The Second Line Blog

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With Betsy Devos on the Frontline, How Can Education Make America Great Again?

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For quite some time now, I’ve struggled with wrapping my brain around just what is going on in our country as it relates to the Trump Administration.

Seriously struggling.

And while Twitter memes and SNL skits have made it amusing, as I assume responsibility for the high school students I serve each day, I am quickly reminded that this is no laughing matter. There is nothing funny about what is taking place with the current administration. As it relates to the state of public education within our country, the spectacle around Trump’s new Secretary of Education continues to drive concerned citizen’s frustration and concern about the future of our schools.

The future of our kids.

Whether you peered through her professional resume and noticed she has no experience as an educator or administrator, or saw how she poorly demonstrated her knowledge of policy during her confirmation hearing, Betsy Devos has continued to prove her opposers accurate. Still, here she stands, in the leadership position that is responsible for the overall direction, supervision, and coordination of all activities of the Department. She is the principal adviser to the President on federal policies, programs and activities related to education in the United States, according to the US Department of Education .

Here in New Orleans, where the education system has been scrutinized for years, both before and after reform, it is important that we revert back to the defined role of the Secretary of Education and recognize that we can utilize our local government to ensure the absolute best for the students and families we serve.

So what can we do?

Well, with the introduction of Congress’ House Bill 610 which plans not only to repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965  by allocating more federal dollars to voucher programs, but also repeal components of the No Hungry Kids Act, which has allowed an increase of fruits and vegetables to ensure school meals meet children’s nutritional needs, this is an opportunity to utilize our voices to impact government decision-making.

Those who support this bill seem to have less of an interest in ensuring that our kids, specifically those within public schools with greater socioeconomic needs, access education and food that are to the same standards of children who have such barriers.

One theme I found interesting thought the Devos’ confirmation hearing was her reliance on allowing decisions to be made on the local level. While I believe she likely resorted to this defense as a cover for her own limited knowledge, it actually reminded me that we do have some control and impact on policies given the process that bills must go through in order to be passed. Given that bills require approval from both Congress and the Senate, if we unite on a state level by letting our state senators know that we do not approve of such changes, we can actually have some input in which bills and policies are passed.

With everything that takes place in our day-to-day lives, an additional task may seem daunting, but I hope you all understand that what is taking place in our country is absolutely not ok. But, rather than feeling hopeless about it, being mindful of what is taking place on a city and state level can make the difference in what happens to our quality of lives and the futures of our young, bright children.  

Click here to see a list of your state’s senators along with their contact information.

Here in Louisiana, we are represented by Senators John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy and their contact info is here

Don’t let them rob our children of what is best for them. Show them that we are paying attention and we will unite for the good of our communities.

And lastly,

Spread the word!!

A Strong School Culture Relies on a Strong Principal

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The feeling during the summer before a new school year begins is very different than the one felt by teachers and school staff the subsequent spring. But, despite the burnout and the frustration, someone needs to be the force that students and staff look to for both support and guidance. Someone needs to be the glue that holds all systems in place and keep them afloat.

That someone should be the Principal.

Much like the quarterback of a football team, when a school is performing well, the principal shines. However, when school culture struggles, it is the principal that parents and community members alike should look to for answers. I have watched school principals single-handedly shift from multiple roles within both academics and discipline to ensure that culture systems are maintained.

A report conducted by Shelly Habegger concluded that, “A positive school culture is the underlying reason why the other components of successful schools were able to flourish.”

Let’s face it, working within education is HARD WORK, no matter what the role is. Additionally, the pressure that weighs upon principals, especially in a city like New Orleans where school performance is always under a microscope, is heavy. But, rising to the occasion can make all the difference in student success and the professional development of the staffed employees.

To read more of Shelly Habegger’s report, click here

Neighborhoods should not be sold separately

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I can remember going over to the King’s house, which was on the same block as my school and a block before my house, to get the best flavor ‘frozen cup’. Sometimes, I would venture a block past my house if I had a taste for the Rankin’s frozen cups, which were just as good and they even offered different flavors and a variety of snacks. On my way home, I remember seeing young ladies from Xavier Prep High School, which represented the next level of excellence for a child to achieve. I remember the Kindergarten building on the corner, that gave a foundation to so many children in my neighborhood. Mr. Shannon, Mr Lewis and Mr. Britto, working family men, just to name a few, who would often be outside as I walked to school. They would be preparing for work, wiping morning dew off of a fogged up windshield, watching their own children or grandchildren as they were off to school or to the bus stop. I remember Mrs. Barnes, Mrs. Laurel and Mrs. Gilyot, who represented a strong maternal presence in our community and I can remember always getting a delightful series of greetings and well wishes long before I reached the perimeter of my school. Most children were coming out of their houses on point, because they were representing their family and if something happened to find its way out of place, you best believe a concerned neighbor would address it and make sure that all was well taken care of before you went on your way.

The concept of “neighborhood” or “community” schools is one that has had many proponents since New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Neighborhood and community schools have been the subject of conversations nationwide as well as locally for many years and I don’t foresee that conversation ending. I could quote many definitions I have found for both neighborhood and community schools, but besides being very biased, I believe most of them miss the point terribly.

When I think of schools, I think of an aspect of a neighborhood or community that can make or break them. I see the same thing on the flipside, as a neighborhood or community can offer success to a school through an amazing relationship. Power lies with the people. My childhood neighborhood was a reflection of its people’s values, morals, character and upbringing. Today, neighborhoods are a product of accessibility, economics, fear and many times exclusion. This often kills any dream of neighborhood schools.

There is no possible way to have neighborhood or community schools anymore, because oftentimes, we don’t have neighborhoods or communities anymore. Sure, we have swanky names for areas in our cities that get there place on Google Maps or local redistricting maps, but we don’t have true neighborhoods or communities.

It seems like we no longer have blocks that connect together in a spirit of togetherness, commonality and inclusion. We don’t have people that speak to their neighbor as second nature. Helping someone out isn’t usually high on our to-do lists anymore and the hustle and bustle of life has rendered us blind to our own needs, let alone the needs of a child walking up the block to school. Knowing a little something about neighbors is not a desire of citizens anymore. We don’t care that the pure unsolicited delivery of a salutation not only gives life, but does it in such a universal way that it invigorates our own day. There has to be a desire to volunteer at the school up the block or around the corner, even if you only have neighborhood ties to the school.

 
The fact is that successful schools, families and students of neighborhood schools come from neighborhoods made up of great neighbors. Successful community schools come from communities that are dwelling places of wonderful and caring people.  There is no way to revive and set in motion any form of neighborhood or community schools unless there is a commitment from the citizens of those neighborhoods and communities. We cannot have neighborhood schools until the neighborhood is involved with them once again.

Patrick Dobard resigns from the Recovery School District

Kari Dequine Harden of the Louisiana Weekly writes about the resignation of RSD Superintendent, Patrick Dobard. Mr. Dobard is leaving his position with the RSD to take over as the Chief executive Officer of New Schools for New Orleans.

“During his tenure as Superintendent for the Recovery School District, Patrick Dobard was able to guide our area schools with the confidence and tact of a seasoned leader,” said OPSB Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr. in a prepared statement. “His dedication to our city’s students, staff and the community at large will not be forgotten. We at OPSB wish him all the best and look forward to continuing to work alongside him as he transitions into his next role as CEO of New Schools for New Orleans.”

read more here

Is This Still About Educating Our Kids?

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There is something missing from all of these education confirmations, meetings, school visits, bills, policies and conversations. In my opinion, it’s the human element and more specifically our kids and what is in their best interest.  Earlier this year, our new Secretary of Education was aggressively denied entrance into Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington D.C., returning a few weeks later to meet with staff, teachers and students. An interview Secretary DeVos gave after that meeting led to more than a few upset teachers, administrators and concerned citizens. It was a critical quote from Secretary Devos about the teachers at Jefferson Middle that sparked the intense backlash.  

“I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their students and our conversation was not long enough to draw out of them what is limiting them from being even more successful from what they are currently. But I can tell the attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching”

Wow. After praising the success of these teachers and this school on their recent accomplishments and after admitting that her conversation wasn’t long enough to “draw out” what would make this school more successful, our Madame Secretary uses her years of professional development experience to diagnose that the “receive mode” attitudes of these “wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers” is hindering them from bringing “success to an individual child.”

That speaks volumes, but it’s not even the most upsetting point. I find it disappointing that the sitting Secretary of Education gained entrance into a school that is successful at turning the lives of children around educationally, boosting reading levels and building confidence in children and she didn’t think to concentrate her comments on the achievement of the students. Those amazing minds are the very reason we find ourselves in this arena in the first place, they are our kids. As a parent, I always want our focus to intentionally resort back to talking about our kids. Does this law work effectively for our kids? Does this policy effectively change things for our kids? Is this bill being introduced with our kids being the ultimate benefactor? Is whatever I’m doing about our kids?

The problem with Secretary DeVos’ actions and comments is that it takes the focus off what should be the most important factor, what is best for the children, and places it on an adult debate. This opinionated, partisan, grudge match doesn’t work to provide success to our kids. Knowing that her actions will set precedent and could act as a catalyst for lawmakers on national, state and local levels, it’s imperative to keep our kids at the center of attention. If we lose sight of this, laws, bills and policies that might hurt children may be set in place.

Nationally, things are already beginning to look murky. In Kentucky, a newly elected House of Representatives passed a bill that would ultimately re-segregate a thriving school district and dismantle decades of action that has worked for our kids. State Representative Kevin Bratcher sponsored a bill that would end the busing of students in the Jefferson County area of Kentucky which continued using busing and magnet programs even after they disappeared in many districts. School officials say it has strengthened racial relationships and allowed for stronger academic gains for disadvantaged students, an example of a program that is working for families today. “This is a bill that will resegregate schools, taking us back to the ‘60s and ‘70,” said Chris Kolb, a graduate of Jefferson schools and a member of the county school board, which opposes the measure.” This will be the death of integration.”

As a parent, I have to ask whom is this bill suppose to help? It’s obviously not our kids.

Why do state representatives want to tread on local officials who represent parents. This is just another example of decisions being made without our kids’ education being the main priority. It wreaks of a partisan catfight between politicians without consideration of children.

Locally, the story is about the remainder of our district schools becoming charters. Recently, articles have come out questioning the district’s actions in applying to take over these schools as a new charter operator and it seems as though some unethical practices have taken place. Once again, I see the actions of individuals, politicians and administrations that do not seem to have that all so important question in mind: “Is this benefiting the education of Our Kids?”

I see laws, bills and policies that seek to make changes in education, but I don’t see providing the best education for our kids as the end goal. Politicians often seem to be seeking a reciprocated vote through favors, rather than thinking about whether their actions are beneficial  for our kids.

CEOs, COOs and CFOs of school districts and charter operators are sometimes concerned about the business aspect, but not fundamentally interested in whether their actions are favorable for the education of our kids.

When the lines begin to blur in education and the main objective is something other than what is best for our kids, then we have lost focus. We need to champion our voice for children louder than ever and let those all parties involved know from the onset that if this isn’t about educating our kids, then they are essentially wasting our time.

Standing up for our immigrant students and their families

This piece originally ran at Education Leaders of Color and was written by Mary Moran, a member of EdLoC and the co-founder of Our Voice Nuestra Voz (OVNV), an education advocacy and parent organizing start-up in New Orleans.


Imagine yourself at six years old, likely in first grade. You get on the bus or walk with your parents to school every day. When you walk into a classroom, you are learning to read, add and subtract, and retell stories. Now imagine you are the parent of that child. At home, you’re focused on reading with your kids and staying up to date on what’s happening in school—with their classmates, with their teachers, and with other parents. You’re probably not talking to your kids about what might happen if you don’t come home one day.

But for far too many students and families their daily routines have been upended and replaced with conversations about what might happen if mom or dad is detained or deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is the fear that our immigrant communities are living with every day: fear that parents will be detained, like Rómulo Avélica-González, while dropping off their children at school, that their siblings will be detained on their way to school or that they will have zero protections in this country should they ever need them.

I run Nuestra Voz in New Orleans, an organization working to build the capacity of parents to advocate for access to great schools for their children. In our communities, families are dealing with fear of all law enforcement, as well as anxiety and uncertainty. The families with whom we work are keeping their kids home from school for fear of the ongoing ICE raids in New Orleans, Jefferson Parish, and Metairie. They also see children being bullied in school if those schools have not created cultures where our immigrant students feel safe and supported. In a system that is often touted as a model for what schools can do for kids, many of our most vulnerable students and families, particularly Latino families, are invisible.

We need to stand up for our families right now. When the threat of deportation prevents families from sending their children to school, we all feel the impact of loss of instructional time, lower student enrollment, and the need to deal (or not) with student trauma. But there are schools and systems who are showing up for our communities right now in many ways. They:

  • Reassure families that under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) as well as local privacy acts, schools must have written permission from parents to release any information
  • Enact policies that affirm that you are on the side of the families and students and that students are safe within your schools.
  • Create support groups for immigrant students or children of immigrants so they can address the trauma with which families are dealing.
  • Hold Know Your Rights trainings for parents, teachers and counselors to combat the misinformation.
  • Coordinate with local human services so you have a plan in place for what happens with children if they are separated from their parents.

Now is the time to show up for our students and their families. I hope you will join Nuestra Voz and many other systems and schools in speaking out for our most vulnerable students and their families.

During these uncertain times in our country, it’s pretty easy to see who is with you and who is not. Where are you?

For more resources to support immigrant students and families, please visit: http://edloc.org/blog-Post-Election-Resources.html

New Orleans charter schools spend more on administration and less on teaching

Marta Jewson with the Lens writes about how New Orleans charter schools are spending more on administration and less on teachers. In January  the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans released a study showing  that charter schools spent 1,358 more per pupil on operating expenses than traditional schools during the 2013-14 school year.

For example, parishwide school districts often employ a speech therapist to provide special education for some students. A staffer could have a full schedule by rotating among schools in the district.

A charter management organization, with a smaller enrollment, may not have enough demand for a full-time speech therapist. The charter network could hire a contractor, which often costs more per service hour. But the charter network would still need one of its employees to ensure that students are getting the legally required special education.

Read more here

Black History Month May Be Over but the Teaching of Black History Must Continue

By David McGuire

Black History month has now wrapped up and in many schools, it will put back on the shelf until next year. That is a mistake. Black History can’t be confined to just 28 days in winter. I am not referring to the month of Black History because that is not the problem. The month is there for the celebration; however, that does not mean when the month is over that we should stop the teaching of Black history, especially in our schools. It’s too important.

Black history needs to be taught to all students, not just black students. Students should continue to learn all year about the contributions that blacks have made in history. When students are taught not to have a deep appreciation for the contributions of African Americans, it can can lead to disdain and distrust for the African Americans of today.

why should black history be taught all year in school?

There are more negatives stories of blacks seen on TV and the news than positives.  There are far too many places in this country where children can go their entire educational careers without ever having an interaction with a black person. There are still many neighborhoods and schools that are segregated. The result of these segregated schools is that many students grow and have no personal experience to offset the negative message that they hear about or see from blacks. The negative images often times give many children growing up a negative perspective, which in turns shapes their belief and treatment of blacks.

Schools have an obligation, no matter where they are, to teach children about all history, including Black history; students need to learn the truth so that they may have a more accurate perspective on the contributions of blacks to American society.  It is nothing to go into a predominately black school on the south-side of Chicago and see the children learning about the contributions of Thomas Jefferson, so why can’t the predominately white school in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina teach about the contributions of Medgar Evers to the Civil Rights movement?

Racism is still alive in America 2017

It is almost impossible to live in America without witnessing some form of racism. We can’t help but see news stories of unarmed black men killed by police. We see on social media how white college students still wear black face paint to portray black people. We even saw a group of white high school girls find humor in arranging their shirts to spell out the “N word.” It is award season and we watch the Grammy’s and the categories that are dominated by black artists are not even part of the live television broadcast — we just see the R & B winners scroll by at the bottom of the screen. The 2016 Oscar nominations saw the shutting out of many black actors and actresses. If this past Sunday’s Oscar broadcast was a sign of things to come, that will be a good thing as we saw Moonlight win for best picture as well as big acting awards go to Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali.

Teaching black history in schools leads to black history being talked about at home.

When a child spends the school day learning of the contributions of blacks in schools that child goes home with a wealth of new knowledge to share at home. When white students sit in social studies class in their elementary school watching videos and reading stories of blacks who have invented common household items and broken barriers in medicine and politics, they go home to their dinner tables and share those findings with their parents; often these parents never had that experience while they were in school and the information being shared by their children is new to them. If school can be a catalyst for conversations about race in America’s homes, that is a good thing.

Learning about black history is good for all students. Teaching black history benefits students when it is taught all year long, not just in February. Let’s use Black History Month as the celebration, but let’s use the other 11 months for the teaching that will help us be more knowledgeable and better understand what it is that we are celebrating every February.

David McGuire is an African American middle school principal in Indianapolis.