In looking at measures of instructional effectiveness, we looked at the 89-student K-5 Montessori program separate from the 236-student “Regular” programs for purposes of comparison across all 17 schools in the SE quadrant. The Montessori program seemed discrete and fairly self-contained, based on its location within the school building and apparent low level of instructional integration.
In looking at the programs separately, our observation was that students in the regular programs at Graham Hill fared less well than students in surrounding regular programs, and that allowing them to choose other programs would result in their being better served academically, one of the Board’s paramount concerns in this process.
That was the summary of the CAC’s recommendation to close Graham Hill Elementary, and to the uninitiated it is easy to read between the lines. Graham Hill is being closed because of the lack of “integration” between our Montessori and regular programs. It is that alleged disconnect between the two programs, a lack of “integration” and equity, that supposedly led the CAC to the unusual decision to evaluate Graham Hill as two separate schools. Indeed, Graham Hill was the only school on the closure list which had its dual programs evaluated separately, and possibly the only school in the district to be held to such exacting criteria.
Bagley, which also houses a Montessori program did not have its scores separated out by program, and John Muir, which houses a Spectrum program likewise had its test scores considered as a whole, despite personal assurances by several CAC members to the contrary.
The implication clearly is that Graham Hill’s situation is unique, and it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that the alleged divide the CAC is addressing is as steeped in race and socio-economics as it is in academics. Many of my readers have seen the comments by a disgruntled parent in a previous thread, charging that the Montessori program serves a predominantly white, affluent community at the expense of the largely minority, working class families in the rest of the school. And several CAC members not only acknowledged that they had heard these allegations, their comments seemed to indicate that they believed them.
When a parent tried to explain that Graham Hill has one of the most diverse populations in the city, one CAC member actually smirked, berating our PTA as one of the least diverse they had met. And when I attempted to explain to another CAC member that the reason so many SE parents attempt to send their kids to K-8 schools up North is that we do not want to send our children to Aki Kurose Middle School — our only SE option — I was pointedly told that if I truly cared about “all the children” I would send my daughter to Aki, and work to make it better… clearly implying that I did not care about all the children.
And so if the Montessori program and its parents are going to be characterized as elitist — and yes, racist — in an effort to justify closing down our school, I thought it might be useful to post a class picture of the Montessori students whose test scores are being dismissed as outliers by the CAC, in an effort to more fairly compare Graham Hill’s academic performance to that of other SE schools.
This is a picture of last year’s Grade 4-5 Montessori class. When the CAC talks about the disparity between the Montessori test scores and those of the other students in our school, it is the 12 fourth graders in this picture whose scores they cite.
Look at the photo; it is about as diverse a class picture as you’ll find anywhere in the district. 100 percent of the 4th-graders pictured tested proficient in reading. 83 percent scored proficient in writing. 67 percent scored proficient in math.
Look at this picture and tell me: where is the racial divide?
The CAC highlights the low test scores of our children living in poverty, and then makes a point of specifically stating:
There were too few Montessori students living in poverty to report a percent meeting standard in that program, because fewer than ten Montessori students qualified for free or reduced lunch.
That’s right, the CAC wants everybody to know that there are “too few Montessori students living in poverty” to make a comparison… that “fewer than ten Montessori students qualified for free or reduced price lunch.” They apparently want everybody to know that there is an economic disparity between the two programs.
But what the CAC doesn’t highlight is that there are only twelve Montessori fourth graders in total… and that all twelve, regardless of race or poverty level, scored proficient on the reading portion of the WASL.
This is the racial and economic divide that has guided the CAC to uniquely evaluate Graham Hill as two schools. It is this lack of “integration” that allows them to say that the scores of some of our best students shouldn’t count when comparing us to other schools, but that the scores of our bilingual, special ed, and autism inclusion students should. This is the tortured excuse the district is using to shut down Graham Hill, a school that by any fair measure is one of the desirable in the SE.
Even when it comes to basic statistics, our Montessori students simply don’t count. The district and the CAC consistently understate our enrollment by ignoring our 32 preschoolers, whose inclusion would bring us up to 90 percent of planned capacity. And according to the district’s official figures, Graham Hill has one of the lowest first-choice rankings in the SE. But if you average in the 16 preschoolers who matriculate into the Montessori kindergarten every year — a kindergarten with a long wait list — our first-choice ranking would be the highest in the quadrant.
Clearly, Graham Hill has been targeted for closure; every bit of data that can be used to support this decision is being used, and every bit of data that might refute it has been ignored. Our enrollment figures, our test scores and our first choice ranking have all been distorted and misrepresented to justify closure, and our 113-strong PTA has been slandered behind our backs, and vilified to our faces.
Our school’s closure is not just mystifying and bewildering, it is downright insulting. And what I know about how little the district knows about Graham Hill leads me to question the entire school closure process, and every projection or estimate the district has used to justify it.