Liza Elcayam was my daughter's wonderful teacher in kindergarten, second and fourth grade.
After years of working online, it seemed like just another attempt to gain cheap publicity on the backs of moms who use social media. The money is significant... unfortunately, there are thousands of schools in this country who are hurting for funds. How do you pick the 20 most worthy? Certainly not through a popularity contest.
Then I received an email from the PTA President of Megan's old elementary school.
Out of thousands of eligible public and private schools throughout the country -- somehow -- Darby Avenue Elementary had garnered enough votes to make it into the Top 100. And it was the only LAUSD school to make that list (just one out of nearly 800 in the District).
It had a shot.
So I went to the Kohl's Cares Facebook page and cast five votes for Darby Avenue Elementary. I liked the fact that you get 20 votes to allocate any way that you like to as many schools -- but are limited to five per school. So I was able to vote for Megan's former middle school and current high school, as well.
Then I checked the rankings. At the time, Darby Avenue Elementary was number 80 with about 5,000 votes. The Top 20 schools were almost all private parochial schools on the East Coast, with 50,000 votes a piece. I think there was one public school in the entire list.
Obviously, there are folks at these private schools who have been engaging in some sophisticated social media campaigns to garner that volume of votes.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. After all, that's how Darby's PTA managed to get 5,000 of its own votes out of a school population of about 300 students. And it's exactly what I did by tweeting news of the campaign to my 4,500 followers... and writing this post here.
Since then, Darby's stock has gone up on the Kohl's leaderboard: At this writing, they're ranked #52 with 9,402 votes. But the top vote getters are in the astronomical range: The number one school has nearly 83,000 votes. Eighteen of the top 20 are private parochial schools -- and now, there are some on the West Coast, including one I've never heard of that's right here in my community. There are only two public schools in the entire Top 20.
I would love to see a report on how those schools campaigned for those votes. That will probably come when the competition ends (after September 2). In the meantime, I was pleased to see that Darby Elementary was getting some media assistance of its own today, by staging a rally that included a visit from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. And it was covered by all of the local news stations, including Fox, which set up cameras at the school at 4:30 AM this morning.
My fingers are crossed that in this huge metropolitan region of 24 million people, some will be motivated to get onto Facebook and vote for this little elementary school in Northridge. As Villaraigosa pointed out, all they need is for 10,000 of those people to cast five votes and they'll hit 50,000. (OK - so now they will need 20,000 people to do that... but that's still a tiny fraction of the people who will see the news coverage.)
At the same time, I see the irony in going all out to support a school that's already doing better than most in our troubled school district. Darby has some really good teachers and an energetic PTA. They don't have as many English learners and low income families as other schools in the district. Their API scores are high. At first glance, this is a school that doesn't need help.
Unfortunately, there isn't a public school in the district that doesn't need financial help. Every year, LAUSD squeezes the budget belt tighter. Every year, our schools lose teachers and support personnel. Five years ago (when my daughter attended Darby), there were classroom aides and janitorial services. Now, I'm told that parents are being asked to donate the most basic supplies... like toilet paper.
Half a million dollars could bring back instruction in the arts... music... science... a school nurse...
I keep hearing on the news that while money is tight and unemployment is high and banks are not lending... at the same time, corporations are sitting on big piles of cash. Kohl's is spending $10 million on a social media campaign that is getting everyone with a child in school to talk about them, engendering good will in the community and ultimately, garnering them new customers. It sounds like a pretty good return on investment.
What if more major corporations followed suit? I'm not talking about more popularity contests -- but what if Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, Federated, Kroeger, McDonald's, et al each threw some real money at our nation's schools?
I can dream, can't I?