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Central Falls Redux

So in the end Central Falls hired everyone back and will pay them more for concessions.

The school day will be extended by 30 minutes.  Teachers will spend an hour a week tutoring along with 90 minutes per week planning after school.  Evaluation will be more rigorous, and teachers will have up to 10 days of professional development in the summer.

For their efforts teachers will be paid an additional $3000/year plus $30/hour for professional development.

So is this enough to turn the school around?  Or will it look the same in 3 years? Books and apple  

Here’s why I’m wondering.  In New York State teachers can receive tenure after three years.  I never waited that long.  Usually if I wasn’t seeing real potential for excellence, I let the teacher go after two years.  It’s difficult for a teacher denied tenure to find another teaching job, so I figured he or she might connect with another district, put in a lot more effort this time, and end up tenured someplace else.

Twice in 15 years I was persuaded to wait until Year Three.  In both cases, the teacher improved significantly in that last year, so much so that I ended up recommending both for tenure.

It’s what happened in Year Four that still haunts me.  After being granted tenure, both regressed to being the teachers I had seen in their first two years.  Except now we were stuck.

So I’m wondering if Central Falls as a school will follow the same pattern:  significant improvement after the shock of being told jobs will be lost, but after the shock wears off, the same results for better pay.  Please let me be wrong.

Knowing What Is Lost

So a friend of mine, a banker, says to me, “You know, with schools cutting all these teachers, you have to wonder whether they were really needed.” 

Now, my friend is a supporter of schools.  She’s not making a judgment. She’s just asking.

Unemployment  Surely other folks are wondering the same thing.  What happens when all these positions disappear?  What exactly did these people teach?  What will happen to students in the classes they taught?  Will other teachers take on extra duties?  Will classes just be bigger?  Will students have fewer choices?  Will there be less extra help? 

School administrators and boards of education worked hard to demonstrate to voters that they were being fiscally responsible when they cut positions.  Given the diminished school aid and the state of the economy, leaders explained that they had no choice but to downsize. 

But in an attempt to assure parents that the quality of their child’s education would not be seriously compromised, some school leaders may have omitted the details of what will be lost, leaving people like my friend the banker wondering if maybe we could have done without these folks a long time ago. 

“How can they cut 39 positions in the high school?” my friend asked.  Good question.  School leaders want to be sure that parents understand what happens when they make those cuts– no summer school, no math support, no choir, no full time librarian, no English AP – whatever.  Because if nothing is lost, it would appear that my friend has a point.








Career Questions

Q:  My principal plays favorites to some of the more “popular” teachers at my school—the ones who are younger, more deferential, more tech-savvy. They’re assigned the best projects, and sometimes they even get to call the shots. This seems unfair, but maybe I should just get more involved. Should I say something?

A:  No, you should DO something. 

Most principals interested in implementing a new initiative go first to the people who can make it work.  If it’s a technology project, in all likelihood, the younger teachers will be more confident and eager to try something new.  They ARE more tech savvy, and they probably are more deferential given their youth and lack of seniority.

Instead of going to your principal to complain about her playing favorites,  Whiteboard  tell her you’re really interested in getting involved in the next project.  If you feel you need to improve your tech skills, tell your principal you’d like to have more training in using technology in the classroom.

It’s likely that your principal hasn’t considered you as someone who wanted to be involved in a new project, so you need to work to change her opinion.  As a veteran administrator, I have to say that it’s interesting to me that your principal hasn’t tried to engage the veteran teachers in new projects because you are the people who bring credibility to a new initiative.  If you buy into it, a new project has a much better chance of lasting implementation.  Your principal may not be aware of the importance of involving all of her staff.  You may have the opportunity here to gently teach her something about the value of the veterans.





A Reason to Celebrate

It’s graduation night at our local community college, and as a member of the board of trustees, I get to sit on the stage and see it up close and personal.

I love graduation.  I love the diversity of the graduates.

A lot of our students, of course, enrolled right after high school, and many of them will be transferring to 4-year schools with the money they saved by living at home and paying the lower community college tuition. 

About a quarter of the graduates are military or military-related, and that’s where a lot of our ethnic diversity comes from.   There are moms starting college now that the kids are in school.  There are dads who lost their jobs and are retraining for another career.  There are grandmothers who want to learn something new.  There are twenty-somethings back home having been mustered out of the military, ready to find a career. Community college    There are thirty-somethings who weren’t interested in college after high school, but after ten or so years in a dead-end job, figure they’re ready now.  And they usually are.  As the graduates cross the stage to receive their diplomas, we’ll hear little kids yell, “Yay, Mom!”  Our graduates can range in age from 18 to 80.

Community colleges are the most underrated linchpins of American education.  Scholarships and financial aid are available.  Classes are held evenings and weekends to accommodate working students.  Childcare is available.  Basically, if you want to go, there’s a way to make it work.

So it’s a joyous evening for the graduates, their families, the college, and the entire community.  So economists and university academics, don’t tell me who should or shouldn’t go to college.  Watch with me as the unlikely and the improbable as well as the eager and expected cross the stage and begin new lives.



The Educated Mail Carrier

News flash:  Some people think not everyone should go to college.  Those people include economics and education professors – folks who have their Ph.D.’s, one would assume.  So they should know.

And they have evidence.  The Department of Education (where there’s more fun now) says that only about half of students who enrolled as freshmen in 2006 will graduate within six years.  Only about 20% of students who were in the bottom quarter of their high school classes will eventually get a degree.

So the proposed plan is to steer these kids during their high school years towards short-term vocational training and internships.  Richard K. Vetter, an economist at Ohio University, points to the fact that 15% of mail carriers have bachelor’s degrees.  What a waste!

Unless, of course, you consider the benefits of an education to be a quality of life issue.

I’m all in favor of vocational training.  Kids should have lots of options.  The thing is, vocational training and academic training are not mutually exclusive.  Even Ph.D.’s should be able to change the oil in their car or wire a ceiling fan. 

Letter_Carriers_Dress_for_Succe_1168  What I’m not in favor of is steering kids towards certain careers based on their high school experiences.  It’s all about timing.  For many students, especially boys, 18 is just too young to determine the rest of their lives.

I like the idea of taking both academic and vocation training in high school.  Some kids may decide they want to do masonry or computer graphics right after graduation; others may choose to enroll at a local community college to give themselves more options.  Still others may choose a 4-year school and then decide it’s not for them. The point is, they get to choose.  And we learn something from failure too.

So give me the educated mail carrier.  It’s clean work, well-paid, and comes with benefits.  And while she’s delivering my mail, my carrier can think about a better delivery system, the Bronte sisters, or her grocery list.  Her choice.

Not Your Mother’s Cheerleaders

A reader of yesterday’s blog took me to task for my comment about competitive cheerleading.  I asked why anyone would cheer for other people instead of playing the game themselves.  Here’s what Allison had to say:

Competitive cheer is just that - competitive. Teams attend competitions, sometimes every weekend, around the state and country. The point is to demonstrate motion, voice, dance, tumbling, and stunting skills, and the teams are scored by judges, much like in gymnastics.

Well, I checked out the website Allison suggested, and she is right.  I stand corrected.  Competitive cheerleading isn’t about standing on the sidelines with pom poms while boys (or maybe girls) compete.  It is much more like competitive team gymnastics.

Cheering  In fact, as I did a little more research, it turns out that competitive cheerleading is considered by some to be one of the most dangerous sports for high school girls.   The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injuries reports that cheerleading accounts for 65% of all catastrophic sports injuries for high school girls occurring over the last 25 years.

Both ABC and CBS did features on a study done by Brenda Shields, the Research Coordinator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Columbus (Ohio) Children’s Hospital.  The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, examined 209,000 children treated in emergency rooms over 13 years.  Injuries to female children from 12-17 accounted for well over half of their injuries.

Researchers noted that cheerleading has changed over the years to include much more tumbling and stunts, as my reader described.  Because of the demands of the sport, doctors recommend better trained coaches, more careful training for the athletes themselves, and more supervision.

I’d be interested in knowing if schools have adopted safer practices for competitive cheerleading since the report came out in 2006.  And my apologies to the kids.  It’s a tough sport.

Flag Football and Title IX

Five thousand girls in Florida play flag football in high school as a school-sponsored sport.  It’s the fastest growing high school sport in the state.

The interest is so high that some schools field teams at the freshman, junior, and varsity levels and still make cuts.  The sport is cheap and girls who never considered themselves particularly athletic are trying out and having fun.

So what’s the problem?  The sport began about 10 years ago when the Florida legislature required schools to keep records of student participation by gender to comply with Title IX.  As a result, schools adopted flag football and competitive cheerleading for girls. Flag football  

Advocates for equal sports opportunities for girls argue that flag football is a dead-end sport.  In other words, there are no college teams or professional teams.  All high school sports for boys have opportunities beyond high school. 

But what are those opportunities?  Over a million high school boys play football.  Only 5000 scholarships are offered at Division I schools.   About 430,000 girls play high school basketball, including 130,000 seniors.  Only 32 (3.3%) played at NCAA schools, and only 1% of those players were drafted by the pros.

So from a purist standpoint, yeah, flag football isn’t an NCAA sport.  But some girls who play it do play other sports, and one of the things girls say they like about flag football is that you can’t get a scholarship in it – so the pressure is off.

On the other hand, considering competitive cheerleading as a “sport” is another thing entirely.  Why would you cheer for someone else when you could be playing the game yourself?  Even if it's flag football?

Career Questions

School, of course, is all about teaching and learning.  But it's also a workplace with all the joys and aggravations that come with most workplaces that employ lots of people who have to interact with one another on a daily basis.  Introducing a new feature in today’s blog – CAREER QUESTIONS.

 Q:  A colleague of mine who took my under her wing when I first began teaching has lately

been asking me for favors.  Can I watch her class so she can make a phone call? Can she

borrow my materials? Can I cover her for bus duty? “Just this once” has turned into

multiple favors, but I feel like if I try to say something, she’ll be hurt. I do feel like I

“owe her one” for helping me adjust, but is it going too far?

 A:  You do owe her one.  Maybe even two.  But you are not obligated to play the role of a peep for the rest of your career.

Certainly it was kind of your colleague to help you adjust to your new teaching environment.   Chicken-picture1  With so many new protocols to learn along with the daily responsibilities of classroom teaching, those first few years are tough to do alone. 

But at this point, she is taking advantage of the relationship and acting like the mother hen.  Ask yourself, does she ask anyone else to cover for her or share materials?  If you weren’t there, would she just do bus duty herself? 

My guess is that other faculty will notice the favors you do for her, and you will not earn their respect by covering your colleague’s duties. 

So the next time she asks for a favor “just this once,” you have to say no, explaining that you have another obligation.  She’ll eventually get the message.  I will be surprised if she is “hurt”; more likely she’ll be annoyed, maybe even a little angry.  Prepare for that, but don’t be cowed.  She may not like you as much for refusing to cover for her, but she’ll respect you more.

Targeted Assistance

Diane Trim, an editor at Magna Publications, had a great idea:  20-minuted targeted educational videos.

Here’s the deal.  Teachers often need help with one specific aspect of teaching or classroom management.  Instead of spending a whole day talking about that one aspect (or talking about related or even unrelated aspects), the topic can be addressed in about 20 minutes. 

The topic is usually posed in question form.  How can I make sure students just “got” what I taught?  How can I engage students right from the beginning of class?  How can I get kids to work efficiently as groups?  How can I use volunteers effectively in my classroom?

There are 20-minute targeted videos for principals, too.  How can I use committees more effectively?  What can I do to promote a positive school climate?

The key to all of the videos is that they contain specific steps, specific examples, or specific suggestions of what the teacher or principal can do.  You’ll note that the key word here is “specific.”  And they won’t eat up your staff development budget either.

Image001-1  I’m so onboard with this concept that currently I’m in Wisconsin making a few of these 20 –minute videos (after 25 years as a school administrator, I ought to know something).  Example next week. Diane’s blog is found on Inside the School.

Also next week:  Look for a new feature on this blog -- Career Questions.  Teachers and administrators ask practical questions or present problems that are part of daily operations in schools.



Legislating Against Bullying

What gets measured gets done. 

It’s an old adage that many school administrators and teachers have found to be true.  If you know it’s going to be on the state tests, you make sure it’s in your curriculum.  Of course, the flip side to this idea is so-called “teaching to the test,” which is only a bad idea if that’s all that you do.

Anyway, a number of states have enacted or are preparing to enact legislation against bullying, including cyber bullying, in schools.  Part of me – a big part – says, school people can’t take a hard stand against bullying without legislation? Come on, people!

Bully_free  But another part of me – the practical part – knows that in fact, schools are notorious for turning a blind eye towards even egregious bullying.  The old advice school people still give the targets of bullying – “just ignore it” – doesn’t work and never has.  In some schools the only way to get people’s attention is for a parent to bring forward a lawsuit against the school after genuine injury or even death.

First attempts in some states to legislate against cyber bullying (branding teens as pedophiles for sexting, for example) were at best, misguided.  And clearly, simply prohibiting bullying by law doesn’t mean the end of it.  However, making schools accountable for establishing procedures against bullying, training teachers and staff, teaching students about it, and adopting firm disciplinary procedures, is a step in the right direction.  Schools should be required to keep records of reports of bullying along with the actions taken on the part of school personnel.  What gets measured gets done, and legislation will help schools take a strong stand against bullying.






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