What Happens When a Rich and Poor School Share the Same Campus?

A magnet school teacher speaks up about the inequalities that have plagued her campus for ten years.

All kids across America deserve an equal education. (Photo: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Annemarie Ralph is a teacher and Magnet Advisor in Los Angeles, California.

I’ve been teaching for 13 years, and I think the number one thing that would make our profession just a little bit easier is collaboration. I was shocked during my first year of teaching to see how little teachers shared information. I found myself searching for those that would help and I didn’t find much.

People have always asked me what I thought our school was missing. Was it funding? No, our school has soared since the budget has been cut. Was it leadership? We have gone through more than seven principals in 13 years. Leadership that sticks around sure does help, but I think the number one thing that can turn a school around is true collaboration.

When I’m at a workshop and people share things about their schools and how well they collaborate, I want to work with them. I want to join a team of professionals who work together to help students achieve. I want to turn things around and make my own school better. I am in awe when I go to conferences and whole teams of teachers from schools are there together, because I am usually alone.

What makes us this way? It’s now the culture on our campus, but how do I change it?

Teachers at my school have shown some of the worst behavior I’ve ever seen in adults. They talk about each other as if they were enemies. They hoard materials and information from one another. They are sneaky and unkind.

Why? I’m pretty sure it has to do with working at a place that hasn’t had an equal playing field. We’ve had two separate schools on one campus for ten years. One is a magnet school, which has had extra funding, and our regular school, which has had bare minimum funding. Why the magnet school has had extra funding, I do not know, but I do know it has led to a campus that is truly divided.

Can you imagine working across the hall from a classroom that has a full set of laptops to use every day, and your kids do not have anything but pencils.

Can you imagine working across the hall from a classroom that has a full set of laptops to use every day, and your kids do not have anything but pencils, which are hard to come by, for ten years? Can you imagine that for ten years the Magnet has a parent organization that brings in thousands of dollars a year but just for the Magnet teachers, and being told that the regular school cannot form a parent group because there can be only one on a campus?

Can you imagine what it’s like for ten years trying to answer this question from a 12-year-old: “Ms., why do those kids get all that extra stuff and we don’t get anything?” Can you imagine?  I can, because I lived it.

I always said I would never send my own son to my school because of the inequality on campus. I did not want him to sit in a classroom of “haves” while the “have-nots” sat across the hall. And shame on everyone who has sent their kid to that school and not done anything to help.

But that’s in the past, and it’s now time to move forward and take advantage of our new campus arrangement coming this fall. Our school is about to enter a new era—next year we become a school-wide magnet. We will have three separate magnets on our campus, each with a different theme, so we should all finally be on an equal playing field.

After more than ten years of watching the inequality, hopefully it’s coming to an end. So now that this problem has been fixed—the playing field being equal for all three schools—how do we get teachers to trust one another and collaborate? I don’t know, but I do know when schools on the same campus have to compete with one another, it doesn’t help anyone.

Instead of competing with each other, we should be focusing on being the best school we can be. We need to come together. We need to work together to get the job done.     

I hope the teachers can rise above the pettiness of the past and do what’s best for our kids. We have amazing teachers on our campus. If we could get past the gossip, the negativity, the culture of not collaborating and the unnecessary competition, I truly believe we could be the best school in Los Angeles. We could be a school where I would be proud to send my son.

We ask our students every day to collaborate with each other, exchange ideas, and create as a group in order to make things happen. That’s exactly what we, as teachers, need to do—collaborate, exchange ideas, and create as a group. Now, everybody wins. The teachers, the school, and most importantly, the kids.

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