Just Us in Davis: Can you imagine …?

By April 25, 2011

Mark your calendars

* Second annual Capitol Region Equity Summit, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday, UC Davis Conference Center, 550 Alumni Lane. Registration costs $65 (online at http://education.ucdavis.edu) before Thursday, or pay with a check at the door, if space is still available.

* Third annual SAYS (Sacramento Area Youth Speaks) Poetry Slam, 6-9 p.m. Friday, May 13, Freeborn Hall at UC Davis. Tickets are $15 for adults, $7 for youths ages 11-21 and $5 for kids under 11; visit http://says.ucdavis.edu

* Second annual Race and Social Justice class research projects poster presentation, 4-7 p.m. Tuesday, May 17, Davis High School south gym, 315 W. 14th St. Contact Kevin Williams at [email protected]

* National release of “From the Community to the Classroom: A Youth-Directed Documentary of How Davis Young People Led their Community Closer Toward Educational Equity,” Tuesday, May 17 (57th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education decision). Visit http://www.communityclassroom.wordpress.com for details on how to view and download the film for free on that date

Please excuse my informality: Before you continue, please put down this newspaper, go find your Measure A ballot and vote “yes.” Make sure you have the actual ballot and not the sample ballot (which I actually had sealed and ready to go). Sign and seal the envelope and put it by the door.

And I hope that’s not talking or writing down to anyone. It’s not what we disagree on that might negatively impact our children, our educators and our city, but whether we have executed these critical last steps, assuming instead that enough “other somebodies” will do it.

Can you imagine Davis without the award-winning music programs of its schools? How many thousands of Davis children through the years are introduced to this way of being and knowing the world, and to teamwork, and to collective accomplishment? How many financially stretched families — and there are more than we think in Davis — would not be able to pay for this socially, personally, psychologically, neurologically and academically enhancing experience for their children? We can share the costs of this privilege across thousands of Davis families.

I want to take this opportunity to honor the unheralded work of Davis parents, Hiram and Ximena Jackson. These two parents have long been concerned about and quantitatively tracked the racial/ethnic and economic diversity within the Davis schools’ music programs. Several years ago, they began visiting Spanish-speaking parents, sitting with them in their living rooms, and encouraging them to step into an experience usually reserved only for the privileged, but available to all Davis children.

They described and de-mystified the potential several-year process for these parents and have been successful in walking alongside several proud families, as their children enjoy truly world-class elementary and secondary school music programs. Incredible, Hiram and Ximena! I want to make certain you both can continue to gift these children, their families and our community.

Can you imagine Davis if its secondary school counselors were ordered to only deliver “academic counseling”? What if they could not be available for kids “screaming” (or not) for attention, or in the midst of a smoldering emotional crisis that awaited an adult outside the family to notice?

Can you imagine trying to learn the language of algebra with 39 other students in a class?

Can you imagine Davis without the AVID program, a class that includes teenagers from homes where a parent has not attended college, and teaches them all the informal but critically important rules of succeeding toward a college degree?

When we don’t invest in children beyond our front door, folks, we pay.

And we lose.

For Davis homeowners, we have to be real about why the values of our homes have not plummeted at all, or to the extent of those in other communities. Two words: Davis schools.

Ask the school district’s chief financial officer, Bruce Colby, to run the numbers with you, if you are still cynical or disbelieving, and if you are certain there is still fat (and not muscle) to cut. As for me, when I go to the district office, I see only a handful of administrators. Data tell us we have one of the lowest administrator-to-student ratios in the state. One associate superintendent to oversee elementary school teaching, curricula and professional development of all district teachers. One associate superintendent to oversee human resources (all hiring and employee concerns) and secondary teaching and curricula.

And can you imagine Davis without art in its schools?

Recently, I had the privilege of accompanying Matt Sonstein and his Emerson junior high ceramics students to the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. We saw the magnificent, colossal works of the Olmec, the ancient people of Mexico and Central America. Each of the students in my car was of Latin American descent. Sonstein taught them how their ancestors’ creativity and works, how their investments and messages to the world, were so wise and enduringly crafted, that we have the privilege of enjoying them nearly intact thousands of years later.

Can we imagine a short-sided, cynical Davis where we refuse to make the collective public investments that endure long into our children’s and community’s futures?

We can save this thing another couple years, while the economy turns around. Most other communities are not close to being able to say that about the quality and offering of their schools. We are privileged indeed.

And yes, we are still waiting and working too slowly for educational equity in these reputedly “excellent” schools. Racial inequality in junior high suspension rates constitutes an emergency in my eyes.

We have so tolerated and institutionalized academic tracking in Davis schools; we don’t even call it “tracking.” We just don’t call it at all.

Educator Jeannie Oakes is someone to ask about this persistent reality within our “high-performing” schools. She is the keynote speaker at the second annual Equity Summit, taking place from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, sponsored by UC Davis’ School of Education and others. Oakes’ landmark book on tracking, “Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality,” has informed educators, policy-makers and legal decisions for almost two decades.

I write this and still say emphatically that Measure A needs to pass.

Thanks again for voting and not waiting for “other somebodies” to execute. There are no “other somebodies” coming. It’s just us.

Jann Murray-Garcia

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