Schools in our area are averse to allowing students to wear their Halloween costumes to school. Their brilliant solution to children with costumes and treats on the brains is to have students dress as a book character or a dead author or a career that interests them. This might be a fun assignment if parents weren’t really being asked to come up with yet another Halloween costume. Can we please let students wear their Halloween costumes and save the bonus dress-up day for any week other than the last week of October?
This picture was taken three years ago, on Northshore. This is what Northshore looks like on winter mornings around the same time that the elementary bus arrives. It is a dark, dangerous road that has a roadside memorial every few yards. Some of those memorials are recent enough that it is still painful to see them. The traffic is heavy and the drivers exceed the speed limit. Driving home from a meeting one night, I witnessed an act of road rage on Northshore. A car deliberately rear-ended the car in front of them and then they dashed around their victim and sped away. The car that had been bumped, took off in hot pursuit. It was an ugly thing to watch and although I reported the incident to the police, I did not “follow them” as the 911 operator suggested.
Despite the nearby businesses that my older children love to frequent, I don’t allow my teenagers to walk on Northshore. It is just too dangerous. I don’t walk on Northshore. I would call the man around the block who runs a taxi service before I would venture out on Northshore on foot. Why would Knox County Schools think it is acceptable for elementary age children to stand on one of Knoxville’s most dangerous roads? How can they possibly justify putting children in harm’s way on a bus route that begins at 7:10 and ends at 7:13, with the excuse that they don’t have time to add three minutes to their route? This is unacceptable. Knox County Schools need to do the right thing and move the bus stop back to where children have been safely waiting for the past few years.
Update: Knox County Schools has returned the spot to its’ much safer location. Thank you!
- tons of wood shop, auto shop & beauty class equipment
- incoming freshmen who look like babies
- old schools built to last forever
- a new school that looks like it won’t withstand a strong wind
- a dozen floors being polished
- student teachers getting orientation
- a school built on top of a cave
- a lab that hasn’t been updated since the 1950′s
- rolling hills, farms, trees and morning fog
- a high school student with a boob job
- Smart Boards and Computers
- band and guard students practicing in blistering heat and pouring rain
- two car accidents
- broken steps, cracked foundations and leaky ceilings
- clean desks and chairs
- principals, teachers and students
- lots and lots of murals
Last week, I started touring all of Knox County’s high schools and meeting the principals. It is the focus of my energies this week and my children are taking advantage of my time away to destroy the house. The end result is that I am scattered in too many directions until next week. Although I am not at the halfway point in my tour, I feel safe in making an observation about the principals of Knox County high schools.
The principals of our high schools are extremely STRONG personalities with clear opinions and big ideas. Their rabid devotion to their individual schools makes the UT fans with bare, painted chests seem mild mannered. When all of the principals gather for meetings, it must be like a room full of firecrackers looking for a spark. School Superintendents must have a Bruce Campbell alter-ego that only appears when they are alone with all of their school principals. Divided, a group of principals would be a nest of stinging bees, but working together, I can only dream of what they could accomplish.
If last month’s PTA meeting was Pythonesque fun, then today’s meeting was a demonstration in frustration. The parents were frustrated that their children were subjected to a random weapon search. “We didn’t KNOW that was a new policy.” The principal was frustrated that the parents were upset. “Didn’t you get the *automated call this morning?” I was frustrated at the comments and attitudes. “There should be a way to let all of us who don’t follow school board stuff know about policies.”
The School Board‘s meeting schedule, agenda and minutes from past meetings are all available online. Most of the board’s meetings are broadcast live on television. You can call, e-mail or have a face-to-face meeting with school board members. The best board members (Indya Kincannon) send out newsletters to keep people updated on school board activities.
The local newspapers report on local and statewide school related decisions. Your government reps have newsletters and websites discussing pending legislation. Local and National PTA/PTO groups send out regular newsletters about anything and everything that is happening in schools. Bloggers write daily about the good and bad happening in their children’s schools. Parents tweet when something happens that others need to know. Students use Facebook to organize, complain and support each other. There are a million voices screaming out loud about education on national, statewide and local levels. Listen to them. Join in the conversations.
*The automated call was set to go at 8:30 this morning. It is now after 7 p.m. and I still haven’t gotten a phone call.
Sometimes, I wonder if our School Board and/or Superintendent suggest changes like school uniforms, the start date of school and the start time of school, just to distract everyone. Maybe they do these things to give the illusion that parents’ input is considered in our school system. Maybe it’s the only way they can get parents to attend meetings. I don’t know. I have an opinion on these issues, but I don’t feel like grabbing torches and pitchforks over them. I would prefer to be in an uproar about all the teachers cut from next year’s budget, eliminating programs that help at-risk students succeed or the need for full-service, community schools. Choosing my battles is the phrase that comes to mind, except I don’t want to fight. Aren’t we on the same team? Don’t we all want whatever is best for students?
Knox County NEEDS to have someone or a group of someones attending the Coalition for Community Schools Learning Lab. IF that person could be me, the event would be live blogged. IF an agency or group sponsored me, I would wear a t-shirt with their logo to the event. I am an education and mental health advocate because I care, but I am also just a volunteer. I CAN be bought.
Our school system could benefit from a lot of things. Old, decrepit buildings need repairs and shiny new buildings need basic supplies. We have students with multiple disabilities who need adaptive equipment and gifted students who need advanced tools and information. Maybe our new Super would like to put his STEM high school in a poverty stricken community to access the stimulus money.
We can keep putting buckets under leaky roofs and porta-potties at schools with only one functioning bathroom. We can sit on floors when we don’t have enough chairs. We can continue sharing books and technology. We can fill the hallways with parent volunteers and we can hold an endless stream of fundraisers. What we can’t replace are teachers. Without teachers, there is no school.
What if we put a handful more teachers in each and every school? There would be more class options for high school students. Classes would have smaller teacher-student ratios. Team teaching and individual help would be the norm instead of the exception. Students wouldn’t fall through the cracks as easily when they are under the watchful eye of a teacher who isn’t completely overwhelmed and exhausted.
I am probably very alone in imagining the stimulus money spent on teacher salaries. This money will only exist for two years. It is nearly impossible to have the budget to keep these extra teachers after the two years of extra funding. I still think that the two years of benefits would make the risk of spending money on something other than supplies worthwhile.
When School Matters was created, I pretty much stopped writing about school topics on this blog. As the site has gained users, I realized that I was spending more of my time nudging discussions and calming tempers than just writing what was on my mind. That ends now.
When the Superintendent search was narrowed down to a handful of candidates, I googled each finalist. The candidate who once complained that Boston’s $832M school budget needed more money seemed like a very bad fit for Knoxville’s $360M school budget. I guess I should have considered that our school board would see him as someone who could convince Knoxville to put more money in our schools. Knoxville schools need more money. Our businesses in Knoxville are laying off employees and folding faster than new jobs are being created. How are we going to provide more money when we all have less money?
So, here we are 6 months into the new Knoxville Super’s reign and his “vision” is being presented to Knoxville. He asks “How do we transform our system from a very good one to a better one?” In one KnoxViews thread, commenters praise the improved academic requirements in our system. In multiple School Matters threads, the discussion keeps returning to the fact that TN is 38th in the nation in ACT results and things like zero High Schools in TN making the list of the state’s best. Are we a “very good” system or a failing system? Of Knoxville’s 13 high schools, only 5 are not on NCLB’s naughty list. Our new Super wants to add a STEM high school. The school system’s budget for the next year can barely afford to replace one leaking roof. How are we going to build a new high school and where will it be?
The new Super has been visiting the schools. Everyone in the school has been told to smile and agree with everything the new Super says to them. They have also been told to keep their mouths shut about anything that is bothering them. With this absence of honest communication, anything that is not working optimally in our system is going to be kept that way.
The new Super has an assortment of other ideas, like giving teachers and students mentors. We already have that. His primary focus is on getting parents and students to change. He has a great plan to get parents more involved in their children’s education. He wants parents to learn how to continue the school day at their kitchen table. Seriously? What does he think we have been doing since we became parents? I don’t deny that we have a culture of ignorance in this area, but there are a LOT of very involved parents who have been working hard to supplement their children’s education and we want to be HEARD by school board members, not condescended and told that everything is great.
Here’s an idea – Let’s start by honestly and accurately stating out loud the current status of our school system. Then, let’s do a complete inventory of what we have in our toolbox. Be sure to recognize that toolbox includes parents and teachers with ideas for how we can see all of our children achieve their highest potential. Now, take that toolbox and let’s ALL start fixing what is broken.