Just wondering and asking for a high school principal friend…

How many adults have taken a sigh of relief this week because they had a: “doing too much”, “too strict”, “old fashion” and “don’t wanna let kids have fun” high school principal, who did not allow them to publish future career-life damaging ‘foolishness’ in their senior yearbook? Just wondering and asking for a high school principal friend… Principals you don’t need to be appreciated to be successful…

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership… http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/

Principals Dealing With the Stress of the Press: A reporter from a local daily newspaper is on the line … What do you do (or not do)?

“Your secretary has informed you that: “A reporter from a local daily newspaper is on the line!” First: stop, relax, take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and then take control of the situation.”

(Full Disclosure: I am an Education Columnist for that great Brooklyn based Newspaper Our Time Press: http://www.ourtimepress.com/ . And so, the views I am expressing here are totally my own and should not be confused with my work at OTP. (I just hope I still have a job after this blog post is published!:-) Further, I should say that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the journalism profession, and I see them as a vital and essential part of a healthy civil society. Perhaps now more than ever!)

Ok principal, some type of ‘not good’ incident has taken place: inside of, during, around, after, or before, the school day. Your secretary has informed you that: “A reporter from a local daily newspaper is on the line!” First: stop, relax, take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and then take control of the situation.

Always remember that you are the principal of a school, and so you are under no obligation to distract yourself and turn away from your primary mission of maintaining the safety and well-being of the children and staff under your care.
Tell the secretary to inform the reporter that you will call them back at the end of the school day—and make sure that you do! If the reporter claims that they: “have a deadline before they print or air the story, and we want to give the school (or you) a chance to provide their side of the story”. Ignore it, their deadline is not your deadline. And in fact, hastily engaging in a news media interview unprepared, where you are rushing to meet someone’s deadline, real or artificial, could if handled improperly be your professional ‘death-line’!

Further, your ‘communication’ priority is to your parents; for while others may be invested in a ‘story’, the parents are invested in their children who are presently students in the ‘incident connected’ class or school. And so get this part right, to make sure that ‘rumors’ don’t rule the day, and/or misinformed story-lines are not conveyed to parents by the students. The quality and timeliness of the communication you provide the parents is of critical importance. You also want to provide a well thought out information/briefing statement to the staff. In other words, consider carefully what (and how much) you can and cannot say. Give the best ‘clarifying’ and calming explanation, and the best ‘official response’ you can to the staff. And based on the nature of the incident, you may be prohibited from revealing all of the facts, then and in the future. As a superintendent I have seen situations in the past go from good (pass bad) to worse, because a TV reporter has ‘surprised’ teachers with a request for a comment as they were walking from the school to their cars. Members of your staff are constitutionally free to say whatever they want to the press. But you should warn them: “Because you may be operating with wrong or incomplete information concerning the situation, or you may be unfamiliar with the legal/statutory ramifications involved; know that whatever size hole you dig for yourself by way of your comments, be prepared to dig yourself out of it without my help–For at that point, you are on your own!” #nocomment!

Back to our reporter: Before calling the reporter back, contact the district superintendent, legal advisor and press liaison person; for advice and counsel. Inform them of the reporters name and number. and your plan (things done, things in progress, things to do) of action(s) in response to the situation. The press person may want to call the reporter first to ‘see where this story is going’; let them, they know how to do that (and you don’t), and they will probably know the reporter. Important: Make sure that the before-mentioned three district officers/departments are operating with all of the information, no matter how bad. You must not let the press person, attorney or the superintendent be surprised by some fact(s) you failed to reveal to them. You should know that this is not the time to ‘deodorize’ the story. The district’s press people are professionals and know what they are doing, let them, not you, work on the ‘public presentation’.

Two possible response paths could be taken:

(1) Depending on the ‘incident’, there could be a decision that all communication with the press will be handled by the district’s press/communication person. In that case all you need do is refer all press inquiries to that press/spokesperson; and say nothing. And no matter how tempted you are to speak beyond that 10-15 word referral statement, don’t do it! For example: “All questions relating to this matter will be addressed by the district’s_________, thank you.” (write the press office referral statement down on an index card if you don’t trust yourself!) Confirm or deny nothing, no matter how true or how false.

(2) If you are the ‘point of contact’ for the press then again: stop, relax, take a deep breath, take a seat in your office after the students have been dismissed, gather the information and your thoughts on the incident on paper. Part of the documentation on the desk before you should be the info-letter you sent to the parents that day. Your comments to the press should be consistent with that letter you sent home to the parents (assume that the press will get a copy of that parent letter and compare your comments to them with the letter). Don’t provide false information. There may actually be ‘facts’ and ‘information’ of which you don’t fully have at the time of the press interview, and that’s ok. Don’t ‘make stuff up’, or try in a speculative way, to fill in yet to be discovered parts of the ‘story’.

You must remember your legal restrictions in these types of matters (if you are not sure, check with the district’s legal officer/representative/department). In many situations you could be the ‘reporting (mandated) officer’, or the investigative supervisor; and so, offering an ‘opinion’ or some detail of the incident could be very dangerous. Revealing the names or other personal information about the children, parents; the details of the incident; stage and status of the investigation, the charges and/or disciplinary procedures initiated with the child(ren) or an employee, could be a violation of federal-state-local laws, district regulations, and/or labor/contractual agreements. You could also open yourself and the district to civil litigation. Remember: When dealing with a student on student incident, both the alleged perpetrators, and the alleged victims’ identities must be safeguarded from press disclosure.

Even if the reporter has somehow obtained the name(s) of the child(ren) or employee (which is not uncommon), don’t confirm or deny (“I can’t get into that level of detail”), over and over again, no matter how many times (and the number of different ways) the question is asked! Be discipline. Reporter: “You can at least confirm that it is a student from class 3-101 right!” …Principal: “I can’t get into that level of detail”. Reporter: “The school aide claims that he is innocent of the charges; and that you are just out to get him”…Principal: “That would be a personnel matter, and I can’t respond to, or discuss the situation you referenced, or any personnel matter publicly”

Show respect for the journalism craft. Like you they are professionals with a job to do; just make sure you are totally focused on what your job requires you to do. The reporter can sound friendly, but they are not your friend; they are on an information-gathering-reporting mission. Tell as much of the truth as you are legally able, don’t get ‘cute’, don’t try to ‘spin’ the story, don’t ‘free-lance’ or ‘riff’ philosophically; because the press person you are speaking to is more than likely an expert in this process; and you may be a great principal, but in this arena, you are an amateur!

Every word that comes from your mouth can be used. And think about how you frame those words since a part of a paragraph can be used, without the ‘clarifying’ last sentence. No matter how ‘hurt’ or offended you might be, under no condition can you respond to a question that is a ‘lie’ or ‘insult’ from a parent or employee ( e.g. “I was removed from my teaching position because the principal does not like ‘left-handed’ people!”), by way of the news media. Your response should take place in a formal and official district or legal forum. Keep your emotions in check. Stay focused, stay on message and stick to your legally allowed ‘talking points’. Also, think about the various stakeholders who will ‘consume’ this news report: students, staff members, parents, potential future students, staff members and parents, the tax paying public, potential jurors, etc.

Keep this important point in mind: In all of my years as a principal and superintendent I don’t know of one principal who got themselves into serious trouble for saying ‘too little’ to the press; but unfortunately, the opposite has occurred many times!

Disclaimer: This is just a basic generic ‘response to the press’ procedure; the specifics of a particular incident can alter and/or modify any or all parts of this approach. No two similar incidents, even when occurring in the same school, will have the same exact characteristics. You should check with your superintendent’s office for your district’s guidelines and procedures for responding to a news media inquiry into a ‘not so pleasant’ event related to your school.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership… http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/

New York City High School Recruitment Fairs—2018

New York City High School Recruitment Fairs—2018

High School Fair – Brooklyn

Sat, September 22 and Sun, September 23
10:00 AM – 3:00 PM

John Dewey High School
50 Avenue X
Brooklyn, NY 11223

October 13 and 14
Brooklyn Technical High School
29 Fort Greene Place
Brooklyn, NY 11217

High School Fair – Queens

Sat, Sep 22, 2018-Sun, Sep 23, 2018
10:00 AM – 3:00 PM

September 22 and 23
John Adams High School
101-01 Rockaway Boulevard
Ozone Park, NY 11417

October 13 and 14
Francis Lewis High School
58-20 Utopia Parkway
Fresh Meadows, NY 11365

High School Fair – Bronx

Sat, Sep 22, 2018-Sun, Sep 23, 2018
10:00 AM – 3:00 PM

September 22 and 23
DeWitt Clinton Educational Campus
100 West Mosholu Parkway South
Bronx, NY 10468

October 13 and 14
Herbert Lehman High School
3000 East Tremont Avenue
Bronx, NY 10461

High School Fair – Manhattan

September 22 and 23 & October 13 and 14
10:00 AM – 3:00 PM

Martin Luther King, Jr. Educational Campus
122 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10023

High School Fair – Staten Island

Sat, Oct 13, 2018-Sun, Oct 14, 2018
10:00 AM – 3:00 PM

October 13 and 14
Port Richmond High School
85 St Josephs Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10302

Annual Citywide CTE High School Fair

Saturday, October 27, 2018 –
9:00am to 2:00pm

George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School
105 Tech Place
Brooklyn NY 11201
(105 Johnson St. Brooklyn 11201; entrance on Tillary St.)
A-C-F-R—Jay St./Metrotech
2-3-4-5—Borough Hall

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership… http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/

The Colin Kaepernick/NIKE Story a Teachable Moment for Educators!

There is an important and powerful message for educators in the Colin Kaepernick/NIKE Story; and that is if you work with an open and giving heart, everything will turn out fine.

My lesson objectives take-aways from the Colin Kaepernick/NIKE story are:

First, disappointment is often linked to a wonderful and profound reappointment; that everything happening to you, even if it feels ‘bad’ in the moment, is supposed to happen. I suspect that in some quiet and alone moments, Mr. Kaepernick thinks about the joys of playing football; something that he is gifted and talented to do at the highest and most competitive level. The key is to be true to your life’s calling, and to a cause that takes you out of your zone of material and emotional comfort. For a life lived in fear that you will be denied something ‘shinny’, is a kind of hell. You ask yourself: “What will become of my life, will these ‘shinny’ things be taken away, or withheld from me?” And yet being a slave to them is not really having a life at all.

Second, a lesson in scholar-athleticism is being displayed by Kaepernick; as it has also been recently represented so well by LeBron James in building a school. It’s not, as some coaches, student athletes, and sadly often parents, mistakenly believe to be only about: ‘having the (sadly too often minimum) passing grades for participation’. Scholar-Athleticism is also about developing and displaying character, a compassionate concern for people and issues who cry out for a champion to champion their struggles with the unfair obstacles of life. The great myth that professional athletes like Colin Kaepernick are exposing and destroying; is that there is something called “Sports”; and then there is something allegedly unrelated called “Politics”!

Third, for those high school economics teachers, this is a perfect ‘lesson starter’ to teach how capitalism can ‘brilliantly’ (that’s brilliance, not ethically moral), turn even protest into profit. One of many ‘interesting’ things about capitalism Karl Marx did not foresee. (And yes, in many high schools both regular and AP economics are offered as courses, is that true in your child’s high school? Just asking for a friend.)

Fourth, the wonderful rewards of study, planning, research, and then acting. These three procedural-process, conceptual and behavioral skills are what we want every high school student to graduate having them secured in their ‘life-long-learning tool box’. This was not an impulsive move for NIKE, and it seems ‘the plan’ was in the ‘works’ for a long time. Clearly, NIKE has done its marketing research, and concluded that going forward with people like the two pitiful plantationeers Jerry Jones (Owner Dallas Cowboys) and Donald Trump (Unfit POTUS), was a losing long-term market building strategy. Trump’s core supporters; the old, unreflecting and angry (as opposed to the young and more flexible and thoughtful), are dying off as they represent a shrinking demographic, they either don’t buy NIKE, or won’t be able to buy NIKE products because Trumps policies are impoverishing them.

Fifth: How many times in a principal’s career will they need to have a ‘bad timing’ conversation-lesson with a student in their office? NIKE’s timing was perfect here, as the NFL/NCAA college football season has just started, and sponsorship contracts stretch far into the future; which means they have analyzed and concluded that the upset members of the public will have ‘short attention spans’ (or die off); and so once the ‘Tide’ and other teams get rolling, the fans will focus on what is really important, not the ‘swoosh’ symbols on the athlete’s uniforms, but rather on the games themselves!

And lesson #6: “I need to ‘like’ that teacher, that teacher’s ‘style’, in order to learn the lesson, or to do well in that class”; sound familiar middle-high school principals? Your ‘help’, what you may need, may not show up in the ‘package’ you have designed in your mind! We should not live in presumed anticipation or prejudge from whence our help and support will arrive; it may not be the person(s) or places you assume who will, ‘bring it’! Perhaps your help won’t look like, and/or how you think it should look. I mean like NIKE, really? NIKE promoting a hero advocate of Black lives having meaning and mattering in this nation, who knew! The interesting thing about a book authorship journey, is that you never know who and how the book will connect you to people. I spend some wonderful moments each day communicating with new and interesting people in person, by phone and writing, from all over the world. You never know who will come ‘knocking’; but like some of my 1950’s Brooklyn elders would say: “Sometimes, you just have to throw a ‘rent party’ and see who shows up!” NIKE showed up, and so let them dance!

Finally, lesson #7: Educators, if we remain brave and true to our calling of serving the disenfranchised, disentitled and disregarded children of our world, we may at times be disappointed, feel abandon and/or marginalized, we may suffer, and we may even appear to lose, but we will not fail. If this divine promise is not true, then the entire transcendent ‘arc of justice and goodness’ of the universe, is also untrue; and if that is so, then we are doomed anyway to the eternal rule of evil; and so why not: Just Keep Doing It on behalf of our children!

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership… http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/

Yes, I think we should arm teachers!

I understand that our Secretary of Education, Ms. Betsy DeVos would like to allocate funding to school districts so that they can arm teachers with deadly force weapons.
Was she misquoted, or a victim of Russian fake news ‘hackers’? As a professional educator, I am always searching for a way to correct misunderstandings.

And so, I think that maybe she meant something different, perhaps she was speaking in a metaphorical context, meaning something more positive when she said, “arm teachers”; after all no thoughtful, serious and experienced educator would suggest giving school teachers guns. And that is because our ‘professional memory’ allows us to envision all the terribly tragic things that could go wrong. There is some historical sense-making for designating the areas in and around schools: ‘gun free zones’, except for trained law enforcement personnel.

This is the classic wrong response to a problem by the faux ‘re(de)form’ crowd. Like: if you can’t improve a school, just close it. And then move the underperforming children to another school building without improving their academic performance. This is what you get when you put an amateur in charge of a classroom, school, district or governmental education department; wrongly giving them a ‘positional-power’, that really requires the knowledge and expertise of a professional.

But make no mistake about it, particularly for those of us who have chosen to spend our professional lives working in Title 1, urban and rural poor schools, with children of color, with poor children of any color; fighting for these children, and against the societal forces (inside and outside of the school system), that want to deny them a quality education, it has been something like a ‘war’! And for those reasons then yes, I think that we should arm our teachers with:

• Adequate supplies so that they don’t have to take money from their already insufficient and inadequate paychecks to purchase classroom materials, and student educational, health and grooming supplies.

• The necessary student and instructor technology equipment and technical support that would make teaching and learning more enjoyable and successful.

• A housing-homesteading subsidy program to bring them within some reasonable range of professional pay that reflects their importance to our society. And it would be nice, a community asset, and inspiring to students, if teachers, particularly in many of our urban school districts, could afford to live where they teach.

• Free ridership on public transportation (this would help with traffic congestion and reduce the negative stress on our environment and ultimately on our health).

• Schools fully staffed with guidance counselors, clinical psychologists and social workers; and school-community-based organizations partnerships that could provide greater social support services.

• Certified Elementary Reading Specialist at the middle school level. (I found as a superintendent that my request in our Readers to Leaders Program to have middle schoolers read: ‘Lord of the Flies’ was problematic because too many of the students could not read the words “Lord” or “Flies”; and so that’s when I decided to send elementary reading teachers into the middle schools!)

• More full inclusion classroom based Behavioral Modification Specialist (not necessarily linked to an IEP), English Language Learners Dual Language Immersion Paraprofessionals, and classroom Educational Support Paraprofessionals (again, not just for students with IEP’s).

• A teacher instructional support center and full-time instructional coaches in every school. (The number of coaches based on a school’s Title 1 status, and the number of 1-3 years of teaching staff members).

• Smart, flexible and strategic approaches to professional development that can respond to the individual teacher’s level of need, skill and ability.

• Every K-8 classroom (and high school ELA classes) with a ‘leveled’ in school reading and take home lending classroom library.

• A full service (for parents and students) school-based medical, dental, (eye exam to glasses) ophthalmological services, and clinical psychological counseling, clinic.

• An end to the silly, uninformed and unprofessional “check-off” boxes classroom teacher observation forms; professionally develop principals to write serious and thoughtful narrative lesson plan-presentation observations. And the necessary complementing instructional coaching follow-up procedures.

• Districts and Schools that allocate the resources to close the: “parent resource and student access to opportunity gap”.

• A Better first year (like a professional learning internship e.g. medical doctor residencies) teacher mentoring-support program, rather than the present “jump in, sink or swim” system we presently use with first year teachers. (Yes, I am proposing the radical idea that first year teachers ‘team-teach’ for a year with an experienced master-proficient teacher. And although expensive in the beginning, my hypothesis, is that over time this approach would be more cost-effective then the price we pay, educationally and financially, for our present annual teacher staffing ‘churn-over’ system).

• More teacher collaborative planning time; for team-taught SPED/Regular ED inclusion classes, across classes, subject areas and departments.

• A system of ethical and performance standards that could quickly, and cost effectively remove the incompetent, the criminal, the emotionally and morally unfit, and the ‘immune’ to professional development ineffective; as the pay of the remaining good practitioners is raised dramatically. This could have the effect of attracting higher GPA capable college undergraduates into pursing an education major, as well as attracting more Science, Mathematics, Computer science, and Foreign Language majors to the field of K-12 education.

• Well stocked and budgetarily supported school libraries, staffed with a licensed school librarian.

• A professionally trained and specialized Substitute Teacher Corps (and program). The present system in most districts leads to: ‘coverage teacher burnout’ and missed lesson planning time, the loss of student learning time and quality, and the deterioration of discipline conditions in schools.

• Art, music (vocal-instrumental), dance, drama programs and teachers in every school.

• Serious high school summer school, not the present “if they have a pulse, pass them!” credit recovery a.k.a. ‘credit giveaway’ programs.

• A free lunch, since public schools throw away tons of edible food every day any way!

• An end to the misuse of standardized testing. That means teachers being able to use standardized learning assessment exams for their true educational purposes; that is to improve instructional practices, and raise student academic achievement.

• K-8 dedicated Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) laboratories and certified teachers.

• After school, weekend, school break and summer enrichment and tutorial programs that compliment, reinforce and strengthen classroom learning.

• Visionary and ethically strong Principals, who are instructional leaders, ‘chief professional developers’, good operational managers, thoughtful and strategic planners; and who are also able to create a safe and respectful school environment where teaching and learning can go forward in the most positive and productive way.

• Having, “educational decision-makers”, on the national, state and local levels who actually know and understand what the heck they are doing!

Teaching is hard enough, and so don’t give teachers the added responsibility of having to inflict deadly force on an intruder; or, by accident shoot an innocent parent who mistakenly got lost on their way from a parent conference to the school building front door exit!
Rather, arm them with: effective district and school based leaders, a positive and peaceful school environment, professional knowledge, good methodological coaching, better and focused instructional professional development and the resources to inspire the life, light and love of learning in their students.

And just an interesting life-long working hypothesis of mine; growing more and more effective K-12 schools, by improving the quality of teaching and the teaching profession, might actually succeed in producing more young people who as students or as adults, don’t become the kind of people who want to go into a school (or anywhere else), and shoot other human beings.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership… http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/

Support Bill for New Gifted and Talented Programs

A new bill could throw a lifeline to large numbers of underrecognized and underserved NYC students. It requires the NYC Department of Education to create more Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs and classes and New York parents need to contact their state senators right away to urge them to support it.

As a former NYC Superintendent, I expanded G&T classes in my district. An anxious bureaucrat from the central office called me: “You can’t just open up G&T classes on your own,” he said. “Really?” I feigned ignorant surprise: “I did not know that. If you could send me the regulation that restricts the expansion of G&T classes, it would be helpful when I explain to the parents in the new G&T schools why I must dismantle their G&T classes!” It’s 2018, and I am still waiting for that regulation memo from that nervous NYCDOE bureaucrat!

An opportunity can emerge as the result of a crisis—in this case, basing an 8th-grader’s admittance (or not) to one of the NYC Specialized High Schools (SHS) on a single exam, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). One problem is the small number of Black and Latin students who are admitted to SHS and the test is being portrayed by some as the culprit. I made my position clear in an earlier OTP column as to why I see Black and Latino poor performance on the SHSAT as a symptom and not a cause. So I won’t repeat that argument here.
But I do believe that state Sen. Tony Avella’s bill (S9141A) is an opportunity for parents living in neighborhoods where the schools are not meeting the diverse academic needs of their children. Those students who are performing on or above grade level, including non-wealthy white children, may also want to read this bill and get behind their state senator on it. It’s not ot early to become an advocate!
All students need to be pushed to their academically “personal best” selves and struggling learners need all of the support that the school system can muster. But students who are meeting, and/or above grade level learning standards are students, too! And it must be frustrating for their parents to not see their children being pushed to their personal intellectual best.

S9141A, at the very least, honestly gets at the real causes of the SHS diversity problem (and it’s not Asian students!). The 800-lb. political problem in the room is the inequality of access to quality K-8 school learning experiences, the absence of G&T programs in designated (“G&T deserts”) parts of the city, and individual Title 1 schools not effectively responding to the Educationally Savvy and Informationally Rich Parent Resource Gap!

I am not a NYS Senator, but I do have a few recommended “amendments” to the bill:

That the state and city seriously (not symbolically) fund a comprehensive K-8 SHSAT Pipeline Program:

Allow for “quality numbers” of on and above grade level students in all elementary and middle schools in the city to be exposed to classes taught by G&T teachers professionally developed and eventually certified in G&T techniques. Invest in a resources-rich G&T Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STREAM) curriculum. I would send the best of these teachers to serve in the lowest-performing schools, the schools producing the smallest number of viable SHS candidates, those districts and schools with the highest number of Title 1/ELL/ESL students. I would pay all G&T certified teachers a bonus pay scale above their regular pay!

Provide these students with the type of after-school, weekend and summer SHSAT test Prep Programs (academies) we developed in CSD29Q in partnership with Princeton Review. There are a lot of test-prep companies which already have a bank of knowledge on the “technology of test-taking.” There is no mystery to helping students to do well on standardized exams. You combine good test-taking techniques with a rigorous and standards-based daily school instructional program and administer in school-classroom exams that mirror the standardized exam (in this case the SHSAT) in difficulty and language, then the student’s test performance scores will predictably improve.

Create (don’t rely on parents) opportunities for these students to engage in quality informal (out-of-school) educational experiences including such things as: independent reading for fun, creative writing, visual, graphics, instrumental, dance and the performing arts classes; STEM, chess, “nonstereotypical” sports (e.g., gymnastics, fencing & archery) programs; weekly trips to cultural institutions, museums, the opera, dramatic plays, dance and music performances.
Passing Senate Bill S9141A, along with my “amendments,” would allow Black and Latino students to hold their “academic own” with any and all students in the city.

But there are additional benefits: Students who emerge from a real SHSAT Pipeline Program will be higher academically performing high school students even if they, by test score or choice, don’t attend a Specialized High School. Quality H.S. graduation rates citywide would dramatically increase. Senate Bill S9141A, a response to a political crisis, could actually create the opportunity for the introduction of a real high academic achievement diversity movement in the NYC school system.

Reprint From 8/13/2018, Our Time Press:

Michael A. Johnson has served as a Public Schoolteacher, Science Skills Center director, principal and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently published a book on school leadership: “Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership”… http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/

2018-2019 School Year Attendance Letter to Washington DCPS High School Students (& Parents).

Now this type of talk got me into trouble with some folks at DCPS, but here I am again, for I will always carry a special place in my heart for Washington DC children, especially those whose families and communities are struggling to live a good, safe and decent life. And I am in full solidarity with those DC parents, who like all parents, only want to see their children’s future life opportunities be greater than their own.

And so, let me start with this: The only safe, viable, reasonable, and positive-outcome predictable response to any type of social or economic challenges in life, is to obtain a quality education. If you stop here and get that, and don’t read another sentence, I am good! People who tell you otherwise may appear to be your friend, trust me they are not your friend.

Education is the only tool that places your life success possibilities into your own hands. Education is the best path to ‘earning a good living wage’, that is not hugely risky, dependent on ‘luck’, or the goodwill of others outside of yourself. Education has the proven power of breaking every family negative trend, ‘curse’, low expectation and presumed limitations perceived by you or others. And it is because of education that your family ‘story’ is not necessarily the storyline of your destiny.

I know, many important people in your city are proposing positions that they would never impose on or tolerate with their own children. There is just no truth to the claim that you can both learn the lessons being taught in a classroom, and not physically be in that classroom. I know firsthand that high school is hard for most students, including those who do have good attendance, and so bad attendance definitely won’t work!

I get it, I spent many years, on many different levels working with Title 1 (poor) schools. Some students face a great deal of challenges to get to school everyday and to get there on time. A visionary and strategically thoughtful school principal and staff can do a great deal to help students to achieve good attendance and punctuality. But the other part of the ‘showing up & being there’ success plan is the student! In every case I can remember where the school staff was able to successfully support a student’s consistently good attendance and punctuality, there was the important factor of that student and/or parent, badly wanting an education and a graduation.

Life is not fair. You can’t pick your family or living conditions. Coming from a certain Ward in the city will cause some to wrongly make assumptions about your capabilities. Growing up in a family that is struggling financially, does not speak to your future possibilities. Education has the power to not make your present situation into a permanent condition. In fact, you should ‘double-down’ on your educational efforts to eliminate any negative barriers that stand between you and a positive and productive adult life.

Life did not give me wealthy parents, and at times we struggled. But like the majority of you I did have a good working brain. But to have a successful life, a good brain must be combined with a determined will. I knew growing up that there was no inheritance ‘pot of gold’ waiting for me when I reached adulthood, and so acquiring a good education was my first and only option.

No young folks, life is not fair, you did not choose any difficult situation into which you were born; but you do have the opportunity through your school-going-working efforts to change those difficult situations. The only guarantee I can offer is that without a solid education, starting with at least a high school graduation, your difficult life situations will only get worse.

Now some ‘leaders’ will claim, like being in class and not being in class is the same thing. That lowering standards will help you to meet and succeed against the high standards your national and international competition is mastering, it won’t.

I know this may not be what you want to hear. But I rather upset folks with the truth, then to sell them on a lie that says they can be late to and absent from school and still learn. That students can misbehave and disrupt the school/classroom environment, and the students in that school/classroom will learn better. Or, that students don’t need to put their best learning efforts into class and home study work, to have a positive and productive life after high school.

A school where the environment does not allow teachers to teach, and students to learn, is the same as the students in that class being ‘absent’.
Start by putting your own classroom behavior ‘in check’; you have a duty, responsibility and a right to learn as much as you can, every school day. You must have a purpose and plan for your life, or you will be the ‘fuel’ for someone else’s purposes and plans; and more than likely their life-goals will not favor you or be in your best interest. A good education is the best ‘fuel’ to power you through your plan, and into your purpose.

You perhaps have descended from people in the past (or even in your present family), who could only dream about going to school, or being able to take good advantage of an educational opportunity. By wasting this important time in your life, you betray two dreams, theirs and your own. It will be hard enough to succeed in life based on factors not under your control, like if you are Black or Latino; don’t give anyone an opportunity to reject or deny you, simply because you don’t have the required educational skills.

And for those students living in parts of the city that have not fully experienced the DC economic revival; you should act as if learning is everything, as if your life depended on education, school and a high school graduation, because guess what, it does.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, principal and a school district superintendent. He designed and led two highly successful and richly recognized urban high schools, Science Skills Center high school, Brooklyn NY; and Phelps Architecture, Construction & Engineering high school, Washington DC. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently published a book on high school building leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership… http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/

Science Skills Center High School -5 Point Graduation Advice Speech Notes-June 25, 2018.

(Minus the segue jokes!:-)

Good morning graduates, I am able to stand before you this morning, even though I was in the IND Borough Hall train station, and not really sure if I was in the right place. I saw a young lady in a SSCHS cap and gown (Jasmine Braithwaite); and I decided to follow her. And fortunately she led me to this building. If you are pursuing a right purpose, you are never really lost, for a ‘helper’ will always show up to properly guide you. That could be my entire lesson for this morning. (1) Only follow someone who you strongly believe is moving (and showing through example), in the right direction. And (2) be a leader who is moving (and leading through good example) in the right direction. (3) Always assume wherever you go in life that although you may not be aware of it, someone who can provide you with a resourceful blessing, is watching you, and so now I owe Jasmine a spiritual debt, and I am responsible for helping her in any way that I can…

(The author and Jasmine Braithwaite)

5 Quick Points and I will take my seat…

1. No disrespect to any ‘moving up’ ceremony you have attended in the past. But one important significance of your high school diploma, is that it is the only official legal graduation document you can earn that is granted by the NYCDOE. This victory can’t be reversed; neither can the memory of this day be forgotten. It becomes your struggle and challenge transformed into success base line reference. This graduation should be a metaphor for your entire life. It says, I have achieved a great and difficult victory once, and that means I can do it again, and again, and again, and…

2. You are about to enter a world where the rules and consequences are radically different from what you have experienced in the K-12 environment up to this point. The world will not adjust for you, you must make the adjustment. Be excellent in whatever task, job, school, and personal-social endeavor you undertake. Leave nothing to chance, but lean on your own preparedness to effectively respond to any unanticipated opportunity that might show-up. Your parents, teachers and elders are going to get ‘smarter’ as you get older. Meaning a great deal of what they have warned you about will come true. This is a truth that maybe your teenage ‘all-knowing’ mind (as was the case with me), can’t fully comprehend now. Things like an excellent character, stick-to-itness, graciousness, a good name, honesty, reliability, decency, picking friends who are moving in the right direction, etc. will essentially define who you are and what you will accomplish in life….

3. Life is not fair. The sooner you accept that reality, the sooner you will encounter less suffering and more success. You should also develop the proper attitude that will inspire you to ‘upset and overturn’ our nation’s (and world) political culture of unfairness. Build a good reputation— Many in the world outside of this auditorium will make a judgement about you based simply on the fact that you are Black, Latino, Asian, a Muslim, a Women, etc. You can only do your best, produce at your best, give every effort your most sincere and best work. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to act on their pre-judgments concerning who you are and what you are capable of accomplishing…

4. Now this going to sound counterintuitive (does not make sense) based on what I just said about life being unfair. But you must define “wining” in the most positively spiritual, highly ethical, and the greatest of goodness terms. Even as people around you may appear to be ‘wining’ by cheating, lying, mistreating and deceiving and stealing from others. Even if the top most powerful political leaders in this nation advocate for selfish, ugly, dismissive, racist, demeaning and discriminatory policies; you must not lose sight of your good behavior-good works and kindness compass, for it will always, no matter what is going on around you, guide you onto the best path. Practice bad habits and they will naturally become part of your personality; practice good habits daily and they will become a natural part not only of your personality, but they will also guarantee a real and meaningful successful life.

5. One of the most important things you can do in life is to find your unique and special calling; what you have been singularly gifted to bring to the world. No one is an ‘accident’, it does not matter the circumstances that brought you into this world. You are special and important to our species. With the billions of people born before and after you, there is only one you, forever. One definition of the condition called ‘human suffering’ (and those humans who inflict suffering on others), could be explained as never ever discovering your special reasons for being sent into our world. You will know your ‘calling’ because you will be extremely good at it. You really won’t feel comfortable doing something other than what you are called to do. If you only settle for a ‘job’ or ‘career’ outside of your calling, you will feel a never-ending unsettled restlessness. It may express itself in different areas of activities, but your fundamental call-theme will remain the same. Your called contribution to history will be something that brings you great personal joy, as it also brings joy, beauty and peace into the world; it may be hard work, but it will never feel like a ‘job’. Once you find that work that brings happiness, meaning and fulfillment into your life; the next step is to find a way to make a living income for engaging in your works of called-service. In short, find a way to ‘get paid’ to do those things for which you were born-called to love doing…

Good Blessings and Sincere Congratulations on Your Wonderful Achievement!

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership… http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/