Hazardous Travel Advisory in NYC: Public Schools Will Be Open Today

February 13, 2014 Leave a comment

“It’s our obligation to run a school system.” “Human safety comes first.” “Given what we knew, we felt we could run the schools safely and efficiently today.” These are quotes from Mayor De Blasio’s press conference earlier in the day.

Last night, before any snow fell, the mayor and chancellor made the decision to open schools today. They said it was based on the information they had regarding the weather forecast. Their goal was to give parents maximum notice about the day so they could plan accordingly. These reasons are well and good in principle but, in reality, there was a heavy, horrible, dangerous storm occurring during the morning commute. Incidentally, that was the time children went on school buses, parents walked to school with their children, and school personnel traveled to school – many by car.

As a retired NYC principal, it was my professional obligation to run a school. If you ask me the most important responsibility of my job, I could tell you unequivocally it was to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the children and my faculty. Oh, I agree with Mayor De Blasio and Chancellor Fariña that, “human safety comes first.” The issue is that they did not demonstrate that concern for the 44% of the children who attended school or the many school personnel who ventured out in untoward conditions to get to their schools as the storm was peaking.

No one is asking the mayor to call off school constantly, as he alluded to, during his conference. I am asking that on days that “Hazardous Travel Advisory in NYC” is plastered all over the TV screen that the words below it read “Public Schools Will Not Be Open Today.” Live by your words Mr. DeBlasio and Ms.Fariña. It’s a good way to do business.

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Nominations for the 2011 Edublog Awards

November 19, 2011 1 comment
Through his blogs, Matthew Ray shares his passion for his world, his work, his students and anything else that has touched or influenced his life.
I am nominating his blog From the Desk of Mr.Foteah, where he shares his thoughts and opinions penned in an honest and thought provoking way, for Best Teacher Blog.  Sometimes making them laugh, sometimes making them cry, he inspires his readers as he challenges them to change the way they think or teach.
According to Matthew, he blogs because, “I inspire people and that inspires me.”  Therefore, I am also nominating two of his blog posts for a 2011 Edublog Award for Most Influential Blog Post.
The first nomination was featured on WordPress in August 2011 as Freshly Pressed: Dear Me (On the Eve of My First Year Teaching). As a teacher beginning his fourth year, he reflected on his three years of experiences and wrote a letter to himself as if he were beginning his first year of teaching. His lessons learned were heartfelt and certainly inspired his readers.
An avid blogger himself,  this year, Matthew  shared this love as he undertook the  exciting challenge of teaching his third graders, (all children with IEPS) the basics of blogging. He’s written many  wonderful blog posts which follow their adventures with blogging but one of his most influential is 10 Reasons Your Students Should Be Blogging. The practical educational and social reasons for having students blog influenced many members of his own school as well as his PLN to start blogging with their class.

A Different Veterans Day “Tail”

November 12, 2011 Leave a comment

This is not the type of blog that I usually write but I was so moved by the story that I felt compelled to share it.

I met Snoopy last night. Snoopy is a four year old, 50 lb. pure bred Husky with the most beautiful blue eyes. He is friendly, playful, smart and loyal. He obeys commands and loves to give kisses. For someone like me, who is not necessarily a dog lover, it is easy to fall in love with him. It’s also easy to picture a dog like this living with a family, romping in their yard and having a great life.

But Snoopy was a military dog. This dog was being trained for a very different  type of life, a life in combat. He spent the last three years at the side of his trainer. They were inseparable. He was learning to sniff out bombs, find cadavers, and attack when necessary. He participated in parades and walked proudly with his trainer and other members of the military. He was deemed to live a military life. That was until this past Tuesday.

You see, Snoopy wasn’t aggressive enough and therefore not right for this type of service. I totally understand that military dogs must fit a certain mold, no criticism for that. He would return to civilian life and have a home with a family.  All was going well until the people who planned to adopt him backed out at the last minute. His trainer and the trainer’s superior tried to find others to take him, but no luck. Though they both loved this dog, they were told that Snoopy, this beautiful, healthy, young dog who was  so full of life, would be put down at 9:00 AM on Wednesday.

As luck would have it, my sister in law, who does animal rescue, was at the groomer with some of her dogs and learned about Snoopy from another animal lover. She and my brother sprung into action, contacted the proper people and rescued Snoopy on Tuesday night, sparing him from an untimely death.

 Snoopy’s trainer, could not stop crying at the loss of his much loved companion. Still a member of the military, he could not adopt this dog. Snoopy, used to being with this man for 24/7, had a hard time separating as well. Not easy for either of them.  But after meeting Snoopy last night, I am confident that he will be fine. He will be adopted by the right people and get the home he needs, the attention he craves and the love and life he deserves. They in turn, will be rewarded by lots of kisses from a truly delightful and loyal pet.

*Ironically, I saw this on this article about Dogs of War in the Huffington Post today http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/11/dogs-of-war-book_n_1079604.html?ref=green&icid=maing-grid10%7Chtmlws-main-bb%7Cdl2%7Csec1_lnk3%7C112023

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A Voice and A Choice

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment

I am not a writer. Sure, I could write the occasional speech for graduation, poem for a celebration or presentation for a workshop. I could also write the numerous memos, handbooks and letters required for my job as a principal. But that was about the extent of my writing. Then, about a year ago, after being introduced to Twitter by my son @MrMatthewRay, I started to read some amazing blogs. I loved the honesty of what the bloggers had to share and was impressed by their voice.

With the ongoing encouragement of my son, and some prodding as well, I started to blog. I am by no means a passionate blogger. By that I mean, I do not blog on a daily basis or even  on a regular basis. My passion comes in what I say in my blogs. The inspiration doesn’t always come easy and the writing takes some time but that works for me.

Blogging gives me “A Voice and A Choice.” (I respectfully borrow this phrase from the Self Advocacy Association of New York State http://www.sanys.org/).  When I blog, I no longer have to worry about “spewing the company line,” or saying things that I don’t believe.  I can write what I do believe. I can write about my experiences in the field of education. I can write about my passions. I can share my philosophy and mind set with others. I can write as often as I want. I am thrilled with the responses that I receive and am grateful that people find what I have to say useful.

I still consider myself a novice  blogger and  continually challenge myself to write more.  I am working on it.  And most importantly, I know, I have a voice and a choice.

Thanks to @teachdmac for inviting me to write this post and the Rockstar Meme– how blogging rocked your world. My invitation goes to @SpecialEdAdvice, @Childanxiety, @Singoffpitch, @ChrisVacek and @tperran. These are some people who have valuable contributions to share.

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Why @PernilleRipp Has My Vote In @GOOD’s Great American Teach Off

October 2, 2011 1 comment

Pernille Ripp is a finalist in @GOOD’sGreatAmericanTeachOff . What a well deserved honor for her. It is also an opportunity for her to win $10,000 for use in her classroom.

Recently I came across this quote on a calendar: “It’s not the high powered stardom we need. It’s the undemanding acceptance of who we are. The same is true for our students.” This quote got me thinking about Pernille.

Though the stardom is nice, and the recognition that goes with it is lovely, I think Pernille’s stardom comes from her intrinsic knowledge of who she is and what she believes and transferring that into doing the right things for kids. Though I’ve never seen her teach first hand, her style, philosophy and mind set comes across in her blogs. It’s so ingrained in who she is that it’s become how she is.

Whether she realizes it or not, Pernille is a major influence on many peoples’ transformations as educators. Through the way she thinks, teaches and reaches all children, she’s modeled an educational philosophy and mindset, which, in my opinion, is so right. She encourages members of her PLN to think differently and in turn, change their way of teaching. It is evident by the numerous tweets, retweets and comments on her blogs how many people value Pernille and her message. It should be gratifying for her to know that she makes a difference and is impacting the global community. It’s amazing how it goes on and on and on.

Pernille has my vote. She truly deserves to win the Great American Teach Off. Just imagine what a creative person like Pernille could do with $10,000 to further the learning of her students. Let’s help her find out by voting for her.

In my eyes, Pernille is a star. I hope you think so too

Voting in the Great American Teach Off begins Monday, October 3 at 1 PM EST.You can vote for Pernille one time every day by clicking here.

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Today’s College Doesn’t Fit All of Today’s Students

September 27, 2011 3 comments

 In the world of education, there is always talk about preparing students for college. There is also healthy debate about whether or not college is for everyone. These conversations, though, focus on the students who are in general education or have mild or moderate disabilities. In these discussions, never have I heard mention of a person with significant disabilities attending college.

So here’s a thought to ponder. What about the person with significant disabilities who wants to go to college? I mean the person who works extremely hard in school and after achieving all of his/her goals, receives an IEP diploma. I mean the person whose assessments are based on data folios submitted to the state because he/she is not required to take standardized tests. I mean the person who could not take SATs because his/her reading level is first grade, not due to lack of effort but due to the nature of his/her disability. What about these people? In my early days of teaching, I would have said, how could someone who can’t read, can’t take tests and doesn’t have a regents diploma go to college? It makes no sense for them to go, what would they get out of the experience? And I believed that I was right.

Fast forward some years. I attended an inclusion conference in Georgia. I heard Jeff Strully, a wonderful, motivational man, speak. He described a young woman (similarly to this, it was a long time ago) : ” She is 18 years old.” “She is very social.” “She loves to be around people.” “She loves to learn.” “She is a great dancer.” “She wants to go to college.” Then came this description of a young woman: “She is 18 years old.” ” She drools.” ” She needs help traveling.” “She has seizures.”  “She reads on a first grade level”.   “She wants to go to college.” In his next sentence, we found out that this was the same person, his daughter, and all of the descriptions applied to her. Again, I thought to myself, how can she go to college? What could someone with a first grade reading level, in need of significant supports, get out of college? Boy, did I learn the answer to my questions. Jeff Strully talked about going to college for reasons that were not purely academic. He said college is a natural progression from high school. He said that his daughter wanted to be with her friends and 18 year olds belonged on the college campus. He said that she could audit classes and not be required to do the rigorous academics. She could be with her peer group. She could hang out in the dorms and go to parties. She could go on trips. She could use the natural supports of her friends to help her to be successful in achieving her dream, being on the college campus.

His talk was eye opening for me. After hearing him, I knew that I had to figure something out for my own students who wanted the college experience. I am ashamed to tell you how many times I told a student who said that he/she wanted to go to college the following: “You have to be able to read.” “You have to have a regent’s diploma.” “You have to take SATs.” I wasn’t wrong, I was thinking of the traditional reasons of going to college and the traditional ways to get there. In retrospect, I was also squashing the dreams of my students. How dare I? After hearing Jeff Strully, I had different ideas. Why shouldn’t my students who wanted to go to college, go to college? Why not college inclusion? We did it on the high school level with great results. Our rationale for inclusion was more social than academic. Remember, my students did not take standardized tests, often read on a first grade level and were going to receive IEP diplomas when they completed school. But in the general ed high school, they were exposed to a different level of academics, often resulting in their reading and math improving. They had numerous opportunities to meet and socialize with students in an inclusive setting . They became welcome and valued members of the school community, participating in plays, after school activities, trips and graduation. (still receiving an IEP diploma). If this worked so well in a high school setting, surely it could be transferred to a college setting.

Without going in to all of the details of how we set this up, we approached the dean of education of a college that was used as a work experience site for some of my students. We had an already established, solid relationship, so selling the idea of inclusion was not difficult. The dean was very receptive and wanted to make it work. Logistically it took some figuring out, but after a year, 8 of my students, along with a teacher and a few paraprofessionals were included on the college campus. The students had special auditing status in their classes. Often, paraprofessionals attended the classes with the students to take notes so the teacher could later break down the material and re teach portions of the lessons. The paraprofessionals had to be discreet because my students did not want the stigma of having someone with them. They were in college and it wasn’t cool. We looked for classes that were more hands on, music, film making, physical education, rather than those that were lecture style. The students actively participated in the club hours on campus and also learned to negotiate the very large campus. When I would go to visit, I’d find some of my students having lunch in the cafeteria with their college buddies. This highly successful model was replicated on another college campus so that more of my students could participate.

So despite all the naysayers, I feel, if a person with disabilities wants to go to college, he/she should be able to go. But in order for this to happen it’s time for all of us to think differently. It’s time for schools to look at the ways to support the person who doesn’t fit the traditional mold of college bound student. It’s time to break that mold to fit the needs of that person. It’s time to make today’s colleges fit all of today’s students.

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Ron Clark Needs a Lesson

September 11, 2011 6 comments
 I just read the article by Ron Clark,http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/06/living/teachers-want-to-tell-parents/index.html and felt my blood start to boil. I found him to come across as arrogant and presumptuous, not at all like the author I loved when I read The Essential 55. I don’t know if Ron Clark is a parent, but the way he states things in his article along with his lack of empathy, leads me to believe that he doesn’t have children.   
In my many years in the field of education, I worked with thousands of parents, some involved, some, less involved, some who defended their child, others who never listened to what their child had to say, some who were hostile to the school and wanted to fight, others who wanted to work with the school and brought ideas to the table. Though I am far from an expert in working with parents, I feel that I can share some of my thoughts, based on over 30 years of experience in the field of education, first as a teacher, then as an assistant principal, and finally as a principal. Also, by the way, I am a parent of two adult children, both teachers, both special educators.
Working With Parents is Not Always Easy
So how do we try to make it easier? I learned that it is essential to make the parent feel welcome. Treat them as though they are an invited guest at your house. If they want to bring an advocate along to a meeting, good for them. The more heads that work together, the more ideas that are developed. I learned that the attitude that we transmit as a school is critical to the success of the meeting. Parents know who the professionals are, it’s not something that has to be repeated over and over. Though everyone may not agree initially, setting up an us versus them situation doesn’t work. If there is hostility on any one’s part, the child loses. It’s so important to keep in mind the purpose of the school working with the parent and vice versa, to make things better for the child. 
Parents Voices Must be Heard
I learned that parents need to be acknowledged and their voices have to be heard. I learned to listen and hear what they were saying before I made my points. I learned that I do not know their child the same way they do. I see the child in school and they see their child at home, very different settings and situations. I learned that parents know their child best and I have no right to judge their parenting or tell them what to do. I learned that sharing strategies that worked with other children sometimes spurred them to try things with their own children.
Parents in Partnership With the School
I learned that it’s critical to develop relationships that work so the child can be supported. There have to be healthy, productive, respectful conversations with agreeing to disagree, in order to get to the most important outcome, assisting the child to thrive academically and socially.
 After reading his article it is clear to me that Ron Clark is concerned about teacher bashing. I am too. I feel that teachers get blamed for so many things that are not within their control.I feel that often teachers are not valued for the hard work and effort that they consistently put into their profession. It’s not an easy field to be in and I truly understand why some teachers and administrators leave. It’s unfortunate that we lose some of our best and brightest educators but not everyone can get past the obstacles that are thrown their way.
 I know that Ron Clark has strong ideas. His accomplishments with his students are admirable and have received well deserved national recognition. So why bash parents? Hasn’t Mr. Clark learned that parents’ can be strong allies to further the needs of the school community? Hasn’t he learned that they can advocate for things that he can’t ask for? Hasn’t Mr. Clark learned that it’s a different game when working with parents? It seems to me that he wants what he wants and that’s that. But that’s not the way to do business with parents. There has to be mutual respect, ongoing dialogue,  give and take, and planning together to support the child in school and at home. Learn, Mr, Clark, that being didactic and teacher directed is not the way to go.
For a parent’s perspective, please read A Letter to Ron Clark: What Parents Really Want to Tell Teachers http://t.co/evcEFx3 via @SpecialEdAdvice.
Categories: Parents, Practical Ideas