A Simple Way for the McDump Empire to Shut Me Up


In recent weeks, I’ve had a number of conversations with people associated in one way or another with the McKeel Empire. And I hear that the school is now a bit concerned with how the community views it. I don’t think they’re terribly concerned about the morality of their practices, as such. But they do seem concerned about public perceptions. That’s progress. If LL and I have had even a tiny hand in causing that discomfort, I’m proud.

However, I prefer to fix problems where possible. And I think I’ve come up with a simple, universal solution to the McKeel issue that would apply to the magnet and other special schools as well.

According to the state Department of Education, 65 percent of Polk County’s students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. McKeel Elementary Academy, for instance, has a 19.8 percent free and reduced lunch percentage, down 5 percentage points from last year’s 24 percent. Lakeland Montessori, where my son goes to school, is even less poor, at 17 percent. However, we are talking about a tiny overall enrollment and a curriculum strategy not designed to mimic and destroy existing schools. The totality of McKeel Empire enrolls about 2600 kids. Lakeland Montessori enrolls a total of 88. (I don’t count the middle school, which is not part of the same organization.)

In any event, I propose that all “special” schools maintain a free and reduced lunch population no smaller than the district at large. Thus, if McKeel or Lakeland Montessori reach a free and reduced enrollment of 65 percent, they don’t get to let in any more affluent kids. When McKeel dumps a free or reduced kid, administrators would have to replace him or her with another free and reduced lunch-eligible child.

That might put some schools out of business, and I think I would consider an exemption for small charter/special schools with enrollments under 100, schools that do not pose systemic threats to public education generally. But I understand the argument against such an exemption as well.

In any event, my idea is completely consistent with the original intent of charter schools–which was to give less affluent kids access to new ideas and structures, not to wall-off rich kids and a few model tokens of the riff-raff from the dirty masses.

I don’t know the legalities of the School Board imposing such a rule districtwide. Charter law is a morass. But it could impose this rule for all the magnet schools tomorrow. And McKeel could announce at any time that it’s imposing this rule on itself.

McKeel, of course, will not do this. In part, that’s because its administration and faculty lack confidence in their abilities to educate any but the most spoon-fed of enrollments. They lack the honor and bravery to take the risk of performing “poorly”.

But mostly, McKeel won’t do it because the entirety of its appeal is the absence of its free and reduced lunch population. That’s what it sells. That’s what keeps Harold Maready highly paid. And we all know that money talks.

Prove me wrong, and I’ll stop pointing that out.

Creative Commons License image credit: Lisa Yarost

18 thoughts on “A Simple Way for the McDump Empire to Shut Me Up

  1. Really calling foul on this one:

    “That’s because its administration and FACULTY lack confidence in their abilities to educate any but the most spoon-fed of enrollments.”

    That’s a low blow cheap shot if I ever saw one, especially calling out the faculty. How many of them do you know personally? I know quite a few, and they didn’t go to a McKeel school because they aren’t confident in their teaching abilities. They went there because their teaching abilities are so constrained by an inefficient school district, constant budget cuts, and uninvolved parents that it almost doesn’t matter how hard they try. If you had the choice of either environment in which to work, which would you choose? To call out the teachers in this is completely inappropriate.

    And just because a student is on free and reduced lunch doesn’t mean they’re harder to teach. Those students might not get as good a score on a test, but working at a school with a lower percentage of reduced lunch students doesn’t mean it’s less of a challenge on a teacher’s skill. Many of the worst-behaved, harder to teach kids come from well-off families who don’t discipline or question the teacher every step of the way. They tend to test better because they have more resources, but it doesn’t mean they’re easy to teach.

    Again, if you know a lot of the teachers personally, understand their motives, have seen them work in the classroom, and have heard their stories, then you might have a basis to comment about their “lack of confidence.” But I’m not sure that you have, because you wouldn’t have written that if you did.

    And as an example of what some teachers might be trying to avoid: Our church works closely with Oscar J. Pope Elementary. They didn’t have anyone at the school who was willing/able to be the PTA president. No parents from the school were going to fill that role. A member of our church, who has no connection to Oscar J. Pope, volunteered to lead their PTA. Again, if you’re a teacher with a choice of working at a school that doesn’t have ONE parent able to lead the PTA, battles budget cuts and staff losses, as well as curriculum restrictions from the district OR work at a school with strong parental support, much more free curriculum, and more job security, which would you choose?

    There are some incredible, noble teachers and administrators at Oscar J. Pope and other schools filled with students from low-income families. It’s incredible what they are able to accomplish with the resources they have. But I know many of those teachers, too, and they don’t blame teachers who have left for McKeel or other charter/magnet programs in the county. They also don’t question their ability or confidence. They recognize it as a career move, no different than you or I leaving The Ledger for better opportunities.

    So, if you want to call out the leaders of the McKeel system, that’s one thing. They’re in a position to make decisions about the structure of the system, its direction, priorities, etc. But to call out the teachers is just plain wrong. That’s a tireless, thankless job no matter which school or district. And as for your proposal: won’t happen and shouldn’t happen. If you do that to charter schools, you need to do that then for all schools, including Jenkins and other public schools that don’t have that high a percentage. Your earlier idea of requiring the test scores of students who are removed from McKeel to count for their totals the following year is more practical.

    Sorry for the long post. Guess I just felt inspired this morning.

  2. Wow – name calling? I’d expect that from the children at the school, but your childish and narrow minded rant can be disregarded that much more easily by silly name calling.  The “appeal’ of a charter school is to be surrounded by parents and children interested in school and academics – I’d suspect it’s the same reason you’d send your child to a Montessori school?  It’s not that it’s surrounded by “rich kids.”  Having a large population of free lunch children doesn’t create a diverse, solid learning environment any more than the busing debacle in the 70s and 80s brought up the “poor” schools to be high achievers.  What makes the charters different is the fact that their parents took the time to register their children ahead of time.  Trying to force schools to reflect their “community” is as moronic as the belief that if you have to sit trial, you’ll be judged by a jury of your “peers”. 

    I’m hoping that your little blog here is tongue in cheek – otherwise what you’re proposing is to kick out kids not on free lunch because you have to have more of the “population” reflected – the problem with affirmative action…  If the issue was that McKeel was turning away kids on free lunch, that’s one thing – but much like forcing companies to reflect % of communities – regardless of their ability to actually do the job – is just as discriminatory.  I’d expect you to understand that the % of children on free lunch at McKeel (and other schools – including your “elitist” school) reflect the amount that actually take the time and effort to get their children on a list. 

    • Listen to the squawking. One call for a level playing field and spluttering rage ensues. I seem to have struck a nerve. I’m so old that I remember when conservatives used to love the idea of class-based affirmative action as an antidote to all the unfair special treatment black people supposedly got. Can’t even do that anymore. It’s all gated community all the time.

      “Trying to force schools to reflect their “community” is as moronic as the belief that if you have to sit trial, you’ll be judged by a jury of your “peers”.”

      The Brown v. Board of Education disagreed. But I’m sure you think that was a terrible decision. Go on and say it here. 

      • Have you read Brown v BoE?  It struck down “separate but equal.” Charter schools are open to all to sign up – and a lottery draws from that list.  What you’re proposing to hand pick based on making sure x% are on free lunch or blond or this side of town or that. The simplest solution to admission? Remove race from the questionnaire

        • Perhaps you missed this, but it very well-established that McKeel dumps many kids — 12 percent or more of its enrollment in one school — and those kids dumped are generally free and reduced lunch kids. Maybe you are fine with that. 

    • Charters do at least one thing fairly well, they separate the willing from unwilling. If there’s information that the McKeel’s are rejecting on the basis of free lunch status then that’s a scandal that must be addressed since they’re getting public money. Otherwise, everybody is making their own choices when selecting these schools and we should allow them the consequences of that choice for good or ill.

      • Hmmmm. Separate. Where have I heard that word before in education and public service context? Wasn’t it followed by “but” at some point in the recent past? Thank you Skep for being honest about what this is all about. The others could benefit from your directness in this case.

        Doesn’t make the ideas admirable. More than anything else, you people wanna go back to the golden days of the 20s–that free market paradise of riots and labor restrictions and endemic violence.

        • Well, we can certainly see where nearly a century of social engineering in the schools has gotten us. Status quo anyone?

          American has historically been a meritocracy. Get off your own a$$ and DO something for yourself and yours. We’ve had sharecroppers grow up to be President in this country. Teenagers have grown up to be among the wealthiest people in the world on just the strength of their ideas and innovations. While certainly only a few can reach those heights, multitudes have pulled themselves out of the dirt to live closer to the peaks.

          Liberals/Progressives and unfounded charges of racism go hand in hand Billy. You just went from mildly detestable to truly execrable. No one, before you that is, mentioned race. I clearly stated “willing from unwilling”. If you see color there that speaks much more clearly to your mindset than mine. People of your ilk are the very worst oppressors of the poor and minorities because in your eyes they just can’t do it for themselves. They must have “help” to achieve and what mostly happens is that they land in a vicious cycle of dependency with evermore “help” being extorted from the rest of us. With all the trillions spent on the “poor” since the Great Society, how do we have any poor left among us???

          • Curious which charge of racism you see. I’m talking about class. You might have guessed that from the fact I used free and reduced lunch over and over again. I didn’t say anything about mandating color or ethnicity, did I? Can you acknowledge that? I doubt it. Same old Skep. Always reading what your glibertarian fantasies want to read.

            Separate but equal does not depend on race. It is as pernicious in today’s multi-racial context as it was in the days you ignorantly conceive of as Eden, when it was illegal–and viciously enforced–for black people to emigrate from the South to seek work elsewhere. You might know that if you read instead of bleating. You probably think Herman Cain is the reincarnation of Booker T. Washington.

          • I call BS Billy. You sound like Clinton over what the definition of “is” is. You then go on to reinforce the very charge of racism to try to clumsily avoid! The only separation I’ve ever favored is those who work from those who won’t (not those who really can’t, before you leap off into another unsupported conclusion about me).

            And there is no Utopia, not now and certainly not back then. Unlike Progressives, I don’t personally believe man can be perfected on earth or elsewhere. There is only Free and Less Free. I wouldn’t choose to live in the 20’s even if it were available. Short lifespans, infant mortality, no Internet? What’s to love? The improvements you would ascribe to government interventions is just you clawing for unearned glory. We’ve built and innovated our way out of the dark ages even with the weight of chains thrown on us by you and your flock of interventionists. But now we’re like a great ship where the hull has finally grown too many barnacles and we’re slowing to a crawl.

          • Call whatever you want. Just don’t call yourself literate. I will go now go back to ingoring you and your symphonies to your individualistic greatness. I am sorry for inflicting you on the rest of us again. Many apologies. I never should have indulged you in the first place. Go back to hunting for a reverse racist behind every tree.

          • This was true a few decades ago but social and financial mobility in this country (that is, someone being born poor and becoming rich – or vice versa) is actually at historical lows right now. It is the hardest it has every been in the United States to change your social or financial status. So what changed in the last couple decades to make such a huge difference in the upward mobility chances of people in this county?

  3. Brandt:

    The faculty, as a group, could tomorrow petition Harold to impose my rule. Think they will?

    And more generally, a teacher cannot both enjoy the fruits of teaching a carefully screened and pruned student body and earn my praise. I think my praise is probably irrelevant to them. 

    Let me be very clear. I left journalism because I was afraid to remain in it. There was nothing particularly admirable about my decision to leave. It was self-interested. 

    We expect our teachers to be missionaries. That’s fine, I guess. But the McKeelers don’t get to pretend they’re of the same missionary ilk. 

    Again, if they have confidence in the ability to teach all kids–teach them.

  4. You’re right on one point, your praise IS irrelevant to them. That doesn’t mean they deserve your scorn. Again, it’s uncalled for and misguided.

    And how does “confidence” have any bearing on someone actually teaching a classroom with 65% reduced lunch? You’re saying that McKeel teachers should leave for a low-income school just to PROVE that they have the confidence they can teach there? Why should they be any different in leaving somewhere where they are afraid for their job and the organization’s future (see general public schools) than you and I were for leaving journalism?

    No one’s pretedning to be anything here. We’re all trying to find a job that we think fulfills our calling, is meaningful, and allows us to support ourselves.

    And are George Jenkins teachers going to petition the district because only 32% of their students are classified as “Economically Disadvantaged” by the state? (McKeel is at 24% on that same scale). Or Valleyview because they’re only at 37.4%?

    Your problem isn’t the way that McKeel operates. It’s that it operates that way with public dollars, just like every other charter school does. And as you mentioned, magnet schools work the same way (I went through Lincoln Avenue and Lawton Chiles growing up). And they operate that way because the state allows them to. So don’t direct your scorn at the teachers, if you’re upset about it then direct it to the legislature and the school district.

    • I don’t think I so much have a problem as a solution. You don’t support it. That’s fine. We all live with our compromises with ourselves. Me, McKeel teachers, you. We make our choices and live the consequences. For a McKeel teacher, a consequence is me. I’m the price they pay for the advantages they’ve chosen. If my criticism is preposterous and my solution silly, I should be easy to ignore.
      If you read what I wrote, you would see that I am observing a school system that is the very embodiment of the class polarization in this country. I’m trying to fix it in my own little imperfect snide way.You don’t seem to have any problems with publicly funded schools — large or small — that have 17 and 19 percent free and reduced lunch while the rest of the schools are 65 and higher. Nor do you seem to have a problem with the bragging and empire building of the 19 percent school. I don’t respect that. I respect you, but not that point of view. 

      • And I have no problem with you offering solutions. The education system is broken in this country, and it won’t get fixed if people don’t offer solutions from all sides. Discussion and debate is important and necessary.

        But saying teachers (ANY teachers, public or private, charter or magnet) lack confidence, honor, and bravery crosses the line of discussion and debate. It’s mean-spirited, spiteful (not snide), and again misguided. Again, get to know the teachers at McKeel and find out for yourself what their job is like. Don’t just call names. You’re not calling out the Montessori teachers for choosing that environment and that structure.

        Like you said, I respect you and your desire to see things improve, but your approach drowned out your intent.

        • I don’t actually think I did any name calling outside of McDump. I came to a conclusion about the faculty in aggregate based on solid data. If we want to be technical. And I do tend to choose my words carefully, at least in the posts. Less so in comments.

          Your point about not calling out the LMS faculty is legitimate. I would make it too, were I in your place.

          However, I do think we’re talking about very different animals — when you have an 88-kid school and a 2,600-kid empire under the same leadership. If McKeel had fewer than 100 kids I doubt I would have ever written anything.

          Most importantly, I think people and teachers choose LMS specifically for the Montessori method and the general hippy culture, which one cannot find anyone else anywhere else in this district. That’s what LMS sells, not the composition of its tiny little student body.

          My boy started going there for pre-school (for pay) because we liked the Montessori approach. It never occurred to me to start looking at testing and demographic stats until I started picking on McKeel. Glass houses and all.

          I submit that McKeel sells its student body. At its heart, from everything I’ve observed and read about, it’s a traditional school with a very non-traditional enrollment, which it actively manages. Its community is also insufferably triumphal, in my experience, and from what I’m told. I do know former teachers and current parents, by the way. I’m not pulling all of this out of nothing.
          You can take that or leave it. Might be the justifications of a guy rationalizing. But, if we had the choice of my kid staying there and improving fairness in education by equalizing special school population, I’d be OK with having my kid leave.

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