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Saturday, November 24, 2012

From The Archives

The Tattler's 'From The Archives', brings back Tattler stories from the past that we deem to still be of interest.  From The Archives will appear on an occasional basis.  

The following is a story from November 7th 2010, right after the passage of Measure J, the school bond initiative for the new campus on San Pablo Avenue as part of the Center of Community Life.  Readers will note a main cause of concern at the time was the wisdom of trying to improve academic achievement by the building of a new facility, something the School District was adamant about.  
The amount of the bond, $95 million, has since been reduced owing to a reduction in the bond raising capacity of Emeryville, something the District said was improbable if not impossible at the time.  Added City money was to drive the cost of the Center of Community Life to some $120 million before interest charges.  
The story also highlights how the School District shuts down dissenting voices among the citizenry, an ongoing problem that has only increased since 2010.
Lastly, readers will note there is no mention of closing Anna Yates Elementary School in the story...that's because the District was still on record in 2010, claiming the public would be able to decide for themselves about closing the school in the coming months after the election.  This was before the District switched and adopted their current claim that the closure option was decided almost a decade earlier (presumably by District officials).

Here then is our From The Archives offering for today:

New Building Only Option Considered
Groupthink Shut Out Alternate Visions For School District

Opinion/News Analysis
What started out as an idea to increase academic achievement at Emeryville schools morphed instead into a strange insistence by the polity that an expensive new building must be erected.  The culture became permeated with groupthink after critical thinking was purged from supportive committees by the school board and the city council.
Is this really the best way?
As a consequence, the recently passed campaign for Measure J, the school rebuild bond, progressed just how the hired political consulting firm said it would.  From the opening salvos of city-wide push polling with its hidden agenda meant to sway voters to the final stubbing out of oppositional voices by the cancelling of freewheeling public forums called "living room conversations" along with the purging of alternative voices from official committees; the only idea taken into consideration was the building of a $120 million new school edifice (nearly $400 million with interest).  All fell into line and dissent was effectively quashed.  And that was the intent, right from the start.

How about something different?
The whole idea that a new school building is the best way to increase student academic achievement, accepted carte blanche by the elite, was never challenged because contrary voices were not allowed on any of the committees that were set up ostensibly to investigate this dubious premise.  The enablers never saw fit to question the official 'wisdom'.  Other voices, were they allowed to flourish, might  have argued a different vision be considered; a vision that, as it turns out is supported by a majority of educators.

Real Academic Achievement:
Small Class Size & Higher Pay For Teachers
In the academic community, as it turns out, there is no consensus on this Emeryville steamroller idea that it takes a new building to produce good academic results for students.  On the contrary, most educators outside Emeryville say it's small class sizes that brings higher academic student achievement.  Teachers are almost unanimous about this.  Many also point to the need for quality teachers and higher teacher pay is a proven way to attract better teachers.  Many academicians will say new buildings may help increase student performance somewhat but pale when compared to making smaller class sizes and hiring better teachers.

Center Of Community Life committee meeting
Those that might have asked if the emperor has clothes and question the inevitable new school building project were never able to point out the plethora of other school districts getting by with much older school buildings than the 1962 Emery High.  One only needs to look to Berkeley High School, built in 1901 (added onto in subsequent years including a large add on in 1964) and doing a far better job educating its students than Emery.   In fact the Berkeley High campus was recently designated a historic district by the National Register of Historic Places, something Emery High School is not eligible for because it's too new.  It is an inconvenient fact that many school districts across the United States are educating their children in much older schools than Emery and that they have exceptionally high academic student achievement.

Now There Are Fewer Options
We've put all our eggs in one basket
Perhaps most disturbing is the likely prospect that the $400 million dollar school rebuild project will squander Emeryville voter's admirable penchant for fiscally supporting their schools, possibly for a generation or more.  Any chance of reducing class sizes or increasing teacher pay with additional financial help from the residents is now much less likely because of the expensive new building we're going to get.  It would seem we have put all our hopes for a new regime of academic achievement in one basket; the one basket that will offer the least chance for success.  In terms of bang for bucks, we have gone for a lot of bucks and not much bang.

In an alternate universe where dissenting voices were welcome in Emeryville, these other ideas for driving up student achievement might have been part of the dialogue, they might have saved the residents a lot of money and better achieved the goal of improving education at our schools.  But back here on Earth, in this Emeryville, it seems the only alternative is their way or the highway.

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