A school for the kids: It’s still calling me….   Leave a comment

You know how you have this one thing you really, really wanna do? But no matter how well planned your plan is, road-blocks and obstacles always seem to find their way in your way. Sometimes the plan is so grand and the vision so intense that you can’t sleep or you find yourself drawn to it at weird hours of the day.  There may have even been a time (or five) where you thought: “To hell with this; it’s a waste of my time. I could be doing XYZ with those 16 hours I spend researching, writing, making phone calls, etc.” Surely, I can’t be the only person who has felt that way at some point or another, right?

When I get to feeling that way, I start thinking about Langston Hughes‘A Dream Deferred’ poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

It may sound simple, but that poem provides me with some motivation. Why? Because I don’t want to ever get to the point where I sit around thinking, ‘I wonder what would have happened if….’ Life is too short and precious to be filled with ifs. (Can I get an ‘Amen?’) Well, my dream was to open a Visual and Performing Arts charter school. I know there are many people out there who are against charter schools, but for some of us, they are our only option. I will add that I am against these faux, non-profit predators organizations opening-up schools in low-income and predominantly minority neighborhoods, promising parents that their kids will succeed and go to college. Hell, depending on your definition of ‘succeed’ anyone can promise that. Furthermore, I can take a bus load of kids to a college campus, let them step foot on the campus and then proclaim that they went to college. Just when we thought the last thing our communities needed was a liquor store on every corner, but I digress.

Our organization is truly a grassroots group, made-up of parents (Black, White, Latino, etc.), teachers, and community members. We had the passion, purpose, vision, and research bases covered. We had no idea we’d be expected to turn water to wine raise a ridiculously large sum of money in such a short time. We were all discouraged, and rightly so I do believe. No such demands were placed on other groups. That is when I decided to walk away (after I raised more than my fair share of hell, of course). So when I learned of the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling on the Charter Commission, here is what I thought initially: ‘Like I always say, God don’t like ugly.’ And by ‘ugly’ I mean the way our group was treated as well as how other grassroots groups were dismissed because they did not have the name recognition of EMO/CMO groups, or because their boards actually reflected the communities they planned to serve. Yep, that’s how it went down. Even uglier, then-State School Superintendent Kathy Cox chose not to address the issues. Charter Commission members ignored emails, as did the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Yep, those organizations created to help charter school developers turned their backs on us. They turned their backs on our kids. I guess because our school model was not controversial enough to garner national attention, we were not worthy of their support or even an offering of mediation. Ok. I see you. But now the entire (education) community sees you and your obvious lack of research and knowledge of the law, even though the individual responsible for drafting the language has a law degree and graduated from TFA. Laughable, but I digress.

So, this whole experience/desire to open a school with a well-developed arts program is coming full-circle now. As I was speaking with a student, who is also a single parent, I learned about the Arete Scholars Fund. As it turns out, people and businesses that owe taxes to the state of Georgia can donate those funds to a scholarship fund to pay tuition at a private school. Hmmmm. This is obviously a well-kept secret, or at least it was until I found out about it. I shied away from opening a private school because I knew that the students I wanted to serve would not be able to afford private school tuition. Now there is a way to open this school, without the bureaucracy and politics of public education. Most importantly, I don’t have to deal with short men with Napoleon complexes who expect me to kiss their arses….as if.

My, how the tides have turned. Assembling a dream team of educators. Time to change the game. Dream not deferred, just re-imagined. Stay tuned.

2011-12 School Year in Review: I’m still sane   Leave a comment

With all the faux pas major screw-ups this school year, I naively thought the last 3 days would be peaceful and incident free. Just when I thought the Universe was conspiring for my greater good, I have yet another fire to extinguish with this school run by bumbling idiots. No more than twenty minutes after I enter the house, Boy Wonder asks me if he can have money to eat lunch tomorrow. Hmmm, that’s odd because the last time I checked, he was supposed to receive free breakfast and lunch at school. So, as mothers do, I unloaded a barrage of questions:

Me: Why didn’t you eat lunch today?

Boy Wonder: Because they didn’t serve lunch today?

Me: Why not? Did you eat breakfast at school today?

Boy Wonder: Yes.

Me: Well, what time do you normally eat lunch?

Boy Wonder: 11:30.

Me: What time was school dismissed today?

Boy Wonder: 12.

Me: So let me get this straight: The school didn’t serve lunch yesterday, today, and they won’t serve it tomorrow?

Boy Wonder: No. The other kids bought Chik-Fil-A sandwiches.

Me: <Audible sigh, thinking: WTF? Didn’t we already deal with this at the end of first semester?> Are you sure because I need to know before I contact the school. (READ: I need the facts before I raise hell and read the Town Idiots the Riot Act.)

Boy Wonder: Yes.

Now, let me ‘splain something: If this were the first time, I wouldn’t be as upset. But as I mentioned, we had and discussed this exact same issue first semester. I don’t know where you all are from or how you were raised, but the people I know had this saying: ‘A hard head makes a soft a$$.’ It took me a very, very long time to understand the true meaning of this saying (because I rarely got in trouble), but I knew it was not good. I need to know: How many verbal a$$whoopings will it take for Gwinnett County Schools to get their act together? Better yet, do they even care? Or do I need to punch, kick, and scream harder and louder? Probably.

So here I am, mentally spent from dealing with this one school in particular but honestly, I am tired of the district. Sure, there are some excellent teachers here. And there are certainly some bright students who pass through the schools, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t seem like their Stepford-esque district sponsored leadership program is simply cranking out a bunch of desensitized, clueless, and less-than impressive overseers leaders for the schools. Correct me if I am wrong, but if there is a problem within an organization, don’t most true leaders put measures in place to ensure that the same problem does not arise a few months later? Or is that something only us city-slickers do?

This year has been filled with ups, downs, and countless emails written in perfectly clear English, but yet no one seems to know anything much less how to do any damn thing. After dealing with a Math curriculum few can teach and many do not understand, paying $100 for a Credit Recovery class that caused more anxiety and stress than necessary, reminding personnel that my kids attend Title I schools and, therefore, are entitled to enrichment programs, whether they are struggling or not; and what happens bureaucracy and incompetent people hinder the education process.

That’s a lot of SHAT for one person to handle. Now can you imagine how overwhelmed I would be if I didn’t know how to navigate  send tersely written letters with fancy $50 words, casually mention my knowledge of federally funded programs, and Cc: state and federal education officials?

So I will end this post with this:

Dear Gwinnett County School System,

I may be a little grayer due to your shenanigans. My approach may make you uncomfortable. You have dealt my child some blows to his self-confidence this year, but guess what? I Ain’t Through. I have 2+ months to recharge my battery, make some new alliances, and ask important people the kinds of questions that make them uncomfortable so they, in turn, can make you uncomfortable. Enjoy your summer because I sure will!

Don’t Make Me Angry…..You Won’t Like Me When I’m Angry   1 comment

Yes, I am channeling my inner 80s child..but I am oh-so serious right about now. Let’s just be honest: I am a lot pissed right now. That is part of the reason why I haven’t written since my last blog about why I do what I do as a mamma. Sometimes it may seem that most 99.9% of my writing comes from a place of anger, but it really doesn’t. Ok, maybe a little bit. But there are three things of mine that I caution people NOT to mess with: 1. My kids. 2. My family. and 3. My money. And yes, I am serious. So as I logged in to write this post, I noticed that I haven’t written anything on more than 2 weeks. Yikes! That’s a long time considering how much I used to write, but then I have to remember that I am actually employed now but still…..I don’t know. Anyway, the reason why I decided to write….

I have spent almost 3 weeks going back-and-forth with the school and district about his damn credit recovery class my son had to take because he failed Integrated Geometry the first semester. I had finally decided to let them (educrats) sweat bullets for a while and I left the issue alone..that is, until two more things happened. Yesterday I had to take Boy Wonder to B.F.E. to take his ‘performance final’ for the credit recovery class. (BTW: WTH is a ‘performance final’ any damn way?) So we get to the testing location early, which for me means 15-20 before any scheduled event. Not only was it hot as hell in the building, but there were a lot of people there and the educrats weren’t even ready. They didn’t start checking-in kids until 10-15 minutes before the tests began. ‘Why is that a big deal?’ you might ask. Well, the final was scheduled for 4 PM. Like I said, I. DON’T. DO. LATE. Since I knew a lot of running around and being given the runaround would be involved (otherwise it wouldn’t be the Gwinnett County Public Schools), I decided to spare myself a little grief by not working yesterday. (Nope, I won’t get paid either) I picked-up Boy wonder at 1:00, after driving around Alcatraz the school to get to the Attendance Office. Yes, you have to go outside the main building and drive around, past the football field and across from the scoreboard to get to the Attendance Office. After we left his school, we headed over to the elementary school to pick-up two little old ladies. Yep, I had to check them out of school early because: (1) I do not have family here to babysit; (2) I only work part-time and cannot afford after-school programs; and (3) the largest school district in the state, which also won $1 million from the Broad Foundation, does not offer any after-school programs. Not even at the Title I schools. Did I mention that the testing site is about 40 minutes from my house? Almost forgot that point.

As we were standing in line (and sweating), I noticed that there were a large number of kids taking credit recovery classes. And not just black and brown kids either. There were a lot of white kids, with money, there too. Yeah, I knew they had money because they drove more expensive (and newer) cars than me. SMDH. And guess what? A lot of the kids with resources were also taking credit recovery for Integrated Geometry. Interesting. But here is the reason why I have been steaming for the past week: Not only did I have to drop $100 for this credit recovery class, for a subject in which a lot of kids are failing and blowing their chances of getting the HOPE Scholarship, but I found out that the Georgia Department of Education provides an entire credit recovery curriculum to all districts for FREE. I don’t think I need to let that marinate with you all…free is free. After speaking with a knowledgeable little birdie, we came to the conclusion that Gwinnett likely contracted with an outside software/curriculum company to get curriculum for their credit recovery program. Basically, they are passing the cost of that program on to students. Black, White, Brown. Rich, poor, etc. I am not ashamed to say that $100 is a lot of money to me; it can go a long way if you are careful about how you spend it. I have come to the conclusion (and I keep re-visiting it) that Gwinnett County can pretty much do whatever the hell it wants to do and no one is willing to call them on their SHAT. Well, like the saying goes: All crooked good things must come to an end. And who better to put an end to this crap than me?

I will spare you all the details of the gazillion emails I exchanged with the talking-head principal, Math Curriculum Coordinator (or whatever the heck his official title is), and some other unqualified, overpaid, and apathetic district official. Long story short: I started asking questions about money, specifically Title I money, and I may have mentioned something about contacting the U.S. Department of Education. Suddenly I get a response from the above-referenced underqualified, overpaid person about a refund. I never asked for a refund, but instead, I want someone to explain to me why I had to pay for the class in the first place when they knew my financial situation. I guess I need to wait two more weeks for a response to that question. In their defense though, they are dealing with these allegations of shady land deals. My little $100 contribution is of little significance right now. And besides, I think I included enough links to make a point without risking the eye safety of my legion of five blog readers. Besides, I’m sleepy.

Over and Out. *Cues ‘Incredible Hulk’ theme.

Momma first, everything else second: Why I Do What I Do   Leave a comment

I was just reading through my Gmail inbox (trying not to let things pile-up again) and I opened this message from Rosetta Thurman (who I also follow on Twitter) about Blogging for Branding. Honestly, I am in one of those moods where I don’t want to do anything because I don’t know what to do. It’s quiet in the office because the quarter just started at the college, so there is very little traffic the first 2 weeks of the term. Sometimes I get restless during quiet times…I don’t have enough to keep me (and my mind) busy so I start thinking about what I should be doing and where I am supposed to be. Much like I did in this previous post. Well, I recently started an online certificate program, where I will learn how to develop and teach online classes. I thought that would be enough to keep me going for a while, but you know how it goes when life happens, right? I admit that my writing (frequency) has been lackluster recently and I really don’t know what to write about on most days because I feel like I am saying the same things over and over again….kinda like deja vu a la Groundhog Day. Once I read Rosetta’s suggestions on blog topics about PASSION (no, not that kind of passion), the lightbulb started flickering…

As you all may/may not know, I homeschooled Boy Wonder for a couple of years because of bullying and threats; the folks who oversee run Gwinnett County Schools failed to abide by their own code of conduct. It all became too much for both of us so I decided to try the homeschool option. It worked well for us: No stress of elbowing finding his way to class, trying to concentrate while other kids disrupt class, or dealing with the threats/taunting/bullying. And it worked for 3 years. But then I decided it was time for him to go back to school and be around other kids and I wanted to start looking for work again. So off to school he goes….

Things were moving along pretty well initially, then someone (not me) dropped the ball. The first snafu happened when they forgot to include my son on the list of students taking the PSAT, even after I initiated the conversation (in writing). I was assured that as long as he was present that day, he would take the test. He didn’t. Well we are in the second semester and he is still struggling with Georgia’s prized ‘new’ Math curriculum. As a 10th grader he is taking Integrated Geometry. He has stayed after school a few times for additional help, but the help didn’t really help. O.k., it helped temporarily, but he still failed the first semester and is in danger of failing the second semester. Oh yeah, almost forgot: He is taking a CRedit Recovery class in hopes of ‘recovering’ that credit from the first semester. BONUS: I had to pay $100 for it. And I really didn’t have it to spend. And no, I cannot afford a private tutor. And yes, I can help him with (some of) the Geometry, but I will proudly admit: Some of that crap is foreign to me! I took Geometry in high school, you know, the old school kind with Pythagoras, Euclid, planes, angles, degrees, and such. I still do not UNDERSTAND why they are calling it Integrated Geometry so my confusion regarding the content is justified (in my eyes). Oh yeah, the school does not offer any regularly scheduled tutoring services even though 57% of the students are Black and 57% of the students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch (FARL), including my own. Hmmmm. I am not too adept at the ‘new’ Math but I know that something does not add up here. If those numbers are not compelling enough, how about these: For the 2009-2010 school year, 79% of students FAILED the Algebra End-of-Course Test (EOCT); 70% of students FAILED the Geometry EOCT; 41% and 40% of students FAILED the Mathematics I and II EOCTs, respectively. I won’t bore you all with a breakdown of the failure rates by AYP subgroup, but I am sure you can guess which group (s) performed the worst, right?

To avoid the risk of having this post turn into a rant, I will end by saying that I was very proactive and vocal regarding my concerns over this ‘new’ Math. I emailed the State Superintendent (even though I knew someone else would read and respond to me) and I forwarded the response to the school. The principal admitted that he had not heard of any decision by the local board to implement to alternative Math curriculum, which the State Board of Education approved. I informed him that I would contact the district office because, despite what they think/don’t think about my son, he is going to college. Of course now with the ‘F’ on his transcript, his options will be greatly limited. Limited as in he may be stuck here for college. At least there is still the HOPE scholarship. Oh wait, he has to have a 3.0 GPA in core subjects to be eligible for that. Nevermind….I will continue to do what I do because I am a momma first and everything else second.

This ain’t your granddaddy’s technical education   1 comment

‘I am done with school….I don’t need to learn anything else!’ That is what I have said time-and-time again when asked ‘What do you plan to do next? Ph.D.?’ I can’t even lie: I love learning. My problem is that opportunities to utilize (most of) the things I have learned are scarce, unless of course I belong to the ‘right’ sorority, church, etc. So whenever I have conversations with people about what I know about education, leadership, curriculum, etc. they look amazed and ask, ‘Why aren’t you in a classroom?’ Rather than give them the entire story about the drama with that school system, I just say: ‘I got tired of the politics.’

Lately I’ve gotten a bit nostalgic about the time I spent in the classroom. Yes, even the memories of the ‘problem’ students can still make me smile or literally laugh-out-loud on most days. But even more than that, I am thinking about going back to school to sort of re-invent myself. Actually, I will be going back to school next week. Not another grad program, but instead I will be enrolled in the E-Learning Design & Development Specialist certificate program at one of Georgia’s technical colleges. And I am really excited! I get to learn something new (for free) and I am not required to sit in a class and listen to someone lecture (zzzzzzzzzz). BONUS: Did I mention it was free? Yep, thanks to the Georgia HOPE Grant (and people like myself who buy lottery tickets hoping to win $300 million dollars) I get to take two of the classes for free. Had it not been for Governor Nathan Deal’s new legislation, I would get to complete the entire program for free but I can’t complain…

The enthusiasm I have for working with first-generation college students, helping them choose a career path, encouraging them to think beyond the certificate/diploma/degree and most importantly, stressing that learning should never stop, has motivated me to add another dimension to my professional repertoire. I will admit that I knew very little about technical education before I started working as an Academic Advisor. My definition of technical education was limited to references about cars, heating, air conditioning, and computer stuff; however, the past 4 months on the job have completely broadened my definition and given me a new-found respect for technical colleges and the programs they offer. More importantly, I know that students really do learn in technical colleges and the instructors really teach. Students must work to earn their certificates, diplomas, and/or degrees. In fact, our college provides a guarantee to prospective employers that offers free (my most favoritest word) training to any graduate of our college who may lack all the required skills. Wow. How many 4-year colleges and universities do that? I can sure think of some folks who need to go back for basic training in the areas of speaking and writing, but that’s a different post altogether.

As April 5th nears, my excitement builds and I have yet another example to share with students why learning must never stop.

Don’t Let The System Put You In A Box   4 comments

Yesterday was a pretty busy day at work. We are nearing the end of Winter Quarter and a lot of people are applying and registering to start school in the Spring. I know I advised almost thirty students in the 6 hours that I worked, and that’s not including those I helped with course registration. During the lulls I checked email, input some notes into our advising software system, and checked-in on Twitter to see what everyone else was doing. As I worked away at the computer (y’all know that’s a lie, right?) a male student entered the office.

Me: Hi, how are you today?

Him: I’m good.

Me: Could you sign-in please? (He signs in and I continue talking to him, even though I am across the room.) Are you a new student?

Him: Yes ma’am.

Me: Ok. Just have a seat and I will be right with you.

He never sits down, not even when I started filling out his advisement sheet. His standing didn’t bother me because I am used to working with students who actually work better when they are allowed to move around. But I knew there was something more to his story. I asked him to come and have a seat next to me so that we could discuss his (very, very high) test scores and the program of study he chose (Automotive). Although he is pursuing the Diploma, I told him he should consider pursuing the Associates Degree because he performed so well on the skills tests. (NOTE: The whole time I that I talked with him, he was moving around, seemingly nervously. Again, it didn’t bother me but I knew there was something to it.)

After I explained the courses that were available and the times, we moved to a computer so that I could show him how to register for his classes. We’re searching the system and when he notices the class times, he tells me:

Him: I may not be able to do this one because I am taking another class at that time.

Me: Oh! When does your class end?

Him: Whenever they say I am finished.

Me: (A little confused) Oh not the time, the date? The Spring Quarter doesn’t start until April 2nd.

Him: No see, I am in  like a half-way house type of program. I have to take drug counseling classes. I can talk to my counselor and see if she will let me change my schedule around.

Me: Ok. We can still register you today, then you can take her a copy of your schedule so she can see it. If you aren’t able to work around it just come back and we will find you some classes in the evening.

As we continued the registration process, we engaged in more not-so-small talk. I asked him where he graduated from high school because he told me he once taught in the G.E.D. program. He told me that he dropped-out of high school and received his G.E.D. from a different technical college. So this whole time we’re chatting, I’m thinking: This kid (younger than 20) doesn’t even know me, yet he felt compelled to tell me all of his business. Hmmm. Now I wonder what it is about him that made him feel he needed to share all of that? I wonder what it is about me that made him feel had to tell me all of that?

I asked myself these same questions last week when another male student came in for advisement. This particular young man made sure I knew he was a convicted felon. Not sure why, but he did. I guess since he doesn’t really know me, he doesn’t know that I taught my students ‘Labels don’t matter.’ Upon leaving prison, do they tell inmates: ‘From now on, when you introduce yourselves to people, make sure you tell them you are a convicted felon?’ By no means am I saying that anyone should be embarrased by or ashamed of their past, but it is called a ‘past’ for a reason. In other words: DO NOT bring it into your future unless it is absolutely necessary. Perhaps I should start grabbing those young men, both Black and White, and saying to them:

‘You walked in that door because you have a hunger for something. Once you cross the threshold, nothing else matters to me. It certainly should not matter to you or anyone else. You <fill-in-the-blank> but that is something you did, not who you are. The system had you in a stifling classroom, then a jail cell. Don’t let them put you in (another) box now that you are on the outside.’

Or, the easier thing would be to tell them about all the illegal s*&% my family members have done (mostly before I was born). They probably wouldn’t believe me. Hell, I still giggle when I think about it. But I always made sure my students knew that I was human, and therefore, susceptible to some of the same familial dysfunction, temptation, etc. as themselves. I think that’s where many of us (parents, teachers, etc.) fall short: We forget that we are human and have made mistakes instead of using our mistakes to help and guide those who are lost.

I know one thing for sure: I am learning more from these students than they are learning from me. But they probably wouldn’t believe that either.

You Inspire Me   4 comments

Dedication. Perseverance. Tenacity. Drive. Determination. Stong-willed. Driven. Call it what you will, but when I see people who come to this country, with little to no English-speaking skills, fleeing their war-torn countries, armed with all of those afore-mentioned characteristics and then some, I cannot help but be inspired. Who wouldn’t? But here’s what I do not understand: Why don’t I see more American-born Blacks with that same fire? Our African ancestors (yes, we do have direct ties to Africa-I know some choose to forget or deny them) were beaten for the simple act of learning to read. They were not allowed to attend school. Yes, a few were but by-and-large the majority of them did not have that opportunity.

A female student came into the office yesterday. She explained that she completed her G.E.D. classes and has a diploma from her country as well; she was eager to start taking classes at the technical college. There were a few minor hiccups in getting her enrolled, but not once did she sigh, roll her eyes, complain, or stomp off in a huff. I had to send her to two different offices before she could actually register. I will admit that I would have been a little peeved myself, but not her. When she returned, I explained to her that she would need to complete some Adult Education classes but we could register her for one Math class. Again, no complaints. In her mind, she was one step closer to getting an (American) education. The thing that many of us take for granted. A thing many more of us do not consider. We have become too complacent. No, a college education does not guarantee a cushy job or financial security, but too many of us are still living in the cities/towns in which we were born. A larger number of us have never traveled outside the state where we were born. Who knows how many of us have actually traveled abroad? And we harbor too many stereotypes of (non-U.S. born) people because we limit our education to what they feed us on the idiot box. *Gi-normous sigh*

I do know this much is true: With everything that has occurred in her country, she still earned her high school diploma. And she carried that piece of paper around with her as though it is worth $1 million dollars. To her, it probably is.  She has been on my mind since yesterday. I do not know my next move. I still struggle trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow-up. But her spirit is contagious; it reminded me to appreciate my education, not so much for the act of getting it but moreso for the fact that I was able to get it. The opportunity was there; I took it and ran.

Fleeing a war-torn country, she managed to grab that piece of paper before she left. What will you ‘grab’ before you leave?