Hoo-boy, Class Warfare — Harrison Edition


Lakeland High School JV Football
Sept 30, 2010

This does not make me happy.

As close readers will know, my daughter is about to graduate from the theater department at Harrison School of the Arts. That will allow me, mercifully, to miss this latest and most unfortunate spasm of educational fratricide detailed across the top of The Ledger’s front page.

In very brief, Harrison kids, for the purposes of state accountability and funding, attend Lakeland High School. LHS teachers teach Harrison’s academic — as opposed to arts — subjects, and, sensibly, LHS teachers get credit and/or blame for their test scores. Harrison kids tend to keep to themselves, although they are allowed to play LHS sports. You can imagine the attendant tensions and resentments that ensue.

LHS teachers are supposedly mean to Harrison kids. Harrison kids are supposedly snooty. And gosh, the lack of a French class may keep some young genius out of Harvard.

Merissa Green’s story today details Harrison’s apparent parent effort to capture all the recent public improvements funded by school taxes into an autonomous charter school. There’s a lot I don’t know after reading it — what role administration plays in this, what’s the driving force, who are the key personalities, etc.? But it sounds bad all the way around. And I think it’s reasonable for the School Board to ask if this was the plan behind the expansion all along, although I see no firsthand evidence it was.

And I might know, because I did serve on the Harrison Parent Board for two years — last year and the year before, my daughter’s sophomore and junior years.

I also served, very poorly, on the board of the private fundraising effort that accompanied the absolutely massive, multi-million expenditure of public money to expand and improve Harrison’s physical plant into the palace that it is now. We had a lot of trouble getting everyone on the fundraising board to attend the meetings. Feel free to check with the woman who ran it, who worked relentlessly without much help, if you doubt me.

I did attend the meetings and spent quite a bit of time and effort making calls and hustling donations, but I think I managed to raise a total of $250, including my own donation. I suck miserably as a fundraiser, and I got told No quite a bit. In any event, you should keep in mind the facts I just mentioned when evaluating how serious Harrison’s parents are — as opposed to the kids and the taxpayers — about ensuring an elite educational and cultural experience for the student body.

During my time on the parent and fundraising boards, I remember only one specific LHS-related complaint — the French issue. And it got resolved satisfactorily, if I remember correctly. So this has all boiled to the hugely public surface in the last year.

And as far as LHS teachers being mean or the curriculum not adequate, I can only speak of my own experience. My daughter, bless her, is not much of a complainer. But even allowing for that, I don’t remember a single complaint about a teacher that related to her Harrison status. As in all schools, the quality of the instruction had peaks and valleys. But my daughter got into every college she applied to, and my Kiwanis Club is about to drop 20 percent of its scholarships on deserving and accomplished Harrison kids. I see little evidence of educational suffering.

The fact that French remains the only specific complaint detailed in Merissa’s story is telling, I suspect. The rest drips with malicious euphemism.

2010-02-22 #5

Harrison Symphony Orchestra Golf Tournament
Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club. Feb. 22, 2010.

Late update:Turns out I received a “call to action” on the Harrison parents email list. There is a second specific issue: the apparent drop-off in instruction quality for a pre-AP English class after the teacher went on maternity leave. The rest of its focuses far more on divergent “culture” than I’ve even discussed here. I find it embarrassing.

Consider this key quote:

In a letter sent to Harrison parents Wednesday, association President Jim Voyles said “the two schools have diverged down substantially different paths.”

“It is now apparent that the schools have differing priorities, incongruent missions, and different priorities with respect to curricular needs,” Voyle wrote in an e-mail. “LHS has differing student needs and a larger portion of their student body requires a different curricular progression than that of Harrison students. As such, we are now confronted with the difficult question of whether it is in the best interest of Harrison to remain affiliated with LHS.”

I fear the translation of that is: “We don’t want our kids mixing their precious bodily fluids with the dirty Lakeland High kids. Some of them may live in Crystal Lake, after all.”

If you that’s what you want to say, Harrison parents, then say it. I’m so tired of class warriors hiding behind weasel words. Man up and say, “We’re better than you,” if that’s you mean. And then we’ll debate that. Don’t sluff it off on teachers being mean to your fragile children because you don’t have enough guts to say you want to create your own lavishly outfitted McKeel on the taxpayer dime. Different curricular progression indeed. If that’s not what this is about, get specific about the truth — whatever it is.

As readers know, in this space, I’ve both praised Harrison’s kids and performances and spent a lot of time and effort hurling rocks at the McDump Empire. I think I’m morally obligated to call out creeping McKeelism from within my own glass house.

On the other hand, this doesn’t exactly bode well for working things out from the LHS side:

Lakeland High Principal Tracy Collins, who is no relation to Craig Collins, said her teachers were incensed to learn about Voyle’s letter.

“They feel like they have been slapped in the face,” Tracy Collins said. “I think what infuriates me is that they are painting a picture that we don’t value those kids.”

I’m sure this will make for a comfortable and productive classroom environment for the rest of the year.

The use of kids as pawns in the ongoing class and status war of education is one of the most discouraging aspects of modern America. It’s certainly not limited to Lakeland, but that’s where it becomes my problem. I happen to think my daughter has received an outstanding education from both LHS and Harrison. I’m proud of both schools/entities/whatever they are.

I only wish we had standardized test for intellectual honesty and self-reflection. Maybe then the adults involved in this pointless and destructive hissy fit could act as examples for their kids, not enablers of pettiest instincts of teenagers.

5 thoughts on “Hoo-boy, Class Warfare — Harrison Edition

  1. You beat me to the punch, Billy. Harrison has been building this wall slowly for years, going back to when I was at LHS from 1998-2002. I was in band, as well as other extracurricular activities, and around my junior year Harrison started to no longer allow its students to eat lunch with LHS arts students in that part of the campus. We were basically cordoned off onto a loading dock. Their FCAT scores were also separate back then, and I was thrilled when they finally were included in Lakeland’s. After all, if you receive instruction in FCAT topics from LHS faculty, doesn’t it make sense that said faculty should get credit for the success or failures (though Harrison students typically do a lot more succeeding academically than failing).

    Part of me almost hopes that Harrison gets the clean break it’s seeking so that they can see clearly how much they have benefited from the partnership at Lakeland. They basically get a top-notch campus and exceptions they need to go with a quality general education, without the burden of organizing/developing curriculum/managing said general education. There is definitely resentment from LHS faculty whom I still know toward Harrison administration, but I never saw it taken out on the students. It really is a shame that the students are being put in the middle of this and used as leverage. Nevermind that all the comments from students in the story were wanting Harrison to remain linked to Lakeland.

  2. Right, and it’s coming from the same kind of people who would think it’s super unfair for Jadrian What-his-name to have the temerity to got to LHS to play football. Sigh. Thanks for the comment.

  3. I was sad to read about this split in The Ledger today, and I hope that cooler heads prevail. I’m also hoping that what we’re hearing is overblown, but something about this whole thing seems fishy to me. I am a Harrison Alum (1994), and while I was HAC (its 1994 acronym), I would hear things said about “the Harrison kids” from other students, but there was never anything — at least for me — specifically from the teachers. However, I was in the art department, and we were even insulated from the rest of the Harrison students by virtue of our location at Polk Museum of Art. Perhaps the students in the performing arts had different experiences.

    Finally, let’s not forget, LHS still serves one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in Lakeland, so it’s not like the Harrison students are attending an underfunded inner-city school. These students *are* receiving a quality education and they *are* going to high performing colleges. As the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  4. Remember the tail of Shrek and the high castle walls of Duloc that was ruled by the diminutive Lord Farquaad who stroked his ego with selfish decisions and tyranny. Well, Harrison has its own Lord Farquaad who is behind this latest uprising.

    Is this really about the students and their needs or is it about an administrator and a larger than life ego? This requested change is not from the oppressed frontline of the student body; this is from Harrison administration in the form of a parent letter.
    New students coming to Harrison are strongly encouraged to not participate in LHS activities including sports and marching band. There are inherent benefits for the schools being joined at the hip and with the right leader in place; the partnership could be a model for others to follow. Harrison should embrace and celebrate the opportunities in place. Harrison has its own homecoming celebration, another act of separation that has been put in place by the current administration.
    Break down the barriers and let students participate and experience campus life. Remember that participation in the activities associated with high school will make a much better, well-rounded individual that can cope and excel in this world.

    Farquaad was recently overheard discussing this topic and he said, “Disregard this talk about academics, art is academics.” Well, art may be a part of academics but there happens to be a bit more including reading, writing and arithmetic that are part of the equation, especially in the current FCAT world.

    On a side note: Didn’t a well-rounded LHS student who participates in extracurricular activities win the coveted Silver Garland Award in art?

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