Monday’s Waco Independent School District community meeting in East Waco on contingency plans for five academically struggling campuses at risk of closure saw more friction than a similar gathering a week earlier, but it culminated in a rallying cry by NAACP chapter president Peaches Henry for more commitment by those who volunteer to help. That’s exactly what it’ll take to reverse matters: commitment.
As Trib education writer Shelly Conlon reports, some community members Monday night got caught up in issues of demographics (including minority levels and discouraging poverty rates at the five campuses) and trust. The latter charge was mainly directed at the school board, sometimes for issues it was only partially involved in, such as the painful 2012 consolidation of local schools after the Texas Legislature cut billions of dollars in public school funding statewide. For the record, the board faced either teacher layoffs or campus consolidations. It chose campus consolidations.
New Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson — a bilingual African American (given that demographics appear relevant here) — never directly indicted parents for lack of engagement in helping prepare their children for school. Yet it’s clear he and his educators see some of the very same problems cited by others, including his predecessor. As the state share of public school funding has dropped and student accountability demanded by the state has increased, schools dealing with poverty wrestle daily with complex burdens that are sometimes rooted in home life.
“I tell my team all the time, ‘We’re not a social service agency,’ ” Nelson told the crowd. “But to some kids we are. And for 98 percent of our kids coming to school, you know the first thing they do when they walk in? They need to eat because some of them haven’t eaten since Saturday. So when they walk in Monday, we have to feed our kids. Right now, as we speak, we’re having a coat drive at Central [Texas] Marketplace. You know why? Because it’s about to get cold and we’ll have kids who don’t have coats.”
Nelson also touched on something we heard at an earlier meeting: community members who volunteer to help in campus tutoring and mentoring activities, then disappear after a few weeks: “It’s got to be one of those things where if you commit to come every Thursday at 3 o’clock, it’s because you’re going to work with little Evan till little Evan gets it. And it’s going to be hard work. But we don’t need you on campus singing ‘Kumbaya.’ We already got that. We don’t need you to come on campus and shoot hoops. No, this is about instruction.”
While Henry acknowledged some community-Waco ISD differences in the past, she correctly stressed the gravity of the challenge today facing struggling schools: “This is now a we situation.” Others need to consider that, whatever happened in the past, however justified they might be in the grievances they aired Monday night, they will share in the blame should these troubled campuses falter because of lack of community commitment and parental engagement. The end result: shuttered neighborhood schools and failed communities.