Archive for the ‘Gwinnett County’ Tag

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!

Just a Quick Note: The squeaky wheel DOES get the grease!   2 comments

Over the past few months, my two elementary-age daughters have brought home various fliers/permission slips for educational programs hosted by their school. It’s kind of ironic because last year they were not ‘invited’ to participate in anything (that I recall). So a few months ago (I think it was actually the beginning of the school year), I was at a school event and asked about enrichment or tutoring programs for the girls. The woman with whom I spoke is the Reading Specialist for the school. When I inquired about opportunities, she informed me that her program was only for kids who did not score well above ‘Meets Standards’ on the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) or those who were identified as students who may not pass the Reading and Math portions of the test. So I started asking a bunch of questions (y’all know how I do) about the programs available for Title I students, grants to offer programs, etc., etc. Her eyes started to glaze over because I was mentioning programs and grants she had never heard of (SMH). My point was this: If the district/school gets Title I funding for my girls, why are they not participating in any of the programs funded with those monies? I don’t think that my expectations are unreasonable, even though they do not need remediation or supports, they should still benefit from those funds since the school does.

Not that I am awaiting confirmation/approval from anyone on this, but just thought it was kinda funny that once I started asking school and district officials about Title I money/programs, my kids start receiving all of these forms for various programs.

It’s official: Some people really don’t know what they are doing   1 comment

Yesterday (and the day before) I kinda ranted about the latest debacle at South Gwinnett High School (population ~2,800), where my oldest is a 9th/10th grader (will explain that later). He came home Wednesday and started his usual routine: Homework, snack, and asking me random questions that seem to come out of nowhere (he’s a Gemini). So I am sitting on the couch watching tv and he walks into the room and asks:

Boy Wonder: Hey Mamma, do colleges look at whether or not you take the PSAT?

Me: Why?

Boy Wonder: Well, because they took it today and my name wasn’t on the list.

Me: What? (More of a ‘You have GOT TO BE F*&@%$# kidding me’ tone) How do you know your name wasn’t on the list?

Boy Wonder: The teacher asked the class if they knew where they would be during testing and my name wasn’t on the list.

Me: Well, I emailed the school back in August to find out the date and whether or not you would be able to take it. They told me as long as you were there on testing day you would. Don’t worry about it, I got it.

So, in my usual form I started researching and re-reading my email communications with the school. [SIDE NOTE: For those of you who think email communication is too impersonal (or are worried about how you will be perceived by school officials, all I can say is…whateva.) An email paper trail can be the difference between your child(ren) getting screwed or getting the things to which they are entitled. You choose]. Just as I thought: I did send the initial email in August because I wanted to know about both the PSAT and End-of-Course Tests (EOCT) that my son would have to take. Because he was home schooled during his freshman year, the district requires him to take the EOCT for both Algebra and Physical Science in order to get credit. I don’t have a problem with the policy as much as I do the manner in which the counselor spoke to us during registration. Read this post to see what else South Gwinnett got wrong that day.  In fact, when she told us that he would have to take the tests, I looked at him and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You know the material and you can ace those two just like the one you took in 9th Grade Literature.’ Unfortunately, the school couldn’t get their at together: I asked for EOCT testing dates on more than one occasion and was told that they would let him know when he would be tested. Guess what? He was supposed to test in August and September. The school sent home a tint square piece of paper, stating that they forgot to get him for testing and, with my permission, he could test in October. Well, today is October 15 and he hasn’t received any information about testing yet. I sure wish I could make $60k+ for half-arse developing a school-wide testing calendar/system.

Now don’t get me wrong: It may seem like I nit-pick over the little things, but I don’t. If I did, I would have something to blog about everyday-on this particular school alone! I let a lot of little things slide because sometimes it’s just not worth the headache. However, when you speak to me (one of my kids) or interact with me in a manner I deem condescending or disrespectful, you damn well better have your SHAT in order because if you don’t, I will check you. Both publicly and privately. But as I said here and on Twitter, people make assumptions about others based on the manner in which they are dress, where they live, the color of their skin, and especially if their children do not have the same last name as their parents. Yes, petty but people do it everyday…and more so if the mom is not wearing a wedding ring. But that’s o.k. because I enjoy watching people turn five shades of red when I start responding and asking questions using the education lingo…. Then they start fidgeting when I tell them I used to teach (in Georgia) AND I have my Ed.S.; most of them have a Master’s, but I digress…..

Needless to say I copied and compiled all the email communications regarding testing and sent a message to the principal…and the assistant to the superintendent. So I wasn’t very surprised when I received an email at 8:49 PM from the principal, stating ‘…We will then move forward with trying to resolve the issue.’ Not sure how they can resolve it since the PSAT is only administered on 2 days the entire year, but we’ll see.


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!

Is ‘educational change’ on the horizon for Georgia?   Leave a comment

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this blog are those solely of the author (that’s me) and are not shared by any parties listed below (at least I don’t think they do).

Those you who have been following my blogs have probably guessed that I am very passionate about education. Specifically, quality public education for all kids, regardless of their zip code, parents’ social/political affiliations, race, etc. Likewise, I believe that quality education should be provided, ‘By any means necessary.’ Whether it’s high-performing, neighborhood charter schools (not those magnet schools, located in affluent neighborhoods inaccessible to low-income students, disguised as charter schools) or a complete investigation and overhaul of the desegregation orders in some states, namely Georgia, to balance access to high-performing, 21st century schools. Sounds overwhelming, but I honestly believe that it will take something this radical to start on the road to repairing our public education system.

Enter politics. I have never been one to mince words, although I have been criticized for my directness-only since moving south though. I am fully aware that politics are necessary to get things done. I also know that sometimes, politicians can cause more harm than good when their personal agendas overshadow the issues at hand. Well, I got a little re-inspiration about the possibility of politics doing something good last night. I had the opportunity to speak with Brian Westlake, Democratic candidate for Georgia State Superintendent of Schools. The position is currently held by Cathy Cox, who is also running for re-election. I will admit that I didn’t expect to hear from Brian after I sent a rather lengthy and detailed email a few days ago (you all know how I do). Shame on me because he responded and invited me to call him so we could speak on the phone or meet in person. I sent Brian my phone number and he actually called me last night. I certainly did not expect to speak with him for over an hour! Not that the length of the conversation bothered me, it was just not what I expected based on my past interactions (or lack thereof) with politicians and other high-ranking officials. So far, Brian is 2-for-2. That’s pretty good considering the person he has to convince (me).

During the course of the hour, we discussed our backgrounds: Both of us have undergrad degrees in something other than Education and experienced some of the same ‘issues’ during our first years of teaching. We shared a lot of laughs last night. What is most impressive about Brian is that, despite opposition-both then and now, he is committed to making some changes in education within the state. He admits that the level of change necessary will not happen over night or even in the course of 1-2 years. The important thing to remember is that change is necessary and someone has to be the first one to take the steps in that direction, even at the cost of making some powerful and connected people uncomfortable. I haven’t been this excited about a politician since…well, President Obama. Honest. I had really lost faith in local politics, especially school boards and state education positions because frankly, they have been traditionally held by people who neither look like me, know or care about my concerns. Sure, Brian is not African American but he is young, has recent experience working with African American students, parents, and teachers. He now works at Berkmar High School in Gwinnett County, probably the most diverse school in terms of populations of international students.

There is a saying that alludes to the obvious: If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will continue to get what you’ve always gotten (or something like that). While millions of people turned out for the last presidential election, many of us (myself included) have forgotten about exacting ‘change’ on a local level. I am committing to change that this year. I have already told Brian that I plan to share his information and platform with the parent network I have established here in Gwinnett County for our Visual and Performing Arts charter school. I also have a large number of friends who are still teaching and still dealing with the same issues. If we are adamant about change, we must be as adamant about making it happen.

Let’s educate ourselves on those people who want to represent us and make a commitment to making our collective voices heard. The primary election is in July; the general election is in November. I will continue to share information on this race through Twitter and this blog. A change will come to Georgia’s education system. Will you be a do-er or an onlooker?

Is 'educational change' on the horizon for Georgia?   Leave a comment

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this blog are those solely of the author (that’s me) and are not shared by any parties listed below (at least I don’t think they do).

Those you who have been following my blogs have probably guessed that I am very passionate about education. Specifically, quality public education for all kids, regardless of their zip code, parents’ social/political affiliations, race, etc. Likewise, I believe that quality education should be provided, ‘By any means necessary.’ Whether it’s high-performing, neighborhood charter schools (not those magnet schools, located in affluent neighborhoods inaccessible to low-income students, disguised as charter schools) or a complete investigation and overhaul of the desegregation orders in some states, namely Georgia, to balance access to high-performing, 21st century schools. Sounds overwhelming, but I honestly believe that it will take something this radical to start on the road to repairing our public education system.

Enter politics. I have never been one to mince words, although I have been criticized for my directness-only since moving south though. I am fully aware that politics are necessary to get things done. I also know that sometimes, politicians can cause more harm than good when their personal agendas overshadow the issues at hand. Well, I got a little re-inspiration about the possibility of politics doing something good last night. I had the opportunity to speak with Brian Westlake, Democratic candidate for Georgia State Superintendent of Schools. The position is currently held by Cathy Cox, who is also running for re-election. I will admit that I didn’t expect to hear from Brian after I sent a rather lengthy and detailed email a few days ago (you all know how I do). Shame on me because he responded and invited me to call him so we could speak on the phone or meet in person. I sent Brian my phone number and he actually called me last night. I certainly did not expect to speak with him for over an hour! Not that the length of the conversation bothered me, it was just not what I expected based on my past interactions (or lack thereof) with politicians and other high-ranking officials. So far, Brian is 2-for-2. That’s pretty good considering the person he has to convince (me).

During the course of the hour, we discussed our backgrounds: Both of us have undergrad degrees in something other than Education and experienced some of the same ‘issues’ during our first years of teaching. We shared a lot of laughs last night. What is most impressive about Brian is that, despite opposition-both then and now, he is committed to making some changes in education within the state. He admits that the level of change necessary will not happen over night or even in the course of 1-2 years. The important thing to remember is that change is necessary and someone has to be the first one to take the steps in that direction, even at the cost of making some powerful and connected people uncomfortable. I haven’t been this excited about a politician since…well, President Obama. Honest. I had really lost faith in local politics, especially school boards and state education positions because frankly, they have been traditionally held by people who neither look like me, know or care about my concerns. Sure, Brian is not African American but he is young, has recent experience working with African American students, parents, and teachers. He now works at Berkmar High School in Gwinnett County, probably the most diverse school in terms of populations of international students.

There is a saying that alludes to the obvious: If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will continue to get what you’ve always gotten (or something like that). While millions of people turned out for the last presidential election, many of us (myself included) have forgotten about exacting ‘change’ on a local level. I am committing to change that this year. I have already told Brian that I plan to share his information and platform with the parent network I have established here in Gwinnett County for our Visual and Performing Arts charter school. I also have a large number of friends who are still teaching and still dealing with the same issues. If we are adamant about change, we must be as adamant about making it happen.

Let’s educate ourselves on those people who want to represent us and make a commitment to making our collective voices heard. The primary election is in July; the general election is in November. I will continue to share information on this race through Twitter and this blog. A change will come to Georgia’s education system. Will you be a do-er or an onlooker?

Is he serious? I don’t know what to believe anymore   Leave a comment

J. Alvin Wilbanks, CEO of the Gwinnett County School System, states that the district is “…interested in developing more charter schools to provide learning opportunities for students and their particular talents and interests.” That’s ironic, considering that Gwinnett is the largest district in the state and only has three charter schools; one of which, Ivy Prep Academy, is not even controlled by the district. The other two charter schools, New Life Academy of Excellence and Gwinnett School of Math, Science, and Technology, do not provide transportation, therefore creating a barrier to access for students from low-income families, where one or both parents have to work and cannot transport outside of their assigned cluster.

Gwinnett County enrolls approximately 160,000 students, yet less than 1% of its students attend one of the three charter schools. If the district is serious about creating more charter schools, then it needs to translate the speech delivered to the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce into action. The district has the fiscal and human resources to transform itself into a true ‘world-class’ district, but appears content with making excuses about funding shortfalls.