Clemson Just Found Out Why West is Best – Once a Titan, Always a Titan

Can’t lie. Hard to see Clemson get this fine young man.

And I say that with all due respect. I grew up a Georgia Bulldog fan. Went to high school in Athens. Got a family of Bulldog alums. Went to every home football game from the time I was five until college.

Then K.J. says he will go to that place off of Exit 19 on I-85 in upstate South Carolina.

And I couldn’t be more proud of K.J. because while he became a Tiger yesterday, he made sure to remind us that “Once a Titan, Always a Titan.”

You may not be a fan of football, but you can’t help but be a fan of K.J.. The way he announced his decision was nothing short of classy and inclusive.

As a highly-ranked prospect (#5 in nation), ESPN came to nationally air his decision. But K.J. did not make it about him. He made it about his family and his home. In fact, it is not uncommon to see K.J. at many different events at school whether it be a sports related, performance related, or service -focused event. He truly celebrates what others are accomplishing. He has a large family because it includes all people he cares about.

When K.J. made his announcement on national television, he brought up Coach Pat Murphy to help him show where he will take his talents as a football player. He spoke about team. He talked about gratitude. He celebrated with others by celebrating others.

KJ Henry

If you are familiar with West Forsyth, then you know Coach Pat Murphy. He is part of the heart and soul of this campus.

If you are familiar with K.J. Henry the football player, then you know he is a special talent. Clemson just became a better team.

But if you know K.J. Henry the young man who made yesterday’s event more about others than himself, then you know he is an even better person. Clemson just became a better place to be.

And I would have no problem with my kid wearing a K.J. Henry jersey.

Even if it is orange.

 

 

 

 

A Response to Mark Johnson’s Latest Missive – With Help From Ricky Bobby

Dear Supt. Johnson,

I read with great interest your recent op-ed on EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina Public Schools: Accelerating into 2018” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/12/20/north-carolina-public-schools-accelerating-2018/).

And after reading your long extended comparison between the state’s school system and a fine-tuned race car, I found myself suffocating from the exhaust.

Why? Because what you said in that op-ed is a perfect example of how you are more concerned with a narrow-minded view of public education than actually investigating what really makes public education thrive.

In the first paragraph you state,

“Before race drivers start a race, teams fine-tune cars to ensure ultimate performance. At your N.C. Department of Public Instruction, my team and I have been inspecting and calibrating while simultaneously moving forward at a hundred miles per hour. We cannot waste another moment in making our education system better equipped to support educators, parents and students in your communities.”

That sense of urgency with which you defined your brief tenure may translate well inside a small circular course like a NASCAR track, but North Carolina is more vast with differing terrains and different roads.

It has been over a year since you were elected as the state superintendent, and if someone were to try and create a list of your accomplishments from your first calendar year as the leader of the state’s public school system, it would be hard not to see that the actions you have taken are in direct contrast to your campaign “promises.”

  1. 1. You said that you conducted a “listening tour” around the state to gather ideas and to help craft innovations in classroom teaching. You said at one time that you would present those findings when that tour was over in the summer.

But we have not really heard anything except some glittering generalities.

  1. You said that you would decrease the amount of standardized testing that we would subject students to, but this past week you announced that you want to “have proficiency indicators for kindergartners” (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/n-c-kindergartners-will-soon-provide-more-data-for-parents/article_29c278bf-e00b-5c6a-8788-06dbca68de49.html).

That sounds like more testing to me.

  1. 3. In your op-ed, you celebrate the “revamped” NC School Report Card website and even went around the state to hand out certificates to school representatives who received high school performance grades. You said that people wanted more transparency.

But did you address the fact that the way the school performance grades will be calculated in the near future with a smaller grading scale and the removal of some indicators like Biology I scores will actually assure that more schools will receive failing grades? And did you acknowledge the fact that those new report cards actually show how much our state depends on SAS’s hidden algorithms to measure school success?

  1. 4. You have called for an audit of the Department of Public Education.

Yet your lack of planning and foresight will make it an intentionally rushed process that will not yield positive results. And if you are calling for an audit, will you allow it to highlight the fact that you are using taxpayer money to hire people to do tasks that are already being fulfilled within DPI? Will that audit state how much money you were given to hire people only loyal to you and to cover the legal bills of the current lawsuit when the state board has to use its own budget to defend its constitutional right?

  1. In this op-ed, you criticized the presence of unspent money in the Read to Achieve program by previous administrations.

Yet you never investigated how that money was earmarked and who was responsible for that. You even hired as your Chief Budget Advisor someone who is tied to that debacle (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2017/12/06/mark-johnson-accused-misleading-public-regarding-literacy-program-spending/).

  1. You did not even talk about the class size mandate debacle that is literally hurting every school district with our elementary schools facing a decision to cut “specials.” Yet you seem to celebrate the arts and music in our public schools, especially the elementary schools.

Mark

What have you done to help insure that the “specials” stay in our schools with a General Assembly ramming an unfunded class size mandate that threatens almost every local budget.

  1. Furthermore, you seem rather complicit with the legislature cutting the budget for DPI while you are actually taking taxpayer money to fight the state school board over the power grab that the NCGA did in a special session that gives you control over elements of the school system that the voting public did not actually elect you to have.

In fact, when you mentioned “hyper-partisan era of disagreement,” it metaphorically made that race car in the analogy backfire because you yourself and the state board of education are stuck in a lawsuit that is about to be judged AND YOU ARE OF THE SAME POLITICAL PARTY!

This is not accelerating into the new year. In fact, it is rather confining our students within a small venue forcing them to always turn in the same direction.

But here is the biggest disconnect with your analogy and perhaps the most telling feature of your op-ed. You state,

“While we conduct this important fine-tuning, we know that the best-running car won’t win a race if you drive the wrong way. Education efforts with outdated priorities will take us the wrong direction, so we are moving North Carolina public schools away from a one-size-fits-all approach. That outdated strategy does not work, and with technological advances, we no longer have to pretend it does. At DPI, we want to transform our education system to one that uses 21st century best practices so students and educators have access to unique learning experiences personalized for their individual needs and aspirations.”

While you talk about the “fine-tuning” of a car and the need for different tracks for different people it is tellingly ironic that you use an analogy that shows people “driving” on the same track in competition with each other. And your narrow-minded comparison seems only to focus on the car itself when the very people you seem to only answer to in the NC General Assembly should be helping more to provide fuel and make sure the track is safe to travel upon. That means addressing economic gaps, poverty, hunger, and investment in public education.

They also need to make sure that a pit crew is there to help.

Besides with everything that is taking place, it seems that we need more all-terrain vehicles that can go anywhere.

Even Ricky Bobby knows that.

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“I would not change you for the world, but I will change the world for you.”

Those words were said by Amy Wright, a mother of two children who were born with Down Syndrome and the founder of Bitty and Beau’s Coffee Shop in Wilmington, NC.

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On Sunday she was named CNN’s Hero of the Year (http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/17/world/amy-wright-2017-cnn-hero-of-the-year/index.html).

If you are the parent of a child with Down Syndrome, what Wright spoke about becoming an automatic advocate could not be more true. She explained that the role of a parent and advocate is “trying to make people see the beauty in their lives that we see.”

The CNN report also stated,

After all, people with physical and intellectual disabilities can be judged by their appearance alone. When Wright and her husband learned that 70% of the disabled are unemployed, they decided to become a part of the solution — for their children and others.

I got one of those “others.”

Malcolm

Malcolm has so many heroes that it would be impossible to name them all.

I wouldn’t change him for the world, but I am grateful that there are so many people in his world who want to change the world for him and others.

And yes. Malcolm drinks coffee.

I see a trip to Wilmington coming.

Happy Holidays.

 

 

 

 

“Calling Out In Transit” – Radio Free CDC

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When R.E.M. first recorded “Radio Free Europe” it was hard to even comprehend what Michael Stipe was actually singing. Just listen to the “Hib-Tone” recording that opens the Eponymous album.

According to Cary O’Dell’s essay that accompanies the song’s entrance into the Library of Congress,

“Lead singer Michael Stipe later admitted that, for the Hib-Tone recording, he purposefully mumbled most of his singing since he had not yet finalized the song’s words. In either form, “Radio Free Europe” is as opaque in meaning as most other alternative rock lyrics of the era. Even Stipe has called the words to the song “complete babbling” (https://www.loc.gov/programs/static/national-recording-preservation-board/documents/RadioFreeEurope.pdf).

Actually as time passes, there seems to be a method and genius to this “babbling.” It certainly wasn’t as “complete” as originally thought.

However, if one wants “complete babbling,” then simply listen to President Trump speak without a script. That’s complete babbling. In fact, it seems that straightforward and concise ways of using language to describe truth and reality are so threatening to the Trump administration that this past week it issued some rather Orwellian dictates to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. As reported in the Washington Post:

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based ” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cdc-gets-list-of-forbidden-words-fetus-transgender-diversity/2017/12/15/f503837a-e1cf-11e7-89e8-edec16379010_story.html?utm_term=.3c060e17c7de).

When Trump first took office, many government workers started their own “rogue” Twitter accounts as a way of communicating the truth of what was happening in their departments despite the propaganda veneer applied by Trump and his appointees. It simply is using the very medium that Trump loves so much, Twitter, to combat the very messages that Trump and his cronies “tweet” out.

It should be no surprise that when Trump was elected, George Orwell’s book 1984 (along with other novels about dystopia) became a best-seller. With the obsessive need to control the conversation in America and the need to discredit any news outlet that reported something beyond the limited illusion of the White House, Trump has spent a majority of his time in office crying about “fake news” and distorting facts.

From Orwell’s 1984:

“And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain.” (Book 1).

It is almost as if he is trying to create his own version of the controlled language of Newspeak.

Whether someone interprets R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” as what Rolling Stone called “a vague riff on U.S. cultural imperialism” (again referencing O’Dell) or homage to keeping airways clean of political pollution, it cannot be overstated that there must be free press in a democracy, especially now when there is an administration that so wants to keep certain words that express truth and fact from being heard.

Looking at the lyrics of “Radio Free Europe” in today’s context makes what seemed like “babbling” rather germane to today’s America.

There’s that line “Straight off the boat, where to go” and the first thing that comes to mind is the xenophobic policies of the immigration bans Trump has been pushing.

“Put that, put that, put that up your wall” uses one of Trump’s favorite images.

And that shrinking disapproval rating is showing that “this isn’t fortunate at all.”

Sure, a little fandom mixed with some self-fulfilled prophecy and coincidence can bend an explanation of a great, somewhat vague, song into almost anything, but why does this R.E.M. song come to mind when reading about how Trump’s administration is trying to control the language of a free society?

Because the need to have a free press matters more now than ever.

Presentation On Life After High School Given to The Senior Class of 2018 on December 15, 2017 With Love… And Complete Faith In Your Generation

I was fortunate to be asked to present to our senior class some items for thought that might serve them well in the years to come after they leave high school. While lighthearted in some places, I will be the first to tell you that I have so much more faith in these young people than I have in many of the adults who run our country.

Life

So here it is.

Senior Day – 2017 for posting

Grace Under Fire – A Thank You to NC Attorney General Josh Stein

If you are in any way, shape, or form someone who advocates for public education here in the state of North Carolina, you might very have a debt of gratitude to Josh Stein.

For someone who has presented himself as a tireless leader for North Carolina, I am even more amazed at what he has accomplished considering the selfish majority in the North Carolina General Assembly that has gone out of its way to be an obstacle including reducing the budget for the Attorney General’s Office.

My first introduction to Josh Stein’s work came in the summer of 2015, when as a state senator, he confronted Sen. Jerry Tillman in a meeting about deregulating charter school growth. He went on to win a statewide election against staunch conservative Buck Newton in a year that saw Trump carry the state for the race to the White House.

In his less-than-one year tenure with a budget that has been deeply slashed, Stein has helped lead the fight against several initiates that many in Raleigh champion.

He has joined federal lawsuits against the elimination of the DACA Act, against stopping ACA subsidiaries, against Betsy DeVos for her repeal of student loan protections and promotion of for-profit education, as well as fighting the opioid crisis.

And while he may not be in a classroom teaching today, he did teach in Zimbabwe for two years, both English and economics.

Actually, that makes him just as experienced as our own state superintendent who with a slashed budget and a law degree himself has chosen to be passive and complicit to the NCGA’s wishes.

Not Stein.

What this teacher sees is someone who understands that the physical, mental, financial, and emotional health of our students has so much to do with how well they can learn.

Josh Stein is fighting for our students as much as anyone.

I am thankful for that.

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When a Teacher Grows a Mustache For The School He Loves

If you are a teacher and a group of students asks you to help out with a project or a performance in one of their electives, then do it.

Even if it is a dance concert that calls for ten seconds of an adult dressed as a coach for a number that mimics a baseball game.

Being a teacher in a public high school means more than just facilitating learning, expanding the intellectual horizons of America’s young people, and helping students hone life skills.

It also means being involved outside of the class in the lives of students doing the very things that may not get measured by a standardized test, but mean so much to the culture and fabric of the school community.

It allows students to see teachers as the caring, supportive people they are plus if teachers can be in front of  around 100 students a day in a classroom, what is a few hundred more? It’s like collaboration squared.

And it lets me reacquaint myself with some childhood memories.

In elementary school during the late 1970’s, I had a gym teacher who also served as the head football coach in a small school in rural Georgia. He wore the snap-back baseball cap with the school name, a shirt that had school colors made out of polyester, high rise tube socks, colored running shoes, a brass whistle around his neck,  and those wonderful coaches shorts.

That’s right – coaches shorts. Those wonderful polyester based stretchy icons that had to be snapped in the front. The BIKE brand is the one I remember.

And he had this luscious, thick mustache – one that looked like he was an angry motorcycle cop in the 1970’s who always wore aviator sunglasses even when inside or at night.

The look on his face was of majestically constipated sternness.

So, I was asked to be a part of this dance number 40 years after my initially meeting this coach and it required an adult to look like a coach, preferably one who fit the stereotype you see in older movies.

Simply put, I just brought this man from my past back to life. With the help of eBay.

And he is as strong and debonair as ever. Full of life and vitality.

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It’s all authentic. No touch-ups or anything. That’s the real deal you see in that picture.

Even the knee brace, the no-lens mega-glasses, and the hair coloring to bring out the mustache.

I am not going to lie. Since I have had this certain style of facial hair, my confidence level has shot up going through ceilings I never knew were there. My mental acuity, my mental awareness, and my ability to play with the time space continuum has expanded exponentially.

And I dance better now than I did when I was in high school.

All because of this mustache that I grew.

I grew it for the students.

That’s right. For the kids.

Now just imagine what this has done for my ability to teach Shakespeare. It’s a brave new world in the Dunsinane of my classroom.

So, if you are a teacher and asked by students to be a part of something for school, then do it.

And grow a mustache for it.

 

 

Double Overtime on the Road – Ain’t Over Until You Stop Playing

If you are Malcolm, every team at West Forsyth is your favorite, but there has always been a most special place in his heart for the Titan Girls Basketball team.

Maybe it’s the pregame fist-bumps with players the last couple of years or that he always sits behind the bench during games. (In actuality, that happens at most every game he goes to no matter the sport; it’s one of the many reasons that West is Best to him.)

It is not an uncommon occurrence to update Malcolm on a score for a West team from a Twitter feed when we can not get to the game or match. Tonight it was the ladies basketball game up near the state line against a state championship team from last year.

The will to win does not start at the beginning of the game. It starts before the very first practice.

If anything has defined this team of young ladies, it is that they endlessly prepare to be part of a team, to play as a team, and to win as a team.

And this team does not quit. To them, the game is not over until the final horn sounds.

Malcolm fell asleep before I could tell him that West won in double overtime on the road.

Don’t be mistaken by his verbal obstacles. That extra chromosome affected his muscle tone. That includes his ability to form words verbally. But his receptive speech is much better than people realize.

When I tell him tomorrow morning that his favorite team won, he will know exactly what I am talking about.

Actually, to him they always win.

But I will take a picture of his face when I tell him.

Congrats, ladies. Proud to be a Titan.

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