Category Archives: Blog

Creating a Positive and Safe School Climate in North Carolina

More and more studies are showing that having a positive school environment can help promote school safety and wellness.  We are starting to see data come out to back up the idea that having a positive school climate and students connected to the school can decrease violence in our schools.  One researcher, Ron Astor, at the Summit on Student Safety and Wellbeing, spoke of starting out with a welcoming school climate in which programs to decrease violence can thrive. Do North Carolina Schools provide a positive welcoming school climate?  My answer is that we have a lot of work ahead of us.

    We need to first look at our physical space. We have billions of dollars of need for renovations in our public schools.  I can’t imagine how we begin to provide a positive school climate, when we literally have trouble with climate.  We have air conditioning and heating failures.  We have mold. We have insect infestations. What we don’t have is a statewide school bond with dedicated money to address the problem.  To have a safe environment for our students we need to begin by providing them a healthy space to learn. School bonds promote school safety.

      Next, our teachers need care too.  We need healthy teachers. We need them physically healthy and mentally healthy.   Our teachers don’t always feel secure. I’m not just talking about rude or violent students.  I’m saying they need to know that if they have a toothache, they can afford the dental bill.  Teachers can hardly feel mentally safe when they are working multiple jobs and worry about bills.  We need to take care of their mental health as well.  I’m sure teachers don’t feel safe when leaders in the state call them thugs for simply advocating for a better living wage.  This also applies to our principals and staff members. We need better teacher pay and benefits to begin our journey to safer schools.  Better teacher pay, better staff pay, and better principal pay promote school safety.

     Next, our students can hardly begin to embrace a social emotional programs with the testing burden perched forever on their shoulders.  We tell them about kindness and empathy yet also tell them that the fate of their future rests on a scan-tron or computerized test. It is difficult to feel safe with constant anxiety.  We need to decrease the testing burden to begin our journey to safer schools.

      Our legislators need to take a hard look at policies they support that have little payoff and seem to cause chaos and anxiety in our schools.  They need to take a look at the class size mandate and the problems it is causing our school boards and our principals. They need to look at principal pay as well and ISD school takeovers.  We can’t have a positive school climate with legislation that is hindering our progress as a state. No one feels a positive connection to a school system in constant crisis.

      Finally,  we need more adults in our kids’ lives that can help them feel safe.  We need our counselors, we need our nurses and we need our psychologists.  They are professionals in school wellness. They do it best and we need more of them in our hallways.  We need healthier ratios than what we have now. We don’t need limited grants where some counties miss out.  We don’t need limited grants that only last for one or two years. We need permanent funding across the state for support staff to begin our journey to safer schools.

     Creating a welcoming positive school climate is step one to a safer school  We have work ahead of us. We need welcoming physical space. We need a staff that is healthy and connected to our students.  The blueprint for a safe school is out there. We just need the public and political will to get started.

 

Giving Thanks

Education in North Carolina seems to be in perpetual crisis mode.  In all honesty, we have a mess.  We still have a class size mandate that is draining our counties of funds and space.  We have a dreadful principal pay policy with consequences on the horizon.  There are no textbooks in many schools;  there are few TAs.  That doesn’t even to begin to address the many issues our teachers face everyday in the classroom.  It is hard to look back and be thankful.

Yet, I’m very thankful.   What a wonderful experience seeing a bill like HB90 get passed.  It was ugly and dirty, but it wouldn’t have happened at all without us.  It wasn’t what we envisioned.  However, how many times did we hear they wouldn’t take up class size.  How many times were we told it was impossible.  I’m thankful we didn’t listen.

I’m thankful for some solid changes to our General Assembly.  We have broken the super majority in the house and senate.  It may not yield drastic changes, but it will change things in NCGA.  I’m especially proud and thankful for everyone who stepped up and worked on campaigns.  Doors were knocked, text and phone calls sent, and postcards written.  I’m thankful for all the hard work to get us in a better starting place then when I began my little advocacy journey.

I’m thankful I got involved.  I’m thankful that I found my voice and new purpose.  Most of all I’m thankful that I get the chance to interact with all of you. I’ve made real solid friendships.  Somehow over coffee meetings and planning rallies, friendships have been forged.  It continues to drive me forward.  I don’t get out much, well except town halls, teach-ins, or lobby days.  I once went alone not anticipating knowing or seeing anyone I knew.  Now, I go to town halls and education events and I’m surrounded by friends and faces I have grown to love.  I am now part of this great education advocate community, and that is why I give thanks.

So let’s celebrate a little.  Let’s talk as human beings not just as advocates.  Let’s share what we want to get accomplished this coming year.  Regardless of what group you are part of, let’s all work together to make solid positive change to our public education funding.

When: Anytime 5pm – 8pm December 5th, 2018

Where: Jordan Lake Brewing Company: 320 E. Durham Rd., Cary NC

What: A celebration and meeting of education advocates.  Parents, Teachers, Community Members, Advocacy Groups, EVERYONE!

We hope to do this again in other locations in other parts of the state!

 

Poll Greeting

We finally made it.  It’s voting time.  It all comes down to this, the vote.  We have the opportunity to change things for the better in the state.  This is why on many days you’ll find me greeting voters at the poll.  I’m assisting a representative that has a proven public education record.  I’m also talking to voters about public education and the amendments.

Poll greeting can be the ultimate people watching opportunity.  You have those who want to just get in line and those who are dying to connect.  I’ve talked at length to many who just needed to vent and others who were seeking information.  I had the pleasure of watching a poll supervisor named Peggy help a someone in line who was in pain make it to curb side voting.  I actually babysat someone’s dog so their owner could go in and vote.  Rufus and I had a great time.

That’s not say that poll greeting can’t be stressful.  I find it very stressful to listen to others spew misleading information.  I can actually feel my body temperature rise.  I’m thankful for groups out there engaging voters daily, especially those helping pass bonds or working to prevent the passage of the harmful amendments.  I’m impressed by candidates that may not appear on any slate cards out there talking to voters.  I’m humbled by all the candidates willing to put themselves out there.

Poll greeters can help those unsure of their voting districts, but more importantly they can help swing a vote or two.  I had the pleasure of witnessing a voter confused by the amendments decide during a conversation with another SOSNC member to vote against them.  I happened across the voter in an elevator as we walked to our cars.  She bragged about her no votes.  We make a difference.

If you’d like to make a difference, I can guarantee there is room for you to help.  Contact your party.  Contact your favorite pro education candidate.  There is room at the polls.  Your help is needed.

Now since this much social interaction drains me of all energy, it is time for me to say goodnight.    Oh and of course GO VOTE!

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.