My oldest son graduated from fifth grade today in the New York City schools. My wife, an Irish woman, was a puddle of tears, as predicted. Great sheet cake, obligatory speech quoting Mother Theresa, etc. Lots of the parents in the audience were collectively reflecting on what were some great moments and not-so-great moments in the class' academic careers to date. Some examples of the kinds of things some of us discussed while waiting for the festivities to begin:
-- Last year, parents worked with the teachers union and a controversial former councilwoman to adios our former principal, who was a very kind man, but not cut out to be in charge of the education of 500 kids. They were able to get him a "promotion." His replacement this year, who came out of the NYC Leadership Academy, has been tremendous. The school no longer feels like it is slipping into an abyss of failure.
-- Despite having an average budget for NYC schools, our school has managed to keep a general lid on class sizes (at least in the early grades, where the class pictures we have only show 17-18 kids posing, though the higher grades has larger classes) and always managed to provide arts, music, and drama. The latter features showed themselves today in the kids' performances.
-- Lots of talk about how much of our childrens' time was wasted over the last 7 years, and how much better off they would have been if we had gotten our school pointed in the right direction sooner. It was a lesson many parents learned, as many of us originally worried about making waves through the political process by trying to get rid of bad employees. Never again.
-- Also, some talk about how low we allowed the bar to be set in the past, like the teacher who inherited a class filled with kids who tested in Levels 3+4 and who, for reasons we still don't understand, bought into the mayor's goal that all kids should be at least Level 2. Not a lot happened that year, but they all made it above Level 2!
-- The official program for the graduation ceremony listed three teachers for my son's class this year. The first teacher freaked out and bolted suddenly back in September, after being absent for several weeks while our kids started the year with a substitute. Around October, the kids were assigned to the former science teacher, who was apparently so bad at teaching science that she needed to go somewhere else. Unfortunately, she was as terrible a general classroom teacher as she was a science teacher. She freaked out in May and stopped showing up to school entirely. The kids were happy to play outside on the playground rather than go to class. In the end, one of our cluster teachers took over for the final weeks and did a wonderful job wrapping up the school year. (By the way, neither of the two teachers who freaked out and abandoned our kids showed up for graduation, which was just as well.)
So, now it's on to middle school. I'm very proud of my son and his classmates, for managing to grow up despite all of the shortcomings of the adults involved in their schooling (including us parents, who allowed this kind of crap to go on for far too long.) Hopefully middle school won't be as much a waste of their childhood as elementary school was.
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