Mayfield: Public schools are good but you wouldn’t hear it from them

Nov 29, 2023, 9:54 AM | Updated: 11:24 am

FILE - Desks fill a classroom in a high school in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, May 3, 2023. Gaps betw...

FILE - Desks fill a classroom in a high school in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, May 3, 2023. Gaps between how minority students perform academically in comparison to their white peers have long been an issue across the country. The disparities often stem from larger structural issues — a lack of access to quality curricula, for instance, or teachers expecting students to perform poorly. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

We are in the market for a middle school. We are an eager family with a bright-eyed 10-year-old hopeful about the future. Her last parent-teacher conference (not to brag) was 30 minutes of gushing and glowing by the teacher.

I’m mostly a stay-at-home dad these days. So I volunteered in class each week, I helped with all the PTA stuff. We also donate to the fall fundraiser, the spring auction and everything in between.

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In short, she is exactly the kid and we are exactly the family any school should want. Yet, it feels like I am begging our zoned public middle school to even notice we might be interested. Just this fall, we’ve been to open house tours and pep rallies for a number of private schools. UPrep and SAAS are going all out.

And we are very interested. It’s hard not to be impressed.

Our public school? Well, I just sat on a Zoom call organized not by the school but by the parents of incoming elementary school kids begging for information.

Parents of current and former students joined the call and said great things about teachers, administrators, activities, and academics, yet why isn’t the district talking, too? While on the call, I searched online for future open house tours at our public school. The calendar had none.

Look, let’s be frank: gone are the heady days of exponential student population growth for public schools. Since the pandemic, public schools have seen kids and families flee to private schools, charter schools, and homeschool options. In Seattle, the district superintendent is already projecting school closures and consolidations in two years.

In the meantime, there have been more cuts to staff, programs and academics. The Seattle Times just reported earlier this week that grades are up and test scores are way down, which means artificial grade inflation. That’s not great.

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And if you haven’t noticed, there is a concerted political effort afoot in this country to demonize public schools. Opponents are well-funded, powerful, and growing in influence. They are loud, and in many ways, they are winning. And yet, parents on that Zoom call praise our public school option in every way.

It heartened me to hear them all saying these amazing things. It’s what I wanted to hear. My husband and I are both public school kids, my sister and childhood best friend both teach in the public school system. We consider public schools a public good and a part of our value system. Our kid wants to go to the zoned public middle school.

Still, the school district doesn’t seem to even notice.

So here’s some free advice for the district. Do the work, start recruiting, and tell your amazing school’s stories. You are so focused in the district office on declining enrollment and falling budgets that you seem to have forgotten. You do have many amazing teachers and programs and opportunities.

If you don’t sell them, people will go elsewhere. They don’t know about the benefits, and then you’ll only see more declining enrollment and further falling budgets, and the cycle will repeat. Public school superintendents, school board members, and administrators, it only gets worse unless you start to fight to make it better.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Mayfield: Public schools are good but you wouldn’t hear it from them