Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Wayne's Day

The Sunday before Memorial Day was Wayne’s day.

It was the day he graduated from our school. A day he did not think would come. But a day he made happen—and we helped.

Wayne came to me last summer and asked could he please come to our school. Eighteen, having been pushed out of his school in northern Ohio, he had moved in with a girl friend in the area.

He was wearing his best tee shirt, his smudged glasses set askew on his face, as he earnestly asked me if he could come to school. He knew that because of his age we were not obligated to enroll him, but he was making his best pitch on what might be his last chance.

For the school it was a risk. He had not passed all the of Ohio state tests, he needed every single credit he could get, and we did not know him. The reason it was risky was that if we took in this young man and he did not graduate it would count against us on our school report card. He could lower our graduation rate (we have fewer than 100 seniors so every one moves our graduation rate by more than one percentage point) that is part of the state’s accountability calculation. We would put our ranking and our reputation on the line by taking him.

But how could we turn him down? Isn’t this what schools are supposed to do—take in kids, care for them, teach them, try to graduate them?

So we took him, the guidance counselor and I took some time to get to know him, finding out what he was interested in and then secured a place for him in our career center—and he graduated on Sunday. He passed the tests, passed his courses, did what it took.

What worries me when I see Wayne is how many other kids do not find a school that will take him. Schools that know it would be the right thing to give him, and others like him, a chance—but feel they cannot do it because the risk is too great.

This one case illustrates clearly what is wrong with the current ‘hold schools accountable’ mantra. It holds them responsible for the wrong things.

Had we turned Wayne away, no one would have known, we would not have lost points on our state report card, and it would not have effected our federal accountability measures either. We took him, and it could have hurt us on all of these measures.

The system is simply wrong. It incentivizes the wrong things—and punishes schools for doing the right things. I know it is time to change it, but it seems that our leaders at both the state and national level have absolutely no clue.

But I am not worrying about that as I write this. Because Wayne graduated; in clothes that our bus supervisor and his partner bought for him after graduation practice and in a gown that my secretary secretly paid for.

It was Wayne’s day—and a good day for our school as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment