*Waving Frantically* I’ve Moved: My New Address is…..   Leave a comment

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Posted December 26, 2011 by mlseward74 in Uncategorized

“I’d rather be smart than pretty any day” and Other Tidbits of Wisdom from My Granny   1 comment

As kids, we often heard little sayings from older people, like ‘A hard head makes a soft a$$’ or ‘I can show you better than I can tell you’ or ‘You don’t believe fat meat’s greasy!’ More often than not, we didn’t even understand them but we knew that we had done something wrong and were on the verge of getting in trouble. I remember a lot of things Granny said to us as kids and now that I am an adult and parent, most of them make perfectly good sense. I often think about the wisdom she imparted to me, in particular, because I am sharing a lot of those lessons with my own kids.

Today was a fairly quiet day at work, as we are into the third week of the semester.  That means: no registration (late or otherwise), no explaining financial aid intricacies (even though we clearly are not the financial aid office), and very little advising. None of the drama I wrote about a few weeks ago. But something happened today that got my dander up (yet another one of those sayings). A student came into the office because she needed to complete an assignment for the college’s new College Skills class, akin to the Freshman Seminar or Intro to College course offered on other campuses. The mere fact that she needed help is not what bothered me, but rather the fact that I helped her with the EXACT SAME ISSUE last week! GUess what she needed help with??? Microsoft Word! No  need to adjust your screen or grab your reading glasses (for my over 30 crowd)…you read that correctly. And she is younger than I am. I can’t blame Smartphones, cell phones, the boogeyman, or Mr. Charlie. She is responsible for this deficiency. I have an almost-8 year old who has been a master at PAINT since she was about 4. I can’t even use that damn program. I can’t blame lack of access to computers either because they are available in the public libraries. And the reality is that she is not the only student who lacks basic computer skills.

But here’s the real reason(s) I am pissed:

1. She’s a young, Black woman

2. She has a child

3. She has a cell phone (much nicer than my pay-as-you-go)

4. She has hair the color of Wendy from Wendy’s

5. I ALREADY HELPED HER WITH THAT LAST WEEK!

Somewhere along the way she, and many other young women, have been complimented on their beauty, booty, or a combination of the two. And somewhere along the way she, and those countless others, came to the realization that they didn’t need to be ‘smart’ (or have common sense for that matter) because they were cute. Sure enough, as I am sitting there steaming and biting the hell out of my tongue, my late grandmother’s voice resonated in my head: “I’d rather be smart than pretty any day.” As a little girl I didn’t understand why she said this, but it always stuck with me. Brains last forever but beauty fades…I get it, I get it. She pretty much ‘programmed’ me to excel academically because she knew that it would take brains to succeed in this world. No, I did not know that as a kid but hearing her say that repeatedly, had an impact. So I struggled to remain professional while working with this young lady even though something or someone inside of me was yearning to take her and shake the hell out of her. Yes, that’s the level of irritation/ire I felt. But I have no desire to go to jail so I opted to sit and think about how I could express my feelings in this post.

I started doubting whether I could actually do anything for some of the students. Am I too hard on them? Is expecting them to come to school, i.e. a college campus, with their pants pulled-up, breasts covered, sans midriff tops or anything exposing their chest tattoos and stomachs too much to ask? Am I expecting to much for them to understand what it means to be a college student? Or that people died fighting for their right to be able to step foot on any college campus? When a student comes to me and says that s/he doesn’t know why an instructor dropped him/her from a class do I really have to ask if they have been to every class? Are or should the expectations at a technical college be lower than a 2-year or 4-year college or university? Here lately I kinda feel like I went into this thing blind. I mean, I expected to ‘advise’ these students on being successful in college but I often feel as though everyone around me has been bitten by the ‘This is how it’s been because people don’t like change and all you can do is advise them to the best of your ability’ bug. Some days I feel like I am still in K-12, or working for people from the same family. Apathy is both contagious and potentially deadly, depending upon the situation/environment.

I don’t know…maybe my boss was right: Maybe I do take things too seriously. After all, we can’t all be on time for work, care about the quality of service we provide to students, or advise them correctly right? Or maybe I am in this environment to learn a lesson (or two). I do know this: I am beyond making excuses for people. I, too, was a first generation college student. With regard to getting ‘homework help’ in high school, I was pretty much on my own, as I am sure a lot of people were. I am not knocking my family in any way but rather demonstrating that, at some point, we have to take ownership for our learning. Stop the excuses. Stop the ignorance. Stop the finger-pointing. Or at the least, pray that someone will intervene on our behalf and either show us the way, give us a stern talking-to or shake the hell out of us.

I will end this rant-gone-awry with this message, from one glasses wearing, book-reading, violin-toting, late bloomer to all the kids experiencing the same thing: It gets better. You’ll get smarter. You’ll outgrow your awkwardness. Even if you don’t, remember what my Granny said: “I’d rather be smart than pretty any day.”

They Can Slow Me Down, But They Can’t Stop Me..or Why I Have Decided To Fight From The Outside   4 comments

I have spent the past month recuperating from two round-trip drives home (Indiana, 12 hours each way but I managed to shave off an hour coming home the last time…no snitching!), a minor illness, and a 7 Day Mental Cleanse (upon the advice of my Life (saving) Coach @MyLifeKeys and @StephanieAlva). I will be honest, I thought I would go crazy without my social media vices (mostly Twitter but I missed Facebook a little too). After the first 2 days, I was actually getting used to and making the most of the free time by reading, thinking (without thousands of other people’s thoughts coming at me), and planning to launch my own business(es). I was amazed by the amount of work I accomplished by unplugging from the extra noise.

Being away, however, did not change this drive I have to fulfill what I believe is my purpose in life: Use my knowledge, education, and passion to provide equal education and access to the arts for minority and/or low-income kids. I am human and I will admit that whenever I hit a roadblock, I get frustrated. I question why the path to ‘doing good’ is always fraught with politics, red tape, and malarky b.s. Why is it that when someone (Read: A black, female, outspoken, liberal, and educated Yankee -that’s what they call me in the South, as if it hurts my feelings) identifies a need within his/her community, the powers-that-be old White boys’ network works so hard to make people believe there is no such need? But then I check myself because any time we (minorities) start shouting about our realities and how we perceive know things operate, we’re labeled as sensitive. Or even worse, we get accused of playing the ‘race card.’ First of all, I don’t view this thing called life as a game. So what in thee hell is a ‘race card?’ And unfortunately, the majority of us with melanin-infused skin and obviously non-European features cannot pick and choose the days that we are something other than what the mirror reflects. My point, and I do have one, is that someone (whom I respect a great deal, even though we don’t agree on everything), validated the feelings I’ve held for the past 4 years: There is no place for (all of) us at the table. And by ‘us’ I mean those who are not willing to placate, secret handshake, shuck-n-jive, skin-n-grin, or throw kids, single moms, or teachers under the bus to make others comfortable enough listen to us, let alone hear and consider us. Or give us our own segment on some Cable News Network.

As I read two of Jose’s (@TheJLVposts, I thought: I can either spend my time, talents, and energy trying to get on the ‘inside’ so that I can fight them on their turf, or I can fight from the outside by continuing to encourage parents to speak-up and be the advocate their kids need. I can also fight by doing my own thing; providing opportunities for our kids, where the local board of education’s approval is not needed. Yeah, I think that would be a much better use of my time.

Whatever they throw at me, I will always win as long as I remember: They can slow me down, but they can’t stop me.

Who Moved My &%$$@#! Cheese and Why??   1 comment

Yes, I’ve read the book. And hell yeah maybe there was some truth to the manner in which I handle change, but at least I don’t blame other folks when their late and/or half-arsed last-minute and ill-planned changes affect thousands of people. Or send them to the wrong department simply because I don’t feel like being bothered. The past 2 weeks at work have been the closest thing to hell-on-earth that I have ever experienced. With the transition to a semester system, advising and registering hundreds of new students (on a 19-hour work week), and a bunch of other stuff that does not fall anywhere within my job description, most nights I have been in bed and asleep/comatose by 9 P.M. And anyone who really knows me knows that I don’t sleep before 1 A.M.

With all the things that have been going on at work and my personal life, I have been forced to step back and reassess myself and who I really am, as well as why I am the way I am. (Hope that all made sense) I have been working with my life coach @StephanieAlva of @MyLifeKeys for several months now. I will admit that I have made some noticeable growth and positive changes, but I also recognize that I have a very long way to go…..but I am human and some SHAT still bothers me.

The people in my family were raised with a very strong work ethic (now that doesn’t mean all of us still have it, but it was taught). I always take what I do seriously. I guess you could say I subscribe to the ‘Play hard or go home’ theory because you are either all in, or all out. I believe that any issue/problem with an organization is a reflection on me, as I am a part of that organization. Sure, I am a lowly part-time employee, but I still walk around with my I.D. badge that clearly identifies me as an employee. And as long as I do, I expect the organization to make a positive impression with our ‘customers’, i.e., students. BTW: I do not refer to them as customers….that’s org speak. I cannot tolerate people passing the buck or simply telling students ‘I don’t know’ simply because they are not in the mood to deal with an issue created by their department. Or worse, sending students to an office to ask about things NOT related to the duties/responsibilities of that office. When the hell did it become acceptable for people to do as little work as possible, while still giving the illusion that they are actually ‘earning their keep?’ Did they not get the memo about our country being in a recession? Or that there are thousands of more qualified and better-educated unemployed people waiting for an opportunity to actually do some work?

For almost 4 years I wanted nothing more than to find a job. I have one now but I am working and reading anything I can find on becoming a successful (key word) entrepreneur. Yes, I love working with students and helping them as they get started with the high education journey but I’ll be damned if most days it seems as though 80% of what I do has absolutely nothing to do with the purpose for which I was hired. I am starting to feel like ‘Peggy’ from those Capital one commercials. I am literally running out of excuses to give people!!!!! And when I have to say, ‘I am sorry, but I do not have the answer to that question. I do not know why they sent you to this office because we do not handle fill-in-the-blank issues,’ I just feel like I am yet another person giving them the runaround. But I digress because I have to catch-up on 3 weeks work of data entry, which I could not get done because I refuse to have students wait while I enter crap into the computer.

The more I think about it, the more I wish our ‘customers’ would start demanding better service. Or at the least, take their ‘business’ elsewhere. As the tried-and-true saying goes: ‘Money walks, and b.s. walks.’ A school cannot pay its bills if there are no students.

A Day Late and A Dollar Short….   Leave a comment

For those who have never used the phrase or understood what ‘A Day Late and A Dollar Short’ means, click here because I am trying to keep this post short so that my ire doesn’t increase as I write. Let’s see how I do….

My adventures with the local district last year were….let’s say ‘interesting.’ I wrote about my experiences with the elementary PTA, the lack of services provided to Title I students by the high school, the non-school choice options, etc., etc., etc. Two weeks ago, before I attended the Open House at the elementary school, I promised myself to leave the house with a positive and open attitude. And I did! I don’t usually have issues with the elementary level bureaucracy, as I learned a long time ago to just bypass the principal and go straight to the county office. I even decided to let them slide on the photo mix-up for my two girls last year: One was a 1st grader and the other one was a 4th grader. Their pictures got switched in the yearbook. Granted, they are sisters and they do resemble each other. Oh yeah, the youngest is slightly taller than the oldest. But damn, if a kid tells you that she is the youngest/oldest, why wouldn’t you believe them? *grabs drink* Anywho…

So tonight I attended ‘Curriculum Night’ at the elementary school. This is the opportunity for teachers to review the county’s Academic, Knowledge, and Skills (AKS) curriculum. Yes, Gwinnett County is so special that it has its own curriculum. After all, they did bamboozle win $1 million bucks from the Eli Broad Foundation. As I am listening to the teacher review new policies and procedures for the school year, imagine my dismay when she said that this year the district is doing something ‘new.’ That new thing goes a little something like this: Any student has the opportunity to re-take five assessments that he or she failed during each quarter/nine week period. Using my old-school math skills, that calculates to twenty assessment re-takes during the school year. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not upset about the opportunity to get a better grade on a test. I am, however, kinda pissed that this new policy is the prime definition of ‘A Day Late and A Dollar Short.’ If you read any of the blogs I wrote about how much my son struggled with Integrated Geometry last year, you may slightly understand my level of pissed-offness. The teacher’s words began to sound like those of the teacher on Charlie Brown: wah wah wah wah wah……

I couldn’t help but wonder (even though I already knew the answer): ‘Why did they wait until now to implement this new policy?’ Yep, I already know the answer. In a nutshell:

A bunch of non-Title I, non-minority, non-disabled, non-ESL students flunked either MATH I, MATH II, or MATH III last year. Some probably made-up the credit through Credit recovery; a bunch others probably did not. Of those who did not recover the Math credit, they likely will not be classified in their correct grade this year because you must earn a Math credit each year to progress to the next grade. Sooooooo, a bunch of kids may/may not graduate with their intended class due to the ‘new Math,’ the district’s reluctance to use the flexibility granted by the Georgia Department of Education, and the stubbornness of the powers-that-be in holding onto some facade of being a ‘world-class’ school district. I can only imagine the outrage of the parents who had plans for their kids to get the HOPE Scholarship to offset the costs of college tuition because they must maintain a 3.0 GPA in their core classes, e.g., Math, Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies. A kid who has failed one or more of the Integrated Math classes can pretty much kiss their hopes for HOPE goodbye now. Silly me; I was only worried about my son graduating from high school before he turned 21. Where are my priorities?

Stay tuned because I do plan to acquire the numbers, broken down by AYP subgroup, of students in Gwinnett who failed the EOCTs for MATH I, II, and III before and after summer school.

What Can I Say That Hasn’t Already Been Said?   2 comments

DISCLAIMER: I tried to avoid writing this because I knew I could go on and on. I suggest you only read this if you have time to read from start to finish! You’ve been warned!

Well, aside from the childhood favorite: ‘I told you so.’ I am no longer a child, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t think that exact thought in my head when what I and anyone else with common sense already knew the final report regarding the cheating allegations within the Atlanta Public School System was released. There was, in fact, cheating going on during the previous years’ CRCT administrations. And by ‘cheating’ I do not mean students looking on other students’ test sheets. I mean teachers and administrators erased answers in an effort to boost the schools’ and district’s test scores and ensure that both made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Quite honestly, I do not know where to begin with this tomfoolery. On the one hand, you have the students who thought they passed the test on their own merit; I am sure some of them did. But on the other hand, you have teachers and administrators who violated testing protocol to ensure that their school made AYP. (READ: They cheated to make sure they got bonuses and kept their jobs.) Some staff members even resorted to ‘cheating parties,’ where they took answer sheets to the home of an administrator during the weekend to change answers. So now we have not one, but two testing violations: (1) Changing answers on a testing sheet; and (2) removing test documents from the school building without the authority to do so.

I decided against blogging about it (see how long that lasted?) and opted to tweet a few thoughts instead:

It’s possible very likely that everyone involved (meaning teachers and administrators) will lose their licenses and/or face stricter penalties. (The state education officials need a scapegoat.) Kathy Augustine has been  placed on leave as the new superintendent of the DeSoto Independent School District and local media sources are in Maui trying to locate Beverly Hall….and no, this is not a soap opera – I am still in the process of writing my blog. The truly sad part in this entire matter is that no one will address the issues and instances of bullying and intimidation suffered at the hands of administrators, area superintendents and the like. I am sure state officials will find other ways to tighten test security; however, the damage, not completely irreparable, has already been done. Someone needs to do the right, ethical, and difficult thing by addressing school culture and leadership. In this case, lack thereof ethical and moral leadership. But I know that people in authority roles are more interested in making friends/political allies and forging mutually beneficial (monetary) partnerships. As I stated earlier: Officials need a sacrificial lamb. In this case, they got 178 of them.

Now what? Grade inflation scandal? Those of us who have ever served time (pun intended) in a classroom already know that pressure exists to inflate grades to boost passing rates and G.P.A.s. I guess we need to wait another 5-10 years before ‘officials’ catch-on to that one. But I digress….

Parting thought: I dodged a bullet.

The results are in……but don’t celebrate just yet!   Leave a comment

Earlier this week, the Georgia Department of Education released the overall results for the Georgia High School Graduation Tests (GHSGT), which will become a thing of the past for the Freshman class of 2011 (READ: Performance for the state and districts as a whole, not the results for AYP subgroups. Those results will not be made public until mid to late-July) . I won’t go into my P.O.V. on phasing out the test here, instead I will save that for another day when I find myself putting off struggling to write. Today we got a glimpse of the overall performance on the state’s Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), which is administered to kids in grades 3-8; those in grades 3, 5, and 8 are required to pass the Math and Reading tests in order to be promoted to the next grade. As I read the article in the AJC and Maureen Downey’s AJCGetSchooled blog, I didn’t even bother to dissect the scores or pop a bottle of champagne in celebration of the what they want you to think is good news. Instead, I pulled a few snip-its from the article, tweeted them, and added my own .02, which all follow below:

EDUCATIONCEO TheParentsEducator
Math scores highlight CRCT gains  | ajc.com ajc.com/news/math-scor… #Georgia #CRCT #testing #education
EDUCATIONCEO TheParentsEducator
So they are spinning the test score results to say new Math curriculum might be working.How do we explain scores for h.s. students? #Georgia
EDUCATIONCEO TheParentsEducator
And why in the heck are schools ‘preparing’ for the test at beginning of year? Let teachers teach & test prep is not necessary.
EDUCATIONCEO TheParentsEducator
One student said a few questions were poorly written or confusing.http://ow.ly/5eoAZ (This comment from a student is especially troubling.)
EDUCATIONCEO TheParentsEducator
I won’t celebrate CRCT results until I see the AYP subgroup breakdown…which takes them FOREVER to release… #Georgia
And that last tweet is the motivation for writing this post: We cannot and should not measure everything our kids are supposed to learn based on one test, especially since that test does not measure growth. And we cannot distract the public from the real issue: The ever-present and pesky opportunity gap. Yes, my 4th grader passed all four sections on the first administration; I had no doubts that she would pass. But each day she came home and she said she was tired of testing….she said the same thing last year. Boy Wonder was one tired soul too. As a high schooler, he had to take End-of-Course Tests (EOCT) in three subjects as well as final exams in all six classes. That’s just testing overkill.
I will credit State Superintendent John Barge for phasing out the GHSGT and instead, using the EOCT as 20% of the final grade. However……..we still have to address the obnoxiously obese elephants in the room: The ‘new’ Math Curriculum and the toxic fall-out, including (1) the drop in GHSGT Math scores, (2) increase in the number of students taking remediation/credit recovery courses; and (3) the number of students who will be disqualified from receiving the HOPE Scholarship because their low Math grade lowers their overall G.P.A. (in core classes only). Yep, Boy Wonder now fits into two of the three afore-mentioned categories because he failed Integrated Geometry, and miserably I might add. Despite that setback, he still managed to crank-out a 3.1 G.PA. this year but more than likely he will be disqualified from receiving HOPE (both the scholarship and actual hope.)
But seriously, when are we going to start doing the things necessary to actually eliminate the opportunity gap? No, I am not speaking in terms of closing it because anything that is closed can easily be reopened, right? When you eliminate something, it is gone and has no chance of returning unless those in power create the conditions conducive for its return. Hmmmm….marinate on that one for a minute (or hour/day/week/month). I think that in order to eliminate the opportunity gap, we (all) need to acknowledge the reasons why there is a gap to begin with. Unfortunately, there are too many people who are uncomfortable with the truth would rather believe that everyone has had an equal opportunity at eradicating generations (plural) of illiteracy, poverty, and just overall lack of opportunity.
I didn’t set out to change the world with this blog post. Instead, I just want people to keep their eyes (and ears) open, use discernment and common sense when people try to convince you that we are making considerable strides in education.
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