Thursday, March 6, 2008

Half-full or Half-empty

This post is just a continuation of the "Students shine Pomona?"

Anonymous offered a view of my post that I hadn't fully expected, so I wanted to elaborate on my intent behind that type of a post. The critique if I understand it correctly was that students are succeeding at Pomona schools without a puff piece, so is there really any value to that type of a story. I guess I always see someone's accomplishments as a story. Whether that story rises above dinner conversation to reach the level of a Pomona schools news release is the school district's choice, but I fundamentally don't think PUSD is wrong in their effort at self-promotion. My rationale for the post reflects my view that the biggest hurdle facing this city is misperception: whether it's an overexaggerated concern about crime or a fear about the public schools.

The "feel good" stories, however annoying, are key to changing perception of PUSD. We live in a world of marketing and with a crop of parents who no longer feel an obligation to use their neighborhood schools, school districts need to "sell" their schools. Do I like it? No, but I'm not blind either. Successful schools actively cultivate their image by plastering these "feel good" stories into our psyche so we accept them as the norm. Would Anonymous have said "Look honey, those gangbangers and teenage mothers at Claremont really can do something!" if the post was about Claremont schools? Or would we just roll our eyes and say what do you expect, it's Claremont schools. I'm guessing these types of stories show up all the time in the Claremont Courier, so why not give these Pomona students and Pomona schools some credit.

If I could convince at least one of the "some of us" that aren't attending Pomona schools to take the chance, then maybe a school has a new classroom parent volunteer or a new student who can work independently. Perhaps the entire classroom will benefit if we can steal back these students that are fleeing to Claremont. Just in financial terms, how much revenue is PUSD losing because of the "perceived" superiority of the Claremont schools?

I don't know if others have noticed the couple of "feel good" stories that have trickled out of the Daily Bulletin in the last month or two. Is that an effort on PUSD's part to shape its image? I hope so. PUSD's negative image has taken years to evolve, so I doubt a handful of puff pieces will suddenly alter people's perceptions, but at least it's a start. I see the same hurdles facing the city. How do we convince residents both in this city and in adjacent cities to shop in Pomona? to spend time in metro Pomona? to dine in Pomona? I'm suggesting we need to control the message and focus on the PUSD is doing with these bits of news. We need to pummel the doubters with the reality that Pomona schools are succeeding through innovation, committed parents and students, and excellent teachers. We need the city employees and elected officials to show more restraint when playing the crime card and restrict their depictions to a city that is a safe place to live, shop, and eat.

Was there a story? Hell, yes and expect me to relentlessly applaud any students' accomplishments when they come to my attention.

If Anon wants to share their experience in PUSD and how it prepared them for college, feel free.


meg said...

I agree, but with the caveat that the strategy can backfire. Stories along the lines of "Pomona students now only in the bottom 15%, not the bottom 10%!" and "Students painted a wall!" actually reinforce the negative impression, I think -- at least for some nontrivial proportion of the readership.

Here's the rubric I just pulled out of my, um, hat:
* If you wouldn't run it for Claremont, don't run it for Pomona.
* If you would run it for Claremont, run it about 10% bigger for Pomona.
* If it's a hard decision for Claremont, run it for Pomona.

Anonymous said...

That's the way to tell them Ed! (Not the same as anon#1).

We, the citizens defintely need to write about the good because it is the bad that sells!

John Clifford said...

I have to admit that I've not looked well on PUSD in the past. I've been known to blame the schools, and the "fact" that they were so bad, for our historic districts not getting the family representation that a community needs.

However, over the past couple of years, with the new superintendent and more cooperation between the city and the school district, I've felt that the tide is turning.

Both feelings are perception, so something is affecting that perception.

We are moving toward change in the PUSD. There is now a position open on the board of education with the recent passing of teh longest serving board member in teh hsitory of the district, Nancy McCracken. I also expect that some of the other, older, members will probably decide to retire in the next few years.

Now it's our responsibility, as voting citizens, to make sure that the perceived improvements become reality and that the perceptions can continue to move in a positive manner.

Now that I'm near the proper age, I want to be able to sit on my front porch and yell at kids to "stay off my lawn," while chasing them with a rake in my hand.

Anonymous said...

(Anonymous 1)

No that's not what I meant. I meant that these stories reinforce tired stereotypes that Pomona students (excluding the "Phillips Ranch, CA" schools) do not achieve anything positive. Thus, any little thing is breaking news and it is perceived as absolutely amazing, a rarity, a grand exception to the rule that these students are actually doing something positive. We should keep the bar just as high for these students and accept nothing less that we would from Claremont students. Of course, there is that pesky little thing about inequality..well in everything when comparing Pomona and Claremont schools, but we can talk about that later.

How did PUSD prepare me and my friends for top tier universities?
-Mostly with the help from a select few devoted teachers who saw us as more than paycheck, and didn't see us as their future gardeners and nannies but challenged us to rise to the occasion and never allowed us to think for a second that we were any less intelligent than students at better performing schools.
-Not the bored and tired they prepared us for the "real world" because of the "diversity". Pomona schools are not diverse, they are segregated.

"No obligation to their neighborhood schools"? Of course not, they simply benefit from Pomona's cheaper housing but wouldn't dare sending their kids to school with "those" kids.

My parents weren't naive, lunatic or irresponsible parents for sending their kids to P.U.S.D. schools and neither are you.

Ed said...

Anon 1, "segregated" is well put. That's my greatest frustration and the reason for the post. Sorry if my sarcasm in the first post needed work.

John, just don't run too fast (given your proximity to the "proper" age) :-) Change can be fast, but the perception is always slow, so the city and school district have a long road ahead.

Meg, I didn't do the story on the students painting a wall justice. I'm always impressed when teenagers step away from the "me" world to do something for someone else.

Anon 2, thanks.

I can't escape the opinion that stories of this nature appear "breaking news" because we don't hear them very often. The obvious downside to the absence of a local paper. I'll save everyone the trip to and write about them when they come up. We should all know what's happening in the schools. Funny really, the schools were probably an important component of the social fabric in many neighborhoods. What have we lost by driving our kids to the "best" school.

In the crowd at a recent fundraiser was a candidate in the CUSD school board race. She commented that CUSD needs to look at Pomona because they are doing some innovative programs. That impression is consistent with my experiences, but I don't know how many other people in Pomona realize what PUSD is doing.

Sorry for the length I have a lot to say on this topic.

John Clifford said...

Don't worry, at least some of us are reading every word.

meg said...

I for one was talking about news coverage, not blog coverage. First of all, I snicker at the idea of any blog I'm involved with having anything as clear as a "strategy," and second of all, the ability to backfire is surely beyond our means.

calwatch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
calwatch said...

PUSD has problems, but they are at many other districts. The real problem, though, I think is that parents, especially those who are not Hispanic or Black, have some concerns about their kids fitting in at their local elementary or middle school. To be sure, there is a huge non-English speaking population, back when I went to PUSD schools (Lincoln and Emerson) over a dozen years ago.

Based on looking at the demographic data, many of the Asian and White students have continued to flee the PUSD in our local schools. I know several Pomona residents who have gotten intradistrict transfers over to Ranch Hills or Decker, bypassing neighborhood schools. Others use the Catholic diocese school system, or patronize the pricey Oak Tree Day School or First Baptist at the elementary level, and send their kids to Damien, Pomona Catholic, or I-Poly at the high school level.

For good or bad, the teachers or administrators that I sometimes see in "real life" at Council meetings or out in the community remember me solely because I was one of the few Asians or Whites (not saying which one I am) in the class. Even when they don't say that, being of a different ethnicity jogs their memory about my childhood years. Sorry for playing the race card but it's the truth.