Saturday, December 10, 2005

Only The Beginning: Where We Should Go Now

While parents and community leaders may be breathing a sigh of relief that the plan to close schools was dropped, the need of a strategy to enhance neighborhood influence over the planning process is still very much with us. There may be a tendency to relax at this point, but the school district's course change was an important victory specifically for Jones School and for the North End. We should not waste the momentum that provides a basis for some important next steps.

I have some recommendations:
  1. Explore the possibility of securing a historic zoning overlay for the Jones School property. Historic overlay might insure that even if it is sold some day to a private investor, the building would have to be preserved. It seems to me that there would be a lot less resistance to such an overlay now (that we dodged a bullet) than later (when the demand for properties is even higher), when and if we face the crisis of closing again.
  2. Nurture a mutually beneficial relationship between the Jones Paideia PTO and neighborhood associations. There is strength in numbers and there are resources that can be shared as different interest groups find common ground. It would be a waste if the only coalition that emerged from this crisis was a short-term reaction to a single School Board decision. Hopefully, we are all in this for the long-term.
  3. Use the occasion to develop a working relationship with our School Board representative. Many of us work under the belief that MNPS operates free and clear of our communities. We can change either the truth or the perception of MNPS autonomy. The outcry that arose over the proposed school closings and the consequent course change should be underscored in the future to keep our representatives more accountable to us. Part of the challenge is overcoming the idea that only parents of school-age children have an investment in MNPS. That is totally mistaken. The prospect of beautiful old Jones School shutting down just as the North End is taking off--along and the economic and social impact of closure--suggests that our School Board's decisions affect all of us; not just the children and not just their parents. Schools can be neighborhood stabilizers that vastly improve community quality-of-life for everyone.
Let's not lull ourselves into wasting the momentum we have.

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