Sunday, March 24, 2013

Our Next Stop

Part two of the Kindergarten Odyssey series

When Paddy started looking into our daughter, Sarah’s, options, she contacted Kennedy Academy to arrange a tour of the facility. The response from the administrator was that they didn’t permit that sort of thing there. We were told we could attend an upcoming open house - if we liked.

Well, we didn’t much like, but that’s what we did. I wrote about that experience previously.

Our neighborhood school is Hay Primary Center and that was to be our next stop. Paddy’s call there had a completely different result. The principal (who has miscellaneous other duties) had to check his schedule, but then called back and set up a meeting for 12:30 earlier this week.

As it turns out, Hay is one of the best performing of the neighborhood school system. Though its test scores are not as high as Kennedy’s they are at or above state average and well above the district averages. And it’s important to remember, Hay does not self select for “students ready to learn”.

Hay has also achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) (as determined by the No Child Left Behind act) each year. Ninety-four percent of their teachers are deemed “highly qualified” and most of the faculty has long tenure in this particular school. Interestingly, Kennedy’s figure is eighty-four percent.

When we arrived for our meeting, I felt a big difference in the atmosphere of the building itself. The entrance opened into a generous lobby, almost every running foot of the facility was covered with students’ artwork. Though a modest structure, the cinder block walls were painted with warm and bold colors. The place felt comfortable and welcoming.

Because Kennedy wouldn’t allow visitation while in session, some comparisons between the two schools become difficult. The students we saw at Hay seemed relaxed, attentive and pretty happy, for the most part. This impressed me quite a bit because the learning atmosphere interests me at least as much as the specific programs available.

After a short wait, the Principal, Craig Haenes, welcomed us into his modest office which was adjacent to the Teachers’ Lounge. Unlike the Kennedy principal, he was a very warm and more relaxed person. He was genuinely pleased to talk to us and very proud of the work and record of his school. There was a lot he wanted to tell us.

He told us their superior English test scores were likely due to a reading program (Wilson LiPS) he had successfully lobbied for that only his school (in the SBCSC) was using (up until this year). He told us that Hay had accepted a number of students from Wilson Primary due to that school’s AYP challenges. He boasted of the active PTO at Hay, went into great detail about the many programs and answered all of our questions. Then we went on a lengthy tour.

It was pretty impressive the way they had made do. The school has been through changes over the years and in the latest incarnation the number of grade levels in the building is fewer than in the past. So when a computer lab was deemed necessary a no longer needed shower room off the gym was converted to that use. It’s an odd sight – children leaning into old Macs in a room that is completely lined with ceramic tile.

He let us poke our heads into several working classrooms, introduced us to passing faculty…

In all, he spent over an hour and a half with us in an attempt to close us on his enterprise. As you can tell, he did a heck of a job on me.

I suspect the Academy model is highly beneficial for many students. If your life lacks adequate discipline or structure, then I have no doubt of the benefit of those characteristics in one’s schooling. Unfortunately, the children who probably need those elements the most are unlikely to be “ready to learn”.

Underlying those things appears to be a serious drive to success and I’m not sure these qualities are what our five year old really needs at this point in her life.

I wish I knew more children who attend Kennedy. The only two I know are fairly nervous people.

There is a certain mythic ism among people we know, about the program. Originally, I bought in completely to the idea of -- if you have the choice – this is where you want your kid to go. But now I’m leaning the other way.

Of course, maybe we’ll be turned down by Kennedy.

And to be honest, it’s a nice problem to have to pick between these programs.

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