Sunday, November 24, 2013

Is this the problem?

Hey, is the problem with the Common Core not actually with the concept but with how it has been done? Can there be a curriculum that actually educates the whole person? I looked at the social studies standards, and they are mind-boggingly complex and detached. Can there be something that could be created as humanistic common core? Look at this web site: Should this be the starting point, getting kids to think about their values and priorities and have THIS as the starting points and essential questions? Are there any teachers or academics who want to start a movement for an alternative Common Core, something teacher driven rather than by EdD's and corporate educators? Or is the whole concept flawed?

Or is the problem that there are mixed motivations? Are there those who were involved in the creation and implementation of the Common Core and the PARCC assessments who want to use it as a tool for something else than teaching students?  Is the motivation to use this as a tool to get rid of ineffective teachers or promote schools without unions or tenure?  Is this inconsistent with the concept of the Common Core?  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What I Miss

I miss so many things about Montclair.  After 22 years, I made a great many dear friends and met so many remarkable people and teachers.  I miss many who have retired, Joe Macaluso, Dennis Murray, Phil Easton, Ed Lebida, Frank Green, my close friends in guidance, Shirley and Nedra, and the rest of the guidance staff, so many great teachers, people like Peter Guiffra, to so many wonderful students and parents I met as a counselor, a coach and as guidance director.  I miss the calm wisdom of Helen Kuryllo and Petal Robinson, the passion of Anna Pancheckha and Jonathan Mancinelli, the 'professors' Jonathan Meyer and Greg Woodruff, my friends George Burroughs and Jim Aquavia.

But I do not miss anyone in the administration.  Really, I really cannot tell you how much I do not miss them.  Well, not all, I have nothing bad to say about my dealings with Felice Harrison, she has always been a decent person, and Gail Clarke is one of the more competent administrators in the district.  John Jeffries and Damien Cooper are both decent guys, though John can be really mercurial.  I am really sorry for what I posted about Damien.  I took stuff from my computer to my blog and I was really careless.  I am talking about the people who thought they needed to show me how they were the boss:  Penny, Eileen, James, Shirlene.  They're not all bad people.  I meant it when I told James I would be thrilled with him as a neighbor, as a friend, as a relative.  He is a great guy one-on-one.  He is honest, he is caring, he is intelligent.  As a principal, not as much.  When he brought John Jeffries in, John would tell us, watch out when James gets tenure, and this was really offensive.  Tenure is to reward you for what you've shown and to expect more of it.  James has this weird view that there is some kind of incongruity between loving your job and doing well in it.  He is of a world where if you get a paycheck, you should accept what is given you.  And to be fair, its what he expects of himself.  He does not need praise or recognition or appreciation to do his job, and he treats others that way.  I've heard he's more engaged with the teachers lately, and that's a great thing.  He has it in him, but has to really believe it is important that teachers are loyal to him not because they are afraid of the consequences of being disloyal, but because they share in a mission with him.  To be honest, I don't know that he has that in him, but I am encouraged by what I've been hearing.

Neither Penny nor Eileen have ever showed me in any way that they had any concern about students.   They both have the off-putting distance that's almost creepy, not the kind of people I would want my kids to grow up to be like.  Why would we ever have a superintendent who does not model the character that we would want in our children?  I simply don't get it.  To break the unions?  To show your resentment of tenure?  Have our leaders really bought into the corporate, Race to the Top, top down control of education?

Oh my god, I cannot tell you how nice it is to be in Morristown!  They are really decent, nice people in the administration.  There is dignity and respect everywhere.  And fun.  Oh how I missed the fun. You know what is missing in Montclair now:  Dignity and Respect....and a Soul.  They are promoting an atmosphere where there is not kindness or caring or even humanism.  There view of caring is safety, their view of performance is test scores.  Its really scary.  We in Morristown have the same SGO's and the Common Core and the PARCC Assessments, but we haven't abandoned the emphasis on these overshadowing creating thoughtful and sincere and kind kids.  Thankfully, this does not seem to have affected all schools.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Missing the Point

Much of the opposition to the corporatization of schools focuses on the opposition to processes:  utilizing the Common Core, quarterly common assessments, Student Growth Objectives, etc.  This wholly misses the point.  There are schools and school systems that instituting these without objection, even some that are embracing them.  What is the difference between what is happening in the schools where there is an increasing and vocal opposition, like Montclair, and those where there is not:

1)  There is a lack of appreciation of the culture of the community.  There is an assumption that there is a prescription for school success that is transferrable across schools and districts that does not involve any qualitative judgement.
2)  There is a lack of emphasis on humanism, compassion, dignity and respect.
3)  Teachers are treated as means to an end, as is teaching.
4)  The primary mode of communicating is defensiveness and self-promotion.
5)  Every decision is top down.  There is a lack of emphasis on local authority and team building.
6)  All change must be abrupt and sudden and systematic.
7)  There is a narrative that the schools are failing.
8)  The leaders have no commitment to the community.  They are in to bring change and leave.
9)  The leaders are using the opportunity to move on to bigger and better things.
10) What is presented as listening is proselytizing.
11)  Loyalty is valued above competence.
12)  Management and control are valued more than creativity and individuality.

If these speak to you, your school may be infected by the "corporatization virus.  You may need to have your district reform the reform, the only cure for this insidious disease.

Issues at Montclair

Issues at Montclair High:

1) Morale is as low as I have ever seen it.  Virtually every teacher I speak to, especially the strongest teachers, are planning their exit strategies.  The environment is about compliance and loyalty and there is absolutely no emphasis on strong teaching.
2) Supervision is only to maintain control.  There is no mentoring or positive reinforcement.  Weak teachers are being hired and given good evaluations while great teachers feel threatened and unappreciated.  One English teacher teaching high honor students assigned one book for the entire year.  Teachers in one department, from the best to the worst, were given "satisfactory".
3) There is a total lack of expertise in the oversight of curriculum.  Teachers are writing lesson plans that are never read.  There are some departments that are receiving absolutely no oversight.
4) The administrative team is extremely weak.  
5) The superintendent has no idea of the culture of the community or the needs of the schools.  She is spending money on consultants at an incredible rate.  She hired a scheduling consultant at $5000 a day without ever talking to me about our needs.    They have made decisions that have made scheduling more and more difficult, including 3 small learning communities, 6 world languages, almost every AP course available and common instructional periods, and provided no support in completing the task.  The superintendent refused to pay anyone to assist with scheduling; only capitulating when I told the principal that there would be no way the schedule would be done without assistance. 
6)  We are being treated as a failing school when there are many highly successful things about the school.  We have a great college placement record, there was not a single student who failed to graduate due to failing the HSPA, and we are regularly recognized in areas like math and economics.  The system being put in place puts greater accountability in fairly strong areas yet leaves the weakest areas, like PE, unsupervised and unaccountable.
7) The total top-down management of the principal and superintendent makes for an environment where education is secondary to management and control.  There is a lack of expertise in the most important area of the school, the oversight of teaching and education. 
8) There is no sense of collaboration or common purpose or unified mission.  There is no appreciation or encouragement of creativity or love of learning.  Rather than try to find a way to way to continue to do what we do well despite a system from the State and federal government that is meant to destroy quality public education, we have totally allowed the superintendent to change our educational system to adapt to it.   We have taken a corporate atmosphere that is hostile to teachers, encouraging to charter schools and voucher and allowed it to infect our school system.  We are wasting our most precious asset, our teachers, and allowed our culture as an environment of thoughtfulness and creativity to be damaged.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

One Life at a Time

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing my sister-in-law's play, that she directed, at Lincoln Center.  At the After Party, sitting at our table were David Schwimmer, Chris Rock, Jeff Goldbloom, Bobbie Carnivale, to name a few.  But the most important person of the night was Jessica, our waitress.  She is a Hunter College graduate who just took her LSAT's to go to law school.   I asked her if she wanted to be a lawyer, and she told me no.  "So, if you could do anything you wanted, what would you want to do."  "Teach" she said.  So I spent the next few minutes letting her know that despite the difficulty in getting jobs, the hostility toward teachers (in the guise of hostility to the unions) by politicians and many in the media, and the trend toward corporatizing education, that there were few jobs (except maybe nursing) where you could change lives every day. I brought her to Eve, my wife, so she could describe her journey as a high school drop out who got her GED at age 48, then completed college and got her dream job as a teacher in an alternate school in Orange NJ.  Eve is my hero and she is doing God's work.  I wanted Jessica to see her passion and love for what she was doing.   Just afterward, as I was leaving, I got a text from one of my former wrestlers who needed help with college expenses.  "Peace, Coach White" it started, asking me if I could help him with tuition for county college.  I found Jessica and showed her.  "This is what its all about" I told her, "making connections."  Jessica, if you read this, comment what you thought and what you're planning on doing.  I hope I changed one life that night....