As I posted yesterday, the Save Hoover group (which I’m a part of) has endorsed Phil Hemingway, Gregg Geerdes, and Sara Barron for school board. The endorsement was the closest we could come to a consensus, and I know it doesn’t speak for every Hoover supporter. I hope people will take it as one piece of information and make their own decisions.
I found it very hard to decide which candidates to support, because six of the nine have supported keeping Hoover open: Hemingway, Geerdes, Barron, Tuyet Dorau, Jim Tate, and Chris Lynch. (And of course there are other issues besides the Hoover closure – though many of them, such as responsiveness to public input, transparency, and fiscal sense, are implicated by the closure decision.)
It was particularly hard in the case of Tuyet Dorau. Dorau is an incumbent board member who voted against the plan to close Hoover. At the board meeting where the plan was approved, she was the only member who asked hard questions about the data on which the plan was based, rather than uncritically accepting the consultants’ interpretations. She was the only board member who acknowledged the public’s clear opposition to closing schools without a compelling purpose.
I haven’t always agreed with Dorau, which doesn’t distinguish her from any school board member in history. But she did vote against the indoctrination policy I described here. She also voted against the ill-advised attempt to regulate the public’s expression at board meetings that I described here. When I complained about PBIS, the district’s reward-based behavior modification program, she engaged in a public discussion of it with me, while none of the other members of the board so much as acknowledged my letter.
The consensus wasn’t there for a Dorau endorsement, in part because she has, in the past, spoken in favor of moving toward larger elementaries at the expense of closing smaller ones. She has also said that preserving the viability of a town or neighborhood should not be a factor in the board’s decisions. Both of those views, in my opinion, are too narrowly focused on dollars and cents to the exclusion of intangible costs, and too narrowly define the board’s mission.
Given her previously expressed views, some have criticized Dorau’s vote on Hoover as inconsistent or insincere. The two stances are not, in fact, inconsistent, since even someone who wants to close smaller schools might think differently about Hoover, which held almost 400 students last year, and is located in an economically diverse area with no shortage of kids. But even if they were, there is no shame in declining to push one’s personal preferences on an unwilling public. This particular criticism of Dorau tends to come from supporters of candidates who are fully on board for closing Hoover, which makes it that much less persuasive.
Say what you want about Tuyet Dorau. One thing is undeniable: she’s not the reason Hoover School might close. Neither is any west-side hostility to the east side. Neither are fiscal considerations or enrollment trends. If Hoover closes, it will be because of the over-reaching of a particular group of activists who are narrowly focused on City High, and who have decided that the fate of City desperately depends on using the Hoover property for, um, . . . something.
I’m voting for Hemingway, Geerdes, and Barron. There are great reasons to vote for those three, which I’ll be posting about over the next week, and I do think it’s important to try to concentrate the votes of Hoover supporters as much as possible on only three candidates. Moreover, although I’m a terrible predictor, I suspect that Hemingway, Geerdes, and Barron need help more than Dorau does, and I want to put my votes where they’ll have the greatest impact. But I know that many Hoover families and neighbors are grateful to Dorau for her vote against the closure, and that many of them will be voting for her. I won’t be trying very hard to talk them out of it.
UPDATE: After I put this post up, Tuyet Dorau and I engaged in an email exchange that she agreed I could include here:
I read your piece about me on your blog this weekend. I wanted to make sure there would be a correction posted to your piece. I never said to not preserve the viability of a neighborhood. My statement in the past which I still stand behind is that the school district is not responsible for the viability of a town. There are many factors that contribute to the viability of a municipality. A school district cannot and should not be responsible for the viability of a town. If that were the case, than school board members should have run for that municipalities city council and not school board. This does not mean however that there could not be some sort of partnership or cooperation. Not being responsible for a municipality’s viability and cooperating / partnering with that municipality are not mutually exclusive concepts and those that overly simply the issues and pose them as either or lack creativity.
I have often argued in the past (and will continue to do so) that we should increase the size of some of our schools along with needed renovations in order to preserve those neighborhood schools. I believe in doing so we maintain neighborhood schools while at the same time are able to preserve some economies of scale. I am not saying that we should have schools that are 700 students as I recognize there is a point of diminishing returns on both tangible and intangible items. However I have seen schools where 450 – 500 students can provide many benefits to both the students and teaching staff. My son attended a school of 500 elementary students (prior to me being on the board). We very much felt at home in that school. There were many activities that promoted a neighborhood concept and provided opportunities to get to know other families. I was amazed that within 2 weeks of him starting school the principal knew every child's name and many of the parents as well. The other benefit was that there were multiple teachers within a grade level which allowed for a larger professional learning environments and collaboration within the school. I have had many teachers tell me that it is difficult teaching in a smaller school as there are no other teachers in their grade level to collaborate with.
I'll have to say that I am disappointed by your endorsement. Although we have not always agreed, I believe that I have shown a dedication to this district (the entire district) through my voting record, my outreach to community members, faculty and staff, and my willingness to question the status quo and the administration while also trying to work cooperatively to move our district forward.
I hope you that reconsider your endorsement.
Thanks -- I'll post any statement you like as a comment to that post or as a separate post. Would you want me to post that email there?
The reference was to the effect on the neighborhood of selling Roosevelt with no restrictions. My guess is that there are people in the Hoover area and elsewhere who agree that if a school gets small enough, it becomes too costly to maintain it. (Since Hoover has been accommodating almost 400 students, I wouldn't put it in that category.) I think people fall on a spectrum as to how much the school board should care, for example, about whether the town of Hills grows or stagnates, and I think you and I are at different points on that spectrum. I'm not sure I see the town/neighborhood distinction that you're making, but if you agree that the board should take into account the effect on a neighborhood of any possible school closing, I'm happy to let you say that on the blog.
As for the endorsement, I only wish we had four votes to cast -- and believe me, I wish four seats were up instead of three.
Feel free to post my comments where you think appropriate.
In reference to Roosevelt, I wasn't on the Board when the decision was made, however as I had said before, we are not a planning and zoning commission either. Selling Roosevelt could have meant that we had money to renovate some buildings faster or put in air conditioning in a couple of buildings instead of waiting. Selling Roosevelt without restrictions did not have to mean we didn’t talk to planning and zoning and work with the neighborhood to advocate for certain types of things to not show up there. Perhaps this is where you and I differ. I think that we as a school board and school district can work with and partner with cities and planning and zoning commissions, but we should not do their jobs or over step into their jurisdiction. There are synergies to be found, we just have to be willing to understand and acknowledge what our individual parts are.
Hoover is not a small school as you've stated yourself however in regards to small schools you’re right, i do believe that if a school gets too small it is costly to maintain and then there is the question of equity. However there are steps we can take before it gets to that point. For example, we know that neighborhoods go through greening and maturing cycles. Do we pair a currently greening neighborhood with a maturing neighborhood to offset the cyclical nature of neighborhoods? I’m not sure, but it’s a concept we’ve used in the past (see Longfellow and Lincoln) and it deserves some discussion.
As I shared with you after the last board meeting, the Barker Guidelines are the best practices that I believe we should follow. Those guidelines take into account the effect on a neighborhood a school closure has. Most importantly, those guidelines specifically calls for community engagement with regards to closing schools. I don’t think we should make our decisions in isolation though. I think we need to realize that every decision we make has cascading effects throughout our district.
Again, I'll add something to the post to include your response. Am happy to do it however you'd like: should I just post this entire exchange?
Sure why not. I've attached the Barker Guidelines for you to take a look at.