Friday, March 21, 2003
And on the home front
Although our eyes and minds are on the events in the Middle East, we can't forget the battles on the home front. Two town-wide meetings in the next week will shape, in some significant measure, life in Carlisle in the next year and the next decade.
On Saturday morning, all Carlisle residents are invited to participate in a "visioning" process to outline our common goals for our town (9:30 a.m.to noon, in the Carlisle Public School cafeteria). This meeting, sponsored by the Carlisle Planning Board together with the Concord-Carlisle League of Women Voters, is an early step in an ambitious effort to develop a long-range plan for Carlisle. As the population of Carlisle and the I-495 corridor continue to grow in the next decade, what will happen to Carlisle? Will Carlisle become more like Bedford? Concord? Chelmsford? Billerica? What do we wish to preserve? What do we need to change? And how do we get there? The questions are broad; the answers are likely to be varied. It is a starting point.
Next Monday evening, at the annual town caucus (7 p.m., in the Clark room at Town Hall), the town will nominate candidates for town offices. Our elected officials shape the town day by day. Their actions and decisions affect the education of our children, the preservation of our environment, the protection of our property, and the efficiency of our tax dollars. Candidates that will be elected this year, on May 13, will need to confront a number of significant issues in the next year. The board of health is developing regulations to license barns and stables. The board of assessors plans to revalue our property to eliminate costly errors and reflect true real estate values in a changing economy. The housing authority will try again to develop affordable housing, balancing the state's 40B law, the town's ambivalence, local NIMBY response, and the high cost of building and maintaining housing. The planning board must develop a rational long-range plan for the town. The school committee will fight to preserve our excellent schools with fewer dollars. And the selectmen must coordinate and balance all of the above. Not a trivial list.
We need at least two candidates for each position so that adequate discussion of issues takes place. We need enough citizen participation to generate a rich mix of ideas and approaches to Carlisle's current and future needs. What can you offer? Are you able and willing to make a commitment to your community at this time? Do you know someone whose ideas or skills can contribute to our common goals? The caucus will probably last less than 30 minutes, but its effects will last many years.
My son e-mailed me from California asking for some editing help on a short essay, part of a school application. The essay was lively and thoughtful. It extolled the applicant's leadership qualities and his superior skills in puzzle-making and solving simple math problems. He was said to be clever and kind, loving and giving, and good to his little sister.
The applicant is four-and-a-half years old. He is my grandson, and his parents are competing with many others for a slot in a prestigious private kindergarten in the Bay Area. I am a strong believer in public education; my son and daughter-in-law are products of both public and private schools in New England. So the thought of CEOs, doctors and lawyers writing essays about their exceptional children and seeking out friends of friends who know someone on the school's board was appalling. I remembered the story of financial analyst Jack Grubman, whose stock market manipulations and million-dollar donation ensured his twins admission to an exclusive Manhattan preschool.
I quizzed my son on the need for a private kindergarten. He said their neighborhood public school is "acceptable," but the classes are large; kindergarten is only a half-day, and enrichment programs have been drastically cut in California's budget crisis. The private school offers full-day kindergarten, music, art, and French, in addition to reading and math · for "the development of the whole child." A prestigious kindergarten, say the parents, helps guarantee a slot in a private school through grade 12. By extension, of course, they picture their child entering Harvard in 2016.
The young fellow visited the school for an interview and a playdate. He seems to have behaved well · that is, he didn't once say "yuk," or snatch toys from smaller children, and the teacher thought him "charming."
One alternative would be a move to a tonier suburb in the Bay Area, where the public schools are better, but homes are even more expensive than in Carlisle. A reality check convinced them that a move now would be impractical and expensive. Expensive? Thirteen years of tuition at a private school will likely exceed the gross national product of Canada · and that's just for one child. The little sister is now two years old. Then comes college, and perhaps grad school.
About two years ago these nouveau Californians had hoped to move back to the Boston area, but our high-tech industry collapsed and still hasn't recovered. I had even imagined them living in Carlisle, where the children would attend the public school. But for now they remain in California, where my son is gainfully employed.
Last week my grandson was accepted by the private kindergarten. This venture in early education has crystallized my thinking. It has strengthened my long-held confidence in the public school system, despite its shortcomings and challenges, especially in the early grades when children develop their social skills within a peer group. Later, if academic performance becomes an issue, private schools, with their smaller class size and special curricula, might be appropriate. While I'm grateful that my family can make a choice about their children's education, I wish that choice could have been deferred in favor of some public school experience
I'm pleased to live in a town that cares so deeply about maintaining the high quality of its public schools; I intend to support them, in Town Meeting and at the polls, as long as I'm financially able to.
Perhaps someday my grandchildren will be students in the Carlisle Schools · and no fanciful essay will be required for admission.
© 2003 The