Devil in a Red Cadillac

October 2013

This is the 2013 story of how our brand new PTSA was blindsided by the district’s “plan,” but how it led to our first major insurrection and victory. But sadly, the answer to the question at the end has been a resounding “NO!”

Dealing with Assistant Superintendent Lynne Wheat was my first rude awakening. Dr. Look had resigned and there was no one running interference. She descended upon our school like a vulture, to pitch the “plan” that was designed to avert a “state takeover.” She was culturally insensitive and inappropriate, and asked the kids, “How would you like to be adopted?” She told the parents a different story at each of the community forums. We know, because we were at all of them. She told board members that when she presented the “plan” to the community, everyone was on board. Erin and I attended the work session where this lie took place. We weren’t allowed to speak during the meeting, but we texted each other and asked, “what meeting was she at?”

I slipped my phone number to David Jones during the meeting and then cornered him briefly when he went to the rest room. He genuinely wanted to hear what I had to say, and he afforded me a phone call later in the week.

In an effort to derail or discredit us, Erin and I were accused of trying to recruit to strengthen the aviation and aerospace magnet. Not just from the east end or other schools, but we also focus on recruiting student from the Shawnee neighborhood (since Portland is actually our resides, not Shawnee), and also from the resides population that already attends the school but may not be aware they can take the magnet courses.
We do this for several reasons:
  1. no one knows about the opportunities that are available – it’s a great program – we want others to have the same opportunities our kids have had. There is plenty to share.
  2. perceptions do not match reality, we are trying to change peoples’ perceptions, overcome racism, etc.
  3. it’s a bridge from the east end to the west end (part of mayor’s plan). It gives families a reason to come down here.
  4. growing the magnet will organically raise test scores, which will help us get out of priority status
  5. all students have access to the magnet program, but if it doesn’t grow, it could go away.
  6. it affords ALL students in the building access to AP and dual credit classes
  7. according to the last principal, we need to add another 200 students in order to gain the economies of scale with teachers and resources
  8. It’s a gem in the West End and can really change hearts and minds about that area.
  9. A rising tide lifts all ships. Having more magnet students will provide more peer to peer growth opportunities, their good study habits will rub off on other students to create more competitiveness, cooperation, etc.
  10. The district boundary map is incredibly desperate against the minority and low income population. THey are shipped out of their communities so it is harder for families to come to parent/teacher conferences, be involved in after school programs, participate in their community events. Time on buses could be better spent learning, being involved.
  11. Aerospace is the #1 export in the state of Kentucky. It keeps/brings back graduates in the state once they get their pathway or degree because jobs are here.
  12. Students who attend the aviation magnet can earn college credits, $10,000 off tuition at several universities, get a pilots license for free, which has a $10,000 value if they were to pay for it on their own.
  13. More students in the magnet mean more students have an opportunity to follow a career pathway that is rewarding, lucrative, challenging, etc. For those coming out of poverty neighborhoods, for example, this can mean the different between a pathway to career vs. pipeline to prison.
  14. We have plenty of capacity to take on more students in the advanced classes. Some of our magnet courses are actually kind of low in attendance and can cause average class sizes elsewhere to be higher without gaining extra resources. More magnet students increase resources for all classes.
  15. Strengthening the magnet means they won’t come in in a couple of years and shut it down because in their minds it wasn’t successful.
Please tell me why any of this is considered a problem? Do they think we have a hidden agenda? What, pray tell, could that be?
Lynne also said several other things to us that turned out to be misleading or misinformed. When we tried to argue that Shawnee’s test scores shouldn’t be compared to others in the district because they serve a different population, she said to me that the school gets to chose which students they get. That it was their choice to have these students.
We met with teachers and staff, we spoke to and solicited emails from parents at football games. We eventually recruited 7 parents, students, community leaders and teachers to speak at the next board meeting, and dozens more to contact their board members, etc. The plan was eventually abandoned. A principal was brought in in December of that year. And Lynne Wheat was told not to set foot in our building again.