Posted on National Journal's Education Experts blog, Feb. 4, 2013
, addressing the issue of tension surrounding school closings.
Closing a school is an action that indicates that things are so bad that they are irreparable. Nothing and no one in the school is worth saving. I closed many schools during my twenty-seven years as a superintendent but it was always for economic reasons. Buildings were half empty and consolidation was called for. Even so, I bear the scars from those school closing fights as parents fought hard to maintain their neighborhood school open. Everyone agreed that cost-effectiveness was a necessity, but close their school, not mine. The neighborhood school concept is strong in our country and parents do not want their children bused across town when there is a perfectly good school building within walking distance. The fight to keep a school open becomes more intense when you remove economics from the picture.
When you look at the annual Gallup poll of parent’s attitude towards schools, the school where their children attend always gets the highest ratings. The school may be dysfunctional and not doing the best job for the children that attend it, but it is their school and they want it to stay open.
Educators have a responsibility to the children they serve and to their parents to do everything they can to salvage the school in the community it serves. There are many examples of turnaround efforts that prove that a school can be salvaged by the right leadership, a committed staff and the necessary resources. A dysfunctional school is an adult problem and no the fault of the children or their parents. Closing a school for low performance is a problem, not a solution.