A Brave Stand By NYC School Administrators Could Lead to a Safer COVID-19 School Opening/Year, And Better Future Educational Opportunities For All NYC Children.

I know from experience that scheduling teachers and designing student course programs in a high school under ‘normal’ conditions is like solving a very complex people-puzzle. I can’t imagine what NYC principals are going through for this COVID-19 SY, with all of the constant goal-post moving, undermining ‘side-deals’ and policy shifting roadblocks that are thrown at them daily.

To their credit, the Council of Supervisors and administrators (CSA) have exposed the poorly planned and dangerous NYCDOE school-opening procedures, and they have also revealed the unholy NYCDOE political alliances that, for years, always placed the interest of children last.

Many of my former principal/superintendent colleagues and I have looked on in shocked horror as the mayor and chancellor have focused all of their planning energy, public relations, and political capital in pleasing the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) while totally ignoring the safety and learning needs of children and disregarding the critical advice and concerns of the key individual in any school crisis— the school building administrators.

Principals are in a tough and almost impossible situation where they are being held accountable for creating a safe and successful COVID-19 school opening and year, while also fighting against constantly changing politically driven directives, the focus of which is not a safe and productive school year opening, but rather to make the UFT happy.

Further, getting rid of (“furloughing”) superintendents in the middle of a medical crisis also sounded quite bizarre; because if superintendents are not needed under extreme emergency conditions, then why and when would you ever need them? And with many key senior NYCDOE officials exiting during a major school year emergency, it means that this should be an “all hands on deck” moment. Ok, so it sounds like principals are on their own!

For years there has been a quiet battle in the NYC Public Education system. It reached a critical flash-point in the 1990s when NYC high school principals held several meetings, set up an action-task force, hired a lawyer with the intent of leaving our union, the CSA (we ultimately decided to remain in CSA). One of the main issues for this drastic action was our concern for the fake ‘union solidarity’ relationship with the UFT; clearly, CSA and UFT had (and still have) radically different interests. Every newly appointed principal quickly learned that one of the major barriers to creating a school that would effectively educate all children was the UFT contract, along with their ‘unprincipled political power’ (I’ll come back to that). And if your school was Title-1 and served Black and Latino students, your battle was more brutal and dangerous (and any of those principals will have the UFT scars to prove it).

All NYC principals and superintendents knew and still know that most of the ‘bad’ news stories appearing in the local new media about principals were and are directly generated by a school’s UFT chapter leader or someone in the UFT organization (so much for union solidarity). The majority of these stories are strategically timed and organized to either stop or discourage principals from “U-Rating” (unsatisfactory rating) teachers or from placing dangerous, in some cases, mentally unstable and incompetent teachers into the “Rubber-Room” (which de facto still exist). A place where teachers, some who have committed terrible acts against children or other staff members, sit perhaps for years’ fighting’ their cases while receiving their full salary, benefits, and step increases. The UFT uses the news media ‘bash-a-principal’ route; so I learned as a principal and superintendent and confirmed over the years with reporters and editors; when there is no legitimate official grievance to file against a principal; after all, how do you file a grievance for: “The principal has high standards and expectations.”

For many years principals have been unfairly accused of being the cause of the infamous unofficial policy of: “The Dance of the Lemons.” This is the ‘policy’ where compassionate and smart principals use ‘budgetary-tricks,’ ‘the camouflaging of vacancies’ and other techniques (protecting principals, I won’t elaborate on how these things work) to get rid of incompetent teachers and to stop other ineffective teachers from transferring into their schools. The unfortunate resulting collateral damage is that these less-than-proficient teachers move to another school or onto the list of tenured unassigned teachers. At the same time, principals use these student ‘serve and defend’ tactics to hire, protect, and keep untenured effective teachers in their schools. Like the partially correct news reports (e.g., “students underperform and fail, but all their teachers are satisfactory!”), the ‘Dance of the Lemons’ does not occur because principals are lazy or don’t care about their colleagues. It’s an impossible situation they find themselves in because everyone knows that the “U-Rating” policy generally is heavily weighed against the principal, and the “arbitration” (the UFT exercise significant control over it) phase of the process favors the incompetent teacher and not children. Getting a “U” rating to stick is not impossible, but it takes a lot of time, a large amount of unnecessary work, and at best, it’s a ‘crapshoot.’ A teacher “winning” in arbitration means that the incompetent, unfit or unprofessional teacher is not fired and could only be subject to a small loss of (a week?) pay.

Unfortunately, the schools serving our Black and Latino students bear the brunt of those incompetent teachers job landings. First, many of these schools will most likely have a few vacancies every year (for reasons too complicated to go into here). Secondly, and quite frankly, some entitled school districts and schools clandestinely ignore the staffing (hiring) sections of the UFT contract. As with the case of any successful school, the administrators and staff will also quietly ignore (or will vote out specific areas) of the ‘operationally damaging’ sections of the UFT contract. I could name names, but I won’t; instead, I say bravo to those principals, schools, communities, and elected officials who refuse to risk the future hopes and dreams of their children.
But the sad another side of the story is that the systems weakest students, who are most in need of certified, experienced, and highly effective teachers, are often subjected to receiving an unfair number of rejected-incompetent teachers. A deadly combination emerges if those less-than-proficient teachers also have low expectations for their own capabilities and their student’s abilities.

This tragic instructional quality gap between districts and schools in NYC is also sadly a result of the UFT’s political alliances with Black, Latino, and “Liberal/Progressive” White elected officials, civic, religious, and civil rights leaders, along with the firm ‘political-beachhead’ the UFT has established with the Democratic Party. Their ‘charm offensive’ with these leaders is a mix of the practical and effective public relations. Practical because of the UFT’s ability (waning in my view) to endorse (or not endorse) and support a particular politician is of primary concern to elected officials. However, I’ve seen that ‘poor education’ is an absolute red line electability issue for elected officials representing the city’s entitled political residents. Secondly, the UFT has mastered the art of ‘progressive-sounding-speech’ ( talking ‘left-wing’ while acting ‘right-wing’); they’ll chant: “Black Lives Matter,”; but block young Black Learning Minds From Mattering. The UFT does everything in its power to prioritize adult job satisfaction and deprioritize the effective learning of all poor and working-class students (so much for working-class/labor unity). These actions of the UFT specifically hurt Black and Latino students, thus cynically harming the young constituents that the aforementioned leaders are charged with protecting.

Are there principals who are probably not-up-to-the-job, and in need of some serious professional development or others who might need a ‘career reassessment-reassignment,’ absolutely. But my long experience with CSA as a former member and as a superintendent who supervised CSA members is that the institutional, cultural philosophy of CSA is to want to see schools be successful and for all children to learn successfully. I often wonder why Black and Latino leaders continually pay humbling-homage to the UFT while ignoring and not getting behind the CSA; this is something I guess future political historians will have to explore.

I knew the present chancellor’s political survival plan was not in the city’s most underserved students’ interest when the entire achievement raising strategic plan was ‘racial sensitivity’ and ‘integration.’ His approach sadly focused on racial symbolistic ‘trick acts’ while ignoring the more insidious systemic racism practiced by the system itself and fueled by things like the UFT contract. The chancellor put on an anti-bias and integration road-show to applauding black leaders, churches, and organizations while refusing to take serious and authentic steps to raise the city’s academic performance and achievement levels of Black students by improving the quality of the instruction they were receiving and expanding their opportunities to engage in intellectual growing STEAM* and Gifted & Talented activities. Having NYC Black and Latino residents singularly focused on three high schools (and in an unprincipled way also throwing innocent Asian students under the blame-bus); while the chancellor always had total control of the admissions policies at the vastly larger number of specialized and special admissions high schools. And so the: ‘integration as a tool to raise academic achievement” storyline was just a distractive ruse and a way to avoid the hard fact that thousands of Black and Latino students in the city never had a chance to compete for those three specialized high school seats because they were never prepared in their K-8 educational learning experience. And many of the highest performing Black and Latino students in the city, who could meet the rigors of the specialized high school exam (SHSAT) exam (despite the school system barriers), were hampered by living in the wrong zip code, which meant that they had no access to a K-8 gifted and talented program. This access could have given them that critical edge to be able to perform well on the SHSAT. The “Admission Test” was racist, we were told, not the system that did not adequately prepare Black and Latino students to perform well on the SHSAT or in any high school generally.

Presently the institutionally sanctioned racism and biased culture of the NYCDOE is the problem. The educational neglect and mistreatment of large numbers of the city’s disentitled children, and the preferential treatment given to other more fortunate children; has created a quality-education apartheid system; this separate and unequal school system will maintain itself in and outside of any national or local crisis. It’s a system that ensures large numbers of NYC children are being prepped for prison and poverty, not future professional, entrepreneurial, employment, and college experiences, and that’s what the communities where these children live should frame their resistance and struggle around.

I understand this and any chancellor and mayor’s dilemma; to make (if that’s what they really wanted to do) NYC schools work for all children, means they would need to take on the UFT and not make ‘side-deals’ with them undermining principals and the children they serve.

In a crisis that is severely affecting the ability of schools to operate, school governance matters…

(Trust me) NYC community school boards were not the answer, as their greatest dysfunctional harm was inflicted on the NYC children who least needed the ‘misplaced priorities’ many of these boards brought to the public education story. But we have seen before, and dramatically now with the arrival of the COVID-19 issue, that “mayoral control” is also not working. We correctly removed a school system from a toxic political structure; however, we exposed NYC children to a new and poorly improved operating, highly toxic, and hyper-political design. In a major health crisis that is significantly impacting our public schools; a time when professional educators and professional health officials should be collaborating and jointly leading the school reopening and school year operational, strategic conversation, instead the process is being led by a politician who is not a professional educator or a professional health scientist; what could possibly go wrong?

You brag about ‘beating Amazon,’ but you won’t save kids
because you’re afraid of the UFT…

The overwhelming political power present in the NYC Congressional Delegation, New York State Government, New York State Regents, The State’s Education Department, and New York City Governmental offices and Institutions are unquestionably in the hands of Black and Latino elected or appointed officials (and most if not all are Democrats!); they must join their power with compassionate and considerate White federal, state, and NYC leaders to make sure that first every NYC child and staff person is safe during this COVID-19 2020-2021 school year crises, but going further to make sure that every NYC child (including those who are traditionally disregarded) has the opportunity to receive a quality education.

*STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher,
principal, and school district superintendent. His book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership… http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/

A Crisis Reveals the Quality of Leadership.

What ‘shows-up’ as leadership in a crisis situation is that which is already present. COVID-19 did not make Donald Trump into an ineffective and destructive leader; instead, he brought all of his immoral, grossly inadequate, and disqualifying qualities into the job.

An unofficial rule in public education is that principals don’t speak publicly when the people above our pay-grade screw-up and/or come up with a terribly flawed and unworkable initiative; we simply try to off-set and neutralize the harmful situation and do our best to not let it hurt our kids; but with so many NYC principals ‘speaking-up’ and publicly raising concerns about the NYCDOE’s school-opening plans, suggests to me that the situation on-the-ground is much worse than the news media is reporting it to be.

A serious crisis reveals the quality of your day-to-day leadership capabilities. Sadly, in organizational leadership, there is a type of consistency for competence as well as incompetence. As a superintendent, my experience taught me that the quality of a school-building leader’s response to a severe crisis reflects that school leader’s capabilities and management skills under ‘regular’ non-crisis moments in the school-building. When we (me and my deputy superintendents) heard that incident “X” occurred at a particular school, we knew that one of us had to immediately go to that school to assist the principal in making the right decisions; and this was based on our day to day interactions and awareness of that principal’s management and problem-solving inadequacies.

I have (repeatedly) warned NYC Black and Latino parents that no system-wide plan to raise their children’s academic achievement opportunities beyond the unethical ’emotional-beatdown’ of Asian students was distracting rhetoric and not real school improvement planning. Not having a plan in ‘normal’ school times suggested to me that in a crisis (ala COVID-19), the capability to produce a reasonable and workable plan was highly unlikely.

Any school (or district) crisis is exacerbated, as it exposes the true quality-level of the ‘normal-times’ school leadership capabilities! And in the ‘keeping it 100% school-leadership world’, the Nuremberg-defense (“I was just following the mayor’s orders”) won’t work. An educational leader must be willing to resign or be fired when ‘hyper-political and uninformed actors’ try to force you to endanger staff and students’ learning and lives.

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/ ).

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.

Part 2 in a series: High School Guidance, Career and College Advisement.

As I stated in Part 1 (http://majmuse.net/2020/08/23/ok-parents-some-basic-things-for-a-successful-2020-covid-19-school-year-sy/) of this extended post: During this Covid-19 2020-2021 academic school year crisis, parents will need to be thoughtfully, purposely and positively extra involved in monitoring and supporting their child(ren) in the area of daily academic schoolwork, homework, study, and outside-of-school (“informal education”) work. This additional parental supervision effort will also be required in high school guidance, and specifically in the areas of course selections and post-high school career, college admissions, and scholarship advisement work.

Let’s get started…

Good student organization, the ability to prioritize study-time, excellent task-and-time management skills, getting and remaining focused on realizing a ‘good’ graduation and graduation diploma*; are some of the most useful skills a high school student must possess. High school students can exist at very different developmental psychological stages, which will determine when they fully comprehend that this ‘high school experience’ is their last ‘train-ride and stop’ before leaving the K-12 educational system. Very soon, they will be entering a world where ‘lateness and absenteeism,’ any performance ‘slackness’ and inattention to performance, can cause you to be unemployed or not get promoted. Your attitude, behavior, and quality of your work product can result in client or customer dissatisfaction and them taking their business somewhere else. And then there are those ‘new’ and eye-opening adult expectations when you start a job, college, join the military, or an apprentice training program.
Leaving high school without a ‘plan-of-action’ could lead to a young person suddenly looking a little less ‘cute’ to their parents if they are sitting around the house ‘goal-less’ and ‘without a life plan,’ sleeping, living rent-free, eating, utilizing electricity, and hot water, while they are not attending school, a training program or working. And so high school parents, along with helping your child to get organized; you must also help with the equal urgency of helping your child to understand that life moves in one direction, and one must make the best out of this one-way journey. And that a major life-chapter will ‘end’ in the 12th grade, and another major life-chapter (adult life), with radically different rules and expectations, will ‘begin’ immediately after that graduation ceremony!

COVID-19 or no COVID-19 parents play a critical guidance and advisory role for high school students.

Let me pause here to offer a disclaiming warning and be very clear; there is no substitute for a certified and experienced high school guidance counselor, nor can one underestimate the tremendous value of a licensed, knowledgeable, and ‘well-connected’ career and college advisor. I speak as a former principal who worked with the best in both job classifications. And there are moments that I ‘look back and wonder’ how my Guidance, Counseling, Career-College Center Department staff pulled off their many student support ‘miracles’ and great post-high school victories! But I also want to say that ‘parental involvement’ was and will always be a significant partnering and influencing factor in any high school student’s ability to realize their post-graduation dreams. And those highly-effective ‘partnering’ activities could involve something as very basic and straight forward, but critically important as the parent holding their child to high academic and behavioral expectations standards. There are also parents who themselves have successfully ‘navigated’ the transition from high school to college or some non-college profession. Other parents have the capability of ‘invoking’ college admissions ‘legacy advantages,’; which means they help in getting their children admitted to the college they attended. Some parents have powerful ‘contact resources’ or access to information that can open doors to jobs, college admissions, college scholarships, internships, etc. One “good” outcome of the 2019 college admissions scandals; was the destruction of the myth that ‘college-educated parents’ and parents with a lot of financial means, simply allow their children to just “waltz” through high school with the expectation that they will somehow ‘magically’ end up one day as an attorney, airplane pilot, engineer, or medical doctor. No matter what people tell you, student career objectives accomplishments are never achieved by accident (some adult advocation and support is needed; hopefully legally); a parent just may not be inclined to say to you how things ‘turned-out-so-well’ for their child. And further, parents should not be fooled by the size, verbal abilities, and ‘pushing-back’ from adults in response to their natural quest for teenagers’ independence behaviors; we could easily forget that high school students desperately need adult guidance and advice.

This COVID-19 SY, the work of every school’s Counseling, Career-College Center Department (GC-CCCD), will be limited in some way, which means parents and communities (elected and civic leaders, fraternities and sororities, social and benevolent organizations, community-based organizations and faith-based institutions) will need to pick up the counseling and advising slack.

The starting point for post-high school 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 should be doing, have completed, and accomplished by the end of the: 12th, 11th, 10th, and 9th grades. Including summers and all school breaks (In a future post, I will go into how 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 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, 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 in competition with other students of similar social-economic profiles who never fell down academically!

High Schools operate under a predetermined strict sequenced structure; any failed class ‘disrupts the flow’ of the process toward a successful and fulfilling graduation. Failed courses will also ‘knock’ and ‘lock’ students out of opportunities like the ability to take transcript ‘enhancing’ electives, advance courses, and Advance Placement (AP) or, while you are in high school taking either online or ‘on campus’ college courses. A failed Algebra 1 class (or barely passing but failing to master the course learning objectives) will create severe obstacles to any future Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics(STEM) career aspirations.
I know that in the ‘Facebook silliness world,’ one can often read a posting that says, “Duh, I never used Algebra in ‘real’ life!” Beyond that being not true, it says a lot more about the person’s life than it says about Algebra! What they don’t tell you (because they don’t know) is that in fact, Algebra 1 is perhaps the single most future career determining course you will take in high school, for both a STEM and non-STEM future career aspiration. (I will cover the importance of Algebra 1 in more detail in my next posting). Knowing what college major you want to pursue, leads the ‘wise’ students to organize their 4-year high school experiences in such a way that they can step confidently and well-prepared into that career choice or college major.

And with a high school Career Technical Education (CTE) program (important to note: the specialized ‘arts,’ culinary, pre-engineering, fashion, allied health, etc. programs are technically CTE programs); there are very specific, semester by semester, sequenced list of courses that must be taken (one after the other, e.g., electricity 1 or plumbing 1, followed by course levels 2, 3, 4… each semester) every school year; a failed required CTE course can seriously ‘throw a student out of sequence’ and hamper their ability to complete the program on time; because unlike colleges, the school may not, for example, be able to offer a fall required course in the spring. Failing a CTE “major” class will also significantly weaken a student’s application for admission to the highly competitive skilled apprenticeship, civil service training, or CTE related college programs. Any parent can request a simple basic ask of any student: “Just Pass Classes!

One common theme I have heard repeatedly from both high school parents and students is how ‘quickly’ the (4) high school years go by. This is why all of the grade level ‘must-do’ s,’ requirements and responsibilities, must be done in an organized and sequenced order; done well, and completed on a dated schedule. The student should start with a (where they see themselves in) eight years after high school graduation career goals. This ‘planned-outcome-objective’ is not written in stone; students can and will often change their minds! But this method at least offers students the opportunity to take the most useful and advantageous courses (including electives, advance, and AP classes); and be involved with the most beneficial in and out of school non-course activities for their future career aspirations; while they are in high school. The most successful students have a 4-year high school plan that captures all of the academic and social/personal choices aligned with and required for that future career or college major objective. And because of COVID-19 schools and guidance/counseling departments will face serious operational challenges; thus, parents must construct some version of a: High School Parents Career and College Home Guidance and Advisory Plan; if the school does not provide one. This ‘plan’ could be based on something like the: “The Graduation Critical Path Chart (GCPC),”; which I explain in great detail in my book: Report To The Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership; Chap. 7: pgs. 147-155. (http://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/) This book (it is in paper-book or kindle format) available in some libraries, is a study and resource guide designed for professional educators, who either aspire to or are presently serving as, assistant principals and principals, and superintendents who select, supervise, coach, and evaluate principals. But I have worked hard in this Chap. 7 and similar chapters (Chapter 28: “Practices of a Successful High School Student“; and Chapter 29: “How Principals Can Inspire Real and Meaningful Parent Involvement and Empowerment!“); to purposely utilize as little professional educational ‘vocabulary’ and ‘jargon’ as possible; so that the average parent would find these three chapters very readable, useful and easy to understand.

Next Part 3: Focusing on the incoming 9th graders. High School is indeed: ‘a different world than the one you just came from’!

* All high schools (and therefore their diplomas and transcripts) are not equal in the ‘degree-of-difficulty’ of their course work, the type of diplomas, the quantity and quality of ‘extra’ courses, and activities offerings, and their graduation requirements above the district and state’s minimum requirements. The colleges, the public sector, and the business community are fully aware of that fact; and they include that information in their hiring and admissions decisions (a “B” on a transcript in one school, is not necessarily the same as a “B” in another school, although it’s the same course in both schools), even if they don’t admit it publicly. Also, unfortunately, some school districts in our nation offer high school diplomas (aka: “graduation requirements”) that sadly do not reflect the real and best academic rigor and standards of the professionally recognized core high school curriculum and learning objectives. In many localities, attention to ‘graduation rates’ is driven by political and not educational purposes. Also true in all school districts is that all high school diplomas are not equal. They could range (depending on the school-district) from: “I took the most challenging and rigorous(courses)path” diploma; to: “I took the bare minimum to get me out the door” diploma. In any case, a student should strive to get a diploma (reflecting a transcript) that best prepares and positions them for ‘life after graduation,’ and more to the point, best prepares them to pursue their post-high school career objectives. A high school diploma’s useful ‘worthiness’ is determined by the extent to which it allows the high school graduate to: successfully negotiate with, capably navigate through, and competently engage with, post-high school adult life.

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/ ).

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/ ).

The idea of “sending students home” who don’t ‘comply’ with the mask-wearing requirement is extraordinarily complicated and problematic on multiple levels.

“Students who don’t comply with requirements to wear masks in schools will be sent home and barred from in-person learning, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza told parent leaders on Tuesday, a position he said is essential for maintaining public health.” —Chalkbeat/New York

“What problems could arise from this decision?” would be a ‘gimme’ question for the principal’s or superintendent’s certification exam’s education law section. And so, as lawyers sharpen their ‘lawsuit’ pencils, let’s be clear about somethings. First, even when a student violates a ‘real’ school district regulation like ‘fighting,’ school administrators are forbidden from ‘putting that child into the street alone’; because we know that when children are on the streets unsupervised, many very terrible things can happen. And further, as is often the case, a parent will refuse or is unable (perhaps because of who they are and where they work) to leave their jobs and pick up their child. Therefore schools must safely shelter all student ‘mask-violators’ until the end of the school day. Where will these students be held? What will they be doing for the rest of the school day? Which staff members (being exposed to them) will be responsible for their supervision? Mask or no mask, every school needs (especially Title-1’s) Covid-19 school-based human and medical resources. And finally, do we want a hospital worker, EMT/EMS or NYPD personnel, MTA employees, or other DOE staff members leaving their workplaces during a significant health crisis? And then, showing up at a school, potentially expanding the COVID-19 exposure parameters?

Presently, “not wearing a mask” or “failing to wear a mask properly” is not a ‘suspendable act.’ We need a smart and workable plan to make mask-wearing a core operational principle that can be easily and willingly followed and enforced when necessary. I would probably design an ‘educational’ (what public education is supposed to do) and a positive incentive-rewards approach, as a major part of ‘selling’ the initiative to students and staff. All principals (should) know that ‘punitive’ measures alone will doom any policy that seeks to achieve positive student behavioral objectives (e.g., yes, stop ‘graffiti artist’ but also give them art classes, programs, activities and exhibitions opportunities).

We should also be concerned that the existing ‘disciplinary-racial-inequities’ practices that exist in public education will also show-up with this new no or improper mask-wearing policy; what is being put in place to ensure that Black and Latino students don’t bear the outsized brunt of these compliance rules?

The Reason School-Districts Need Strategically Smart and Comprehensive Reopening Plans.

Many questions must be answered to protect students, staff, and yes, also any ‘mask-wearing’ violators. For example, what does ‘non-compliance’ look like in the 2nd, 7th, or 11th grades? Is it refusing to wear a mask or not wearing it properly(which kids will figure out how to do)? And, what is to be done with a student who has an IEP that plainly states something like: “Student will have difficulty following (verbal or written) directions or adult-directed instructions“; I’m not sure if those categories of students who don’t fully comply with the ‘wear your mask and wear it properly” suspension ‘rule,’ can legally be suspended. We already know from experience the many problems that emerged when classroom teachers are asked to ‘enforce’ a very straightforward ‘cell phone’ restrictions policy; mask-wearing will be ten times more complicated.

As a superintendent, you get to visit the four levels of schooling (early childhood, elementary, middle, and high school); and therefore see the radically different developmental psychological levels children go through. From my experience, I believe that this mask-wearing thing will produce many ‘different,’ difficult, and in some ways challenging and ‘amazingly creative’ outcomes, as only K-12 kids are capable of producing. They will purposely or by accident disable their mask, do things like wearing a mask around their eyes to play some version of “blind man’s bluff” or “ghost,” wearing a mask as ‘hats’, to students exchanging masks during the school day. And to that list, add those students who will be flat out ‘rebellious,’ and ‘contrary,’ no matter how valid and safety beneficial a regulation is for them.

I understand that the news media must do their job, but one of the things I learned (painfully) as a leader, is that you can’t always take their ‘bait’; they are looking for that ‘hot-headline’ story; while you are responsible for personnel and children. You should never ‘wing-it’ or go ‘off-script’ with a serious policy decision that carries significant life-implications for parents, students, school-building administrators, and staff members. (Full disclosure: In the past, I have assisted Chancellors with their ‘talking-points’; but this (format and venue), is not how I would have advised that a policy of this magnitude be presented.)

The other thing that must be done in a major crisis is to keep civic and elected leaders’ in-the-information-loop’. If they find out about an (in this case ‘half-baked’) major policy decision for the first time when a reporter asks them for a response, they will not be inclined to defend you because they don’t have the full ‘information package’ at their disposal. The present NYC mayor’s official or unofficial policy of either encouraging or allowing city agency officials (e.g., NYPD and NYCDOE) to disregard and disrespect city and state elected and legislative officials; maybe ‘normal politics’ but it is the worst possible approach in a severe health crisis when cooperation, calming*, clear and excellent communication to the public is desperately needed.

* I was a superintendent of a district with a large Muslim student population. Understandably, the parents had many concerns about how their children were going to be treated after the tragedy of 9-11(by the way I lost Muslim constituents in the Twin-Towers). I realized that (without being asked) I had to personally visit and speak directly to the Imams, Muslim civic leaders, and the Muslim community generally, to let them know that the safety and well-being of their children was of high importance and a priority for my district office staff and me. The worst place and time for any leader to communicate ‘casually,’ wrongly, or incompletely, is during a major crisis (see: Donald Trump)!