Scarp: Mostly, the kids will be all right - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Scarp: Mostly, the kids will be all right

Closing of Mesa's Jordan Elementary divisive, but school board likely acting with interest of all in mind

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

Posted: Sunday, March 3, 2013 5:59 am | Updated: 6:25 pm, Fri Mar 8, 2013.

I am not a parent, which means that in addition to the many times I am envious of those who are, at times I am grateful not to be one.

In the latter category is how parents must sometimes explain disappointing, if not heartbreaking things to a kid, such as the life spans of beloved animals or why friends sometimes move away.

Or that a kid’s school, his or her daily place to grow, learn and become, is closing. You read on EastValleyTribune.com last week that the Mesa school board announced that Jordan Elementary School will close at the end of this year. Reporter Michelle Reese wrote that the school, saved once several years ago despite decreased numbers of students, wasn’t able to escape closing this time because enrollment continued to go down.

In terms of having touchstones of your roots in the community, I’m lucky. I live blocks from the house I grew up in and drive past my still-open former elementary school nearly every day.

Children play on the playground, tossing a ball, chasing and laughing, just as I did, then disappear into the classrooms where I once was taught by teachers whose names I still remember, including Julia Rogers, Kay Lytton-Smith, Ken Moore, Betty Benneson.

I also had actual experience with having to go to a new school that I never wanted to attend. In my case, however, the school didn’t close, the sale of my family’s house did.

In the fall of my fourth-grade year, my family moved from the Chicago area to the Valley.

Not only was my school completely different (Palm trees? Classroom doors that open directly to the outdoors? And we have P.E. outside?), the entire city was.

At least for me, I wasn’t going to be regularly reminded of my old school whenever the family car went past it. Over time, it faded into my young memory, although I will never forget my kindergarten teacher, a nurturing educator named Esther Kershenbaum, for her patience and care with me.

Still, unlike many kids at Jordan, my best friend in the fourth grade wasn’t coming to my new school in Arizona with me. A husky, happy, easy-going boy who was the oldest of eight children, his name was Patrick Volpe. Pat and I stayed in touch by letter and phone for some years, but ultimately, time moved us forward and in different directions.

Like any school-closure vote, the one involving Jordan Elementary was certainly not easy for the school board. In my career I covered many school board meetings and found no other reason but altruism for anyone wanting to be a board member.

There’s no pay. The major decisions you must make are usually made in front of throngs of unhappy people, about half of which are going to dislike you and feel you don’t care about children.

I salute school board members, even those whom I observed making some strange decisions unrelated to school closings. While a parent cares about his or her children, school board members have to make choices on behalf of everyone’s, something most parents not only wouldn’t want to do, put into those chairs behind the dais they probably couldn’t. That goes for a lot of non-parents like me, too.

The recession and the changing nature of families have taken its toll on schools in Mesa, like many cities in the East Valley and throughout the metropolitan area. When I was a boy words such as “choice” in education didn’t exist. A tiny percentage of kids went to parochial or private schools, but for most of us middle-class kids, public schools were where everyone was simply expected to go.

But today, with new emphasis on accountability in education, more choices exist, including something virtually unheard of in my youth, home-schooling, as well as using open-enrollment policies to enroll children in a different public school than the one closest to their homes.

For whatever reason — and I believe far too many criticisms of public education are unjustified — parents are putting their children where they believe they will do best. That sometimes means something other than the neighborhood public school.

When you’re a boy or girl, it’s difficult to understand concepts such as educational choice, recession-based migration out of the East Valley, and the like. All you know is that your school will be closed, and you’ll be going to another one that’s farther away that may not have all the same kids in it.

It’s a time for parents to do what they’re called upon to do, calm fears and explain things in a way that makes children feel better and even look forward to the new experience.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s something I envy about parents after all.

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