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“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

The Old Bard was on to something there with his folksy adage about words only having the meaning we ascribe to them. Juliet’s name family  did not define who she was or change the reality of the relationship between her and Romeo. If only the same were true of Normandy school district.

The State Board of Education made a decision this week that I believe acknowledges a truth about public education. The best thing we can do for our kids is to work to make the local school the best possible education for a child. An ad running on the radio now says that it is a tragedy for a child to be “stuck” in a school that is randomly assigned to him by where he lives. The choice of school started with mom and dad choosing what that zip code. The ad makes it sound like that is a random choice forced onto people. Choosing where we live has been an American right. Truly conscientious parents do not make that decision based solely on the floor plan of the home or the price of the apartment. They take into account transportation, proximity to shopping and hopefully the schools. We are limited by our means of course, but our choice of zip code does not limit our ability to be involved in our children’s schools or their education. That is what makes or breaks a school. We are only stuck in a bad school if we believe it is somebody else’s responsibility to fix it.

The State Board is playing a word game and showing the public the truth about their rights and their government. That which cometh from the government can be taken away by the government. You had a right to transfer to a better accredited school so long as we called it a “failing” or “unaccredited” school. Now that the state has renamed it the “Normandy School Collaborative” and part of the statewide school district you now no longer have the right to transfer because NSC is not an unaccredited district. It has a new name and a new status, a state oversight district, which has washed it clean.

Students and parents who did not avail themselves of the right to transfer, which is what the state statute claimed they had, in the last year when the window was open, will now lose the right to transfer because the new district is no longer named unaccredited. I wonder if parents in that district knew that the window to make a decision to “escape their zip code” was only going to be open for a short time. One year, it turns out. I’m guessing not.

Romeo knows that nothing in the Normandy family changed. They are still as dysfunctional as they were before. They will just have a new Patron ruling them. Two of the three new board members are finance experts, so again the focus will be on money not on providing quality education. The new boards, the extra money (the decision comes with a new tuition plan for Normandy students) and the reorganization have all been tried before.

Take a look at Newark New Jersey. Mark Zuckerberg gave them $100 million to fix their failing school district. They had local meetings with parents, they brought in outside talent, they spent lots of money. Did it transform the district? Not really. Who thinks Normandy, with a lot less money, will be any different? The biggest difference is that now people from outside the community are in control so the parents of Normandy, in one fell swoop, have lost their right to transfer to a better school and their control of the school they are now stuck in.

The road to turn around for these districts is long, with lots of hills and turns, but it must be traveled by those who live in the zip code.

The State Board was right to focus on improving the local school. Transferring children all over the place is a fiscal and logistical nightmare. It creates too much instability in all the school districts. It handicaps their ability to make deep meaningful relationships with kids who live by them who they could be socializing with outside of school. It also begs the question about who the local board answers to; the tax payers of the district or the parents of the students, since the two are no longer the same. But they tip their hand on the capricious nature of the state run school system. Think of the chaos that Normandy and the receiving districts went through last year because of decisions made at the state level. Think of what the parents, who chose to wait a year to see how the transfer worked out for other children before placing their own children in that experiment, must be thinking now. For many of those transferring students it was a great change. But now those other parents won’t have the same opportunity.

Normandy schools have an opportunity to change, but it will only happen if the parents decide to retake control of their schools and reclaim their right as the determiner of their child’s education. Everything else is just repackaging with a new name.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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