Sunday, September 20, 2015

Not Waiving the White Flag Just Yet!

Not Waiving the White Flag Juts Yet!

At the risk of starting off my next entry sounding like a complete broken record...oh wait records if this is about a modern day Dad, who even knows what a record is! MP3s really don't skip, but if they did my bad for sounding like what ever that may be.  When I started this blog, it was never to "seek media attention" or even to be read among the masses. I just wanted to keep a log for myself and other parents out there to look back on as the modern world evolves and have a record to refer back to. Something my parents didn't have the ability to do as I was being raised.  About two weeks ago, my last entry " An Uneven Playing Field"  seemed to have struck a nerve from many who had read it. Whether positively or negatively.

Posting my son's 8th grade Newark Public School schedule and blogging about the inequalities in comparison to other communities and defeat I felt as a father trying to give my son the best hit home for many. Not just dads but with moms, educators, and various communities on social media. Thanks to two of my parent friends and fellow bloggers, Julie B, who decided to blog about my experience and to Sarah B. for reaching out to Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post. Valerie wrote an article about such inequalities in education and used excerpts of both Julie and my parent blogs! Check out Valerie Strauss's An eighth-grade boy's "outrageous" class schedule . My blog got circulated among various other outlets such as YahooNews, The Patch and a few other social media forums.  It was a grateful experience. The most important part and why I started a year and half ago, was sparking conversions that needed to be had!

When you put yourself in a forum such as blogging, you are subjected to feedback some good and some bad. I was applauded for speaking out and by the next comment trashed by readers saying "what more do you want, least he has an education." or " if you don't like it take your son out of the school!" This one to me was the best " well maybe if you would have educated yourself and got a better job you wouldn't have to live there and can live in a more affluent district and your kid would have a  better education!"  Whoa, being on display you have to have a very thick skin! Over 1,000 comments were posted and that was just one outlet! My blog went from about 100 readers to about 14,000 over night!  To say I hit some nerves is an understatement!

Let me quickly address some of the readers who of course not knowing who we are as a family said, "if you want all these extras why don't you be better parents and go outside school and give experiences to your son!" Well, we do just that! Always have! My son plays for a internationally recognized soccer academy. I myself in a past life, was an Arts in Education Coordinator for a performing arts center so we are always going to see performances. Music, Dance and Performing Arts is prevalent in our home. Just this past month we took the family to Philadelphia and at my sons request we were able to make it to among many stops, the Franklin Institute. We explored the museum where he did things like  made his own paper, but his main reason for wanting to go was to see the exhibition The Art of the Brick.  He is part of his community and even has spoken on the state level regarding his experiences with standardized testing and inequalities in his school district.  We go outside of what schools provide.  I am actually volunteering my time bringing in some additional programs after school. A National Archery in The Schools Program ( I am a certified instructor ) and a music and dance show case as well. I know that if the district will not provided it to my school as a parent, I will seek and find programs not only for my son to engage in but for other children and families to take part in as well. Parents in our community are desperately trying to keep roofs over their heads and food on the table so having the time and resources to bring experiences to their children outside of what the school experience brings can be rather tough. when I was in school we had Opera Appreciation, band, a great art program that included ceramics and computers. We went to the airport and got to sit on a plane and see the cockpit, every year the 8th grade class put on a production (happened for many generations) we had home economics and wood shop and went to Washington D.C.! All provided by the Newark Public School system! 

I promised my readers that I would follow up on how things went when I attended Open House this week at my son's school. So here is a recap.  The first open house is usually parents sitting in the auditorium for a brief talk with the principal. This year, unlike no other. The scene a sweltering auditorium and in attendance parents who either were uninterested or did not understand much of the presentation. To no fault of our principal. Let me stop here for just a quick second and say that my family has a very respectful relationship with our principal! His door, always open and he does not waiver when approached on a tough topic nor when replying to the many emails that I send him in regards to our school. Don't forget, its's my alma mater so I can be a little demanding at times. I am fully aware when it comes to curriculum being selected for the students he has very little autonomy  as he is faced with much of it being assigned already by the district trying to align with Core Standards and what he can decide on, the district has a budget freeze pretty much on anything outside of keeping the schools operational. Now, back to the sweltering heat of open house.  

Like most of the traditional public schools in Newark, air condition is unheard of! A few newly built schools do have them but those are far and few between.  Unlike, Charters, but I am not going to go least in this entry! Even in the late weeks of Summer when the temps outside are in the high 80s, inside the buildings it is upward into the 90s and even into the 100s. Open house was at 4 PM. Even as the sun began to set upon the day, the sweat was literally dripping down my face and back as I listened to our principal give his open to the year presentation. He spoke about changes in faculty members and how even with some new staff my son's school and my alma mater had the best educators in the district. I knew already of some of the faculty changes as one of my friends was a staff member there. A gem to the school. One of the most engaged and involved staff members there. After many years of service, the district about 2 weeks before start of school advised she either accept a relocated position at another school or lose her job. This actually happened to another friend who I had blogged about previously Freda Barrows. Great educators under the dictatorship of NPS and it's budgeting cuts and freezes.  As I glanced down at my phone for a moment and looked back up a slide appeared on the large projection screen. The words, "ALIGN WITH COMMON CORE STANDARDS" was said and like finger nails down a chalk board I got goose bumps. My eyes closed in on the slide. " Rigorous Curriculum, Instruction and ASSESSMENTS aligned with COMMON CORE STANDARDS."

 I guess my blog did not reach the hands of our principal. "High levels of Parental and Community Involvement" I saw next! I looked around and I seemed to be the only parent in the hot auditorium who seemed to have high interest  in these bullet points and my temperature began to rise. I had made a solemn oath to my wife to keep it cool. I took a few deep breaths and I noticed my hands gripped the paper I had carried in with me. Neat and freshly printed copies of my Refusal letter for standardized testing this school year! My pristine letter now crinkled and wrinkled.  As he concluded his presentation and a line formed at the podium he was standing behind, I waited until several other parents finished speaking with him.  I told him I had some bad news for him. His face dropped! I handed him my now crinkled Refusal letter and said "This year we have decided to refuse the tests." He accepted the letter with a smile and said " That's not bad news at all, you scared me!"  I wasn't expecting a bad reaction I must say as we moved about 40 families in the school last year to refuse and all were treated with dignity and respect. Like I said, he is a great guy and I want to make that totally clear. I looked behind me and saw a line of parents waiting to speak with him. Curriculum would be a conversation him and I would probably be going on about for sometime so I told him I would stop by his office next week to discuss somethings. We shook hands and I preceded to my sons's 8th grade homeroom. 

We walked up to the 2nd floor where my son's homeroom is located and into his class. I signed in and took a seat next to my son's desk. THE HEAT WAS SWELTERING! Almost to the point of being unbearable. My son looked at me and I said to him " Man, it's hot!" His response " This is nothing! Try being in here, ALL DAY LONG!" The first presenter was one of the 8th grade guidance counselors. She spoke to us about how the students are being introduced to the various high school possibilities that existed in Newark, Some traditional public schools, the higher performing magnet schools , vocational schools and she even mentioned the " C WORD," Charter! I must warn the reader while I am totally about choice for parents. Personally, I am very Pro Traditional Public School! She then went on to say that parents should expect to encounter difficulties when applying for the high school of their choice. She said there is this thing called "One Newark and you have to select your top eight choices and if they have seats you get to go to that school." She went on to say that the children will have an opportunity to visit the schools of their choice throughout the school year and it was encouraged they pick a variety of schools throughout the city. Her speech was translated in Spanish and she gave the floor to the 8th grade Math teacher. She extended her services an open door to all the children as well as parents in our transition from our school on ito high school. It was comforting for me to know someone would be there for not just me but for the parents who I know had no clue what they would be facing encountering One Newark!

Having worked with many parents through The ParentPower Movement, it has just been a total struggle getting our parents placed in schools in their neighborhood where parents and students feel comfortable to learn! I just wanted to get up and shout WAIT! Let me tell you all about how ONE NEWARK will really impact you! RUN FOR THE HILLS!!! I really wanted to give a shameless plug out to my team and give them our Facebook page and telephone number! 

The 8th grade Math teacher, came to the front of the class and stood in front of the Smart Board, probably the only the real stark difference from when I sat in the same school ( other than that, it was as if it was frozen in time) and told us what the class would be working on. She talked about topics such as algebra, proportions, rational numbers, linear equations, and radicals. The importance of practicing times tables was touched upon as well as they would need to call on their times tables pretty quickly in the topics being covered. My son pulled out a copy of his math text book. 
Math in Focus Singapore Math by Marshall Cavendish. I knew already he was using the Singapore Math Method of teaching. At an open house when he was in the 4th grade, his teacher explained to us the school would be transitioning from the US method Math to the Singapore method because the students were finding it confusing and this method would be easier concepts for them to follow. If you are not familiar with the Singapore Math method, there are tons of articles you can read up on. Here is just one that I had saved in my bookmarks, "What's Singapore Math?"
Of course, I pulled out my smart phone and snapped a picture of the cover to research the text book before handing it back over to my son to return in his very small desk. You would think over the years the school furniture would improve? She was younger and full of energy and appeared to be very nice. Ya  know that cool teacher all the kids gravitate towards. What came out of her mouth next, threw me for a loop! Although it could have just been my irritability from the heat! " If you need help, I am here for you and your child after school, but really all you have to do is type what ever they are working on in Google and there are 3 million teachers online who are doing the same thing and can teach them." With so many of her peers loosing their jobs and with the debate on how much technology should replace in class learning. eh maybe not the greatest comment to make,  Maybe the other parents didn't catch it, or possibly felt nothing wrong with that, but to me that was the most helpful comment as an educator to say hey "oh just jump on Google, there are a million teachers doing the same thing and anyone can learn from a video. I am sure that her intentions where to let parents know there is additional support if they need it with their child's homework, but its all in how you say things isn't it,  She made her exit  my son, seeing me taking notes said " Dad, she is my favorite teacher and I really like her."

Up next was his Science teacher. She stood in front of the class of parents and started her piece saying, she was a bit strict and demanded a lot from her students. That they always had homework and for parents never to ask "do you have homework?" The question parents should be asking is "let me see your assignment log!"  She talked about work not being done in a certain manner, would be returned as her job was to " make sure the kids knew the work load but also looked good on paper." That they were " marketable" That any employer would say " I would hire this kid!"
Okay, is this the skipping college ready and moving right on to being "work force ready?" Lemmings maybe? She mentioned how her main goal was for them to be prepared for the "Big Science Test." I immediately asked when is this "big science test" going to be? See our 8th grade students in NJ, not only take the PARCC exam but they take the NJASK for Science. she said " May" and I thanked her. My question , her answer you see was not for me , it was for the other parents in the room who may not have known. she went on to explain some of the projects that they would be working on and experiments and labs they would be doing. One being a how to make ice cream in a zip lock bag.
As a side note, I do have to say is hearing of changing of classes and actually working on labs and using instruments in one of my favorite subjects like Science is an improvement since I went to the same NPS school. We sat in the same class, mostly with the same teacher. If we did have a fun outside the norm course the instructor came to our class. Except art. 

Next up in front of the Smart Board was two out of the three ELA teachers assigned to the 8th grade. Little much don't ya think? They spoke about the ELA book I posted in my last blog and how they had the most time out of the week with our children. They talked about double and sometimes triple blocks of ELA. How the work was designed to push students to prepare them for tests to align them with Common Core standardized. This was all just too much for me! More reassurance that me initial feelings on my sons schedule were correct. I was really feeling overwhelmed and somehow I don't think it was from the heat! Then they began talking about this mysterious "Social Studies" block, One of my hot topic questions. Basically, there is no text book. There is open discussions based on their ELA novel about the Vietnam War. 

They will also discuss some current events as well as work on a social studies project researching a person in history or one of the upcoming presidential candidates. one teacher said "text books are out dated" which we all know to be true, so they were using the block as a piggy back on the first novel they were reading in ELA. It was at that point that one of the teachers stood up and said" Yes, all the curriculum will mirror some concepts to help us align your child with common core standards!" They completed their 8th grade presentation and opened the floor to questions. I had a few but, felt me questions would be best answered at my meeting next week with the principal. My intentions of going were to listen to how the process was working, not bamboozle their presentation. They are used to parents not asking questions so I wanted to hear what information they were giving out to parents. Open houses, are a new experience for me. Mom usually goes, but as I get more involved and knowledgeable  on what is going on, I want to be able to go either along with my wife or on my own to see what is being said and ask questions.  
My last blog, I felt I had failed my son in some way. That I was too busy fighting for others that I had not paid enough attention to what was going on right in my own home. I have always said, my intentions is to write with truth and honesty. I felt like just putting up my hands and saying I give up. After talking with my ParentPower Movement team members and some of my friends I  quickly realized that giving up is what they expect from parents who are in the fight. They want voices silenced so they can continue the assault and dismantling of our public education in our nation. So, I am not waiving the white flag. Instead I am going to continue to keep educating myself and other parents in the #PARENTPOWER Movement. Ask the questions! Know what the curriculum is like! Know what text books and material will be covered! Know what tests your children are taking. Know how much test preparation is being done. Know how much classroom learning is being done to engage your child. If your school doesn't offer programming outside of core curriculum, find resources for your school to bring into the school and the community! Be part. Be engaged! Demand being part of the conversation!  

I will make it my mission to ensure that my son has every opportunity I possibly can to open up doors and paths to a future that is bright and successful for him. I am determined to climb over any inequalities that are in our way so that he may turn every single dream he has into reality! That's my job as his dad and now I realize that giving up and not an option!  

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