YOU CAN LEAD A HORSE TO WATER
Luckily for Bolgen Vargas, it didn’t snow yesterday.
In fact, as he went door to door, shouting to voices on the other side that he was the superintendent of schools, the sun shone and the temperature pushed into the 40s.
He was out looking for students.
Him, and maybe a dozen others. Administrators, volunteers, the deputy mayor.
Out tracking down elementary school students, first-graders and second-graders, who hadn’t been to school.
For weeks on end.
Little kids who didn’t have anyone at home responsible enough to get out of bed and dress them and send them out to the bus.
Little kids whose slim chances at educational success were dwindling to nothing on the back of the irresponsibility and dysfunction of what passes for family these days.
It’s a hard-luck district, on the banks of the Genesee, in Rochester, New York. Though it spends more per student than all but six school districts in America, it lingers educationally year after year in the last percentile of the nation’s schools.
Everybody who can get up and go has gotten up and gone.
And that’s left is a crumbling rust-belt shell of a town with a big swath of urban decay running diagonally right through its middle. Plagued by crime, drugs and welfare dependency, the district is doubly cursed by some 20 years of educational “reform,” in which one egomaniac’s stupid policies have been surpassed by another’s, over and over, in a repeating cycle of hype and disappointment.
And this is Bolgen Vargas’s turn.
A man who had neither taught nor administered, he parlayed his tenure on the school board and a bunch of years as a guidance counselor into the best-paying public job in the region.
Who knows if he’s got it in him.
Who knows if he can refloat this Titanic.
More than 90 percent of the black boys who register for kindergarten will ultimately leave school without a diploma. The majority of girls who register for kindergarten will have children out of wedlock, a large percentage of them before they are out of their teens.
It is doom and gloom writ large.
The only winners are the staffers, contractors and consultants who cash the checks. The certain losers are the children born on the wrong side of a boundary.
The district is a model of dysfunction and ineptitude. Not two miles from a couple of the best school districts in the country, it is a perpetual pit.
But you can’t do something with nothing, and in his short tenure as superintendent, Bolgen Vargas has learned that most days he has nothing.
More correctly, he has nobody.
The chairs are empty.
The classrooms are only partially filled.
The students are truant.
And no matter how hard you try, you can’t teach the kid who doesn’t come to school. All the new gee-whiz programs the district comes up with don’t amount to a hill of beans if the children don’t come to school to take part in them.
If they don’t pitch, you can’t take your swing.
So Bolgen Vargas goes door to door.
He did it all summer, and he’s back at it again.
Cajoling, explaining, answering, pleading.
Trying to instill in a parent the sliver of responsibility necessary to actually do a child some good.
Kindergartners and first-graders, the youngest, sweetest and most innocent of students, little kids infused by nature with an eagerness to learn and excel. Instead of going to school, they are staying home. Not because they are bad kids, but because they have bad parents.
Parents who are too stoned, lazy, stupid or selfish to get out of bed in the morning, or feed their children, or dress them or send them out the door.
Stupid, dysfunctional people who seem even to lack the animal instinct to want the best for their children. People who threw away their chance at life and are now carelessly and cavalierly throwing away their children’s chance at life.
Before their baby teeth have even fallen out.
They don’t learn their numbers or their colors, or the letters and their sounds. They have no capacity and no opportunity to engage whatever it is that the teachers and administrators are trying this year at school.
It is an almost criminal act of neglect. A cursing of a young life at its very earliest stages.
And Bolgen Vargas is doing what he can.
One door at a time. The only way he knows how.
But he did the same thing all summer, and it didn’t work. So it’s not likely yesterday worked either.
We don’t just need to take these children to school, we need to take them away from home.
Away from the traps fate has cruelly thrown them into. Away from people too stupid to send their kids to school.
If we don’t, they haven’t a chance.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2012