At last week’s town hall meeting at Buena Vista Elementary about the school’s impending merger with Horace Mann Middle School, nearly a hundred parents showed up. They questioned principal Larry Alegre, school board president Hydra Mendoza and assistant superintendent Veronica Chavez for two hours.
At this week’s meeting at Horace Mann, exactly one parent shows up. An earlier town hall, held on a Saturday morning, with chilaquiles, brought in only seven families.
“Make of that what you will,” says Principal Mark Sanchez, evenly.
At the school’s School Site Council (SCC) meeting, held before the town hall, some of the familiar fears about the merger surface.
“They’re being racist straight up,” says Jose Ramos. He’s referring to a story about the Buena Vista parent who is said to have asked a Horace Mann student, during a tour of the school, about how many shootings the school has seen in the last year. Mission Loc@l most recently heard the story at the Buena Vista town hall, where it was cited as an example of how not to behave on a tour at Horace Mann.
“They’re seeing us as a gangbanging community. What that parent said to Ramon….” Ramos’ voice trails off. “And what color was their skin? They were white. Not to be racially profiling.”
“They are,” says Sanchez, “a mixed bag. Like we are. There are clearly people who are saying things that shouldn’t be said. But they are like us.”
Both schools have openly wondered if the merger would be a win for them. Buena Vista because it would possibly lose what it already had — a newly renovated school building, a much-liked principal and a ferociously dedicated community of parents. For Horace Mann the unease lies in taking a school that has tailored its curriculum to the needs of students on the low end of the achievement gap and replacing it, over the next three years, with students for whom that gap is significantly smaller.
There is the matter of the SIG funds — a three-year state grant to schools that the state has designated as “persistently underperforming.” Horace Mann has two years of SIG funds remaining, but by the time those two years are over, it is unlikely to have the student body that it did when it first received the grant.
“I really think SIG was meant for middle school students here,” says Sanchez. “But you can’t be in a classroom that has computers paid for by SIG and say, ‘No, don’t touch those.’ There’s going to be some bleed over.”
Still, he says, most of the SIG money is going to programs that will only help the students currently enrolled — a math coach, teachers, an after-school and summer school program. He’s particularly excited about the after-school program, called Aim High. Last year there wasn’t even a budget for it.
In the meantime, the staff of Buena Vista and Horace Mann will meet for the first time in a little over a week. “We’ll have light dinner,” says Sanchez. “Get to know each other.”
As the meeting persists, a handful of confused parents wander in, a few at a time; trailing behind them are small children in brightly colored winter coats. When questioned, they turn out to be parents of elementary school-aged children in Cesar Chavez and Bryant Elementary.
They had received a recorded phone message that told them that, unless they took other measures, their children would be going to Horace Mann in the fall by default. There would be a meeting, and dinner, the recording said.
The parents are informed of two things: Horace Mann is no longer a feeder school, and there is no dinner. And yet out there is a telephone, set in motion by some unknown person in the not-too-distant past, that still believes otherwise.