This is going to ruffle some feathers. It’s going to anger some of my classmates. I’m probably going to receive a couple of angry emails. I will also likely receive a few emails from people who won’t be angry, but who want me to consider their points of view. I’m prepared for all possibilities, and I’m also up for the debate.
I am a product of public schools in Kansas City, KS. I am a graduate of Sumner Academy of Arts and Science in Kansas City, KS. It is one of the best high schools in the metro area. It may even be the best high school in the state, and it is usually listed as one of the best in the nation. I received a quality education at Sumner Academy, which is billed as a college preparatory school. I was well equipped with the tools I needed for college. Sumner is a fantastic public school.
Because I am a product of public schools, I am also a proponent of the public education system. I am a champion for our schools, our students, and our staff. But as someone who loves public education, it is only fair that I offer an honest critique, which brings me to “our Sumner Academy ” (I literally sung that line, as if singing the fight song).
When I attended Sumner, you had to be invited. There were only two ways to get in: You could receive an invitation based on your past academic performance or you could take a placement exam. Oh, there was a third lesser known way to be invited. If you lived outside of the district, your parents could pay a fee…and like magic, your invitation would come in the mail. (I’m unsure if those who paid to attend Sumner had to also take the test. ) But let’s start here. You had to be invited to attend a public school. All of our parents paid the same ridiculously high amount in taxes that funded all of the schools. In many cases, students who lived within walking distance of my high school had to ride past it to get to other area high schools.
But that’s not my real problem with Sumner. The biggest gripe I had against Sumner was its air of superiority. The district was always touting some Sumner statistic and it angered me every time. Of course, we had the best test scores in the district, because we took a good number of the high achieving students out of the other neighborhood schools. While only a few of the people from my middle school transitioned to Sumner, I recognized so many people at our eighth grade orientation. We had crossed paths in all-city honor choir, and district-wide gifted education programs. Lots of my classmates had parents, who like my mother, worked for the school district.
I often wondered what would have happened if all those gifted kids would have been spread out all over the city. Would test scores have improved in the other schools in the district? Would graduation rates have been higher? I think they might have been.
Another problem with the public charter model of Sumner Academy was the difference in expectations. If you were planning to attend Sumner Academy in the eighth grade, you would have received a list of books you were expected to have read before the school year started. The reading assignments were sent at the beginning of the summer break. None of the other public schools required such reading. Sumner required a semester of Latin. Do you know how much you learn in a semester of Latin? I’m not talking about Salvete pueri et puellae. I’m not talking about Magister Lane’s lame Sempre Ubi Sub Ubi joke. (And yes, 20 years later, I still remember!) I’m talking about learning how to conjugate verbs, the basis of masculine and feminine words, and basically how to pretty much break down any big word into smaller parts. Every high school student should learn those skills. But I don’t think any other school in the district even offered Latin as an elective, while Sumner kids were required to take it.
Sumner Academy provided me (and my siblings, and quite a few of my cousins) with an excellent education. I’m actually hoping that if we stay in the district, that my kids will get the benefit of Sumner’s quality curriculum. I only hope that by the time my babies make it to high school, that the district will standardize the curriculum across all the schools, giving all of our kids the tools they need to be successful in college and beyond.