Archive for the ‘urban education’ Tag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parting thought: I dodged a bullet.

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.