Blogging Bayport Alameda

February 22, 2017

Outside the bubble

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:02 am

This Fusion piece has been sitting, open, in my browser window since I read it earlier this year.  It hit home for me because the story of the the writer was a little too close to my own experience attempting to convince my neighbors to give their local neighborhood school a try, except I usually feed and water people with coffee and sweets instead of wine.  It did make me think that I should be offering folks wine instead.  Anyway, the title: American schools are still segregated. These parents are making it worse.

I’ll first say that my neighborhood school is as diverse as it can be.  And I’m not talking about the comfortable “diversity” that is promoted by having a classroom photo with at least one black, brown, and yellow kid in the mix.  I’m talking about real diversity where no one ethnic group is the dominate majority.  Ruby Bridges largely reflects the real world with its socio-economic and racial diversity which is what we’re all told that children need in order to grow up as healthy, well-rounded adults who can navigate the world.  While Ruby Bridges may reflect the neighborhood around it racially, it doesn’t socio-economically.  From the piece:

Because while my children’s school, Cook-Wissahickon, is well-integrated ethnically, there is a lopsided socio-economic dynamic. Eighty-two percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged, but while our neighborhood isn’t wealthy (according to City-Data, the median household income is $10,000 higher than the state’s median household income) the neighborhood certainly isn’t struggling in the way that 82% implies. It’s just that most of those middle-class families won’t send their kids to the neighborhood public school.


In my recruiting experience, economics, more than ethnicity, seems to be the engine driving people away from neighborhood schools. However, it would be dishonest to claim that race and class are easily separated in the minds of many Americans. Hannah-Jones’ reporting from Normandy, Missouri, also shows how unambiguously black and white the issue is in many areas of the country. But at least in my neighborhood, it seems that as long as everyone is making the same money, on the surface at least, nobody really cares what color you are. When you throw poverty into the equation, it complicates everything for many parents.

Cook-Wissahickon’s first year principal, Mike Lowe, believes that one of the only ways to combat the crisis in Philadelphia schools is to attract more middle-class and wealthy families. “If every family in our catchment sent their kids here, including the ones with resources, we would have a much louder voice politically. People with money, access, and political power need to be in the same room with their neighbors without,” he told me. “That’s the promise of neighborhood public education; bringing everyone’s children together in the same room and teaching them equally.”

That last part is crucial regarding the louder political voice.  The Ruby Bridges community hasn’t fully come into its political voice quite yet, but there are folks willing to make some waves.  And I’m not talking about me.


The hardest thing about the school conversation is that most parents aren’t thinking about race and class when they choose a school, everyone just wants to do what is best for their kid. But why do so many parents assume that what is best for their kid exists in a bubble that is too often separated by race and class? Why have we decided that what’s best for our kids is divorced from what’s best for the communities and larger cities they grow up in? To the point where we abandon our communities, or remove our children to exclusive schools outside our neighborhoods, in effect isolating them from kids who would naturally be a part of their world.

Everyone says the right things about the choices they make when it comes to schools, but to not acknowledge the fact that those choices have created a world in which schools are one of the last socially acceptable excuses for white flight and racial and economic segregation, is to not be completely honest.

And finally, and this is the part I still struggle with, although not as much as I used to.

When I’m selling a prospective parent on public school, I try not to let them see how angry I am. But I do want the young parents I speak with to understand the great hypocrisy demonstrated by the last several generations of wealthy and middle-class liberal parents. They learned how to say all the right things about the importance of diversity and integration, and then they completely failed to follow through with their actions. This generation of parents has the chance to start fixing the inequities in the system, and all they have to do is stay put and trust people like Principal Hall with their kids.

But still I, and other Ruby Bridges parents, trudge along.  Hosting parent Q&A for our neighbors (there’s one this weekend if anyone in the Bayport or Alameda Landing neighborhood wants to have a candid discussion about Ruby Bridges, email me for details), talking about how great the school is, fundraising, building community, etc and so forth.  All of the things that happen at other schools but on a much smaller scale and with a population that has much shallower pockets.  All that we ask, all that the Ruby Bridges community asks, is that our neighbors trust us with their kids.  That the lessons learned about a global community and being part of a community where everyone, and I mean everyone, is represented is just as valuable as smart boards in every classroom and iPads for the Media Center.




  1. While I am no longer on the school board, the number one item that is consistently searched from my website is this:

    Education is not the only choice when it comes to making decisions for their children. While many parents are concerned about college options that drive school choice, just as many parents will place their children on travel sports team in a desire to prepare them for high school/college sports. I still remember standing in the back of a room of kindergarten information night when a parent shared his opinion that curriculum would be not be challenging enough for his child to get her into Stanford.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — February 22, 2017 @ 7:25 am

  2. Thank you Lauren for this effort. There is a serious problem with inequity in our schools, the west end receiving the short end of the stick. Since the housing constellation in the west end is not going to change -the census tract with the highest childhood poverty Alameda Point Collaborative, and Housing Authority properties sit beside affluent Bayport and lots of new expensive housing, it falls to the district to address the issue. The district may not have created this, but they have to own it. If there are two people who have cuts–one bleeding profusely and the other only minor, and each gets one bandaid , is this equity? According to AUSD this is equity everyone gets a share perhaps not equal, but not proportional to the need.

    There is no middle school in the west end. The district points to Jr.Jets which is a middle school located west of webster (Chipman, the former middle school serving the community has been turned over to a charter) Because Jr. Jets is a small magnet school, and is open to all children in the community decreasing the capacity to serve kids who live in the neighborhood.

    There are currently hundreds of west end kids who have been assigned to Wood School (located on Grand Street, over a mile away) and no dedicated transportation . Attendance and tardiness impact the learning of the most needy children in our community. who have to walk that distance.

    The teachers at Ruby Bridges are talented and dedicated, but there is only lip service from the district to address the needs. Hopefully the infusion of energy from the more affluent population (who vote) will cause the district to sit up and take notice. It is admirable that parents are beginning to address the problem, but the backstops with AUSD. Has the district done anything to work with the affluent parents who want to make this a true neighborhood school , or does it let themthinkthatit is addressing the issue while ignoring it?


    Comment by barbara Kahn — February 22, 2017 @ 12:57 pm

  3. Barbara, what’s the latest with Alameda Academy’s expansion into lower grades ? IMO having to charter the Academy under No Child Left Behind is on balance a detriment to AUSD.

    Unrelated, I wonder where Cook-Wissahikon is located ? The Wissahikon River is a tributary to the Schuylkill River just outside Philadelphia. “Schuylkill” is Dutch (I think) and Wissahikon is from the Delaware, Native Americans. William Penn planned to protect the Wissahikon watershed as a fresh water source for Philadelphia. I just read in Wiki that it’s 135 miles long. The reason I’m mentioning this is that our first family home was a stones through from the Wissahikon which still has a protective linear park. It’s not “ghetto”. So I was wondering where the heck the school is located. I haven’t heard “Wissahikon” in quite a while.

    Comment by MI — February 22, 2017 @ 9:41 pm

  4. and I also found….

    I posted the “great schools” review and not the actual web sites, but it’s interesting to note the comments. Both schools rank 3 of possible 10. One parent complains the charter lacks extra curricular. There are several logos or icons used to rate school and the charter they are all “?” The public school has high ranking in extra curriculars. I’m sure Betsy Devos will fix that in a jiffy.

    Comment by MI — February 22, 2017 @ 10:10 pm

  5. Here is another great article on this topic. When I first read it last year, I immediately thought of Ruby Bridges Elementary School.

    Comment by KEL — February 23, 2017 @ 8:52 am

  6. Several years ago there was a program at at Chipman called Bravo. Chipman was a title one school which served a low income neighborhood and ithe Chipman population reflected that .BRAVO was designed by a group of teachers and supported by the superintendent. It was a 6-8 combination program including outdoor education,field trips as well as high academic expectations and building community among the kids that resulted in few discipline problems and substantial parental participation. The teachers,with the support of the superintendent put together a “dog and pony show ” which they brought to schools across the island. The result was an influx of kids from middle-class homes so that the classrooms included a mixture of lower and middle class kids with a result similar to those already described above. It is commonly agreed that the mixture of middle class kids into lower income neighborhoods benefitted both the affluent kids as well as the lower income kids. Essentially it was a commitment by the district to recruit families who might not have otherwise opted for the school . There is at present little recognition or support from AUSD for developing such an outreach. Fortunately there is a group of parents who are working in this direction, and if the district were honestly working towards closing the achievement gap, it would be providing tie and money to the effort that a is hat is known as equity.

    Comment by barbara Kahn — February 23, 2017 @ 9:53 pm

    • BRAVO was created almost 20 years ago before No Child Left Behind legislation. After the creation of this legislation, it was the penalties under that legislation (because the achievement gap was not being closed) that led to reorganization of Chipman Middle school

      Most parents view education as a zero sum game (rightly or wrongly). They believe equity and achievement is great in theory, but when it comes to their own children they want to feel that their choices will benefit the most.

      Comment by Mike McMahon — February 24, 2017 @ 7:30 am

      • My point is that if the district were committed to equity, energy and time would be extended to move in the direction of reaching out to the community It was a choice made by a superintendent who was pro charter to take advantage of NCLB to close the school and allow it to become the charter that evolved. we have our own example of how an effort could be successful. ( If interested there is documentary available called “Defies Measurement” that discusses this program) To expect parents without district support to resolve the neighborhood diversity is a dereliction of responsibility.

        Comment by barbara Kahn — February 24, 2017 @ 8:24 am

        • Can you define “equity” for us? Can it be measured by intent or outcomes?

          As for my opinion I was guided by this comment:

          Education has a dual function of enhancing individuals and strengthening communities. An important function of the community is to support and sustain people. We cannot advance the development and learning of knowledge by dealing with the individual only. We must also pay attention to collectivities such as school communities and to their organizational effects on individuals.

          To help us understand interaction between students and schools, we must develop conceptual approaches that will help integrate our observations and experiences. Complementarity is the major concept that has helped me to understand this interaction. The student is a person and the school is a group. All individuals depend on groups and other collectivities for their survival. There is no evidence that individuals can grow and prosper without help from groups. And there is no evidence that groups can exist and function without the presence of individuals. Thus, the individual and the group are complementary(2) . One without the other is incomplete.
          In other words, instead of sorting out and segregating individuals by race, gender, socioeconomic status, and other cultural characteristics, we, in education, should be discovering creative ways of putting together different people with different talents, intelligences, and experiences so that one can do for another what the other cannot do for his- or herself.

          Education, therefore, should focus neither on cultivating excellence at the expense of equity nor on cultivating equity at the expense of excellence. In a well-ordered society, the goal of education is to seek both excellence and equity because they are complementary. One without the other is incomplete.

          Charles V. Willie is the Charles William Eliot Professor of Education, emeritus, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

          Comment by Mike McMahon — February 24, 2017 @ 6:37 pm

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