Archive for the ‘Snellville’ Tag

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!

Here it is….   8 comments

After a much-needed and long overdue (quasi) social media hiatus, I am back. And I can honestly say that I nearly lost my damn mind…more than once during the past 3 years. I have been working on developing a Visual & Performing Arts Charter School for my community since 2007. Despite obstacles, mostly political and financial, I kept going. Why? Because I consider myself to be a keen observer. I pay attention to what happens around me, especially the things that other people do not notice, e.g., home value determines both the type and number of innovative programs offered at neighborhood schools. I moved to Snellville (Gwinnett County) 5 years ago when I purchased my first home. I knew that the school district had a reputation for being one of the best in the state (not that that statement says a lot considering the national rankings, but that’s another topic altogether).

As I worked on developing this school, I began to notice a lot of subtle ‘isms’ within this county, especially as it relates to the school district, program offerings, etc. Snellville has become a majority-minority community (mostly African American) during the past 5-7 years. Most, if not all, of the schools are close to 50% African American and roughly 10-11% Hispanic/Latino. I do not have a problem with living in a majority-minority community, but I would prefer that my kids have the opportunity to experience some diversity while they attend school because, well, the real-world is not comprised of all one race. But no matter our educational attainment levels, income bracket, or automobile of choice, one thing has not changed: When we move in, they move out. Yep, White-flight is alive and well in 2010. And yes, that bothers me. Why? Because despite rhetoric and tomfoolery from the ‘experts,’ I know that African Americans do value education. I can say that the few White people I have met through the charter school efforts have remained committed to staying in their neighborhoods and changing the schools, not the demographics. Unfortunately, those people are truly in the minority. No pun intended.

So fast forward to 2010, after being told by Andrew Broy that our organizationm had to raise $1 million dollars in 30 days to ensure approval and several tersely written letters to Georgia State Boad of Education members (no responses), elected officials (no responses), Cathy Cox (no responses), Georgia Charter School Commission (no responses), and Arne Duncan (half-assed response), I am tired. Not tired of trying to improve education, but tired of trying work within (or against) a broken system filled with people who lack the knowledge and ethics to make sound decisions about the kids in my community who look like me. Yes, I said it. Too many people making decisions for kids with whom they have no commonalities. Does that mean they can’t make any decisions? Absolutely not. But representatives for all groups should have a seat at the table and not just for show. They should be invited based upon their experience, education, and potential to make substantive changes to the manner in which Georgia educates children. That is not happening. I think it will be a very long time before we see this level of change here in Georgia, even when we get a new Superintendent of Schools and Governor later this year.

I took the past 2 weeks off to decide on whether or not to continue efforts to open the charter school. Of course this project is my baby so I was torn. I have invested a significant amount of time and effort into researching, writing, etc. I have learned a lot about myself during the past 2.5 years, most importantly that no one expects me to be a superwoman; that was a self-imposed sentence. I now know my limits. I can only deal with so much foolishness, blatant racism, sexism, and classism. I need a break. I want my life back. I am not giving up this dream. It will not be deferred, just reconfigured.

Do you keep pushing when others can’t (or won’t) ‘see’ your vision?   4 comments

Approximately 1.5 years ago our organization, Millennium Scholars Academy (MSA), submitted a charter petition to the Gwinnett County Board of Education. We proposed to open the first K-12 Visual and Performing Arts (tuition-free) charter school in the county. At the time that we submitted our petition, we had enrollment commitments for 160 students, ranging from grades K-9; we even had parents whose children were not school-age who asked us to consider adding a Pre-K program!

The board denied our petition, citing several reasons, including the following: (1) looping/multi-year classrooms were already being implemented in schools throughout the county; (2) our plans for the arts program was too extensive to do during the traditional school day (Kennedy Center Arts Edge Standards); and (3) Understanding by Design was not research based. As required by the state, I responded to the board’s deficiencies. I even went so far as to imply that looping implementation must be based on the zip code of the school because, to my knowledge, none of the schools in my community were participating. Guess whose daughter is now in the only looping classroom in the entire school? I also emailed Grant Wiggins and asked him what he thought about the board’s response to using UbD. He responded as I expected a well-educated and well-respected educational researcher would. I got a good laugh out of his response!

This year’s charter petition deadline is March 25, even though the state’s Charter School Division requires districts to follow its guideline (SMH). I am still debating whether or not to submit the revised petition and pay for 20 copies of a 100 page document, when I know that no matter how much research I cite to support our instructional model and curriculum, it all boils down to whether you assuage the superintendent and the board members. My alma mater did not (and still does not) offer degrees in ass-kissing). Several months ago when I thought about taking a different approach, I contacted the school system to request demographic information for the Gifted and Special Education programs. I was curious. I wanted to know who was being served in each program, by the numbers. After being transferred to the wrong person three or four times, I finally got connected with the correct person. He told me that the district did not have that information readily available; therefore, they would have to create a ‘special’ report to the tune of $400. I thought to myself: Yeah right. Me, being the resourceful person I am (and watching 20 years of Law& Order) decided to submit the same Open Records Request to the Georgia Department of Education. Glad I did! I got the same ‘report’ for $48. People will sure find create a way to keep the public from obtaining damning information.

Now that I have this data, I am debating on whether to use it as evidence that we (the people in the southern area of Gwinnett County-Snellville, Lilburn, & Loganville, mostly minority) need a charter school within reasonable distance from our homes (less than 45 minutes). Gwinnett County is the largest district in Georgia, serving approximately 160,000 kids. There are currently only 3 charter schools in the entire district: (1) Ivy Prep Academy-an all-girls’ charter school; (2) New Life Academy of Excellence; and (3) Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, & Technology-which came under scrutiny because it resembles a magnet school more than a charter. Ivy Prep is unique in that it is the first and only all -girls charter school in the state. The local board denied the petition because they were ‘cautious’ of the potential legal challenges that a single gender school could bring. I guess they hadn’t gotten around to reading that former President George W. Bush authorized single gender education, especially when it was used to address significant achievement disparities. Seeing as how this is a red state, I just knew they were up on his legislation. SMH

So here’s the dilemna: Should I use the data in the petition since our school will implement the Accelerated School model, created by Henry Levin? This model was created as a way to close the achievement gap (long before it became a catchphrase) for minority kids and those from low-income families who did not have access to rigorous curricula and Gifted Education programs (see statistic above about high percentage of SES students in Special Education). Of the 22,138 students served in Gwinnett County’s Gifted Education program last year (2008-09), here is the breakdown:

  • 12.9% African American
  • 6.5% Hispanic/Latino
  • 1.9% English Language Learners
  • 18.8% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible (no break-down of race)

This means that 59% of Gifted Students are either White or Asian. Since Gwinnett’s Asian student population is very small (11%), it is safe to conclude that the majority of students in Gifted Education programs are White (non-minority, if that makes anyone feel better). For the same school year, African Americans and Hispanic/Latino students accounted for 28% and 22% of the district’s total enrollment, respectively. So if our kids aren’t represented in Gifted Education programs, then where are they? Let’s see who’s representin’ in Special Education. For the same academic year, Gwinnett County had a total of 21,202 students in Special Education, with the following breakdown:

  • 33.7% African American (but we are only 28% of total district population)
  • 20.2% Hispanic/Latino
  • 7.8 % English Language Learners
  • 56.4% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible

Well the minorities are certainly in the majority, but not in a good way: African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos account for more than 50% of the Special Education population. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that parents should resign any hope for their children and accept the odds that their children are more suitable for Special Education (remediation, in some cases) than advanced learning opportunities, or even age/grade appropriate learning opportunities. Especially troubling is the fact that district officials (superintendent, special program coordinators, and even state officials) are aware of the disparities, but have done nothing to address them. Hiring a few tokens to work at the district office does not count, FYI. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

The more I think about this data, the negative consequences (to those of us who care about our kids being told they are mediocre and should not strive to be anything other than that), and the fact that NO ONE has the cajones to call these people out..the more disgusted I become. I am disgusted with these states and their paltry, half-assed attempts to address the achevement gap by allowing profit-hungry vultures (e.g., some EMO/CMO groups) to open charter schools in ‘the poorest communities,’ but deny those same opportunities to people who actually live there, not just those who commute into the communities. I am equally pissed about these false claims of restructuring education in Race to the Top applications. No one addresses the enrollment disparities of minority students in Gifted and Special Education programs. Even though the research is more than 20 years old, no one says a thing. As if ignoring the problem will make it go away. Unless districts start taking responsibility for perpetuating these exclusionary practices and states do better to hold them accountable, we can forget about making any significant dent in the achievement gap. Period. End of discussion.

Damn. So much for Brown v. Board of Education, huh?

Do you keep pushing when others can't (or won't) 'see' your vision?   4 comments

Approximately 1.5 years ago our organization, Millennium Scholars Academy (MSA), submitted a charter petition to the Gwinnett County Board of Education. We proposed to open the first K-12 Visual and Performing Arts (tuition-free) charter school in the county. At the time that we submitted our petition, we had enrollment commitments for 160 students, ranging from grades K-9; we even had parents whose children were not school-age who asked us to consider adding a Pre-K program!

The board denied our petition, citing several reasons, including the following: (1) looping/multi-year classrooms were already being implemented in schools throughout the county; (2) our plans for the arts program was too extensive to do during the traditional school day (Kennedy Center Arts Edge Standards); and (3) Understanding by Design was not research based. As required by the state, I responded to the board’s deficiencies. I even went so far as to imply that looping implementation must be based on the zip code of the school because, to my knowledge, none of the schools in my community were participating. Guess whose daughter is now in the only looping classroom in the entire school? I also emailed Grant Wiggins and asked him what he thought about the board’s response to using UbD. He responded as I expected a well-educated and well-respected educational researcher would. I got a good laugh out of his response!

This year’s charter petition deadline is March 25, even though the state’s Charter School Division requires districts to follow its guideline (SMH). I am still debating whether or not to submit the revised petition and pay for 20 copies of a 100 page document, when I know that no matter how much research I cite to support our instructional model and curriculum, it all boils down to whether you assuage the superintendent and the board members. My alma mater did not (and still does not) offer degrees in ass-kissing). Several months ago when I thought about taking a different approach, I contacted the school system to request demographic information for the Gifted and Special Education programs. I was curious. I wanted to know who was being served in each program, by the numbers. After being transferred to the wrong person three or four times, I finally got connected with the correct person. He told me that the district did not have that information readily available; therefore, they would have to create a ‘special’ report to the tune of $400. I thought to myself: Yeah right. Me, being the resourceful person I am (and watching 20 years of Law& Order) decided to submit the same Open Records Request to the Georgia Department of Education. Glad I did! I got the same ‘report’ for $48. People will sure find create a way to keep the public from obtaining damning information.

Now that I have this data, I am debating on whether to use it as evidence that we (the people in the southern area of Gwinnett County-Snellville, Lilburn, & Loganville, mostly minority) need a charter school within reasonable distance from our homes (less than 45 minutes). Gwinnett County is the largest district in Georgia, serving approximately 160,000 kids. There are currently only 3 charter schools in the entire district: (1) Ivy Prep Academy-an all-girls’ charter school; (2) New Life Academy of Excellence; and (3) Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, & Technology-which came under scrutiny because it resembles a magnet school more than a charter. Ivy Prep is unique in that it is the first and only all -girls charter school in the state. The local board denied the petition because they were ‘cautious’ of the potential legal challenges that a single gender school could bring. I guess they hadn’t gotten around to reading that former President George W. Bush authorized single gender education, especially when it was used to address significant achievement disparities. Seeing as how this is a red state, I just knew they were up on his legislation. SMH

So here’s the dilemna: Should I use the data in the petition since our school will implement the Accelerated School model, created by Henry Levin? This model was created as a way to close the achievement gap (long before it became a catchphrase) for minority kids and those from low-income families who did not have access to rigorous curricula and Gifted Education programs (see statistic above about high percentage of SES students in Special Education). Of the 22,138 students served in Gwinnett County’s Gifted Education program last year (2008-09), here is the breakdown:

  • 12.9% African American
  • 6.5% Hispanic/Latino
  • 1.9% English Language Learners
  • 18.8% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible (no break-down of race)

This means that 59% of Gifted Students are either White or Asian. Since Gwinnett’s Asian student population is very small (11%), it is safe to conclude that the majority of students in Gifted Education programs are White (non-minority, if that makes anyone feel better). For the same school year, African Americans and Hispanic/Latino students accounted for 28% and 22% of the district’s total enrollment, respectively. So if our kids aren’t represented in Gifted Education programs, then where are they? Let’s see who’s representin’ in Special Education. For the same academic year, Gwinnett County had a total of 21,202 students in Special Education, with the following breakdown:

  • 33.7% African American (but we are only 28% of total district population)
  • 20.2% Hispanic/Latino
  • 7.8 % English Language Learners
  • 56.4% Free & Reduced Lunch eligible

Well the minorities are certainly in the majority, but not in a good way: African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos account for more than 50% of the Special Education population. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that parents should resign any hope for their children and accept the odds that their children are more suitable for Special Education (remediation, in some cases) than advanced learning opportunities, or even age/grade appropriate learning opportunities. Especially troubling is the fact that district officials (superintendent, special program coordinators, and even state officials) are aware of the disparities, but have done nothing to address them. Hiring a few tokens to work at the district office does not count, FYI. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

The more I think about this data, the negative consequences (to those of us who care about our kids being told they are mediocre and should not strive to be anything other than that), and the fact that NO ONE has the cajones to call these people out..the more disgusted I become. I am disgusted with these states and their paltry, half-assed attempts to address the achevement gap by allowing profit-hungry vultures (e.g., some EMO/CMO groups) to open charter schools in ‘the poorest communities,’ but deny those same opportunities to people who actually live there, not just those who commute into the communities. I am equally pissed about these false claims of restructuring education in Race to the Top applications. No one addresses the enrollment disparities of minority students in Gifted and Special Education programs. Even though the research is more than 20 years old, no one says a thing. As if ignoring the problem will make it go away. Unless districts start taking responsibility for perpetuating these exclusionary practices and states do better to hold them accountable, we can forget about making any significant dent in the achievement gap. Period. End of discussion.

Damn. So much for Brown v. Board of Education, huh?