Sunday, March 26, 2017

Just a Game

I play this game on my tablet: Township. It's a ridiculous game, but I like it. I have to manage a 'town', including farming operations, both plant and animal, and use the products to produce goods in factories. Along the way, I have to build houses to attract people and community buildings to make the place worthwhile to live in. Also, there's a mine, because not all products can come from plants and animals. Plus, I have to manage planes, trains, and ships for trade to get the items I cannot manufacture on my own.

In other words, the game is a game of managing a real-world economy as best as the game-makers can program.

It's just a game, but I like it because players join a co-op and work together to achieve common goals. My co-op has a phenomenal leader and a purpose that we unite around: win the regatta (a weekly competition for prizes).

Not to brag, but we're kicking butt on this game. It's a great feeling to belong to a group that has a purpose and works together to achieve a common goal.

Stop yawning. I'm getting to the point.

Why not education? Where is the leadership to unite teachers, families, and communities around common goals? Why are we drifting given the current challenges, as if it is better to be scattered around the bay in a random pattern so when the meteor falls into the water, well, too bad if you're close by and get swamped, but most will barely feel the waves rock their boats.

I long to do something great in life and, for better or worse, I've wound up in education.

As Jacksonville prepares for a change in superintendent, why can't we have someone who will unite us in a common purpose? Why can't we have a great leader who inspires everyone to unite around a common goal and work hard to achieve it?

Or does that only happen in games?

The Vitti Years

What a week! While there is much to chew over, last weekend's perspective series led to compiling a list of what has happened over the last 4 years. It has to be incomplete, even now, so add your memories in the comments.

Under Nikolai Vitti:

1. 2012 Reduction in testing (a debatable point).
2. 2012 Reduction in meetings that take people off their school campuses.
3. April 2013 shake-up of district staff (I call it the May Day Massacre).
4. Emphasis on instructional coaches for the first year.
5. Principal churning.
6. Change in the head of the communications department after she made disparaging remarks about his wife.
7. Changes in the Student Code of Conduct.
8. Positive Behavior Intervention Support.
9. Restorative Justice.
10. Evening school to replace grade recovery.
11. Replacing Genesis (administrative program) with Focus.
12. Performance Matters instead of Insight/Inform. (Data and testing)
13. Test coordinators at secondary schools.
14. Loss of media specialists.
15. Graduation coaches.
16. Rise in graduation rates.
17. Narrowing of the achievement gap, especially in graduation rates.
18. DJ. (costumed mascot)
19. Emphasis on marketing schools to families.
20. Single gender academies at Butler.
21. Military academy, first at Stilwell and now at Ed White.
22. Expansion of TFA.
23. TNTP: hiring & recruiting, professional development, curriculum audit, surveys.
24. Loss of recess in elementary schools.
25. Middle School reform plan.
26. Quality Education for All: schools in the Raines/Ribault/Jackson feeder patterns would attract the best teachers with large bonuses.
27. Technology grants that put a 1 to 1 student/computer ratio in the QEA schools and all middle schools.
28. Wireless upgrade in all schools.
29. Conflict with Constance Hall, including the incident in which she was followed after leaving a board meeting.
30. Jacksonville Public Education Fund.
31. Support of the wealthy and the business community that was lacking under predecessors.
32. Brought in new leadership for academic departments.
33. Promoted old DCPS when the new leadership began leaving after one year.
34. Adopted the Engage New York curriculum, first for elementary, now moving into middle school.
35. Achieve 3000 (ELA online curriculum).
36. iReady (Elementary and middle school math online curriculum).
37. Online curriculum for science (somebody help me; what's its name?)
38. Smith-Juarez request for resignation.
39. AWOL when Florida Superintendents Association pushed back regarding testing and cut scores.
40. Focus on data.
41. Current Professional Development cycle, including school inspections.
42. Expansion of charters and philosophy to compete, not oppose.
43. 2012: "New way of work."
44. Teacher academies.
45. Decoupling of the district from the Schultz Center.
46. Budget flubs.
47. Parent Academy.
48. Emphasis on the whole child.
49. Restoration of art and music, at least initially.
50. Repurposing schools experiencing possible state action or declining enrolllments.
51. Grasp Academy (for dyslexia).
52. Proposed academy for autistic students.
53. First year: placing a permanent substitute teacher at every school.
54. Certified teacher for In School Suspension.
55. Deans of Discipline to free administrators from handling referrals.
56. Open Enrollment for all schools proposal that failed.
57. McDonald's approach to schools: everything should be the same everywhere.
58. Busting Assistant Principal pay: ending the supplement for APs who would otherwise make earn more as a teacher.

There must be more. I offer this list without comment on whether an item was good or bad.

But the Vitti years have been tumultuous, productive (in initiatives good or bad), and one helluva ride.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Four and a Half

It had to happen. Like Doctor Who, when Christopher Eccleston would not return for the 50th anniversary special but they needed someone for the role, they had to bring in John Hurt. But what number would he be? They had been proceeding by whole numbers, but in the timeline, Hurt had to come between #8 and #9. The producers finessed the issue by not assigning a number at all. The math worked until ... OK, nerd moment over.

I left out something important. It was going to happen as people commented on the Vitti years and their feelings about the superintendent. So here is part four point 5: inserted somewhere in the series where it should go.

Nikolai Vitti embraced reform ideas and the organizations that embraced him. Among his legacy, he expanded the use of Teach for America (TFA) in the district and gave TNTP (The New Teacher Project, although they now eschew the name in favor of the initials only) an influence over hiring and professional development that has mostly gone unnoticed.

In particular, he worked with JPEF and their backers to design the QEA program such that one half of the teachers would be traditionally certificated personnel and the other half would come from TFA. The district entered into a contract with TFA to hire 100 teachers a year from the organization at a finders fee that ran about $5000 each. (If I am in error here, because I am proceeding from memory, please correct me.)

Under Vitti, TNTP has burrowed deeply into the district. They are the people who say it takes 11 hires to replace a great teacher, which implies that there also has to be 10 fires. Interpret that with the recent comment from the superintendent that he too once regarded teachers as easily replaceable widgets.

TNTP drives professional development in the district. If there was a true feedback loop from teachers to the superintendent, he would learn that teachers, including the strongest cheerleaders he has among the ranks, universally despise the virtual PD provided under the leadership of his Assistant Superintendent for Strategic Planning, a new position and a new person to the district he plucked from the ranks of TNTP.

Most teachers would say that there has not been a reform idea he has rejected.

A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Six and Wrap-Up

And the news broke that the superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, was a finalist for the superintendency of the Detroit school system.

He contends that a national recruitment firm contacted him. But to quote a famous movie line when the rogue lost the girl to the hero in a matter of minutes, "She must have been willing."

No one can blame the superintendent for looking out for his interests. Anyone in his position would have developed a backup plan and explored options given the history of the county and his fraught relationship with the board, the support of the foundations notwithstanding.

Act One is closing. Whether the superintendent remains in Jacksonville, leaves for Detroit, or accepts a position at some other place, the era is ending.

It is possible that the interest of the superintendent in the Detroit position is a gambit to strengthen his position vis a vis the board members as he faces an uncertain majority who will continue to support his ideas and proposals.

Despite the statement of the head of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund as well as his most dependable board member, wishing him well in his future endeavors, I imagine a lot of behind the scenes meetings and phone calls have been taking place--asking what could be done to convince the superintendent to stay--this weekend.

Perhaps the next few days will bring an announcement that he is withdrawing from consideration as he remains committed to Jacksonville and its schools. Then it will be up to good journalists to ferret out the details of the deal that was made.

Even if the superintendent remains, things have changed and Act Two will begin.

As the Detroit board faces a March 31 deadline to select a new superintendent, we will know soon.

A personal note: I am turning 60 years old in August. I mention this to mean that for older people who have lived a lot of life, we have experience that tempers our judgment and our views.

I was excited when Nikolai Vitti came to Jacksonville and announced a dramatic reduction in testing. However, I had lived enough life to take a wait and see attitude. Soon enough, I saw some things mentioned in this series that made me cautious.

I was never a fan, but then, I am not a hater either. Dr. Vitti has moved the school system forward even though the test scores do not reflect all the progress that has been made. The board does him a disservice when they judge him solely by the letter grade a terrible, flawed, erroneous state system awards our schools.

He was correct to develop broader measures for schools and to share those on the DCPS website. JPEF led the way in this.

He has procured resources for our schools that other superintendents could not. He gathered community support, especially from those who had the buckeroos to make a difference, for our schools. He was willing to innovate and try new ideas, breaking the stifling demeanor of the old-timers that condemned the school system to mediocrity.

But he has been controversial. He has run roughshod over personnel in his eagerness to move quickly. Careers have been ruined that had much to contribute. And it's not about him. Perhaps that is his greatest weakness: his focus upon himself.

While others have called often for his resignation, I did not and I do not. Yes, there are ways I wish he would change, most especially in really listening to teachers and showing them respect.

But I recognize that the superintendent was following a path he agreed upon with the board--a path that will not change if he leaves. If we do not have Vitti, we will have someone like him.

La plus que ca change, la plus que la meme chose.

A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Five

As mentioned in the first part, the current superintendent is following the usual path in Duval County. After four years, he has entered the contentious board phase. While much of that is due to the culture of the city, its politics, and pressure on board members, the superintendent shares the blame for a relationship that need not have soured.

It hasn't always been clear that Nikolai Vitti understood who he worked for. His relations with the board that gained public notice often gave the impression that he considered the board a necessary nuisance that he dealt with, but that his real bosses were the philanthropists such as Gary Chartrand, Chartrand Foundation, state BOE member, past chair of state BOE, and founder of Jacksonville Public Education Fund, Wayne Weaver, retired businessman and former majority owner of the NFL franchise, and Michael Ward, who recently announced his (forced) move up retirement date from CSX railroad.

The superintendent's lack of presence in board meetings was noted from the start as his eyes remained fixed on the smartphone he was working. Indeed, at one meeting in the last year, the chair felt the need to command the superintendent to look at her while she was speaking to him.

Tension was present from the beginning. In the first performance review, when the superintendent rated himself highly effective in all but one of 48 categories, other board members rated him as barely above a needs improvement rating.

The superintendent tended to interpret this personally. When the animosity between him and Constance Hall broke into public view, he attributed their conflict to the fact that she wanted someone else for the job and was deliberately giving him low ratings ever since.

It was an embarrassing moment. The text messages exposed to public view reflected favorably on neither person, but it did focus attention on how the board had become divided over the superintendent, his leadership, and his proposals.

Three board members, feeling heat from constituents, pressed for better performance in the low-rated schools. Other board members defended the superintendent, going so far as to lecture the constituents in areas of town that were not in their area.

Conflict ensued between board members as they clashed personally. In one memorable episode, one board member asked another, "Are you in love with me? Why are you always staring at me?"

As tempers cooled, board members and the superintendent pledged to develop a better working relationship. However, one board member refused to attend any more development meetings, stating that nothing changed on the board after those meetings. It was always a 4 to 3 vote with the majority ignoring the minority's concerns.

A year later, and the divide shifted with the chair joining the other three critics. She told the superintendent he should look for a place that would better use his talents and began a process for dismissal. The superintendent called another board member, who alerted media, the wealthy philanthropists showed up at a meeting to voice support for the superintendent, and the chair backed down.

That was last fall. Although the superintendent received the show of support he wanted, he would be foolish to ignore the history of which he was now a part and consider offers for a new place.

A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Four

Before delving into the complicated relationship between the superintendent and the board of education members, let's have a look at the current philosophy in place for curriculum and learning.

Nikolai Vitti implemented two cycles of technology for the classroom. The first focused on the QEA schools; the second, middle schools.

Middle schools became a focus as the superintendent studied his data and realized that parents were leaving the system when their children were of middle school age and returning to participate in one of the many high school options the district offers.

He offered a middle school reform plan to the board, who after discussion, approved it. Based in a middle school at the time, I was interested in the plan and how it would work out. I followed its implementation. Changes crept in that were not run by the board. This dynamic illustrates how the relationship between the superintendent and the board was becoming troubled. The board believed he did not keep them informed.

Technology moved into classrooms: laptop carts for every teacher, enough so all the students in one class could be online at the same time, wireless access upgraded in every school to handle the load, technology packages consisting of a large display screen, webcam, USB hub, document camera, speaker, and clickers so teachers could present multiple choice quizzes and students could click an answer. Instant data! Hoo, boy.

(Yes, I don't like that feature as a math teacher. Students excel at teasing out the correct response, but when I discuss their choice with them, they don't understand the actual mathematics. I prefer other ways of assessment that tell me what they really know.)

Along with the technology came the programs for Competency-Based Education that many educational activists despise: Achieve 3000, iReady among them.

The superintendent, his supporting leadership, and district staff monitor usage of these programs. Principals are notified if the students are not spending enough time on these programs.

Textbooks have been abandoned in favor of online curriculum. Middle school math no longer has books; students work off a Pearson website for teacher-presented lessons and homework. The Engage New York curriculum has been placed in elementary schools, along with scripts for teachers, and is moving into the middle school level. High schools are probably using their last textbook as well.

We have not as a district solved the problem, however, of our families who do not have home internet access. They may not own a device capable of accessing these curriculums for home study. Not every child has a smartphone available to work on the apps; even that solution carries the cost of a data plan.

The superintendent defends his decisions with his data: the technology and related curriculums are improving student achievement. (As measured by testing data.)

He proposes to complete the outfitting of schools, as have and have-nots currently exist in the district, with a third fifty million dollar spending plan that would require a 15-year loan. That has received pushback from even his staunchest supporter on the board, who questions taking out a 15 year loan to purchase equipment that will not last beyond five years.

These latest moves have involved more community and teacher pushback. Teachers want discretion to adjust curriculum to meet the needs of their students and resent being handed a script to read. Parents want children to have actual books to read instead of photocopied pages or even worse, reading off the big screen in the front of the room.

The latest proposal has awakened fears that accompanied his first days in the district that, despite his statement that he will stay until his young children graduate from a Jacksonville high school, he will move on. A 15-year loan for 5 years of useful life works for someone who will leave the problem of the last 10 years to a successor. For the taxpayers, though, not so much.

A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Three

Yes, reform is hard as hell. Nikolai Vitti was hired to be a transformative leader. While rapid change pushed hard by new leadership is discomforting, disorienting, and hard on employees, the superintendent moved quickly to implement new ideas, rapidly discarding anything that didn't produce results in a short period of time.

He took the blame for the disruption, but he was doing what he was hired to do: Disrupt the system in an effort to reform the school system and bring swift results.

It didn't happen. There were higher school grades, but not all schools improved to the level of the goals set. After the first year, many of the persons he hired from outside the system began to leave: Fred Heid, Daniela Simic among them (Chief of Schools, Chief of Academic Services).

Rather than bringing new people on board, the superintendent promoted existing leaders, among them Addison Davis and Mason Davis. At this time, the culture disruption dissipated.

In some ways, that was not a bad thing. The attitude changed from one of rapidly replacing anyone who didn't produce immediately to one of bringing needed support to existing administrators and other school personnel if results were not increasing. The churning of appointments slowed. A more steady operating style ensued.

At this time, about three years ago, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund took a visible role as an adjunct organization that worked to promote and support public education in the city, both traditional schools and charter schools.

Vitti received confidence and tangible support for the school system from wealthy businesspeople and philanthropists. One of the most visible programs was the Quality Education for All initiative that paid 30 to 50 % supplements to teachers with high Value Added scores to transfer to the lowest-graded schools in the city, basically identified as the Raines, Ribault, and Jackson high schools and their feeder patterns.

Many teachers took the transfers. Others passed, such as myself, because, while the District demanded a three-year commitment to remain at one of these schools, it did not offer a three-year guarantee of the salary supplement. That was contingent upon producing test scores that would translate into a high Value Added rating as compared to the rest of the city.

Or maybe only the targeted schools. That controversy erupted when teachers were told they did not qualify for the bonus, a wound made additionally raw by the few teachers that were initially told they would receive a partial payment but then informed that a mistake had been made and they would get nothing.

Although the District quickly corrected their mistake, it left bad feelings in the ranks of teachers.

Here another feature of the culture comes into focus: lack of communication. As time goes on, teachers seem to hear less and less from the superintendent. Although he makes an effort with administrators, his vision for the district is no longer reaching teachers. Many feel disconnected with his leadership and therefore not valued. Even the superintendent himself admitted recently that he had had an attitude that teachers were easily replaceable like widgets in a machine, but now realizes they are not. It is not known whether he only means the teacher shortage or whether he is beginning to understand the institutional expertise that veteran teachers have.

We can only surmise, but one of his current interests is teacher leadership and what that looks like. It was the topic for the latest JPEF roundtable. Here I must confess that I missed the wrap-up session to hear the superintendent address the group. It was my intention to go, but I had students come for after-school tutoring and their need won out. By the time I was finished with them and returned a parent phone call, it was too late to attend.

Here I align with the superintendent. While he maintains a high level of self-focus, he does genuinely care about the students and their learning needs. He may be abrasive at times, but he sincerely believes that the decisions he makes and the goals he sets are done by maximizing the impact ofnstudent learning and welfare.

Proof is the bus shooting incident two years ago. When he was notified, the superintendent immediately gathered staff, principals, snacks, and water and went to the site.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Two

The early days were heady and exciting. The new superintendent arrived in town with a 100 day plan: what he would do in his first months on the job. Indeed, the 100 day plan was the subject of his doctoral thesis, for which Harvard University awarded him a prestigious Ed. D.

He would visit every school in the district, at least that is what I remember hearing. I kept count as the days passed and he did not show up at my school. After day 100 passed, I kept count to see how long it would be. Long enough that I didn't bother to count the days anymore.

But he declared about 60 days into his superintendency that he had finished his plan.

He did go to many events at that time. He met with community persons as he traveled around the city to hear their concerns. He made himself available to the point where I wondered about the toll it would take on his young family.

Kudos for that. Kudos for talking with anyone who showed up, even disgruntled teachers.

He invited anyone to contact him at any time. Many took him up on that and he responded. To this day, if you email the superintendent, you will get a response. He received many invitations to visit schools, some of which were from teachers who didn't inform their administrators about it. The response came soon: Follow protocol.

Then the churning of principal appointments began. Eventually, across the years of his superintendency, over half of the principals at our schools would be changed, regardless of how parents, students, staff, and the community felt.

A newly appointed principal understood well the position they were in: produce immediate results or be replaced. As always, results meant test scores.

In the following year, the superintendent did not wait for the year end state assessment reports. He replaced principals midyear if the district tests were not to his satisfaction.

The inevitable pressure flowed downward through schools and it was maybe at this point that the superintendent began to lose the support of many teachers.

He placed great importance on instructional coaching during his early days. He made all teacher coaches reapply for their jobs and undergo basic training. He told them during the first Coaches Academy that if improvement took place, it would come through them.

He tried in his first budget to place a math and reading coach at all schools. He flubbed the numbers and had to make an embarrassed retreat. He could not provide that. But he did his best.

The next year, though, as that did not work out, he abandoned his stance that the coaches are the key element in school success and moved on. They were not so important, after all. He had a new latest greatest idea.

And we saw another feature of his superintendency: ideas have a short shelf life.

Unknown to him, that had implications that seasoned hands knew: if you didn't like the latest policy, wait six months, it will change. Don't bother yourself about it.

Thus it was that one day he lamented to Times-Union editorial board, "Reform is hard as hell."

A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part One

News broke in Jacksonville this morning that our superintendent of schools is one of three finalists for the superintendency of Detroit schools.

Detroit? Really? That begs the question why.

This is a developing story, therefore, whatever I post now will be outdated by tomorrow.

The superintendent issued a statement to the media in which he explained that he has been contacted numerous times in his four plus years at the Duval County helm, but he has turned them down. This time, the chance to help his hometown, his place of birth, was irresistible.

Bonkers. If there is one feature about the man that overwhelms all in his path, it is his self-absorption. He's not doing anything out of a noble impulse to help the people left in a crumbling, bankrupt, failing school system.

After all, he initially criticized the Devos appointment before falling silent on the subject. He's not walking into Devos-land blind, a land that produced the Detroit situation by design.

We need perspective.

Nikolai Vitti's superintendency has been following the usual trajectory: hiring, honeymoon period in which everyone gushes about his superb talent, a quiet rumbling of discontent about how our low-performing schools (as measured solely by school grade and that means test results) are not improving fast enough, failure to meet unrealistic improvement targets, more discontent among board members, alienated school staff, more unhappy board members, a split board engaging in personal animosity, a move for dismissal, and then a resignation or non-renewal of contract.

Let's be honest, Jacksonville, it happens every time unless the superintendent is as talented as Joseph Wise, who managed to compress the normal five to six year timeline into 23 months.

However you feel about the man, Vitti's time is nearly up.

But he is a fascinating figure in his own right. Let us examine the history.

He arrived in November 2012. Among his first moves was the reduction of testing--at least on paper. Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) had an abundance of tests scheduled throughout the year because every district department had its own test that it pushed into the schools. But the irony is that the test schedule was not representative of what really took place. Most of the tests were marked optional, and trust me, this teacher never forced students to take an optional test.

The first efforts at test reduction were window dressing. However, later on, the superintendent did reduce testing in a real way and we should give him credit for that. However much his departments might write tests and get snippy when teachers said no, he did not force us to give them. He eliminated baseline and quarter tests to one December test that was necessary for the school district to meet data reporting requirements for the state.

(In fairness to critics, yes, lately, more testing has crept back into the schedule.)

Then he sent fear through the district as he questioned why administrators were pulled from buildings for meetings and teachers were pulled to develop curriculum and tests. Many applauded his expressed belief that admins and teachers needed to remain on property to run schools and teach in classrooms.

But as time went on, administrators were absent from their schools as often as they were before. It became apparent that he didn't object to people being absent for meetings as long as they were his meetings. His objection was to other people's meetings.

Then came the May Day massacre, when longtime Duval district staff were told they were no longer needed. Weeks before their contracts ended, they were called to a conference room on Prudential Drive to surrender their badges and equipment. They would now have to walk in the front door and be screened by security personnel before they could go to their workplaces and carry on.

The rumor was that Vitti had said that anyone with more than 15 years in the building should clear out. Many asked if that qualified as age discrimination.

At that time, with all the new people he had brought in, many thought that the existing imperial attitude among DCPS district staff was overthrown--the attitude that the schools and their personnel existed to serve their needs, that they were better, and if you weren't high enough, they wouldn't condescend to acknowledge or talk to you.

Vitti was hired by the board (under heavy lobbying by the wealthy and business class in the city) to disrupt the existing culture and he did that.

Until he didn't.

Writing by Computer

After I post an item, I usually read and reread the post--many times over. Maybe I'm in love with my words, I dunno. Maybe I'm checking and rechecking for grammatical errors, misspellings, and clarity of expression. Often I have to edit.

My latest post, only minutes ago, had three such errors. I have had to edit three times. I did not type manner when I meant manager, through when I meant their, but I will own up to the fact that I needed to correct a sentence that implied our superintendent is elected.

What's my beef?

I get compliments on my writing. I'm not bragging; it's context for the next paragraphs.

I read other blogs. Grammatical errors, misspellings, and tangled logic appear in the writing of educated people, teachers, even ELA teachers.

It is the bane of computer writing. The mind sees what it thinks it typed, not what was actually typed. Not even spell check helps because if the word is in the spell check dictionary, it doesn't get flagged.

What's the point? It is this: We have tested our school children on their writing skills via computer in the last two weeks. If competent adults, even English teachers, are subject to errors because of the medium, why do we judge the ability of our children when they make mistakes?

Detroit: It Makes No Sense

Detroit schools are a mess. The state has gutted them through charter competition, a lack of funding, and an emergency manager that castrated all the powers of the elected school board.

Over the last several years, continuing now, those of us who work in public education and are part of advocacy groups know about the dilapidated schools, the broken plumbing, the mold in bathrooms, hallways, and classrooms, the roof leaks that require children to wear raincoats during inclement weather. Detroit teachers have struck, protested, and received threats of termination in response.


Something doesn't make sense. Here is some background:

News about Detroit has always made me glad that our schools, despite their challenges and age, have not deteriorated to that point. That we still have local control through an elected school board that hires our superintendent. That our parents still have the option of sending their children to a neighborhood school secure in the knowledge that they will be sheltered from the elements, fed, have a textbook, and transportation.

Detroit? Why would Dr. Vitti leave Jacksonville for that mess?

I am working on a perspective to appear later. But I wanted to ask the question. Might it be some other goal is sought and we will learn in a few days that he has dropped out of consideration?

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Junkety schools with Junkety equipment and Junkety furniture for Junkety students.

That's the executive summary. Read on.

For far too long, I have worked in schools that struggle with limited capital funds to provide halfway decent furniture and equipment for its classrooms.

Maybe it's the graffiti that's never cleaned off, maybe it's the fact that I have to keep a toolkit in my desk to repair student desks and other furniture, maybe it's the oddly bent legs on tables, maybe it's the fact that my chair at my desk cannot hold its height and I have to sit at a level equivalent to a full-grown man, which I am, squeezing into a desk made for a kindergarten student.

Maybe it's the hallway lockers smashed in. Maybe it's the parent who comes to me as I rent lockers during preschool orientation to say, "My child will not have that filthy graffiti to look at all year long." Maybe it's the fact that my floors are never mopped or rewaxed during the year, and by now, no one would contemplate eating off it.

Maybe it's the screws and other hardware I pick up every year as desks deteriorate under student use.

Maybe it's stepping around the goose droppings on the sidewalk.

Whatever. The impression is clear: Our schools are junkety. We struggle to maintain them.

And then, we have to take the viewpoint of a child, who doesn't understand a legislature determined to defund public schools, a lack of resources, a tired staff not paid nearly enough to clean and maintain schools.

Our schools are junkety. Filled with junkety equipment and junkety furniture, and for a student, it only can be because they are junkety, too. Not worth the expenditure to have a decent place to learn.

Is this the best we can do?

According to the Florida legislature, yes. We have too much money for our schools via our local property taxes and they want to take more for the charters.

Memo to Florida legislators: If the last time you stepped into a school was when you were a student, you are not able to cast an informed vote on any education legislation before you.

Junkety schools; junkety students. How dare anyone believe that.

(The bill is SB 1852. Rise up, Florida, and oppose the sharing of school property taxes with charter schools.)

Sunday, March 5, 2017


The Fates [in Greek mythology] were personified as three very old women who spin the threads of human destiny. Their names were Clotho (Spinner), Lachesis (Allotter), and Atropos (Inflexible). Clotho spun the “thread” of human fate, Lachesis dispensed it, and Atropos cut the thread (thus determining the individual’s moment of death). --from Wikipedia

And when Atropos dips her scissors into Clotho's bag of flax, what then?

A life cut short, too short, a life that never reached its moment to fulfill all that we intended for it.

The thread had not been spun, not completely, but now it is no more.

All that is left is grief and tears and anger and fear and sorrow.

Regret for those of us who are old and would have willingly traded our life for the young one taken too soon.

Shock for those who are young and cannot fathom how their belief, born of their age and development, that they will last forever somehow turns out to be wrong.

Gone. Just gone.

There are no words when a young person dies. It is not the time to philosophize about free will and evil, the choices we make, and the consequences we suffer. It is not the time to rage in debate about God and his creation. It is not the time to fall into nihilism.

It is a time to grieve.

It is a time to love.

A time to remember and be strong for those who despair.

--- In Meam Commemorationem MC (out of respect for the family, I do not list the full name.)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Contacts with Russians

Full disclosure: I have a wonderful friend in Russia. We began as pen pals over two decades ago when mail was the only way to talk to someone in Russia. I visited him in his home in 1995 and have been hopeful ever since I could reciprocate. But life events get in the way and we haven't been able to meet again. Some day ...

So I too have had contacts with Russians.

There is nothing wrong with American officials talking to Russian officials. Donald Trump did get it right (for once) when he said that it is a good thing for the American and Russian governments to have a good working relationship because we have many common interests in the world.

From the American side, we need to get over the fact that Putin ate Obama's lunch often when it came to foreign affairs. The strength of America has been that, throughout our history, we have not held grudges but acted on pragmatic impulses: find the good and move forward, not holding onto the past.

Putin has been busy rebuilding Russia's power and influence in the world in the hope of returning a great nation to superpower status.

Russia is a great nation. Russians are a great people. But they have a different history and culture from the West. As they find forceful leaders such as Ivan IV (the formidable: that is a better translation than what you normally read), Peter the Great, and Joe Stalin, and now maybe Putin, these leaders force change upon their society and the people have paid a cost for it. How heavy that cost has been is the subject of endless debate.

We need to partner with Russia on many issues. If you haven't noticed, the Cold War is over.

Therefore, our people need to talk to their people. That's not the problem.

Now let's turn to the elephant in the room, and it's hilarious that the elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party but we're talking about the Democrat Party.

Who knows exactly what hacking Russian agents did and what level of government approved of such efforts? We ordinary citizens will never have access to classified intelligence. The question is who do you trust?

The question is moot. Let's say that Putin did authorize a hack of Democrat email and worked through Wikileaks to inform the world of what was found.

If it happened, it was not a hack of voting machines to falsify vote counts. It was a revelation of truth: what the Democrats were doing to ensure that Hillary Clinton would win the nomination.

No vote was changed. Well, not enough votes were changed to affect the election. The hacked email and also the fake news stories did not sway people. All it did was to reinforce existing beliefs in the population.

Trump won because he had an appeal to displaced working class people that allowed him to win states that traditionally go to the Democrats.

Campaigns having discussions with officials from other countries is not the issue we are now dealing with.

The issue we have in America is why so many new appointees feel the need to lie about the contacts they had with Russian officials.