I’d like to make it blazingly clear right up front that I’m not in the business of ragging on school systems. The schools I’m writing about are both beautiful places full of fantastic people. They do what they do with their students’ future at the very front of their minds. This isn’t about tearing down independent schools, it’s about shining a light on inequity.
I visited two schools today.
One public, one Catholic. Having previously taught in both systems, I’ve always put them more or less on par with each other in terms of resourcing & opportunity.
Not any more.
With Catholic & Independent schools taking advantage of Better Schools nationwide, and WA state schools facing budget cuts in the name of “efficiency” and a “student centred funding model,” these schools I visited today were a nice pair to visit back to back. They’re both forward-thinking. They’re both taking tangible steps towards addressing the gap between how schools operate and how the world outside conducts itself. It’s also worth noting that the public school I’m talking about is a secondary, and the Catholic school is a primary school. Secondary schools usually work with bigger budgets because they’ve got more on their plate.
Not any more.
The public school this morning is facing the cuts we’ve all heard about. This is a school with a reasonably low socio-economic index, a proportion of indigenous students, and a solid handle on the kinds of community issues that accompany. This is also a school where kids are happy & engaged, they feel safe & included when they come to school, and where the kids & staff get along well with each other. Their facilities are old and tired, their resources are stretched, but they make it work in spite of their limitations. This place runs tight, but it runs well.
The cuts they are facing are definitely “student-centred,” because they are student-facing.
The amount of time the Literacy Support teacher has to work with kids that need extra help? Not gone, but cut back.
The Library program to link library to curriculum & reposition the library to address contemporary information skills? Chopped. Gone.
The Learning Technology Coordinator role, responsible for improving staff efficiency & ability to deal with students who need to learn when & how to connect to the world responsibly & effectively? Chopped.
Vocational Education & Training, connecting students not choosing an academic pathway to training & industry? Not gone, but cut back.
Student Services remains – access to mental health & educational risk support services has been preserved at full load. Presumably to deal with the predicted increase in disaffected students.
This afternoon’s school was a Catholic primary school. We talked about modifications to the library & multi-purpose space. Talked about how an architect might be able to help facilitate that conversation. Talked about investing in some release time for staff to develop whole school digital literacy projects, progressing how Learning Technology is implemented to further students’ learning. Spent some time looking at how their new website can help them out.
The long and short of it was that my conversations this morning in the public school were about survival. They were about making do. They were about helping those kids survive in spite of circumstance. About trying to make ends meet.
My conversations this afternoon were about thriving. Advancing student achievement. They were about providing the optimum school environment to best anticipate the future their students will become independent in. And so they should be.
Thankfully, the school this afternoon was as horrified and compassionate about what I saw before lunch as I was. As we all should be.