Archive for May 2010

Big dreams require big faith & friends with big hearts   6 comments

Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is about my desire to fulfill my purpose by helping the kids of my community. If you do not believe in faith or big dreams, please stop reading. From this point forward, only positive thoughts are allowed. Thank you!

Have you ever wanted something so bad, that the thought of never getting or achieving it caused you to lose sleep at night? Have you discovered your true passion but are at a loss for ways to make it happen? Have you ever had a dream that you were afraid to share with people because they would probably have something negative to say, like ‘That will never happen,’ or ‘You’re dreaming too big.’ How did that make you feel? I know when the Georgia’s charter schools division told MSA that we had 30 days to raise $1 million dollars, I was devastated. And quite frankly, a little pissed. But that is not why I am writing this blog-appeal to you. When I finally accepted that God wanted me to keep hold of my purpose, but use different means to achieve it, I felt as though I had achieved victory. No, the school did not open and we did not raise those funds, but I found another way to do what so desperately needs to be done: Provide quality arts programs for kids in my community, for free. More specifically, I want to provide free arts programs to kids who may not otherwise have access, either because their parent(s) do not have discretionary funds or the arts are not easily accessible, meaning the programs ARE NOT being offered in the schools or the community as a whole.

Those of you who have been following either my blog or tweets for any amount of time already know that I hold no punches when it comes to discussing criticizing public education, especially here in Georgia and Gwinnett County. I participate in both #BlackEd and #ArtsEd chats on Twitter to discuss what’s wrong. More importantly, I offer my opinions on how I think things could and should be, not because I am an expert but because I have common sense. I have been in both traditional and alternative schools. Kids talked to me. About everything. Many of the things they shared were not coerced from me; they obviously felt that I was trustworthy enough to have the intimate details of their lives. That meant (and still means) something to me. I made the right decision when I decided to become a teacher and I miss working with kids. Everyday. But thankfully my passion for the classroom and kids didn’t leave when I chose to advocate for my own child instead of remaining in a job/school where I was neither respected nor valued.

As I mentioned earlier, we did not raise the $1 million dollars in 30 days. More importantly, I didn’t lose sight of my vision and passion although I came pretty close on numerous occasions. When everything seemed to work against me, I kept going. I didn’t have friends with large sums of money, but I kept going. I didn’t have personal relationships with politicians or board members, but I kept going. I guess there’s something to be said about the benefits of having my back against a wall – my creativity is at its best during those times! So, all of the ‘no’s’ have led me to re-conceptualize how I will change education in my community. Here’s my ‘big’ dream: I want to start a Summer & Saturday Arts Academy for kids in Snellville, but here’s the catch: I want to offer these programs for free to kids who may attend a Title I school, as well as ELL students and those who may have a disability. Yes, I said FREE! We are going to submit a $250,000 proposal for the Pepsi Refresh Grant competition to start our program, will serve at least 150 kids during the summer and possibly 250-300 during the Saturday program. Yes, that’s a big goal because I have never been encouraged to think or dream small. It’s going to take a lot of money to do this, but with support and commitment from those who believe in the arts, their value (both alone and their impact on education), and those who know there are disparities in programs and resources in some public schools, this CAN and WILL happen! So what do I need from you? No, I am not asking you to whip-out your credit cards or checkbooks (of course if you want to, you can). I am asking for a few simple favors:

  1. After you have carefully read this post, please Retweet it if you believe in and support what I am trying to accomplish;
  2. Once I tweet that our submission has been accepted for a Pepsi Refresh Grant, encourage all of your friends and Followers to vote for us;
  3. Repeat Step 2 for 15 consecutive days.

See how easy it can be to make a difference! I am believing that this program will happen because it needs to happen. I will submit the proposal to Pepsi at 12:01 a.m. on June 1st and will receive notice about Pepsi’s acceptance a few days later. As soon as I receive the acceptance via email, I will begin tweeting to solicit votes. Please join me in the campaign to ‘Wake the artists, change the world.’

Thank you!

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Today's Lesson: How to kill a kid's self-esteem   7 comments

Students in Gwinnett County Schools are down to the last 3 days and End-of-Year celebrations are in full-swing. I just returned from attending the celebration for my 3rd grader. On my way out of the building, I asked the Kindergarten teacher if I missed the note or email about their celebration. She informed me that their designated time was between breakfast and lunch last Friday, with lunch being served at 10:30 a.m. Needless to say, the Kindergarten team decided against over-loading kids on food that day, and I do not blame them one bit. The kids were treated to a ‘Game Day’ instead and based on the reports I received from my Kindergarten student, it was pretty fun. But that’s not why I felt compelled to rush home and get this blog written so let me get back on track…

So I am helping the long-term substitute with today’s celebration, i.e., serving the kids, cleaning-up messes, etc. (pretty much the same thing I do at home) when the awards ‘ceremony’ begins. Students received awards for successfully participating in the school-wide Reading program, Perfect Attendance, Testing Achievement, Honor Roll, and Principal’s Honor Roll. Several kids, including my 3rd grader (shameless shout-out), received multiple awards. I will admit that I was a little disappointed deeply offended by the fact that the principal only signed the Principal’s Honor Roll awards. My child and the others who maintained A’s and B’s during the last 9-week grading period worked just as hard as those who made the other list. Before you say,”Well, she probably had a lot of awards to sign,” my response is “Get a damn signature stamp then.’ Besides, the old adage is true: Excuses are like butt holes. Everybody has one and most of them stink. I can remember every award I ever received having the signature of at least one principal on them.

The celebration (partaking of the food) continues and the teacher walks over to me and tells me that one of the students was crying because he didn’t receive any awards. I’m not sure if the parent or common-sense teacher in me took over, but I became really livid at that point. I sat there thinking about this kid, who I had seen struggle with Math during the year, and his disappointment. Then all the research and data began going through my mind, especially because this kid is African American, he’s in 3rd grade, and just took a high-stakes test a few weeks ago. For those of you who don’t know, research shows that states develop their prison plans based on 3rd grade Reading achievement data…interesting. My motherly instinct kicked-in and I went over to him, bent down, and asked:

“Why are you crying?”

Sobbing and wiping tears, he answered “Because I never win anything.”

“It’s o.k. I understand why you are upset and I agree with you. You should be recognized for your efforts. Trust me, you are going to be o.k. Your *teacher knows that you try really hard and she also knows that you have improved this year.”

His parents entered the room a few minutes later and I am sure his dad had the same conversation with him. At least I hope he did. Now I will spend the rest of the afternoon in prayer, asking for some guidance/wisdom/financial blessing so I can give some of these kids what they need most: An opportunity to feel successful. Then I am off to Office Depot to print awards and beg area businesses to donate some certificates for the students.

*The classroom teacher has been gone 2 weeks due to a death in the family. I have no doubt in my mind that she would have given some type of award to every student.

Today’s Lesson: How to kill a kid’s self-esteem   7 comments

Students in Gwinnett County Schools are down to the last 3 days and End-of-Year celebrations are in full-swing. I just returned from attending the celebration for my 3rd grader. On my way out of the building, I asked the Kindergarten teacher if I missed the note or email about their celebration. She informed me that their designated time was between breakfast and lunch last Friday, with lunch being served at 10:30 a.m. Needless to say, the Kindergarten team decided against over-loading kids on food that day, and I do not blame them one bit. The kids were treated to a ‘Game Day’ instead and based on the reports I received from my Kindergarten student, it was pretty fun. But that’s not why I felt compelled to rush home and get this blog written so let me get back on track…

So I am helping the long-term substitute with today’s celebration, i.e., serving the kids, cleaning-up messes, etc. (pretty much the same thing I do at home) when the awards ‘ceremony’ begins. Students received awards for successfully participating in the school-wide Reading program, Perfect Attendance, Testing Achievement, Honor Roll, and Principal’s Honor Roll. Several kids, including my 3rd grader (shameless shout-out), received multiple awards. I will admit that I was a little disappointed deeply offended by the fact that the principal only signed the Principal’s Honor Roll awards. My child and the others who maintained A’s and B’s during the last 9-week grading period worked just as hard as those who made the other list. Before you say,”Well, she probably had a lot of awards to sign,” my response is “Get a damn signature stamp then.’ Besides, the old adage is true: Excuses are like butt holes. Everybody has one and most of them stink. I can remember every award I ever received having the signature of at least one principal on them.

The celebration (partaking of the food) continues and the teacher walks over to me and tells me that one of the students was crying because he didn’t receive any awards. I’m not sure if the parent or common-sense teacher in me took over, but I became really livid at that point. I sat there thinking about this kid, who I had seen struggle with Math during the year, and his disappointment. Then all the research and data began going through my mind, especially because this kid is African American, he’s in 3rd grade, and just took a high-stakes test a few weeks ago. For those of you who don’t know, research shows that states develop their prison plans based on 3rd grade Reading achievement data…interesting. My motherly instinct kicked-in and I went over to him, bent down, and asked:

“Why are you crying?”

Sobbing and wiping tears, he answered “Because I never win anything.”

“It’s o.k. I understand why you are upset and I agree with you. You should be recognized for your efforts. Trust me, you are going to be o.k. Your *teacher knows that you try really hard and she also knows that you have improved this year.”

His parents entered the room a few minutes later and I am sure his dad had the same conversation with him. At least I hope he did. Now I will spend the rest of the afternoon in prayer, asking for some guidance/wisdom/financial blessing so I can give some of these kids what they need most: An opportunity to feel successful. Then I am off to Office Depot to print awards and beg area businesses to donate some certificates for the students.

*The classroom teacher has been gone 2 weeks due to a death in the family. I have no doubt in my mind that she would have given some type of award to every student.

Brown v. Board of Ed 56 years later: Are we any better off?   Leave a comment

In case you missed it, yesterday was the 56th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision (1954), which ruled that racial segregation in Topeka, Kansas schools was unconstitutional. So 56 years later, I have some questions:

  1. Are we better off now than we were before the ruling?
  2. Why have we allowed some districts to re-segregate?
  3. Do Black and Latino/Hispanic kids do better in segregated schools?

I was actually working on a grant proposal yesterday and I needed to gather some demographic data on the two school clusters (zones) in my community: South Gwinnett and Shiloh, both located in the Gwinnett County Public Schools district. Before I started compiling the data, I had a sense of the impact of ‘white flight’ in my community because I had studied similar data before. For some reason, it really hit me yesterday: Some White people really do believe that when Blacks or Latinos move into a community, it all goes to hell. That’s a sad commentary on the state of race relations and perceptions. Fortunately, I know better. I have White friends who assure me that there are White people that they don’t even want to live next to! I think it’s a fair assumption to say there are bad apples in every group. But how and why do we let those assumptions speak for an entire race?

So what does the data show? There are eight elementary schools between those two clusters mentioned above. Seven of those eight schools have more than 50% African American students and 53-69% of students eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch. Approximately 5-7 years ago, all of the schools had either a White majority or a more balanced racial make-up. In their haste to leave get the hell out of dodge, many people failed to recognize that, despite the changing racial and economic demographics, the schools still made AYP. That’s right: The kids still made the grade. Despite skin color, zip code, and household income, we did it-my kids included. I am certain that seven of those eight schools will be designated Title I schools at the end of this year. I guess the data could argue that some Black and Latino kids are slightly better off in segregated schools.

But are we, all of us, really better off now, especially considering that many urban schools have become resegregated? I guess that depends on which metrics one uses to measure improvement. Personally, I moved to Gwinnett County 5 years ago because I was under the impression that my kids would receive a better quality education and attend schools with a diverse student body. I was wrong. Dead wrong. My kids’ school is no more diverse than the one they attended in DeKalb County. To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement. Before anyone goes into some diatribe about me not wanting to be around my own people, let explain my disappointment. I have never attended an all-anything school, ever. I did, however, attend a predominantly White elementary, middle, high school, and university. Why? Not because we had money, but because some state were a little more compliant with the 1980 Desegregation Orders. My sister, cousins, and I were ‘bused’ to the suburbs in the early 80s. And we stayed there until we graduated from high school. Do I think I received a better quality education because of those circumstances? A little, but I think the fact that I was either the only (or one of two) Black(s) in most classes pushed forced me to work harder and be as good as, if not better, than my White classmates. I never told any of my (mostly) White friends that though. Oddly enough, none of them ever made me feel as though I was inferior. Same for all of my former teachers, who were mostly White. Now I say all of this because, as a parent, I know that there are things missing from my kids’ school experiences. I would say that diversity and the arts tie for 1st place.

Don’t you find it odd that many White people run from diversity, yet middle-class Blacks strive to give their kids that experience? Add that to the other questions I have about where we are 56 years later. Looks like I have more questions than answers. I can only hope that something, other than demographics, changes shifts while my kids are still developing and building friendships.

Today, I love thee a little more Notre Dame   4 comments

Today, I woke-up a little earlier than most Sundays. Today was the 165th Commencement Ceremony for the University of Notre Dame. As you may know, last year’s ceremony was marked with controversy because President Barack Obama, our country’s first African American president, was the commencement speaker; he also received an honorary doctorate degree. To say that I, as a Black Alumnus of the university, was proud of Notre Dame’s selection would be an understatement. I was overjoyed and felt the same pride and excitement I felt on election night and Inauguration Day. No words can come close to describing the pride I felt on both occasions; I still feel like I am dreaming every time I see Obama speaking on t.v.-something I thought I would never see in this country. In all honesty, up until last year I had only watched one Notre Dame Commencement on t.v.-I didn’t even go to my own graduation. I did, however, attend the African American Graduation Ceremony.

So the 2010 graduation season rolls around, with much less fanfare until the university announces the valedictorian: Ms. Katie Odette Washington. If the first name alluded you, the last name should have made reason behind the excitement crystal-clear. No? How about the fact that she hails from Gary, IN? Yes, Notre Dame graduates its first-ever African American valedictorian! And she is my ‘homegirl.’ That is, she and I are both from Indiana. Katie is graduating with a 4.0 GPA and will be attending John Hopkins University in the fall to pursue a joint M.D./Ph.D. program. Wow! Take that, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton!

To say that Katie has made her parents, family members, friends, classmates, and the Black Alumni of Notre Dame proud would another understatement. I think this historic achievement reaches beyond the ND campus and community. Katie’s accomplishments will definitely change the way Black children view education, not just making the decision to attend college, but changing the things they do to get there; ‘there’ can just as easily be Notre Dame or some other ‘there’ they had never considered. I hope pray that they accept that there are no limits, regardless of what friends, family members, teachers, and others say. Even if you are from Gary, IN, Detroit, MI, or New Orleans, LA.

Congratulations Katie and the Notre Dame Class of 2010! Oh yeah, congratulations to NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams on his honorary doctorate-his first college degree. Williams was the principal speaker at this year’s ceremony and did an excellent job, considering his predecessor. We are proud to count you as one of ‘us’ now Brian!

If 'Big Brother' really is watching, tell him to get some damn business!   1 comment

O.k., this post (actually just the title) has been sitting in the queue since April 29th so I thought that it was about time I got to work… Sometimes I rant about not having a (paying) job, but something happened approximately 2 weeks ago that made me realize that, to a certain extent, I am a little more fortunate than some teachers. Why? Because I can use my blog, Twitter, and Facebook to say whatever the hell I want about whomever (or is it whoever) the hell I want, when I want. And I can cuss if I want to..even though the pastor talked about us working on our ‘cussing spirit’ just this past Sunday. That’s o.k. though because I can still call-out the idiots and incompetent leadership of our local schools, districts, etc. using other descriptive words.

So here’s what happened: As usual, I am all in everybody’s business (Tweets) to see what’s going on…I often retweet stuff from people such as @MikeKlonsky, his brother @Fklonsky, @readtoday, @ileducprof, and a slew of others. Most of my own tweets and others’ retweets are education-related, so I don’t think twice about sharing the info. Every once in awhile, some public figure will do or say something so stupid that one cannot help but retweet and add their own commentary. At least that’s what I do…. One night someone (who shall remain nameless) posted something about a recently-elected official in a state (that closely resembles a female body part) and some drug used by men to enhance their sexual prowess. I thought it was funny, for a few reasons. First of all, this same official came under fire for his decision to omit slavery from the state’s Confederate History Month ‘celebration.’ Then he decided to omit the afore-mentioned drug from the state’s healthcare plan. Not only did he put his foot in his mouth about slavery, but he made an executive decision that was neither necessary nor relevant. And for that, I thought he deserved to be the butt of a few jokes. Furthermore, this official’s behavior was especially embarrassing because he is a fellow Notre Dame alumnus. We expect better.

So this friend asks me if I minded deleting the tweet. I didn’t mind and I was not upset. His concern actually made me stop and think about the ‘freedom’ I have as an unemployed educator: I don’t have to worry about administrators ‘spying’ on me-I had enough of that when I was actually teaching. But seriously, when did teachers stop enjoying the liberties of the 1st Amendment? I taught Civics for a number of  years and one of the lessons I enjoyed teaching (and kids enjoyed learning) was the one about the Constitution.The kids really enjoyed learning about their actual rights since it seemed, to them, they did not have any.

Then I started thinking about Ashley Payne, the Barrow County teacher who was fired over her Facebook page last year (wait, it gets better). ‘Supposedly’ a concerned parent wrote a letter to the principal about some things the teacher had on her page. Specifically, a picture of herself while on vacation-holding a beer, and a status update that said she was on her way to play ‘Crazy Bitch Bingo’ with her friends. The AJC’s Get Schooled Education blogger Maureen Downey actually did some investigating into the infamous letter, which was anonymous, and found some serious discrepancies. For example, when the origin of the letter was traced, turned out the email account was a phony. But it was too late because Ashley had been pressured by the principal to resign. For those of you who are not aware, Georgia is what is known as a Right to Work state. Meaning, an employer does not have to justify firing an employee. If your administrator is having a bad day, going through a divorce, doesn’t like you, or is just plain crazy, well…he or she can fire you. What’s worse, that looks very bad on a teacher’s record. It could possibly prevent you from getting another teaching job, especially since the former administrator can say whatever he or she wants when called for a reference.

So what does all this mean? In my opinion, it seems as though teachers exchange their 1st Amendment rights for a contract, in which they are grossly underpaid, treated disrespectfully, and micro-managed by some (not all) administrators who are excused for either not having a filter or not giving a damn about being tactful or professional, especially if they have a successful immigrant story to tout to monstrous , feel-good philanthropists who blackmail elected officials into keeping such leaders with $65.4 million dollars of hush money. If you still think unions are bad then we know which team you work spy for. Stay the hell out of my business.

If ‘Big Brother’ really is watching, tell him to get some damn business!   1 comment

O.k., this post (actually just the title) has been sitting in the queue since April 29th so I thought that it was about time I got to work… Sometimes I rant about not having a (paying) job, but something happened approximately 2 weeks ago that made me realize that, to a certain extent, I am a little more fortunate than some teachers. Why? Because I can use my blog, Twitter, and Facebook to say whatever the hell I want about whomever (or is it whoever) the hell I want, when I want. And I can cuss if I want to..even though the pastor talked about us working on our ‘cussing spirit’ just this past Sunday. That’s o.k. though because I can still call-out the idiots and incompetent leadership of our local schools, districts, etc. using other descriptive words.

So here’s what happened: As usual, I am all in everybody’s business (Tweets) to see what’s going on…I often retweet stuff from people such as @MikeKlonsky, his brother @Fklonsky, @readtoday, @ileducprof, and a slew of others. Most of my own tweets and others’ retweets are education-related, so I don’t think twice about sharing the info. Every once in awhile, some public figure will do or say something so stupid that one cannot help but retweet and add their own commentary. At least that’s what I do…. One night someone (who shall remain nameless) posted something about a recently-elected official in a state (that closely resembles a female body part) and some drug used by men to enhance their sexual prowess. I thought it was funny, for a few reasons. First of all, this same official came under fire for his decision to omit slavery from the state’s Confederate History Month ‘celebration.’ Then he decided to omit the afore-mentioned drug from the state’s healthcare plan. Not only did he put his foot in his mouth about slavery, but he made an executive decision that was neither necessary nor relevant. And for that, I thought he deserved to be the butt of a few jokes. Furthermore, this official’s behavior was especially embarrassing because he is a fellow Notre Dame alumnus. We expect better.

So this friend asks me if I minded deleting the tweet. I didn’t mind and I was not upset. His concern actually made me stop and think about the ‘freedom’ I have as an unemployed educator: I don’t have to worry about administrators ‘spying’ on me-I had enough of that when I was actually teaching. But seriously, when did teachers stop enjoying the liberties of the 1st Amendment? I taught Civics for a number of  years and one of the lessons I enjoyed teaching (and kids enjoyed learning) was the one about the Constitution.The kids really enjoyed learning about their actual rights since it seemed, to them, they did not have any.

Then I started thinking about Ashley Payne, the Barrow County teacher who was fired over her Facebook page last year (wait, it gets better). ‘Supposedly’ a concerned parent wrote a letter to the principal about some things the teacher had on her page. Specifically, a picture of herself while on vacation-holding a beer, and a status update that said she was on her way to play ‘Crazy Bitch Bingo’ with her friends. The AJC’s Get Schooled Education blogger Maureen Downey actually did some investigating into the infamous letter, which was anonymous, and found some serious discrepancies. For example, when the origin of the letter was traced, turned out the email account was a phony. But it was too late because Ashley had been pressured by the principal to resign. For those of you who are not aware, Georgia is what is known as a Right to Work state. Meaning, an employer does not have to justify firing an employee. If your administrator is having a bad day, going through a divorce, doesn’t like you, or is just plain crazy, well…he or she can fire you. What’s worse, that looks very bad on a teacher’s record. It could possibly prevent you from getting another teaching job, especially since the former administrator can say whatever he or she wants when called for a reference.

So what does all this mean? In my opinion, it seems as though teachers exchange their 1st Amendment rights for a contract, in which they are grossly underpaid, treated disrespectfully, and micro-managed by some (not all) administrators who are excused for either not having a filter or not giving a damn about being tactful or professional, especially if they have a successful immigrant story to tout to monstrous , feel-good philanthropists who blackmail elected officials into keeping such leaders with $65.4 million dollars of hush money. If you still think unions are bad then we know which team you work spy for. Stay the hell out of my business.