Maybe we need to send out truant officers to find out why Black and Latino Leadership is absent from our schools!

“You’re going to force the worst teachers in the system into the schools that are struggling the most.”

“City Will Move Sidelined Teachers From Limbo to Classrooms”—
NY Times…

The NY Times has the sense not to make me an editor; because I would change this headline from “to Classrooms”, to read: “some Classrooms”. Or, just lead with that great quote I lifted from the article, as it succinctly and correctly, sums up the proposed policy.

One thing is always true of public education: There is no such thing as a “neutral” and “inconsequential” policy. As a principal and superintendent I tried to make decisions that helped the largest amount of children; and most important (and what usually got me in trouble), protected the children who could least survive any type of systemic policy harm.

The problem arises because the students most in need of protection, have the least amount of well-organized political adults advocating for them. Like the NYC-Southeast Queens CSD 29 politician (who sincerely felt that he was giving me good advice); told me as superintendent that my advocacy and programs directed to help our very large homeless student population, would not help me to survive politically. “You know of course”, he said; “those people don’t vote!” I wish I could say his prediction about my political future in CSD 29 was wrong. Further, if you think of every policy as being a stick; certain students and communities are destined, unless there is a leadership intervention at the district or school level; to always get the short end of it!

It is so heartwarming to see so many of my former NYC Principal-Superintendent colleagues still care about the present cohort of principals fighting the good fight on behalf of children. They are speaking up and out about the deleterious effects of this policy.

But my question (And yes, you’ll know I am going to ask it!): Where are all of the “Woke” folks; the Black and Latino leaders in elected office, civic, religious, news media, the NAACP, Urban League, etc.; where is the: Black Educational Lives Matter Movement? Why is quality and effective education, not on the front end, of the movement to reform prison referral and incarceration policies? I understand the political calculus that Black and Latino politicians are facing here; however many of them are in safe seats, and can’t be seriously “primaried” by the UFT. And so, why the silence on this important issue?

Recently the Brooklyn and Bronx Borough Presidents advocated for the very doable expansion of Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs into the “G&T desert” sections of the city. They are totally correct in their assessments (of the need) and proactive positions they have taken. But where are the other Black and Latino leadership voices; is it because this issue of G&T equity is not “politically sexy” as school integration, not “sound biteble” enough to get appearances on MSNBC or CNN; into the progressive leaning online and print journals and magazines? I keep warning Black folks, that when it comes to public education, there are limits to the largesse of liberalism! My experience is that the truly progressive White Americans, seriously and passionately support quality education for all Americans!

The central, and in my view most important question is; how can we make real and significant progress if we don’t properly educate the present generation of Black and Latino students effectively? The good educational history of NYC, is the story of “generational leaps”, made possible by public education. But this “teacher placement” policy will cause many NY students of color to leap backwards; because there are plenty of studies that fully explain the results of a student being exposed to even 1, 2 or 3 consecutive years of an ineffective teacher. A child’s future should not be a lottery game.

We all know what is going to happen here, and so let’s not pretend. The least politically connected-organized parents and communities (aka the “un-entitled”), are going to get the worse teachers. These teachers will be “teaching” the children, who in actuality are in desperate need of having the best and most effective teachers in the system! We need to give a “commitment to our children” exam to Black and Latino leaders, and then grade them accordingly.

In my Samuel Jackson voice: “Who is teaching your children?”

(A secondary question for Principals: “Who is teaching in your school?”)

A former full-time, and now substitute teacher’s Facebook post (unedited by me), that led to her removal from the substitute teachers list:

“Everyone gets to read my opinion on FB!! (No this doesn’t happen very often) It is stupid to remove landmarks because they offend people!! Look at the eclipse and go blind and you won’t have to see any of it!! Wars, battles, victories and defeats stand for something!! Its HISTORY people!! We each sat in a class and learned about events that took place at different eras of time. If we find it fiting to remove statues and pieces of concrete that offend “a black race”, then we sure as hell need to remove the Martin Luther king jr, rosa parks, your civil rights institute!!! I recall learning about museums and houses that were dedicated to black history!! The whole month of Feb to honor you can be dismissed because we don’t need to single anyone out, however that is exactly what your doing by destroying parts of history today!! Why don’t you take your happy asses to Africa and live in the deserts and starve to death and be happy!! America will not lose any sleep over letting you go!! You can all be equal there!!! I’m sure Mr. Trump will get you a boat ready!! I vote don’t even make you pay for the ride!! I’ve never been so sick of hearing poor me I’m black in my life!! If it’s that bad then paint yourself white and shut up about Have a great day!!
* if this offends you too then please by all means delete me!!!”

Geneva Co. Superintendent Becky Birdsong released a statement to the media in response to the post:

“I have seen the Facebook post making the rounds on social media and frankly find it disturbing. The person who made the post is not currently employed by Geneva County Schools. She was employed last year as a Pre-K aide/auxiliary teacher before being non-renewed by the board in May 2017. She also served with us for a half day as a substitute employee through Kelly Services on August 8, 2017. As of this morning, I have asked Kelly Services to remove her from the substitute list. Geneva County Schools is a school system that believes in community, diversity and equality. Moreover, we firmly believe that education is one of the best tools we can use to overcome the relics of hateful and divisive beliefs.”

I guess I was not that far off the mark with my question: “Racist Neo: Nazis-Confederates working in a public school near you?”…

Neo: Nazi-Confederate March in Charlottesville, Va. A Very Teachable Moment…

I hear that some principals, on their own, or by a superintendent’s directive, are discouraging teachers from “touching on” the Neo-Nazi-white-neo-confederate-white supremacist march that took place on 8/11 in Charlottesville, Va.
First of all I am sure, that most students particularly middle and high schoolers are fully aware that this “situation” took place; simply based on the huge amount of public and private information related to this tragic event that is being produced. And so like many “worldly” events that occur outside of school, the question is: do we want the professionally trained educators and counselors to lead and guide the conversation; or (never works), let the students informally organize their own unstructured responses? The latter “plan” could lead to student to student conflicts, and/or student–faculty/administrators/staff unnecessary confrontations. Or, even angry students acting on their own outside of school, could find themselves (or someone else) injured, killed, or having a negative interaction with law enforcement agents.

My understanding of how to handle these types of major societal events is that just “pretending” they did not happen is a recipe for disaster. CSD 29 Queens NY, an urban school district which serves one of the largest number of Muslim students in NYC; received universal acclaim and praise, for our pedagogically thoughtful and healing response to the 9/11 tragedy. The peace that followed in the district was not by accident; or by our hoping “nothing bad will happen”. School leaders must act, and not act solely on hope!
And further, utilizing these types of moments is exactly what schooling is all about. Perhaps if some of those Nazi swastika flag waving folks learned about the tremendous scale of human suffering and sacrifices (including possibly their own family members), that was needed to defeat Nazism; perhaps they would not see that flag as an instrument of honor and celebration.

Now to be sure a school cannot approach these types of events without some strategic plan of action; like where (which classes) it will be discussed, the what and how the lesson plan objective-talking points will be developed and delivered, and (really important) by which teachers; are critical parts of the process. Not all teachers are prepared and/or suitable to teach this particular lesson (and this has nothing to do with race); which is not the same as saying that they are not great teachers with the regular content curriculum.

I would probably utilize the History or English departments; and select teachers to co-teach the lesson with guidance counselors. These would be the educators who can keep the lesson: well-managed, “on script”, on task and focused. Some of the key objectives you want to achieve through a guided, ground-ruled based discussion/lesson:

(1-3 year principals, you will probably need some mentoring and guidance before undertaking this effort. And for all principals, if the district gives you a plan, script and/or talking points, follow them to the letter!)

1) You don’t want the students to do anything harmful to themselves and others; and you don’t want the students to engage law enforcement in a negative and unproductive (for them) way.

2) You don’t want students to be depressed, in despair, feel “paralyzing” afraid, and destructively angry. Allowing for a safe space and place for students to go to express how they feel about the incident outside of the classroom.

3) The constitutional facts around protest and free speech. As well as the rights of counter-protestors, should be explained. (principals you should have on call volunteer “specialist”, in this case attorneys, in your resource rolodex )

4) The students will probably (even by way of their parents, religious leader, etc.), be aware that Mr. Trump has not exactly been a beacon of reconciliation and restoration in this situation. Don’t dwell on it; and students should read the more situationally appropriate comments made by many other elected and civic leaders, across a very vast political and philosophical spectrum. You can present Mr. Obama, or any past president’s response in a similar situation; but don’t in a partisan way, “politicize” the event. Present the facts, and if the lesson is conducted right, the students will “naturally” arrive at the best moral and compassionate place they need to be.

5) Comparing and contrasting the event with literary work (i.e. The Diary of Anne Frank; Dr. M.L. King’s: “Letter From A Birmingham Jail”; or New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Speech About Removing Confederate Monuments)

6) Historical references for example: “Why has Germany been so strict (by law) on outlawing all signs, symbols, expressions, movements, organizations, etc. that present Nazism as a positive and proud heritage-historical event?”

7) Correct any “bad, not well thought-out”, emotionally driven ideas. I.e. “all white Americans are Nazis” or, “Colleges in the south are not safe to attend!”

8) Create some creative outlet, project for the students to express how they feel. That can be letters to elected officials, an intergenerational oral-history project, and letters to the victims of the car assault, drawing-painting, music, drama, essays, poetry, short stories, dance, or acts of service.

9) Finally, send a carefully crafted note to the parents explaining how the school addressed the issues (lest students, as they often do, go home and tell their parents their “creative” version of what happen). And let parents know that if they have any questions and concerns, please don’t hesitate to call you, or visit the school without an appointment; and then don’t hesitate to take-return their calls, and really meet and talk to them! (Send a copy to your superintendent, and whoever handles “parent complaints” at the district office; surprise is usually a problem!)

Let me state up front that I would never advise a principal to disobey a directive from their superintendent. I know both as a former principal and superintendent that the people above us on the supervision organization chart, who have “big picture” as part of their job description, can often see dangers and problems we are unable to see in the “trenches”. But I also know that if schools run away from addressing the tough and difficult moral and ethical issues of our time; then we run the greater risk of producing adults, who may have “competencies and skills”, but who lack an internal compassionate guidance system. Remember: 1930’s-40’s Germany was an international: STEM, Art, Intellectual, Philosophical and (yes) Theological powerhouse!

If a principal is given the green light to develop a “plan of study” in response to a terrible and traumatic societal event, then by all means do it with a strategic vision and smartness; a strategy that keeps your school safe and together; and that also protects, and intellectually strengthens the individual students.

Low Performing Schools Can’t Be Fixed?

“What should America do about its worst public schools? States still don’t seem to know.” — Washington Post

I won’t employ the now overused and often (by Trump) misused: “fake news” label here. But the assertion that we don’t know how to fix underperforming public schools, is just not true. We know now, and we have known for a very long time. Granted we took some really bad privileged “Nouveau school reform”, off-purpose detours; that further hurt our public schools, and specifically harmed children of color. But even throughout the glory days of the “school reform” debacle in places like NYC and DC; there were, (and still are), educators who knew exactly what to do.

Presently, there also exist a racial apartheid system, that has effectively excluded (or severely limited) access for professional educators of color, from the very lucrative “school improvement” industry; thus culturally and theoretically limiting the list of possible workable solutions available to schools and school districts. But in spite of all of the “faux reform” distractions, and the misplacement of school improvement funding; the true school reformers and improvers still always knew exactly how to effectively educate all of the children in our care. First, to the archives, and a 1979 quote from a true school reformer Dr. Ron Edmonds:

“It seems to me, therefore, that what is left of this discussion are three declarative statements: (a) We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us; (b) We already know more than we need to do that; and (c) Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.”

And so, “not knowing” is an untruth. And the question of “how”, is really not the question. Rather it is a matter of “why not”, and the will to implement the effective measures and practices on behalf of all children in our public school systems. And in particular, on behalf of those children, parents and communities, who are not sufficiently politically organized well enough to force the public school system to “know” and “remember” how to educate children.

“What should America do about its worst public schools? States still don’t seem to know.”— Washington Post

How to get away with murdering the intellectual growth of children (My apologies to the great and talented Viola Davis!)

“School librarians are all but ­extinct in Harlem. The Department of Education has failed to provide librarians at 87 percent of Harlem schools that are legally required to staff them…”— NY Post; 8/4/17

A Brooklyn elder once said to me: “If you want to hide something important from some folks, just put it in a book!”

It’s not like students of color don’t have enough societal hurdles to overcome on their path to realizing a positive and productive adult life; and now we must include inadequate school library services? These are more than likely the children who live and attend schools in Gifted and Talented programs “deserts”. They are probably zip coded into schools that have never started, budgetarily starved to the point of ineffectiveness, or completely eliminated their: (not for test-prep purposes) technology i.e. robotics-coding, informal education trips, professional artist visiting (or in residence) serving the school, Performing and Graphic Arts, Dance, Music, Creative Writing, and any other intellectually stimulating programs that can get in the way of the: “all test-prep, all of the time”, school culture.
And I know this, because I heard the excuses for this line of decision making, so many times as a superintendent: “it’s the budget—it’s standardized testing!” But my push-back to principals has always been that when you reduce your students’ access to these mind-thinking-creativity expanding programs and activities, you are in fact reducing your own capacity to raise student academic achievement, including their performance on standardized exams!

School Libraries are no different. In the elementary school years, the primary learning objective of the properly certified librarian, is to serve as an “educational cupid”, and encourage the children to fall in love with books, reading and libraries. That “love affair” should continue and be solidified in the middle school; where those librarians are helping students to become bona fied readers for fun, enlightenment and learning.

The middle school (MS) librarian can also play an important developmental psychological counseling role. For middle school students, both the external and internal worlds they experience every day can be extremely confusing. The MS librarian can provided these students with special sections (i.e. “who am I?”, “what is happening to me?”, “why do I feel this way?”, “what’s going on with my body?” etc.) of “student friendly”, exciting and interesting (for them), enjoyable fiction and non-fiction books. These books can help these young people navigate through this most challenging and conflicting of human developmental periods. In both the Elem. and MS libraries, there is also the “hidden curriculum” of allowing children who may not have access to well informed, information rich, and/or well-resourced parents; the opportunity to at least dream, imagine and explore the world outside of their community, through the rich resources of books. The Elem. and MS librarian can also serve as a bridge and liaison to the public library system surrounding the school.

I believe we should rethink how we have organized high school libraries. Most in my view, are incorrectly just bigger models of the K-8 school libraries. But at each level the school library should take on new and different set of missions, while maintaining some core objectives, i.e. information and knowledge acquisition. I think that high school libraries should serve more in the capacity of Information, career-college development, and research and project development centers. Hopefully to compliment a research and project based driven school-wide instructional philosophy. I also think that high school libraries should invest more of their resources into stocking different versions of course subject textbooks (students can often grasp a difficult concept when they read it in a book other than their assigned text book), reference books, biographies, magazines, journals and external web-based internet information sites and services.

And, I guess my most controversial proposal, is to move works of fiction and poetry directly into easy student “reach” (access); that is by placing these books inside of high school English subject classrooms. Yes, classroom libraries in high school ELA classrooms! My experience is that students actually end of reading more fiction books for fun and enjoyment; particularly when you combine these classroom libraries with a reward producing school-wide reading for fun program/competition; in my case that program was “Readers to Leaders”.

School librarian’s extinction is the students learning destruction…

Finally, it should be said that K-12 school libraries are not just “throw-away-spaces” in the school building; whose sole purpose is to provide schools with “coverages” for teacher lunch and prep periods. Rather the school library program should be thought of by a smart and strategic principal, as a core component of their raising and maintaining academic achievement plan.

Therefore, a F/T skilled, talented and certified librarian, is required to manage this important school resource. And they are also critical and essential to helping the school to realize the maximum contributions of the school library to the school-wide academic mission; and no school (that calls itself a school), should be without a librarian!