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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.

Categories: Uncategorized

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

Categories: Uncategorized

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.

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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.

Categories: Uncategorized

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.

Categories: Uncategorized

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.

Categories: Uncategorized

A Long Overdue Letter to My Son as You Begin Your Fourth Year of Teaching

August 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Matthew,

 I felt there were things that I wanted to say to you and the letter format worked best for me. So I did what good teachers do, borrowed an idea.(from you!)

I’m the one who told you that good reporters make a difference and help people.  I remember that conversation like it was yesterday, you were in your final year at the University of Maryland, a journalism major, a talented writer and enjoying a great run as the director of WMUC radio station as well as doing sportscasting for many UMD  teams.  We were talking online and you told me that you wanted to do something to help people. I knew what you meant and wasn’t shocked.  I knew that you loved NY and you would never leave it to do a journalism stint in a small town. I knew that you enjoyed your summer work at camp and that you really made an impact on the children that you worked with. I knew that you learned quickly, and absorbed and applied whatever was presented to you. I knew  that you were insightful, introspective and reflective. You had many qualities of a good teacher, so why was I concerned?   Going to school again and postponing your entry into the world of work was a part of it, but only a small part.  As someone in the system for over 30 years,nearing the end of my career, I saw that things were changing and not for the better. We were led by a chancellor and mayor who were business people with no knowledge of education. We were being inundated with new programs, mantras, buzzwords, etc, that weren’t educationally sound for the children. Teachers were demoralized, blamed for things that they had no control over. New administrators from the Leadership Academy were selected to run schools. Many of them had limited experience in a classroom, no less out of a classroom as an administrator. Seasoned principals were frustrated and those who could retire, did. The chancellor got rid of the true educators in his cabinet and replaced them with people who were smart and savvy about business, but not about educating children.  Yes, the climate was changing and not for the better, and I was concerned about you being in the middle of this muddle. I knew that you, as a new teacher, would go in with your idealistic view point and a headful of fresh ideas of how education should be.  I was worried that you would be hit by all of this and not be able to plod through it.  But you showed me differently. You showed me that you were there for the children, that they were your focus.  You showed me that you were a natural.  You embraced the children and took responsibility for their learning, academically and socially. You instilled a sense of values that would help them to succeed, not only in school, but in the world at large. You led by example. You quickly learned that a teacher wears many hats, and you wore many of them.  You spent hours with the guidance counselor, discussing the issues that your young charges were facing, trying to figure out how you could make it better for them. You baked for them, you laughed with them, you sang with them and of course, you taught them.  And after your very successful first year, due to the hiring freeze in general education, you were without a job.  Your co-workers rallied in support, the assistant principal called her contacts in her union and your principal tried to figure out a way to keep you. She knew what she would be losing without you being there.  In one year, you made an impact that was felt by many. Without you even realizing it, you were a change agent in your school.  All that being said, you were without a job until someone left and your principal was able to put you into a class, full time, as a day to day substitute. You were paid daily and were without medical benefits. Not the ideal situation but at least you were working and continuing to make an impact on kids. You grew this year, you were more confident.  Your lessons were more creative and crisper. You wrote a play that your class performed to rave reviews. Again, you instilled a sense of values in your students that would help them to succeed, not only in school, but in the world at large.  And, after your very successful second year, due to the hiring freeze in general education, you were again without a job.  You realized that if you wanted to stay in this profession that you loved, you would have to get enough credits in special education and quickly pass the needed exams  Since there was no hiring freeze in that area, your principal promised you a job, as long as you met the needed criteria before school began.  So back to school you went. You took your coursework very seriously and learned and absorbed whatever you could.  You passed the exams after taking one class and garnered the necessary credits in order to be hired.  And you were. Oh boy, as worried as I was when you first entered the profession, I was more worried now, but for different reasons. The world of special education was new to you and as much as your sister and I tried to help, you weren’t ready to hear what we were saying. You had your own ideas about how things should be done, which was admirable, but not necessarily the best for the children in your charge. You taught similarly to the way you taught the past 2 years because that’s what worked before.  Your rude awakening came after the first formal observation by your principal.  She knew you were a talented teacher but pointed out that different strategies needed to be used with the children in your class.  She wasn’t thrilled with what she saw.  When you met with her, you reminded her that the qualities that she saw in you over the last two years didn’t go away because you were teaching a group of younger children with disabilities.  You realized that this observation and meeting was a wakeup call. You regrouped, sought assistance from the coaches and more experienced teachers, reached out to your assistant principals for support and did intervisitations to observe the best practices of other teachers. You even let your sister and me help you out with lesson planning and  teaching strategies. You changed your way of doing business and your students benefited, as did you. They experienced a year of growth, academically and socially.  Again, you instilled a sense of values in them that would help them to succeed, not only in school, but in the world at large. Your principal saw the improvement in you and acknowledged it.  It again, turned out to be a  very successful year.

  So now you are entering your 4th year of teaching, and  for the first time, you are on the official organization sheet and know the room you’ll be in. Although you are teaching a different grade, you will have some of the same children as last year. Your teaching is much more solid and focused.  I am not worried about you, I know that you will do a wonderful job and have another successful year. What’s most exciting for me,though, is to see a marked difference in you. You have changed. You have embraced a philosophy and mind set that I am so proud of.  You have become the advocate that your students need. You believe in them and want them to succeed and with your support, they will.  You will show those colleagues who are naysayers, what your students can do. Your plans to introduce the world of blogging, to continue to skype and to have your students become photographers, reporters and scientists, will blow the minds of those who think kids with disabilities are not capable.  Your theme, “Field of Dreams,”opens up endless possibilities for your students.  Endless possibilities for you as well.

So what’s the purpose of all this? I guess that I wanted to let you know how happy I am  that you followed your heart and made the decision that was right for you. I am confident that you are in the right profession. I know this is going to be an exciting, creative, innovative year for you and your students.  I can’t wait to watch it evolve and hopefully be a small part of it.  I would be remiss in my motherly duties if I didn’t offer some advice, so here it is. Don’t get frustrated with some of the things you’ll have to deal with. As hard as it may be, realize that there are things that you can’t control. Just stay positive and focus on what you want the outcomes to be. Take charge of what you can control. Remember, changes don’t happen immediately and often they are measured in baby steps. But that’s okay.  Positive changes are worth waiting for. You know that.

I am very proud of you.

Love,

Mama Ray

Categories: Uncategorized

Re-entering the World of Twitter

July 30, 2011 2 comments

One of the things that I haven’t done since I lost my mother in January is to use Twitter.  I’m not sure of the reason, but whatever it was, I felt that I just couldn’t connect at that time.  Of course, I continued to read the myriad of educational emails that crossed my path on a daily basis and  even tweet some things that were of interest to me.  I promoted the value of Twitter to my student teachers and encouraged them to join.  I continued to retweet the blogs and photos posted by my son. But that was it. It just wasn’t the right time.

Throughout those months my son consistently tried to  convince me to go back on to Twitter.  He reminded me that I had people in my PLN who had a lot of important things to say.  He reminded me how much I enjoyed reading some of the blogs.  He reminded me that  I liked to be a part of #spedchat. He was right but I refused, always with some excuse, usually saying that I didn’t have the patience for it.  It just wasn’t the right time.

That was until yesterday, the first day of #RSCON3.  I participated in #RSCON2 and remember being in awe of the fact that people from all over the world were part of this exciting  day of sharing and learning.  Even though I  took so much away from that conference, I’m not sure that I would have participated in #RSCON3 had it not been for my son, @MrMatthewRay, and @pernilleripp presenting WisconsiNewYork: Collaborating and Connecting.   How could I not watch this presentation?   There was no question in my mind that I wanted to hear and see Matthew and Pernille in action.   When I signed on to RSCON3   viewing their presentation was my sole intent.  Something, though, drew me to other presentations.  Listening to the committed organizers and eager participants who want to make a  positive change  in the field of education was inspiring.   I was again struck by the fact that people from all over the world were learning together.   As usual, I garnered many  practical ideas to share.  But my real motivation for today was to hear Matthew and Pernille.  Watching them was wonderful.  Their organized, animated presentation took the audience through the steps necessary to replicate their skyping project.   They spared no details as they gave the listeners practical advice and suggestions.   Their honesty about their concerns was shared as well as lessons learned by their students and each of them .  I beamed with pride as I watched and listened to my son. This was the first time that he taught an audience of adults and he did well.  You can view the slides from their presentation here.

In reflecting, I realized that Matthew has figured out the value of Twitter and how to make it work for him.   He’s selective in what  he uses it for but  has made it an integral part of his learning and professional growth.  He truly has the right idea.  So kudos to you, my son, and a big thank you too.  You reintroduced me to the wonders of Twitter and I am committed to get back into it.  Not through immersion, but gradually, so I too, can  make it an integral part of my learning and professional growth.  Now the time is right.