Students suffer from hostile administration, systemic barriers

I SPEND a lot of time advocating for better public schools for the 38,000 students in Chatham County.  Over the last two months, I rediscovered why I started on this path: The systemic barriers put in place to keep families from accessing an adequate public education for their children, the gaslighting and incompetence from the administration, and unwillingness by the Board of Education to help parents dealing with a hostile administration. 

I tell this story knowing it belongs to only one family, but I trust you know it is one of many similar stories.

In December 2018, 8th grade students from The STEM Academy were put on a bus and taken to see the newly created Junior Achievement 3DE program at Savannah High. Our son was very excited and decided that was where he wanted to attend high school. 

As a follow-up, my husband and I went to an Open House where we spoke to administrators, executives, and district leaders about the program, how well it would fit with STEM’s model, and whether it would be the natural next step for those students. 

From there, we did our due diligence. We were assured the foreign language requirement our son completed at STEM would be accepted, and that the cohort of students with accelerated needs would be accommodated within the program.

We entered our son into the lottery with his first choice of Junior Achievement 3DE at Savannah High and the second choice of Woodville Tompkins.  (Had we known the Junior Achievement 3DE program would not accommodate him, we would have applied to Woodville Tompkins and Savannah Arts Academy. However, he was removed from the lottery for Woodville Thompkins based on the seat he was given in the Junior Achievement 3DE program.)

On April 29, after the lottery was completed, the Assistant Principal from Savannah High contacted us to let us know that our son was the only child who had completed 9th grade core classes who enrolled in the program and as such, he would not be able to attend Junior Achievement because he would have three empty periods throughout each day. 

She said they discovered the issue when a staff member whose son attends the STEM Academy pointed out that those students would have completed 9th grade core classes before attending high school.

The Assistant Principal told me, “You’ll have to find another program for your son to attend.”  

How is it possible that it took a school-level employee until April 29 to realize this would be an issue when we specifically mentioned it to those in charge twice — once at the Open House and once before signing up for the lottery?

I know what you’re all thinking: The solution to this is easy.  Due to lack of foresight and poor planning by administrators, all the district has to do to fix this is to enroll the child in the school they decided was their second choice. 

But they refuse to do so. I’ve been told, “We do not place students in Choice Schools.” However, the district has offered to place my son in the Johnson IB Program (a choice school) or send him for half-days at Woodville Tompkins as compensation for their error. 

Neither of these two options is satisfactory because Johnson would force three additional years of foreign language on my son, despite promises made by the district that foreign language requirements completed at STEM would be honored as High School credits and fulfill the language requirement.

How is this fiscally responsible? The district has robbed our family of fair participation in the lottery process and the opportunity for my son to attend the school of his choice.  

We were promised Junior Achievement 3DE would be a good fit. It was actively marketed to our son and his peers at the STEM Academy. 

Why did the district solicit STEM Academy students if the program would be unable to accommodate them? Why were these issues not caught long before targeting and soliciting STEM students?

Our family followed all of the rules. Had we been informed of this oversight prior to the lottery, as we should have been, our choices would have been different. 

We know the lottery is no guarantee of getting a seat in a choice program, but my child wasn’t even given a chance.

I have asked the Board of Education to develop a policy to ensure placement for students adversely affected by administration error. They are refusing to act. 

The Ga. Department of Education told me that parents are the ones who hold the local administration accountable. I don’t understand why this falls to the parents or why the state agency whose job it is to oversee local education units can’t do this.

I urge you to ask your state legislators why “local control” trumps accountability. 

I’m not looking for perfection, but the system needs to address errors as they arise. Parents need to stand together to say treatment like this is unacceptable.


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