Home > Uncategorized > Successful School Integration Requires Grit: On the part of Teachers, Administrators, and the Community

Successful School Integration Requires Grit: On the part of Teachers, Administrators, and the Community

December 12, 2016

A story on the Morris NJ schools by Kyle Spencer describes the incredible effort— and, yes, money— required to maintain a desegregated school district in this era. Mr. Spencer’s article also describes the painful history that led to this success story and the tenuousness of the success.

A brief overview of the Morris Schools:

  • The district was created by court order in 1971 in response to a suit filed by parents who wanted to maintain racial balance in the schools in the region.
  • The district demographics have shifted over the past five-plus decades, particularly in the past 15 years with non-English speaking students increasing from 909 to 1,698 while African American enrollments dropped from 815 to 546 during the same time period.
  • The district has made extensive use of technology to individualize instruction in an effort to meet the wildly diverse educational and cultural backgrounds of students and maintain some degree of integration in all of its classrooms.
  • To assist non-English speakers, the district has extensive supports in place.
  • Parent organizations in the district provide translators at their meetings and workshops to ensure the engagement of the burgeoning non-English speaking parent population.
  • To attract and retain affluent families with high achieving students, the district has pull-out gifted and talented programs throughout its elementary schools and a wide array of STEM and AP offerings at the high school level.

Even with all of these supplementary programs and efforts at engagement, the district faces challenges that would daunt other communities. For example:

  • The population churn has increased, particularly among the non-English students, adding to the workload for teachers and administrators and reinforcing the notion that money is being spent on “illegals” that could be spent on resident children with special needs and/or special interests.
  • Some parents avail themselves of the rich programs available to students in PK-8 but then abandon the high school in favor of private schools. Indeed, Mr. Spencer cites data indicating that over 22% of the students who live in the most affluent community feeding the high school opt to attend private schools, nearly double the State average.
  • The top tier HS courses and gifted and talented programs have a disproportionate number of white students— unsurprising given the challenges non-English speakers face but a problem in the eyes of those who aspire to equity across-the-board.

The story concludes with this anecdote, which exemplifies the value of attending a diverse school:

Nile Birch, a high school junior who is black, said that most of the students in his honors and A.P. classes are white. “In total, they are not very diverse,” he said about the higher-level classes.

Still, electives, clubs and required classes have provided him the opportunity to learn about people whose lives differ from his own.

He recalled being in a health class during his freshman year, with a quiet Hispanic girl who barely talked. One day, it was time to recite a written monologue: She stood up and told the class she was a single mother who had made it across the border and eventually to New Jersey, where she dreamed of getting an education.

“It really moved every single person in that class,” he said. “Before that she was just the quiet girl in the corner.”

After reading this heartwarming conclusion, I was overcome with sadness because, as Mr. Spencer notes, this is an extraordinarily exceptional district. Mr. Spencer notes that “…New Jersey has one of the strongest laws against segregation, but at the same time has some of the most segregated schools in the country.” And, as noted in many earlier posts, resegregation is on the increase because of residential patterns and the public sentiment the opposes efforts to address this issue. I was also saddened because I can see the tenuousness of this segregated school. It requires grit on the part of teachers, administrators, board members, parents, and taxpayers…. and if any one of those players decides to let up on the effort required to maintain the nurturing and inclusive environment in the school district, the entire construct will collapse. And here’s what saddens me the most: if a voucher program like Betsy DeVos advocates is ever put in place in NJ, the out-migration of affluent parents will increase, the taxpayer support for the existing framework will collapse, and fifty-plus years of work to create a desegregated success story will go down the drain. At a time when forceful positive leadership is needed in the White House and the State House, NJ has the opposite. I sincerely hope the grit continues in Morris NJ— they will need even more of it to sustain their success.


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