Politics, neglect doomed promise of The Academy
By Merlene Davis
March 2, 2003
Just before The Academy was established at Linlee Elementary School in 1997, purportedly as a Marva Collins school, black parents and educators warned that it would not work.
There was nothing wrong with Collins' teaching methods. Those have been a proven success time and time again.
What doomed the school to failure was the ugly head of politics and neglect.
In the spring and summer of 1996, Fayette public school administrators wanted to put The Academy on the south side of town, forcing its targeted black student body to take long bus rides to get there.
Black parents said no.
OK, then, school administrators said. We'll put it inside another school, making it a neglected stepsister to its original occupants.
Black parents said no. The school needed to be under its own roof with its own leadership. Black parents said it would not work otherwise.
The Academy was placed inside Linlee anyway, and the downward spiral began.
And it didn't work.
"I knew they were placing it into the tomb to watch it die," said Sam Jones, a parent who was among the first to propose that Lexington start a Marva Collins-type school.
"It's just so obvious that they cannot do anything that is requested of them by us (black parents). When we request it, it really cuts into their gut to have to take orders from us even if they know we are right."
The Academy has some of the lowest test scores in the district. At least half of the students in every grade at The Academy are reading below grade level.
In January 2002, the same month The Academy finally got its own building, its first permanent home, Marva Collins demanded any mention of her name be removed from the watered-down copy that was allowing children to fail.
She said that her curriculum was not being taught and that few teachers who had been trained to teach Collins' teaching method remained at the school.
After five years of moving from place to place, of not having the district's full backing, of being homeless, the school is now just another school in which poor or black children are failing.
I can't cry about the loss now. I cried years ago.
In 1996, using the Marva Collins teaching method, which they had learned in Chicago, Richard Greene, then assistant principal of Lexington Traditional Magnet School, and eight willing teachers spent the summer bringing children who had fallen behind in their studies up to snuff.
The Collins teaching method is a rigorous, disciplined approach that addresses every aspect of a child's development. The method doesn't allow for failure. If a student fails, then the teacher has failed, too.
Using that summer's startling success as proof, parents and educators alike decided to fight for a school in Lexington that used the famed Chicago educator's methods.
Children who needed special help were about to come first. Finally.
Then politics entered the fray.
With no autonomy, Greene abandoned the project just before school started.
"I've been in teaching for 30 years, and I'm not going into something half-cocked," Greene said. Several trained teachers left with him.
Then the school moved some four times in six years, an unbelievable number, because it was not a good fit inside another school.
When it was finally settled into its current location on Price Road, the curriculum had changed, and only about half the teachers were trained in the Collins philosophy.
"They went to Chicago and made a big flash," Jones said last week. "They learned how to make chocolate pie, came back and made lemon pie.
"Why would you take a model program that has been proven to be a winner," Jones continued, "and put your spin on it, a spin that has proved to be a loser year after year?"
You didn't have to be clairvoyant to predict its failure.
'A whole lot of trouble'
In 1997, Jones said virtually the same thing he is saying now: "It would be nice if just once the district did something the African-American community requested.
"That would have bought a whole lot of mileage, but now all they've bought is a whole lot of trouble."
Not trouble for the school system, mind you, but for those children who could have been stars by now but who are merely lost in space.
That's why I don't get excited any more when school administrators promise to "study" the achievement gap.
There is no studying necessary.
There are proven methods, including Collins', that we have allowed to die from neglect.
If her methods had been embraced, neighborhood children who are no longer wanted at the Lexington Traditional Magnet School could have been taught and taught well at The Academy's middle school.
Do we really want to close the achievement gap?
I don't think we do.
So, now we have two elementary schools within a stone's throw of one another -- The Academy and Booker T. Washington -- and each is fighting to maintain its own turf.
How long do you figure it will be before those two schools are combined to save money and a baby School for Creative and Performing Arts or Spanish Immersion School-North is created to fill the abandoned space?
If Lexington had really wanted to close the achievement gap, it could have done so by now. And done well.
That's a fact we all should cry about.
Reach Merlene Davis at (859) 231-3218 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3218, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ms. Davis provided permission to reprint her article.