‘Difficult Conversations’: Broward School District holds event to discuss school closures

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While browsing social media Wednesday night, Cathy Carey, 61, saw a list of the lowest-enrolling public schools in Broward County and one school caught her eye: her alma mater Hallandale High School, the same majority-black school it had been to in 1974. She and her mother walked to In a protest march to open the area.

She felt the district could close it because it was operating at only 64% of capacity. She panicked.

“I was hurt so bad I couldn’t sleep,” Curry, who graduated from high school in 1980, told the Herald.

Read more: Have you or your child recently left a public school in South Florida? Tell us why

The next day, Thursday, I decided Attend an area event About this topic at Fort Lauderdale High School. It was the first of three events Broward School District officials planned to seek community input on its plan to close or repurpose at least five of its 239 total schools in the 2025-26 school year. They say the district must change because it has lost about 58,000 students in the past 20 years.

Instead of holding a traditional town hall on Thursday, district officials held talks in small groups.

NJROTC cadet Kaidan Caramana, right, holds a sign to direct the breakout group

NJROTC cadet Kaidan Caramana, right, holds a sign to direct the “Pink” breakout group to their location in the first of three Broward County Public Schools town halls regarding school closures.

Broward Public Schools Superintendent Peter Licata succinctly explained why the district needed to impact at least five schools. Officials then divided the roughly 150 in-person attendees inside the school hall — and about 200 people who tuned in online — into eight groups and directed them to different areas such as classrooms and the cafeteria. They assigned a facilitator to lead each group and surveyed them using an artificial intelligence platform called ThoughtExchange.

Facilitators asked each group two questions using ThoughtExchange and then led a discussion of all the groups’ answers, which they could see and grade online.

Narnik Pierre Grant, center, pulls out her phone to participate in the breakout session as during a town hall hosted by Broward County Public Schools to discuss the possibility of closing schools in 2025.

Narnik Pierre Grant, center, pulls out her phone to participate in the breakout session as during a town hall hosted by Broward County Public Schools to discuss the possibility of closing schools in 2025.

The first was: “When a district decides to close or consolidate schools, what should we consider most. What are the most important considerations and why?”

Some answers included bus schedules and transportation concerns, child well-being, maintaining or improving the quality of education, increasing targeted programs for specific careers in the future, overall financial impact on the district and class sizes.

The second question was: “How can we make changing schools a positive experience for students, teachers, and the community to help our schools become the best they can be?”

These answers included phrases such as “infrastructure is key,” “increasing students’ mental health,” and “paying teachers a decent wage.”

The first question bothered Carrie.

“Seeing that makes it seem like the decision has already been made, and it’s disingenuous to bring the community together here,” she said.

Zoe Saunders, the region’s chief strategy and innovation officer, was facilitating Carey’s group and apologized. She later told the Herald that the original question was too long and in the editing process lost some clarity.

“She fully admitted that was a mistake,” Saunders said. “We will try to formulate this question in the future.”

Overall, Licata, who has been in and out of all the group’s settings, told the Herald after the event that he thought things went well.

“I thought tonight was pretty good,” he said. We had some really good conversations; We had some really difficult conversations…it was the first night. We’ll redirect some things, fix some things. We’ll go over what people said. “Heard was done.”

Complaints regarding coordination and use of artificial intelligence

Others in Carey’s group raised concerns about the area’s logistics for the event.

Narnik Pierre-Grant, the parent of a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and chair of the school district’s diversity committee, said she doesn’t like being divided into small groups.

“I wasn’t happy with the look. I don’t think it was good for the people in this area,” Pierre Grant said. “When they were announcing it, they made it sound like a town hall, and that’s not what it was. “It was difficult for people who were not tech-savvy.”

In response, Licata said the district never called the event a “city council meeting.” The district’s official webpage and flyer describe the events as “community conversations.” But he acknowledged that the region could address this point further in the future.

Shelly Navarro Winter, right, opens the breakout session as Broward County Public Schools held the first of three town halls to discuss the possibility of closing schools in 2025 with the community due to declining enrollment.

Shelly Navarro Winter, right, opens the breakout session as Broward County Public Schools held the first of three town halls to discuss the possibility of closing schools in 2025 with the community due to declining enrollment.

Overall, he said he understands there is a history of mistrust in the school district and that may influence some viewpoints.

“We know we have to build trust. This is new to this area, and I’m new to this area. It’s going to take some time,” he said.

Similar to Pierre Grant, one of the teachers who attended Thursday, Erica Hunsinger, of West High School in Davie, felt the district could have surveyed people at home instead of conducting an in-person survey. And that the use of artificial intelligence did not foster “deep and honest conversations.”

After group members answered both questions, they had to vote up or down the other attendees’ ideas. Finally, the platform produced a “summary” with conclusions about what people said, which the facilitator read aloud.

“This is not the way to engage the community,” said Hunsinger, who has been teaching for 20 years. “I was confused. It was strange.”

After the group stopped looking at their devices in Hunsinger and Pierre Grant’s group, they began to chat. One woman said she was traumatized in 1995 when the district redistricted some schools and she lost all her friends; She said she didn’t want her children to experience that either.

“Her story touched me,” Hunsinger said, noting that the woman was unable to share those feelings and those details online on ThoughtExchange, and that may have hindered others from sharing their own stories.

In response, Saunders said the district decided to use the platform to collect more data and spark ideas. She said she does not over-rely on her findings, because she will also take into account other factors when deciding which schools to change such as enrollment, neighborhood demographics and facility condition.

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