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A Lousy Day

They say that if a child has head lice, at least the child has friends.  That’s only funny if it’s not your child.

When I was the principal of a large elementary school, head lice were a chronic problem.  The school nurse made periodic “head checks” in the classrooms whenever a single case appeared.  If there was an infestation, we’d duly alert all parents and ask the parent of each infested child to take him or her home.  If parents lacked transportation, we’d arrange to have the child transported by school bus.  My heart went out to the tykes sitting alone in the nurse’s office waiting for their parents to appear.  My heart, but not my head.

The school nurse and I joked (privately, of course) that we should install a “lice-o-meter” in front of the school so that parents could tell at a glance the rate of infestation.  Sort of like a pollen count meter.  Again, that’s only funny if it’s not your kid.

Checking_for_lice_M  Parents in this school would sometimes become frustrated and angry if their children had lice.  The district was poor, and the medicine cost money.  Some blamed the school for not protecting their kids against lice, an impossible task.  A few parents every year treated the problem by shaving their kids’ heads or treating their hair with kerosene.

Now, in Los Angeles, families can hire the “lice whisperer” to remove the nits from their child’s hair.  For roughly $300, not counting follow-up visits, combs, and special shampoos, parents themselves can avoid what one called, “the ick factor.”  Other major cities have similar services from a franchise called the Hair Fairies.  Despite these tough economic times, business is booming.

However, when one parent of twins realized it would cost over $1000 to hire a “lice buster,” he decided to do it himself, seeing it as an opportunity to “bond” with his kids.

I guess I never looked at it that way.





About That Safe Environment

Those who survive bullying in school never forget it.  Caitlin Kelly, on her blog and in USA Today, writes about her experience as a high school student years ago.  The piece is called, “How bullying scarred my life.”

“I was the perfect target,” she writes. An outsider who had attended single sex private schools before enrolling in a large public high school, Kelly had no idea how to protect herself against the students who made her so miserable that she started seeing a therapist, who prescribed medication for her “anxiety.”  She refused.

Bully_free  Adults in authority frequently respond with a “blame the victim” point of view.  “Just ignore them,” adults might say.  “They’re just doing it because they get a response.”

Well, it appears that the response the bullies provoked in Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old Irish teen in South Hadley, Massachusetts, was that she hanged herself.

A growing number of states have enacted anti-bullying legislation, but until each individual school adopts a policy and trains its staff, little will change.  Teachers and administrators will tell you it’s hard to detect bullying, especially cyber bullying, a favorite of girls.  There is some truth to that, but the bigger problem is that because schools don’t develop and implement a clear policy, students feel they can bully with impunity.

Teachers and administrators can begin by taking bullying seriously and making sure that students and parents know they take it seriously.  Bullying is not just a part of growing up.  It happens if schools let it happen, if teachers and administrators turn a blind eye or worse, blame the victim.




Prom:  a big dance in the spring of a high school year.  Can be for seniors only, for high school kids only, for students of that particular high school only, for blacks only, for whites only, for gays only, for straights only.  Sometimes kids go with dates, sometimes single or with a big group.   Sometimes held in the school gym, sometimes in a private venue.  Dinner may be included.  After-prom party may be a lock-in overnight Prom  in the school gym to prevent drunk driving, or may be a party at a local hotel or may be in a private home.  Drinking is often involved although most school principals prowl the parking lots in an attempt to discourage it.  Dresses for girls cost a lot; some boys hardly dress up. 

Adults of a certain age remember the prom as a subdued formal occasion held in a gym decorated by parents to look like the theme – The Beach in Hawaii or Night in the City. Now we see few parents at the prom; chaperones tend to be teachers, administrators, and occasionally local law enforcement. There’s still the kid who comes drunk, the crying in the bathroom, the chaperones insisting on some standard of decency when it comes to couples dancing.

Kings and queens and their courts are elected and at some point in the night receive their crowns and maybe roses.  After the crowning, it’s all over.  On to the real parties.

The prom has been a dying tradition for some years now.  Given the recent events at Itwamba County School District in Mississippi (a fake prom?  Really?  Really?) maybe it’s time to call it a day.  Put it to bed. Take down the glittery ball and put it in storage.  



Ganas.  Years ago when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in a Spanish speaking country, I learned the phrase, tener ganas.  To want to.  To have the desire to.  All of us volunteers  sort of took to the phrase, dropping in into English  as in “ Does anybody have any ganas to go to town today?”  Or, “I just didn’t have the ganas to build those rabbit hutches when it was 101 in the shade.”

Escalante-photo  Ganas was what Jaime Escalante was all about.  Making kids want to learn, want to do better, want to commit to something greater.  It was about having high expectations for his students and refusing to believe that their destiny was controlled by the neighborhoods they came from.  His gift was making his students believe they were smart enough to accomplish something great if they had the desire.  If they had ganas. 

AP classes were only a part of it, but an important part because they are an accepted measure of accomplishment.  There are other measures – algebra or honors courses, for example – and disadvantaged students have historically been excluded from those as well.  Escalante brought all that sorting and selecting into focus.

Escalante’s success is still discounted by some who work in schools attended by disadvantaged kids.  School people still point to their students’ backgrounds to explain away their poor attendance or poor performance.  But Escalante not only insisted that his students have ganas; he had it himself.  You teach the students you have and you do whatever it takes.  

A Pictorial History of Ducklings

Remember when your kid brought home her school pictures?  There were at least one, maybe two glossy 8X10s, all in color with a faux sky background or maybe trees and a waterfall.  In the packet also were a few 5X7s for the grandparents, and then a couple hundred wallet-sized photos.  They came in sheets that you had to cut apart and mail to aunts, uncles, and friends.  Also included in the elementary grades were class pictures.

Class_small  No matter what they looked like (and I always thought they were beautiful), you had to buy them.  First of all, you could never tell your child you didn’t want her picture, and secondly, you just couldn’t send them back to be shredded.  So over the years you accumulated drawers full of pictures of your child:  the year she cut her own bangs, the year without front teeth, the year the big teeth came in, the year with braces.  All those hair styles – bowl cut, permanent, frizz   -- and then high school when hair became orange, then mahogany, then white blond.  A chronological memory as the duckling turned into a swan

Well, with the advent of easy and cheap digital cameras and cell phone cameras, that awkward but memorable chronology is becoming a thing of the past.  And some parents just can’t afford that super deluxe package at this time.

Jezebel argues that “the world will be poorer” for the loss of school photographs.  “Because the you your parents snap – relaxed, happy, candid – is a very different one from that immortalized in gaudy 8x10.  And the latter, however painful to behold, is a much more accurate measure of how we are in the real world, with our peers, with all the pain and awkwardness that implies.”

I think there’s some truth to that.  But it’s also interesting to look back on those pictures after kids have reached a more graceful stage and marvel at the metamorphosis. 

Are you still doing school photographs in your schools?  Do you think they’re worth it?  Share your info with our readers.













Solidarity for Seniority

According to the New York State Council of Superintendents, 77% of districts expect to lay off teachers.  That’s 4.1% of all teachers state-wide or 6300 teachers outside of New York City.

A major effect of the layoffs is projected to be a general increase in class size, affecting all students.  Other consequences will affect the ends of the learning continuum:  fewer advanced classes, but also reductions in extra help.  Also on the chopping block are summer school classes and electives.

Los_angeles  Of course, all states are facing the same dire facts.  Some schools are contemplating 4-day weeks while others have agreed to furlough days.  The Los Angeles school district recently announced an agreement with its unions to cut 5 days this year and 7 next.  The furlough days will save 2100 jobs for teachers and librarians and 100 administrative jobs. 

Meanwhile, back in New York, the Governor proposes not only cutting state aide, but   state workers’ jobs as well.  Ignoring the changing times, the head of a local union chapter defended his position in a TV interview:  “We didn’t cause the problem.”  In terms of reopening the contract with the ideas of giving back intended 4% raises, the union chief’s response was, “No way.  They agreed to it.”

Well, yeah, “they” did. So if younger workers lose their jobs so that those with more seniority get a 4% raise, so be it.   But kudos to the LA teachers’ union for agreeing to a compromise that puts kids first followed by saving jobs for all of the membership, not just the veterans.





All Politics Is Lorax

Should school administrators work to develop contacts with their legislators?  That’s the question Reggie Engebritson asks on Leadertalk.  With all the things school administrators already have to do, contacting their state or local legislators seems like just one more thing, he notes.

To my mind, the answer to Reggie’s question is a big YES.  Only it’s not random contact or even issue driven contact.  Instead, school administrators, particularly superintendents, know that it’s a good idea to develop an ongoing relationship with their legislators so that they know who you are.  If you can get them to visit your school district, even better. Having first hand knowledge of a successful program or a building project gives legislators a specific idea of where school aid is spent.  In addition, if they know you and your school, they can put a face on educational needs in their districts.

No-whining-posters  I worked hard to develop a good relationship with our state senator, who made things happen in our area.  He was a strong supporter of schools, but he made no secret of the fact that he regarded some local superintendents as “whiners.”  At some of our superintendent/legislative meetings, I could see why he did.  Like everyone else, legislators do not like to be confronted or embarrassed in public meetings, and they remember school administrators who attempt to do either. 

Also like everyone else, legislators like to be thanked for the work they do for schools.  Thanking legislators in the school newsletter or personally in a noteLorax   from the board of education resonates with them.  It takes extra effort to develop an ongoing relationship, but it helps to remember the day our Assemblyman came to read the Lorax to our kindergartners.   The Lorax has it right:  “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”






Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.