A very thoughtful email on the comparison between Congdon and Myers-Wilkens the two schools nearest my home.
Dear School Board Members-
I’m writing to you both as a parent of a child at Myers Wilkins elementary, an East Hillside resident and an intervention teacher for your Families in Transition (homeless) program.
I understand that there has been ongoing concerns regarding the number of students attending Congdon elementary and I believe recently there was a public meeting to discuss those concerns. I did not attend this meeting.
Still, I was at Congdon, serving homeless students for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. At that time, and I believe still, there seemed to be two pervasive false perceptions at Congdon:
One, that shelter children were being bused to Congdon in large numbers from outside their boundaries and two, that Myers Wilkins elementary was better equipped to “deal with those kids”.
As with everything, there is a small kernel of truth with these perceptions.
Families in Transition is in place in ISD 709 to ensure that our district is abiding by federal McKinney Vento guidelines, one of our charges is to help homeless families maintain their student’s school of origin, as research shows that multiple school transitions have negative academic consequences.
To this end, when magnet elementary schools existed in Duluth we often enrolled homeless students in a magnet because of the busing. Magnet busing was available to all students in magnet schools from anywhere in the district. This freed homeless families to be able to find housing where ever it was available in Duluth without having to transfer schools for elementary students.
So, while a parent entering shelter within Congdon’s boundaries (and newly enrolling a student) could have enrolled their student at Congdon (because it is their neighborhood school), many didn’t. When magnet schools (and busing) were cut, this was no longer an option.
Congdon does have a domestic violence shelter, a hospitality house and transitional housing in its boundaries.
For students who call these housing organizations home, Congdon is their school and they have every right to attend Congdon, and always have.
Point two, the perception that Myers Wilkins is more equipped for “those” students. It is true that Myers Wilkins staffing looks different than Congdon.
It looks different because of the population of families it serves. MW typically sits around 85% students in poverty. 25% of MW students receive special education services. There is a Northwoods program, it is full. In addition, because Northwoods is an outside agency, there is the ability to exit a student with severe behavior needs without a plan in place, and then that student returns to the regular education classroom.
While MW is somewhat equipped to handle students who have endured trauma, to say that those services are readily available or to not acknowledge that those services aren’t completely overloaded is false.
As a parent and a professional, the school district needs to address that MW is a segregated population socioeconomically, and unfortunately, with that comes a wide array of needs.
I hear Congdon’s class size concern, it’s real, but it cannot be fixed on the backs of homeless families or to further skew a school that is already largely a school in poverty.
Here’s one crazy solution: Take the Congdon/MW populations and create a K-2 and 3-5 building, providing classroom size relief and socioeconomic balance.
As a parent and teacher, thank you for taking the time to consider my perspective.
Here is my reply. One of my shorter ones:
Thank you for a very informative letter.
And thank you for a very alarming suggestion. I like it.