Struggling minorities

Today’s Trib story about the District’s attempts to do right by minorities is important. Just before the Trib canned its previous Education Reporter she wrote a story that questioned whether the District’s plans to divert a million “Deseg” dollars away from the magnet schools was a good idea. Some of my crowd thought that it was what got her fired although my sources at the Trib denied that this could be possible.

A story (I didn’t bother linking to) a month ago had Board Member Judy Seliga-Punyko enthusing about the new eight lane pool being added to the soon-to-be East Junior High. She was a swimmer, is a swimming coach and has children who swim. Old LDV’ers sent the story to me commenting how Judy got hers. Ann Wasson is getting a new expanded Congdon Elementary and the new equity producing stadium at the new East High School. Tim Grover got a new Piedmont and a new junior high that will insure that Piedmont children are not bussed to Morgan Park something he has long opposed (although he was a lot less vociferous about opposing the bussing of MP children the same distance East).

That has left Mary Cameron with little to show for the Red Plan’s work except reports that her community and even her family are unhappy with her. She may finally have something to show for her faith in Dr. Dixon.

Bringing minorities in public schools to their academic potential has been fraught with challenges. The story about the Washington DC Schools today echoes Duluth. Mayor Fenty was defeated largely because he refused to reign in the reforms of the hard charging DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee. The Teacher’s Unions and a great many dead wood administrators (appointed by ans earlier cocaine sniffing Mayor) lost their jobs under Rhee. Half filled schools were closed. Merit pay is being disbursed. Rhee is making a difference and her loss will be, would be (in my humble opinion) tragic.

Duluth’s failure to bring up the test scores of minority students, particularly native and black students, has been a sore point for a long time. Mary has had every right to question whether the magnet schools were worth the million dollars of spending they got. Some of the spending seemed little more than bones for the minority community. The Red Plan’s response is counterintuitive at best. Soon Duluth’s two most segregated inner city schools will be merged without their previous magnetic pull This will concentrate minority students even more.

The test will be whether the new program which emphasizes hiring assistants, eleven of them, to coach minority students in need can do what the magnet schools never accomplished. I can’t fault Mary for being willing to try something new. I also know that these new hires accomplish something that she has lobbied for for twenty years. Most of the eleven new hires belong to minorities themselves and they will provide role models for kids who only have seen white teachers. Doing this before was damn near impossible as the District’s enrollment shrank leaving senior teachers in the way of new hires. Besides, Duluth was a mostly white town not the sort of place an ambitious minority teacher would be eager to set roots down into. All the dislocation of the Red Plan and the canceling of the Deseg program has given Dr. Dixon the resources to reverse this sorry history and reward Board member Cameron.

I have little confidence in the Superintendent or his motives. He once told a community meeting that if a child hadn’t overcome his/her racism by the time they got to high school its too late to change their minds. That’s not a very enlightened attitude. Still, whatever you make of his methods he has given Mary what she has long desired. His slender majority has little reason for complaint.

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