Save PMSA! Don’t allow us to “merge”

Yesterday I stayed until after 9 p.m. to attend our district’s Board Meeting in which the community was asked to voice their opinion on District 209’s Facilities Master Plan. One of the ideas is to close–or merge PMSA with Proviso East or Proviso West. Of course, it’s a terrible idea. PMSA was just ranked #8 in the state of Illinois by US News and World Report. HERE

About 20 people from the community showed up, students, parents, and three PMSA teachers.
The meeting was livestreamed on the PTHS D209 YouTube channel. HERE I was one of the last speakers and can be found at 2:28-2:35. This is what I said..

Hello, my name is Silvia Foti, an English teacher at Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy.

I’ve been distressed about all this discussion about moving PMSA and the animosity against PMSA from the other schools. I don’t even think it’s coming from the students. They’re not in charge of the restructure. The adults are.
So I hope that the whole idea of moving this school is not about envy.
These students at PMSA are achieving so much. As you all well know, so many of them come from very difficult circumstances. Many don’t have a lot of money, many are children of immigrants or arrived here as immigrants themselves.
As an English teacher, I try to make connections between the literature we are reading and our own lives, and so very often we have deep, meaningful conversations in my classroom in which the students share personal things about themselves.

So I know from what has been said out loud in the classroom and what has been written in personal essays that we have students who have been children of drug addicts, who have left them on the street to fend for themselves. Some have joined gangs. I know many of these children have been raised by their grandmothers for most of their lives, and God bless those grandmothers.
Despite all these obstacles that so many have faced, these students are achieving at an amazing level, far beyond the rosiest hopes of people who founded this school, who conceived this school long before I ever arrived. I came here 11 years ago, so this school was a vision long before I arrived. PMSA is now #8 in the state. Whatever is happening here, is happening because it’s working.

I urge you don’t move the school.

You cannot take what these students are achieving here at this location; you cannot take what is working so well, against so many odds, and propose such a radical change.

I was a journalist for 20 years before I became a teacher, and I believe that if you move this school, it will be a public relations disaster.
Please don’t move the school.

When we’ve done something well, something perfectly, we move onto the next project, the next task. We’ve achieved our goal at PMSA. Let’s move on the East and West. If you tinker with what has been achieved here, you might break it, and how will you get it back? If you move it and things get worse, what do you do? The move will be irreversible.

If people are envying what is happening in this school, I submit that it’s because their needs are not being met. Our students have what they need. They want to go to a four-year college and they see the connection between what they’re doing here, and how that will help them in the next stage of life. As a result we don’t have an absenteeism problem or disciplinary issues.
We need to look at the other two schools and find out what excites those students. At the core of their education, they will still have a college prep curriculum, but we need to augment their education with other sorts of opportunities. I think we’re going in the right direction with vocational choices. I think we’re doing a great job with automotive, culinary, and cosmetology training.

Instead of moving PMSA and messing with what is happening here, how about figuring out how to add something special for the other two schools?
I also have an idea that could be a big help and would be something completely new and different and radical that is not happening anywhere else, as far as I know. You would make some very positive news with this new concept. I suggest you hire more psychologists and social workers to work full-time addressing the emotional needs of students. Offer students individual therapy and group therapy, along with English, Math, Science, and Social Studies classes. Address their emotional needs at a very deep and intimate level, where it will really make a difference.

Finally, I would like to close with this–on a positive note, if you will. I live near Midway Airport, and one day, an amazing band marched down my street on the Fourth of July. I swear I didn’t know who the band was at the time, but I was so impressed at their sound, their energy, their marching, their uniforms, their charisma. And then, of course, I saw that it was the Proviso East Band. That band is something really special. Whatever that band has is something to admire, to be in awe of, something to cheer, to be generous with, to love, something to be enthusiastic about. That shows that the students at East and West are capable of great things. It’s our job as the adults to provide more of these opportunities.

Moving this school will do nothing for them and nothing for PMSA students.

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