This morning we saw the school that seems to be getting all the buzz this year. It is hot, hot, hot, and I can see why. Innnovative programs, terrific kid work displayed in the hallways, lots of hands-on group work in every classroom we saw, small class sizes, lots of fun before-and-after-school programs, a great library. Newly-renovated building. And a smart, charismatic principal who's retiring next year.
The school's a mile or two away from us, in an old Scandinavian neighborhood that's recently been overrun by young professionals with young kids. There were easily fifty parents there, maybe more. All with kids who might be in Mermaid Girl's class. All hyperventilating at the unpredictabilities of school choice and the stress of the recent announcement that the city school system has a several-million-dollar budget shortfall and will probably be closing some schools starting the year after next. But who knows which schools? At every school we visit, the PTA people swear that theirs will not be one of them.
My favorite moment today, a classic of Seattle Weirdness: The PTA president, very noticeably the only Person of Color in the room aside from the principal, at the wrap-up of the tour, running through some of the questions she'd heard over the course of the morning. Math program, check. Anti-bullying policies, check. And--"Someone wanted to know, how many biracial students there are?" She didn't miss a beat. "Well, this is the neighborhood we're in. It's a mostly white neighborhood, and there's not much we can do about it," she apologized. "I mean, yeah, there's a few of us in this sea of white faces, and that's just the way it is." Uncomfortable laughter from the crowd.
"She's Canadian," said the principal, a big Black guy, apparently by way of explanation of the PTA president’s bluntness. (Oh, those famously blunt Canadians…)
PTA Woman forged bravely on: "But we do try to... um..."
"Celebrate diversity!" the principal put in.
"Oh, right." She brightened. "We do. We really do celebrate diversity! And there are some adopted Chinese kids!"
It was funny, but it was bizarre. Okay, I take their point: the school administrators and PTA can't help the neighborhood the school is in, can't help that Seattle is an extremely racially segregated city, can't bring back the cross-town desegregative [is that a word?] busing system that was dismantled several years ago. But if all these parents (including us) really valued racial and cultural diversity so much, wouldn’t we have bought houses in the South End, where there are lots of African-Americans and East African and Asian immigrants and poor people?
The white, middle-class parents I know who live in the more racially-and economically-mixed neighborhood, in the middle of the city, are all freaking out that their kid might get sent to the Bad School. On our side of town, our Reference Area School (not the one we saw today) is considered the Bad School, and it’s not so bad, and I’m glad it’s not.
Is it hypocritical to complain, then, about the whiteness of everything up here? Who knows? I just want this whole decision process to be over, so we know where Mermaid Girl will be going to school next year and can make plans. I mean, I'm glad we have choices, but if they're not going to integrate I'd almost rather they just have neighborhood schools and be done with it.