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“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me!” belts out Aretha Franklin.

This was the song that the Carthay California Dance Institute team stole the show with last month in the year-end showcase.  I may be a bit biased, but they were GOOD.  Even though neither of my kids were in the show, our whole family came to support the Carthay dancers and I found myself grinning with pride during any number with Carthay kids in it.  I looked across the theater and saw other parents from our school, teachers, and of course Ms Calhoun, our fabulous principal. Everyone looked as happy and proud as I felt. I sang along with the song and realized that it was fitting for what may be in the works for the future of our school.

A week before the concert, after several rounds of phone-tag, I finally spoke to Teresa, the parent leader of our garden and garden science program.

“You might want to sit down before I tell you this,” warned Teresa, who had been trying to get a hold of me all day after I posted my last blog entry.

“Okay, what is up???” I asked, curiosity already piqued by all the phone tag back and forth.

“Carthay has applied to become a magnet,” she confessed.

Since I was already sitting, I didn’t fall over, but it felt like I had to hold on to the table next to me to not fall off of my chair.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Well, dozens of schools are in the running so we may not get it, but if we do, it could be a really good thing for our school.  I just thought you should know since you just wrote about turning down Community Magnet and losing your magnet points.”

“But, what about the whole neighborhood school concept?” I asked.  I imagined parents desperately lining up to get their precious children into our school, which, in a way, felt good. How crazy would that be for our under-enrolled, under-appreciated, wonderful school??  But then I imagined, after all the hard work getting the neighborhood to re-embrace the school, kids living across the street being denied acceptance, and that was clearly a bad thought.

“Well, since magnet schools are supposed to encourage diversity, and we are already technically considered diverse, we don’t have to do a lottery system,” Teresa said. “We can remain a neighborhood school, at least for the foreseeable future, AND the children at Carthay will collect magnet points toward entry into a magnet middle school!”  When she said that, I let out a big breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, and suddenly became more open to hearing the benefits of possibly becoming a magnet school. The gamble we took on not sending our soon-to-be 4th grader across town just to keep our magnet points was suddenly sounding like an even wiser decision.

“Would we get more money?” I asked.

“A little bit,” Teresa said. “And a magnet coordinator.”  I thought of the very enthusiastic magnet coordinator from Community Magnet that called  to offer us the spot and gave the dire warning about losing our accumulated magnet points.

I am still not sure what a magnet coordinator will do, but extra help in administration couldn’t hurt. Teresa explained that our principal and a team of teachers and parents had applied to become an Environmental Science-themed magnet. The garden science program, the recycling/composting project, and the grant to transform our outdoor space into a community park all would fall in line with that theme.  I was starting to get excited.

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Hopefully, becoming a magnet will attract more students and increase enrollment so that excess classrooms would no longer be available for a charter school looking for a location.  This dynamic is happening all over Los Angeles, the charter school capital of the nation.  I imagined what that would be like, a charter school coming on our campus and maybe even bringing back some of the very same kids that started at our school and left, and the charter wanting to use our garden. I say garden first and for most, because that is our baby. That is what Teresa has spearheaded, that is what my husband and I and all the other involved parents have worked on over the last decade and more and still are working on to improve – our amazing Garden of Possibilities. It was one of the first things we learned about when we came to a meeting all those years ago. It was one of the projects we started helping with when our 9 year old was a baby, toddler, preschooler. We dig, weed, and water along with other parents and community members and feel ownership and pride about it.  It isn’t that we wouldn’t want charter school kids to have a garden too, but it brought up territorial feelings that I wanted to protect what is ours.  I have heard stories of divisive stand-offs between parents on other campuses and I would hate for that to have happened at our school.

But, let’s not get excited, Teresa reminds me, “It might not happen. It is a long shot. So many other schools have applied.”

Fast forward a week and I get another call from Teresa.  Lo and behold, our application was actually accepted. “I thought Ms. Calhoun was going to faint when she was told the news!”

The magnet coordinator and extra money will enable us to extend the garden, add other environmental science programs, and hopefully attract enough students to ward off the co-location threat of charters. Our kids get matriculated magnet points in the mixed-up lottery system. But most of all, we get some well-deserved public respect.

Talk about public relations re-branding. I still run into people who say they heard the school is up and coming, but that it still isn’t a “great” school.  Most of those people have no real idea. They have never been on the campus, or if they were, they were scared off  by the wrong kind of “diversity.”  Maybe the magnet designation will motivate some neighborhood parents we haven’t reached to look a little closer, take a chance, send their child, get involved and fall in love with the idea of their local school, just like we did.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me!!

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