Joined at the Hip

Miki and Me

Last night I went to a meeting at Ocean Park School with my friend Miki.  I felt like I had stepped back in time about 30 years.  Sort of.  Of course, the school has been remodeled since then, the educational staff is for the most part unknown to me, and the community members who attended probably were students, themselves, 30 years ago.

But, aside from those small details, there was a lot of déjà vu to the evening.  Miki and I attended dozens of such meetings back in the early ’90s.  The reasons might have been a little bit different, but they were still billed as a desire by the school district to get community input.  Last night it was “reconfiguration” that was under consideration.  In the early 1990s it was a multi-graded first, second, third grade school that was being considered – also a reconfiguration of sorts.

That time, it began when, on a routine school visitation, School Board President Admiral Jack Williams came into my first-second-third grade classroom (the only one at Ocean Park in those days) and was amazed to find that he couldn’t tell who were the ‘youngers’ and who were the ‘elders’.  He couldn’t distinguish their ages at all – not by size, not by the work they were doing, not by their behavior.  He asked if he could come again.  And again.  Admiral Jack was smitten.

Multigrade Classroom – 1992

“Why can’t all the primary classrooms be like this?” he asked.  We talked.  Then Miki and I talked.  Then we spoke to the superintendent, only to find that Admiral Jack had put in a word or two way ahead of us.  The game was on!  We met with teachers, first, to see if there were enough like-minded folks – teachers who understood that every child learns differently and at his or her own rate of speed and that mixing up ages in the classroom works in all sorts of magical ways.

Meetings and meetings and meetings later, the multi-graded school was created.  It lasted about as long as the turnover to the next superintendent – a stick-up-your-butt traditionalist who wanted every six-year-old “where s/he belonged – in first grade.  Period.”  I (probably viewed as a trouble-maker) was transferred to another school.  Miki, ever the diplomat, stayed on at Ocean Park – and still she is there with a “blended 1-2” class, doing what she believes in as she readies herself for retirement… maybe.

Meeting at Ocean Park School, Jan. 7, 2019

And now… the reconfiguration being considered is more along the lines of the whole district — perhaps K-2 at Long Beach, 3-4 at Ocean Park, 5-7 at Hilltop and 8-12 at the High School.  However, most of the people sitting near us were in favor of keeping ‘neighborhood schools’ much as they are now with K-5 at both Ocean Park and Long Beach.  The sticking point seems to be that they’d be one classroom short at Ocean Park School. And a portable would cost money.  And arranging for one class to be “off-campus” (perhaps at the library) would be a safety concern.  And never mind that the numbers will change with time…

Am I glad I went?  You bet!  It was the best visit Miki and I’d had for years!

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