Confessions of an Urban Principal/Moving Ahead
by Frank Murphy
Installment 6 of 8
Clearly neither Arthur nor Tyson have any intention of making restitution for the window they had broken. They didn’t come back to school on the two half days they had agreed to work. There isn’t a thing I can do to make them comply with the agreement they had made with me. I’ve kept my side of the bargain. They were able to participate in the graduation. Their failure to follow through on the deal illustrates that things don’t always work out the way you hope. Their lack of responsibility is a disappointment but hardly a surprise. It’s not that unusual for a child to try to avoid a distasteful chore. For these boys, owning up to their responsibilities doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t help their situation that there isn’t a steady and reliable adult in their lives who consistently corrects them when they get off track or pushes them to do the right thing.
My time to watch over these boys has come to an end. Still I continue to be concerned about the future that awaits them. Will they make it through high school? Or will they become just two more dropouts idling away the day on some street corner. I will continue to offer them help if they ask for it. But I doubt that they will.
I am also worried that Arthur will flounder in the foster care system. But there isn’t much more that I can do to help him now that he is moving on to high school. Arthur will have to take responsibility for helping himself. Although he is only fourteen years old, he is on his own. Life has not been fair to him. I fear that he is slowly sinking into the quagmire of the chaos that has long surrounded him.
Lately, I have been reading extensively about the perils that black boys face in our society. Much of the literature I have reviewed is sobering in nature. The suspension rate for African American boys in many of America’s schools is staggering. The percentage of black men who have been incarcerated in our country is an even more overwhelming statistic. The number of African Americans males who do not complete high school should be considered a national disgrace. Many of these student dropouts were enrolled in struggling schools located in our nation’s 100 largest cities. Each of these cities are ones whose local school districts enroll predominately poor African American and Latino children.
Arthur is showing all of the signs of being a future drop out. He has constantly struggled to be successful in school. He lives in a desperately poor community. There is little incentive for him to stay in school.
The multiple negative effects of poverty have disempowered successive generations of poor people in our country. Our nation’s poor reside in communities that are devastated by economic disinvestment. A lack of employment opportunities, quality health care, poor housing, access to reasonably priced, nutritional food and a general lack of public safety are some of the many barriers faced by economically disadvantaged citizens. The neglected communities where these people reside are the same ones where the so-called “dropout out factory” schools are located.
So what are we doing to help the children of these neighborhoods to succeed other than casting blame on the schools that serve them? The answer seems to be “not much”. It appears that our leaders are loathe to admit that the school dropout rate in our country isn’t simply an education problem. They emphatically refuse to recognize the impact that poverty can have on the academic achievement of students. Doing so, they say, is to “make excuses” for why children cannot achieve.
If our leaders were to acknowledge the negative effects poverty has on the well being of children, they would have to agree to develop a comprehensive and integrated social service plan of action for those schools that serve our most needy students. This would involve our society in a costly and long-term endeavor, one that we seemingly do not have the national will to undertake. So instead of engaging in meaningful actions that might break the cycle of poverty, our leaders attempt to distract us from the many inequalities that exist in our society. They offer us platitudes and slogans. It is much easier to say that no child will be left behind, then to take the actual steps to ensure that this will not happen. The “feeling” of school reform is what our elected leaders offer us rather than substantive change. This shallow and superficial substitute for purposeful action is what is actually leaving many of our children behind.
Pursuing real school reform solutions would mean taking steps to make sure that all children received the attention they need and deserve. It would involve hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes in every poor school, and placing experienced teachers in hard-to-staff schools. It would require building decent school facilities for all children. Most of all, it would insist that we stop making excuses for not properly funding many of our public schools.
For the economically-fortunate children in America, schools are strong and safe bridges to the future. This is a good thing. It is an opportunity that should be available to all children. But for too many children living in poverty, schools are flimsy bridges that lead to nowhere. Arthur should be looking forward to a promising future. But the baggage he carries is heavy. The weight of his problems slows his progress. Is there a bridge available to him that will help him to span the deep problems that pit the roadway of his reality?
Today Arthur isn’t the only child missing from school. Here on the last day, more than half of our students are absent without excuse. You can’t imagine my happiness when Ms. Sample ran the final attendance average for the year. It was 90.01%. Just barely, we have cleared this hurdle. We are still on track to make AYP. Now we will wait for the return of our test scores. The Terra Nova scores are due back after July 1st. The PSSA test results won’t be posted until late August.
At noon, I went to the yard in order to say goodbye to the children as they left for the summer. This final dismissal was quick and peaceful. The violence storm that has lingered in the dismissal rectangle for most of this year has finally passed.
After dismissal, our staff surprised Yonnie with a retirement luncheon. Her days as non-teaching assistant have come to an end. We bought a rocking chair for the hallway in her honor. On the back of the chair was placed a dedication plaque, which recognized her years of service to our school. We have been honoring our retiring staff for the last seven years by dedicating rocking chairs in their name. I’m happy for Yonnie. She has safely made it to her rocking chair. I wonder if I will make it to mine.
Earlier in the day, I had a conversation with one of my colleague principals. His school is also in the CAR Region. I had called him to check out what documents we were expected to forward to the new Regional Office. While talking to him, I was surprised to learn that he had been removed as the principal of his school. He informed me that other principals were about to be removed from their assignments. He wasn’t sure exactly who they were. “Could be me”, I thought.
In the evening, I attended a meeting of the Temple Partnership Advisory Board. I act as the principal representative for this group. John DiPaolo announced to the assembled group that the School Reform Commission and Temple University had reached an agreement that would extend the memorandum of understanding between the two parties. Meade and Ferguson were included in the new management contract. The agreement had to be voted on by School Reform Commission. John thought the vote had been scheduled for earlier in the day. He hadn’t yet received an official confirmation on whether this resolution had passed.
I am still not completely certain of my future as Meade’s principal. But doubt will not keep me from continuing to make plans for the future of my school. I will continue to move ahead. The span that I am crossing may soon collapse. Before it does, I will push forward as many of my children as I can.