the Achievement School District (ASD).   After one school year, the newly branded “Memphis Scholars Raleigh Egypt Middle School” will be closing and attempting to move the middle school students 16 miles across town to its elementary school building – in an effort to keep students and “legally” expand the current building, Memphis Scholars Florida Kansas (MSFK), to a K-8 school.  The move of students from across town comes after the organization was denied the expansion of MSFK to a K – 8 school (after serving 6th graders this past school year).

The formerly East-Coast based organization, Scholar Academies was granted a charter to take-over three “failing” schools - Florida Kansas Elementary School, Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary School, and Raleigh Egypt Middle School. After the take-over, these schools would be named Memphis Scholars Florida Kansas, Memphis Scholars Caldwell Guthrie, and Memphis Scholars Raleigh Egypt.  Taking over a school for any organization is a difficult task, one that is more difficult when there isn’t full community support and buy-in. It can be increasingly difficult when the community and local school district expresses its discomfort by reorganizing its high school, in an attempt to retain its students in the local district school.

Who will cry for the students, who never had for keeps?

When did schools become businesses and not establishments for learning? Who makes the decisions that are in the best interest of the lives of the students and families they serve – without the financial “bottom line” not being the first thing that is considered? Who considers the students?

Rodney Moore, the legal counsel for Shelby County Schools summed up my thoughts when he stated, “It’s one thing for the ASD to say we don’t like the school building … We’re going to move a block away and still service that community. But nobody in their right mind can believe they have any interest in serving the Raleigh-Egypt community. They’ve essentially indicated that they want to take away the academic resources from that school building, move it across town, which is essentially robbing that community of valuable resources.”

I contemplated how “real” I would get with this post, being a former employee of Memphis Scholars Florida Kansas. Yet, when students are MORE disadvantaged because of an organization’s presence, then subsequent absence – you have to wonder certain things. There are numerous questions – cries – that remain unanswered.

  1. Who considers the parent who took a chance on the new charter school? Who considered the faith this parent had in the school? Who knew the risks and leaped anyway only to have the school close and subject their child to uncertainty and newness, once again?
  2. Who considers the students who adjusted to a new culture in a “new” school that looked like the old school with all new people and new rule only to have that adjustment be short lived?
  3. Who considers the teachers who have families and financial obligations, who didn’t get notices until the last week of school about their lack of continued employment?
  4. Who considered the minute and vast changes in the neighborhoods these schools serve? Who considered the safety of the students being bussed from MSRE to MSFK?

I spoke to a former colleague who lost her job at MSRE this school year. While she shall remain nameless, I will cry for her.  Give voice to her frustrations of not having the summer she planned for herself and her family or for having to take a drastic pay cut in the position she chose for the upcoming school year because the lateness in the announcement of their decision drastically changed the available positions for the new school year.

I will give voice to her concerns for her students, for the sacrifices she made in being a teacher in the first year of a turnaround school. I will give voice to her disappointment in being led to believe she had a job for the next school year, being reassured just four weeks before receiving notice of the school closing.

I will cry for the parents, teachers, families, students and community that was supposed to be served by MSRE.

Yet, I’m glad I decided crying isn’t enough…

 

Marlena Little

Educator, visionary and leader.

Marlena Little grew up in the inner-city of Chicago in one of the worst neighborhoods of the city. Yet the contrast of her home and school life provided evidence to the statement, “it’s not where you’ve been but where you are going”. Having attended one of the best elementary and high-schools in the country, she was determined to live beyond the poverty and violence of her neighborhood, knowing education was the escape.

Marlena Little, a Memphian by choice, relocated to Memphis to fight for educational equity. As a teacher, it was important for Marlena’s students to see her as an example of that escape. As an administrator, Marlena challenged teachers and staff to illuminate education as the way out, yet as a visionary, Marlena has created paths of escape.

As Founder of Life Prep Academy Schools, Marlena Little has seamlessly merged her childhood with the standard of excellence imbedded in her educational experiences to provide students, regardless of any “label”, the limitless opportunities a high-quality education affords.  Her philosophical beliefs about education are the guiding principles of Life Prep.

In addition to her many roles, Marlena Little is also a mother and forever learner.  She is a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Leadership and has the pleasure of raising a nine-year-old daughter.