Guest columnist Carrie Foley: Public school budgets force private choices

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By CARRIE FOLEY

Published: 06-23-2024 10:57 AM

 

I am one of hundreds of dedicated public school teachers in Northampton and one among many parents of teenagers living here. Three years ago, I found a small private school and removed my son from Northampton Public Schools.

I have previously refrained from sharing that I am a public school teacher whose child attends private school. Even though the private school is a modest secondary school consisting of two small houses on the Connecticut River, without a campus or amenities, I recognize the privilege I had in making that choice. I’ve especially feared judgment for being a public school teacher making that choice.

I made the choice for two reasons. With each year of living in Northampton, rent increases cause concern that I will soon be unable to afford to live here. Attending private school ensures that my son’s education community will remain unchanged if we have to move out of town due to soaring rent costs and lack of available rentals.

Also, following the pandemic school closures, both as a parent and a teacher, I understood the untenable demands that were going to be placed on the public school system as students returned to school and required support with re-entry into social and academic learning communities.

Providing a stable school system that is academically engaging and socially healthy for all students should be a foundation within a community and it should be a necessity. But it’s not guaranteed anymore. There are thousands of students who are considered average because they can read and take a standardized test, but who struggle to achieve their potential in a large class with distractions, in schools that do not provide learning opportunities beyond a classroom overflowing with desks and data collection mandates.

When students are in a chaotic system that provides less for them, they will do less — their school experience will not truly reflect what they are capable of. When in a system that recognizes the value in providing funding and resources for discovering their interests and strengths, students will do more — they will find their voice and learn the significance of being educated.

A chronic lack of school funding in Northampton has forced teachers to approach school days with a mindset of triage. The highest needs students in crisis receive attention immediately, while students with moderate or mild struggles receive attention afterward.

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This is true in both special education and general education. A student struggling vocally receives attention before a student struggling quietly. A student struggling to focus on beginning a task receives attention before the student who has already started the task but is struggling within it. A student appearing on task will receive no attention, even though they may be quietly questioning their self-worth and needing an adult to notice.

Students receiving a generalized education continue to experience lack of opportunity, lack of support, and lack of planning to improve their system. City and school budget planning continues to ignore this. Along with all educators in public schools, I am working to exhaustion levels within the school system supporting students and their families. I am doing my part to make school better for special education students and to make the school system accessible for their families. I am doing this now, every day.

What are the city’s financial stakeholders doing now — today? With years of knowledge of the often-mentioned “fiscal cliff,” Northampton continues to maintain a school system that is not set up to provide all students and teachers with even the smallest necessities they need (including boxes of tissues and cleaning wipes during this past COVID/flu season).

Northampton families deserve schools that are funded and equipped to offer more than below-basic level necessities, especially given the cost required to rent and own a home here. Northampton students deserve an education in which they enjoy school, thrive, and learn from teachers who are valued for their contributions and talents.

I wish I didn’t have to pay a private school for that experience.

Carrie Foley lives in Florence.