Portland school board members are asking for money: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/06/portland_school_bond_proposals.html
Where is an innovative alternative? The old school has deteriorated; no one disagrees. The question is not a choice between "Do we spend a lot of money repairing the old school?" and "Do we spend lot of money replicating the old school?"
It should be: "How do we make a new school?"
Any change generates opposition from influential people who profit from the current dysfunction, but we can allow ourselves to envision a process that is streamlined and transparent, that thoroughly vets and oversees all employees, that is accessible to the public and that can demonstrate its ability to improve citizenship skills and promote positive human development in a therapeutically-driven educational environment.
Diminish the bureaucracy and the accompanying opacity that always forms in tenured isolation. We cannot afford it.
Let some outside-the-box PPS thinkers create some vast spaces full of communication technology that are well-lit and open day-and-night. Get some sharp people to schedule facility use. Create, support and oversee a high-level volunteer force.
Put cameras everywhere (they are already anyway--in every kid's hand). For the public, a video monitoring system offers a way to help regain confidence in the internal operations of our schools. Schools are expensive and the people who pay for them deserve to feel good about the product.
Abandon the old classroom format entirely...it is a proven recipe for failure in our rapidly evolving culture. Teachers who do the same thing in the same place for a long time get stale or tyrannical. Use pull-out rooms to create and form dynamic, overlapping teams of kids with group goals. Use rotating facilitators instead of classes where one person can identify the smart and dumb kids and then reinforce that hierarchy.
Identify and decide how to use most effectively those teachers who really can lead group discussions. Schedule time for those kids who test high in certain areas to do monitored group work with similar intelligences. Teachers who know how to promote team ethics can incorporate writing assignments, health, biology, history....and find ways for every kid to get some genuine attention from an approving adult everyday. I strongly believe our kids are less likely to go to prison if they don't leave high school hating everybody in authority.
The problem now for the best-intentioned educators is pretty simple. Like government officials, we can't possibly do all the things that we tell people we can do. The result is that, once secure in our positions, we get busy with what we LIKE to do--and the public is ill-served.
In new schools, we could do what we say we are doing...and the public could see us--and participate.
Think online learning overseen by hands-on master teachers. Technology, critical thinking, communication... data-based progression monitored daily by several people. Instant remediation. One-on-one contacts. Less time on discipline issues.
Slowly, incrementally, PPS can move the many, many distractions to another place for a while--then let them go entirely. I have a ton of experience with teenagers and I don't just feel--I KNOW--that the behavior of children is built primarily on two things--their own confidence levels and the expectations of influential people in their lives.
It is a sea-change but the water is rising in Stumptown. Something HAS to give...and the community needs something to help them keep the faith.
An experiment--a prototype--could be a part of this new bond campaign. Change will have to be incremental and any early modifications to beloved programs should be more voluntary than mandated.
Certainly a "new school" idea will have detractors--"new school" is contrarian and simplistic and I provide no supporting statistics. But it will cost a FRACTION of what we pay for public education now and could do the things we NEED for our public schools to do--far better than we are doing them now, while our school board members are deciding on the appropriateness of dance team routines for thirteen-year-olds...
Nobody should vote for money to repair a leaking roof when the foundation of the building is cracked.