Here’s the thing

pexels-photo-626165.jpegDid you happen upon KQED’s interview with San Francisco educator, Michael Essien, principal of MLK Middle School? If not, here’s the report which includes an audio of the story.

So many of us in education feel the pressure to keep teaching the prescribed curriculum even when our students, our kids, are telegraphing their emotional response to the curricular pressures they are experiencing. Could it be possible that the children are telling us “this is not working for me?”

I believe this to be the case when so many kids have escalating behaviors that disrupt the flow of the classroom. Just as an infant wails when it is hungry, tired or bored, our students are also wailing in the form of noncompliant behaviors.

As a classroom teacher, I was fortunate to have some really supportive push-in help when a child’s behavior was, let’s use the education-ese term, “off the wall”. I can picture Liz Higgins, a now-retired social worker who was assigned to my last school, talking in the calmest of voices to one of my students who was under my desk after having up-ended her own. The child eventually returned to the class activity, and the day continued.

I was fortunate to experience the power of push-in reconnections with traumatized and frustrated students many times over the course of 30 years. I hope over time I learned from these education mentors. Fred and Sandy and Sharon, Mary Ann and Maria, I don’t believe I properly thanked you for that. You taught me that when a child acts out, it is important to reconnect and re-establish our relationship. What has always impressed me about these six educators is that none of them ever seem to have lost touch with their roots in education. They may have been (or may now be) administrators, but they never forgot about their own experiences in classrooms or with students.

On some plane of understanding, I eventually realized that when one of my students was acting disruptively, that was a signal that, for that student at least, the demands of the classroom were too much. The times that I was able to keep that student with us in the classroom were, for the most part, successful outcomes. They did not happen all the time and they certainly did not happen as often as they should have.

Principal Essien’s experience as a teacher and in special education informed his decisions. He demonstrated to his staff that he could be trusted as an administrator because he still remembered what it is like to be in a classroom. Mr. Essien recognized that adding one more thing to a classroom teacher’s responsibilities was unworkable, that there needed to be a collaboration between administration and classrooms in order to best serve the students.

His push-in model is working because the collective focus is on what the students need in today’s education pressure-cooker.

Shouldn’t this be the goal for every child?

 

Two Tales in Education

Author collectionTwo stories from the education world caught my attention this week, and I feel that both are worth the time to read. The first story, Why Teachers Quit by Liz Riggs, is a cautionary tale from 2013 about teachers and burn-out. The second, Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues is by Natasha Singer of the New York Times. It is a warning for anyone who worries about the possible effects of corporate America’s influence in schools and school materials.

The Atlantic recently reposted Liz Riggs’ 2013 article Why Teachers Quit which was originally printed in October 2013. Even with a 4-year time gap, this is an article that is relevant and worth reading for anyone interested in retaining educators. The turn-over rate cited in the article, 40-50%, refers to the numbers of teachers leaving the education profession within the first five years of their career.  While I believe this attrition rate to be lower in 2017 thanks to strong induction and mentoring programs available to beginning educators, many beginning teachers continue to leave education for other fields.

Although many of the teachers Ms. Riggs interviewed were from charter schools, the conditions which lead to decisions to leave education are often some of the same expressions of discontent heard now from both novices and experienced teachers. The responsibilities of educators don’t end at the dismissal bell. Planning, assessing, writing reports – those workloads are often overwhelming and makes for an unhealthy and out-of-balance life.

Even when one goes into education for all the best reasons, the reality of the profession can become overwhelming. With all of the emphasis on teacher quality, there continues to be a need to ensure that the extracurricular demands on talented educators are not overpowering.

The second article, Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues, was recently published in the New York Times and describes a new trend in education: recruiting teachers to promote edu-products. While understanding that obtaining “free stuff” is a way for classrooms and educators to afford enhancements and the latest in bells and whistles, I think this pathway is a very slippery slope. It makes me more than a bit skeptical about the motives of corporate American forming relationships with educators to obtain favorable product placements.

As a retired educator, I can still recall the disproportionate amounts of time spent each evening writing plans, pulling together materials, researching, contacting parents, and grading student work. I am not quite sure how Kayla Delzer, the third grade teacher chronicled in the Times article finds enough time to attend to teacher responsibilities; blog, tweet, and post on Facebook; and sleep. I wonder about the cost to her students.  Is her objectivity in evaluating appropriate materials compromised? Are her students missing out when their expert teacher is away to promote these materials?

Two tales for the week, both cautionary. Anyone out there listening?

 

Is STEM the only thing?

2016-Sep-10_FiddleBanjo2016_1362Is STEM the only thing? I’m asking for a friend.

It occurs to me that in the rush to turn out worker bees for business sectors, the focus in education is more than a little skewed in favor of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Yes, these are all important studies and part of a well-rounded balanced education. However, I am questioning that the focus on STEM has over-shadowed other content and curricula that, in my biased opinion, should be equally important.

Because I see education in terms of an avenue toward a pursuit, observing the march of the bureaucrats toward the next great crisis in education is equally frustrating and alarming. Our educational goal should be to “hook” students into becoming life-long students, to foster curiosity and questioning and the drive to know more.

And maybe that pathway toward becoming lifetime learners is through a STEM discipline, and perhaps it is not.

As a student, my personal pathway into learning was through something quite different. I was a more-than-adequate reader, not a particularly skilled writer, and a horribly incompetent math student.  What fired me up to become more disciplined about learning and more successful as a student, was a love and pursuit of music. The irony of this statement is that, as an adult, music has taken a backseat to the very disciplines that catch all the attention today – technology and mathematics.

To me, it is more important to teach students to think critically, to process logically and, yes, even scientifically. Science, math, and technology are important and great ways to get to those problem-solving and thinking skills. But other disciplines can be a means to this end – and toward the goal of fostering and enduring desire to learn – too. And for the student whose interest in learning lies in arts and humanities, exclusion of such pursuits leave them flat.

So while our education policy makers direct a refocus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, I hope there might also be a similar pursuit of arts and humanities. Because, in my opinion, there is a need to balance educational pursuits across all disciplines.

School Committee Meeting, 15 March 2017

10012015FrenchStImagine for a moment that you are 10 years old, speak another language at home, and as kids sometimes do, have heard the adults in your family expressing concern about Immigration returning you and your family to another country where your life had been one filled with violence and poverty.  Worries about being removed from this new place where you had felt safe might naturally fill your waking thoughts. And those worries would, of course, extend to the place where you, a ten-year-old, spends the greater part of each day: your school. Last night, the Lowell School Committee ensured that, at least within the walls of school, a child whose family’s immigration status might be called in to question could know that they would not be forcibly removed from their school and classmates. While the School Committee’s motion and School Department’s response is reassuring for that child during time spent within the school setting, there is no guarantee of protection outside of it. Whether a 10-year-old refugee can differentiate that remains to be seen.

School Committee Meeting 15 March 2017

5 members present (Ms. Martin absent), Student representative: Onoste Omoyeni

Spotlight on Excellence & Permissions to Enter.

Please refer to packet and agenda. LTC neglected to start the broadcast at the beginning of this meeting.

Motions

Six motions :

  • 6.I. [By Jacqueline Doherty]: Request the Superintendent provide the committee with recommendations for increasing the compensation of our Substitute Teachers to be competitive in today’s education market along with the data to support such increases. Request the Superintendent provide the committee with recommendations for increasing the compensation of our Substitute Teachers to be competitive in today’s education market along with the data to support such increases.
  • 6.II. [By Jacqueline Doherty]: Request the Superintendent ensure the LPS website is updated, links to packet reports are working, and each school page provides information on its School Site Council members, meeting times, agendas, and minutes along with other relevant school-specific dates, events and information. THIS IS WHERE THE MEETING COVERAGE BEGINS. 
  • 6.III. [By Steve Gendron] Request the Superintendent develop a class size policy for Lowell Public Schools that includes current status and goals for all grades K- 12.
  • 6.IV. [By Connie Martin And Robert Gignac] Request that the Administration prepare a resolution for consideration by the Lowell School Committee that clearly defines the district’s commitment to protecting our students, regardless of their immigration status and offers all LPS staff a clear procedure for ensuring that no Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials will be granted access to the Lowell Public Schools without the expressed permission of the Superintendent of Schools.

Taking Item 8.7 (resolution) which is the response at the same time. There was mention of a registered speaker, but that person did not materialize. The motion and response found in 8.VII are a response to discussion with Superintendent re families who had received letters from Immigration about their immigration status. Mr. Gignac feels it is imperative that the SC takes a formal position so that students do not feel unsafe or fearful while they are in school.

Mr. Hoey asks Superintendent if this resolution could negatively impact government grants. When the City Council took up the Sanctuary City issue earlier this year, one of the reasons for not supporting such a motion was that the City, highly dependent upon federal funding, could possibly find those funds removed or suspended should Lowell adopt a sanctuary city policy.  Superintendent  states he does not know the definitive answer to this query; however, Dr. Khelfaoui notes that tonight’s policy is reflective of the state policy. Students need to feel safe in schools or they are not learning. Ms. Omoyeni expresses support for this motion on behalf of the students at LHS.  Mr. Gendron also expresses support; Lowell is and continues to be a city of immigrants and we should support them by removing any concerns that these students could potentially be removed forcibly from school during the school day.

Ms. Doherty echoes this sentiment as does Mr. Descoteaux. Superintendent Khelfaoui reiterates that the policy as presented tonight has been in place in the LPSD. It has been vetted by the Police Department and is legally correct.  Dr. Khelfaoui states that this policy is intended to reassure children, some of whom have already received notices from Immigration, that whatever their status, the children can regard their school as a place of safety.

Mr. Gendron reiterates that it is exactly because of the situation at the federal level that Lowell needs to put this policy in writing for peace of mind and safety of students and their families. Ms. Omoyeni also notes anectdotally that there have been some increased absences and it is the moral obligation of our community to ensure that students know they are safe.  Mr. Kennedy notes the difference in the role of the school committee as different from the City Council in creating a sancutary city.  In response to Mr. Hoey’s question about how ICE would know a students’ status, Dr. Khelfaoui responds that there is legal processes in place which prohibit just anyone from accessing students’ school records.

This issue is divisive and complicated and, as I am not a legal expert. I do note that bowing to pressure and threats about loss of funding from the federal government concerns me. Other cities such as Boston – also heavily reliant on federal funds – have taken steps to become sanctuary cities.  Role Call:  5 yeas, 1 abstain, 1 absent – approved

  • 6.V. [Robert J. Hoey]: Request a report from the Superintendent regarding the total cost of security and safety in our schools, including the amount we spend on resource officers, security and security equipment.
  • 6.VI. [By Steve Gendron] Request the Superintendent provide a response to the contract offer from the Lowell School Committee. Referred to Executive Session which follows this meeting.

Policy Subcommittee

Review of Homework Policy and Staff Sick Time.

Ms. Desmond reviews the current policy which is based on number of minutes. She is approaching building leaders to reinforce that homework might be differentiated and evaluated in a more meaningful way.  Mr. Gendron notes that a student has contacted all the Committee members and his wish is that homework is less about quantity and more about making homework a more effective activity. Ms. Omoyeni also speaks to the importance of ensuring that homework is designed to be more than busywork.

The second part of the report was about sick time. This report was intended to provide information to the City. Ms. Doherty noted a motion was made to request Human Resources formalize the policy on staff attendance on purpose. Accepted as a report of progress.

 Reports of the Superintendent

There were 9 items under Reports of the Superintendent.

8.I. Food Service Presentation At Satellite Sites & Food Truck Approval Documents

The food truck purchase would be (partially) reimbursed through the distribution of summer meals. The vehicle would also be used during the school year to transport meals to satellite schools (those without food prep kitchens).

Mr. Gignac clarifies that $14K is returned to Aramark for meals served; $45K costs include personnel in the Food Service Department working through the summer. Questions re re-serving food that has been stored in the (refriegerated) truck. Leaving food in a truck, even if refrigerated is a concern (break-ins). Expresses the opinion that we should fix what we currently have and does not feel that the $14K in administrative fees turned back to Aramark is problematic.

Mr. Hoey asks who is paying for the truck; Dr. Khelfaoui confirms the truck is paid from the “revolving account”, which is also used for other direct costs for the food program. The money originates from the federal government. Mr. Hoey also notes that cafeteria staff is hired to work 3.5 hours daily. Advocates for a 5 hour day.

Ms. Doherty notes the reality of poverty in Massachusetts and in Lowell. Being able to feed students throughout the summer and taking the food to where the children play/are, will lead to a positive outcome.

Regarding food quality, Mr. Gignac notes positive improvements in food quality in a short amount of time.

Providing meals to children throughout the summer is something Lowell should support. When the Commonwealth calculates the “Economically Disadvantaged” student percentage in Lowell at 55%, it is an understatement of reality borne by fuzzy mathematical computation. I taught in several schools where the actual number of students in poverty was over 90%. Those kids are hungry and school meals, as well as food provided by organizations like Merrimack Valley Food Bank, might be the only nutrition they receive.  

In my opinion, expanding food distribution throughout the summer is a moral obligation to help children in need. What I am having difficulty understanding is the fact that the School Department is being asked to purchase a new truck for Aramark. This new truck would be used for summer food distribution as well as delivery of meals to satellite schools during the school year (satellite schools are schools without food preparation facilities). The “administrative” costs for the summer food program is $14,000, which is the cost Aramark assesses for what I understand is overhead at the corporate level.

The new truck will ostensibly be purchased to distribute meals to students “where they are” during the summer months. Those places include program sites, playgrounds, etc.  The new truck will be used to replace 3 smaller vehicles currently in use for school-year meal delivery to satellite schools. Because the truck is bigger and has a refrigeration feature (no warming option), only 2 food service employees will be needed to staff it, eliminating need for one food service employee for 2017-18.  

Roll call to send truck request to bid (4 yeas, 2 nay, 1 absent). Approved. Report accepted as a report of progress.

8.II. Dropout Prevention And Recovery Documents LHS dropout rate reflects the hard work and coordination of efforts PreK-Grade 12.  LHS Dropout rate is 1.8% (below the Massachusetts state average) for 2 years in a row.

8.III. Extracurricular Activities Update Documents

8.IV. K-12 Student Population By Zip Code Documents Ms. Doherty requests the report be referred to Finance/Student Services Subcommittee.

8.V. Management Letter Documents: Mr. Gignac asks about some funds that had been returned to DESE, but then returned to LPS and used for a summer SpEd program.

8.VI. Response To Mayor Kennedy’s Motion Of 02/01/17 Regarding STEM Academy At LHS Documents 

8.VII. Rights Of Undocumented Students And Protocols For ICE Access In Schools

Documents Taken previously

8.VIII. Monthly Financial Report Documents Referred to next Finance Subcommittee Meeting.

8.IX. Response To Robert Hoey’s Motion Of 01/04/17 Regarding Diversity Hiring Efforts

Documents Mr. Hoey requests Anne Sheehy’s explanation of Paraprofessional cohort and the opportunity to obtain teaching licensure. Lowell has applied to offer licensure through a program in the district which would in turn create a pool of diverse candidates for teaching positions. Ms. Doherty spoke to encouragement of students in High School who would be candidates for paraprofessional positions and who might go on to a career as an educator. Mr. Gignac reminds that there is state aid/assistance for tuition through EEC (Early Education & Care).

All approved 6 yeas, 1 absent

All conference requests were also approved.

Following adjournment, the Committee went into Executive Session.

Meeting detail and support documentation  can be found here.