School Days

swinney

Last night Dan and I went to an event to celebrate and raise money for a new charter school in downtown Kansas City. We met the school’s Executive Director through a friend a few years ago. He is as passionate about bringing good education to urban children as anyone that I know. In an incredibly short amount of time, he and the school’s principal worked tirelessly to build an exciting downtown school.

This venture is one of the too few hopeful signs of people working on this amazingly important project. It is astounding to me that we allow our city to continue to not serve its children with quality education. There are only a few public schools in the urban part of our city that really can claim success. That is not right. Signs of hardworking, caring, committed people like I saw last night need to multiply if we want to hope for better things.

Going into the night, I had a pretty good understanding about the school and its mission. By the end of the night, however, I was totally heartwarmed by the degree of enthusiasm for this project and the apparent success that it has already achieved. The other piece of the evening that completely got me was that three of Sam and Ali’s teachers from elementary school are now teaching at the school. We got to talk about then and now.

I think that we all agreed that when it came time for Sam to go to kindergarten, it was a sweet spot of time in the Kansas City, Missouri School District. The district had a disastrous history of decline and mis-management, but a controversial court order infused the district with money and created a magnet school system to draw in more students. When we entered the doors of E. F. Swinney school in 1991, I felt that magnetic pull. We had the best opportunity in the world, and I still believe that is true.

The Kansas City schools that I knew over the next ten years were what you would want for a child. Having grown up in a small town in western New York, I didn’t see people who didn’t look like me. Because of that, as much as I try to be without prejudice, there is absolutely some inherent in me. For my kids, I wanted their worldview to be better. It definitely was.  They would come home and talk about their day and have descriptors of their friends that ran from peach, to tan, to black, to brown, to freckled.

It was not just the racial and ethnic diversity that made the experience a good one. There was the social diversity that helped all of us better understand our community. So many of the teachers in the schools became friends as they led both Sam and Ali through learning and understanding. Parents and children from those days still remain close. The schools were not just our kids’ places – they were our family’s places.

It makes me sad knowing that those days are gone. E.F. Swinney School has been sold and will be turned into office suites. Volker Elementary continues as a charter school, but under a different name. Now when I tell people that my kids went to district schools they seem rather amazed. It really was amazing, but not the way they think.

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