You may have read that the priceless Frank O’Reilly, the only card-carrying member of the Polk County elite who ever directly challenges its self-satisifed mediocrity, flat-out accused the McKeel Academy empire of dumping kids it can’t teach back onto the regular public schools from which it poached them in the first place.
The principal, the very smug Harold Maready, responded thusly, according to my buddy Merissa Green’s story:
“While charter schools are being singled out, there should be comparable data to analyze the district’s magnet and choice schools, as we all have stricter requirements and laws to follow,” Maready said. “In review of all the data, magnet, choice and charter schools are making a difference, which should be studied and implemented in other schools. Charter schools are not the total answer but are part of the solution.”
Maready said there needs to be drastic changes made in education, just as the MSNBC program pointed out.
“Analysis of the data would allow for an open forum to work together in solving the education issues in Polk County,” he said. “If we do not recognize there is a problem, then there cannot be a solution.”
Let me translate that answer into big boy speak: You’re damn right we dump our difficult kids. In great numbers. And we’ll do it again. That’s our culture of achievement. And then we’ll brag about how different we are from traditional schools. Oh, and the magnet schools do it, so there.
How many dumped kids are we talking about? And who are they? Well, check out this sheet produced by the School District. Pay particular attention to the table at the top outlining transfer figures for the three McKeel schools.
In McKeel Academy, the junior-senior high in Lakeland with 1,042 students, 130 students left for regular Polk School District schools in the 2009-2010 school year. That’s 12.5 percent of its enrollment. South McKeel Academy, a K-7, rid itself of 77 kids, about 7 percent of its enrollment. That’s in a mostly elementary school, where kids are generally easier to deal with and American schools generally do pretty well.
Maybe their parents got a letter like the one Frank read at the School Board Meeting, stating, “Your child does not meet the criteria to be a McKeel student.”
You will notice also that McKeel Academy’s free and reduced lunch percentage is a paltry 21.9 percent. The kid who “withdrew” were 45 percent free and reduced. At McKeel Elementary in central Lakeland, the 15 of 348 who left were 60 percent free and reduced compared to the remarkable 15.5 percent free and reduced overall enrollment.
Excuse me while I retch. This is despicable is its own right. It’s everything that’s wrong with scoreboard education, which provides great incentive for two things:
1) Manipulation of enrollment in the chase for test scores.
2) Teachers who troll for the easiest kids to teach. Believe me, I understand the instinct to take the path of least resistance.
But even worse is the faux meritocratic smack talk from people who lack the courage or patience or persistence or honor to teach all the kids they accept and then dump that solemn responsibility on the teachers who do possess those qualities.
Think I’m overstating it? Here’s Maready after the big dustup over the condo retreat:
“We’ve got to be doing something right,” he said. “If you look at the traditional public schools, that’s not us. We like to do things differently.”
Yeah, you do like to do things differently. How can a human being say that with a straight face knowing he dumps his problems on those same traditional schools at which he sneers? That’s a rhetorical question. But I’d be happy for an answer.
By the way, Maready is absolutely correct in implying that the district’s magnet and special schools do it, too, for the most part. But they all have the good sense not to brag about themselves or spend $70K on the beach. And by all means, let’s make every school keep every kid it enrolls. Stop using regular schools as a safety valve that you can also trash.
I hear now that the McKeel empire is trolling local private schools – perhaps a Catholic school or two – for their best students and jumping them ahead of the large wait list for the plebes. The recruiting pitch, I hear, is hey, you get an exclusive private school for free. Please someone deny this on the record so I can go track it down. Because I’d like to.
This, folks, is what class warfare really looks like. It always flows in this direction, down, not up, and from the people who most complain about it. As if it’s not hard enough to be poor or unsophisticated or not quick on your bureaucratic feet in this society, you get to have your failures – parent and child — rubbed in your face by people like Maready.
I tell you, some of my very few heroes in this country are the men and women teaching their hearts out at Dixieland or Lime Street or Crystal Lake, who work with the shattered egos and troubled attention of students and parents who thought they were signing on to a great education, but didn’t quite meet the criteria.
My heroes are people like my sister and brother-in-law, who both work in standard public schools in Jacksonville, with kids on the margins of society. Or Sue Buckner, the greatest principal who ever lived, and her merry band of missionaries at Inwood Elementary, who built Florida’s best school in the 90s and early 2000s out of the raw material they were dealt and never once bragged about it.
None of these people are looking for the easy kids to teach. And for their efforts, these people who do the work on the ground enjoy a constant, drenching rain of shit from politicians and smug condo-hopping cheaters afraid of actually taking responsibility for a kid who pulls a 1 on the FCAT.
Here’s at least one unimportant person who thanks you and thinks you’re a hell of a lot better than the people who lack the self-knowledge to cop to their advantages. Keep up the good fight.
Disclosure: My three kids have attended some combination of McKeel Academy, Lime Street Elementary, Harrison School of the Arts, Crystal Lake Middle, Rochelle School of the Arts, Lakeland Montessori, and homeschooling. Infer from all that what you will, but I’m not talking any more about the personal education records of my children.
Final note: I am very aware that the McKeel family has suffered a very sad loss during this time. I regret any pain this post may cause. But this post isn’t about them. It’s about management policy of the school system, which I doubt its board and namesake have much role in setting. And this is a very important public issue which goes to the heart of the fairness and decency of our education system.
Ed. Note: Lakeland Local offers equal space and promotion to a response commentary from any member of the McKeel school system. Please contact welch [at] lakelandlocal.com.