Know 2020-2021 SY 9th graders, that high school is ‘a different world than the one you came from’!

Please, parents, first translate this for your child: One of the initial lessons you (the student) must quickly learn is that this is high school and therefore, there are no ‘group’ or ‘goodwill’ promotions to the next (10th ) grade, and no way of ‘aging’ into graduation. Merely being in the building for a 2nd year does not mean you are ‘officially’ (meaning based on your transcript) a “10th grader”. The requirements for high school grade promotion and ultimately graduation are the designated (required) classes and standardized exams (and in some schools, there are additional promotional/graduation requirement, e.g., community service or a senior project), that must all be performed, taken, completed, and passed to be promoted or to graduate! Those are the most basic requirements of a high school student.

In terms of high school success, the greatest help-mate or hurt-mate for incoming 9th graders is planning and organizational skills.

Source: “OK Parents: Some Basic Things for a Successful 2020 Covid-19 School Year (SY)” (http://majmuse.net/2020/08/23/ok-parents-some-basic-things-for-a-successful-2020-covid-19-school-year-sy/)
High Performing Students: Get Better Organized And Therefore Get Better Grades! For all students, but especially middle & high school students, getting well-organized (early and consistently) is critical. And it is for this reason that they need a yearlong paper and electronic calendar based organizer-planner. Along with an excellent ‘filing’ (paper and electronic) system for all of the documents and numerous ‘papers,’ they will accumulate over a school-year. A separate for each class and subject areas note-taking (that turn into study guides) system. Online lessons could allow students to record or ‘cut and paste’ the written and ‘board-work’ parts of a teacher’s lesson into their class/study notes—and then re-watch and review the teacher’s presentation as many times as necessary. Students in every grade need subject/class specific-separate (color-coded) folders for returned & graded homework, essays, reports, quizzes, tests, assignments, and projects. Lack of organization is one of the significant ‘pitfalls’ for first-year high school students, a ‘fall and pit’ from which many don’t entirely escape. Over the years, whenever I had a meeting with the parent of an underperforming student in the principal’s office, without fail when the parent and I would go through the student’s school-bag and notebooks; we always found an unused or severely underutilized planning-calendar (which I gave to the student at the beginning of the year), a complete ‘mess’ of math, history, foreign language, etc. papers and notes thrown together in the same notebook, several single sheets of (some half torn) pieces of school-work papers, returned and graded exams from different classes, homework, essays and book reports (and yes, even some not turned in completed assignments and homework!) all mixed up; including some now mangled and out-of-date ‘notes to the parents’ that the parent never received! Getting and Staying Well-Organized is the First Step to Getting Good Grades!…”

The Competitive Culture of High Schools…

Now, some educational professionals and non-professional education adults might paint things like “competitiveness,” “ curriculum standards,” “academic achievement competition,” “class ranking,” and “standardized exams” in a not so positive light. This posting will not address that debate. However, I have observed, taught their children and worked with many of these individuals over the last 40 years; and I assure you that they often ‘preach and practice’ a very different storyline with their own children.

Educational institutions reflect the political values and principles of the societies (nations) in which they exist. In America, all public schools are (for better or worse) competitive organizations, and the best high schools (and their leaders) are those school’s that can make the school environment as minimally brutal and less competitively ugly as possible, without compromising their student’s ability to successfully negotiate and succeed with the adult life demands of a post-high school life. Good American schools oppose a culture of selfishness and ‘take-no-prisoner’ combative competitiveness; however, they cannot entirely escape from the societal-wide culture of ‘self-first’ damaging competitiveness and the allegiance to the endless pursuit of vulgar materialistic values. Like it or not our students will enter that world.

Therefore, we educators, with much difficulty, must prepare (starting in the 9th grade) every student to get the highest grades possible, in the most rigorous (toughest, most challenging) classes and classroom environments, equip them with the most robust academic transcripts, thus situating them to earn the most advantageous and prestigious graduation diplomas available; while at the same time, actually ‘educating’ them and helping them to be the highest compassionate, moral and ethical examples and expressions of humanity.

One of my definitions of a ‘progressive education’ is wanting students to progress academically (concepts and skills) so that they are able to survive and succeed in the world; while at the same time they progress toward becoming compassionate and committed agents-of-change in the making of a better and more humane world.

Parent warning: Be extremely cautious of professional educators or ‘non-educational political actors’ who advocate that: “students, just ‘do you’ and produce low-effort-low-quality school work; and we will accept your performing at whatever low achievement level”…Trust me, that approach is only applied when they are referring to other people’s children. Try going on social media and observe their (and the children of ‘celebrities’, including rappers) academically high performing/achieving children.

The Very Important Grade Point Average (GPA).

Source: The GLOSSARY OF EDUCATION REFORM (https://www.edglossary.org/)
A grade point average is a number representing the average value of the accumulated final grades earned in courses over time. More commonly called a GPA, a student’s grade point average is calculated by adding up all accumulated final grades and dividing that figure by the number of grades awarded. This calculation results in a mathematical mean—or average—of all final grades. The most common form of GPA is based on a 0 to 4.0 scale (A = 4.0, B = 3.0, C = 2.0, D = 1.0, and F = 0), with a 4.0 representing a “perfect” GPA—or a student having earned straight As in every course. Schools may also assign partial points for “plus” or “minus” letter grades, such as a 3.7 for an A–, a 3.3 for a B+, and so on. GPAs may be calculated at the end of a course, semester, or grade level, and a “cumulative GPA” represents an average of all final grades individual students earned from the time they first enrolled in a school to the completion of their education.
In some schools, weighted-grade systems are used in GPA calculations, and they give students a numerical advantage for grades earned in higher-level courses, such as honors courses or Advanced Placement courses, or for completing more challenging learning experiences. In weighted-grade systems, an A in a higher-level course might be awarded a 4.5 or 5.0, for example, while an A in a lower-level course is awarded a 4.0 (yet weighted grading systems vary widely in design and methodology). A student’s GPA is often used to determine academic honors, such as honor roll, class rank, or Latin honors. GPAs have been one of several major factors used by colleges, postsecondary programs, and employers to assess a student’s overall academic record
…”

Ok, so this is high school facts, not my personal political or pedagogical position on the GPA (in other words, don’t send me any emails about the political-incorrectness of the GPA system): The Grade Point Average (GPA) will designate a student’s “class ranking’ or ‘standing’ in relationship to their school-mates; it will also determine that student’s in high school and post-high school options and access to formal and informal academic and future career opportunities. The GPA competition starting line is the first semester of high school. Students who come into the school and “ace” (all A’s) all of their 9th-grade classes gain a tremendous advantage in the GPA race (and in most cases are very difficult to GPA catch and match through the end of the 12th-grade). First, because it places those ‘All A’s’ students on track to be ‘legitimate 10th graders’. Why is this important? High school class/course (required, electives and advanced classes) schedules are organized to accommodate the many students who actually pass their classes. All of the 10th-grade courses are arranged to fit a 10th graders schedule, as is the case with 11th and 12th-grade course offerings. For example, a student who fails 9th grade English and must retake it will have some scheduling problems (depending on the size of the school) because all of the 10th-grade history, math, foreign language, science, etc. courses are in alignment with 10th-grade English. Also problematic could be those students who fail the first or second part of a full-year course; there is no guarantee that the school will or even can offer the fall part 1 of the course in the spring (or vice versa). This could be a serious problem as the student moves up in grades and finds themselves ‘locked-out’ of many elective or advanced courses because they have limited scheduling flexibility.
Which brings me to my next point; the other reason for the ‘pass-everything’ with high grades approach is that those categories of students gain an advantage in being on track to take Advanced Placement (AP) college courses (which adds higher value points to their GPA); they are also first-in-line because of their GPA ranking for scholarships, college admissions, summer internships, special programs, principal and teacher’s letters of recommendations.
Because they are ‘on-track,’ these students will also have access to electives, honors, and advanced classes, which strengthens their transcript based on the factors stated earlier. Starting in the 9th grade, students must think of their transcript as a vital part of their college and scholarship(s) application process (it is!); but it is also a future job and career ‘resume’; and therefore, they must do everything possible to ‘protect’ the quality of that high school transcript and make it ‘beautiful’ and as powerful as possible; which means when presented, it tells a beautiful and powerful story about you.

And from: “Limited to No Access to a High School Academic, Career and College Guidance Counselor or Advisor During the COVID-19 SY?—Be Concerned Parents, But Don’t Panic.” (http://majmuse.net/2020/08/30/limited-to-no-access-to-a-high-school-academic-career-and-college-guidance-counselor-or-advisor-during-the-covid-19-sy-be-concerned-parents-but-dont-panic/)

…The starting point for post-high school guidance planning is the ‘walking-across-the graduation-stage’ day, then strategically ‘walking-backward’ to the 9th grade. Start the high school planning process at the 12th-grade graduation ceremony and then work backward by determining what the student must and should be doing, have (credits) earned, completed, and accomplished by the end of the: 12th, 11th, 10th, and 9th grades. Including summers and all school breaks (highly-effective-students take good advantage of ‘down-school’ time). A simple but essential objective that might elicit a: “Well, obviously!” (and if only it were universally followed by high school students!); students must start by successfully passing all of their classes with the highest grade possible. Nothing disrupts a post-high school career objective (internships, apprenticeship, college admissions, and scholarships) more than a failed or ‘minimally passed’ course grade. And to be honest, and possibly upset some of my public education colleagues, ‘summer school’ or any type of “credit recovery” program are, in most cases damaging to both a student’s transcript and their knowledge and skills bank. Trust me; it is never good or helpful when in an ‘asking for something’ essay or on some application, and a student is trying to ‘explain’ past failing or poor grades. The “I fell down, but I got up” narrative (and of course, that’s the story-line we utilize when that’s our only option) is terribly ‘over-hyped’ and particularly risky when you are competing with other students of similar social-economic profiles who never fell down academically!…”

The first year of high school is the opportunity to ‘reinvent’ or ‘upgrade’ (take it to another level) your K-8 self.

Some smart 9th graders (and I found this out when I spoke to their middle school principals) have used the transition from 8th to 9th grade as an opportunity to ‘reinvent’ themselves. You don’t have ‘history’ in your new high school, so turn that ‘not-knowing-you’ into an advantage. This COVID-19 SY teachers and school administrators are extra ‘stressed-out’; don’t add to their stress by making your ‘opening-appearance’ in high school a difficult or lazy academics one; turn a crisis disadvantage into a learning and achievement advantage by having a positive attitude, productive behavior (in school or online); and by doing extra studying and reading above what is required. Whether you are learning remotely, part or full-time physically in-school, make a good first scholarly impression (besides, you might need those administrators and teachers you are ‘annoying’ to write you a letter of recommendation later!).

As I advised one of my former students, who is now herself a great high school math teacher doing online remote teaching in Texas; to remind her less-than-cooperative students (because teenagers must be clear about your expectations and the consequences for them not meeting your expectations): “The COVID-19 crisis will someday end, and I will see you again in my classes and the school-building; you should think deeply about what that means!” Great teachers provide an abundance of efficacious compassion, and when necessary, also inflict the required amount of ‘loving-discomfort’!

9th-grader make your name known…for good and positive reasons!

It was not uncommon for me to have a conversation with one of my middle school colleagues, and the question would come up: “Oh, by the way, how is ‘so and so’ doing in your school?” Me: “Well, he/she is one of my 9th-grade warrior-champions!” The middle-school principal: “What, are you serious?”; and further, “That kid drove us nuts and refused to perform at the level of their potential!” Me: “I guess they were struck by the ‘seriousness lightning’ on the way to my school because that young lady/man is a model student, well-behaved, all serious business and on the honor roll!”

Having served as a PreK-12 superintendent, I would never say that the PreK-8 world does not require serious and hard work on the part of the student. But the reality of high schools is that we are the last “practice station” before the child enters the world of that cruel and unforgiving ‘real-world-rules.’ 9th-graders must start strongly focused and stay consistently strong. The standard model and path to 9th-grade success is ¼ preparation, ¼ attitudinal, ¼ study habits, and ¼ organizational skills. And if you desire to pursue a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related post-high school profession; then you better take (and take serious), pass and master Algebra 1 as soon as possible!

Michael A. Johnson has served as a teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He is the author of a book on school leadership: *Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership (http://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/ ).

‘Readers to Leaders’

if anyone worked with me in C.S.D. 29 Queens NY, the Albany City School District or Phelps A.C.E. Washington DC, and you have a digital version of the ‘Readers to Leaders‘ parent’s manual; please let me know. I have several book copies but no digital copy. This guide and manual could be of great assistance to parents working at home with their children on those critical English Language Arts (E.L.A.) skills. If not, I hope that I can get one of my former ‘high-tech-techie’ students to help me figure out how I can post the manual on my website.
You can reach me at: maj@reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net

Thanks–MAJ.

FIRST Robotics COVID-19 SY Plan

A Message from FIRST® HQ

“We’re doing our best, like all of you, to stay up to date on the rapidly evolving impacts of the pandemic while planning for the future. Everyone at FIRST is working hard to anticipate and navigate the uncertainties to ensure we’ll be able to provide every student participant a valuable, enjoyable experience, regardless of learning environment this season. We hope that you will join us as we explore new and exciting ways to deliver our programs with your safety and wellbeing as our top priority.

FIRST will offer event options with the FIRST Remote Event Hub, launching this fall. It will make the experience as close as possible to a traditional FIRST program event for teams and volunteers, with the necessary modifications to accommodate a remote environment.

For the latest updates, subscribe to the FIRST Newsletter, and contact your local FIRST Partner for the latest information about FIRST programs in your region. During these uncertain and challenging times, we are committed more than ever to supporting members of our community like you.”

For More Info: https://www.firstinspires.org/covid-19

We Need W.E.P.!*

*To get children (and their parents)through this difficult COVID-19 2020-2021 School Year (SY), we will need some Wise Enthusiastic People and a strategically strong Winning Educational Plan!

This post is first a thank you note to everyone who sent me an encouraging word, or a question based on my blog post: Ok Parents: Some Basic Things for a Successful 2020 Covid-19 School Year (S.Y.); Part 1;(http://majmuse.net/2020/08/23/ok-parents-some-basic-things-for-a-successful-2020-covid-19-school-year-sy/…Part 2 is coming!).

I was particularly lifted and definitely inspired to issue a ‘call to action’ by one communication I received from a prominent medical professional/parent who, given where the family lives, they have wisely selected the virtual school learning model for their children (message/lesson #1: listen and follow the lead of the people of science!). She (along with others) said that my post reassured and encouraged them to go forward with their family’s 2020-2021 SY virtual learning plan (message/lesson #2: you never know who is waiting to receive an encouraging word from you; so why are you holding back?). In turn, I committed to her to do all that I can to provide parents like her with as many resources as possible so that this tough and challenging school year will be a successful one for their children. (message/lesson #3: parents should plan for the ‘worst-case-scenario,’ e.g., that schools will face a ‘modified’ COVID-19 format for the entire 2020-2021 SY. As I advised my principals, it is always easier to ‘back-off’ from or ‘scale down’ an emergency/crisis plan; then, it is to discover that your plan is inadequate in the middle of an emergency or crisis!)

Parents have many questions (which is a good thing) concerning this COVID-19 SY; unfortunately, too many school districts have not successfully filled in many of those school opening and operational ‘grey’ or ‘unclear’ areas. And what is perhaps even more frightening is that many of these questions have not been addressed to professional educators’ satisfaction. And so, me channeling Michelle Obama: The people (not me) who are in charge of the schools, are the people in charge of the schools! Which means that my ‘school-leadership-mind’ shifts into: “OK, given the present situation, what can I do to save as many children as possible?” Therefore:

1. If any of my presently working or retired colleagues have any online PreK-12 educational support resources that parents can use, please send them to me at maj@reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net ; and I will make sure that I will get the information out to as many parents as I am able. I also welcome any helpful information from our professional (often underappreciated) home/hospital-instruction teachers. I have (virtually) seen the outstanding and dare I say in some cases creatively beautiful and smart WEP-2 ‘home-classrooms’ organized by some parents (many not professional PreK-12 educators). I think that the information they have would help a lot of other parents. I am only one person, so I will try to focus on the high school COVID-19 2020-2021 SY challenges; therefore, I would be happy to receive any PreK-8 information and ideas from my pre-high school colleagues.

2. I am also open to receiving information and suggestion from any of our many homeschooling parent practitioners in our nation. I have met homeschoolers professionally over the years, others I have read about but don’t know personally, and I have also communicated with some homeschooling parents via email or phone. What I do know is that you are the folks who already have a wealth of knowledge as to how to design the most productive home learning environments. There are also many ‘retired’ and ‘multi-student generational’ homeschoolers’ out there. (If I ‘signed-off’ on your homeschooling plan as a superintendent, that means your child is now grown; not to worry, that means I’m old, not you!:-) The veteran or retired homeschoolers surly have a treasure trove of practical knowledge to share.

3. Also, if anyone who worked with me in C.S.D. 29 Queens NY, the Albany City School District or Phelps A.C.E. Washington DC, and you have a digital copy of the ‘Readers to Leaders‘ parent’s manual; please let me know. I have several book copies but no digital copy. This guide and manual could be of great assistance to parents working at home with their children on those critical English Language Arts (E.L.A.) skills. If not, I hope that I can get one of my former ‘high-tech-techie’ students to help me figure out how I can post the manual on my website.

4. I am extending an appeal to the collective wisdom, experience, and knowledge of my retired colleagues. Trust me; I get it! If you have been working ‘up in them schools’ for 30-40+ years, and especially if you have been fighting for the children society does not care about, your behind is wounded and exhausted, and you are probably now in your ‘healing season’! But this is a national, community, and family emergency, so we need to make one last great effort to help parents help their children not lose an entire year of learning during this COVID-19 2020-2021 SY. Please feel free to email me any suggestions or advice you may have for ‘home-virtual-online-learning’ or modified in-school learning experiences. Unfortunately, we are desperately needed because too many school districts have drawn up ‘school-opening’ plans that are (the best I can say) ‘politically focused,’ rather than having plans that are health, safety, and educationally focused. As parents face this not-fully planned rush to ‘open-up’ school year, veteran educators must step-up and step-into any information and learning opportunity gaps that will inevitably emerge. Some parents have already devised their COVID-19 SY WEP-2 strategies (they can send me pics and ideas). Still, just like under ‘normal school’ conditions there will also be a lot of parents who care as deeply as those ‘highly knowledgeable parents’ about their children but don’t have access to the information as to how to make this ‘modified’ school year work for their children. This is the place and moment where veteran educators can fill in the information gaps that these parents are facing.

5. Active and Retired High School Guidance Counselors and College and Career Advisors Alert! I plan to spend more blogging time addressing high school issues during this COVID-19 SY. But one of my immediate concerns are the many very time-sensitive actions needed to be completed by high school seniors to reach their post-graduation objectives successfully; and how will those tasks be organized and monitored this 2020-2021 school year! High school educators, college advisors, and guidance counselors know that there are a series of documents and forms deadlines, letters of recommendation, necessary application completion and submission dates, etc., that are essential and time-framed. We know that it’s often difficult to get all of the required senior ‘things’ done and done right when we are in the same building with the students (I won’t mention some of the places and lengths I had to go to get FASFA forms filled out and signed!). Therefore, we need some community-based spaces (Faith-Based Institutions?) to sponsor safe-distancing post-high school career, college scholarship, and college admissions advisory seminars for high school seniors. Some parents (I’ve spoken to them) have already begun to take on the role of ‘home-based’ college and career advisor or know someone who can help them, while most other parents who will want to help their child, but they don’t have the information, ‘contacts’ and know-how. At Phelps A.C.E. Washington DC., we created a step-by-step “going to college” PowerPoint that we developed for presentations at faith and community based institutions. I am hoping that someone in the guidance department at Phelps still has a copy. The PowerPoint requires a college advisor’s commentary and the capability to engage in a Q & A session with parents and students, and so perhaps someone with more technical skills than I can put together a YouTube presentation featuring the ‘going to college’ PowerPoint and staring some very knowledgeable person(s) I won’t name because they will ‘take out a contract’ on me!:-)

I don’t want to speak for all professional educators, but in my forty years of service, I have never had a parent say to me: “I want my child to be a ‘failure’ or a ‘bum’!” Even in those situations where the parent had no clue as to their role in making their child successful. Public education can be a thankless and underappreciated calling, but in part, that’s what makes it a wonderful calling. And as retired professional educators, we are being ‘called’ for this ‘season’ to close the parent effectiveness and knowledge gaps that will surely have our nation entering the 2021-2022 school year with COVID 19 S.Y. academic winners and losers. We already know (by zip code), like everything else that happens in this nation, where those educational ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ will be concentrated. Let us retirees upset that equation! This COVID-19 School Year is when the word “Community” must mean something more than a convenient political throw-away-line!

I believe that providing and supporting an opportunity access door to a quality education is one of the most important gifts any community can give to its children. I learned as a principal and superintendent that some groups in our nation had figured that out. The power to prevent the exercise of thinking also leads to the emergence of self-hatred, leading to self-destructive decision-making and self-defeating behaviors. At some point, in an affirmative and not competitive with any other movement way, we must insist that: The Education of Black Children Matters!

I see that many Black ‘rappers,’ entertainers, ‘celebrities,’ professional athletes, ‘woke,’ and progressive leaders make sure that their children are well-educated; this is great. And so clearly they see education as something that is important (and a shout-out to LeBron James and other similar ‘celebs’ who extend that recognition of the importance of education to children outside of their family). Still, all children need and deserve the opportunity to receive a quality education.
If we can start from a place that says every child carries a sacred worthiness, and then build a protective community of practiced and learned elders around those children, we could get through this crisis with the least amount of educational and emotional pain.

And so, for this COVID-19 2020-2021-SY, we need to borrow from one of the core values of Meharry Medical College and provide: “Service with compassion” to all of the parents who desperately want to see their child prosper educationally; but who may not have the information, resources, or know-how to make that happen. And yeah, that will require a serious collective WEP-2 effort!

#WeNeedWEP!

Michael A. Johnson has served as a teacher, 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 is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership (http://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/ ).

OK Parents: Some Basic Things for a Successful 2020 Covid-19 School Year (SY)

Part 1: The Basics

First, don’t panic; for sure, the 2020-2021 school year (SY) will be extremely challenging; but you are not (now or in the future) powerless. And so, let’s put things into perspective. It was not uncommon in my 11 years in the high school principalship to have students arrive to my school from a foreign country (often with limited english language skills), where one or more of their schooling years were interrupted due to war conditions, civil strife or some political crises; interestingly, these students (with our specialized and focused support) ended up being some of the top academically performing students and graduates in the school. This Covid-19 SY is not the optimum situation (and many school districts need to ‘upgrade’ and better think through their school opening plans). Still, it is not uncommon for students to lose significant ‘time’ out of school for many reasons. There are also many operational methods we professional educators have learned over the years that could make up for lost learning time.
Further, millions of US parents presently homeschool their children for most or all of the child’s PreK-12 school life. And based on my official review of their work as a superintendent, in my professional opinion, they do this homeschooling work to a very high level of effectiveness.

And let’s be entirely honest, it’s not like US public schools do such a great job with the disentitled, poor and ‘wrong-zip-coded’ students who do show up to our schools every day for 12-14 years (if they don’t get ‘pushed-out’ sooner)! The truth is that too many public schools and classrooms don’t practice high levels of productive quality learning time for the full or majority of the school’s (class periods, day, week) calendar year. One of the best open secrets of public education is the vast qualitative differences (the real and most profound “achievement gap” — A child’s access to a quality education) between schools. And that ‘gap’ is measured by the different amount of on or above standards-based, highly rigorous instruction and learning time students receive. These quality learning deficits can result in anything from months to years of learning lost time for some unfortunate children, and months to years of learning gain for other fortunately entitled children. As we (justifiably) raise hell over a ‘lost school year time,’ know that for some children in our nation, ‘lost school year time,’ is all of the time or most of every year they spend in school!

Pre-COVID-19 SY, During this Covid-19 SY and in the Post-COVID-19 SY; some things won’t (and should not) change when it comes to parental responsibilities:

• The parental support for the organization of a child’s schoolwork, homework, and study-work is critically important to that child’s chances for academic success! Students need a quiet and consistent time and place for doing regular schoolwork, homework, and study-work. As a principal, I made a home visit to one of my parent’s home who lived in a small apartment with three children. She (as we suggested in the parent orientation) established a daily homework and study period for every child in the house; no TV, music playing, friends visitations, telephoning, etc.; anyone who finished their homework had to study or read a book. She later told me that not just my student but all of her children’s grades improved dramatically! Homework is not study-work; rather, it’s the assignments given to the students by the teacher to reinforce the classwork, a form of teacher assessment to determine to what extent the student has mastered the lesson objectives; or to prepare the student for the next day’s lesson. Now some of my well-meaning liberal colleagues who are members of the ‘no-homework-club’ will come for me on the ‘homework question’; but these are the educators/parents who most-likely can provide rich home-learning experiences for their children; and besides, their children probably also attend schools with highly effective instructional programs, challenging and beyond-the-standards daily academic learning experiences. But be assured, all students are doing some form of school or non-school assigned ‘home-learning-work’; the only question is the type, amount, and quality of the ‘learning-work’ that is being done at home.

• Study-work (studying) is the post-homework activity that the students utilize to self-correct, gain a deeper level of knowledge of topics, skills, and concepts, and acquire a more advanced understanding of the classwork or course work. It is also the best way for a student to strengthen those topics and concept areas of learning where they are ‘weak,’ ‘underperforming,’ or want to excel.

• My experience working with High Performing Students (HPS) over the years is that they engage (often unconsciously) in many standard practices, which then turn into positive and productive habits that predictably leads to their realizing higher levels of academic achievement. In most cases, these principles of ‘good-studentship’ were taught to them by (possibly all) a parent, an older sibling through direct teaching or modeling behaviors, a school teacher, school administrator or guidance counselor. For example, HPS are well-aware of the significant and profound difference between homework and study-work. They are good classroom ‘lesson-note-takers,’ which then turns their notebooks into excellent, well-organized study guides. They know or have been taught how to utilize a textbook or any course-related documents/materials effectively. They somehow quickly figure out the teacher’s “grading policy” (even if a school has a ‘standard’ and official ‘grading policy’; how teachers understand and practice that policy can differ slightly from teacher to teacher); they learn the teacher’s standards, expectations, and the ‘rubrics’ (rules) the teacher uses to define and explain those standards. The same strategies of (and perhaps the reasons they are) good ‘test-takers’; who are able, in a matter of seconds to get ‘into-the-mind’ of the test designer and test-grader, and ask: “Now what am I being asked to do by both the test designer and the person grading the exam?” The answer to those questions is the correct answer to the exam question they are facing. It is not necessary for these students to ‘like’ or ‘be liked’ by the teacher or like any particular teacher’s ‘teaching style’; they are, in so many ways totally not ‘invested’ in the teacher’s personality, and only focused on getting an “A.” They won’t misbehave in class, but they will quickly seek out an administrator if they feel that a teacher is grading them ‘unfairly’; e.g., like this unprofessional silly idea of not giving students a rightfully earned first-marking period “A,” to “motivate the student”! Utilizing a system of ‘rubrics’ (the way to determine how close or far away you are from meeting a standard), they can independently ‘self-grade’ or evaluate (from the teacher’s perspective) any work-product before they turn it into the teacher. The ‘course syllabus’, requirements, exams dates, project, and assignment dates serve as an operational road map for these students, as they plan (with an “A” as the end objective) and organize their approach to work and study. The good news is that just about all of HPS’ skills’ can be taught and cultivated in any student!

High Performing Students invest a lot of study time in mastering those courses, topics, and concepts for which they are struggling or not in total ‘mastery’ over. Then they move onto those areas for which they are more capable of building on their academic strengths (leaving their ‘strongest academic areas’ for last). These students also engage in a form of “study neutrality-practicality,” meaning spending as much time as required in each subject area and course to get an “A” in every subject and course; they don’t just focus on the classes and subject areas they like or see as part of their future career choice prerequisites. These are the pre-medicine or pre-engineering students who work hard to get “A’s” in English and History; the pre-law or pre-professional artist students who strive to get “A’s” in their Science and Mathematics courses. They do this first to ‘strengthened’ their GPA’s (Grade Point Average) and secondly not to encourage and allow any ‘slackness’ or second-best attitude to enter into their high achievement ‘mind-set’ consciousness. These students want (and will fight for) an “A” in Physical Education (PE) because they are all about the “A’s.”

• Good study habits make and is the difference. The general rule I have observed is that consistent and effective studying beyond homework will make any student: ‘struggling,’ average, or high achieving, into a much better and stronger student!

• Smart, efficacious teachers (often working in Title-1 schools), who are aware that their students don’t know (have not been taught) how to study, and their parents may be willing but unable to help them; will assign functional study exercises ‘disguised’ as homework. Something the ‘no-homework’ crowd fails to appreciate.

• Remember parents, the syllabus or topics covered in a subject area, class or course are ‘finite,’ limited, have an end; which means that students can ‘overcome’ and perform well in any class or course by merely expanding the quality, intensity, and time of their study-work. For many years as a high school principal I have seen students arrive in the ninth grade with vastly different eighth-grade standardized reading and mathematics exams scores, and then watched as those students who scored lower on those 8th-grade exams outperform their peers who scored higher on those same 8th-grade standardized exams, and this was to a great extent due to the use of excellent study habits! An essential quality of good students is that they ‘attack’ (through good study habits) their schoolwork, rather than ‘passively’ let a class or subject area dominate and overwhelm them. Establishing early and consistently practicing good study habits can be the determining factor in the level of a student’s academic success.

HPS Get Better Organized And Therefore Get Better Grades! For all students, but especially middle & high school students, getting well-organized (early and consistently) is critical. And it is for this reason that they need a yearlong paper and electronic calendar based organizer-planner. Along with an excellent ‘filing’ (paper and electronic) system for all of the documents and numerous ‘papers,’ they will accumulate over a school-year. A separate for each class and subject areas note-taking (that turn into study guides) system. Online lessons could allow students to record or ‘cut and paste’ the written and ‘board-work’ parts of a teacher’s lesson into their class/study notes—and then re-watch and review the teacher’s lesson as many times as necessary. Students in every grade need subject/class specific-separate (color-coded) folders for returned & graded homework, essays, reports, quizzes, tests, assignments, and projects. Lack of organization is one of the significant ‘pitfalls’ for first-year high school students, a ‘fall and pit’ from which many don’t entirely escape. Over the years, whenever I had a meeting with the parent of an underperforming student in the principal’s office, without fail when the parent and I would go through the student’s school-bag and notebooks; we always found an unused or severely underutilized planning-calendar (which I gave to the student at the beginning of the year), a complete ‘mess’ of math, history, foreign language, etc. papers and notes thrown together in the same notebook, several single sheets of (some half torn) papers, returned and graded exams from different classes, homework, essays and book reports (and yes, even some not turned in completed homework!) all mixed up; including some now mangled and out-of-date ‘notes to the parents’ that the parent never received! Getting and Staying Well-Organized is the First Step to Getting Good Grades!

• Parent’s helping to organize the child’s out-of-school time is a major act. The ‘old folks’ said: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Also correct, is that too much ‘idle’ time, alone, away from school time, can undermine and diminish any good teaching-learning done in school. Fill your child’s after and weekend out-of-school time with academically supportive, fun, character, and discipline-development activities. Again, I probably will get some push-back from the ‘entitled-ones’ who will tell you that your child needs to “chill” from learning. However, these are the same parents who create wonderful opportunities for their children to receive “chilled” productive informal and formal learning experiences outside of the formal school setting. There is no conflict between ‘fun’ and learning. There are a vast number of activities that can be both ‘fun’, enjoyable, and educational. Children are virtually non-stop biological ‘learning-machines,’ which means they learn (from you and the world) as long as they are awake. Learning through fun could be activities like Independent’ reading for pleasure’; many of the online math, reading, science, history, foreign language learning, and problem-solving thinking’ games and puzzles that don’t ‘feel’ like schoolwork. Online or safe-distancing in-person activities such as; scouting, chess, art, dance, acting, martial arts, vocal & instrumental music, hobbies, creative writing, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) books, magazines, kits, programs, and classes. Over the years, I have exposed students to many places and experiences that they initially swore “they did not like”; that is until they did! The category of ‘likes’ for young people is limited to what they know and experience, and therefore the ‘likes’ are flexible and open to adult influence. It is important to get boys connected to a positive male mentor/role model and supportive male peers who honor and seek to do well in school. Turn all of the cable and internet resources in the house into an after-school, weekend, and school break informal education ‘classroom’!

• Let’s keep it real honest; for sure, academic ‘achievement gaps’ (really learning opportunity gaps) will, unfortunately, widened during this Covid-19 SY. Those students who are the most self-disciplined, self-motivated, or have parents who can ‘monitor’ their regular school learning and support a rich out-of-school learning experience (aka ‘Informal education’), will make profound academic progress during this crisis. Thus, the primary reason for any district or school’s ‘reopening’ plans to take into account and respond to the tremendous differences in parent resources (time, money, technology) and access to information.

• During this very challenging school learning year, all parents must be a mentor-guide, coach, and high academic standards champions for their child (If you want a friend, find someone your age!). Young people will necessarily rise to the level of expectations placed on them by the significant adults in their lives. Don’t go Covid-19 SY AWOL (Away Without Oversight and Leadership); just because they hit the ‘independent (not)’ middle & high school years.
Only asking: “How was your schoolwork today?” and receiving the typical adolescent answer: “Fine” or “OK”; is a recipe for academic disaster. Have a real conversation with your child about what is going on with their school life. Be ‘educationally nosey’ especially this year, and especially if your child is not highly motivated and lacks disciplined; sorry, but this is a crisis SY. So I must speak in my: “Let’s not play with words” principal’s voice!

• This school year more than any other, school administrators and teachers may not have the kind of ‘up-close’ and personal, ‘putting-eyes-on’ contact and connections they would like to have with students; things can very quickly slip-through the academic expectations and production net, which could lead to some hard-to-repair academic ‘slip-ups.’ We are in some serious ‘educationally dangerous waters’ (e.g., district/school-wide PreK-12 distance learning during a pandemic); therefore, parents must expand their level of involvement in their child’s education; and be the ‘home-site’—oversight, eyes, and ears of the school.

• All children are different (including children in the same household), so you must carefully allocate your ‘super-vision’ responsibilities. If the school has organized an effective communication and ‘early warning’ link with school administrators and teachers through email, ‘parent-teacher journaling,’ text messages or phone, virtual conferences, and parent meetings, then, by all means, sign-up, join-up and participate! If you are discovering after report cards are issued, or after an exam has been taken that your child is underperforming academically, failing a course-subject area, or engaging in self-destructive online-learning misbehaviors, then that is a severe problem.

• Very Important! The 2020-2021 SY is still a school year (not a vacation year)! Students need to be well-rested (regular school day night’s sleep), eat a good breakfast, and get to physical school or online school on time and fully engaged for the full time. Encourage good ‘learning habits’ in your child, like daily (including weekends) studying, a ‘pride in what you produce’ attitude, and not waiting for the last minute to do homework, class assignments, or projects. Don’t let your child ‘play-to’ and with the many technical and operational gaps and problems that will inevitably occur during this Covid-19 school year. Thus, parents are ‘officially deputized’ as the home-learning Assistant Principals!

• Parent, this year, you are also the ultimate Super-Substitute-Teacher! There should be a daily (Mon-Fri) school period: ex. 9 AM-3 PM (with brakes of course for lunch, art, music, and exercise—heck let them dance!) If for instance an online lesson is technically interrupted or for some reason, the school day is in part or entirely canceled; your child should stay in ‘school-learning-mode’ for the duration of the school day! You can always fall back in an emergency on independent reading; ‘thoughtful’ film watching (e.g., “Stand and Deliver,” “Akeelah and the Bee,” “The Great Debaters,” etc.) followed up by a student-written review/report; journaling and creative writing, art, music, or workbooks. Parents, if you are not at home while the child is ‘attending’ online schooling (or alternate days of schooling); and depending on the level of the child’s age, ability to be self-directed and self-monitoring; then you will need a plan for what should happen if remote classroom learning stops for any reason. If the school does not do it, you may need to leave precise instructions as to what you want your child(ren) to do if, for some reason, the online instructional program is interrupted, or they are home for any reason (alternate days of school) during the school week. Remember, young folks are very good at ‘filling-in’ any gaps you provide by way of not-so-precise directions and instructions; don’t take it personally; that’s what they do! I’ve warned many teachers over the years that if you don’t have a comprehensive “bell-to-bell” lesson plan, I guarantee that the students will put their’ lesson plan’ into action, and their plan’ will most-likely not turn out well for you or them. Online socialization, fun texting, and social phone conversations with friends should not occur during the school day/class time, even if that school day is taking place in your house. If your child has an alternate days of instruction school’ schedule; this does not mean that your child is only learning 2 or 3 days a week (a disaster if that occurs). Learning in or out of school, in part or whole, is a Monday-Friday experience for a least 6-8 hours a day, depending on the individual child, grade level, or age. Some school districts have banned the wearing of ‘pajamas-like-clothing’ during the online school instructional day, and I agree with them. Students should get-up, put on comfortable ‘public’ clothing and go to school in their house and stay in ‘school’ for the entire school day, with a set time each day for lunch and after lunch a return to ‘classwork’ (check the homeschooling parents websites on various social media platforms; they have some excellent do’s and don’ts, practices, and procedures for creating an outstanding student learning environment at home.)

• If the parent or the school is sending the message, even unintentionally, that this is a ‘throw-away’ or ‘half-hearted’ school year, the student will give the 2020-2021 SY half of their interest, or completely throw the SY away! Keep in mind that some parents and students (at all social-economic levels) will turn this Covid-19 SY disadvantage into a long-term learning growth and academic achievement advancement advantage!

As for me and my house, education will be a priority! My mother always reminded me in those few moments when I happen to forget that: “I don’t care what so and so’s parents are allowing them to do or not do; in this house, you will do what I tell you to do!” This Covid-19 SY is the parental influence and power ‘championship game’, ‘super-bowl,’ show-us-what-you-got, make-it-or-break-it-time, moment! We are in an extreme emergency situation, and it is indeed, what it is, and to the extent possible, quality learning must go on! Parents must step-up, and regardless of the child’s age or grade, not allow this school year to turn into a year of learning lost. A loss of a significant part of or an entire school year would be bad for all students, but horribly devastating for those students who entered this year ‘barely’ meeting the grade/performance level standards, as well as those students who are seriously struggling far below grade level or performance standards levels!

READING, READING, READING IS AN IGNORANCE KILLER; A STRONG AND NECESSARY SKILL FOR DOING WELL IN ALL SUBJECT AREAS!

• Parents, you will be a significant force for determining the quantity and quality of your child’s learning for the 2020-2021 SY. Be honest, you know your child(ren), and so govern them accordingly. Like no other year, the concept of ‘parent as an educational partner’ will be severely put to the test.

• Some people are not going to like what I am about to say, but here goes. For a lot of reasons (I won’t go into), too many middle and high school students in our society don’t understand or fully appreciate that their present public school experience is a life-determining exercise and critical period in their lives. Then there are those fortunate others who (often via their parents) fully ‘get’ that reality! For many children in our nation, a good education is the only thing that stands between them and ‘generational’ poverty. Acquiring a good education could be their single most important act in breaking a cycle of social/economic/emotional pain and disappointment. These children, many of whom live in a nation where they don’t matter to the political or social society, can’t afford to lose any part of an entire school-year of learning. It’s not about participating in cookie, plants, or candy sales; or serving on symbolic ‘parent-engagement’ committees, this year is about the real parent participation/involvement ‘piece’ that highly effective parents’ get, and most importantly it’s what they get right!

• Effective Parenting does not take ‘having a lot of money,’ a college education, or even the ability to speak English, although all of those advantages don’t hurt. My mother did not step onto a college campus except to attend a graduation. However, her ‘mother-wit’ told her that this thing called ‘education’ was the #1 key to providing her children with the best opportunity to become positive and productive human beings. Know parents, it is not always the child’s ‘natural ability’ that will determine their ultimate academic performance level or career destination (there are a lot of very intellectually gifted and talented human beings sitting in prison); instead, it is very often the determination and focused will of the parents that will ‘lovingly-push’ a child to reach their best capability selves, as they guide them through, around and over the many distracting and destructive barriers of life.

• Don’t be “tricked” or deceived! I have spoken to several teachers around the nation, who have informed me that the students who ‘clowned’ last year during the pre-COVID-19 school days; are now ‘clowning’ with their present online classes. There was one case of a student not being able to ‘log in’ to the class; and then when the teacher contacted the parents to inform them that this student was very ‘tech-savvy’ and maintained an elaborate presence on multiple social media platforms, the next day he could suddenly log-in to class! Do children have rights? Yes, they do; but ‘acting-a-fool,’ destroying themselves or their future, are not parts of those rights! Stop enabling failure, the ‘just doing enough to get by’ attitude, weak excuses, and poor academic performances. They’ll thank you later, or maybe they won’t, in any event…

• Make it ‘OK’ for your child to be smart, want to learn a lot, and get high grades. During this Covid-19 SY boys especially, must be monitored very carefully. Are they putting forth their best efforts (personal capability best)? Are they surrendering to negative peer-pressure by only doing the ‘required’ minimum, or engaging in ‘dumbing-down’ actions? Contrary to popular belief, ‘Smartness’ is not a fixed condition and can be grown.

• This year it will be the parents who will be taking the ‘standardized exam’! This Covid-19 SY is the ‘standardized testing’ period for assessing your effective parenting skills. My great fear, based on countless observations of ‘normal’ school years. Is that like so many children in our nation’s public schools, we will find that there are a lot of parents who lack essential information, have not been adequately prepared, or lack the financial, materials, equipment, or available time resources, to successfully pass the “Covid-19 SY Effective Parent Involvement Exam”. This parental access to information and resources problems should be a major priority action-item for districts and schools reopening plans.

• With every challenging situation, there are always good solutions waiting to emerge! This Covid-19 SY is full of many existing and potentially difficult issues for educators and students. On the other hand, there will be some great opportunities for many different groups of students. The students who ‘like-learning’ are ‘grade-level-readers,’ self-starters, highly-motivated, very-disciplined, goal-focused, and school-success orientated thrive in any learning situation that requires independent and ‘reduced’ supervision actions. And remember those previously mentioned “High Performing Students”? These are also the students who are most likely to hate (so they often let me know as a principal) ‘group work,’ so working alone could be a ‘labor of love’ for them or any student who works better independently. Many students also, let me say (and I hesitate to use the term “anti-social” because of the negative meaning that phrase has taken on) are not ‘thrilled’ to be in a classroom with 20-33 other students; they will be overjoyed to work from home (on the other end-of-the-scale there are those students who are ‘hyper-social-interactors,’ who will find this school year very difficult and perhaps a little sad, and so parents you may need to think about that). A lot of students’ hate’ group work and prefer to work independently because perhaps in their perception it frustratingly ‘slows-them-up’; or, (and this is my interpretation, not theirs) because it hinders or interferes with their creativity, ‘quirkiness’ or inclined preferred learning and ‘intelligence’ style. Also, some students want to have total and singular control over their GPA and learning destiny. Therefore they resist anything that limits their power to shape their own educational experience and potential for achievement. And then there are those students (often with the help of their parents) who will find any and every possible positive value that is to be found in this 2020-2021 ‘modified’ online learning school year. I have learned from supervising school-building administrators; that there are just some people, who either through personality or training, are better at ‘working-through’ a crisis. This ‘effective crisis response’ attitude will also be true for some parents and students during this challenging COVID-19 school year. For those types of students, and there are many of them (high and medium performing) throughout every school system, this ‘independent’ online homeschooling opportunity is a beautiful gift for which they will embrace and take full academic advantage.

• For many other students, the classroom environment, no matter how well-managed by the teacher, can be ‘distracting,’ and in those classrooms that are less well-managed, that distraction can result in a destructive loss of learning for the students in such a class. Online home instruction could very well help these easily distracted students to thrive academically. Further, regardless of the school’s performance profile, the overwhelming vast majority of students come to that school every day to learn; they are at worst potential followers (not initiators or leaders) of a small number of lesson distracting “class-clowns” or “lesson-interrupters” (what I call the: “off-task-behavioralist”). Independent online learning could help a lot of easily distracted or students who like to distract or ‘derail’ the lesson, to learn better and more of what is being taught, particularly in those schools and classrooms that are “student disciplined challenged”.

• And then there are the students who attend schools where the administrators and staffs carry (conscious or unconscious) thoughts of low expectations and ‘dismissiveness’ of their student’s human worth and potential; or, those schools that distort, diminish, or destroy the culture and history of certain groups of students. What better opportunity than this 2020-2021 school year for these children to receive high levels of self-affirming and powerful self-esteem building instruction and ‘training’ (from a parent, grandparent, uncle, cousin, retired educator or family, neighborhood or online/book professional, etc.); and importantly these students could greatly benefit from the most-likely persons to have high hopes and expectations for their future—their parents, faith-based community and neighbors now being able to monitor, support and supplement their school learning!

• Indeed, online learning could help many students in our nation better learn and improve their academic performance (another reason not to rush them and adult educators into a poorly organized human pandemic experiment). A lesson I learned from my experience designing/leading Phelps ACE high school in Washington, DC; is that students taking online Microsoft and CISCO certification courses; as well as for those students participating on a Cyberforensics team, was that these students were judged on the content of their knowledge and the quality of their performance; not on how they look, their hair, their religion, their neighborhood, or the economic status of their parents. This fair and unbiased approach is essentially what should happen in a ‘prejudice-free’ public educational system.

The Terrible Acceptable Abnormality of ‘Normal’ School Years. Let us not forget, even during this educational crisis, that far too many children in this nation, who under ‘normal school conditions’ face a daily crisis of poor learning options and opportunities. These districts and schools fail terribly in their efficacy and adequacy to properly educate most of the children in those schools. This terrible pandemic season could, for many communities, be a ‘wake-up’ call of acknowledging that whether in ‘good times’ or ‘bad times,’ some children in our society never experience ‘good learning times’ (like how the Covid-19 disease hits some communities harder than others).
This COVID-19 2020-2021 SY could be the ushering in of a real and valuable ‘educational-reconstruction’ period where communities that have not been served well by the public education systems start to think seriously about taking their children’s educational destiny into their own hands.

The only real and meaningful promise of parenting is sacrifice. Over the years, I have talked to many Black homeschooling parents. Yes, the lack of quality and rigor of the public school’s academic work was an important motivational factor in their decision to homeschool. But also important was their child not having the opportunity to be in a humanity-confirming, culturally-affirming and high-expectations committed school learning environment, that pushed many homeschoolers to take that bold leap into homeschooling. Some of the homeschooling parents I’ve met gave up cherished professional careers or have chosen to live on a one-parent-salary income, simply because they believed that it was important that their Black child(ren) should matter educationally.

I will more fully explain the ‘winning-parental-strategy’ for a student to realize a successful high school COVID-19 2020-2021 SY experience in Part 2.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a teacher, 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 is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership (http://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/ ).