During his junior year of high school, Montgomery native Nick Powell was accepted into a magnet school. Hallways filled with students casually walking to class and sometimes even fights were replaced with teachers making sure no one skipped out on their school lessons. In that moment, Powell noticed the difference between his current school and his past school. Yet, he was not quite sure what caused the schools to have such a stark contrast.
Montgomery Public School teacher Priscilla Collins worked at traditional schools in Montgomery for 22 years. Collins said there are several opportunities presented to magnet students that traditional students lack.
“Magnet students receive more invitations to extracurricular activities and social engagements. They have more community connections and alumni support,” Collins said. “There is also inequity of supplies and low parental involvement for traditional schools.”
Today, the effects of residential segregation can still be observed in Montgomery Public Schools through a policy known as the nearest school plan.
The nearest school plan, more commonly known as school zoning, leads to traditional public schools with higher dropout rates, lower standardized test scores and discipline issues.
Minority students often suffer academically as a result. The school where Collins teaches is classified as failing by the Alabama Accountability Act. “The racial demographics of my current school are approximately 95% Black; 3% Hispanic; and 2% white,” Collins said.
In the Montgomery Public School system, 11 traditional schools are classified as failing. Collins explains that school zoning is not fair and is “the catalyst for impoverished schools.”
Some zoned students are denied the ability to attend magnet schools even after applying. Students who are denied often can not afford to attend private schools. Therefore, the only option they have for an education is to remain at a traditional school.
Powell attended traditional schools in Montgomery from first grade through tenth grade. He initially applied to a magnet school in response to criticism about his grades.
Powell noted some of the differences he observed at his new school. He said he didn’t remember speaking to anyone from any colleges while at his previous high school but “would need both hands and feet to count how many colleges came to talk to [him] at Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School.” Powell explained his new school stressed the importance of standardized testing and internships, something that was absent from his previous school.
Montgomery native Opal Khotsombath attended magnet schools for nine years. Khotsombath detailed the notable differences she observed between magnet schools, traditional schools and private schools.
“Magnet schools generally offered a more challenging curriculum such as AP courses which allowed students to earn college credit. Private schools definitely had easier access to more resources,” Khotsombath said. “Traditional schools often lacked a school staff that properly educated students about their future opportunities, how to afford attending college or who to consult for help.”
Within Montgomery, residential segregation leads to areas with concentrated poverty, crime and failing schools.
‘Traditional schools in less funded areas of the city or in parts of the city with a lower income range are less able to provide a well rounded and nurturing education system,” Khotsombath said. “Over the years as a student, I don’t believe I have seen any increase in attention or extra aid for these schools.”
Over time, residential segregation will affect more citizens of Montgomery directly or indirectly. One of the indirect effects is Montgomery Public Schools accreditation being under review. If accreditation is lost not only are students in failing traditional schools affected but also those in magnet schools.
Rather sooner than later, residential segregation must be taken off the back burner and dealt with. Resolving this issue requires time and preparation because this type of segregation is deeply rooted into Montgomery.