Kestrel Heights

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This is a review of the Kestrel Heights charter school based on an open-house visit on 2008-01-30. We spent maybe an hour sitting in on 3 classrooms, with a group of maybe 5 kids (all of Central Park School's 5th grade was visiting, but we split up).

Quick Summary

The academics seemed pretty good. I was less impressed by some of the social policies, especially the dress code, but those are only likely to cause problems for some kids.

Dress Code

Kestrel Heights has a dress code (newer info, PDF) which is about one step short of "uniform only":

...polo, Henley, or turtleneck style pullover shirts (long or short sleeved) in solid white, red, navy, or dark green colors with khaki or navy blue bottoms (pants/shorts/skirts/skorts/jumpers). Students may wear sweatshirts or sweaters (in shirt colors); no jackets are allowed inside the school. Not allowed are clothing with logos or printing of any kind; please refer to the Code of Conduct for additional details of the dress code.

It was also mentioned verbally that shirts must be tucked in at all times (something I hated doing, and never do as an adult); there may be other details in the official handbook.

It may be that they are not excessively strict in enforcing this. In the gymnasium, for example, we saw two students wearing white t-shirts with writing on the back (maybe this is allowed for gym classes only?). In the classrooms, we saw students wearing hoodie-style jackets, though I think these were all official Kestrel Heights attire, as I saw the KH logo on at least one of them. There were also other outer garments, e.g. ponchos.

The teacher who introduced us to the school (Mr. Credle) said that the dress code was for two specific reasons:

  1. preventing gangs by preventing clothing associated with gang membership
  2. preventing teasing by disallowing "fashion" clothing – "Everybody looks alike,", he said, "and if everybody looks alike, then nobody can tease anyone for looking different." (To paraphrase slightly; "everybody looks alike" is an exact quote, however.)

This strikes me as totally bogus, and I'd like to know if they have any data to support this. My own experience suggests the opposite, at least as far as the "teasing" issue goes; for this and other reasons, it seems to me that a dress code actually works against the stated goals:

  • My own experience: at the Durham Academy middle school, where there was also a dress code (albeit somewhat milder than Kestrel's), there was no end of teasing -- about, for example, my choice of brand in shoes (not something regulated by Kestrel's code). At CFS, on the other hand, where there was no dress code (their current dress policy is, essentially, that clothing should be "clean, comfortable, and appropriate"), the emphasis was on positive reinforcement. If you didn't choose to dress up or be fashionable, that was fine and nobody made anything out of it.
  • By emphasizing the value of conformity and uniformity, a dress code (especially when put in terms like "everyone looks the same"), they implicitly give backing to the idea that deviation should not be tolerated.
  • By focusing on enforcement of a dress code, the school may be overlooking other more effective ways of preventing teasing; my favorite method is to promote an atmosphere of tolerance by emphasizing that people are different and that it takes many different kinds of people to make the world work. The time and energy they spend dealing with dress code enforcement may take away from time and energy better spent preventing teasing in this or other ways.
  • Gangs have many other ways of indicating membership, and I have a hard time believing that a dress code would be a major factor in preventing them from gaining members. There may be solid data showing it to be an effective measure, but I haven't seen it.

All that said, most kids won't have a problem with it.

Personally, at that age I would have a problem with having to tuck my shirt in, but (like the good sheep I was at that age) I would probably have gone along with the rules -- and have been constantly ragged for forgetting to tuck it back in when it came untucked.

A more serious issue, getting back to reality, is Zander, who often comes home with a shirt which started the day in good condition but now has huge holes in it. This means that we get cheap or used shirts from whatever source we can – typically hand-me-downs, and often with writing on them, often not solid colors, and often not in the approved Kestrel colors. Buying uniforms for him, however cheap they might be, would be a money-hole.

If the dress code were truly useful, I could see spending the money, time, and effort (clothes-shopping is one of my least favorite activities) for the greater good – but it sets off my bullshit detector, and I think it's more likely the expression of an authoritarian streak somewhere in the school's leadership.

Pledge of Allegiance

I don't know if this is a state requirement for all public schools including charter schools, but I need to say something about this.

I approve of teaching kids the ways that America is a "great" country, and what America's re-introduction of the concept of democracy (and related ideas) has meant for the world.

I don't approve of teaching kids blind obedience to a symbol, i.e. the flag, and I don't approve of "under God" (which wasn't even in the Pledge as originally adopted), which violates the (now very threatened) separation of church and state. "Allegiance" isn't quite the right word, either, and I'm not sure it makes sense to have minors pledging allegiance to anything anyway, but that goes off into other issues.


Things I was going to write about, but now probably never will: Academics, Social Atmosphere