Friday, July 20, 2012

July 19th 2012 Board of Education Regular Meeting

One of the goals of the blog this year is to bring NCAE members (and all other interested parties), a timely, full report on Board of Education meetings specifically written to focus on issues that are important to Macon  teachers and staff. Here we go.....

Overcrowding of K-4 classrooms
Perhaps the most substantive issue the Board confronted was the issue of overcrowding and near overcrowding of K-4 classrooms at East Franklin, South Macon, and Cartoogechaye. Currently the Board has been allowing out-of-district students to attend these schools which has resulted in class sizes coming close to the state-allowed limit or poised to go over those limits given the projected enrollment for this fall.

Administration has attempted to solve this problem by inviting parents of out of district students to attend Iotla Valley which has surplus capacity both in terms of class sizes and physical plant (Iotla Valley has rooms for five classes at each grade level and currently only has three classes at each grade). Another option is to hire at least one teacher at East Franklin and create a split Kindergarten/First Grade of approximately 12 students. East Franklin principal Shirley Parks was given the option by the BOE to take temporary custody of an unused double-wide portable unit to handle the overflow but she indicated she preferred the existing space at East Franklin, saying that it was educationally sound. She also indicated she would like to know as soon as possible if there was going to be a split grade in order to give the teacher time to prepare. However, new superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan's advice to the BOE was to "wait and see" how many students actually appeared before incurring what may be unnecessary staffing expansions and/or student relocations and hire a new teacher and aid if necessary the first week of school. The Board seemed amenable to that advice and took no further action.

Human Resource Director Dan Moore noted that many parents, once they are advised of which teacher their elementary child has, especially at the kindergarten level, are loathe to dissolve that partnership -- that advice seemed to figure in the Board's decision not to relocate out-of-district students at this time. However, the Board indicated that a harder line on that issue would likely be forthcoming for future school years, noting that the district lines were drawn to prevent the type of overcrowding which is occurring. Currently 46 students are out-of-district which should be attending Iolta Valley with East Franklin having the most at 29.

First Reading of New Social Networking Policy
The item that generated the most animated discussion of the evening was a new social networking policy which proscribes the use of social networking sites such as Facebook by teachers during school hours, as well as explicitly forbidding teachers from "friending" students and their parents. (The policy can be accessed in full here) . Board member Gary Shields expressed concern that "teachers are already stressed" and that the policy as written created yet another potential landmine to consider and navigate in their daily activities. Shields complained that teachers are "going to get caught up in it (the policy}" inadvertently. Human Resource Director Dan Moore and BOE attorney John Henning responded that their concern was that students would be privy not so much to what a teacher might post him or herself, but what a friend of a teacher may post on the teacher's page which may cause problems maintaining a professional relationship with students. Moore pointed out to the BOE that he has to counsel teachers "at least twice a month" for inappropriate use of social networking sites and that MCS required a policy that "had teeth."

Shields pointed out that the policy allowed for disciplinary action up to and including termination.Shields argued that social networking sites were a "21st century tool" that teachers were already using and needed to use in a responsible manner. Shields cited as examples teachers giving "attaboys" online such as "great game last night" and other positive feedback which comes in a medium more conducive to communicating with current students. MCS Information Technology Director Tim Burrell argued that the portion of the policy forbidding the "friending" of parents by teachers was problematic as many teachers have pre-existing friendships with parents beyond and before their children may be enrolled in a particular teacher's classroom. Attorney John Henning maintained that "common sense would prevail." However, there is nothing in the policy mentioning "common sense.". Henning also argued that the policy was not a "blanket prohibition" but the policy appears to be just that. Shields argued that the policy was perhaps taking an overly punitive posture for a problem that may be small in size and scope. Both Moore and Henning agreed to solicit more input on the policy before a second reading. Dr. Duncan instructed Henning to benchmark MCS proposed policy with other LEA social networking policies at his upcoming school board attorney conference.

The Board will entertain a second reading (almost all new policies require two readings before they can be adopted) at the August meeting and may adopt the current policy, adopt a modified one, refer the policy back to HR and legal, or abandon the policy altogether.

(I would strongly urge concerned teachers and staff to review the policy and direct their concerns and suggestions to Board members, Dr. Duncan, Mr. Moore, and Mr. Henning. If you would like to pass them on by making anonymous comments below, I will forward them for you. Macon NCAE will certainly be weighing in on this issue.)

Free Eye Exam & Glasses Program
MCS Nursing Director Jennifer Garrett presented the Board with a program sponsored by the Essilor Vision Foundation and area eye doctors. MCS already provides K-8 vision screenings but this new program would provide actual eye exams as well as eyeglasses for students who cannot afford them and who do not have government provided insurance. Garrett explained that all too often students are identified with vision issues at the annual eye exam and parents are notified but for logistical and/or financial reasons, do not take their children for a follow-up eye exam. She cited an instance of a student who had been identified with vision issues at ten separate screenings but only this past year when Garrett took the family to the doctor was the eye disease diagnosed and addressed.

The program will operate somewhat similarly to the Molar Roller program but students will be bussed to one central location (a Franklin elementary school to be announced) for the eye exams. The exams will be by appointment. Parents can avail themselves and their children of the free program simply by providing an income statement and giving permission. Garrett projected that between 150 - 160 pairs of glasses will be given away in this charitable endeavor. Macon County Schools is the first North Carolina system to be part of the Essilor Foundation program. Dr. Duncan reported to the board that he had researched the program with a New York state principal who gave the project positive reviews.

Lowe's Charitable & Educational Foundation Grant
Franklin area Lowe's manager Van Crisp gave the Board the excellent news that Macon County Schools was chosen as a recipient of one of their grants, in the amount of $85,500. Crisp explained that it was the largest to date this year in NC. The monies are earmarked to renovate the some of the science lab and exceptional children classrooms at Franklin High. The work is slated to take place in the summer of 2013. Crisp explained that the Franklin Lowe's employees are ready to volunteer their labor for the project and FHS carpentry teacher Rick Rogers will also be part of the project. Consequently, the grant is essentially for materials and the volunteer labor will be able to substantially stretch the value of the grant.

NC School Nutrition Culinary Arts Competition Winners
Recently, the North Carolina. Public Schools Nutrition program held a competition for their cafeteria directors. Nantahala director Shirley Baldwin got first place for her yeast rolls and Franklin High director received second place for Lunch Plate Presentation. The Board and Dr. Duncan recognized their accomplishments and thanked them for what is frequently a thankless job.

Franklin High School Dance Team
Ten-year veteran cheerleading coach Jennifer Turner-Lynn, who stepped down as cheerleading coach last spring, didn't stay retired long. She and Franklin High principal, Dr. Chris Baldwin,presented the Board with a proposal to bring a dance team to FHS. Dr. Baldwin noted that with the departure of FHS's performing arts program and teacher a few years ago, students would be best served by creating a program which fostered performing arts skills as well as athleticism. Turner-Lynn projected that the team would have approximately 20 members. She has been in consultation with Western Carolina University and they will be conducting the mini-camp as well as overseeing the tryouts. The Board approved the addition of the dance team which will initially operate on a club basis.

Pam Collins re-hired
Former MCS Community Outreach Director Pam Collins was re-hired by the Board on a contract basis at $22 hr not to exceed 20 hours a week to oversee the New Century Scholars program. Collins had previously overseen the program as one of many duties before retiring last year. Oversight of the program had fallen to MCS Testing Director Pat Davis for 2011 - 2012. Dr. Duncan explained that while Mrs. Davis had done a fine job with the program, the increased workload coming from additional state testing requirements made the New Century program burdensome and that all parties would be best served by bringing Mrs. Collins back on a part-time basis.

Iotla Valley to be ready for occupancy "in a few days"
Terry Bell, who had been hired by the county to oversee construction of the new Iotla Valley School and to serve as liaison between the Macon County Commissioners and the BOE, reported to the Board that the top floor of the new school was merely days away from being ready for teachers and students to move in. Iotla Valley principal Gary Brown explained that the bottom floor will be blocked off for two reasons: there are no classrooms yet in use in that part of the building and finishing touches on construction will be completed while school is in session. Bell explained that the last pieces of tile were going down, that the water system was ready, the sewer system was ready and tested, and the phones were ready. IT Director Tim Burrell noted that the computer connections were "hot" and ready for new equipment to be installed. Bell signaled that much furniture was in the cafeteria awaiting the final tiling and waxing before being located in the classrooms and that more was on the way Monday July 23rd. Bell also noted that they had only days to work out any bugs compared to months when the move was made to Mountain View Intermediate.

Capital Outlay Expenditures Approved
The Board approved five separate capital outlay expenditures Thursday night:
  • $20K for renovations at Union Academy
  • $20K for a window upgrades at Nantahala
  • $20K for a bell and clock system at Macon Middle
  • $25K for custodial equipment at the new Iotla Valley School
  • $12K for a new mower at Iotla Valley
Originally, the motion did not mention the mower as the Board had been informed by Mr. Bell that the grass would not be sown until mid-September and Board member Jim Breedlove wanted to shop around in the interim. The omission of the mower prompted Board member Tommy Baldwin to suggest that "they'll be cutting hay up there before too long". After further discussion and clarification that there indeed was substantial acreage already grassed over and that the existing 42-inch mower did not have the capacity to efficiently cut the grass, the motion was amended by Mr. Breedlove and the motion carried unanimously.

Using monies from the sale of the old Cartoogechaye School, Board approved an expenditure of $27,900 to repair the roof the Highlands School campus middle school building.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Reactionary legislature punishes teachers

At 1:12am this past Thursday morning, the North Carolina General Assembly under the leadership of Speaker Thom Tillis made what may well be an unprecedented power move in the Old North State. I’ll let veteran Raleigh News & Observer political reporter Rob Christiansen tell it:

“I’ve watched every North Carolina legislature since 1977 and have seen some powerful political mandarins work their will, including Democrats Jimmy Green, Liston Ramsey, Jim Black and Marc Basnight.”

“But I’ve never seen anything quite like last week’s hijinks, in which legislators voted to end the dues check off, making it harder for the NCAE [North Carolina Association of Educators] to collect dues from members.”

Governor Perdue had called the General Assembly back into session to allow the legislature the opportunity to override her veto of their re-write of the Racial Justice Act, a courtesy she was bound by law to extend. But when the legislators could not find the votes to override her veto of that bill, rather than adjourning the special session, they passed a resolution which they argue constitutionally allowed them to extend the session to consider other matters. Even hours before the vote, no Republican representative would go on the record as to what the plan was for the moonlight madness.

And so without any public notice, the organization whose membership comprises approximately one-third of this state’s public school teachers and who provides the strongest consistent voice for all teachers whether they are members or not, the organization which consistently lobbies for policies to best serve the K-12 children of this state whose families do not have the financial wherewithal to send them to private schools, was the recipient of what was intended to be a crippling blow by a single-vote margin.

There is no mistaking the motive in the vote, nor the creation of the bill itself, co-sponsored by the 50th district’s Senator Jim Davis. Five Democratic lawmakers made a decision last spring to join the GOP to override the Governor’s veto of the state budget which both the Governor and NCAE as evaluated deeply harmful to North Carolina’s public school children. NCAE sent mailers into those five representatives’ districts with specific criticisms of their actions and the budget they supported.

In the wake of the mailings, Speaker Tillis huddled with his troops in the legislature, hammering not a mere response but a method to attempt to once and for all, muzzle the collective NCAE voice. Speaker Tillis revealed the plan to eliminate seamless collection of dues by the various central offices across the state, the thinking being, make it harder for us to collect our dues, we’ll have fewer members, fewer dollars, more internal headaches, and thus a weaker voice in the public education debate.

We know this because an open microphone caught Speaker Tillis’s comments last June when the groundwork was being laid for the Thursday morning ambush: “The reason we’ve decided to do that is the NCAE has gone into all five districts with mailers hammering these Democrats…we just want to give them a little taste about what’s to come.” Once busted, the Speaker had no qualms speaking the truth Thursday morning about the vote, “Politics” was a factor, but there were several factors,” said Tillis.

NCAE went to court last Monday to seek a temporary restraining order, contesting both the constitutionality of the vote and the content of the bill itself, since other teachers who are members of other organizations such as the State Employees Association of NC can still have their dues deducted from their paychecks. In the meantime, we will be communicating work-arounds such as electronic funds transfers to our members. Headaches, yes; diminished voices, no.

This wasn’t the current legislature’s first attempt to cripple NCAE. Last spring they were successful in passing free liability insurance for all NC teachers and staff. That’s right — in the middle of a recession, NC lawmakers took scarce dollars to provide a benefit, not out of the goodness of their hearts, but in an attempt to make an NCAE benefit superfluous and, again, weaken our numbers and diminish our voice.

Why the discrimination, why was NCAE singled out with this new law? Speaker Tillis and his brethren claim we are a partisan organization. That argument seems difficult to square with his previous complaint that we went after five Democrats who crossed over to vote with his caucus.

It is also difficult to square with the fact that in 2008 NCAE’s political action committee gave money to the Republican House Majority Committee and the Committee to Elect Republican Women. A partial list of other NC Republicans we gave money to in 2008 includes: Dale Folwell, Robert Grady, Fletcher Hartsell, Jerry Tillman, Larry Brown, Kenny Furr, Laura Wiley, Karen Ray, Larry Hale, Shirley Blackburn Randleman, Harry Brown, Bonner Stiller, Mitchell Setzer, Sidney M, Sandy, Jean Preston, Pat B. Hurley, Linda P Johnson, and Richard Stevens. In short, NCAE gives money to candidates who demonstrate promise in supporting public education.

Make no mistake: Speaker Tillis and NC Senate Leader Phil Berger are leading what is perhaps the most reactionary legislature in NC’s history, hence the near-record number of vetoes which has Tillis and Berger aflutter. They have exceeded the traditional rules of the political game. They have clearly deserted the time-honored Republican principle of “small government.” Small government would have, at the very least, left the collection of NCAE dues as a local matter, not forbidden it outright as they did. But what’s a principle worth when the opportunity beckons to silence dissent? Not much, it appears.

Both sides sadly engage in gerrymandering districts for partisan advantage and that issue is in the NC courts as I write. But the elimination of the dues check off and monomaniacal push for NC’s Voter ID bill which currently stands vetoed, chart new waters. The obvious goal of the Voter ID bill is to silence dissent by reducing the voter turnout of the poor, the elderly, college students, and people of color — the demographics for whom the bill’s hurdles will serve as a latter-day poll tax and literacy test.

Speaker Tillis and Senator Berger have taken their cues from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which serves to write much of their legislation and other reactionary legislatures which were swept into office in 2010 (SEE WISCONSIN, OHIO, MICHIGAN). The legislative language to eliminate the dues check off and the Voter ID bill aren’t indigenous to North Carolina — their birthplace is ALEC. (You can read all the model legislation at The mission is plain: diminish as much as possible any advocacy and political support, including votes, for traditional public services and their employees, then wash over what remains with the unlimited and anonymous corporate dollars undammed by the Citizens United decision.

I see on Speaker Tillis’s Facebook site that he made the decision to cancel his Charlotte Observer subscription after they criticized his late-night move. He’s going to want to avoid using Google either.

A quick search of North Carolina’s traditionally conservative editorial pages reveal consistent condemnation of the maneuver, if not the content of the bill itself as well. Moderates, who find such reactionary moves distasteful, are rebooting their traditional support of public education in North Carolina, and have offered the NCAE family tremendous comfort these past few days. The Speaker may put his fingers in his ears, cancel all his subscriptions, lay hazards in our midst, and unplug his computer, but our voices will still be heard.

And with that I’ll let Speaker Tillis have the last word: “Everybody knows that any time we come into a general session, that those matters are on the calendar and that this should be a learning experience.”


Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 2011 State Board of Education Review


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why Advocacy and Market Forces Fail Education Reform

Some interesting findings from Truthout's review of the peer-reviewed literature on how school choice and business models do not result in fixes -- either quick nor long-term -- for what ails public schools...
Taken as a whole, these numbers indicate significant limits on the capacity of public school choice and parental involvement to improve school quality and student performance within MPS [Milwaukee Public Schools]. Parents simply do not appear sufficiently engaged in available choice opportunities or their children 's educational activities to ensure the desired outcomes.... Relying on public school choice and parental involvement to reclaim MPS may be a distraction from the hard work of fixing the district 's schools. Recognizing this, the question is whether the district, its schools, and its supporters in Madison are prepared to embrace more radical reforms. Given the high stakes involved, district parents should insist on nothing less.

The think-tank advocacy process is chilling but effective: make claims through the media and move fast to the next thing before anyone has time to consider the evidence. Yes, the media is complicit here, because we know that think tanks and advocacy receive disproportionately more coverage without scholarly scrutiny when compared to university-based and peer-reviewed studies.
And be leery of fantastic claims made by free-market advocacy institutions such as the John Locke Foundation:
Think-tank advocacy focusing on education has increased over the past two decades, and although the think tanks have developed a strategy that involves creating the appearance of scholarship and research, the reality is that think tanks remain ideology-driven, not evidence-based.

How Billionaires Rule Our Schools

Bill & Melinda Gates

Christy, Jim, Alice, and S. Robson Walton of the Walton Family Foundation

Eli & Edith Broad

Drilling students on sample questions for weeks before a state test will not improve their education. The truly excellent charter schools depend on foundation money and their prerogative to send low-performing students back to traditional public schools. They cannot be replicated to serve millions of low-income children. Yet the reform movement, led by Gates, Broad, and Walton, has convinced most Americans who have an opinion about education (including most liberals) that their agenda deserves support.

Given all this, I want to explore three questions: How do these foundations operate on the ground? How do they leverage their money into control over public policy? And how do they construct consensus? We know the array of tools used by the foundations for education reform: they fund programs to close down schools, set up charters, and experiment with data-collection software, testing regimes, and teacher evaluation plans; they give grants to research groups and think tanks to study all the programs, to evaluate all the studies, and to conduct surveys; they give grants to TV networks for programming and to news organizations for reporting; they spend hundreds of millions on advocacy outreach to the media, to government at every level, and to voters. Yet we don’t know much at all until we get down to specifics.

Life in Hell -- The World of 52 new Standardized Tests in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools

"Here's the teacher's report, edited slightly for length and clarity:

*Tests did not arrive at school until Friday, April 1. School administration did not have time to train test administrators enough to feel confident about giving the test.

*Special area classes (music, art, PE, etc) and ESL classes are cancelled this week so that those teachers may assist with testing. This is to ensure that classroom instruction can continue. However, students will miss those special area classes. Most teachers at my school have some planning time during the special area class time. They will not have planning time this week.

*I have 50 kindergarten students to test this week. That is about 20-30 minutes per test, times 50 students. It's mentally exhausting for me. I am wondering how much time the final summative tests will be. We have to administer those next month. We are looking forward to having to cancel instruction for a week then as well. 10 days of instruction lost, out of 180 instructional days. That's a lot.

*The second-grade test has been taking more than 50 minutes. 50 minutes is supposed to be the upper limit of the test. This is only for one portion of the test (like, just math, or just social studies).

*I could write about 5 pages about how poorly constructed the test itself was but I'm not sure how much that would fall into breaking test security. I can say anecdotally that I have administered many different types of tests and this is about the worst test I have ever seen, as a "standardized" test. I don't know how much CMS spent just getting this field test version, but it appears to have been a complete waste of money, at the same time we are decreasing services and planning to lay off hundreds of teachers. The wording of the questions, the graphics that go along with the questions, the instructions for assessing the student's answers... It's not good. That is worrisome since these will (perhaps) eventually be used for Pay for Performance. How can we respect a PfP model if it is built on faulty testing data?

*I am giving the kindergarten science test. It is 34 pages long, so 17 sheets of paper. That times an average of 25 students per kindergarten class at my school. If each K-2 test is about that long: There are 21 K-2 classes in my school. So, 17 sheets of paper x 25 students x 21 classes x the number of elementary schools in CMS. That's a lot of paper. We usually have to ration paper to make copies at school. We would love to have that amount of paper to use to support instruction

Read more:

Let More Teachers Re-invent the Wheel

From Build Better Schools

Written by Joanne Yatvin

Many graduate students (and unfortunately, some of their professors) think that the Hawthorne anomaly illustrates the fact that human subjects who know they are part of a scientific experiment may sabotage the study in their eagerness to make it succeed. What it really shows is that, when people believe they are important in a project, anything works, and, conversely, when they don’t believe they are important, nothing works.

The second reason for championing greater creativity for all is that, through the process of inventing, people learn to understand what their inventions can and cannot do. They learn how to fine-tune them for optimum performance, and, maybe, figure out what changes are needed to produce even better models in the future. In short, they acquire the intimate knowledge of object, system, and use that makes an invention truly their own.

The third reason is simply that a big part of teaching is inventing. Good teachers invent successfully all day long, every day. They invent better ways to explain lessons, to entice reluctant learners, to bring unruly classes under control, and to fire children’s imaginations. When teachers won’t or can’t invent, believe me, the kids will–100 ways to shoot their teachers down. If we want good teaching at the bottom of the pyramid, we’ve got to let all teachers learn their craft.