Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How we got to Shamrock

In the spring of 2004, our son, Parker, was three years old, and it seemed time to start thinking about schools. But in Charlotte, in 2004, there were few easy choices.

From the late 1960s through 2001, Charlotte had desegregated its schools through an extensive busing plan. Then, however, a court order ended that plan. As parents scrambled to find new places for their children, the city's schools were rapidly resegregating, by class and race.

Our neighborhood's assigned school, Shamrock Gardens Elementary, was no exception. Few residents of our affluent neighborhood sent their children to the school. Instead, they left the neighborhood, placed their children in magnets, or paid for private academies. With a student body that was 90 percent poor and 90 percent minority, Shamrock became a classic example of a resegregated school.

As a historian, I had studied Charlotte's past. I believed – and still believe – that desegregating the schools was a stunning accomplishment. Peter and I were appalled by the speed with which it was slipping away. We did not want to be part of that trend.

We began to volunteer at Shamrock, and quickly came to love the staff and students. Working with a group of supporters, we convinced the school district to put a small gifted/enrichment program at the school, to ensure that advanced students would have the challenges they needed. Then we began to talk to neighbors.

It proved an uphill battle. People often lamented the way our neighborhood's children were scattered across magnet and private schools. But those other schools beckoned. There were language immersion programs. There was an all-gifted academy. There was a new private school right downtown. There was a brand-new public Montessori.

In the fall of 2006, neighborhood kids scattered as usual. Not one of Parker's friends started Shamrock with him.

Luckily, new friends were waiting.

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