Monday, May 20, 2013

Baby Steps...Academic Distress Commission Part Deux

Four hours and missing a son's first baseball game of the year is what it took for me tonight to have renewed hope for Lorain City Schools and our kids.

I sat through several presentations during today's Academic Distress Commission meeting regarding staffing levels, a district leadership and staff survey and Mr Tucker's academic recovery plan.  The specific numbers regarding staffing are all available online at the ODE website and reveal some things we knew and some things some of us didn't know.  For instance, I knew we were down in teachers, but what I didn't know was that we are down below what the state recommends  by over 40 teachers.  We're down more than 30 administrators.  We're also down students according to the state but the number they claim we have was startling to me.  6100 students is a very low number as far as I'm concerned.  We also have 1900 students in charter schools in Lorain according to the ODE.  That's 5 elementary schools worth of kids being taught somewhere else because we have failed them in one way or another.

There is however good news that needs to be spread.  The Academic Distress Commission adopted unanimously, in their bylaws, a provision allowing public recording of the meetings.  After today's four hours, I'd love to be able to lay in bed and watch the proceedings.  There also seems to be a sense of urgency in the commission.  Not necessarily a "rush" per se, but an obvious need to move forward with the process of turning around education in Lorain.  With that in mind, many people in Lorain have not noticed the work already being done by the administration and Mr. Tucker.  A plan has already been put into action to turn things around academically and even financially. Mr. Tucker's presentation was complete and decisive.  He covered all the bases, has ALREADY put the plan into action, even mentioning to the ADC that he wasn't going to wait for their plan and said "we don't have time to wait". The commissioners unanimously agreed that Mr. Tucker's plan and presentation was a great start and Mr. Ramos even mentioned that it's possible that the commission's work could hold the district back if they didn't adopt Mr. Tucker's plan as a foundation for their own recovery plan. Yes Virginia, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

You should have a renewed sense of hope for our schools. Take it from the most critical parent in this district.

Those of you out there saying parents are not a part of the district or that we have no say, let me tell you a short story.  I met with Mr. Tucker and Dr. Hall several weeks ago and one of the things I mentioned to them was a need to get kids to school every day and on time.  I suggested to Mr. Tucker that we should somehow get the courts involved in truancy issues.  I'm not talking about putting people in jail or something so severe at first, but we needed some sort of mechanism to just give parents a nudge. The process could become more extreme  and involved in the case of habitual truancies.  He said he agreed with me and I made some phone calls.  One was to Pat Jacobs in the Juvenile Division of the Domestic Relations Court.  She's the director of the School Liaison Program where they provide the "truancy officers" and the teeth needed to keep our kids in school.  It just so happened that she was going to be in a meeting that Mr. Tucker was also going to attend so I asked Ms. Jacobs to approach him and BAM! Mr. Tucker is planning on using their services once the BOE approves the minimal cost.

I'm not saying it was my doing that this came about. But at least I had a small part and that's the point. You can make a difference.

Parents cannot "run" the district.  That's Mr. Tucker's job. We can provide input and our time to help.  They're our kids too...remember?


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

To SFA or Not to SFA...Why is that even a question?

Lorain City Schools is considering "again" changing the reading program teachers use in classrooms.  We currently use the Success For All program which has its pro's and con's just like any other reading program.

I spoke on the phone with a Board of Education member this past week and the subject came up regarding the change and the "sales pitches" that were about to come.  He made the claim based on what a "few teachers" had told him that the SFA program didn't even include "phonics".  I have in front of me the K-6 SFA Program Overview(with sample lessons), and have gone thru it.  Phonics are throughout the program.

Now he was either mislead, or he was misleading me but that is an issue for another time.  Right now I'm focusing on the "change".

I attended the regular Lorain City Schools Board of Education meeting on the 15th of May and I read this statement to Mr. Tucker and the board:

"Gentlemen, Mr Tucker,

Since 1971, the United States Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics has been tracking Reading scores as a country through the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  On a scale of 1 to 500, in 1971 we stood as a nation at 285 for 17 year olds, 255 for 13 yr olds and 208 for 9 yr olds. We are now at 286 for 17 yr olds, 260 for 13 yr olds and 220 for 9 yr olds.

Over the past 42 years, we have gone up and down in scores, never by more than 12 assessment points.  A 12 point increase in a 500 point scale is not much. An average of 6 points increase over those same 42 years indicates that not much has changed in reading no matter what reading program we use or don't use.

Our proficiency test scores have indicated for over a decade that we, just like many other urban school districts have issues with reading, no matter what reading program we use.

Gentlemen, we do not have a reading problem, we have a participation in reading problem and that problem is in the home. I hear every day in a school with 12 classrooms that only one or two classrooms have completed their Read and Respond homework every day.  Some days it is none.

Mr. Tucker, when you were being considered for the position of Superintendent, one of the things that the Morning Journal said about you was your ability to connect the parents with the schools. Please sir, lets try and focus on that connection.  Let’s try to regain the trust of the parents of these children and like you did in Sandusky, get these schools connected with the parents.

We can have the best reading program on the planet but without having support at home, it will not change a thing."

The Academic Distress Commission is going to make changes on how we need to function academically. If THEY tell us that SFA is the reason we have issues with reading then it will need to be changed. Until then, any change, survey or "vote" by teachers is a MOOT POINT and frankly a waste of time.

SFA is already in place. Our test scores haven't gone up or down much in the past decade with several different reading programs. Why change now when in a month we may be told to switch back?

We have a more pressing issue in front of us, and that's how to reconnect our schools and education with our parents.

Like I said to the BOE, without parent participation no reading program will have much effect on anything. Getting the message out that education is vital to the future of these children and they need their parent's help should be our first task.

Community leaders, NAACP, pastors, Boys and Girls clubs, Cub and Boy Scout troop leaders, make education a priority. Preach this to your parents. If you don't want them to be in the same boat they're in now, help the children get the decent education I know we're capable of giving. Teachers, reach out to your children's parents for the good things that are happening in our schools, not just the bad.  Make the education experience and the connection you have with parents not be just about the negative.

We can do this...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I'm ticked…however I must exercise “full disclosure”.

Several years ago my son began attending kindergarten in Lorain.  He attended the same elementary school my two daughters attended while the school was run by an exceptional principal in the 90’s.  Our experience with the “new” principal was not so great and I will not name her. I have spoken directly with Mr. Tucker regarding that same principal who is apparently still behaving the same way. Having been “spoiled” by the exceptional principal, we refused to accept the behavior of the principal who replaced her.  After discussing and researching our options we decided to do the unthinkable; take our son out of Lorain City Schools and move him to Horizon Science Academy. Our daughters were very successful in Lorain City Schools and we had very few minor problems for which we are very thankful.  Taking our son out of Lorain’s schools was a very difficult decision but we were not going to allow him to attend a school whose leadership was so abrasive.

We were promised the moon and stars at Horizon.  What we got was a horrible classroom, dangerous building and an administrator who sat in our home for the mandatory “home visit” for over an hour and spoke 2 words.  Hello and goodbye.  I do not believe the man spoke English but was the vice principal.
After 6 weeks of that nonsense, we decided that Mrs. “Rough and Stuff” was better than overcrowded, inexperienced and dangerous.  We decided to “come home”.  We called the school my son had attended before.  They told us we'd have to find another school because his had no room.  We called Charleston and they told us literally to “call around” to find one that would take him.  Thank God we called Toni Morrison Elementary first.

Toni Morrison Elementary School is by far the best school any of my children have attended.  The Principal Megan Young, SFA Facilitator(AKA Vice Principal)Suzanne Silva, teachers and support staff are all incredible.  My son has had classroom contact with most of the teachers there in 4 years and they are all great teachers. We have a brand new building, they communicate with parents, we have an active PTO, very few discipline issues and we have parents who participate in events to the point that we have to separate some of them because the crowds were getting too large.

Why would someone want to leave a teaching environment like that?

Why would a comment on Facebook that says “child’s name has been accepted into Clearview Schools”  get more “Likes” than the same parents’ comment that Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus had been found alive?

Really?  If your child cannot succeed at Toni Morrison Elementary then I'm telling you now, you'll have a hard time anywhere else.

I STRONGLY urge those of you considering fleeing our district to reconsider.  Wait at least until the latest round of OAA test scores are released if academics are the reason.  If there’s a personnel issue, contact Charleston. Don’t stop until you have exhausted every measure you can before making the same wrong decision my wife and I did.  The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence.

I’m just saying this as a parent now.  Give them a chance, tell them what’s wrong. Call Mr. Tucker’s office and let him know how you feel.  He will listen.

We're starting a Parent Advisory Council in Lorain.  We have got to get more parents involved in their children’s education and we have got to get the disconnect fixed between Charleston and the parents in the district.  The schools cannot do this alone, parents cannot do it alone and Charleston can't do it alone.  We all have to assume our roles in education.  Lookup Parent Advisory Council on Facebook, get involved.  For some of us, it’s going to be a ton of work, but for most of you it’s simple.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

How many "Starfish" have you tossed back into the ocean?

So tonight I went to DeLuca's Place in the Park to celebrate my wifes' 15 year anniversary at Mercy Regional Medical Center.  Prior to recognizing the employees, the MC shared a story some of you may be familiar with, the one regarding the starfish and the old man.

It goes something like this:

"An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach.  One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer.  As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean. "Young lady," he asked, "Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" "The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die." "But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference."  The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves, saying,

"It made a difference for that one."

It made a difference for that one.

Those of us in the business of helping children, teaching children or leading children are approached by "old men" similar to the one mentioned in this story every day.  They ask us why do we do what we do, why do we "waste our time", why do we sacrifice ourselves and put up with the bull and there's so many that need help how can you make a difference?

I say to those who resist our efforts and ask them how can we NOT help, how can we not make a difference.  We do make a difference, every day and sometimes to only one child at a time.  But for that one child, it may make all the difference in the world.

What "Starfish" will you gently toss back into the ocean tomorrow...