Like it or not, here it comes

Such a wonderful all-purpose phrase that I have used on numerous occasions. In this particular case, I believe the or nots are almost unanimous. The “it” refers to the state mandated changes that will begin in the North Carolina public schools, beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. As a caveat I will mention that the aforementioned it does not refer to the increase in school days from 180-185. Although it would have been traumatic for me back in the days of yore when public school and I had a love-hate relationship.( I loved to hate it.)

So what can it be that has teachers upset, on several levels, and is described as something that parents wont like, students wont like, “older” school principals wont like and school boards like ? Notice that there would hardly be anyone left to actually like this upcoming change.

I became aware of this from an article in the Daily Advance newspaper today in which Dept of  Public Instruction representative(1) Tamara Ishee-Berman warned local school board members of  the possibility of  public displeasure over what she called a method of learning math that focuses on problem solving skills and not doing math problems.

She provided an example where students at the N C School of Science and Math were told they would be city planners designing a new mass transit system for their town. She related that a key element of the new learning approach would involve students choosing what equations they needed to solve the problem without teacher imput. The method which she described as revolutionary would be used to teach middle school students.The method is also described as one that requires great initiative on the part of students.

So, here we have a radical new system which will admittedly be painful to be taught by teachers who will lack adequate learning time and will place added demands on principals and what result do we expect ?Hint, it wont be pretty. Just one more thought. Who had input into this program and were the potential pitfalls even considered. I am quite glad I do not have any  children in the public schools but alas I do have grandchildren that are there.






1  Footnote: Ms Ishee-Berman is regional lead at the N C Department of Public Instruction and has degrees from University of Massachusetts Boston and Harvard.




February 24, 2012 Posted by | education | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Shaping Young Minds…..Again

It’s that time of year again. Untold numbers of  children and young people are returning to the hallowed halls of public education. There are those, of course, with the means and/or opportunity to pursue another path; private or religious schools or home schooling. But the majority will trudge back to endure or enjoy the public school process, as my wife and I and our children did.

It seemed like a good time to write again about education as my younger grandson entered the “system” as a kindergarten student just yesterday. He was somewhat excited at the idea ahead of time which gave me pause as to whether we were actually related.

My public education years, which numbered only 12 since there was no mandated public kindergarten in those pre-historic days, would never be described with the words excited or eagerly anticipating. I have tried to find a suitable descriptive phrase and remembered  a Paul Simon lyric from “Kodachrome.” It goes like this. “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.” Now, admittedly  that is not totally correct since I did have a wonderful English teacher my senior year whom I was privileged to get to know as a friend and neighbor. Alas, she was the exception.

Were I  to divide my 12 years into 2 segments; one being elementary and the other combining junior  and senior high; the former rates considerably higher than the latter but mainly by comparison. But, to close  on  a somewhat more positive note, the above referenced grandson now has three school days under his belt and still “loves” school and his teacher. That is the good news. The not so good news is that his bus riding experience has been utterly chaotic all  three days and in  a different way each day. Certainly hope that his school and who ever else is responsible for this gets their act together and soon! At this point, I  will refrain from mentioning the names of the school or school system, with my hope being that things change for the better.

September 3, 2011 Posted by | education, Family | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What Privacy?

There is  a company in Wilmington, NC named Education Management Systems. They have  a division  called MealsPlus which I presume is the part of the company that deals with food service. I meandered around the web site for a while and didn’t learn a lot other than they have been in business for about 20 years and their food service division has a number of school systems as customers in a number of states.

One of their services allows parents to track what their children are buying for breakfast and lunch while at school.The goal- why reducing childhood obesity of course. For a mere $10 annually parents can get a 45 day history of what their child is buying. Our local system, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County, has just  signed on to the service. Neighboring school systems in Dare and Currituck counties also have subscribed  the service.

When reading about this, I really wasn’t sure what I thought and I am  still  a bit unsure. As my wife pointed  out, because one’s child is buying the right things doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is eating that food. I also wonder what the participation is in the program and could  it eventually become mandatory for parents to take part? For example, including maybe bundling the fee in with other required items?

But with such a worthy goal, who could possibly complain about  a little more intrusion and  a little more monitoring? While you are chewing( pun intended) on that think about this. School officials in New Canaan, Ct are in the very preliminary stages of considering if they should  add radio frequency tags to student and staff  id cards  and possibly place them on school property. School superintendent  Dr David Abbey said student involvement would be voluntary and that parents would  have to agree. Glad we got that cleared up.

I realize that about the only things  connecting these  two accounts  is technology and the benefit to the children. Can never disagree with something that’s good for the children. Why then do both programs leave   me  with an uneasy feeling?

August 23, 2010 Posted by | education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Talking Schools

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about a trip made by several people affiliated with our local system and took issue with the cost-$14,000- and what I saw as a lack of communication about the trip. Apparently, others had similar and maybe stronger feelings. An administrator with the Elizabeth City Pasquotank schools has felt the need to launch a defense. I’m not sure if her defense relates more to the trip or the local system in general.

The administrator in question is Linda F Ward. She is the director of federal programs and elementary education for the local system. She wrote quite  a lengthy response in our local paper on April 29 entitled, “Cost of Fla trip justified by local education needs.” Some might even call her article a bit of a diatribe as she calls out the local paper for attacking and degrading the local schools and longs for the day when the paper “really supports our  school system.”

I read her article carefully and have reread much of its content. I did not learn much about the trip itself, the rationale for partnering with the Schlechty Center and nothing about the partnership itself. I actually learned about Schlechty by going to their website. Ms Ward defends school system employees with gusto. Out of the 1,079 who work for the system she says that most  are committed to the system. Isn’t that a comfort? That statement was just one of several things she wrote that actually raised more questions than it answered. Try this quote. “My parents taught me long ago to stand up for what is right and what I believe in.” While that is admirable, she failed to explain what she meant in the context of  our school system. What exactly did she mean by what is right ? Nor did she identify in what she believes.

She talks much about the system’s improvement after years of struggle, saying that it is finally on track with” strong leadership, a clear direction and a focus on students.” Naturally I am going to ask some questions. Has the leadership been lacking  and why has the focus not always been on students? By her own admission she has been in the system for 25 years. Has  she just now become part of the strengthened leadership?  I don’t really know.

I don’t necessarily mean to be to critical of Ms Ward. I t’s good that someone  finally made an attempt to justify the trip. But it leaves with the same feeling that I have had many times before with a number of school systems with which we have interacted as parents. The systems are  quite lacking at communicating with the public . They invariably fall   short of explaining what they do and why they do it. And let us not forget  to mention the  large sums of money that flow through our educational systems. We as a society spend a  lot  of money on education. A little more transparency from the recipients would be nice. By the way, a little less jargon would help. Thanks.

May 8, 2010 Posted by | education | , , , , | Leave a comment

San Antonio and Rabat

At first glance, how could there be any connection between a city in Texas and the capital of Morocco? The connection is  the Muslim faith. First, the Texas side. There is  a small liberal arts  institution located in San Antonio known as Trinity University ( keep that name in the back of your mind) which has become somewhat newsworthy over the past year. In March, 2009 a group of students, the Trinity Diversity Connection, led by a Muslim student began a push to have the words” in the year of our Lord,” removed from the school’s diplomas. Their president’s objections centered on the  fact that this was  a direct Christian reference and not everyone believes that way. The group  has supported by the student government and a campus commencement committee. Input is still being received and trustees  will consider the request at a May meeting.

Now for part two which admittedly is somewhat more significant. The North African country of Morocco ( Casablanca anyone?) is  known as a moderate Islamic country with generally good  relations with the United States. It is like a  number of its neighbors 99% Muslim. So, why the sudden push to  clamp down on Christians?

The country’ s  position as  stated by  Ambassador Aziz Mekouar , which  it refuses to call a crackdown on Christians is that  the sudden, inexplicable deportations of  British citizen and 20 year resident of Morocco, businessman and 15 year resident of Morocco Michael Ramsey  among others. There were interrogations , raids on  homes ,etc followed by swift ignominious passage out of the country.

The charge, proselytizing,the ambassador says it involves pushing someone to change their faith. The unanswered question is why now and why target individuals that have been in the country for years?  Perhaps  the answer is as Jack Wald suspects. Wald is pastor of Rabat International Church. He is hearing reports of Moroccan Christians  being followed, questions and intimidated. He describes it as the heat being on Moroccan Christians.

Two events, neither of which are really connected, but yet are in a sense. One in a pluralistic country, the other in a country 99% of whose people adhere to basically the same belief system. The ongoing event in Texas could not occur in Morocco. Some would say that the events in Morocco have occurred here. In the aftermath of 9/11, there probably was some of that here. But institutionally and  to those actively engaged in ongoing humanitarian activities, I doubt.

Wonder if CAIR operates in Rabat?

April 13, 2010 Posted by | education, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Money Well-Spent or Just Spent?

Just a few days ago, some 10 people affiliated with our local school system attended a conference in Tampa,Fl sponsored by the  Schlechty Center, based in Louisville,Ky. This is at least the second trip to a Schlechty conference, as a delegation went to Albuquerque,NM  last year. Final numbers are not available but the costs will  exceed $14,000 since the  registration fee alone was $1,400 per person according to a Daily Advance article by Kristin Pitts.

Finances are tight in our local system as they are in most school districts. So, how does one justify the costs incurred on this trip? Of those who attended, four were school board members( out of six total members) , 2 were elementary school principals and four were  administrators, including the superintendent and assistant superintendent.

Frankly, I do not know, although I would like to give the attendees the benefit of the doubt. Only one of those attending was available for comment and he acknowledged that  cost was an issue. But, he added, if you talked to any who attended this year or last they would say that the conferences were beneficial. That may be true but one wonders no one else could be reached for comment.Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Nine people, several of them school system employees and they could not be reached? Amazing!

Throw this comment in from a member who went to New Mexico last year but not to Tampa this year. Quoting from the Daily Advance, Board member Bill Luton said that last year’s conference stressed transparency and the value of listening to the public.  Maybe the transparency part did not sink in so well. A quote from Luton stated,” I can certainly understand why in this economic climate people might be at least concerned about expenditures.” Ya think?

As some of the online comments said, if the system were flush with money, costs would not be an issue. But the system is not flush, the teachers are in a constant struggle for needed supplies and costs are an issue.

When public money is spent, accountability is of the utmost importance and oh yes, transparency. Maybe next year when conference time  rolls around, the entourage could be  a bit smaller?

Any conferences any closer to home?

March 21, 2010 Posted by | education | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Worse than the NSA?

There are fewer agencies worse than the evil  NSA in the liberal mind. But, located in Philadelphia’s historic Main Line suburbs( read that as very wealthy) is an agency that may give the NSA folks a run for their money. What possibly could be located there and do anything covert? Why, it is the Lower Merion School District under the leadership of Dr Christopher W McGinley.

From his  photo, the superintendent does not look at all subversive. But, it appears that appearances may be a bit deceiving in this case.

Being an affluent school district, Lower Merion thought it was  a good idea to issue Apple laptops to the 2,300 students at its two high schools. The first of many questions is why? One would think that the vast majority of  the students in such an affluent area could afford their own or may already have a laptop.

The “district” laptops have a security feature, deactivated yesterday according to McGinley, intended to track lost , missing or stolen laptops. This feature existed without the knowledge of the students or their parents. It was supposedly used 42 times in the last 14 months. What is the security feature, a remotely activated webcam. Question# 2, no one saw the potential for a problem here? And why was no one informed, say parents?

We move on. Only two employees on the system’s technology department were authorized to activate the feature, says system spokesman Doug Young.

We move next to the case of Hariton High student Blake Robbins. It seems that young Mr Robbins, trough use of the webcam, though he was” engaged in improper behavior in his home.” Wonder what that was and what business of theirs was it to arbitrate such?  According to te lawsuit that has now been filed, vice principal Lindy Matsko cited a photograph ” embedded” in his school issued laptop.

I am normally opposed to what I consider our suit  happy culture, but it seems that the Robbins family might just have a decent case.

Dr McGinley posted a letter on the district website yesterday that among other things stated that there would be a thorough review of the policies that led to this situation.

If this could happen in  a district that says it has a “longstanding reputation as one of the finest school systems in the United States,” it could easily be repeated since school systems could be said to be prolific copycats.

In all honesty, this is a scary, scary thing and I  hope that “it has been nipped in the bud” to quote our old friend Barney Fife.

Dr McGinley

February 19, 2010 Posted by | education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Where Do Presidents Come From?

A question that can answered in so many ways. As most of us know, the commonwealth of Virginia holds the distinction of birthing more of our nation’s chief executives than any other state, a total of 8. Hawaii, as with a number of other states has had one. You know who that is, do you not?

My native state of North Carolina is generally credited with 2, Polk and Andrew Johnson. Sometime we get Jackson, but not always. Polk, the 11th president, was elected way back in  1844. As time stature seems to be on the upswing and he  generally ranks close to the top 10 in rankings of our best presidents.

Polk has a singular distinction in that he is the  only president to attend my “adopted alma mater” of the University of North Carolina, having graduated as  a Tar Heel in  1818, less than 25 years after the school’s founding. That fact  made me wonder. How may presidents have graduated from public universities versus Harvard, Yale and other  Ivy League institutions?  No aspersion meant on these schools. I was just wondering how the numbers looked. Harvard had 8 and Yale had 5 to lead the way. The sources I  checked showed only 1 other  president to attend  a state university(Gerald Ford-Michigan).

Does this mean anything, probably not. But still, it has been a long time since Polk with only Ford to fill the gap. State universities, while they have high academic standards  and produce excellent graduates, are by nature a different animal than the private schools, i.e. cost, for one thing.

It would just be nice to have another chief executive from say, UNC, or Kansas or  some such school. Just to break up the private school monotony, if nothing else., ya think?

Still not sure if I answered the title question though.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | Culture, education, History | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Things I Did Not Learn in School

I have no doubt that it would take a lot of books to contain what I did not learn in school( public school as well as college) and it actually does , I guess. But being a big history buff, what I recently learned in a novel just astounded me. I will admit that my real fondness for history  kinda  hit in college, although it was beginning to develop sooner.

I had some really good professors in that process. I remember Dr Ross in Latin American history and Dr Tien Mien Wu (hope I spelled that right) in Asian history. Alas, the other names have been withdrawn from the memory bank. In those days, there was a lot of note taking as well as a lot of reading and essay writing; all of which seemed tailor-made for me. I don’t seem to remember a course in American history. Since my course selection was up to me, perhaps I thought that was one area I did not need to study. Duh! Was I and have I been wrong.

I have recently rediscovered an author named Vince Flynn whose works have been described as high concept political intrigue. Rush highly endorses him, but even if you are not a Rush fan, Flynn might still be worth a read.

I have just finished “Memorial Day”, written in 2004 and am anticipating his latest, “Pursuit of Honor” as soon as the  library calls. Most, but not all, of his books feature a CIA operative named Mitch Rapp, a quite results oriented guy. He is the kind of guy that Ioften hope we actually have in the service of our country.

My big time history lesson comes from the latter stages of Memorial Day and I quote.

                   “The fathers of America had designed their city to form  a crucifix.The Washington Monument marked the center, with the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial forming te longer center line while the Jefferson Memorial and the White House formed the shorter horizontal line.”

I have never visited the capital, so I had to resort to a map from  the lonelyplanet to check Flynn out. Sure  enough, it works. I think what really intrigued me about the above description is that I probably never heard it in school and I seriously doubt one would hear about it today.

thanks, Mr Flynn, keep writing about Mitch and we will keep reading!

(I minored in history at Appalachian State and given my grades in history versus my major, perhaps the roles should have been reversed. )

October 24, 2009 Posted by | education, History | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bad Eagle Scout

Typically, when one hears the words Eagle Scout, they bring  a rather positive connotation. I have  a nephew who earned the honor  and  I have great  respect for his accomplishment. But, it seems that even an Eagle Scout comes in second place to the vaunted “zero-tolerance” policy in the Lansingburgh Central School District  of Troy,NY.

Our Eagle Scour in question is  named Matthew Whalen. He says he was suspended for 4 weeks for having  a 2 inch pocketknife in his vehicle. The knife, a gift from Whalen’s grandfather,police chief  in a neighboring town, was discovered during  a search of the young  man’s car done by school officials. As an aside, wonder why the search was done? But, I digress.

The suspension is almost over and Whalen is due to return to school tomorrow. His parents  want his record expunged of the offense, as Whalen intends to apply to West Point later in the school year.

So far, they have not heard at all from Superintendent George Goodwin, who actually had the discretion as to  what punishmnet to mete out for possession of the knife;  what the district calls  viloent conduct. There is no zero tolerance policy that required him to apply the suspension that he did. He has stuck to his guns, so to speak, at least to this point.

Attorney Victor DeBonis has agreed to represent the family pro bono( good deal for him with the publicity, of course)  and hopes to avoid a lawsuit. The school board meets on October 27 and the family and their attorney hope that  action will be taken then or at a  special meeting.

Barring a satisfactory response from the school board, DeBonis plans to contact the state education commissioner. By the  way, that individual is one David Steiner who only took his oath of office on October 1.

Don’t you imagine that there are people hoping this will all go  away and wondering how to avoid the less than flattering light in which the Lansingburgh district has been placed. One thing puzzles me. Doesn’t this kind of thing usually happen in California  rather than upstate New York?  Guess not

October 20, 2009 Posted by | education | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments