Unlike suburban public schools, schools close to the center city often act as one of a few anchors for the walkable neighborhood. When they are good, they are one of the few institutions that actually attract families, rather than upwardly mobile singles or older adults, back to urban neighborhoods, because families with kids require good schools. That is why predominantly suburban resistance to raising taxes for funding schools among other urban services is a direct attack not only on education, but it is also an assault through neglect on the fabric of urban neighborhoods, which lose their centers and which have a harder time attracting the families that would diversify their populations.
While I did not support the last sales tax referendum to fund education, I do believe in both the need for progressive revenue-raising for city schools and reform of the system to stop waste and create cost-effective educational measures. When educational reform gets overemphasized to the exclusion of the need for more money to pay for rising costs, increasing student populations, technology upgrades, and court-mandated revenue sharing with rural schools, I interpret mutual exclusion as a war declared on urbanism as a way of life. I interpret it as animosity toward a walkable and diverse neighborhood where gasoline expenses are minimal. I consider it protection of the monopoly that suburban areas have over attracting families.
I wondered this past weekend whether one of the casualties of the Metro School Board's tough decisions would be a North End institution: Buena Vista School. Reading the cut list, I was relieved to see that Buena Vista seems to have survived so far. However, I was horrified to see that another historic North End institution, Jones Paideia Magnet School, is slated to be closed and their students moved several blocks deeper into Metro Center to the John Early Paideia School. While only a few blocks over, Jones Paideia is changing neighborhoods: from Jones-Buena Vista to Historic Buena Vista. So, one of the centers of the Jones-Buena Vista neighborhood, currently closed for renovation, is a casualty to the lack of political will to pay for services; if Pedro Garcia has his way, it will not re-open next fall.
I know we don't live in a perfect world and Garcia and the School Board are left with tough decisions, mainly due to the Metro Council and the Mayor's gamble on a sales tax increase. But I hope that North End residents fight to keep Jones Paideia open or at least to get promises that it will open again some day when our budget is more progressive.
It would be totally wrong to either tear the school down or to sell it to private developers or to put more public assistance offices or Head Start facilities in it to go with those already disproportionately occupying so many of our city neighborhoods.
Jones School is one of the architectural jewels of the North End. The Paideia program, based on teaching children classic Socratic critical thinking, provides an great alternative to traditional public school methods. But most importantly, this is one of our centers that gives neighbors, black and white together, a sense of place, turning them toward their own neighborhood.
11/10/2005, 10:30 p.m. Update: The 10:00 p.m. news programs on each of the local stations reported tonight about "frustrated" parents speaking out at tonight's School Board Public Meeting at Maplewood High School. Channel 4 News reported that one of the most controversial proposed closings was Jones Paideia. They reported that part of the problem was the perception that there were discipline problems at John Early Paideia that would be amplified by increasing the school's population. News 2 presented comments against closing by a Rose Park Student. NewsChannel 5 said very little in detail about the meeting, and merely quoted a principal who supported the closings (typical!).