Is that your final answer?

The die is cast. The Parent Imperfect has sent in the card responding to Connie’s school assignment for next year. The deadline for sending in the confirmation was April 27, so I’ll be following up to be sure that the BPS Assignment Office received the card and processed what it says. Last year, her assignment confirmation was never processed, which turned into another event in the Parent Olympics that BPS parents must go through each year.

What made the decision hard was the mandatory nine-hour day at the Irving Middle School, the school to which Connie has been assigned. Several parents of Irving children have assured me that the Irving had worked out some of the bugs in the extended day and that it had turned into a pretty good program. “There’s a lot of good enrichment stuff going on there after school,” was the overall consensus. But what parents said to Liz and I mean little to Ms. Connie. She wanted to see this “extended day” for herself.

It took four phone calls to set up a visit at the school. In each of the first three calls, a very courteous woman assured me that the principal would get back to me to set up the appointment. After the third call, Mr. Unobsky called me back, apologizing profusely for the delay. I have to say that it makes me a little nervous that setting up family visits to the school can’t be delegated to someone.

In any case, the principal spent time with me on the phone talking about some of the challenges of the extended day program and what they’ve done to address them. He also assured me that next year’s program will include a Spanish elective for all sixth graders, either during the academic day, or after school. We then set up a time for Connie and her “empowered” father to visit the school during the extended day on this past Thursday. I was nervous about waiting until the very last day before the deadline, but he asked that we give them time to “be prepared” for us.

I went to the Hennigan to pick C. up from school an hour early, and we maneuvered through the after school traffic to get to the Irving by 3. A very energetic and attentive young woman greeted us and asked what she could do for us. Her jaw dropped slightly as we told her that we were there for a visit to the extended day program.

-OK…that’s interesting. That doesn’t happen a lot and the Principal is out at a meeting right now.

She was hoping that we would say that we’d just come back another time, but another time would be too late, so we asked if Connie could see the program without the intro from the Principal. I am quite certain that he had several things to do that were more important than spending a half hour with a parent so anal that he wanted to visit the after school program.

-Sure. Right now they are doing homework, so there’s not much to see. Does she want to see a Tenacity group or a Citizen’s Schools group?

Tenacity and Citizen’s Schools are two of the organizations that are collaborating with the Irving on the extended day program. I also saw a lot of City Year volunteers around, so I assume that organization is involved, as well. Connie was clear that she wanted to see the Tenacity program.

-OK…let me just find out exactly where they are right now…

This launched a ten-minute process of intercom consultations and wanderings up and down hallways. We got an unexpected tour of much of the school. There were at least three times where our guide really wanted to just say that she couldn’t find the Tenacity group, but she realized that we really wanted to do this. To her credit, she persisted. It should be possible to find any given group of students in the school at any time, no?

We did finally come upon a group of uniformed sixth graders talking in a couple of groups in a classroom at the back of the school. This was not the exact group that we were looking for, but it was a Tenacity group. A young woman was with them (I never did discover who this was), and our guide told this woman of our interest and asked if Connie could join the group for awhile.

-Sure. We’re not really doing anything right now, but she’s welcome to come in.

Before I had a chance to see what she wanted to do, Connie gave me that “Please get lost!” look, so I returned to the office as she went into the room. I sat in the office for an hour (an interesting observation opportunity) until Connie texted:

-No han salido a jugar…solo estamos hablando.

She wanted to stay longer to see what happened when the tennis part of the program started, but had to leave for yet another commitment (gymnastics training) at another school (the Ohrenberger). On the way out Washington Street, Connie shared that the girls in the group had been happy to give her all kinds of advice about what not to do at the Irving. She ate the advice up, but when I asked her what she thought of the program, she had very little to say.

-I guess it’s OK, pero llegamos cuando no estaban haciendo nada.

Nada. Nothing. That’s about what we had learned after four phone calls and two hours of driving and visiting. We did learn that the school has chosen very good people to interact with parents and the public, and, by sitting in the office, we learned that the Irving keeps very close tabs on who is entering and leaving the school during the extended day. Connie couldn’t really say if she could stand it to spend three additional hours in the school each day, but at least she had been there.

And then, very quickly, it was time to fill out the self-mailer and send it back to the BPS. We had one more conversation, made the decision and sent in the card. We’ve found that, while the BPS is often really slow getting information to parents, it can be very strict about its own deadlines. Missing a deadline can mean weeks of trying to fix a problem…and then giving up.

We have tried to find out about the options (few) available to our daughter. We recognize that our options are much better than the options available to the majority of BPS families, but they are not great options. If we are among the “empowered” families for whom the system is set up…

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Is that your final answer?

  1. Kate

    It doesn’t leave you with a confident, good feeling about the school, does it? Sorry that your experience was so awful. I agree that stuff like that needs to be delegated to staff….and followed up on. If extended day is just a bunch of people in rooms and you’re not sure what they are doing and no one can tell you, that’s very concerning.

    • Thanks. In general, I have been hearing good things from people I know and respect (and people I know only through this blog) about what is going on at the school, including in the extended day. I try to understand my own experience in that context. I’ve had some “awful” experiences visiting schools, but this really wasn’t one of them. I’ve been in leadership positions trying to balance the obvious need to delegate with my own sense of what was really important for me to do, so I give some slack there, too. In honesty, I was most concerned that it took so long to find the class for Connie to visit. That could be really problematic in any sort of emergency.

  2. My daughter is not only in an extended program during the week at her Charter School (7:30am – 4pm), but she also goes to school on Saturdays (9am – 12pm) and not once has she complained. So Charters have successfully been doing extended day programs, so with the right programs to fit the needs of the children and the right people BPS can also have a succcessful program. With the Irving BPS may be on its way!

    • Thanks, Carla. 7:30-4???? What’s the matter with that school? Why don’t they keep them until 4:30? Seriously, I’ve seen all of the research on the extended day, and I know it is working wonders in many settings. I just know that I learned a lot of what turned out to be important outside of school, so I have a visceral reaction to the mandatory extended day. Maybe I’ll be singing a different tune after a few months of watching how Connie reacts at the Irving.

  3. I am sorry that was your experience at the Irving. As a parent of three years there now as well as one who is excited to send my youngest there starting in September for the next three years and who is very involved, it should have been handled better. Unfortunately, Thursdays are the day Arthur Unobskey must report to 26 Court Street for Principal meetings and not everything ends up going as planned – I am sure this was delegated, but something must have happened. Did you share the info above with Arthur since your visit? If not, you really should, and I would be happy to give you his direct number if you will email me @karen.kastmcbride@gmail.com. Also, let me extend an invitation not only to contact him, but also myself about this – I will give you my number via email.

    Now, I just finalized the invitation for our incoming parents to come on May 30, 2012 @6pm to tour the building, get more information and answers, the kids will do a mock “day” schedule, you will meet some of the staff members and students of the school along with the City Year, Citizen Schools, Tenacity and AIP too, plus parents like myself who not only have children there but also helped to get the ELT funding and program in place. One problem that you should be aware of with when you went to visit (besides no Arthur being there – which is always a disappointment), is that we are still in the stages of planning the improvements to ELT that we want to put in place next year as we are well aware of some of the issues that parents have with our partner organizations – the ELT program for next year will have very little unstructured time like what you saw in Tenacity, though let me be clear – if your child chooses to take part in the Tenacity program they may end up doing exactly what you saw as we do not oversee the partners programs or dictate how they utilize their time as they have their own program separate from the ELT part of the day – you need to think of it more as a club/extracurricular activity – what you saw was not the actual ELT program.. I would suggest you come to our ELT Community meeting on Thursday, May 24, 2012 @6pm as that is when we will have all the answers you need regarding this.

    I am also willing to give you a more comprehensive tour during the day if you like, when you can actually speak with the staff, ELT providers and Arthur (so not a Thursday!). I am sure you, like myself, besides being “empowered” are busy, but with the exception of meetings I do not control, I would be happy to accommodate your schedule! 🙂

    Karen Kast-McBride
    Irving & Mozart Parent

    • Thank you, Karen, for such a thoughtful comment. I also appreciate all of the info about upcoming meetings. It turns out that a good number of current and incoming Irving parents are “lurkers” keeping an eye on this thing, so they will also use your info. Your offer of personal attention is really nice, too, for now, I’ll make an effort to get to the meetings you mention. Over the last few months, Mr. Unobskey has spoken to me on the phone three times, which is above and beyond. During 11 years in the BPS, I have never spoken to another principal on the phone, except for those I know, personally (robo calls don’t count!). I understand that the ELT is a work in progress, although, as I’ve said before, I think the communication with prospective parents about the program could be better. Again, thanks for your comment, and I look forward to meeting in person at some point.

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