I am a special education teacher in the Little Rock School District and a parent of a kindergartner at Gibbs Magnet Elementary School. I love my job, I love my school and I love my community. As a public school teacher, I often find that my job extends beyond the responsibilities on my contract. I have visited the hospital to see children and parents who were ill. I have bought clothes, food, toiletries and supplies for children who needed them. I have spent countless hours outside of my classroom studying and practicing interventions that might fill in the gaps my students have when they come to me, so that every child I teach can succeed.
Last March, the state decided to take over the LRSD because it did not feel that the community-elected school board was capable of fixing the academic problems that existed in the district. I can only assume that the state felt it was more well-equipped to handle these problems.
I know that there are problems in the LRSD. I also have some good ideas about how to fix those problems. Our previous school board had some good ideas, too. Unfortunately, it appears the Arkansas Department of Education does not, as we have not seen any academic plan to improve the six distressed schools. In fact, if any plan has been created, I, as a parent and teacher, have heard nothing of it.
State board member Diane Zook recently requested more information about LRSD's teacher absentee rates, referrals to alternative schools, graduation rates and response to intervention programs, but it seems to me that she should already know this information. Is the state not in charge of the Little Rock School District? Is it not the one who decided that we were not capable of turning the six academically distressed schools around? It disturbs me to hear members of the state Board of Education speak of the Little Rock School District as if it were a sinking ship that is bound to drown the thousands of students it serves. With rhetoric like that, coming from the very people who are in charge, it's no wonder we have thousands of students on a waiting list to leave.
So far, the best solution that certain members of the board have come up with to solve our problems is to "evacuate" the least vulnerable children from our district. I do not think that eStem and LISA are bad schools, but I do believe that they cater to and serve families with more opportunities. To be successful at eStem or LISA, a child needs to have a guardian who has successfully navigated the application process and who can provide daily transportation to and from school. To be successful at these institutions, a child cannot need access to in-depth special-education programs, nursing services, counseling services or school nutrition services because these institutions do not have to offer them.
I continually hear members of the board speak of expanding the charters as an issue of choice, but they are not a choice for students who are in poverty, students with moderate to severe disabilities, or students who need access to other of the above-mentioned programs.
Certain members of the state Board of Education need to quit talking about LRSD like it is going up in flames. I hate to break it to the board, but that house you think is on fire belongs to you, and the kids inside of it are your students. Allowing the expansion of these charter schools is just adding fuel to the flames. We need you to work with us to put out the fire, not watch us burn. No matter what you decide to do on March 31, my fellow teachers and I will continue to do whatever it takes to put out that fire and help our students rise from the ashes. Whether you support us or not, we have a responsibility to help all the children in this community, and so do you.
Chandle Carpenter is a teacher in the Little Rock School District and the parent of a child who attends Gibbs Elementary.