What A Pandemic Tells Us – Our School Systems Need Calendar Flexibility

Calendar flexibility is an issue that received much more attention last school year and for good reason: hurricanes.

It should get a lot more attention this year. A pandemic can do that.

By 2017, North Carolina was one of only one of 14 states that had state laws that governed school calendars. The graphic below is from the Feb. 2017 Final Report to the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee on school calendars.

school calendar

What is also shows is that North Carolina was at the time was one of the TWO states in the entire country whose laws dictated when a school could start and when it had to end.

200 bills have been introduced in the NCGA over the last few years, and none have made it past committee in a legislature that had a super-majority in six of the last seven years because of opposition from another industry.

As the North Carolina Genera Assembly has reconvened for their “short” session, instead of introducing bills giving LEA’s more school calendar flexibility and letting them all stall in committee, they should put it to a vote that truly represents what the people want.

In fact, there are 17 bills that have been introduced alone this session for calendar flexibility.

It should never take some natural disasters and a pandemic to make our legislators act on this.

But there is this guy:

Once again, Berger conveniently forgets that there is a pandemic.

A Bill That “Criminalizes Teaching Authentic History.” This Could Be NC.

Chris Dier is the 2020 LA Teacher of the Year and was a finalist for the National TOY. In this op-ed, Dier (a world history and AP Human Geography teacher) comments on the potentially devastating effects of a bill introduced in the Louisiana House of Representatives that seeks to dictate how history is taught.

Take a look at this abstract.

That bill referred to is here. And it presents making sure that the following concepts like this are taught “correctly”:

Dier is describing and warning people in his state of the same thing that is happening in North Carolina even if it is not as overt in certain situations.

When teachers are being told by politicians who are not subject experts about how teachers should encounter history so that an agenda becomes more important than teaching facts, then there is a major problem.

And that problem is rooted in ignorance, pride, and a fear that the truth of what has happened and is happening in our world may have to force people to make a choice: a choice to courageously examine and reflect and possibly change.

Did You Get This Email In Your School Inboxes?

The following is showing up in actual teacher email boxes linked to their school email addresses. It is from Carolina Teachers Alliance recently profiled in the News & Observer:

Conservative activists have formed a new statewide teachers association that they want to become an alternative to the North Carolina Association of Educators.

The Carolina Teachers Alliance was launched this week with what organizers say is the goal of empowering educators “to provide the highest quality, unbiased and achievement-driven education to all children.”

No description available.

CTA also seems to have the support from the new Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson – at least according to that News & Observer report

Truitt has not hidden her dislike of NCAE. Nor has Robinson.

So how did this new organization that seems to be bent on becoming the alter-ego of NCAE be able to send their politically charged and obviously biased viewpoints to public school email accounts? Would the fact that two people who are publicly linked with this group be two of the people holding a couple of the highest state offices?

Reminds one of the time teachers received an email from iStation in their work inboxes during the fracas of Mark Johnson’s bid to make sure that it was the lone provider of reading assessments. We still do not know how they got a hold of the email list.

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But before CTA claims to represent an “unbiased” view of curriculum, it might be worth looking at the political activism of the people who put it together. Affiliations with Team AWake, Liberty First (Tea Party), and overt adulation for former president Donald Trump.

No agenda there.

None at all.

Mmmmm.

About “Operation Polaris” – It Must Include Some Things To Even Begin To Work

Yesterday, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt introduced her vision for DPI and public education in North Carolina.

It is called “Operation Polaris” in reference to the North Star. It alludes to the constant presence, the ever shining beacon, and the foundational staple of navigating the stars that Polaris has become.

Image

Of course it is bold. And it is a big step in the right direction when compared to Mark Johnson’s #NC2030 Plan. But it has to include steps to do the following in the eyes of this veteran teacher:

  • Lead with Leandro.
  • Put a nurse in every public school.
  • Put at least one reading specialist per grade in each school.
  • Put a social worker in each school.
  • Make all school meals free for students.
  • Invest in more professional development.
  • Include teachers in discussions about how to improve teaching and learning.
  • Restore graduate degree pay.
  • Restore due-process rights for teachers.
  • Pass a statewide school bond for construction and renovation of school buildings.

If those things are not addressed and remedied, then Operation Polaris will represent nothing more than an idealized goal that is light years away and can really only be fully viewed through a telescope.

The “Youth Health Protection Act” Is Nothing More Than Puritanical Paranoia And Discrimination

Sen. Ralph Hise is leading the NCGA to even new lows.

He helped introduce this bill this week.

In Hise’s eyes a “youth health protection act” is something that “protects minors from administration of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones and other related actions, procedures, and treatments.”

It instructs government agents to:

Teachers are government agents.

Ironic that a man like Hise who is linked to a larger cohort of part-time lawmakers in a party that champions individual freedoms wants people in a profession that he has willingly de-professionalized to now become gender police and carry out orders based on discriminatory practices.

As a teacher, I will always advocate for my students no matter their race, religion, creed, or gender. One would think that an elected official would do the same.

And if Hise believes that my unwillingness to co-opt his hateful policies would akin to allowing a certain “doctrination” to be taking place, he can report me. Here is the form on the Lt.Gov’s site:

But remember, that person who runs that site already has shown a propensity to confuse genders already.

Another Hypocritical & Pharisaical Bill To Target Teachers And Weaken Public Schools: SB700

Senate Bill 700 was just filed today at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Here are a couple of parts to that bill:

First, who is to decide what is considered equal weighting? Notice the sponsors of the bills are hard-lined representatives of the same political party. And remember there is a person on the state board who has a website so that people can bypass local administration and report about what they think is indoctrination. That same person has some really divisive posts on social media.

Post everything that is used and the sourcing of all of these materials? So that people can make judgement without the context and measure those materials against their own personal bias and viewpoints?

Oh, and charter schools are not included in this legislation.

Feels a tad bit Orwellian from the party that preaches “small government.”

And don’t let the irony be lost on the people who sponsor this bill.

Sen. Krawiec has not let her unweighted political considerations be bound by her office. Remember this?

joyce1

Sen. Ralph Hise introduced a bill last session to expand the voucher system during a pandemic.

Hisebill1

It should be noted that never in the existence of the Opportunity Grants has all of the money appropriated for it ever been used. It also should be noted that around 90% of vouchers go to religious schools that do not have to teach a certain curriculum.

And NC’s voucher system is probably the least transparent in the nation.

Sounds fairly “weighted” to me. Odd how he wants to finance a non-transparent “system” that enables a weighted view of the world inside of a classroom, but wants all public school teachers to post everything used in a classroom to be judged.

Hooked On Phonics? – First, ˈFu̇(l)-lē ˈFənd ˈSkülz

One of the better political cartoons printed in the past week dealt with North Carolina’s education system – specifically the new bill that will bring more of the “science of reading” into the schools.

It’s from Dennis Draughon, Capitol Broadcasting’s editorial cartoonist.

No description available.

Can’t say that I have seen our new state super in cartoon form, but Sen. Phil Berger’s depiction as a scruffy bearded school boy in t-shirt and shorts listening to Gov. Cooper during a lesson is humorous.

It brings out what is really at the root of the what ails public education here in North Carolina: funding.

That respelling of Leandro highlights the fact that nothing with this new initiaive with the “science of reading” being implemented can be successful unless we as a state start adequately funding our public schools.

“Today’s Math Assignment” is apropos as well considering that we are approaching budget season.

Here are some of the very things that those two “students” in the cartoon above could learn from that Lē-ˈan-(ˌ)drō Ri-ˈpȯrt.

These 12 data exhibits help to summarize some of those issues as far as the effects of poverty on school systems, lower numbers of teacher candidates, attrition levels, per-pupil expenditures, and how it is hard to compare NC to other states in how it funds its schools.

leandro 1
leandro 2
leandro 3
leandro 4
leandro 5
leandro 6
leandro 7
leandro 8
leandro 9
leandro 10
leandro 11
leandro 12

AND THAT WAS BEFORE THE PANDEMIC!

There Are No “Silver Bullets” or “Magic Pills” in Changing Schools – People Make Schools Work. Invest In Them.

There are no “silver bullets” or “magic pills” when it comes to changing a school.

There is no one thing that can be done, no standard blueprint, no Harry Potter spell that can be executed that will make a struggling school turn its fortune around overnight.

Rather, transforming schools is a process – one that has to have the investment of all people involved: administrators, teachers, and students.

That process is rooted in school culture.

Culture – noun  cul·ture  \ ˈkəl-chər \ :t he set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization (merriam-webster.com)

That definition suggests multiple variables: “attitudes,” “values,” “goals,” and “practices.” They are “shared,” clearly outlined, nurtured, practiced, modeled, and embraced.

culture

Most schools have one principal and perhaps multiple assistant principals who can set a tone and attitude for the school. But the most effective school administrators are the ones who do not see teachers as an extension of authority or executors of mandates. The most effective school administrators view teachers as the very foundation of what makes a positive school culture.

Those same effective school administrators look to remove obstacles for teachers so that they can do what they do best: teach and help students.

In today’s data-driven world and over-reliance on bottom lines, it is easy to judge schools by a series of standardized, yet nebulous measurements such as ACT scores, EOCT proficiency rates, or even EVAAS projections. To say that those measures do not have any merit is not the point. They do, but to a smaller degree than other variables, ones fostered by school culture.

Positive school culture celebrates the process, not just a score on a test. It focuses on the actions taken to improve all measurable and immeasurable outcomes. It sees the student as a person, an individual, not as a test-taker. It values the roles of the teachers and honors the relationships that each teacher makes with the students. It includes student and parent involvement, the student section, the quality of the yearbook, the number of kids in extracurricluars, and the willingness of a community to support them.

Look at the number of teachers who come early and stay late, who attend events in the school that are not academic. Look at the students who come for tutoring and ask for help because they feel free to advocate for themselves.

Listen to the announcements and see what is celebrated. Look who wears apparel that reflects school spirit.

Look at teacher-turnover rates, student dropout rates, and workplace condition surveys.

When the only valued measure of a school becomes data points whose formulas are never fully revealed, then what happens is that blind faith in algorithms and conversions is greater than the trust in the human capital that is the life force of the school.

Find a principal who can fully explain the algorithms used by SAS to come up with EVAAS predictors. Find a county administrator or a state officer who can.

Find the ACT report that breaks down every strand and standard for each missed question and totally reveals how each student did on each question so complete that it can be used to help remediate.

Find a state or local benchmark test whose answers can be validated by any administrator or teacher having to use it.

Yet in many of those cases, those standardized ways of measuring students have become so much more the focus of many schools and administrators which in turn forces schools to look only at bottom lines and manufactured outcomes. That approach easily dismisses the human element.

Students are human.

Teachers are human.

Administrators are human.

And school culture is driven by students and teachers and nurtured by administrators. It is not measured by numbers, but by atmosphere, attitude, and shared visions. That takes time, effort, communication, and trust. It is something that starts from the inside and grows outward, not the other way round.

There is no “silver bullet” to make that happen.

There is no “magic pill” to swallow.

For schools to have a positive school culture there must be a strong faith in a process that creates a better outcome the more it is practiced. The more input that comes from those invested in the process, the more investment overall.

And when those who are in a school that wants to improve help to create an organic, dynamic culture that celebrates the student/teacher relationship and understands that all positive outcomes cannot be really quantified, then something that is actually magical does appear: a great school.

Besides, we do not need any more bullets in schools. We really do not.

At West Forsyth, No One Bleeds Greener Than Coach Murph

One of my first memories of Coach Murphy actually came at a Home Depot in Winston-Salem. I had on a West Forsyth t-shirt. I have quite a few of them.

Murph had on West Forsyth garb as well. He recognized me and came straight up and told me that the football team was going to Asheville the next Friday for a game against A.C. Reynolds. He wanted to know if I was going because he sure was going to be there.

Of course, he was going to be there. He is one of the main cogs of the West Forsyth athletics program. In fact, there may not be a more successful assistant coach in North Carolina when it comes to wins.

I was beginning to come to more athletic contests as I had become fully convinced that I was a part of the West Forsyth community and my investment in being a part of the school’s culture was growing. And I got to met Coach Murph in the process.

And when he approached me in that Home Depot on the western side of the Twin City, he had already designated me a friend because he had met me before and knew that I rooted for West Forsyth.

That steadfast loyalty to those he knows at West Forsyth has always amazed me. In 2012,  the Winston-Salem Journal did a story on Coach Murph and what he means to West Forsyth – http://www.journalnow.com/journal_west/sports/pat-murphy-a-fixture-at-west-forsyth-is-a-titan/article_92ae90b8-2dd2-11e2-a4c6-0019bb30f31a.html. It’s fantastic.

One of paragraphs in that story did strike me as I read it again.

“Joe Murphy, Pat’s 80-year-old father, said that Pat was stricken with a mental disability at birth. He’s the one who drives his son across the street every afternoon at 2 to the high school, so Pat can get to work.”

As the father of a child with special needs or developmental delays or whatever people call it in conversation, I have come to realization that it may not really be a disability that happens to be identified with Coach Murphy.

Actually, it seems he has an ability that most of us do not have: the intangible gift of lifting others.

Two quotes stand out from that story said by two men whom I deeply respect.

“If you are really having a bad day, just go hang out with Pat a little while. You’ll be all right.”

“He has always been so positive, so kind, and he never forgets things.”

In a country that has expressed itself in such divisive ways of late, it seems that what Coach Murph embodies and shows on a daily level might be one of the saving graces for keeping communities together. And it’s especially good for our young people to see.

This past week in its FOX8 Frenzy Unsung Heroes segment, Fox8 profiled Coach Murph

In it, the sagacious Coach Snow said,

“I promise you. If you cut that joker today, it ain’t gonna be red. It’s gonna be green.”

The West Forsyth Titan family “bleeds green.” No one bleeds greener than Coach Murph.

If you talk to anyone who knows Coach Muroh, they are liable to say things like:

  • positive
  • kind
  • loyal
  • focused
  • selfless
  • consistent
  • the belief that “we will win”
  • stays through thick and thin
  • friend

I hope someone says that about me someday.

That’s why I want to be more like Coach Murph when I grow up.

Go Titans!

Local Supplements For Teachers Mean More Than You May Think (& Raleigh Knows That)

average pay

The above was a graphic proudly shown on the Sen. Phil Berger-enabled propaganda website  www.ncteacherraise.com a couple of years ago. The link to that site no longer works. The domain is now available for purchase.

There were a lot of “spun” numbers and claims on that website which were easily debunked with more context and clarity.

But that value amount for the average teacher salary as it stood actually was “correct,” but it included all of the advanced degree pay still given to veteran teachers that has been taken away from newer teachers. And do not forget that the average pay will decrease over time as the highest salary a new teacher could make in the newest budget is a little over 50k.

That average salary also is counting another another financial factor that people like Berger want to get credit for but do not deserve known as the “local supplement.”

Some may be wondering, “What the hell is that?” Well, a local supplement is an additional amount of money that a local district may apply on top the state’s salary to help attract teachers to come and stay in a particular district. While people may be fixated on actual state salary schedule, a local supplement has more of a direct effect on the way a district can attract and retain teachers, especially in this legislative climate.

What gets twisted here is that in creating local supplements for teachers many mitigating factors come into light and when North Carolina began bragging about the new average salary it was telling you that Raleigh was placing more of a burden on local districts to create a positive spin on GOP policies.

The past few budgets that were actually passed cut monies to the Department of Public Instruction, therefore limiting DPI’s abilities to disperse ample amounts of money to local county and city districts for various initiatives like professional development and support. When local central offices have less money to work with, they then have to prioritize their needs to match their financial resources. That means some school systems cannot offer a local supplement to teachers because they are scrambling to fulfill other needs that a fully funded state public school system would already offer.

(PLEASE DO NOT FORGET THAT NC IS STILL OPERATING ON A BUDGET MADE ALMOST THREE YEARS AGO.)

And it is not just about whether to have a couple of program managers for the district. It’s about whether to allow class sizes to be bigger so that more reading specialists can be put into third grade classes, or more teacher assistants to help special needs kids like mine succeed in lower grades. Or even physical resources like software and desks.

What the current GOP-led NCGA did was to create a situation where local districts had to pick up more of the tab to fund everyday public school functions.

What adds to this is that this governing body is siphoning more and more tax money to entities like charter schools, Opportunity Grants, an ISD district (STILL), and other privatizing efforts.

Look at the interactive table of 2020-2021 local supplements offered by each LEA for which a portion is shown.

You can find a lot of info here.

Charlotte-Meck and Wake County offer local teacher supplements of over $8,000. The state average is right under $5,000.

Over 100 LEA’s have a local supplement under that state average.

There are a few districts that cannot afford a teacher supplement or one for administrators.

These differences can add up.

For a younger teacher, that can swing a decision. And we in WSFCS get a lot of teacher candidates. Look at the teacher preparation programs that surround us – Wake Forest, Winston-Salem State, Salem College, App State, and UNCG just to name a few that actually place student teachers in my school.

Simply put, local supplements are a big deal and complicated. It gets more complicated when the state starts placing more financial burdens on LEA’s to fulfill state mandates.

For a veteran teacher like myself, a competitive local supplement could mean that I feel valued by the very system that still lacks enough teachers to start the school year fully staffed. For a new teacher, it could be the difference to taking talents, energy, and drive to a particular school system and becoming a part of the community.

So, what can a district’s community do to help teachers come and stay in a particular district?

  • They can look at local supplements as a way of investing rather than being taxed.
  • They can go and vote for candidates on the state level who support public education.
  • They can go and vote for county commissioners who are committed to helping fully fund public schools.
  • And they can go and investigate how all of the financing of schools works. It is not as black and white as some may believe it is. Rather it is very much interconnected.
  • THEY CAN MAKE SURE TO HAVE LOCAL OFFICIALS PRESSURE THE STATE TO FULLY FUND STATE MANDATES AND NOT PUT THE BURDEN ON LEA’s/

The current culture in our state has not been very kind to public school teachers. Competitive local supplements could go a long way in showing value in public schools.

Because the state will certainly use them to pad their numbers on how well teachers are being paid.