There is no magnet school death panel. There will be no magnet school death panel. But it's good to talk about hard things.
The Ledger's Madison Fantozzi quoted me - accurately, I think -- as saying this at last week's School Board work session: "I'm probably done with magnet schools until we sit down and go through the ones we have [and what their purposes are]."
I was responding to the new magnet school plan for Combee Elementary and Lake Alfred Addair Middle. I don't like it. I think it's disruptive for too many kids. I think it's going to hurt Boone Middle, which really can't afford to be hurt. And I'm not the only board member who felt that way. I'll get the YouTube video up as soon as I can.
But the plan is also more than a year old. It dates to the LeRoy administration. We've spent more than a $1 million in federal money. And we can't really stop it now without doing greater harm. I never had a chance to vote when I could have made a productive difference.
In recent years, education systems in America, Florida, and Polk County have displayed powerful talent and willingness to make non-ideal situations worse. I don't want to do that. Believe it or not, when it comes to kids, I am a first-do-no-harm kind of guy.
What is our magnet school policy?
I would like to have a long sit down with my fellow board members to go through our existing magnet schools; examine their demographics and community relationships; and come up with a coherent policy framework that guides creation of any future magnets. Today, our policy seems to be: hey, there's a grant; let's create a magnet school. I would prefer we have a magnet school policy that articulates what we're actually trying to accomplish.
Anyway, the "until" in my quote apparently did not make it clear that I was talking about any future magnet schools.
I've been mostly out of town since last Wednesday helping take care of my dad, who was having surgery. I came home last night to a forwarded email circulating amongst some Lincoln and Lawton Chiles Middle parents. Here's the key excerpt:
One of the school board members has apparently asked for a special session to investigate each magnet school and decide if they should continue. It was brought up in the February work session during discussion about rezoning 2 new magnet schools. The rezoning issue is back on the agenda at the April meeting. I have several of our board members with the legal knowledge and connections looking into how to best fight having this special session.
Let me just clarify this for everybody. There is no "special session to investigate each magnet school and decide if they should continue." Period. Not what I asked. Not what I want. Believe me, even if I wanted to impose a magnet school death panel (and I don't), I do not have that kind of power. It's sort of flattering that people think I might. But I don't. There's no need to fight.
But I would like to talk. And I'm always pretty easy to reach. 863-209-4037. firstname.lastname@example.org. I answered the phone and talked to people while in my dad's hospital room at the VA in Gainesville. I'll certainly do it now to answer concerns about the future of your school. I don't duck hard conversations. But this one isn't even that hard.
Indeed, two Lincoln parents reached out to me directly; and we had excellent person-to-person online chats. One of them shared the chat, with my encouragement, with other parents. Thumb errors and all.
Look, everybody knows the two-tiered magnet/charter vs. zoned school system presents major challenges. We've known it for 20 years. If we mean all those platitudes about wanting to "improve" all schools for all kids, we have to enhance collaboration among schools and among communities. That's what I really want from the charter and magnet communities. This is about life, not death. So let's talk about it.