Tarheeltalker

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

Should you boycott BP ?

There has  certainly been  a lot of talk about that very thing. And there are probably  people doing that. After all, their stock has dropped some 16% in recent weeks. Boycotting a company that has allowed such a disaster to occur and that seems unable to fix it or fix it quickly enough has a certain populist appeal. Boycotts have happened before as a way to force a company to do something or other.

But what does a boycott of  BP accomplish? Well, hurts their bottom line , costs them money and maybe in the minds of some boycotters “gets them back” for what they have done not done  the case may be. And I can certainly empathize with those folks in the Gulf  Coast area, in Louisiana, Mississippi who want nothing to do with the company.

Projecting the boycott’s results out there, one could envision a significant loss of revenue for the company. What are  they doing with  a lot of that revenue right now? Of course, the ongoing clean up with lawsuits etc sure to follow. Locally, an article in the Daily Advance indicated that buying habits here have been largely unaffected. Admittedly, the sample is small and unscientific. On the other hand, the threat of new penalties  by the Obama Administration could be the real engine driving down the stock price.

So, sadly the spill and its effects continue with even modest  clean up  results  doing little to alleviate concerns about the long-term impact on the Gulf and beyond. A very tough situation indeed.

June 9, 2010 Posted by | Business, economy | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

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

Why Vote?

Short question that could generate  a virtually  unlimited number of answers, I guess. Because we are supposed to, I don’t know, it’s the American way, use it or lose it, to get my candidate elected, to defeat the candidate I don’t like, etc. I know there are many more, some very meaningful and others not so much.

I read one yesterday that I don’t think I had seen before, but upon reflection, it may be all too common. But I hope that it isn’t.

There was  a meeting or forum, I guess here in our community a couple of days ago at Elizabeth City State University. The event was hosted by the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus and featured 9  state legislators addressing  and listening to  a packed auditorium of ECSU students. Brief historical reference here. I applaud the legislators for holding the event  and the students for attending in such good numbers. i am not so sure that a similar event held when I was  a college student would have done nearly as well.

So, the meeting was  agood idea and  a good opportunity for give and take between the legislators and the assembled students. One question and its answer intrigued me just a bit. One student asked what was one supposed  to do when the local community did not support his university? His question was apparently based on his statement that the local Wal-Mart stocked apparel and  merchandise from East Carolina University in Greenville (about 2 hours away) and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (about 3 hours away). Ok, a legitimate question for him. But the answer which I might have expected would deal with retail or economic issues, was  a surprise.

The answer came from Rep Alma Adams of Guilford County. This is what she said.”You can control everything that’s going on by making sure that you vote.” She added that “if you sit down, if you don’t vote, people will continue to do what they want to do.”

Perhaps, I mis-interpreted her answer but it seemed to me that she was saying the reason to vote is control. If you want to control what is going on you vote. If you choose not to vote, you relinquish that control.

Very interesting response, I thought.

November 1, 2009 Posted by | Culture, economy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Beauty of Anonymity

Anonymity  can be a great thing. There was a great scene in the first Mission Impossible movie in which “Job” tells Ethan Hunt, aka Tom Cruise, that it is  “a …warm blanket”. Of course, Vanessa Redgrave delivered the line quite well. And so it is, warm, comforting, even valuable at times.

In cyberspace, anonymity is much more prevalent than in the real world . I am even an example given the name of my blog. Why, no reason, not trying to hide anything, but perhaps just to promote my pro Tar Heel feelings. Many blogs are writen under the real name of their authors while others like the nom de plume approach, as my brief blogroll indicates.

But, when we enter the brave new world of comments, it seems the warm blanklet theory is by far the dominant appraoch. And, we often, put cute little pictures beside those comments. Once again, that defines me.

One interesting thing about that approach is the comments one can read about various online articles. I frequently read online . articles in the Daily Advance , our local newpaper. Mnay of them provide room for comment and receive comments, they do. All are anonymous, of course, some are crude, some are vicious, some are uninformed and some will make you laugh or even reduce you to tears.

I have done a very informal, unscientific survey of theses comments. For example, an article about proposed changes in school food service drew 80 comments, while one about about a plastic bag ban drew 68 . An unfortunate accident that resulted in a vehicle crashing into and through a storefront drew 13.

Now, does any of this mean something, maybe yes, maybe no. In the olden days when I walked uphill both ways to school , newspapers would not publish  a comment without a name and that may still be the case. Theory, if you are willing to say it, own up to it. Now, from time to time, I see an online comment  in the paper’s print edition, nameless of course.

Only half jokingly, I have mentioned to my wife that some online comments that I have read argue for  a literacy or at least a civility test to be applied. But today, we largely serve as our own filter or editor, if you please. Perhaps  the time has come for an online writing motto.

Caveat Scribus – let the writer beware.

May 16, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Media | , , , , | 1 Comment

Signs of What ?

There was a brief protest march here in Elizabeth City a day or so ago . As I understand it , the protest was about action being proposed by our city council concerning a local nonprofit agency . I dont particularly want to get involved in the issue per se but rather in a facet of the march . As our Daily Advance newspaper reported , many of the marchers were children and supposedly the idea for the march came from these children. All well and good – perhaps . The newspaper photograph accompanying the article showed several people carrying signs. One of these signs bore the name of a local council member , stating that this person hates kids . Of course the person had to issue a denial . Now , I dont really know this individual except by reputation . However, I strongly doubt that they hate kids . Sad to say , this is sorta like unringing a bell, the comment was made and published and I wonder how many will believe it ?

October 23, 2008 Posted by | Local Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment