Category Archives: Blog

This is What Democracy Looks Like

One of my proudest moments as a public education advocate was being on stage for the Rally for Respect on May 16th 2018.  My speech was entitled: A Reason to Rally.  I still can’t believe that I was there.  It was exhilarating and I was honored to speak.  The rally seems like it happened so long ago as we are inundated with political ads, calls to volunteer, and the stress of our everyday lives.  Perhaps now what is needed is a reason to vote.

My reason to vote this year, is our public schools. On May 16th, I marched with our North Carolina teachers and their allies.  There was a power and aura around us even in the hot muggy weather.  The sea of red was endless, and  I remember cheers ringing out every time another bus passed.  I felt a part of something.  I looked at my eight year old, and I knew that all those who marched the streets truly cared about the quality of his education.  I don’t know if he felt loved that day, but as a parent I felt the love.

As I finally wove around the state capital I started getting hugs from those I knew. Even in the amazing crowd, I saw so many familiar faces.  I hugged  a Wake County Commissioner.  Only a week before, I nervously spoke in front of them.  That day we were one.  I looked for my son’s own school, but we quickly realized how difficult that might be.  I got a text that they had made it inside the General Assembly.  I beamed a bit with pride.  My school.

As I finally approached the legislative building, my favorite chant began again, “This is What Democracy Looks Like”  I looked around me at the sea of red and I felt a few tears on my cheek.  It is the first time that I really heard the words and felt the truth of it deep inside me.

So when you step into the voting line.  Picture a sea of red.  Visualize all the signs and marchers headed for our legislature.  They are there with you.  They are cheering on every voter seeking a better North Carolina.   It is a democracy so you never vote alone.  As you fill in your bubbles I hope you hear the chant, “This is What Democracy Looks Like”

 

 

Why I believe in Funding Public Services

I never thought much about other public institutions or why they are important or even how they work in conjunction with our public schools.  That is, until I had to use one.  My story isn’t unique by any means, but it is important.  You see at 18 months, my son didn’t make a sound.  He cried, he laughed, but that was it.  There were no words, there were no other verbal noises.  He was silent.

My pediatrician was concerned, and referred us to a state agency called CDSA.  The CDSA or Child Development Service Agency was amazing.  We got a hearing test, evaluations, speech therapist list, but most of all a case worker to help navigate us through the process.  I consider myself a fairly intelligent white suburban mom, but I wasn’t prepared for a child with a delay.  No one really is.

We got early intervention services.  As we began to navigate the even more intimidating county school system, we had a support system behind us.  Most of all, as difficult as transitioning into Kindergarten was, we weren’t starting from scratch.  We again had a team at our backs, thanks to early intervention.  This helped us and our school.

It’s not just about early intervention services.  By funding other public services we help out our school systems.  So many times, our public schools are the last stronghold of public help for our community.  Public schools across our state hold food drives, coat drives, and drives for other basic school supplies.  Public schools do their best to deal with those left homeless, hungry, and in need of healthcare.

By supporting our county and state services, we help our public schools.  By lifting up basic healthcare providers, affordable housing, and food assistance, we lift up those in our public schools.  We let teachers teach.  We let our schools educate.  When we under-fund public services, our teachers, counselors, and administrators can’t turn a blind eye.  Nor, can they always be the support those kids need.  We need strong community services around our schools.

While PTAs and private foundations are wonderful.  They are not sustainable on the scale to truly help all our community.  Public services provided by county, state, and even federal agencies have long term funding through tax revenue.  They have strict accounting rules and regulations that make sure money is going where it should.  They have no motive to pay those at the top any more than a standard salary.  They work solely for the public good on a scale that charities just can’t match.

So, when thinking about an amendment to cap our state income taxes, think about our public schools.  However, also think about our community as a whole. Think about all children and how many are struggling, and how our schools are struggling to meet their needs. The stronger our public services in healthcare, housing, and food security the stronger we are together.    #InThisTogether

 

 

The Color of Education

I had the privilege of attending the Color of Education event this week.  I’m still trying to digest everything said by the wonderful Nikole Hannah-Jones.  She was blunt and funny about a subject that most people dance around.  She spoke about race and integration.

I encourage all of you to tune into Public School Forum’s Education Matters this weekend.  She will be the keynote guest.  I encourage all of you to check out her writing on your own.  https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/magazine/choosing-a-school-for-my-daughter-in-a-segregated-city.html

I’d love to tell you all that I made some conscience choice to enroll my son in a diverse school.  I didn’t.  Nor did I painstakingly look at test scores and demographics.  I was blissfully unaware of it all.  My husband and I bought a house in ideal location that was near both our workplaces, and had a basement.  We both hated the idea of wasting our lives sitting in traffic.    As luck would have it, we ended up in a diverse public school.

Also, despite the fact that my kid’s school is only 35% white, our PTA board is almost all white.  This is problematic and something we should all look at.  One key thing pointed out in the lecture was that integration is the sharing of power.  I need to work harder in my own life to make this happen.

You see, we were all tasked to take our knowledge and do something, to answer the question; what now.  I’m beginning by writing this post.  I’m starting by acknowledging that too many times we dance around the question of integration.  I’m not a good dancer anyway.

I’m going to be blunt.  We have a crisis on hands.  It’s in our North Carolina borders.  It is happening in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.  The NC General Assembly passed HB514.  This allows for municipalities to open their own charter schools.  This is segregation.

So one small but yet significant thing we can do in November is vote.  Vote those who voted for HB514 out.  We need to hold our legislators accountable.  We need to add integration as a goal for our schools across the state.   Below is the votes for both House and Senate.

Senate: https://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/voteHistory/RollCallVoteTranscript.pl?sSession=2017&sChamber=S&RCS=585

House: https://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/voteHistory/RollCallVoteTranscript.pl?sSession=2017&sChamber=H&RCS=1006

I apologize that there is no possible way to truly capture all that I’m feeling about hearing Nikole Hannah- Jones speak.  Perhaps as time continues I will be able to put more pieces together.  For now.  I ask us all to do what we can now, and that for all of us is vote.

 

 

Elections and the Introvert

Election season is upon us, and many of us are rolling up our sleeves to help elect pro-education candidates.  For many, knocking on doors and making phone calls come natural.  For many others, it can be incredibly daunting.  It’s difficult campaigning and being an introvert.

I truly believe, that the internet, was invented so I wouldn’t have to order pizza by phone ever again.  I  probably know more dog’s names on my street than I do neighbor’s names. I need alone time to function.  I’m an introvert.

So, how does an introvert contribute to such a crucial election?  We need every voice involved in this campaign to elect pro-education policies and candidates.  Below is simply my experiences as an introvert on the campaign trail.

One thing that helps me is that I believe passionately in what I’m doing.  Without my deep belief in the power of public education,  I couldn’t do any of this.  I volunteered to speak at my first rally, because I felt so strongly about the issue.  Although, it gets better with practice, my legs still shake a bit when I’m speaking.   NC Public Education is worth a little leg shaking.

Another thing that helps, is I know my limits.  I’m not going to sign up for a phone bank.  You honestly don’t want me in a phone bank.  I get nervous, I talk too fast, and then mess up the script.  I once left a message on a Senator’s voicemail that basically gave my name, my number, and begged not to be called back.

Door knocking can also be scary.  The first time I went door knocking, it was with a friend.  I never said a word.  It’s something that took practice.  I now sometimes prefer to go solo.  I like going at my own pace.  I also generally shorten the script.  Although I take breaks between houses, I am a very quick canvasser.  After a morning of door knocking and talking to strangers, I’m done.  I need quiet afterwards.  Which as a mother makes it all the more difficult.  Still with a little help from my family, I can canvass.

There are lots of jobs on campaigns that are perfect for introverts.  There are opportunities to put up signs or drop flyers.   Canvassers can use drivers especially in rural or large areas where houses are more spread out.   Letters and postcards need to be written.

The problem is so much of working on the election involves getting out the word to the public.  In the end, you might at some point be asked to go beyond your comfort zone.   You don’t need to jump in the deep end.  Try one thing new.  You might find it isn’t so bad.  You might find you hate it and never do it again, but that’s OK.  I actually set up a reward system.  If I have to call people I don’t know for a candidate, I get to eat Bojangles for dinner.  It might sound silly, but it works for me.

The truth is elections take work.  Just getting people to vote takes work.  Think how much time, money, and effort is needed just to get people to the polls.  So many campaigns and issues need our help. Now isn’t the time to sit on the sidelines.  So whether introvert or extrovert, we’re all in this together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calendar Wars

Many in North Carolina were off school last week, and many are still not able to resume thanks to the devastation of Hurricane Florence.  My family in Wake County were very lucky.  That didn’t keep my area from being angry at our school board.  The problem came when make up days for time missed were proposed.  I myself struggled with the mere idea of Saturday school for my special needs child.  However, most of us put the pressure on our local school board.  The pressure needs to be put on the General Assembly of North Carolina.

As many others have alluded to this week, we have a very strict calendar law.   While 14 states restrict when a school year can start, NC as well as Maryland, also restricts when the school year can end.  This gives our school board a tight window for things like make up days.  According to the NC calendar law first enacted in 2004, traditional public schools have to start on the Monday nearest August 26, and end on the Friday closest to June 11. As stated in a WUNC report, “In those months they have to fit in 185 school days, nine teacher work days, several weeks of holidays, and make-up days lost to weather events.”  Keep in mind this only applies to traditional public schools.  Year round and charters are exempt from the NC calendar law.

What is so alarming about NC’s calendar law isn’t just that the state restricts local control, but that it does that knowing that students’ and educators’ interests aren’t given the highest priority.   In 2017, the NC General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division or PED, created a very telling report.   The stakeholders clearly fit into two groups, ones that benefit financially from the law and those that actually teach our children.

While the report highlighted all the pros and cons of our calendar law, it was the conclusion of the report that left me baffled.  The report recommended no large change to the law.  In the end, the experts in education were no match to industry and money in North Carolina.

Exhibit 15 in the the document sums up my point.  On one side you have the ‘stakeholders’ who prefer state control of the calendar.  They include The NC Travel and Tourism Coalition, the NC Association of Realtors, and the North Carolina Vacation and Rental Managers Association as well as other tourist related interests.  While the tourism industry tried to cite that the calendar law benefited the state financially, no one could find any data to back up that statement.

On the other side of things, are those who favor more local control.  They include groups like NCAE, NC Department of Public Instruction, NCPTA, the NC State Board of Education, and other groups who study  education policies.  So, if all the stakeholders that actually have something to do with educating children agree that we need more local control, why on earth do we still have the calendar law?  This is the question we must continue to ask our legislature.

There was another group on the list that warrants some scrutiny and not just because it shares initials with Save Our Schools.  The group is or was Save Our Summers North Carolina.  They call themselves a grassroots parent led group to protect traditional summer.  Their website is down, and I had to do some digging.  They sound well meaning, but not representative of most NC families.  I couldn’t find much, but according to Guidestar, in 2009 they listed $20,130 in assets.  They did do an excellent job of raising money.

They had a petition with over 20,000 signatures asking the General Assembly for later school start dates.    They also stated that polls showed that 70-80% of NC support that.  They are repeatedly mentioned in the PED report as a stakeholder in supporting state calendar control.  The PED report actually refutes their data.  In fact, according to the Elon Univeristy poll,  65% of the public support local control for the start date of schools (10% had no opinion).  That leaves only 25% who actually favor state control of the school calendar.

They do have a list of other points and a few of them are valid.  However, their most crucial argument is that having a full 3 months of summer is more family time.   I don’t think family time is restricted to summer.  I think we could have family time just as easily in May as we can in August.  In fact, one of the arguments to have a local control is so that high schools can have exams, and the end to second semester before Winter Break. The current calendar law forces most high schools to have exams and schools finalize second semester after Winter Break.  I know from experience that nothing ruins family time like writing a paper on The Great Gatsby at Grandma’s house at Christmas time.

Other points by Save Our Summers are about fall sports and the heat  I agree that summer sports and the temperature can be a problem for North Carolina when starting in early August.  However, I also believe that practice times can be adjusted, and starts of seasons manipulated to help. We aren’t so rigid that we couldn’t make something work even if it looked just a little different than it did in the past.

The strangest point in favor of a long summer and state control is that educators depend on summer jobs to make ends meet.  That is indeed a very serious issue. One that the General Assembly can also fix.  PAY OUR TEACHERS A LIVING WAGE.  We should never use the inadequacy of our General Assembly’s policies to promote further bad policies.

The PED report concluded by saying that competing interests cannot be reconciled.  This report simply highlights that our state listens to those with wealth and profit interests above the welfare of our children and educators.  Education policy should be made by the educators.

Further Reading:

PED Report on the School Calendar Control

Wake Ed Partnership on PED Report and Wake County Schools

WUNC Article on Calendar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cost of Things

Like most in North Carolina, my family has been preparing for Hurricane Florence.  I’ve got everything from glow sticks, to glow in the dark pajamas to peanut butter and crackers.   This blog was difficult to write this week only because my thoughts are on the storm.  My favorite history teacher told me that there are only a few rules or axioms in history.  One is that war costs money.  I think we should declare our own axiom of history, natural disasters cost money.

While federal dollars play a role in disaster relief, there are still road repairs and other costs that are handled by the state.  For the most part, this is handled by a rainy day fund.  However, what happens to that rainy day fund if we cut North Carolina taxes through the new amendment?  I’m not an economist, but without taxes exactly how do we pay for significant expenses?

Hurricane Matthew cost North Carolina approximately 4.8 billion dollars.  Federal help was slow and not sufficient.  Our own state legislature had to allocate disaster relief.  This means we had to spend our rainy day fund.  That in itself is fine.  That is what the fund is there for in the first place.  However, how do we replenish it with a tax cap?

Renee I’m sure will have a very deep analysis of all the amendments.  However, while the threat of Hurricane Florence is emanate take a moment and think.  Think how the tax cap will hurt North Carolina and potential disaster relief efforts if it is passed.  The tax cap amendment is just plain bad economics.

On a more personal note, we here outside the cone of uncertainty are thinking of those who are not.  Share a loaf of bread or a bottle of water.  Be kind to one another and be safe.

 

How to be an Advocate When Your School P**ses You Off.

Last Tuesday, I was livid.  It had nothing to do with reassignment plans, it was an IEP issue.   It was deeply personal, and I had a little boy in tears on the second day of school.  After discussion in the main office with teachers and administrators, I believe the problem was resolved, but a deeper issue remained to be taken up with others later.

On Wednesday, I admit my desire to take a Red4Ed selfie was basically zero.   My school dropped the ball.  My child had another terrible start to a new a school year despite my best efforts.  I know what the problem is, but I’m meeting resistance to get it resolved.  It was hard to be a public education advocate that week.  To be honest, I did skip the selfie.

So why defend something that can screw up so royally?  For me, it’s about the big picture.  No school system is perfect.  However, I believe in the mission of public education.  I believe in educating all children. I believe in equality and diversity and community, and public schools have the potential to provide that.  I believe that public education is the best investment we can make for our future.

If you scratch the surface of so many problems, just below lurks a lack of funding.  In so many ways, it is at the root of so many problems, both big and small.  Which is why despite anger over IEPs, a frustrating bureaucracy, or even reassignment, we must continue to advocate.   We need to channel our anger.  If we can get 150 parents to come out to a meeting about reassignment , we need to get even more to come out when commissioners decide our budget.   We need those numbers to lobby our legislature to fully fund our public schools.  Most of all we need everyone to vote for those who will defend public education this coming election.

 

Voting for School Board

School board member is perhaps the hardest job I can think of.  It can be thankless, and parents like me can be relentless.  Yet, school board members keep us informed, and even can help us navigate the minefield that is public education policy in North Carolina.  Most importantly they set policy on the ground level.

There are many things I look for in a school board member.  First and foremost, I look for someone who is willing to truly serve our schools.   There are some who might use the school board to jump start their political career.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if your only motivation to run for school board is to move up the political ladder, I’m not interested in your candidacy.

Here in Wake County, and in large counties across the state, school board members will run for a small district.  However, they will effect the board as a whole.  A good school board candidate must be willing to care about the entire county and put the general well being of all children first.

The best school board members have been good communicators.  They listen and are willing to talk with anyone.  They answer email, take calls, and meet with their constituents. They advocate for our schools at the county and the state level.

While many may argue with me, I actually don’t think that political parties should endorse school board members.  I believe that public education is non partisan.  I believe that as long as the board member cares about the welfare of all children, and believes in public education, they can be an asset to the board.  Having people who have unique and even dissenting opinions can make a stronger and more representative body.

So we all have homework to do.  Find out who is running.  Find out why they are running.  Decide if they will are willing to work on behalf of the all the children in your county.   They shouldn’t have a political agenda except for making our schools the best they can be.

More on electing a school board?  Read Stu Egan’s Caffeinated Rage Post 

Stuck in Committee

As Save Our Schools NC members begin to put together the voter guide there are some who will stand out above others.  There are those in the General Assembly that worked tirelessly to fight for public education, but there are those who actively hindered public education legislation.  Phil Berger continually kept public education bills stuck in committee.  On May 16th, we chanted Remember in November.  So, here is a very little blog post to keep our minds fresh.

When the House passed HB13, this seemed to be a reasonable solution to the class size mandate.    I assumed it would go quickly through committee and then get a vote in the Senate.   The house passed it unanimously so it must be a solid fix to a major problem, right?  Being new to the political scene in North Carolina, I had no idea why passing the house meant very little.  I was told point blank by everyone, unless Senator Berger wants to pass the bill, the bill will die in committee.  I was livid that this was politics in our state.  I’m still livid.  With public pressure, we did eventually get a vote on HB13, but by the time Berger’s Senate got a hold of it, it was not the same bill.

HB13 isn’t the only education bill I’ve watched die.  There are countless education bills that were left to die in committee.  Bills like the state wide school bond were just left to rot in Phil Berger’s own personal trash pile.

I’m so tired of watching our public education die in committee.  I would be terribly naïve to believe that the election in November will bring about a complete change to our General Assembly.   However, it is our job as citizens of the state, and voters to do whatever we can to put those who hinder public education out of a job.  It is our job to put those who follow power blindly out of a job.  Now is not the time to be timid.  Now is the time to take a stand.

There will be flashy ads supporting Berger.  He no doubt will spout numbers and claim to have helped public education.  In the end, remember, it was Phil Berger who caused the class size mandate issue, and then hindered our fight to end the chaos.  He never took responsibility and he needs to be voted out.

Those of you in Senate District 30 are now some of the most powerful voters in our state.  In this election, you are the center of power in North Carolina not Raleigh.  Make your vote count.  Jen Mangrum will fight for public education.  Phil Berger will only drag it down.

 

 

 

 

The PTA Tax

When the NC General Assembly leaves gaps in funding it’s sometimes the PTA that picks up the slack.  PTAs across the state fund iPads,  smart TVs, and library books.  We have carnivals, bake sales, restaurant take overs, and fun runs.  We get corporations and businesses to sponsor playground upgrades in exchange for advertising.  I call this the PTA tax.

PTAs seem to be paying more than their fair share.  If you aren’t directly involved, it is way more than just decorating of hallways and teacher appreciation projects.  PTAs now pay for equipment.  We pay for teacher training and their travel expenses.  Some PTAs have set up food pantries and stock supply closets.  This isn’t normal.  This is an indication of an underfunded school system.

While some schools can fill gaps left by the NC General Assembly, many cannot.  Not many areas can crowd source enough  funds to pay for technology, or other classroom needs.  This leaves even greater disparities in our schools.  More than ever our zip codes are determining the quality of our schools.

All this was never intended by the founders of the PTA.  The PTA was founded to advocate for children.   It remains the core of the PTA’s mission today.  The NCPTA Mission Statement states: The overall purpose of PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.  Bake sales aren’t mentioned.

So how do we fix this?  I suggest, we infiltrate the PTA.  Get involved in your local unit.  Be the advocacy chair, or at the very least, make sure you have an advocacy chair.  You don’t have to be president to make a difference.  When you do run a fundraiser, remind your school the reason it’s necessary.  Remind them that we are essentially being taxed by the North Carolina General Assembly.

In my heart, I’d love to call for a general strike of all PTAs across the state.  We stop fund raising and insist that our legislature do it’s job.  We let our wealthier areas feel the true pinch that our legislators have created.  Instead of fundraising, we organize parents and community members to educate others, vote, and advocate in the name of public education.

Of course in real life, my own PTA applauded my principals and then planned another restaurant takeover.   Still, PTA is an excellent way to advocate for our public schools.  We can support public schools and issues that our schools face.  Be a voice of change when you can, or simply educate.  Sometimes you have to put up with the bake sales to get to the good stuff.