Guest Opinion | Scott Harden: The PUSD School Closure Votes Are In: Where Do We Go From Here?

Published : Friday, October 25, 2019 | 4:39 AM

I’m a proud parent of a child enrolled in a PUSD elementary school, a PTA President and an ardent supporter of public education. In the recent school consolidation deliberations and decision-making, our community has ached while this process played out. We’ve struggled to understand the why and the how. Nothing has been more personal for us, searching for ways to minimize the impact on our children and the programs and schools we know and love.

I can’t begin to empathize what it must have been like for the PUSD Board of Education to have made these impossible decisions. But now that they’ve been made, it falls upon this same body to shape what tomorrow looks like, for all of us.

Now that the sun is rising on the future of PUSD, my plea to them is simple: Do not venture forward alone. This is the time to think big. With almost insurmountable odds ahead, never has there been a better time to re-make a PUSD in support of opportunity and equity. A unique, bold, unusual, fascinating, innovative district for those who have choice as well as for those of us who are struggling and see education as the way through the fire. Provide different kinds of opportunities you can’t get at the other schools that present their value on the face of a tuition invoice.

I’ve been a member of this school community for the better part of a decade and I’ve found it to be shaped by the beautiful minds of people who passionately want to see success in this district happen and have the capability to think it through in painstaking detail. I’ve seen it in the social media forums and I’ve lived it with vigorous debate. Here, in Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre, we have the human capital to bring about change. We will win when we differentiate ourselves from what the other folks offer and the equity that only we can bring when we offer it. Those other education entities in Pasadena are watching and they plan to monopolize on our lack of a path. We will not let them.

Let’s join together in partnership for a vision of the next 5 to 10 years to define the future of education in Pasadena. And I don’t mean bring together only our friends in education. I mean rich and poor, city leaders, urban planners, public and private industry and even our biggest, staunchest, most passionate critics. Our biggest problems get solved when we have the courage to think outside our own comfort zones. Let’s pitch the biggest tent possible and invite everyone inside to make a vision for education in Pasadena that we can all buy into. Let’s tear down the silos of miscommunication, traditional, single-agency thinking that limit our possibilities. Our educational challenges relate to lack of affordable housing, wealth disparity and declining birth rates. As such, it only benefits us to bring thought leaders who can speak to these challenges under the same roof to develop multi-threaded solutions.

We already know that people lash out in the darkness of what they can’t see or understand but they run to opportunity when they’ve had an honest hand in its creation. We owe our community the chance to light their own path forward and advocate for it, as stewards of their future.

I call for a series of open workshops, led by community facilitators, attended by as many people as we can invite, to do the hard work to make the most of what we have, and to dream a little about what we should have. Our tools won’t cost much… sticky notes, dry erase boards voting dots and sketch pads are the gateways to ideation. Our design principles should be “yes, and…”, “we can’t do it without you”, and “thank God you’re here”. Let’s start in large forums, align to common problems, vote on the best opportunities, break into smaller groups to solution and prototype ideas in safe spaces to test, fail and iterate so that the long term vision will succeed.

Let’s build a true vision for this district that we can get excited about, and find ways to evangelize it simply, energetically and inclusively. Not with slogans or catch-phrases but plain, optimistic language that can be talked about in coffee shops, written on the backs of napkins and through word of mouth, not just with slick glossy brochures and adverts. Let’s make our vision the message, and the message that one can claim “I helped make this. I may not agree with all of it, but I understand where we’re headed and why”. This ambition will only work if we have the courage of the people leading PUSD to listen. To collaborate. To empathize and to say those same words… “we can’t do it without you”.

This is the time for the PUSD Board of Education to enable the co-designing of a new PUSD, together with the people of this fine community. Through that work, we’ll have a truly accessible, inclusive district vision available to all, owned by all, and the necessary sacrifice that will be required of all of us to get there.

Scott Harden is a service designer, community volunteer, public-school advocate and currently serves as President of Don Benito PTA in Upper Hastings Ranch. He currently lives in the Bungalow Heaven neighborhood in North-Central Pasadena.

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