Kaja had noticed Ronan Larson from a distance as he hopped off his motorcycle. She knew he was coming to the meeting with Principal Morrison. The last time they met was about six months earlier at a Teach for America recruitment event at the Moscone Center. Ronan was giving a talk about teaching English overseas through the Peace Corps while she came as an alumni representative for GEOS. The difference between her and Ronan was that she did spend a year in Tokyo teaching English as a Second Language to Japanese teenagers after completing a two year term with the Oakland Teaching Fellows. Ronan never actually participated in Teach for America. His uncle and mentor was on the advisory board and asked him to be on the panel because his ROTC background gave him credibility to talk about public service.
“Just another attempt at trying to be some Stand and Deliver movie plot main character for Ronan”, she muttered under her breath.
Kaja walked into Principal Morrison’s office and saw Ronan leaning against the wall staring right at her. He looked like another business casual preppy trying to be a cool laid back executive in designer jeans and brown leather jacket. Ronan’s hair had grown out from the crew cut he had at the Teach for America booth. If she didn’t know him Kaja wondered if he was there for a Macy’s photo shoot instead of a serious meeting with the district superintendent.
“Good Morning gentleman,” she said in her intentionally calm voice.
Hello Kaja, you remember Superintendent Ward from the last professional development day.”
“Yes,” she replied as she turned to shake Ward’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to see you again Mr. Ward.”
Ward was a Castro native who began his teaching career the same time Armistead Maupin’s first “Tales of the City” ran in syndicated short story form in the San Francisco Chronicle back in the 1970’s. He looked 35 but was actually closer to 50 and resembled a cross between Remington Steele and Connery’s version of James Bond. Ward was out and proud but his professional beginnings as a math teacher had him looking more like a conservative banker for the meeting.
“Thank you. Nice to see you again too Kaja. This is Ronan Larson the consultant I told you about who would be joining us,” replied Ward.
“Hello again Ronan.” Kaja extended her hand to shake his as well. It felt more like the boxer glove bunt that happened before a match than a handshake.
“Hi Kaja,” he said looking annoyed at having to say it.
She took her seat beside him as Morrison began to discuss the plan.
“The results are abysmal Kaja. Padua scored in the 10th percentile. Before you argue let me finish. I know what you and your team did to prepare these kids as best you could before the proficiency exam. I counted the number of hours and exercises you implemented. On the surface you covered all the bases but as Ronan put it in his report the numbers don’t lie. We need to try something else or we’ll be on probation by the school board.”
“Principal Morrison. I respect the results and am not questioning their accuracy or authenticity. What I am saying is that we are missing a vital element in improving score performance. While we are teaching these kids the material we’re ignoring the emotional component that’s in the way of their cognition.”
“We fed them so they would be able to concentrate.”
“I know and I’m thankful you supported me on that. We need more than lunches. We need to bring back a counseling program here. Partner with an agency that already works with the school board. Standards aren’t fair when we’re dealing with unequal social variables.”
“I hear you Kaja but it’s a matter of giving these kids the skills to perform under pressure. The exercises you gave them only covered the traditional methods of test taking. What they need is to be taught material in a different way in their regular classes to round out their preparation for a state proficiency exam,” Ronan interjected.
Kaja didn’t like Ronan’s tone. Sure the teaching style in the classroom needed to be revamped. The problem was the students didn’t see the point of trying. They saw no point to finishing high school other than getting it over with. Most of them were just trying to survive the streets, help their parents at home, and buy a car so they could do whatever they wanted once their 18th birthday came around. None of them cared about their scores. The only scores that mattered were those on a credit bureau report once they were ready to buy a car. School was just something the government made them do. Some of the students were already teenage parents who were looking to get a trade and work for the rest of their lives as soon as graduation was done. Math was only relevant to count how many hours they needed to work at Pizza Hut to save up for a down payment on that used car. Ronan would never understand that having a purpose was not the problem. Her students had one purpose. To get out of high school and work so they had the money to do whatever they wanted. Unlike Ronan, none of them saw the point of going to college and getting a profession. Instant gratification ran the motivations of Padua’s student population. Unlike Ronan, none of these kids were born into a set of circumstances that naturally gave them confidence. Unlike Ronan, most of her students felt unwelcome in the world.