Friday, March 27, 2015

Missed Opportunities

I grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, an affluent area with some of the most amazing public schools. I attended one, Washington Grove, for kindergarten. At that time, kindergarten was half-day and it may have been parental choice.

But then I went to parochial school (Go Crusaders sounds rather impolitic now) and then all-girls Catholic prep school. Holy Cross Tartans - less offensive sounding, although a sandwich called a Tartan was served in the cafeteria.

One thing I always knew about teachers in parochial schools was that they made less. They were just as well educated but sacrificed a bit of cash and a bunch of long-term retirement cash to teach in a religious school. This was for diverse reasons - more freedom in regard to testing and curriculum and teaching, belief in the religion and its philosophy toward education and maybe even to assure themselves of having more students that were there ready to learn. That last reason is perhaps controversial, but I do not remember my mother signing my homework every night or even having a parent refuse to help with schoolwork (as happened constantly to one of my daughter's classmates one year).

That occurred to me the other night when I attended the Community meeting for the Wilde Lake High School cluster schools at Slayton House. All the principals (except Harper's Choice) gave a brief overview of their school, challenges they have overcome and programs they offer.

They answered some questions from the audience although they tinted the answers with rose-colored glasses.
Sample: Q: Does testing preparation take too much time away from teaching?
A: Testing prep IS actually teaching the material.

How is having my daughter take the fourth-grade PARCC tests for reading and math teaching her the sixth and seventh grade material she normally is taught in her fifth grade G/T classes? (Responses to responses were not solicited, though, so I blog...) (NOTE: I am NOT against common core. I am against high-stakes testing.)

Back to my original thought:

One of the principals mentioned "case managers." My husband and I turned to each other. Case managers? Another principal mentioned "meeting the students where they are" and "knowing the students" has reduced suspensions and attendance rates have risen.

That doesn't mean I'm not continuing along the path we've taken. But it increases my respect for our public school teachers. They have to deal with way more challenges than my teachers did. Not that we didn't get detentions, we did. But fights in our hallways were more likely to be "Did you hear what Annie said about Josie?" Although I do wish a teacher had stepped in to stop that first grader from chasing me with a cicada when I was 11. STILL scarred.

Further complicating that matter is the school system's response to a union survey of its members. You can find out more from my friend Julia's well-written essay here. The system downplayed the response from almost 4,000 teachers and school personnel basically calling it a flawed, questionable survey from union hacks. That's because they don't like the results.

I, for one, am not a union hack. I'm an accountant. I'm "management." I do believe that unions are sometimes a problem in situations, a la Detroit's Big Three automakers. But having viewed the work of Howard County teachers and spoken to many of them, they are not the problem. They are the solution and they should be involved in so many more of the decisions that are imposed from on high by fiat. And they're a resource that we already have.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Let's go to Kindergarten!

What a scary/exciting/fun/awful/new experience kindergarten can be!

That struck me again last night as I listened to a Howard County kindergarten teacher talk about the importance of paraeducators in her life. No, that's not correct. She talked about the importance of paraeducators in kindergarteners' lives.

Because as I noted initially, kindergarten is a crazy time for a child. What do you remember about kindergarten?

I remember that I got to have chocolate milk, which was so much better than the white milk I struggled to finish every night.

I remember nap/quiet time, which was hard for me - trying to fall asleep during daylight was rough.

I remember drawing a house many days and having essentially the same story for that house everyday. I think I may have drawn houses when I couldn't sleep.

I remember that it was only a couple of hours each day.

These are not memories that my daughter will have of kindergarten. My daughter may remember playing math races with teddy bears in kindergarten. She may think of working on her sight words. I can remember, from my volunteering in her classroom, helping kids work on their letters ("No, that's a p, not a d.") while her teacher and paraeducator worked with small groups on reading at their various levels.

I remember thinking, How do they do this when there aren't any parent volunteers? How do four kindergarten teachers manage with only one paraeducator?

How will kindergarten teachers manage with thirty fewer paraeducators next year? Why do they have to? Because we have to finance a Gallup survey? Because we have to outsource legal services at a cost of $1 million over the previous administration?

Kindergarten is not the way it used to be. (I'm leaving out the developmental arguments now - the system exists and will for the foreseeable future.) If kindergarten class sizes increase, which they will under this budget, the impact on these little kids will be felt throughout the elementary school and throughout their progress in the school system.

The ripple effect is just as important, which this teacher noted. She thanked us for focusing on the impact she will sustain but she encouraged us to think about the greater systemic challenges.

Throwing this pebble into the school pond may have 13 years of impact, growing larger and larger. You can never get that pebble back.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The library is open!

Other parents may rant and rave about schools being closed with all this four-letter-word crap that has imprisoned us for several days this year...this month!

Admission: I have been suffering the DTs over my library not being open. It's been closed three or four days this week. On Sunday, I wanted to laugh it off as "We made such a mess at Evening in the Stacks" but it was only ONE branch. (And believe me, the amount of work done to transform Miller branch is monumental.) I had even had a thought on Saturday, faced with the impending ice storm, to see if I could borrow a book. Where would I have stored it? In my evening bag that could barely fit my phone? But I mentally slapped my wrist and realized that would seem CRAZY.

On Tuesday, I picked up my requests, figuring they would tide me over. Not so much.

A book for Lil.

An audiobook - Wolf Hall - because the BBC has produced a version of this amazing book with Damian Lewis and Luke needs to refresh his memory for the PBS airing in the spring. He commutes to McLean, VA most days so he can get through a book lickety-split on his drive. In paper, it would take a month of Sundays, which he usually works on these days, so audio is a winner!

A book for me. I felt rejuvenated to explore a new author. Alas, it was so hard to follow and seems to be based on a cheating scandal about the West Ham football club. I rarely give up on a book, but I couldn't do it.

I had thirty pages in The Outcast to go and no good book to anticipate.

Howard County notified parents of Friday's closure on Thursday at 6:30 PM. I was distressed, yes. Annoyed, perplexed, etc.

The library notified us at 9:31 PM that they'd remain closed Friday as well.

And I began to wish that I had browsed the stacks that fun evening in the stacks.