Matthew Lynde Chesnut for the Rivard Report
It’s the Friday before the first day of school. Teachers are scrambling to finish the layout of their classrooms, shearing off colorful slabs of butcher paper and wheeling black metal carts stacked high with textbooks. This is not unlike other years, but what is unusual is what is not seen.
In part due to our school board’s in-fighting, our school does not have a head principal. When we do get around to hiring one, he or she will be my fifth principal in six years of teaching. The remaining administrators are breathlessly working the halls making sure teachers have enough desks and the requisite first-day paperwork.
The stories we are primed to hear about Edgewood Independent School District are the perils of a small, resource-strapped school system: the nepotism; the pathological dysfunction and high turnover; the sense of misplaced priorities. The media narrative is that our school district is broken and its rancorous politics are to blame.
As teachers, it’s seductive to let the cascade of negativity wash over us, stewing in the outrage and panic induced by the district’s mismanagement. I personally wonder what kind of impact I can have when my schedule gets scrambled two days before school starts, including the removal of my beloved newspaper class.
And then that Friday afternoon, I sat down with a few of the editors over pizza and sodas in my classroom. We talked about the year ahead, the excitement of going to college next year, the fear of the unknown. I made horrible puns which elicited equal parts laughter and grimaces. They talked about summer road trips and band practices and showed each other Vines on their phones.
We agreed that we needed to keep the newspaper going even if we didn’t have a class period to do it. And then all the outrage and panic subsided. Whenever I sit down with my students and conspire with them, I’m reminded of why I chose this work in the first place.
There are a lot of Edgewoods in this country, school districts plagued by structural hurdles out of their control and doing a miserable job responding to the adversity. We have made a spectacle out of the seemingly petty and self-defeating actions of these districts. But rather than look at this as a primary cause of educational inequity, I want to look at the tumult of my district at the onset of the school year instead as a symptom of our deeply unequal educational system. When resource-poor districts like Edgewood are asked to make progress without progressive funding mechanisms and often with culturally irrelevant curricula, it shouldn’t shock us when disarray rules the day.
Nikole Hannah-Jones’s indispensable reporting on the resegregating of America’s schools is informative here. Apartheid schools – that is, schools in which one percent or less of the student population is white – are deprived by design. Edgewood ISD is an apartheid district, the legacy of San Antonio’s generations of intractable segregation.
But in each one of those Edgewoods are thousands of kids who need a team of adults who care about them: parents who holler at the school when justice must be done; teachers who don’t feel successful unless their students feel it first; counselors who are charged with changing a thousand schedules and listening to a thousand more wounded souls trying to make sense of their pain; paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, and support staff who perform the unsung miracles that keep schools afloat.
No one in Edgewood loves what is happening in the district right now. Teachers are demoralized, the remaining administrators are stretched paper-thin, and parents are rightfully angry. But we all have jobs to do anyway. This morning, I will drive to school and make some last-minute adjustments to my room. I will greet the nearly 190 students currently on my roster – most of whom I taught in previous years – brimming with pride and anticipation. This year, I will hound my seniors to meet application deadlines for colleges and scholarships. I will write effusive recommendation letters. My students and I will explore how we fit in this fragile democracy of ours, what role they can and should play in changing it and their futures with it. They will read and write and debate and vote and think like the young adults they are.
That’s why – in spite of the gross inequities between our district and our wealthier, whiter counterparts – some of us choose to stay and work here for the long haul. We know deep in our hearts that our students and this community deserve the world and more. And though we cannot singlehandedly deliver them the world, we can promise them our love and unyielding commitment.
School starts today. We are ready.
*Featured/top image: Starting Monday, this classroom in Edgewood ISD will be filled with young minds. Photo by Matthew Lynde Chesnut.