Former principal steps up to the plate

My PSAT homage to principals this week was not misplaced. Retired Simeon Principal Ned McCray sent me a couple of excellent essays which, with his permission, I’m proud to share here. The one today concerns the unfair resource gap between charter schools and the rest of the system.

I recognized Mr. McCray’s name from his letters to the editor – this one was actually published this past May in the Tribune.

Wouldn’t it be great if other retired principals joined him in speaking out?


by Ned L. McCray, retired principal, Simeon High School, Chicago

The proliferation of charter schools and other selective enrollment schools in urban areas of the country has created a dilemma for society. On the one hand, they provide for the aspirations of the middle class and those who aspire to the middle class, for exclusiveness, selectivity and privilege, and on the other hand create a brain-drain on the schools that remain.
        Public school systems throughout the country are being eroded and decimated by this development. The very system that produced past generations of Americans who made this great country prosperous, is being deprived of scarce resources, both financial and human,
        If you have a system that doesn't have much life- blood to begin with and then proceed to drain the remaining blood, you are being unrealistic and disingenuous to believe that system is going to be robust and vital.
        While it is understandable for parents to want the best school setting for their children--these special schools are deemed better because of selected parents, teachers and children--creating oases of privilege have unforeseen and unintended consequences. We are all aware of the many higher education institutions becoming so exclusive and costly, that they are priced beyond the reach of even the middle class.
        The present trend will do nothing more than to create a wider gap between rich and poor, haves and have-nots and the privileged and under privileged. If this is what society wants, this is what it will get. Obviously this is what many politicians and educational leaders think is the way to stem the tide of middle-class migration from the cities.
        Charter schools and selective enrollment schools have by their very nature, built-in success elements. Bringing together motivated students, parents and teachers should automatically produce high scores. And they do, up to a point. It all depends on the achievement levels of the entering students. Because the student is the key component of the educational process, students entering with below grade level scores will not achieve grade level by the mere fact of being in a selective enrollment school.
        This accounts for the varying degree of success in these type schools throughout the country. Those selective schools with the top students will have the top scores; those with less than top scores will have lower scores.
        It doesn't matter, whether it is public, private or charter, a school is no better or worse than the people in it, and the student is the key.
        It is apparent that the phenomenon of charter schools is not found in most suburban areas where the students, in most cases, come to school prepared and motivated. It is found primarily in areas where upward mobile parents view public schools as less than desirable. The result of all of this is public school systems that are being bled to death and worst of all, the schools that remain in the system are labeled failures and everyone in them- teachers, students, and parents- are so labeled. Can anything be so unfair, unjust and undemocratic? Our public school parents, teachers and students deserve better than this. They deserve all the resources, support and encouragement we can give them. School boards have to resist this trend of using ever more of the ever dwindling resources on these selective schools
They must instead work with the students, parents and teachers of each public school to determine what that school needs to be the best it can be,
        Most importantly, as many resources as possible need to be poured into Head Start and the early grades. Our only hope for the future is to give our less fortunate children a little better start on the educational ladder.
        In a democracy, how we treat the least of us is a measure of our greatness.


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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.