In my lifetime, busing for desegregation has been a battleground across our country for the soul of our communities. It can encourage the integration of different cultures and races in this melting pot country of ours and provide less advantaged kids a ticket to the American dream.
On the other hand, it can break up neighborhoods by breaking up schools and shuffling kids out of their community, resulting in schools being degraded such as the great school system of Wilmington Delaware in the 1970s.
Forty years later it’s still broken. “Delaware currently has some of the highest rates in the nation of children who attend private schools, magnet schools, and charter schools, due to the perceived weaknesses of the public school system.” Wikipedia.
Our objective should be great schools for all the kids and when poor children are put into inferior schools it doesn’t hurt to break a few eggs to adequately educate all the kids. In general, parents are going to see that their child gets the best education they can no matter who sits next to them in class. By having all the kids in the same system, like Kennett, you can work for the improvements of the whole system and a rising tide raises all boats as public schools get better.
In our book “The Story of Kennett: Shaping Our Future One Child at a Time” Joan Holliday and I reflected on what was the core of Kennett’s success, using the exercise of the 5 “Whys”.
1. “Why is Kennett great? Because our book process of listening to the citizens of Kennett leads us to believe that the key to the success of Kennett is the child. If you can take care of the children, the good life will follow.
2. So why are the children successful? The key to the child’s success is education provided by the school system and the community programs that support the child and their families.
3. Why is Kennett’s education and community programs successful? Because the schools, in concert with the after-school programs, do a great job of teaching and supporting the student to help each reach his or her potential.
4. Why do the schools and after-school programs do a great job of teaching to each student? Because they focus on leadership, teachers, curriculum and tutoring, and strongly encourage the active participation of the parents.
5. Why does the school system and community have such great programs? Because the administration, teachers and community know how to teach, innovate, continually improve their practices, work with the families/community and care deeply about achieving the success of each child. With the commitment and investment of KCSD and the community, these programs continue to be adequately resourced.”
So, there is pretty much nothing you can do to bring down the success of a place like Kennett than losing the support of the community for the school system. You lose the after school programs that fill in the white spaces and keep kids working at peer level. You lose money for good leaders and teachers, and you lose the focus that defines the success of the community.
My parents moved our family to Kennett in 1957, as it was a great place to raise kids, but the best school systems for white kids were in the suburbs of Wilmington. My peers at Mount Pleasant HS in Wilmington were taking the AP SAT test in calculus for their final grade. 800 was an A. That is when the Kennett School board decided to up their game and build a stronger program for the top students.
Because of the demographics, Kennett had always been integrated. So, the school board had to make sure all the kids were working to peer level and that the top students were working beyond that. But imagine if we had to address bussing the way Wilmington did and Unionville had to send all their 4-6th grade kids to Coatesville and vice versa.
In the 70s the school board started raising taxes to pay teachers enough so the they wouldn’t go to the richer school districts and we wanted to improve the buildings with radical changes including air conditioning. Which prompted a taxpayer revolt.
The paper reported comments like; “We didn’t have air conditioning when we went to school, these kids are spoiled.” “Nothing worth doing is easy.” Theodore Roosevelt. The outcome of the tax revolt was we lost a few years in the courts, by the time we made the building upgrades the costs had doubled, and we still didn’t have air conditioning.
For Kennett we have something of a Goldilocks district where there is enough diversity and resources to do a great job of educating and most of the residents send their best kids to the public schools every day where the students are engaged and challenged. They are becoming the best at being their best self and we can all see it.