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/ ).

The usual public school system’s public relations stunts won’t work during a deadly pandemic.

That moment when the governor of New York says that your school-reopening plan is an “outline”…

It was one of the most ‘coded’ but not so coded ‘shade-rebukes’ you can issue in our profession. And so let me translate. From the local district to the national level, if any educational oversight body says to a principal, superintendent, chancellor, or school board: “What you sent us was an outline of a plan!”; it can only mean one or both of two things (1) “I don’t really think that you have a plan!” And, (2) “I don’t think that you can develop a plan!” In the context of the deadly nature of the COVID-19 disease and the importance of maintaining a significant degree of student learning, either #1 or #2 designations are not good.

As a superintendent, if I informed a principal that what they sent me was an “outline” and not a “plan” in preparing for or responding to a crisis. They could next expect to hear a knock on their door from a deputy superintendent who I sent to the school to help that principal with developing a serious and comprehensive plan.
When safety, lives, and learning is at stake, decisive and knowledgeable action must be taken quickly. Covid-19 time is not a time for amateur hour; too many important things (e.g., lives) are at stake. This is not about playing the ‘political firing’ game; it’s about getting school districts the kind of experienced and knowledgeable support they need to design soundly balanced and smart reopening plans.

One of the reasons mayor Bloomberg was mistaken by his uninformed decimation and cynical removal of NYC’s most experienced senior educators; was moments like now. Many of us were battle-tested and survived complicated, challenging, and severe (e.g., 9-11, CSD29Q) crises during our long tenures. These are the individuals who know every available resource inside and outside of the school system. Those are the system-vet superintendents, along with retired principals and assistant principals, that you now need as part of the Covid-19 district and school-based response planning teams. I understand that politics (and the news media) will direct a focus on the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), but there is an unmatched wealth of crisis leadership knowledge in the working and retired ranks of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators (CSA); for goodness sake utilize them!

Public school systems are very good at pulling off a lot of public relations’ stunts’ (one might say public hoodwinking), year after year. Like getting the Black and Latino communities mad at the Asian community for doing the kinds of things that many of us have been (doing and) begging Black and Latino communities and their leaders to do for years. Also, ‘slickly’ having those same Black and Latino communities distracted by ‘integration’ and ‘implicit-bias’; while ignoring the real issue that is blocking Black and Latino student academic achievement; the inequality of having the opportunity of receiving a quality learning experience, and the explicit bias of running a system that favors specific entitled communities; while educationally dismissing and denying other communities. But the problem is that public relations ‘distracting’ stunts won’t work in a pandemic. First, because the virus does not discriminate, the children of entitlement are at equal risk. Not effectively educating entire zip codes of children under ‘normal school conditions’ is one thing, but a plague is no respecter of zip codes. This means that any ‘reopening plan,’ unlike the standard separate and unequal inequality educational plans presented annually, means that this reopening plan must work across the entire city, or it won’t appear viable to any segment of the city.

The original “reopening plan” put together by the Stuyvesant High School school-based team was an excellent boilerplate model for how an effective NYC reopening plan could work through a school-by-school; district-by-district, community-by-community uniquely creative plan. It was a wise plan because that school, if operated anywhere near normal, would make it a Covid-19 ‘time-bomb’. Students traveling from long distances across and coming from many different neighborhoods + the school’s overcrowded situation would make it impossible for the staff and students to safely-distance from each other. Since a large percentage of these students (as well as 11th & 12th graders attending other high schools) can take AP courses, why not make a collaborative arrangement with SUNY, CUNY, and other local/state/national public and private colleges to allow these students to enroll in actual college courses online? Saving these kids some money when they eventually transition to college; while also presently giving us both more space and more excellent safety conditions!

The best educational (in the interest of students) decisions don’t usually align with the best political decisions. As a former principal and superintendent, I see many troubling and dangerous ‘operational holes’ in the plans of many of the school districts that are rushing to open up.

For electoral purposes, Mr. Trump and his political acolytes are unreasonably pushing schools to open ‘on time,’ to give the appearance of a normalcy that does not exist. But for some student populations, even a ‘normal’ response under non-pandemic ‘normal’ school conditions is disastrous. No one should harbor any pandemic-school-year illusions; the children who academically suffer the greatest under the ‘regular-normal’ school year conditions; will see their learning ‘double-suffer’ under these severe Covid-19 crisis conditions. Both learning and achievement gaps will expand and remain fixed-for-life for different cohorts of students, based on their ethnicity and zip code, regardless of how ‘good’ the opening plan feels or looks. Part of any district’s reopening plan must be the closing of the parental-provided-resources gap!

In any event, the people leading the ‘school-opening-conversations’ should be health officials and professional educators, with input from parents and elected officials. Now, I will probably never get an invite to the UFT ‘cookout’; but I am convinced that a district of any size can’t successfully pull off a significant program or a workable response to a massive health crisis, without working in a sincere consultative and collaborative mode with multiple public education stakeholders, including federal, state and local elected officials, state, city agencies and unions.

Perhaps some of my ‘woke’ friends won’t like part of this; but right-about-now the mayor and chancellor must be ‘laser-focused’ in order to not completely lose a year of learning, and to save the lives of school personnel and students; this is not the time to ‘needle’ Trump, or to not give the governor the type of plan he requested, and that the state and city legislators can get behind. To borrow a line from the movie “Drumline”; with a crisis of this magnitude we need: “One band and one sound!”

Any 2020 school year opening plan will need to be boldly and radically different from what we now know as ‘schooling.’ And, as in the example of Stuyvesant*, the model could look and be different (and it should be) for different cohorts of students, schools, and school districts. You will need all categories of school employees (school aides to superintendents) to ‘buy-in’ and support the new school year’s crisis response learning model. That ‘buy-in’ should start (or should have started a few months ago) by giving schools the ‘legal’ and ‘regulatory’ guidelines that their plan must meet, and then let each school-based staff, parents and their communities draft a ‘proposal of school-year operation’ (trust your principals to not ‘sign-on’ to a ‘silly-plan’). This approach can’t hurt since the school district will always retain the right and power to reject or modify any school-based proposal in consultation with the state. But with the presence of school-based options proposals, no one can claim that they had no chance to offer input or denied access to information.

There are many Covid-19 converging and sometimes competing concerns; there are also many justifiable fears in play here; they all need to be adequately addressed. No plan will be ‘perfect,’ and no proposal will make everyone happy, but risking a life or an education should not be part of the plan.

School districts could operate from a much stronger planning position if an extraordinary ‘Marshall Plan’ type effort is made to dramatically close the cable-tv, computer, internet access , and home learning materials, supplies and books gaps between students, based on their race, ethnicity, and economic class. Based in part on the calls I am receiving daily from parents and educators at all levels; the usual: “Let’s just throw this out there and see if it gets us through this” won’t work. I think right now citizens are in a deeply concerned and frightened place. Therefore, they will insist on receiving a first-rate sensible, safe, and strongly strategic school-opening plan.

* “Make it easier on yourself”: Once the majority of students attending “targeted” schools like: Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Technical H.S., Staten Island Technical H.S., A. Philip Randolph H.S,Townsend Harris H.S., Medgar Evers H.S. and similar K-12 schools, have been confirmed or provided with home technical/internet distance learning capabilities; those huge empty buildings could then be utilized as ‘safe-distancing’ support spaces to relieve other schools that face safe-distancing space challenges. I say that Stuyvesant’s plan-of-action works best for them and all NYC students.

Pardon me, but I just want the Black citizens of this nation to think about something, for a moment…

I know everyone is focused right now (and rightfully so) on the discriminatory and excessive behaviors of many of our nations police forces; as well as the ability of any white American citizen to deputize themselves and call for a ‘death sentence’ to be inflicted on any Black person they encounter; Black people who could be doing anything from mowing their own lawn, bird watching or delivering (in uniform) a UPS package. With those very pressing day-to-day: “Don’t know if I or my child will live to see the end of the day!” thoughts weighing on our individual and collective minds. And, on top of that having a proto-fascist, unhinged, mocker of Christianity US president; who quite frankly large numbers of our fellow white citizens think is doing a good job or is ok except for perhaps the way he expresses his racism and bigotry, but not how he practices it. I get it, you Black America have a lot of things on your mind. But please indulge this Black senior citizen educator to engage in my 40 year-long rant (as a form of self-healing Covid-19 quarantine psychotherapy.)

I want you to just take a moment to think about something. With the full racist character of our nation being explicitly exposed, not created by Trump (he is a conductor, not an inventor); and how that culture of racism permeates every aspect of our national life including deadly discriminatory treatment during a health crisis. Please, think about this.
Now I know from experience that this is not a ‘politically-sexy’ topic. But if you could think for a moment, as to how racism defines how Black children are received, perceived, and treated in our US public school systems… And who (if not us) is going to protect, defend and save them? I’m just asking you to think about it. (But then, at some point of course, I really want you to do something about it!) Granted, many of the destroyers of Black children’s gifts, talents, and dreams, look like the children they pretend to serve; well we need to do something about them also!

Rebels With a Cause … Public Education, a Cause in Need of More Rebels.

After observing, as a principal and superintendent, countless numbers of world and US history classroom lessons, one of my key take-aways is that power exists in the power of definition. The American Revolutionary War is not a 1775 violation of the sovereign law and order of the British nation; instead, it’s now defined as a righteous and just struggle. I could imagine some London newspaper columnist proclaiming: “My word, those British (subjects) colonial ingrates are destroying their ‘own’ colony!” The violence of the American Revolution was initiated only after many peaceful and lawful unsuccessful protestations that were made to (and ignored by) the British Government. To put it in a modern context, the colonist took a non-violent plea for justice knee during a professional football game; and then the act was ignored, scorned, and banned by the NFL.
The ‘bad acting exploiter’ always seeks to ‘flip-the-narrative’, such that the causes for any Righteous Rebellion are ignored and downplayed, in the effort to demonize and marginalize those who have taken up the cause of Rebellion.

Staying with Historiography…

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. And so, now in the spring of 2020, the ‘primary-concern’ is about African-Americans “destroying their ‘own’ neighborhoods”, and not why African-Americans don’t own (like other Americans) the neighborhoods where they are the numerical majority. And by “own” I mean having the political capacity, leverage, and power to truly receive: Professional (and real) protect and serve treatment from their police departments. Not being the last on the list of the least, in receiving quality healthcare services (pre and present pandemic), that is commensurate with living in one of the most powerful and richest nations on the planet. (And my personal disappointment) Having public school systems that leaves their children under-prepared, their gifts and talents undiscovered and undeveloped, as these public schools also damage their children’s hopeful future aspirations. And yet these same school systems are amazingly efficient in preparing Black children for social-psychological destruction, and prisons. And to be painfully honest there are many Black and Latino ‘leaders’ who represent and reinforce this system of political Black child educational dis-ownership by the larger society.

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was not a document that affirmed the humanity and human rights of those 1800’s Africans being held in cruel and inhuman captivity. And if we are to be truly honest, the Emancipation Proclamation was not a morally courageous act, it was in fact a strategic military tactic. It’s true underlying message to Black US enslaved persons was that: “We don’t care about you, and you are on your own!” In the last presidential election (and as the present normalization of ‘Trump-culture’ confirms and continues), America sent a similar message: “African-Americans, we don’t care about you; and you are on your own!” The question is then: “When will we take ownership of our ‘own’ correct readings of these two very clear messages?”

There will always be some significant number of white Americans who driven by politics, morality, decency, conscious or spiritually; who will step-up and step-into the idea of wanting to live in a nation that truly practices liberty, justice, and freedom for all. Freedom, however, can’t be subcontracted out or based on any form of ‘good-hearted’ reparations; the people who are to be freed must take ownership of their own ‘freeing’ process.
But our sitting idle, year after year, watching and waiting for public schools to make Black students competitively competent (and express shock when these children are not); and this after so many (Asa Hilliard, John Henrik Clarke, Lorraine Monroe, et al.) have warned Black America that our public school systems ‘are working’, by not working for large numbers of the ‘American Dream’ disinherited student populations.
Therefore, not fighting for the educational empowerment of Black children (all, not just the ones living in your house); means that we are in essence burning down and destroying our own, and their future possibilities.

NYS Gov. Cuomo ask the Gates Foundation for help in ‘Revolutionizing’ Public Education…Let’s explore this idea.

All of the things that have gone wrong in my life can be traced to a single lesson I failed to effectively learn. This lesson was first presented to me by a Brooklyn Caribbean-American mother trying desperately to see her young son survive and thrive into adulthood. Over the years I would hear the same message from many of the wonderful elders that guarded and guided my upbringing. That message simply in many different versions was: “Everyone who presents themselves as a friend is not a friend!” Simply being anti-billionaire does not automatically make you my friend (or a friend to Black people generally).

There are some politically-woke-folks who ‘knee-jerkedly’ reject any idea or initiative that is associated with “billionaires”. But the 40+% consistent support/endorsement for the bigot-in-chief Trump (and I actually think that the 40%+ number is an undercount) could not numerically consist of a majority of “billionaires”. And even in ‘liberal and enlightened’ NYC, we are witnessing a dramatically different police response to those in violation of the social-distancing statues, blatantly taking place under the leadership of an anti-billionaire Democratic ‘Progressive’ Mayor. Thank-you, but I think I will trust no one completely, thus protect and pursue my own survival interest; and so, I need to see more of the details of the Cuomo/Gates Foundation education plan before I summarily reject it.

As a principal I set up one of the first Distance-Learning-Labs in NYC in cooperation with Columbia’s Teacher’s College (I did the same at DC-PHELPS ACE to facilitate school partnerships between CISCO, the Peoples Republic of China, and South Africa). I also pushed as both a principal and superintendent the introduction of web-based Applied Technology Labs; and at Phelps created a team (Cyberforensics) that competed completely online as we also had the CISCO certification course taught (by CISCO engineers) completely online. Schools must, where appropriate embrace the good pedagogical uses of technology as we work hard to close our national technology access/education opportunity gaps.

One of the problems in public education is that you could go back in time (science-fictionally speaking) and transport one of my 1950’s elementary school teachers, and place them in any modern elementary school classroom and the ‘architecture’ and structural format of the classroom would look extremely similar and familiar; we need to change that. Covid-19 or no Covid-19, it is clear that public education in its present format is not working for the majority of our nation’s Black and Latino children (unless ‘working’ means going to prison).

One of the lessons I took away from my observations of the PHELPS-ACE online CISCO certification courses was that neither the students nor the instructors could see each other. This I noticed meant that the instructors had high standards and expectations for the Black and Latino students they were instructing and could not see; there were no assumptions about the student’s capabilities, families, or the neighborhoods where they lived. The students were graded and evaluated based on the quality of their work-product only. Distance (“blind”) Technology could be one way (since our school systems will not do it) to eliminate the prejudice and bias institutionalized culture of low expectations.

This nicely leads me to my next point. A former colleague-mentor (now deceased) from my 1990’s Brooklyn High School principal days once offered this statement. “I ask every white teacher I interview, if they like Black kids, and then I probe their response!” Shocked I blurted out: “But you can’t do that, it’s illegal!” He responded: “You can’t do it but I (white) can, and I will because I don’t want any teacher in this building who does not like and care about Black kids!” For those who reject the governor’s idea, simply because they don’t like his proposal partner, or perhaps because they fear modernity and change; my comment is simply this: Let’s not pretend that the present or pre-COVID-19 configuration and organization of public education is working for (forget all) most children; it’s not.

Black folks please be careful of both the Covid-19 virus and the viral disease of racism…

OK, I have now been made aware of three situations (I know the individuals personally) where three highly educated, smart and articulate African-American men (one a PhD. who reviewed my book) who have entered a commercial establishment correctly wearing a Covid-19 facial protection mask, only to have the store employees and/or a fellow white customer assume that these individuals were there for the purposes of committing a crime. Fortunately, none of these scenarios ended tragically. I suspect that there are other instances in the nation of which I am unaware.

Look, I know that many of you have received, and in some cases adopted the US ‘post(Obama)racial’ story-line. But I am going to give you the same old-fashion Black elders advice I received as a youngster. This is the cautionary instructional lesson that I ‘upgraded’, rephrased; and then gave to all of my Black (and Latino) students over the years; even when they did not want to hear it.

To be honest, I hated as a child every time a family member, neighborhood or a church elder told me that: “Because you are a Negro (or Black), you must work twice as hard as a white person, because of prejudice!” I felt that those conditions were extremely unfair; and since I spent most of my childhood school days at the top of my classes, and ended up being placed in gifted and talented programs; I felt that I was already, “smarter” then most of my white student peers, without having to work too much harder. In fact, I spent many countless days/hours in the Brooklyn Public Library, The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and The Brooklyn Museum, reading books at home; essentially competing against myself (not white kids) in acquiring vast amounts of knowledge. But back then (1950’s) you had to actually listen to adults and could not argue back. But, over the years I have come to be less critical of and more appreciative of the elders of my youth.
Their approach probably did not meet my pedagogical standards for teaching a lesson. But they were doing the best they knew how in trying to protect us from the horrible reality of the societal and US cultural wide practices of discrimination, low expectations (still very much in play in our public schools today) and biased negative perceptions.
The elders of my young days did the best that they knew how to do; and their wise observation and assessment of the true identity of America was correct then, and it is with some small modifications, for the most part still true today.

We should not get it twisted, or confused; whether you like it or not; living in a nation that is built on, thrives in, and is powered by racism and bigotry, your Blackness is your ultimate existential reality. For over forty years I have pushed and supported young people by way of education, to realize their highest aspirational career dreams. There is no record of me ever encouraging a young person to work below their potential; and in fact taking that position has caused me a great deal of personal, financial and professional pain. But let’s be clear, it does not matter if you are a MD, PhD, Ed.D., JD, DD or no D; rest assure at some point, in small or large aggressive ways, you will over and over again encounter the ‘black group treatment’ of prejudice and discrimination. And please note, that many of the pathological racially damaged black persons in our nation, could also be the very individuals who will inflict this racial prejudice mistreatment on you.

I am proud to have served as a public school principal and superintendent; but I can also say that not one day ended without someone, a parent, public or district official, one of my peers or even the people I supervised; failing to remind me that they saw me as no different from any Black person who was at the bottom of the school or district staffing chart.

Two of my best friends are highly accomplished Black physicians; and they both have numerous stories of being on the receiving end of racial aggressive actions, including from white doctors they were training! One, a trauma surgeon was told by a white patient arriving to the trauma center after a car accident: “Can I get a real doctor?” (I told him that he was a better person then I, because I would have said: “Sure, in fact he stared in a James Bond movie and his name is Dr. No-doctor!”)

Every prominent Black American thinker, artist and educator (W.E.B. DuBois, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Lorraine Monroe, Ralph Ellison, Asa Hilliard, to name a few) has made this point: That against our will, and not requiring our consent, awareness or agreement, we Black people are forced, by virtue of our US residency to live in two separate and unequal political world realities. And any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of this edict, will always lead to loss, pain, suffering and perhaps even death.

Remember, that the poor national government response to the coronavirus is very much in part due to the large numbers of white Americans who wanted (and still want according to polls) a president who is clearly unfit and incompetent; but who would work hard to make bigotry and prejudice great again.

Referees warn boxers before a fight: “Protect yourself at all times!” And so, despite the bad ‘medical advice’ being provided by “science experts” on social media platforms, Black people are not immune to coronavirus.
We must at all times, in the best ways that we can (e.g. staying home!) protect ourselves and others from this dreaded disease. But at the same time we must be of ‘two-minds’ and be proactively and protectively aware of that other American chronic and untreated deadly viral disease of racism, for which no vaccine has ever been employed.

Notes from In-house exile: Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers

Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers

(6) March 23, 2020

Sadly, the U.S. Covid-19 virus pandemic will expose and expand the PreK-12 Educational Learning Opportunity Gap. It seems that many school districts around the nation are closing, for perhaps the entire school year. Let’s just be honest for a moment in stating that even during non-pandemic times, there is a huge formal (things learned in school) and informal (things learned outside of school) Educational Learning Opportunity Gap (ELOG), existing between school districts, schools in the same or different district(s), and even different students inside of the same school building.

This ELOG can amount to conceptual-knowledge and performance-skills learning differences that can stretch over many years, even though two students on either end of the gap spectrum are ‘technically’ in the same grade. Thus, two students in the same 8th grade, but in different schools, could mean that one student has not yet received or is not proficient in the 5th grade curriculum learning standards; while the other student has mastered the 8th grade curriculum learning standards and could in fact be taking high school courses in middle school e.g. Algebra; and yet officially both of these students are referred to as being “8th graders”.

A Gap by its real name…

I prefer the phrase Educational Learning Opportunity Gap as opposed to the more popular “Achievement Gap”; because the “Achievement Gap” suggest, albeit subtly, that the gap is somehow caused by the students themselves. The ELOG however speaks to the inherent capabilities of students who are artificially under-performing academically because they are exposed to inferior school-building leadership and/or ineffective/inferior instructional practices; and of course this ‘under-learning’ is always accompanied by the low expectations of the child’s gifts and talents. And as we now know very well, students will naturally rise or sink to the expectations levels of the adults assigned to educate them.
Now I am sure (having heard it for so many years) that this will send some of my colleagues to screaming about the ‘causal factors’ of: poverty, parent’s level of education, and the level of parent interest in their child’s education.
First, it is my 11 year principal experience that ‘poor parents’, parents who are limited in or speak no English, those who for whatever reason were not able to take full advantage of formal schooling themselves; are in fact, the most clear (not having a great deal of financial wealth to pass on to their children), about the power and necessity of acquiring an education. They may not express it in the ‘perfect-parent’ phrasing format that we professionals want to hear, and they may not know how to effectively play the ‘parent as educational partner’ role; but their desire to see their child succeed academically is absolutely there; and it always depends on how the professional educator ‘reads the situation’.
But educating, encouraging and empowering the emergence of ‘positive-parent-push’ behaviors is part of that highly effective principal’s job, and it is desperately what these students and their parents need; even when those same parents push-back against it.

The most powerful, confidence and competence building service you can perform for a politically and/or economically disenfranchised child, is to make them high academic performers. Which is why that highly effective principal must also strategically design initiatives and programs that can counteract the deleterious effects of poverty and that child’s possible lack of quality informal educational exposures (e.g. museums, cultural institutions, music, dance, art and STEM lessons, etc.) It’s the school-building leadership operationalization praxis of In loco parentis (in the place of a parent).

All of the above leads me to make my unfortunate hypotheses: That those children who already live on the ‘short end of the formal and informal educational stick’, will suffer the most from ‘learning lost’ during this closed down period.
Many parents will have (one or more): the money, time, contacts, information, connections, education and access to hardware and internet technology, that will allow them to provide anywhere from a decent to excellent ‘emergency’ learning experience for their child.
Further, there are vast difference between students in their ‘personality approach’ to the ‘taking of control’ of their own learning concept; you can see it in the eyes and attitudes of incoming 9th graders (others will ‘catch that fire’ in the 10th grade); it is those ‘on mission’ focused eyes that are saying: “OK, I will be here for 4 years, I know where I am going next, I know what I need to do, I’m not here to play, let’s go!” Those students,* who are highly self-motivated, and practice good learning habits will trust me, make a ‘learning feast’ out of this down school time; as they knowledge acquisition sprint pass their less motivated peers; especially in the middle and high schools levels.
Finally, parents exert different levels of authoritative and inspirational power over their children when it comes to home-learning; and so, the school can do a great job in placing ‘school-work’ (and many districts, schools and teachers are doing just that) online; and the child could have an internet computer (or phone) connection; but who is going to make sure that the child is doing the work?

After the plague, what must schools do?

I have given some thought of late as if I was a principal today and what strategies would I employ in this present crises. And of course I always think about how I would be worried-sad about my kids being ‘in those streets’. But when I thought ahead to next year, I imagined my school engaging in an academic recovery and reclamation project on a large school-wide scale; something that we actually employed every year on a smaller scale. And that is how we planned during the summer as to how we would bring students ‘up-to-speed’ who were performing below grade level in middle school; and also how we would address the academic needs of those few students who came from countries outside of the US and were missing significant years of schooling due to war or a natural disaster.
My staff and I would probably come up with some amazingly unprecedented phenomenal plan** to address all of the incoming 9th graders as well as the ‘rising’ 10th , 11th, and 12th graders, who all essentially lost a year of school. The good news is that we would already have the ‘boiler-plate’ plan that was used for those annually arriving under-performing 9th graders; who although they did not physically miss a year of schooling, they definitely arrived missing one, some or a lot of effective learning years of schooling.

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*Report to the Principal’s Office:Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership; chapter 28; pg. 441: “Profile of a Good and Effective High School Student”.

** The “School access to supplementary financial and human resources gap” is also being displayed during the Covid-19 school closing crises and will be made even more obvious when schools reopen and attempts are made to seal the learning loss breaches, which will cause all students, regardless of performance level or ‘entitlement status’, to suffer academically. Many schools like my own, had a school 501c3 foundation and a fundraising (‘real money’, not cookies, candy and pictures money) plan, which could supplement the school’s centrally allocated (but always inadequate) district budgets. I would be quite surprised (no, extremely surprised) if after facing this major health crisis, that state governments will have the extra money to give schools what they will really need to ‘fix’ a missed year of learning. Particularly for our severe academically struggling students, and those students with IEP’s who really needed, but did not receive, a modified version or the required support for those online instructional programs.

Notes from In-house exile: Feeling the End of Touching…

Notes from In-house exile: Feeling the End of Touching…

(4) March 21, 2020

“Though lovers be lost, love shall not”–Dylan Thomas

I’ve reduced intimacy to the constant warm feelings of two hands, covered with warm soapy water, engaged in the act of hand-washing (these days you do what you can). As an educator I guess I have always been able to transform some challenging situation into an exercise of practical problem solving. And with the inept and callous efforts by the leader of this nation, I could imagine seeing the end of my life without ever hugging another person again.

One of my former students who is now an educator and is presently working with a class size of one; and by the way is doing a great job with her child’s preschool remote learning class, posted: “Anybody want a 3 yr. old?” … I wanted so bad to say “Yes, me!”. A plague can separate us from our call-to-service; for alas I have a house with a children’s book library, educational toys, puzzles and games, but I am missing a three year old. I know her mother will probably say: “Yeah right, I’ll give him one day with a three year old and…” (But what I want to know Akilah; is why none of you’ll told me about this D-Nice party thing; I could have brought my flashlight—inside SSCHS joke!:-)

It also just occurred to me once again after (ELA skill) comparing and contrasting the White House and NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press briefings; that as a nation we are in serious trouble. But then there is a kind-of-good trouble that I have striven to always get myself into. Andrew Cuomo is like that crazy (good crazy): “I can’t let these folks destroy my children” principal, working in a public school system that is structured to destroy certain children. You can’t wait, you can’t fool around, because your children can’t wait. You must speak the truth, even if it makes people uncomfortable, and act audaciously even as those same people want to maintain the status qua. It is probably a matter of taking matters into your own hands; and then when necessary bend, twist, ‘reinterpret’ and sometimes break rules that work well for some kids, but don’t work well for your students. The only chance a Black and Latino child, or any poor and/or politically disfranchised child of any color, ethnicity or religion will have to succeed, is to have a ‘crazy’ educator take up their cause.

I turn everything no matter how bad, into a reading project. I guess in the midst of any tragedy we must all find some individual small space of a peace process that will help us to cope. It might sound morbid to some, but I just completed my second plague (Covid-19) related reading (Edgar Allan Poe’s: “The Mask of the Red Death”). The great myth that the plague destroys, is that we can somehow separate ourselves from the pain and suffering of others.

There is an equality of aspirational dreaming for all children, regardless of race or economic status. I learned that as a superintendent visiting PreK and Kindergarten classrooms, where all of the children will enthusiastically give you a list of things they want to grow up to be: dancer, police officer, doctor, fireman, nurse, teacher, astronaut, air plane pilot… Often multiple professions in one lifetime! And then they move up in the school system and lose large parts of those dreams at every new grade level (especially Black and Latino boys). Public schools should be dream builders, not dream destroyers. And yet we can make sure our entitled kids receive a quality education (and not lose their dreams); and deny that same level of quality education to the children of ‘others’.

But the Plague introduces a kind of terrible equality; those children denied a quality education (and thus an end to their dreaming); will later be the adults who will bring the plague of their lost dreams onto the heads of the children of privilege; for in a social-economic plague there is no separate place to hide.

“10 Black Students Got Into N.Y.C.’s Top High School”– But what does that mean?

3/20/2020 –NY Times;This Year, Only 10 Black Students Got Into N.Y.C.’s Top High School :https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/nyregion/nyc-schools-numbers-black-students-diversity-specialized.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage

“Asian students make up a majority of the schools’ enrollment.”

Just Great, what we really needed now, along with the daily POTUS racist insults press briefings; another nonsensically contrived reason to be angry with Asians.

At some point (and I’ll just keep saying this until they put me in the retired superintendent’s rubber room), a significant segment of NYC’s Black and Latino citizenry will come to understand that no test-prep program, regardless of its good intentions and accessibility, can substitute for actual K-8 learning concepts and skills mastery. I have practically run out of metaphors like: giving a nursing certification exam to someone who has not spent a day in a nursing program; giving the Bar exam to people who did not attend law school; giving free shoe shines to people who don’t have shoes. I am not sure what more I can say at this point!

Test-prep is an excellent ‘technical’ and study tool that can absolutely raise the potential score of anyone who engages it. But as a Saturday Princeton Review SAT prep-course coach once warned my students: “I will help you to get a higher score on the exam, but you must continue to study hard!” What she did not say that is also true, is that you must bring ‘something’ to the test-prep process; and fortunately for my students (as the SAT coach offered as a compliment to them at the end of the course), they brought an everyday experience of being exposed to rigorous formal and informal standards based learning activities. Our finals, midterms and weekly classroom exams consisted of questions directly (word for word) lifted from past State Regents Exams, while inviting standards (and above) rigor in non-standardized testing courses. We were accused by some liberals of ‘teaching to the test’; when in fact we were providing our students with the same level of quality instruction their children enjoyed, we were teaching and learning to the standards. That’s how you get Black and Latino children to do well on standardized exams; you actually teach them to the level of standards that the exam will test. You can’t do well on an 8th grade exam, by ‘prepping’ in middle school; the real rigorous learning (aka test-prep) for that exam starts in Kindergarten and consistently continues every year until the 8th grade.

“Some of the schools’ relatively few black and Hispanic students have said they often feel isolated in their classrooms and hallways because of their race.”

Over the next few months we will hear the ‘integration’, ‘segregation’ and ‘diversity’ bell distractedly rung over and over again. Asian-American students will (because of adolescent psychology) feel that they did something wrong, when they have done exactly what the adult society has told them to do— and that is to study hard, sacrifice some ‘fun time’ and apply themselves. They will also be made to feel like ‘outsiders’ in their own city; Black and Latino people (remember “stop and frisk” and “gentrification”) should know how painful that feels, and therefore should be the last ones to engage in that ugly ‘outsidering’ and ‘blame-game’ behavior.

“This year, as last year, only one black student got into Staten Island Technical High School.”

Sadly, this same NY Times article could be used year after year, for the last (and frighteningly next) ten years, all that is needed is to simply change the dates. This is the low-expectations (Black and Latino brains are less than capable) story-line that will continue to reappear until (1) Black and Latino communities push their leaders; many of whom are tied at the waist (or by the neck) to the Teacher’s Union (UFT), and force (by political and active protest) the NYCDOE to provide their children with a quality K-8 education that test-prep programs could truly enhance; and secondly, to expand Gifted and Talented programs to the presently chronically undeserved Black and Latino elementary students who are on or above grade level. It has been demonstrated that many of these Black and Latino non-G&T classes elementary school students are so smart and capable, that they could even pass high school Regents exams; and so where are their G&T programs? (2) I love Public Education, but no community should depend on any public school system to adequately, let alone fully educate their children; especially if you are not part of the ‘entitled class’; something many Asian-American parents seem to get. (3) The beauty of NYC’s size is that a student who really should not go to a specialized high school (for a host of reasons); could possibly have a rich choice of safe and academically strong high school options. There was a time in the not too distant past, when not applying or getting into specialized high school was not a big deal and did not mean future career options death. Restore and strengthened a high school (independent of local school boards) division that lost so many of its accomplished and experienced administrators by way of Mayor Bloomberg’s destructive educational “school-reform” blunders.

“Black and Hispanic enrollment in the schools has plummeted over the last two decades in particular; Brooklyn Technical High School was 51 percent black in 1982, and 6 percent black in 2016. Only 79 black students got into Brooklyn Tech this year, down from 95 last year.”

Finally, disenfranchised communities need an intensive parallel educational system consisting of: An academically rich and culturally confirming pre-school start e.g. Little Sun People; after-school, weekends, school breaks and summer learning enrichment/enhancement programs; these activities should include a standardized test-prep component. Just sending your child to public school every day won’t work. For what part of: “Your children are not a priority”, is missing from your understanding of the public school education problem.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a NYC public school teacher, principal, school district superintendent and as an adjunct professor of education at St. John’s University. His book on school leadership is titled: “Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership.” [http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/]