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Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Let's start with the chicken,"

 "I think it would be great to publish J's and my book before I die." These are my aunt's words when I spoke with her last week. She's my mother's identical twin. She's 85 now and, although she's forgetful about yesterday's meals and who's coming to visit that day, she remembers "in HD" details of her past.

My mother died in 2007. My aunt and I miss her a lot. We talk about her and my dad--who died in 1983-- all the time.

The book--good God! I think it's called "The Chicken Book"; I can't remember!--is about a chicken that wants to be different and so steals a little girl's tooth from under the girl's pillow and wears it. The little girl in the story lives on a farm and her name is Patty Ann (I think--can't remember that either). Patty Ann is upset that the tooth she'd left for the tooth fairy is in a chicken's mouth. She and the well intentioned chicken talk it over and, in the end, our heroine chicken realizes that it's not a tooth that makes a chicken, it' a heart and she and Patty Ann have big ones.

They become true friends.

"The Chicken Book" is not, however, my favorite of mom's and Aunt D's work. "The Chicken Book" was written after I'd started college and so it doesn't bring back precious memories of, say, the cold Ohio winter mornings of my youth. I can close my eyes right now and hear my dad saying to my mother: "She should have on house slippers", as he regards my bare feet on our kitchen's linoleum floor. I grew up in the same house as my father and, so, perhaps his dad had said the same kind of thing to my grandmother when, as a child, dad had stood--tousle headed from just having awoken--on the same linoleum floor of the same kitchen in the same house in the same small, small town.

Look out the window of that house's kitchen, dear reader! Regard children playing in the street--Lincoln by name but known as "back street". Many of those children are my cousins--my aunt's four `children--for this is a "make-do-and-play-with-everybody" kind of small town. With a total populace of only 300 people, children had to be creative.

My stay at home mom and my "go-to-work" aunt, two of the adults of that town of 300, also wrote two other children's books. "Ugabugaboo" was their first book--they'd both draw the pictures and write the dialogue of a flea looking for a warm place to rest his flea head--and it is my favorite. "Ugabugaboo" is so cute. Like a hobo he travels the world with a bag tied to a stick. He even hops on a space ship and flies to the moon looking for a warm spot. Although his pleadings are rejected, Ugabugaboo is treated kindly by all sorts of animals. Polar bears and sea horses, lions and elephants, alike, all say "no" to his earnest beseechings to be his living companion. He finally gives up, goes home--the drawing of Ugabugaboo desultorily and dejectedly scuffling up a path to where he'd begun his journey is poignant, for there sits an old dog. Ugabugaboo, who had blindly passed that hound earlier in the book, now tells the dog his story.

You can guess the rest. It is a happy ever after ending for both Ugabugaboo and his new friend--a friend found right there "in his own backyard."

There was/is controversy about their second book: "The Squee". Mom and Aunt D accused Steven Spielberg of stealing their story. In the mid to late 60's, they'd sent "The Squee" off to a publishing company and almost received a publication deal. I don't know many details of that--I was a child--but I do know there was a lot of excitement. The story is about a Squee boy (an extraterrestrial)--he's covered in large and lovely circles that change colors depending upon his mood-- visiting earth and an earth boy visiting the Squee's planet. The Squee boy and the earth boy become good friends and there are tears and hugs when they part.

I think the Squee's spots, as he hopped on his space ship to return to Squeeland, are blue because he is so sad. His and his earth friend's tears, though, are the same clear color as they say goodbye.

Mom and Aunt D's "The Squee" story does, I suppose, resemble Steven Spielberg's 1980's E.T., though the squee boy never hides in closets or comes close to death.

These accusations were leveled again just last week as my 85 year old aunt and I talked on the phone. "J and I always suspected that Steven Spielberg man stole our idea...."

Chickens and little girls. Fleas and hound dogs. Earth and Squee boys. All of my aunt and my mom's books share a theme of friendship and patience and kindness and love.

"I'll help you." I responded to my aunt. "With which book do you want to start?"

"Well," she said. "Let's start with the chicken."


A chicken it is. Then a flea. Then a Squee.


8:09 am est          Comments

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Incredulity. Head shaking. Laughing and amazed... Head shaking again.

Bullying.  How ridiculous to start in classrooms with bullying prevention! How inept an operation is that!?  We encourage children to "Do the Right Thing". We chastise them when they've hurt others' feelings, yet, school districts across the nation are led by bullying and brutish men and women.  They're not doing right things.  They're hurting feelings. They're not only hurting teachers' careers...they're destroying them.

Cities, too, are led by bullying people.  One of my district's "biggest whigs" is now, for example, mayor of an affluent city.  She's got real power--both in a school district and in a municipality. Certainly I've seen the effects of that power in a school district.  She's second in command to my superintendent--in charge of hiring and firing employees; sits right up front at school board meetings and soaks in the admiration of her underlings. 

She's also a really close friend of two of my former principals and the counselor at my former school.  She's opened many doors for her friends.  She's also kept the doors of justice--all actions against them unfounded--shut. 

Simply put, she protects her friends.

Man, oh man, I wish she were my friend! I certainly have experienced the effects of "her friendship" though not in a good way.  I was on the receiving end of her buddies' "leadership styles."  

The leadership of one of her principal friends--lauded by the district and seeking a superintendency--is unethical, scary, brutish, and truly dangerous. He didn't like me much. Although I am not such a "goodie two shoes"--for who can be in these places called public schools with this "do-anything-it-doesn't-matter-if-it's-true-or-not" mentality?--I told the truth. He didn't, to say the least, much like that.  As you know, he let me know of his displeasure.

He was not my friend.

The mayor/assistant superintendent's other principal friend was not scary nor dangerous.  She was inept, clueless, and distant.  That principal also--because of her friendship not only with the newly appointed city mayor and school district big whig, but with the dangerous brute and his counselor sidekick--worked hard at blocking all (and I mean ALL; "You are forbidden to do that and if you do I will have to write you up" kinds of conversations) of my bullying prevention efforts.  

She, too, was not my friend.

That principal must have been frustrated to have me assigned to her school.  Imagine!  I'd turned her buddy in for bullying!  Imagine her good friend--the other counselor at that school (oh the convoluted ickiness of those friendships and alliances woven tightly together. My dull scissored, truth telling attempts at cutting through the friendships and the ills those friendships had wrought for employees and their students were not enough. Those friendship ropes are tight) and her communications to the mayor/superintendent about me.  

I was armed with the dull scissors; the counselor was armed with district provided razor sharp and gleaming knives...oh, how did I escape?

Please hang in there with me, dear readers, as I work at portraying for you the tightness of the roped friendships.  At the retirement luncheon for the inept principal--there the three female friends were: my retiring principal, the counselor at the school where the dangerous male brute works...and the mayor/district "big whig". There they were cuddling together and laughing. There they were literally "woven together" with their arms wrapped around each other. 

There they were...

 We all were listening to stories of this principal's greatness. One after the other, the feeder pattern principals arose and lauded her.  I was incredulous.  Really?  My experience was not that!  My experience was one of frustration and unease at the retiring principal's lack of involvement; her hardly ever leaving her office; her on going "do-not- disturb-the-leadership-team" meetings behind closed doors as she and her assistant principals "disappeared" for hours and the school's children ran amok. 

 "Hello in there!" I'd often wanted to fling that principal's door open during those meetings. "GET OUT HERE!  WE NEED LEADERSHIP! The third floor is a downright dangerous place to be."

At least the luncheon's food was good.  The PTSA president, by the way, honored me as a welcoming face and smile at our school. That must have really annoyed the tightly woven threesome.  Put a frown on the face of that moment.

Thanks, PTSA president.  Thanks for that.  

Recently at my school, parents asked my current (and wonderful) principal about school safety and bullying prevention at our school. These were parents of fifth grade children.  They are deciding whether or not to choose our school for middle school. Safety concerns--both physical and emotional--are bottom line issues for parents. Parents know their beloved children cannot learn if they (the children) do not feel safe. 

I was asked by my principal to speak on that as I am the resident "guru" of bullying prevention.  I believe I surprised the parents and him.  I did not speak of intervention techniques or school wide efforts.  I did not talk about the different roles--target, perpetrator and bystanders.  I spoke of none of that.  

Instead, I pointed to my principal.  I said something like this: "Preventing bullying starts with leadership.  Nothing happens in a school without a principal's support.  We--you and I--have that here. This is a creative, smart, fun and genuine man.  It's a great time for all of us--employees, parents, and most of all students--to be at this school.  We have a wonderful school principal and I, as his employee, could not be more grateful."

I think my current principal and I will be very good friends.

10:58 am est          Comments

Sunday, November 16, 2014

From a resignation letter written by NC educator, Kris Nielson....
"Let me cut to the chase: I quit. I am resigning my position as a teacher in the state of North Carolina—permanently. I am quitting without notice (taking advantage of the “at will” employment policies of this state). I am quitting without remorse and without second thoughts. I quit. I quit. I quit!



I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible.

I will not spend another day under the expectations that I prepare every student for the increasing numbers of meaningless tests.

I refuse to be an unpaid administrator of field tests that take advantage of children for the sake of profit.

I will not spend another day wishing I had some time to plan my fantastic lessons because administration comes up with new and inventive ways to steal that time, under the guise of PLC meetings or whatever. I’ve seen successful PLC development. It doesn’t look like this.

I will not spend another day wondering what menial, administrative task I will hear that I forgot to do next. I’m far enough behind in my own work.

I will not spend another day wondering how I can have classes that are full inclusion, and where 50% of my students have IEPs, yet I’m given no support.

I will not spend another day in a district where my coworkers are both on autopilot and in survival mode. Misery loves company, but I will not be that company.

I refuse to subject students to every ridiculous standardized test that the state and/or district thinks is important. I refuse to have my higher-level and deep thinking lessons disrupted by meaningless assessments (like the EXPLORE test) that do little more than increase stress among children and teachers, and attempt to guide young adolescents into narrow choices.

I totally object and refuse to have my performance as an educator rely on “Standard 6.” It is unfair, biased, and does not reflect anything about the teaching practices of proven educators.

I refuse to hear again that it’s more important that I serve as a test administrator than a leader of my peers.

I refuse to watch my students being treated like prisoners. There are other ways. It’s a shame that we don’t have the vision to seek out those alternatives.

I refuse to watch my coworkers being treated like untrustworthy slackers through the overbearing policies of this state, although they are the hardest working and most overloaded people I know.

I refuse to watch my family struggle financially as I work in a job to which I have invested 6 long years of my life in preparation. I have a graduate degree and a track record of strong success, yet I’m paid less than many two-year degree holders. And forget benefits—they are effectively nonexistent for teachers in North Carolina.

I refuse to watch my district’s leadership tell us about the bad news and horrific changes coming towards us, then watch them shrug incompetently, and then tell us to work harder.

I refuse to listen to our highly regarded superintendent telling us that the charter school movement is at our doorstep (with a soon-to-be-elected governor in full support) and tell us not to worry about it, because we are applying for a grant from Race to the Top. There is no consistency here; there is no leadership here.

I refuse to watch my students slouch under the weight of a system that expects them to perform well on EOG tests, which do not measure their abilities other than memorization and application and therefore do not measure their readiness for the next grade level—much less life, career, or college.

I’m tired of watching my students produce amazing things, which show their true understanding of 21st century skills, only to see their looks of disappointment when they don’t meet the arbitrary expectations of low-level state and district tests that do not assess their skills.

I refuse to hear any more about how important it is to differentiate our instruction as we prepare our kids for tests that are anything but differentiated. This negates our hard work and makes us look bad.

I am tired of hearing about the miracles my peers are expected to perform, and watching the districts do next to nothing to support or develop them. I haven’t seen real professional development in either district since I got here. The development sessions I have seen are sloppy, shallow, and have no real means of evaluation or accountability.

I’m tired of my increasing and troublesome physical symptoms that come from all this frustration, stress, and sadness.

Finally, I’m tired of watching parents being tricked into believing that their children are being prepared for the complex world ahead, especially since their children’s teachers are being cowed into meeting expectations and standards that are not conducive to their children’s futures.

I’m truly angry that parents put so much stress, fear, and anticipation into their kids’ heads in preparation for the EOG tests and the new MSLs—neither of which are consequential to their future needs. As a parent of a high school student in Union County, I’m dismayed at the education that my child receives, as her teachers frantically prepare her for more tests. My toddler will not attend a North Carolina public school. I will do whatever it takes to keep that from happening.

I quit because I’m tired being part of the problem. It’s killing me and it’s not doing anyone else any good. Farewell."

8:14 am est          Comments

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Hey! Need a little help here!

How will this kid graduate and not resort to FLVS.....?

I wrote the following letter to a Miami-Dade County Public Schools' school board member.  He has sent a formal referral of my request to our district's superintendent.

If any one can help figure out how Tammy can meet all graduation requirements,--including two credits of World Language and a performing arts half credit--prepare for her desired career (two class periods each day) within her traditional six period day, possibly have more of her precious electives taken up the next two years with a course she hates--Intensive {Ba-A-Or-Ring!) Reading, and NOT have to resort to FLVS, I'd like to hear from you.


Here's the letter:


I write to you because I believe you will help. Tammy, a high school sophomore, attends a traditional six period high school.  She is a solid A and B (sometimes C!) student.  She is a participant in her school's Color Guard. She maintains a 3.5 weighted GPA. This nine week period she earned superior grades and, so, her GPA will rise.

Because Tammy received a "Level 2" on last school year's FCAT, she has been forced to take Intensive Reading as one of her electives. I have inquired of the Florida Department of Education and found out that although the remedial reading requirement can be embedded  into children's English classes, Miami-Dade County Public Schools has decided to require a separate remedial reading elective. 

I have spoken with those who make these decisions in our district and I am unsatisfied with the response.

Tammy also is preparing for a career in Early Childhood Education.  This preparation requires that she select two periods of Child Care classes within her six period day. Tammy, by her own choice, works with a local elementary school's special needs children.  Her teacher has said that Tammy  "is made for this work."

The benefits of Tammy's participation in her Early Childhood Education program are bountiful.  She earns college credit, is eligible for the Gold Seal Florida Bright Futures scholarship, and frankly, loves school because of this program.

Because I believe myself to be an advocate for children--and because this is not only Tammy's issue--I put forth to you the stark reality of her dilemma.

Next year, Tammy's junior year, she will be required to take: 

English III
Algebra II
American HIstory, and,

That leaves two electives.

If she again is forced to take an intensive reading class--and we really do not know for what test she is preparing and if that test is required for graduation (what a frustrating limbo for parents)--she will not be able to take her two Child Care classes.  

That's wrong.

I believe Tammy deserves to meet her graduation requirements, participate in a career prep program of her choice--and maybe even meet universities' world language requirements (her parents are already in conversation with Miami-Dade College about the repercussions of her deciding not to take two world language classes)--within her traditional school day.  

Tammy's  is a full and wonderful life.  Hers are enchanting stories of "her kids;" helping get lunches, reading stories in circle time; hugs and greetings when she arrives at "her classroom."  I am hopeful you will have answers as to how best to meet all graduation and university requirements and keep those stories flowing at her and her family's dinner table.

Thank you,

Kim Werner

10:22 am est          Comments

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ends and Beginnings

I am at wits' end.  Maybe we have to get to our wits' end to get to our brains' beginnings; beginnings to galvanize ourselves for a fight.  And I am ready to take on a "big dog"  called Bush. "Surely," I've said to myself in the past, "Surely, it cannot be so big and ugly.  Surely it cannot all so clearly smack of cronyism. Surely it cannot be so simple. Surely there cannot be so few players in the destruction of the educational system, as imperfect as it is, that I love."

But it is and it does.  There are just a few key players in addition to Mr. Bush; among them: David Coleman and Bill Gates; Eli Broad...and Jeb Bush, Jeb Bush, Jeb, Jeb, Jeb......Bush.

It's not for me to sift through the "how-we-got-here's"of the imminent demise of public education, but Jeb Bush's influence is evident now at every turn.  The "how-we-got here's" are convoluted messes of standards and assessments; "holding accountable's"--"rigor" that pumps cortisol through the bodies of our kindergarten and teenaged children as well as our teachers--and testing, testing, testing strangling our children's creativity and delight; killing teachers' spirits; turning school leaders into nothing more than 'yes men and puppets; miring everyone in a cauldron of fear that funding will be lost, jobs will be axed; grades won't be passed.  

It is one helluva mess.  

My public middle school counselor dream:

Children completely unsupervised in classroom and hallways and every single adult in the school behind closed doors busily entering, evaluating, disseminating, discussing the data concerning those run amok children. "No!  NO!  LEAVE US ALONE!  WETEACHERSPRINCIPALSCOUNSELORSSOCIALWORKERSPSYCHOLOGISTSHAVEWORKTODO!!! Back away from the door!"

Turn them all away; them with their faces pressed on the windows of closed office doors...

The "how-we-got-here's" are as tangled as the sweet and delicate necklace chains of my youth.  I'd lift a clump of childish chains from my jewelry box--I remember once wanting to swap one for another for the cross my grandmother'd bought me--and begin the tedious task of the"over and under" untangling.  It was with satisfaction when I had success and slid the cross on the new chain.  

Lots of times, though, I was unsuccessful.  

Our clump of public school assessments and standards and testing and data is like my 1963 necklace clump. It's a mess.  Take a look at just one Florida school district's testing calendar:

There is a movement at work.  It's alive and invigorating.  It's parent led and it's led to defensive posturing on Mr. Bush's part.  

Read here Michelle Malkin's, a conservative, report on Common Core and the national backlash against it.  

More: This is from the Florida Department of Education's website:

English Language Arts Florida Standards (LAFS)

English language arts Florida Standards provide focus on in-depth critical-thinking and problem solving skills rather than rote memorization and “teaching to the test.” 

These standards were adopted in February 2014 and will be in use in Kindergarten through 12th grade starting in the 2014–2015 school year. 

My comment:

So now, instead of "teaching to the test" (which, by the way, was a result of Jeb Bush's brother George W.'s "No Child Left Behind" initiative and the punitive consequences to school districts of leaving children behind) we are "testing to the standards."  Which means we are "teaching to the test," in a convoluted sick way.  Stop denying it, Florida Department of Education.

And this:  tests developed for each of these subjects at every grade level: 

Even more:  The above is linked to the Florida Department of Education so that parents can find out about each subject's standards....for kindergarten through grade 12 students.  

Take that in, folks. Separate assessments for all subjects for all children!

Let's educate ourselves.  It's easy to sit back, watch a little TV, shrug our shoulders and let someone else step up.  Here's the thing though; our children deserve to be more than Jeb Bush and his cronies' educational lab experiment. Let's get our kids out of their Petri dishes and into true and dynamic classrooms.  

12:14 pm edt          Comments

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