The Very Important Problem: Three Parables

by Steve, October 17th, 2007

schoolsIn the spirit of “Remember: we’re here for the children,” I thought I’d present three parables about Portland Public Schools’ transfer policy and the Very Important Problem that it solves. Here goes.

Little LuLu and the Very Important Problem

Little LuLu lived with her Mommie and Grammie in her Grammie’s house. She had lived there since she was a baby. She went to kindergarten at the school two blocks away. She liked her teachers, especially her music teacher.

That’s why little LuLu was so sad when she started first grade and found out that her music teacher didn’t work there any more. Her music teacher was working at the coffee shop on the corner now, along with the former gym teacher. The art teacher got a job at Fred Meyer, and LuLu saw her there sometimes. She never did find out what happened to Mr. Miller, the friendly custodian who had kept her school clean.

LuLu asked her mommie, “Why don’t we have music and art and gym anymore?” and her mommie answered “Because too many people transferred out of your school, and the school board says we can’t afford those special things at such a small school.”

“But Mommie,” asked little LuLu, “Why did the school board let all those people transfer out?”

“Because,” answered her mommie, “They’re solving a Very Important Problem.”

In second grade, little LuLu noticed that some of her friends didn’t go to her school anymore. She also noticed that more and more of her classmates were being taken out of class for special help every day.

By third grade, little LuLu noticed that her teacher was spending most of her time telling her how to take tests. At the end of third grade, the school board announced that little LuLu’s school was closing, and she would have to go to a different school with more kids.

“Why are they closing my school?” LuLu asked her mommie.

“Because so many kids transferred out, and the school board can’t afford to keep such a small school open,” answered her mommie.

“But Mommie,” asked little LuLu, “Why did the school board let all those people transfer out?”

“Because,” answered her mommie, “They’re solving a Very Important Problem.”

When she started fourth grade at her new school, LuLu was very sad. Some of the same teachers were at her new school, but she didn’t feel right. All of her friends from her neighborhood had transferred to different schools, and she didn’t have any friends at this new school.

“Mommie,” she asked, “Can we transfer to a different school?”

“No,” replied her mommie, “Mommie has to work two jobs and can’t drive you across town for school. And you know Grammie is sick and can’t drive.”

Several years later, little LuLu went to register for high school. She had to choose between academies. One was for girls only, and it was miles away from the rest of the school. She liked some of the classes there, but she wanted to take some of the classes at the main high school. She also wanted to be a journalist, but her neighborhood high school didn’t have a newspaper or yearbook. One of the classes she wanted to take was only offered in the boys’ academy. She played the flute, but her neighborhood high school didn’t have a band.

Little LuLu’s adviser told her she would have to transfer to a different high school if she wanted all of these things. But her mommie didn’t think it would be safe for her to take the city bus across town into an unfamiliar neighborhood.

“Why can’t my high school have the same things high schools in other parts of town have?” little LuLu asked her mommie.

“Because so many kids transferred out, and the school board can’t afford to keep so many programs at such a small school,” answered her mommie.

“But Mommie,” asked little LuLu, “Why did the school board let all those people transfer out?”

“Because,” answered her mommie, “They’re solving a Very Important Problem.”

“I guess that must be a very, very, Very Important Problem,” said LuLu.

“It must be,” said her mommie. “Besides,” she added, “the principal of our school says we’re different, and we need different kinds of programs than kids at those other schools.”

So little LuLu went to the great big high school with a very small student body, and felt very small and unimportant compared to the kids taking French and Band and Journalism and College Prep English at the schools across town. But she knew she was helping the school board solve a Very Important Problem, so she felt better.

Mike Mackelhoody and the Very Important Problem

Mike Mackelhoody lived with his mom and dad and baby sister in a big old house in a part of town his parents called “transitional.” He always heard his dad telling relatives and family friends about what a great deal he got on the house.

There was a school three blocks away, but Mike Mackelhoody didn’t go there. His mom drove him several miles every morning to a bigger school. Mike Mackelhoody didn’t like getting up in the morning, and when he was eight, he realized that he would be able to sleep longer if he went to the school three blocks away.

So he worked up his courage and asked his mom and dad about it one day.

“Mom, Dad,” he said, “Why don’t I go to the school that’s just three blocks away? That way I could walk to school and sleep later in the morning.”

“Because,” answered his dad, “that school doesn’t meet AYP!”

Mike Mackelhoody wasn’t sure what that meant, but his dad and mom didn’t want to talk much about it.

Every day after school, Mike Mackelhoody noticed the neighborhood kids playing in the street. He didn’t know any of them, since they went to different schools. He asked his parents about this.

“Why do all the kids go to different schools?” he asked.

“Because,” said his father, “the school board is solving a Very Important Problem.”

When Mike Mackelhoody was old enough to go to high school, his parents made sure to get him transferred to a “good” school across town, one that had Advanced Placement classes and foreign languages and an instrumental music program. But his mom told him she couldn’t drive him to school anymore, since it was too far out of her way.

Instead, she got him a bus pass from the school board, and he had to take three different buses to get to school every morning. He had to get up very, very early, and he had to wait in the rain at two different bus stops along the way. If he missed one bus, he might have to wait an extra fifteen minutes. If he missed two buses, he might be very, very late to class.

“Why,” Mike Mackelhoody asked his parents, “don’t we have a ‘good’ high school in our neighborhood?”

“Because,” answered his father, “the school board is solving a Very Important Problem.”

So Mike Mackelhoody took three buses to his “good” school every day, and he took three buses home every afternoon. He never did learn the names of the neighbor kids, but he wouldn’t have had any time to hang out with them anyway, since he was always riding the bus. But at least he was helping the school board solve their Very Important Problem.

Caitlin Kurzweil and the Very Important Problem

Caitlin Kurzweil lived in a very large house in a very nice part of town. She lived there with her mummy and her daddy, her two Weimaraner dogs, and her big brothers who often Didn’t Play Nice with her.

She went to the very nice little school down the street with a very involved PTA. Her mummy told her that the school board once talked about closing her very nice little school, but the very involved PTA stopped them. So she got to stay at her very nice little school, and she learned music from Mrs. Melnaker, art from Mr. Josephson and P.E. from Mr. Jakes.

The yard of her very nice little school was always well cared for, thanks to the very involved PTA. There was a very nice playground, with a very nice play structure, built with money from the very involved PTA’s annual auction.

Everything about Caitlin Kurzweil’s school was very nice indeed, and Caitlin enjoyed playing with her friends after school.

Caitlin Kurzweil was very good at soccer. Her daddy coached her team when she was five, and as she grew older, her coaches always told her how very good at soccer she was.

When Caitlin Kurzweil was old enough to go to high school, she was excited to be on the soccer team. But when she went to try-out, she found there were one hundred girls who also wanted to be on the soccer team. Some of them were also very good at soccer. So good, in fact, that Caitlin Kurzweil didn’t make the team.

So Caitlin Kurzweil went home crying to her mummy, who called her daddy on the phone right away. “How can this be!” Caitlin Kurzweil heard her mummy say to her daddy on the phone, “Caitlin’s always been the best player on the team!”

Caitlin Kurzweil’s father called the soccer coach that evening to find out why she didn’t make the team. He was amazed to hear that there were so many girls at the school who where very good at soccer, and he tried as best he could to explain it to his dear daughter.

“But why are there so many kids at my school?” asked Caitlin Kurzweil.

“Because,” answered her daddy, “so many kids have transferred in from other neighborhoods.”

“But why does the school board let them transfer in?” asked Caitlin Kurzweil.

“Because,” answered her daddy, “the school board is solving a Very Important Problem.”

Eventually Caitlin Kurzweil got over her disappointment at not playing soccer, and focused on her classes. But many of her classes had so many students in them that kids had to sit on window ledges or the floor, and there weren’t enough text books to go around. So she asked her parents about this.

“Why are my classes so crowded?” asked Caitlin Kurzweil.

“Because,” answered her daddy, “so many kids have transferred in from other neighborhoods.”

“But why does the school board let them transfer in?” asked Caitlin Kurzweil.

“Because,” answered her daddy, “the school board is solving a Very Important Problem.”

So Caitlin Kurzweil went to her very full school, and attended her very full classes, and took pride in knowing she was helping the school board solve their Very Important Problem.