School Board data shows hundreds in system are two years behind

There are hundreds of students in the Monroe City School system that are two years or more behind their grade level, but nothing is being done to correct the problem.

When scores for schools such as Roy Neal Shelling Elementary and Madison James Foster Elementary were reported last fall, the public was surprised that they were rated “F.” The initial reaction is to think there is something wrong with the faculty or staffs of the schools, but the faculties of these schools are filled with great educators who have tried everything they know to bring up the performance level of their students.

They are crippled by one fact that no one wants to admit. There are hundreds of students in Southside Schools who start school on the first day – two years behind, and they stay behind throughout their school years.

How can this be possible?

Today, school begins at age three or Preschool. At three years old students are learning their colors, how to sort objects and shapes, as well as learning rhymes and song lyrics. They learn to play with playdough and blocks and form and identify shapes. They learn their ABC’s, too.

At four years olds old they learn to put their words together to make words, and they learn to write their names. They recite small poems. They start to learn graphs and patterns; they learn how to chart the weather and seasons. They learn to sit at a table, pass foods, and how to count, as well as addition and subtraction of single numbers.

Here’s where the problem starts in Southside schools. More than a hundred schools begin kindergarten at five years old but did not attend preschool or Head Start (4-year-olds). When other kindergarteners are learning to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction stories, and are perfecting their identification of upper and lower case letters, comparing and identifying graphs, discovering plant types, and learning about American History, many kids have not learned the basics.

Why didn’t they learn the basics? For one reason or another, they did not attend preschool. For some, it’s a simple as a birthday fell in October so because of a birthday technicality, they were excluded from preschool and required to sit at home. That technicality put them one year behind. As their peers learned the three old preschool curriculum, they watched television.

Some of the same students didn’t get the Head Start curriculum either. The new Head Start program only has 400 slots and does not run a bus like the old Head Start. So the same child doesn’t get the Head Start program either.
When they start school in Kindergarten, these students are two years behind. Many of them never catch up.

A recent Free Press Freedom of Information request revealed some soul jolting statistics from the Monroe City School Board. This year alone 95 students began kindergarten without the benefit of attending pre-school or Head Start. There were 55 students who started the first grade without preschool or Head Start. They joined the 150 students from each year before until we see an ugly picture of hundreds of students who are two years behind, and there is nothing teachers or principals can do unless something changes.

First, stop blaming the principals and teachers. Firing them or punishing them won’t solve the problem. Changing the system will.
The district should find a way to ensure that pre-school and Head Start is guaranteed for every student bound for the city schools. The district should partner with any agencies available to help every child have access to both pre-school and Head Start.

The Local Head Start program, which is housed in a city school facility should be prohibited from turning away city school students, and it should provide transportation to needy families. The for-profit company makes money by cutting services to the poor, but it should not have the luxury of using a city school building and turning down its students or refusing to offer poor children transportation. If they can’t do that, then the district should cancel its lease with them and let them go.

With hundreds of students failing, many are being targeted for special education and being routed into a worthless career high school diploma pathway; the school board needs to address the core problem.

The problem is at the beginning, and it is carrying forward and hurting us all.

To fix this problem will require drastic measures, not bandaids.