Musings About Malcolm #2 – Father’s Day Weekend

It’s Father’s Day weekend. Just me and Malcolm. Mom and sister are on a trip with the Girl Scouts in Florida having a great time. So it’s Malcolm and I for four days – “batchin it”.

There have been trips to the Wake Forest campus, the playground at Sherwood Forest, the playground at the mall when it rained, West Forsyth High School, Krispy Kreme, the great toy store at Thruway that lets kids play with the toys (twice), Chic-Fil-A, Jason’s Deli, the pool, and a trip to see the Winston-Salem Dash, our minor league team.

Malcolm loves to see the mascot, Bolt. They have a connection. Always been there, always will.

Bolt

So we went this evening. Beautiful night. A couple of hot dogs later, we get settled in our seats and then Malcolm does something that Malcolm does better than anyone I know – makes a connection with someone and goes with it.

Usually it’s with a new lady friend as Malcolm flirts with the best of them. The red hair, blue eyes, the smile. He knows how to use them to get the attention he wants. Simply put, he’s got game. Serious game. Grocery stores are adventures. He’s been known to push husbands out of the way to talk to a lady he sees as needing his attention.

If you are a single guy looking to see how to approach the ladies, Malcolm might be the person you want to hang around. Just saying. There’s a reason I call him my “genetically – enhanced womanizer.”

Except this time he makes a connection with a young boy in the seat directly behind mine in Section 107. This kid also happens to have Down Syndrome like Malcolm.

I did not grow up with my sisters, but I do have a connection with them, genetically and with shared memories. Nothing needs to be explained or defined about that connection. Malcolm and this young boy also have a genetic connection. They both have the same genetic disorder, Trisomy 21. They could have cared less about the genetic part. They knew they were special in the same way.

Many stereotypes exist concerning kids with Down Syndrome. They love all people. They smile all the time. They are docile. They aren’t always physically active.

Sorry, but Malcolm doesn’t really fit these categories. He actually has to warm up to people (unless you are a woman he deems worthy of his attention), he probably cusses me and others out multiple times on a daily basis, and he has a temper that makes his red hair turn a shade redder. And he is literally a walking muscle. Try brushing his teeth solo when he doesn’t want you to.

But Malcolm and this young friend of his never said any words to each other. Nothing had to be explained. They smiled at each other, laughed at the same time, and even ended up sitting next to each other for an inning or two.

Two guys just hanging out. No reason necessary. They probably were communicating telepathically about girls, baseball hats, Warriors vs. Cavs, and whether they might become prematurely bald because of their dads’ respective follicle challenges.

But then a song comes on the PA between the half-inning. It’s “Monstars” from the Space Jam soundtrack. The fifth track in fact. I know. We watch Space Jam at least three times a week. It’s the CD in the car right now. We have listened to it a dozen times already this weekend going to… well, you know.

All of a sudden Malcolm and his new best friend start dancing in their chairs as if they were on stage and all the world had paid to see them.

And they were joyous. Their smiles were immeasurable. They had a common secret on how to enjoy that one moment that many will never know.

The song was over, but Malcolm and his friend had a shared memory and their smiles were still there.

Malcolm and I left to go visit a friend who was announcing the game in the press box. When we were going up the stairs Malcolm said the first verbal word to his new friend in the entire time they were hanging out – “Bye.” He got a wave back.

Wow!

We left the game and Malcolm received a gift of a baseball used in batting practice from Jeffrey, the announcer who has a great big heart to match his Lou Rawls voice.

Ball

On the way home we listened to “Monstars” twice. Like I said, the Space Jam CD is in the car.

When we got home, Malcolm raced to his room while I let the dog outside. He met me at the door with his glove, a Durham Bulls hat, a bat, and that baseball. He was ready to play right then and there. “It’s only night time Dad!” his expression seemed to say.

Why? Because he has game. Literally.

And he knows how to live in the moment.

Two Weeks in Review – Clyde Edgerton, Great Coaches, Jerry Tillman’s Math, the NCHSAA, Quarter Grades, Hero Teachers, and a Redhead Named Malcolm

And just think, the summer is just beginning.

 

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/06/06/clyde-edgerton-and-the-hubris-of-new-hanover/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/06/07/let-us-praise-great-coaches/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/06/11/open-letter-to-north-carolina-high-school-athletic-association-youre-not-in/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/06/14/when-a-zero-becomes-a-50-and-other-miracles-in-numbers-or-how-no-glass-is-half-empty/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/06/17/sticks-and-stones-may-break-my-bones-but-your-words-will-never-wait-what-the-hell-did-you-say-or-the-truitt-woodhouse-and-diaz-show/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/06/16/i-can-add-well-enough-to-know-that-sen-jerry-tillmans-policies-dont-add-up/

https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/06/15/musings-about-malcolm-1/

 

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Your Words Will Never… Wait, What The Hell Did You Say? – Or, The Truitt, Woodhouse, and Diaz Show

This past Wednesday, a group of 14 North Carolina educators were arrested as part of a demonstration that ended up as a “sit-in” on a busy Raleigh road.

As WNCN.com reported, a larger group of educators started a two-day march from Durham to the capitol building on Tuesday (http://wncn.com/2016/06/15/mccrory-wont-meet-teachers-who-march-to-his-office-today/).

The march was planned to build awareness to what organizers believe are unfit learning environments for North Carolina students.

About 50 or more teachers, school counselors, parents and students say their plans are endorsed by the North Carolina NAACP and Forward Together Moral March. The march started in Neal Middle School in Durham and also from Wakefield High School in Raleigh.

The group reached the capitol around 5 p.m. and began knocking on the building’s doors.

After not getting an answer, the group began to march on downtown streets, blocking them.

Needless to say that was a busy intersection. And it got the attention of a lot of news outlets, which is part of the reason for having the demonstration.

Fourteen teachers/educators were arrested. I am unsure of what will come from their arrests, but to many they just became heroes for their schools and for their students. Simply put, it takes guts to do what they did. Their students and communities will look at them and see them fighting for them.

I have met some of those teachers in that demonstration. They work in tough schools. They know what is happening all too well. They are good people. I would want my kids as their students.

Some people will no doubt say they went too far, were demanding attention from the governor on too short of notice, and were acting selfishly in stopping innocent people from getting home during rush hour. We can talk about that for a long time, maybe while we are stuck in traffic.

Yet it was the reactions from McCrory’s staff that made me realize why having demonstrations for public schools like this are very important. BECAUSE IT PUTS THE DIALOGUE ABOUT SCHOOLS IN THE PUBLIC’S EAR!

Three specific people stood out in this standoff (aside from McCrory), and their words and lack of actions show the disconnect that people in office have when it comes to the governor and the General Assembly’s actions concerning public schools.

First, there was Catherine Truitt, the Senior Education Advisor for McCrory. She offered to meet with the demonstrators and maybe they should have taken her offer, but she is really another shill for the GOP mainstays. One of the reasons that the demonstrators were wanting to meet with McCrory was because of the per pupil expenditures that have gone down in the past three years.

She was quoted as saying by abc11.com (http://abc11.com/politics/14-arrests-made-in-raleigh-as-teachers-protest/1385439/),

“We are doing a great job of educating our students and 57 percent of our general fund goes right into education in North Carolina, which is higher than the national average.

One needs to take that comment in context. Mrs. Truitt wrote a much uninformed op-ed for EdNC.org this past March where she “explains” how the governor has been very pro-public education. You should read it (https://www.ednc.org/2016/03/25/the-truth-on-education-spending/)

I wrote her a letter back and posted it on this blog after not receiving an answer from her. It remains the second most viewed item on caffeinantedrage.com out of over 70 postings.

Her quote about the 57 percent was the very same item she bragged about in that op-ed. She seemed to forget that our state’s constitution actually stipulates that we spend that much for public education. In fact, that percentage was higher before the governor took office under other republican governors. You may read my response to her here with all of the sources cited. (https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/03/28/open-letter-to-catherine-truitt-senior-advisor-on-education-to-gov-pat-mccrory-concerning-her-op-ed-on-march-25th-on-ednc-org/).

But remember, Mrs. Truitt has a job to do. She is speaking on behalf of a politician. Yet, I doubt she read any responses to he claims earlier which might be the reason she keep making the same uninformed claims.

Secondly, there was Dallas Woodhouse, the NCGOP Executive Director. He was quoted as saying in the WNCN report,

“What a bizarre group of union activists, blocking traffic and getting arrested to apparently protest Governor McCrory on raising teacher pay more than any other state over the last three years.”

Union activists? There is no union in NC, Mr. Woodhouse. You want to see union activists? Go to Chicago. Those are unions. In fact, those union activists have shut down one of the biggest school districts in the nation overnight. That’s power. But it is interesting that the very people you claim are union activists whom the NCGOP called “hardly newsworthy” became very much the night’s news.

Another point that Mr. Woodhouse brought up was the “raising teacher pay more than anyone else over the last three years.”

What he is referring to is that “average” teacher pay in North Carolina was increased by putting most raises in the hands of beginning teachers and not veteran teachers. He forgot to delineate between average teacher pay and actual teacher pay.

And the operative word here is “average.” Beginning teachers saw an average pay hike of over ten percent, yet the more years a teacher had, the less of a “raise” was given. The result was an AVERAGE hike of 6.9 percent, but it was not an even distribution. In fact, some veterans saw a reduction in annual pay because much of the “raise” was funded with what used to be longevity pay. And as a teacher who has been in North Carolina for these past ten years, I can with certainty tell you that my salary has not increased by 6.9 percent.

Also according to the most recent NEA report there is not much “growth” in NC’s educational condition. We are 48th in Percentage Change in Average Salaries of Public School Teachers 2004-2005 to 2014-2015 (-10.2) – Table C-14.

Furthermore, those raises in teacher pay included the elimination of longevity pay which all public sector employees receive, EXCEPT TEACHERS. What really happened was that the NCGA took money from the pockets of educators and then presented back to them in the form of a raise all the while promoting it as a commitment to teachers. It’s like robbing someone and then buying them a gift with the stolen money and keeping the change.

Like Mrs. Truitt, Mr. Woodhouse is reciting practiced half-truths like he is paid to do.

An old friend, Mr. Ricky Diaz, was also referenced in the WNCN report.

Following the arrests, McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz issued a statement that called the demonstrators “union-funded campaign surrogates.”

“Not only did this demonstration inconvenience drivers, it wasted law enforcement resources during rush hour,” Diaz said in a release. “If Roy Cooper is in charge of enforcing the law in North Carolina, why would he send his campaign surrogates to break it?”

Diaz is the campaign spokesperson for McCrory’s reelection campaign.

Remember him? He was the 24-year old former spokesman for the DHHS in NC under Dr. Aldona Wos. He received a substantial raise soon after taking the job. He was making over $80,000 to be a spokesperson in what turned out to be one of the most disastrous DHHS administrations in recent history. When that raise was brought to light, he resigned to pursue a job in Washington D.C.

And here he is again getting paid to say weird things probably for a substantial salary.

According to Diaz’s quote, Roy Cooper is coercing the non-existent NC teacher’s union to fund demonstrators who eventually block traffic? The same demonstrators who were “hardly newsworthy”? Interestingly enough, Mr. Diaz used Cooper’s name more than his boss’s name in the report.

But now I see why he commands that big salary. He has to speak for the governor, who never speaks to any group that questions him.

Did the governor defend HB2 to the LGBT community face to face? No. Did he go to his hometown as the former four-term moderate mayor to explain why HB2 struck down their local ordinance? No. Did the governor defend his lack of action against Duke Energy in the wake of the coal ash spills to the people who were affected most? No. Did the governor defend those who were seeking more explicit explanation on how fracking could hurt rural environments? No. Has the governor ever actually addressed the North Carolina Association of Educators? No.

Did the governor respond to the demonstrators’ request for a meeting when an invitation was extended well before the actual march began in order to give him time to accept or decline formally? No.

Rather, he has others explain his actions or lack thereof. And all Mrs. Truitt, Mr. Woodhouse, and Mr. Diaz did was make the arrests of these 14 educators that much more important and newsworthy. Their non-answers prove that the questions raised by the demonstrators actually need to still be answered and that someone has to take responsibility.

Gov. McCrory should be willing to meet with the demonstrators. He needs to explain his actions. As a man who actually went to college to study to become a teacher, the governor should be very willing to talk to teachers and other educators about the state of schools.

But until then, the governor and those who “voice” his answers are just being roadblocks in the process of delivering a quality education to all North Carolina students.

And in Raleigh, creating a roadblock gets you arrested.

Or unelected.

I Can Do Math Well Enough to Know That Sen. Jerry Tillman’s Policies Don’t Add Up

Sen. Jerry Tillman’s grasp on educational reality is about as strong my grasp of string theory or a Calculus BC exam – loose at best.

The former public school administrator has again launched an ill-conceived rash boon piece of legislation through the Senate that demands schools to offer two tracks of math courses.

I am not a math teacher. In fact, according to my wife, I am rather poor in explaining mathematical concepts to our children when they are faced with math homework. But I do know that all of a sudden changing the course tracks in high schools will present an incredible challenge for schools to adequately teach those differing courses in high schools in such a quick amount of time.

Sen. Tillman think it can be done in the blink of an eye. He was quoted in an EdNC.org report ((https://www.ednc.org/2016/06/09/senate-moves-state-one-step-closer-split-high-school-math-tracks),

“If you can teach math, your same certifications are required, same students, same allotment of teachers. Not gonna change,” he said.

Tillman said the practical aspect of teaching could be accomplished by having a teacher teach Algebra I alongside Math 1 in the same class.

“With a good teacher, you can do it,” he said.

So, teaching two subjects in the same classroom? In the same amount of time? With two different pedagogical approaches? Of course, Sen. Tillman would think that. He believes there should be a charter school built next to every public school. Two schools for one student. Makes sense. At least with Tillman’s math.

Here is the man who has literally ramrodded unregulated charter school growth down the throats of the very public he claims to represent. Here is the man who is pushing for more tax payer money to fund the very charter schools he wants built to make public schools seem inferior. Here is the man who helped institute a public school grading system that unfairly labeled hundreds of schools as failing so that it would create a “reason” to bring in more charter schools.

So forcing schools to teach more courses to the same number of students with an ever decreasing amount of resources is good math within a matter of weeks is good legislation? Coming from a bunch of non-math experts?

Of course it is. Not. It is purely political.

If you read Sen. Tillman’s comments from the June 16th report by Alex Granados in EdNC.org (https://www.ednc.org/2016/06/16/senate-passes-bill-require-high-school-math-tracks/ ), you will see the strong-arm method of debate that is often used by the senator when he senses that others disagree with him.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Buncombe, first said he wouldn’t vote for the bill because it didn’t extend to the way math is taught at the elementary school level, where he said damage was being done with the teaching methods currently being used.

“I’m not voting for this bill, because this bill doesn’t do enough,” he said.

Tillman fired back that if Apodaca wanted to be stuck with Common Core, not supporting his bill would make that happen.

“If you don’t like choice, and you want to be stuck with the June Atkinson/Bill Cobey Common Core, well that’s exactly what you’re going to get,” Tillman said.

June Atkinson is the state Superintendent, and Bill Cobey is the chair of the state Board of Education.

Wow! Dr. Atkinson and Mr. Cobey invented Common Core?

If we can add names to ideas and concepts in order to plague them with ill associations, then I have plenty in mind. Maybe when a lawmaker berates others because they see a lack of reason in his proposals as being inferior we can call it the “Tillman Argument”. But I digress.

Call it a “Tillman Digression”.

Whether or not you like Common Core, it shows people how easily education gets politicized. And when education gets politicized, it becomes a child in a contested divorce case between different sets of parental entities whose egos and personalities cloud the principles under which all should abide by.

Except, this is not a child – it’s our students.

Sen. Tillman has already shown his cards. He is not a man truly connected to public education. If anything, his record has shown a complete disdain for schools coated under a clear veneer of bullshit.

This next bit from Granados’s report shows that very manure which covers Sen. Tillman’s words.

Tillman said that large and medium level schools and districts should be able to handle the change without additional financial resources, but that smaller schools with fewer math teachers might struggle. He said he was committed to making sure they were allowed the funds they needed to compensate.

I am sorry, but the words “funds”, “resources”, “committed”, and public “schools” have never collided in the same sentence when it comes to Sen. Tillman. Ask anyone following the General Assembly’s deliberate underfunding of traditional public schools. Tillman’s voice is usually heard loudest.

If he is all about offering “choices”, then I choose to allow for more investigation into the math courses already offered. I choose to let more math educators speak on the matter since they are the ones in the classrooms. I choose that we take the time needed to allow for an educated decision.

But if Sen. Tillman is so intent on bringing back the “old” math maybe he can use it to fund public schools with the ”old “numbers” and “percentages” that public schools used to be supported with.

I’d take that math anytime.

Musings about Malcolm – #1

As many of you know, I have a child who just happens to have Down Syndrome. His name is Malcolm and he is currently eight years of age and just completed the second grade. So, I have decided that I will share some experiences as his parent. 

Here’s the first venture.

If you need any more proof that the greatest resource a school can have is its people (administration, teachers, students, and support staff), then look at this picture.

That’s my son, Malcolm. He happens to have Down Syndrome. It doesn’t define him. It just happens to be something he has.

IMG_3758

 

My wife and I knew through prenatal testing that we were having a child with Trisomy 21.

It didn’t matter. He was ours and we were his. Actually, the world is his. He may grow up to be a benevolent dictator and require all people to play basketball with him. Meanwhile, he wears his Space Jam / Michael Jordan jersey and a West Forsyth Titan baseball cap any chance he gets.

And he likes going out to eat, especially if the chicken fingers are good.

But he is not a typical child. He has delays. Standardized test results do not show him to be standardized. He is unique – just like every other student.

Malcolm has an IEP (Individual Education Program) that is as thick as a Tolstoy novel. It is a “work in progress” that dictates how he will be delivered instruction and educational opportunities. The first item that his mother and I put on that IEP was that he would be able to navigate in this world and be as much a part of it as possible.

In short, we wanted him exposed to as many typically developing students as possible and be around students who modeled behavior and skills we wished him to develop.

Tests and assessments that drive data-driven decisions many times can take away the personal link that exists between students and teachers. Solely placing students in situations that are based on numbers can impersonally label people.

And people are not standard. They are individuals.

We have had a series of IEP meetings of late. Data from some tests suggest that Malcolm should be in a more self-contained classroom, and he would have been in good hands if that were the case in a good school with great leadership. But when the data were considered alongside the preferences of parents, the insight of teachers who knew him, and the willingness of administration to find every possible way to make Malcolm successful in an environment that he knew and was comfortable in, we put aside the impersonal and made educational decisions based on the individual.

Malcolm will continue to learn from those that he trusts and emulates in a place that is in his neighborhood.

And I would like to think that he and his differently-abled self will teach a lot to the other students about how very similar we all are even if we have differences.

 

 

When a “Zero” Becomes a “50” And Other Miracles in Numbers – Or, How No Glass is Half-Empty

So, are you a glass is half- empty person or a glass is half-full person? It’s a generic question. I know.

Preferably, I would like to be around a water source and not worry if I had enough to fill a glass and just drink my fill.

But there is another way to never have to worry about if a glass is half-full or half-empty. Just pour what you have into a smaller glass and change the paradigm.

That’s exactly what has happened with many school districts in their decisions to make a “50” the lowest possible grade a student could receive for a quarter grade on a report card.

Let me explain. In a four quarter system for a yearlong A/B class like an AP course, a student could do absolutely no homework, complete zero papers, and refuse to answer any questions on any assessment and get a true zero percent for a quarter score while that student was present for class on almost all possible days.

I would still have to give that student a “50” for the quarter. That’s ten points below a passing grade for doing nothing.

I could have a student who is busting his/her butt to complete work, but is not mastering the concepts as quickly as others. I offer tutoring, extra credit, and differentiate instruction, but that student is still struggling. That student gets a 65 for the quarter.

I would have to say that there is more than a fifteen point differential in the performance of the two students.

It is hard to fathom, but there are students who literally can do nothing for over half the year (or semester for a block class) and still salvage a passing grade in a class where other students have literally sweated and toiled just to pass. They simply pass two quarters and the state exam, an exam that is not made by the teacher but a third party and graded by a third party who then can designate a conversion formula to alter the outcome.

I don’t like it.

Proponents of this policy for a “50” being the lowest possible quarter grade argue that it allows a student to not be placed in a hole of academic failure for a bad quarter. It gives them a chance to work out of the abyss of failure.

However, when you place a 10 point letter grade system for all high schools in North Carolina where a “60” is a “D”, it means that of the 41 of the possible 51 quarter “averages” one could possibly obtain (60, 61, 62, … to a 100) are passing grades. Only 10 (50, 51 … to 59) are failing. I am not sure that this is saving grades for students or actually enabling many of them to play the system.

Think of it this way. I am getting older. My metabolism is not what it used to be. My body does not have that teenage ability to heal quickly and take the demands of rigorous sports activity. Consequently, I weigh more than I did years ago.

What if all of a sudden, the state’s health department changed the guidelines by which obesity is defined? All of a sudden, in the eyes of the medical community, I am not as overweight as I was in previous days because the labeling has changed; the measurements have changes.

Does that make me healthier all of a sudden? No. My body is still my body. You can’t make it healthier by changing the criteria.

But we can make students more successful academically using the same logic? I don’t think so. What if we extended this policy of inflation for other areas of students’ lives? It would be hard to do that in this economy. Many of the students in my classes today have jobs. If they decided not to show up for work without an excusable reason, then they will get fired. If they drive a car and they (or their families) miss a car payment, then they will lose the car.

I guess my point is that we are not doing students a great favor by artificially raising a bad grade due to lack of performance and work. When doing no work at all can still get you half of the points available in a quarter grade, students might be getting a message that that cushion will exist for them at all times.

It won’t.

A good teacher will work with a student, if the student is willing to work. There is tutoring. There is spending extra time looking over a paper or problem. There is conferencing. There are lots of available options to help a student raise a grade that involves still learning. The grade is authentically earned.

In that respect, students learn to advocate for themselves. And that will serve them wonderfully throughout all of their lives.

Addendum to Open Letter to North Carolina High School Athletic Association -You’re Not in it For the Kids

If you needed any more evidence of the incompetence of the NCHSAA, then take a look at the image below. 

I mentioned in my original letter that there were no programs available after the first game for patrons attending the West Forsyth game. Fortunately a parent received a copy as a souvenir from another team and forwarded a pic of it. 

Yes. It cost people money to buy this. 


Did not know that one could play softball and baseball at one time. 

Wow. 

Open Letter to North Carolina High School Athletic Association -You’re Not in it For the Kids

I sent this letter this past week to every member of the Board of Directors for the NCHSAA. It concerns events that occurred last weekend during the 4A softball state championship series. 

I never received an answer or an acknowledgment.

It is a long letter, but it does not cover all that happened. Nor does it cover other instances in which the NCHSAA has not acted according to its mission statement or its creed. 

I urge you to read and share if you are a high school athletic fan. Out student/athletes deserve more.

 

Dear Board of Directors of NCHSAA,

The following is a letter regarding events seen and experienced last weekend in Raleigh during the 4A softball championship series between West Forsyth High School and Cape Fear High School. It would be very much appreciated that this be read as it reflects upon all of us in public education.

If anyone peruses the official website of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (www.nchsaa.org) and investigates the “About” page, he/she would see a “Mission Statement”, “Vision”, and set of “Core Values and Beliefs” that stress sportsmanship and a focus on student athletes. However, the actions that I not only witnessed but experienced from NCHSAA this past weekend while traveling with the West Forsyth Titan softball team to its championship series in Raleigh were in total contradiction to the very guiding principles that supposedly direct the NCHSAA’s actions.  In short, I am amazed at the events that took place.

On Friday, June 3rd, our team was scheduled to play against Cape Fear High School in the first game in a best of three series. Weather delayed and eventually postponed the game in the top of the first inning. When play resumed in the afternoon of the 4th, many of the people who attended Friday’s game were allowed back in with tickets previously sold except those who had entered with a state coach’s pass the night before. No one at the NCHSAA had the foresight to remember that many of the representative schools’ administrative and athletic personnel were allowed in Friday night on their official passes. They were not allowed into Saturday’s game at first. They had to wait with new patrons who had come Saturday to the games for the first time. In some cases, these coaches still bought a ticket to at least be guaranteed admission. That same lack of helpfulness could be witnessed when people on the VIP list, especially the wives of the coaches themselves, were not allowed in the gate on Saturday until much commotion had to be made.

Furthermore, there were no programs left for any of the West Forsyth fans to purchase to keep as a remembrance of a state championship series. Not a single West Forsyth parent or fan was able to have a memento that should have been available. They were all sold during the first game between North Stanley and Princeton High Schools. With the potential for six different games, to run out of programs before the first game is concluded is ludicrous. It was symptomatic of the absence of preparation on the part of NCHSAA, an omen for the rest of the weekend.

Toward the end of the first game won by West Forsyth, it was announced that tickets for the second game would cost $12 dollars instead of the $8 dollar charge of the first game. Apparently, the price would also cover the cost of the third game if it was needed.

This seems quite strange and a totally outright maneuver for profit. On one hand, the NCHSAA is guaranteeing itself a higher share of profits by allowing one game to potentially cost more to attend than another because the series may not have had a third game. On the other hand, it would force ticket holders to come another day to a neutral site, which for the West Forsyth team supporters was at least a two-hour drive each way. I myself was unable to come Sunday, but I had to “buy” a ticket for that game anyway.  That alone seems to violate the NCHSAA’s core values of “Integrity” and “Honesty”.

But what was even more egregious was what happened Saturday night at the start of the second game.

After paying the $12 ticket fee, fans awaiting the first pitch were told to exit the stadium because of lightning strikes and a thunderstorm warning. As the weather finally subsided a while later, I along with many other West Forsyth supporters witnessed the Cape Fear bus (a Cumberland County Activity bus) leave the premises. None of us were aware that any game had been cancelled. The weather map on most anyone’s smartphone app indicated that no more severe weather was in the vicinity. Approaching the gate to inquire, we were told that there was a conference to ascertain if the game would resume.  But it would be hard to presume that it would be played; one of the teams had already left.

The game was canceled. Why? There exist differing opinions, but it was known that the West Forsyth team was ready to play and that the field would have been readied by the NC State crew quickly and effectively. It seemed that one team was able to force the decision based on its own volition rather than a consensus. The fact that Cape Fear only has one pitcher was well-known.  She lost the first game. She would have had to pitch again that night unless the game was called.

And it was called when Ms. Tucker received news that the other team had left. Our coaches, principal, and athletic directors were stunned and confused by the whole process.

An account of what happened Saturday night in the June 5th edition of the Winston-Salem Journal stated,

“The storm came upon us pretty quickly,” Tucker said. “Every time we were getting lightning we were delaying for 30 minutes. The last time we got one it pushed us to not even being able to clear to allow anybody back (in the stadium) until about 8:40.

“And of course as we were looking at the weather apps that everybody has, we could see that there was weather behind us,” she said.

Tucker said it was solely her decision.

“It was one of those tough calls you have to make. I made it, and we live with it,” she said.

Either Ms. Tucker has a faulty weather app or some supernatural power all of a sudden changed the direction of the offending weather without her knowledge, but there was no more severe weather in that area for the remainder of the evening. In fact, it was reported that a baseball game on the NC State campus was even played at the same time that the softball game could have been played.

Even more questionable is that many of the West fans who were waiting a decision on whether to play the game had actually witnessed the Cape Fear bus leave. Why would they have had information about cancellation and not the coaches and players from West Forsyth? If Ms. Tucker was the only one who had made the decision, then why was one team allowed to be privy to that information and not the team that traveled twice as far not be told anything? Does that not violate the “Fair Play”, “Equity”, and “Fair Competition” core values of the NCHSAA?

And was anyone who remained at the gate awaiting some explanation of whether the game would be played or not given any recourse or explanation about a refund? No. There was only an announcement over the PA inside of the very stadium we were not allowed to enter made by an announcer who could not be understood.  No one from the NCHSAA made any attempt to explain to any fans what was happening. There was no ticket stub with information on it given to the attendees, just a wristband. Ms. Tucker was nowhere to be seen. Other NCHSAA “employees” seemed confused and were not helpful.

So, our West Forsyth softball team had to spend another night in Raleigh costing not only the school thousands of dollars to accommodate them, but the families who had to stay as well.  Supposedly, the Cape Fear team spent the night in their homes in Cumberland County having already gotten there because of their head start from the NC State campus and their relatively short distance to travel compared to West Forsyth.

Fortunately, Sunday’s weather held. West Forsyth won in dramatic fashion. That can never be replaced. But as the team was traveling back to Clemmons with seven seniors having missed a chance to attend their Baccalaureate service and all team members having to ready themselves for exams the next day at school, I could not help to think that this could have been avoided if there was a steadfast adherence to the core value of the “Development of Student-Athletes” that states, “Participation in athletics should aid in the physiological and psychological development of the student-athlete.”

Ms. Que Tucker and the NCHSAA supposedly abide by a mission statement that seeks to “provide governance and leadership for interscholastic athletic programs that support and enrich the educational experience of students.” But that is not what I witnessed this past weekend.

Nor was that mission statement practiced when West Forsyth’s girls’ soccer team defeated Charlotte Catholic on a Monday and was forced to play a state semifinal game the next night in Charlotte. We petitioned for a day of rest for our players to recover both physically and academically because exams were starting soon. According to reports, Ms. Tucker was more concerned with following a puritan adherence to protocol than the safety and health of our soccer team. Ironic, that that same rigid devotion to protocol was completely absent on Saturday night at that softball series.

What I have observed this past weekend was a total lack of leadership and a loose interpretation of policy. Our young ladies and coaches persevered despite of that and in doing so “enriched our experience” as parents, family members, teachers, administrators, and supporters of West Forsyth. Those young ladies and their coaches reflected the very core values of the NCHSAA that Ms. Tucker and others in Raleigh failed to do.

That makes them champions on and off the field.

My One-Sided Pen Pal Relationship With Sen. Jerry Tillman – Or Why I Am Sending An Old Letter With More Love

What follows is an open letter to Sen. Jerry Tillman most of which I plagiarized from a letter I wrote to him in the summer of 2015. Ironically, actually no, it still holds truth. Nothing has changed. So I am revising it with a little more info. And resending.

What I have done is edit it to include the new House Bill 539 and the new math revisions that the state is considering. Sen. Tillman’s brash style and rush to put in unproven charters are just two of the reasons that he should not be representing students in North Carolina.

Sen. Tillman,
Your crusade to create a lucrative charter school industry at the hands of public schools again has reached new heights of irrationality and hubris, and it is indicative of an exclusionary attitude when it comes to serving the people of North Carolina.

I am not surprised that you as a leader of the GOP caucus in the North Carolina General Assembly would spearhead a campaign to keep privatizing education in North Carolina, but the fact that you are a retired public school educator pushing this agenda makes me think that your commitment to provide a quality education to all of our state’s children simply vanished when you took an “oath” as a politician.

This latest version of House Bill 539 has your fingerprints all over it. What started as a bill that would regulate public access to school playgrounds has now transformed into a heated debate that is taking up lots of space in numerous media outlets concerning your unquenchable thirst to siphon funds away from public schools to charter schools.

Your unwillingness to listen to others was on display in another arena when you recently discussed whether the math standards should be changed for public schools. One simply needs to go to the EdNC.org site and review that report (https://www.ednc.org/2016/06/09/senate-moves-state-one-step-closer-split-high-school-math-tracks). Your simple and absolute claims about the teaching profession do more than show your shortsightedness. They show your narrow-mindedness. The following was reported from Alex Granados about your explanation of how the old and new math could be taught together.

If you can teach math, your same certifications are required, same students, same allotment of teachers. Not gonna change,” he said.


Tillman said the practical aspect of teaching could be accomplished by having a teacher teach Algebra I alongside Math 1 in the same class.


“With a good teacher, you can do it,” he said.
So, teaching two subjects in the same classroom? In the same amount of time? With two different pedagogical approaches? Of course, you would think that. You believe there should be a charter school built next to every public school. Two schools for one student. Makes sense. Not.

And these are just two examples from this week alone. Let’s revisit the last year or so.
Remember House Bill 334 from the summer of 2015? As reported on July 23rd in Lindsay Wagner’s news story entitled “Tillman’s bill impacts charter school oversight”, you championed an amendment to that bill to place oversight of charter schools under the care of the State Board of Education and out of the Department of Public Instruction’s jurisdiction.

What House Bill 334 would have done was to spend more money on charters by creating a situation where you can protect them from checks and balances. It was a way for you to fashion a favorable situation for new charter schools to not only operate more freely, but be less transparent.

Ms. Wagner also detailed the abrupt manner in which you fielded questions from other legislators who were concerned with the surreptitious manner in which you operated. You made ludicrous statements such as:

  • · “DPI was never in love … with charter .”
  • · “I’m not going to give you the details. A good lawyer would never do that.”
  • · “We don’t air dirty laundry here.”

In truth your disdain for DPI actually arises from their ability to identify indiscretions with many charter schools that needed to be corrected. And the quip about details? That’s odd. You are a lawmaker. You should produce details. In fact, good lawyers very much pay attention to details. As for the dirty laundry, with the stuff you are dishing out, someone needs to do the laundry now!

Remember the June 4th report by Laura Leslie for WRAL entitled “Senate Education Leader blasts charter chief”? That detailed your outburst in a meeting concerning why DPI refused to grant charters for many new charter school applications. Reading your comments makes you sound like a playground bully who did not get his way. The first few sentences of the report used phrases like “angry outburst” and “public dressing-down” to describe your tirade. 
 
Remember SB 456 from April of 2015? I will refer to the April 28th edition of the Winston-Salem Journal, when education writer Arika Herron reported that you proposed a bill which “would send more money to charter schools” by taking more from traditional public schools in next year’s budget (“NC Senate bill would send more money to charter schools”).  

You publicly ignore and even champion the ignorance that charter schools can practice exclusion and in many cases divert public funds to unregulated entities. Charter schools are not required to offer transportation or provide free/reduced lunches. They can selectively limit enrollment and hire non-certified educators. Most charter schools simply lack transparency. And a further consequence is that your pro-charter legislation targets poorer people because you introduced bills that would exclude more poor people (who still pay taxes) from the benefits of a quality education that you perceive only charter schools can give.  

Sen. Tillman, you do not seem to care if your wish to expand charter schools actually widens the income gap that so much grips our state. Remember Feb. 23rd, 2011? You were shown on a video posted by Rob Schofield on the ncpolicywatch.org website. You fielded a question that expressed concern over whether lower-income kids could have equal chances to attend charter schools. Your response was indicative of the exclusionary attitude that your proposed bill embraces.

You said,

“It’s certainly okay if they don’t go there [the charter school]. They can go to their public schools. They can get their free and reduced price lunch. And they can do that. But the charter school itself and the commission must decide what they can do and when they can do it financially. And that’s where we are now and that’s where we’re gonna’ be and I’m certainly for that.”

 
With a response like that, how can you claim to represent all North Carolinians? The fact is that no matter the socioeconomic background of the students, traditional schools do succeed when proper resources are allotted (money, textbooks, time, respect, etc.). When teachers have the support of the public AND the legislature, any school can show student growth. However, your statement leads one to think that you are promoting exclusivity based on income levels.

And this is not the first time that you have alienated those who suffer from poverty.
You were a primary sponsor for the Voting Reform Act in the 2013-2014 sessions, leading the charge to fight non-existent voter fraud in our state by fast-tracking a voter ID law that was purposefully constructed to keep many people’s voices from being heard, especially minority and low-income citizens. Remember that? If these people are silenced, then how can they democratically affect outcomes in elections that may sanction positive change for their children and grandchildren including issues surrounding public education? You seem to be denying them the very right that you have sworn to protect and uphold as an elected official.

As a public school teacher, I am amazed that you continue to belittle the very public schools that you yourself once served as a teacher, coach, principal and assistant superintendent – for over 40 years! You are drawing a pension for being a public school retiree!

But now you are a seven-term state senator and a willing participant in transforming North Carolina from what was considered the most progressive state in the Southeast into what has regressed into a stagnated commonwealth ruled by reactionary policies.

And what seems most egregious is that you are the co-chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee. Your decisions impact ALL STUDENTS! You have a direct influence in how schools are funded, what they can teach, and how they are measured. Surely you remember the Jeb Bush inspired letter-grading system you helped implement that found most “failing” schools in North Carolina resided in areas where there were concentrated pockets of poverty.

As a public official you are under oath to uphold the state’s constitution which ensures all students a quality public education. Instead you are compromising all students in traditional schools while taking more of the valuable money and resources allocated for them to give to charter schools that do not have to abide by the same regulations.

If you truly want to positively impact public education, then invest more in pre-K programs and expand Medicaid so more kids come to school healthy and prepared. Reinstitute the Teaching Fellows program to keep our bright future teachers here in North Carolina. Then give decent raises to veteran teachers so they finish their careers here instead of in other states.

Real leaders take away obstacles that impede those who are served. You are creating more and becoming one yourself.

Stuart Egan, NBCT

West Forsyth High School

Clemmons, NC

About That NC Teacher Working Conditions Survey – The Glaring Disconnect Between the NCGA and Reality

The latest results from the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey do more than demonstrate the disconnect between those who work in schools and those who want to re-form schools; they display that what really drives the success of a school are the people – from the students to the teachers to the administration to the support staff and the community at large.

It also shows that what usually causes teachers to leave North Carolina public schools either to another state or to another profession are external forces, most of which are controlled by the people convening on West Jones Street in Raleigh.

Liz Ball recently reported on the results of the N.C. Teacher Working Conditions Survey from this past spring in her feature on EdNC.org (“Most teachers satisfied with their schools”). According to the survey “almost 87 percent of teachers who responded are happy overall in workplace.” That’s quite amazing. In a state where the General Assembly instituted a school grading system where an incredible amount of schools either received a rating of “D” and “F” (707 schools in 2015), a high percentage of those very teachers who work in those schools are satisfied with those schools. They witness something that others choose not to acknowledge – that there is so much that helps students achieve that cannot be measured by random variables.

The formula for rating schools relies heavily on standardized test scores. Yet, of the same teachers who reported an overall “positive” attitude toward their school, “only 43 percent of surveyed teachers thought state assessments accurately test students’ understanding of material.”  

There’s where the detachment is evident. Those who see schools from the inside like teachers and staff report mostly positive culture and school success. Those who view schools through the lens of government see schools that need re-forming.

And that lens needs a new prescription according to the N.C. Teacher Working Conditions Survey.

Educators tend to see success and student growth as more than an arbitrary number. A multitude of criteria are used by teachers to measure growth beyond state assessments which are usually created by and graded by outside entities hired by the state.

If you want to see how well schools are performing, it probably is wiser to go to the source itself and ask the educational experts rather than ask the General Assembly or government. Why? Because when the state government controls how schools are measured, viewed, and tested, it then controls the dialogue and ultimately the outcomes.
Those outcomes then allow policies to be created that profit a select few. Think of charter school board members. Think of out-of-state virtual school companies. Think of private schools that take in Opportunity Grant money. Think of those who will control the Achievement School District.

Now consider that none of those aforementioned entities are measured by the same criteria that label some schools as failing and many great teachers as ineffective. Why? Because those outcomes can be controlled. It’s a self-fulfilled prophecy.

A couple of years ago, North Carolina earned the satirically charged, but rather adequate new title “First in Teacher Flight”. Consider that enrollment in university/college teacher preparation programs has seismically dropped and that many faculties have lost veteran teachers to early retirement and job changes. Consider that the General Assembly has really only increased pay for beginning teachers and not the veteran teachers. Consider that due process rights have been taken away from new teachers to keep them from loudly advocating for schools once they understand how the system really operates.

No wonder the two lowest scores on the survey dealt with the state’s role in schools. Maybe the state could learn something from that.

Now one can see why this survey is so important. It enables every teacher to have input and it verifies the conditions that schools operate under in this state. Oddly enough, those teachers who are “satisfied” with their schools most likely understand on many levels that their schools are working well despite the forces that work against them.

Imagine the results of the survey if West Jones Street was more about removing real obstacles rather than creating them.