A Bias, An Irony- Our (Education) Lottery

In Alabama, often our Public Education System feels (and sometimes literally is) like playing the lottery. The risk, however, is more than $20.

Recent events have me considering my opinion on the lottery. And no, Milton McGregor’s acquittal has no bearing here.

It was a year ago last month. Boss and I were on a road trip.

As we pulled in to a gravel lot at a rural South Carolina gas station, he looked at me with a calm eagerness and suggested, “Let’s buy a lottery ticket.”

“Huh?” I thought out loud, as I had never, not even once in my 30-something years, considered purchasing a lottery ticket. Having been raised in Mississippi and now living in Alabama, having the opportunity to take a ride on the education lottery train (at any given Chevron station) seemed just as foreign as could be.

“Come on, let’s do it…for fun,” he smirked.

For half a second, I thought about it.

Now, here’s something you need to know about me.

I don’t like to gamble, whether it’s in the stock market or at a blackjack table. It is what it is. In the few instances that I’ve stepped foot in a casino, I’ve clenched my clutch close. I know the chances that I’ll die on my way to buy a lottery ticket are greater than the chances that I’d actually win the darn thing. Furthermore, I’ve never really had alot of money to “play” with.

I looked at my husband with deep consideration. This notion of spending twenty dollars on a few lottery tickets seemed absurd, a bit ramshackle (much like the gas station we’d rolled into). If I was going to waste our money, I’d buy myself a new hat.

“What would YOU do if you won the lottery?” I asked.

He said (and this surprised me)…

”I’d pay off our mortgages and our student loans. I’d focus my time on the market, and I’d get as involved as I could in Birmingham City Schools. I’d volunteer, you know, whatever needed.”

“Nice plan,” I said, blushing, once again realizing how genuine this man is. “We’re not buying any…it’s not worth the risk.”

That’s the end of that story. Now let me tell you another one.

It will all be decided in a few hours. I’ll pack up the boys and we’ll head over to Avondale Elementary and we’ll await the lottery drawing that will determine the fate of Sweet Pea’s 4K future. Basically, we have a 1 in 4 chance to send our four-year old son to a free pre-Kindergarten program just down the street, made available at only a few schools throughout the (budget-strapped) city and, therefore, open to a greater inventory of potential students. (Let me conclude this statement by sharing that Dr. Witherspoon has guaranteed a second PreK teacher at Avondale, should the demand appear.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why on earth would we be vying for a spot in a Birmingham city school? They’re failing, after all. They are dilapidated and caving in and archaic and miserable. Right? I mean, that’s what we were told (by some presumptuous non-residents) when we moved to Crestwood. It’s a popular stigma around here. You go private or you sell your house and move to Crestline. Or Homewood. Or Hoover. Or Vestavia. Or {fill in blank}.

Well, we aren’t conventional people. And when we began considering Sweet Pea’s education we wanted to know, simply, why our neighborhood elementary school wasn’t deemed an option for us. We wanted to hear from parents, and school administrators, and elected officials. We just wanted to know the truth – for ourselves.

Here’s what we’ve discovered, so far…

The elementary school we are zoned for is a beautiful, historical facility. (Read its history here.) There is a strong focus on arts-integrated curriculum. The music room (my favorite spot in the building) overlooks a panoramic view that includes UAB, downtown, Sloss, the airport, Forest Park, and Avondale. The teachers are unique and lovely; they seem to love their school and their work. You can see there is a tremendous amount of positive energy within this building. The students are confident, they are disciplined, they say please and thank you and look adults in the eye. They want to learn. They want to be nurtured. They want to feel safe.

Now, over ninety percent of this school’s population receives free or reduced lunches, although the surrounding area is composed of Forest Park, Highland Park, and South Avondale neighborhoods. Do I need to point out the demographic disparity here? This neighborhood school is not full of neighborhood children, but the students that are there, bused in from other (less affluent) parts of the city, are getting a great education. Avondale Elementary is a place of learning and loving. And anyway, isn’t that what parents want for their child’s primary education?

And what about the PTA, you ask? Well, it’s struggling. From what I understand, it’s been defunct for a few years. Parent engagement is weak. (Especially when compared to Crestline Elementary’s 70-something (parent-led) committees?!)

If I may, let me blatantly insert my opinion here. I believe it’s the parents. Nine times out of ten, it’s the parents.

But I’m getting off point…

I could go on and on about the myths and truths regarding Avondale Elementary. It’s just one school in a very battered system/state/nation, but it’s the one that sits a mile from our home. We love everything about our neighborhood, and we’re just kind of over the hushed “where to send your kids to school” conversation that echoes throughout Jones Valley. And, much to our delight, we’re not the only ones.

Parents and neighbors have been gathering. We’ve been talking. Recent meetings have included the school’s principal, Dr. Ann Curry. We’ve also been joined by Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, school board member Brian Giattina, parents of homeschooled children, parents who send their children to private school, people who have neither kids nor live in this neighborhood. What I’m saying is, there’s vested interest here. People realize the important of education in the renewal and future development of Birmingham. (By the way, did you happen to catch Mayor Bell’s editorial in yesterday’s paper?) People are talking… The right people are listening… Things are happening…

Yes, I promise to update you on tonight’s outcome. Whether or not we secure a spot in Avondale’s PreK program, we are 100% committed to giving it a shot, even if that means waiting until Kindergarten. We’ll just continue to visit the school and meet parents and teachers in the meantime. As long as we see commitment to education and professional integrity coming out of Avondale Elementary, we will support the school and those who wish to do the same.

Why didn’t I let Boss buy a lottery ticket that day? Well, to be honest, money is tight. It seemed like too much of an unnecessary risk.

I hope you see where I’m going with this…

Some families can’t afford (and/or aren’t attracted to) the private school option. Some people really love living in the city of Birmingham, in the state of Alabama, in the United States of America. We decide where we make our home, and we pray that we have the tools we need to raise our families there.

Public education is a nation-wide taboo. Our family lives in the Crestwood neighborhood, in the city of Birmingham. We’re doing what we can, where we are, as much as we are able. We hope it’s enough, and we hope it’s worth the gamble.Whether we like it or not, we’re playing the lottery.

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3 Responses to “A Bias, An Irony- Our (Education) Lottery”

  1. David Hogan says:

    Excellent article! BUT, it’s really NOT taking a chance when you have the opportunity to influence the outcome. Your family has done so in the Crestwood community by being involved.

    Touche! I bet you have a winning ticket!

    David Hogan

  2. LKW says:

    Thank you, David. Not sure how much influence we have, but we definitely fight loud/strong/fairly.

    Here’s to the potential!!

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