School Choice & Charters Opinion

On Diane and Mission Hill

By Deborah Meier — September 13, 2012 3 min read
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Dear Diane,

I shall miss writing to you—but count on me to respond often to your blogs. And thanks for giving me the idea to do something similar—but not at your rate. That’s another amazing thing about you. Of many.

But Mary-Ellen, our editor, is looking around for a possible ornery correspondent who might disagree with me on enough stuff to be interesting to all of you and both of us. We might take it month by month ... or, we’ll see.

Meanwhile, I finally went back to see Mission Hill last week. Fearfully. First and foremost, the students and staff (and even the parents I met) think the new space is “awesome,” “wonderful,” like a private school.” (Eek!) It will take me a little longer to agree with them. I am, first of all, a creature of habit. I wasn’t an innovator, but stubbornly just trying to put into practice what I liked best about my own upbringing and schooling. My idea of “traditional” was the independent school one I went to 70 years ago, and at that time it was probably a half-century old itself. It wasn’t until I began substitute teaching in the early 1960s in Chicago that I discovered that there was another world out there. (My schooling was in the same tradition that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan experienced, and like the schools that President Obama has sent his girls to.)

So, I feel confident that Mission Hill will continue to match that dream, and outdo it in many ways for a very long time—as they innovate on the basis of the many experiences that a different body of parents, staff, and students bring to it. I also have to get used to the idea that it won’t be “just like” I remember it.

It seems both very spacious, light, and airy, AND “claustrophobic"—for me. There are few big windows that look out over trees and sky above. (You should see/hear me when I make hotel room reservations and go back and forth to the reception desk switching rooms. So pay no attention to this complaint.) But it sparkles and shines.

There’s space for our “town squares,” and the ceilings are pretty high; it’s harder to find one’s way around, but there are lovely little clusters of age groupings, just as before. There are spaces for things we never dreamed of, and hopefully they will be used to dream up great things.

But the people!!!! I just remembered, room by room, what a wonderful bunch of adults have gathered on Child Street. (That’s our new address: 20 Child Street, Boston.) While, of course, I didn’t see too many old-timer kids, I heard about a lot of them. And I met some new exciting teachers, and if it weren’t for new city and state regs that are coming crushingly down on us, I’d feel nothing but joy. I’m just hoping they can figure out how to “creatively comply” or some such.

But it’s intriguing that the Pilots—which were Boston’s early attempt to “pre-empt” charters are the thrust of a number of take-back freedoms. If charters are so good (irony/sarcasm?), why is it that “regular” schools aren’t seen as at the forefront for bringing the lessons of “charters” into the regular public sphere? Odd, isn’t it? Similarly, it’s hard for me to understand why the city moved us from a largely low-income minority neighborhood to a mostly middle-class one. We were “founded” to serve a population similar to that of the city as a whole—and to do that without quotas (which were dropped many years after we moved into Boston’s Roxbury area). We’ve managed for more than 15 years, but it will be hard to do it at our new site.

Note all those “We’s.” I still feel that way about many, many other schools that I had at least a finger/foot/head into at some point in time.


The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.