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5/22/15

Building Administrators Making a Difference for Public Education in Georgia - Kevin Gaines

You can’t go much farther northeast in Georgia than Hart County without running into South Carolina.  Hart County is the only county in Georgia named after a woman, and Nancy Hart was a legendary hero of the American Revolution.  When British soldiers arrived at her cabin looking for her patriot husband, Nancy plied them with alcohol, stole their guns, shot one who resisted and, when her husband returned, insisted they be hanged as retribution for their intrusion on her cabin and family.  Even though the incident did not occur in the area, Georgians were impressed enough with Nancy’s courage, tenacity and patriotic spirit to name the county after her.  The county was created in 1853 by the Georgia Legislature, and Hartwell is the county seat.  Lake Hartwell, also named after Nancy, occupies the center of the county and the city of Hartwell, the county seat, sits on its southern shore.  The town and the county are in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and are only 78 miles from Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia.  The high school mascot, appropriately fitting the character of the county’s namesake, is the bulldog.


Kevin Gaines is Principal of HCHS, and believes strongly that his school is not just an integral part of the community but serves as a face of the community.  He encourages staff members to get out into the surrounding area with students, their parents and business leaders and show them that school achievement is as much about the impact of the school in the community as in academic achievement within its walls.  Teacher Noelle Reese explains “Mr. Gaines makes Hart County different from other schools.  He is a Principal of principle, and a proactive leader.  He is encouraging to teachers, students, parents and business leaders and believes that every student has a place in a club, activity or program.  He understands the need for teachers to build relationships with students to give them the desire to work hard, remain focused and stay in school.  He supports teachers, provides innovative technology in trying economic circumstances, encourages the community to support our work by fostering relationships with local industries, health care providers, entrepreneurs and technical colleges.  Mr. Gaines is a man of integrity, faith and an advocate for all students of all abilities and is making HCHS an exceptional school through his work.”  Meagan is a Senior at Hart County, and agrees wholeheartedly.  “Mr. Gaines has expanded our AP program, created partnerships for dual enrollment opportunities, led the creation and growth of our STEM program and somehow finds the time to support students in athletics, the Good Dog Deed program, the Good Dog Incentive card program and other rewards programs for students and for teachers.  One of my friends participates in dual enrollment with North Georgia Tech and is pursuing a degree in welding.  I have had the opportunity to work with a lab at UGA to analyze samples of biodiesel fuel I made while working in an independent study research class Mr. Gaines made possible. He is a wonderful example for us all.”


Teacher Barbara Rousey also points out “our school is changing, and in a good way.  I have been teaching at HCHS for 24 years and worked for 8 Principals.  Mr. Gaines leads in all aspects of our school and in our community.  He supports teacher efforts in academics, in our CTAE program, and our agriculture, business and technology students have never been so active and competed so well in so many areas as they do now.  Over the last 2 years, the school and the community worked together to pass the ESPLOST referendum, secured a $2.2 million grant to fund construction of our College and Career Academy and partnered with Athens Technical College to provide an early start for students in their career pathways. Mr. Gaines has led the efforts from our school from being just a rural school towards becoming a rural school with global ideas.  Students bring their own technology to classes and he has untied teachers and students in ways I used to think were not possible.”  Senior Raeanna agrees.  “This high school has played a tremendous role in my growth, and has offered so many opportunities and paths that have been more than a blessing.  The school is set up to help students in and out of school.  The Business Ed teachers have been a huge help in preparing our juniors and seniors for college.  Mr. Gaines was recognized as the Administrator of the Year by the Technology Student Association.  He makes sure the students are pushed and supported throughout the school, and continues to make our school strong and maintain a high standard for all.”


Hart County HS serves grades 9-12 and has 951 students.  There are 63 teachers and 32 staff members.  The student population is 67% white, 25% black, 4% Hispanic and 51.5% of the student receive Free or Reduced Price lunches.  “We are definitely a rural community” Kevin noted, “but almost everyone in the community and the school has responded positively to the changes we have worked hard to implement.  We look hard for ways to improve while making sure the successes are celebrated.  I’ve never heard anyone here say ‘I guess that’s the best we can do.’  The attitude and commitment of everyone involved is impressive.  I do get impatient sometimes when things don’t change as quickly as I would like, but I remind myself that education is a marathon and not a 400 meter dash.”  Kevin began his personal marathon by graduated from Hartwell County High School in 1996, earned a degree in Mathematics Education from Georgia Southern, a Masters in Educational Administration from Clemson and an Ed.S from Lincoln Memorial University.  He taught math for 2 years at Metter High, 7 years at Banks County High, was AP at Stephens County High for 3 years and returned home to Hart County High School as Principal in 2012.  


Kevin feels he has been blessed with a great faculty and staff that puts students first.  “We can’t be successful without great teachers, and “it seems they all want to be that teacher that makes a difference in the life of a student just like a great teacher did for them when they were growing up.”  He looks for happy people when hiring new teachers.  “Nothing can kill a positive school climate quicker than a negative person.  I am looking for teachers that are open to new ideas and even on bad days can find something positive to say.”  He has impressed on his faculty the belief that “an incident is 10% action and 90% your reaction.  We want our leaders to think things through before responding in a negative manner.  I try to do the same.”  Noelle Reese noted that he is making a difference.  “Mr. Gaines is a man of few words, but when he does speak it is precise and encouraging.  He also trusts teachers to do their jobs.  He makes Hart County a different place and an exception to the rule.”


Mr. Gaines likes the TKES evaluation instrument for teachers.  “It’s a good tool for education and for educators as far as the 10 standards it addresses” he said, “but my concern is the amount of time required for administrators to do all the observations.  Some teachers need more help than others, and the drawback of TKES is that the same number of observations and the same amount of time must be spent on every teacher.”  He offered this advice for political leaders making educational decisions; “Listen to those in the trenches.  Many times those making decisions on our future are not educators.  Education should be about what’s best for students of our state and nation and not about what a particular political party or lobby wants.”  His thoughts on the Common Core standards mirror that belief.  “There are pros and cons about the standards, but things change so often and so quickly we don’t really have time to measure its effectiveness before it changes.  Let’s stay the course on something for a while before we change to something else.”  He also suggests again that people making decisions about education listen more to teachers.  “When I have a question about an issue or an idea, I talk to other Principals.  Mark Wilson, 2009 NASSP Principal of the Year is at the top of that list.  Mark has had a tremendous influence on my career as an administrator.  I am a better leader because of the advice I get from him.  If I have a car problem I talk to a mechanic.  If there is a medical issue I talk to a doctor.  If I want insurance advice I call my insurance agent.  Why don’t our leaders include teachers in the discussions and decisions about education?”


Senior Meagan summed up the influence Mr. Gaines has had on Hart County students; “He sets the tone for a culture that encourages a close-knit family feel in our small town rural school.  I watch administrators, teachers and students led by Mr. Gaines’ example give generously of their time and efforts to those in need, not just on a few occasions but many.  What we are learning at HCHS offers a balance of skills we need in everyday life as well as extraordinary opportunities.  Habitudes, a program started by Mr. Gaines, are short life lesson sessions conducted by our teachers.  There is a different theme each week, and the lessons make us think about how we react to each other and to situations and how we can change our behavior to make our world a better place for all of us.”


Teaching these life lessons is just as important to student success as academic achievement.  Kevin Gaines, by changing the culture of his school and his community in positive ways, is indeed making a difference in Hart County for students, teachers and the surrounding area.  Nancy Hart would have approved.





5/6/15

The Wolves Are Out of the Closet

The Wolves Are Out of the Closet


SB 152 is sponsored by Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), Francis Millar (R-Atlanta) and Curt Thompson (D-Tucker).  It creates a hybrid retirement system named “Georgia Teachers Pension and Savings Plan” and is written to cover new teachers on or after January 1, 2017.  Teachers currently covered under TRS may remain in TRS as long as they maintain active membership.  Current TRS members have the option of enrolling in the new plan.  This sounds a lot like “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” doesn’t it?


The new defined benefit plan allows members to contribute between 5 and 6% of their salary, and they will receive 1% of their highest average monthly salary multiplied by their years of service.  The current benefit is 2%.  No cost of living adjustments for contributors will be pre-funded by the legislature, accumulated sick leave is not available for inclusion and service credit transfers from other positions is only allowed for TRS covered positions, ERS or specified military service.  Current TRS rules allow transfers of service credit from some federal positions, some private schools, some colleges and universities and some private schools.  Salary increases of over 5% in a 12 month period will not be recognized.

The 401K defined contribution plan, the second part of the bill, allows members to be enrolled at a 5% contribution rate, they may not be allowed to withdraw money from their 401 K while employed in a TRS covered position, limits employer contributions to 1% plus up to 50% of a total of 2% of the employee salary and members will be vested in the system after 5 years of service.

This bill represents a significant reduction in benefits for anyone entering the teaching profession after January 1, 2017, and is being sold as a plan that allows teachers to keep their retirement plan if they choose to change professions.  In other words, it removes one of the incentives for teachers to stay in teaching for more than 5 years.  What a bargain!


Just after the turn of the century, the Georgia Legislature called for a “fiscal study” to look at the Employee Retirement System, presumably because it was costing the state too much money.  The ERS became, in 2007, a defined contribution program like the one being proposed for TRS.  Now, in addition to low pay, low morale and increased insurance costs (sound familiar, teachers?) the ERS retirement package provides even less incentive for state workers to stay in their positions for any length of time.  Ask a state employee what they think of the defined contribution retirement program.

It would seem our Legislature, in lieu of making teaching a more attractive profession, has found a way to make it even more unattractive to prospective teachers by proposing changes to TRS.  It’s apparently not enough to under fund education through austerity cuts that have been a staple of the education budget since 2003, micromanage teacher evaluations by adding junk science VAM, script test-centric teaching through Common Core standards, blame teachers for societal issues they did not create, grade schools through a CCRPI method designed to produce failure, burden teachers and students with standardized testing that again and again points out the effects of poverty on standardized test scores in the zip code effect version of “if we measure it enough it might go away,” agree to restore health coverage for under-paid part time school employees by “allowing” local systems to absorb the costs, give legislative lip service to “local control” and “individualized learning” while insisting on the same thing at the same time for every student, restoring part of the austerity cut in an election year and having the gall to call it an “increase for education” and now, to add insult to injury, propose a reduction in retirement benefits for the profession they all love to hate.

It’s little wonder that enrollment in teacher training programs in Georgia has decreased significantly since 2011.  UGA noted a 28% decrease in its teacher education program since that time, and KSU is down 23%.  Overall, teacher training programs in Georgia are down over 15% in the last 4 years.  That means over 6,000 students in Georgia have chosen NOT to become teachers, and just when we need them most.  Perhaps this is a sign that our Legislators need to rethink their priorities...or is it?


Perhaps this is just another road sign along the ALEC highway to the privatization of public education.  The American Legislative Exchange Council encouraged states to convert their defined benefit public pensions to 401 K and/or defined contribution plans with a report last August entitled “New Report Provides Solutions to State Public Pension Dilemmas”  (http://www.alec.org/new-report-provides-solutions-to-state-public-pension-dilemmas/.)   Also listed on the ALEC website is model legislation for a pension reform act suitable for framing...or reframing, as the case may be.  See for yourself  http://www.alec.org/model-legislation/defined-contribution-pension-reform-act .)  You won’t find it on the ALEC website, but other sources list Fran Millar as a member (along with other members of the Georgia Legislature) of ALEC.  

The National Public Pension Coalition issued a statement about just such legislation as this in other states.  “When states have adopted pension overhaul legislation, they have found that it came at a significant cost.  Alaska and Michigan went down that road and saw their pension debt increase.  West Virginia adopted a 401 K like plan for public employees in 1991, but reversed course in 2006 after a report found that public employees had such low incomes in retirement that they were eligible for means-tested public programs, driving up costs to the state.”   The Plot Against Pensions noted that in Rhode Island, often used as a model by ALEC, costs were driven up by exorbitant fees to Wall Street money managers so much that Forbes Magazine called it “just blatant Wall Street gorging.”


I haven’t talked to any teachers yet, working or retired, that think this is a good idea.  In the interests of fairness, I will proudly tell you that I served in public education for over 39 years, and retired as a TRS member in good standing in July of 2013 with a little over 30 years in Georgia public education and I talk to teachers almost every day.  Maybe that’s the problem.  Maybe our Legislators don’t spend enough time talking to teachers, employed or retired.  If they keep finding bad ideas like this one, there may not be enough teachers left to talk to. I suppose we all knew it was coming.  The temptation of messing around with something that’s working as well as TRS is just too much for some politicians to resist.  Those billions of dollars that teachers put in there is just too tempting a target, and could be used for so many other things if only teachers weren’t so stubborn about it.  It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the Senate and House Retirement Committees will hold a joint meeting on Thursday, May 7 at 10am.  I have already contacted my Legislators and told them my opinions about adding yet another bad idea to an already full bag of bad legislative ideas concerning public education.  I hope you do the same.  Do it now.  The wolves have come out of the closet and are hiding behind the couch in the ALEC room.  ALEC is watching, and if you are in public education or have a child in public education they are not your friend.

4/24/15

Building Administrators Making a Difference for Public Education in Georgia - Elizabeth Anderson

    Dr. Anderson received a letter last week from one of her 4th graders.  Shyla wrote “I think that now we are under new leadership we should have a new fierce mascot, like something that describes a warrior’s bravery.  What I had in mind was Timberwolves...I know that Timberwolves would suit the school and the Warrior Way.  Timberwolves would represent our school by letting everyone know that we are all in a pack, just like wolves. We’re all in this together.  No one stands alone in this school!...(Timberwolves) are fast learners.  So are our little warriors.”
    Don’t think for a minute that kids don’t notice what happens when the culture in a school begins to change.  They usually know it before the adults do. W.L. Swain Elementary is in the little town of Plainville in Gordon County in northwestern Georgia.  The population of the town is 313, and students come from the town and the surrounding area.  There are 500 students in grades Pre-K through 5, and 73% of them participate in the Free/Reduced Lunch program.  Swain has 65 faculty and staff members.  Elizabeth Anderson was recruited 23 years ago by Superintendent David McCloud after she graduated from Georgia Southern with a degree in Early Childhood Education and has been in Gordon County ever since.  She initially taught Special Education at Ashworth Middle, earned a Master’s Degree in 1999 and an Educational Specialist degree in Leadership in 2004. Elizabeth was transferred to Belwood Elementary in 2000 and was named the school’s Teacher of the Year and Gordon County’s Teacher of the Year in 2004.  She served as AP at Red Bud Elementary and Sonoraville, completed her Ed. D. in Educational Administration and was named Principal of Sonoraville Elementary in 2010.  Dr. Susan Remillard, Superintendent of Gordon County Schools, transferred Elizabeth to Swain Elementary to serve as Principal in 2013.  She said “Dr. Anderson saw a school in need of direction; a school with so much potential; a school filled with eager, intelligent minds waiting for a chance to shine.  With all of her ambition, drive, heart and soul she jumped in with both feet, and W. L. Swain set its course to become a place “Where Learning Shapes Extraordinary Students.”  I knew without a doubt that she would be successful in leading Swain on a path to success.  She is a change agent with a vision for the how and why.  She is an advocate for all children.  She places value on professional growth opportunities designed to improve teacher efficacy and raise achievement while advancing the mission of the system.  She is an extraordinary educator who achieves amazing results.”
    Teachers and parents agree that Dr. Anderson is making a difference in the culture of the school.  Teacher Beverly Holland noted “Dr. Anderson has taken us from a culture of teachers working individually but not united.  She has visually improved the school using volunteers (including her own family) and teachers to make it a more welcoming atmosphere for stakeholders and students.  Teachers have a protected, collaborative planning time, in-house professional development, thought-out scheduling for every event, an explicit emergency plan that is practiced faithfully, incentives for students, unique fund raising events and, most importantly, the security of knowing we have a knowledgeable captain in charge of the ship.”  Parent Amy Holmes stated “Dr. Anderson is a visible administrator that provides strong leadership, structure and a celebration of student and teacher successes.  She has invited the community to be a part of the school and started a reading bowl that involved students and parents from all over the county.  She sends out a parent link every Sunday afternoon informing parents of the activities for the coming week, started a soccer camp for our kids run by high school students and has made it clear that parents and people from the town are welcome at Swain Elementary.  She has found new resources for technology, the curriculum and even found a way to buy new music for the chorus.”  Teacher Noreen Queen noted “Teachers know now that the expectations and the focus are on students and instruction.  We are receiving professional learning regularly and are expected to implement what we learn.  We know that she will be in every classroom every day, she knows every student’s name and parents are starting to make requests to move their children to Swain from other schools.  Wow!  I’ve never seen that in the 23 years I have been teaching here.”
    The PAGE High School Redesign Initiative also includes elementary schools, and focuses on teaching teachers to move away from the traditional emphasis on student conformity, lecture and worksheets and toward the goal of providing challenging work that engages students in the learning process.  The program is provided free of charge to participating schools with no requirements for membership in PAGE for participants, and teaches teachers to share what they learn with their colleagues within their own schools and within their school system.  Ricky Clemmons is the Director of HSRI, and said “My first thought about Dr. Anderson is 'class.'  She has it and you can spot it a mile away.  She is committed to doing the right thing for students, and the things she does an an administrator begin and end with doing what is best for students.  She is the lead learner for her faculty, and has a true understanding of what it means to transform a school, build capacity with her staff, develop and nurture teachers, build community support and provide a clear direction and focus for all who are served by her school.  Her ego never gets in the way of doing what is best for kids.”  Assistant HSRI Director Judy Henry agrees.  “Elizabeth is not a warm and fuzzy Principal who joins arms, sways and sings Kum-Ba-Yah with others.  She is goal oriented and has the communication skills to encourage others to stretch beyond what they believe they can do.  Returning classroom decisions to teachers is one of her secrets to success.  In Elizabeth’s school a tremendous amount of vertical and horizontal communication needed to be established.  She said that her work at Sonoraville Elementary prepared her for what needed to be done at Swain.  A wise woman, indeed.”
    Elizabeth hires new teachers based on character.  “I craft questions that will draw out their character in the interview.  You can teach a willing person with a dedicated curriculum, but it’s difficult to instill character in an adult.  I want teachers who have a passion to be the best and intrinsically raise the bar for themselves.  Those are the teachers that will do professional learning on their own and challenge themselves to be the best.”  She believes that effective administration requires vision, strong communication skills, excellent listening skills, solid instructional practices and trustworthiness.  “In order for a school to grow there must be a vision of where we will be in 5 years.  You have to be able to communicate that vision to stakeholders and a wide variety of groups.  Principals must also be a part of professional learning and understand solid instructional practices in order to have meaningful conversations and provide targeted feedback.  Our stakeholders must know without a doubt that we have our students’ best interests in all of our actions.”  She also mentioned that leaders should never ask teachers to do anything they wouldn’t do themselves.  “I have morning and afternoon duty right along with them” she said.  “I am extremely organized and always let them know what is coming in advance.  I make sure teachers have time to teach and not get bogged down with duties and activities.  I create an atmosphere where teachers can teach and students can learn.”
    Dr. Anderson suggests that the current evaluation instrument for Georgia teachers be modified.  “I wish it didn’t mandate I be in the best teachers’ classrooms as much as those of teachers that struggle and need more support.  The current instrument is basically a one-size-fits-all, and there is just not enough time to get in there and support those that need it most.  It is frustrating.”  She also said she would like to sit down with Governor Deal and Arne Duncan and tell them that educators are not the problem and blaming educators is not the solution.  “Politicians need to listen to educators and put funding back into our schools for our students.  I would enjoy the opportunity to sit at a table with them to help focus on solutions and not on blaming teachers.”  She likes the fact that her school is the heart of the Plainville community.  “Our school has struggled in the past.  This year our school has seen incredible growth.  The community support for our school has been tremendous, and I believe they are cheering for us.  I am planted in my community and believe in the students I serve.  I do not want limits on them because they are from a small town.  I want them to bloom and achieve what they set their minds to do.  The sky's the limit.”
    Her favorite story is that of the starfish, where a man walking along the beach notices his friend picking up starfish stranded by a receding tide and throwing them one by one back into the ocean.  “What are you doing?” the man asked his friend.  “Throwing starfish back into the ocean” was his reply.  “The sun is coming up and the tide is going out.  If I don’t throw them back in they’ll die.”  The man said “don’t you realize there are thousands and thousands of starfish on the miles and miles of this beach?  You can’t possibly make a difference.”  His friend picked up another starfish and threw it into the water.  “I made a difference for that one” he said.  The man learned a valuable lesson that day, and began helping his friend throw starfish back into the ocean, making a difference for those that he could.  Elizabeth Anderson is making a difference for kids and for the community in Plainville at W.L.Swain Elementary School.  I hope they take Shyla’s advice.  I think Timberwolves would be a wonderful mascot for a school that is teaching kids to learn fast and to help each other succeed.  Dr. Anderson is making a difference for the students and community at W.L. Swain Elementary.  She would be the perfect Leader of the Pack.



4/6/15

Just Imagine

   My grandsons and I talk a lot about school.  That’s not surprising considering it’s their job and for 39 years it was mine.  Stevie is in 5th grade and Tommie is in 3rd.  Tommie confided in me a few weeks ago that, despite what I may have heard “Pop, 3rd grade is no joke.”  Their parents and Nana and I are very happy with their respective teachers, their schools, the administrators and the system.  Any issues that come up with either of them are quickly addressed and communication is excellent.  We like the fact that their schools fit my definition of community schools and pay special attention to every child.  The boys tell me without too much prodding what they are reading, what they talk about in class, their progress and their likes and dislikes about their classes, the teacher made tests they take, their friends in their classes and how their teachers handle the problems that come up with behaviors and disruptions. They have learned they can’t get away with one word answers to the question “what did you do in school today” and they have long since learned not to try. They both think that school is what they have to do in order to participate in baseball, and I have no problem with that.  It’s pretty much what I thought when I was 10 and recess was my favorite subject.  Stevie told me last week that he was worried about the tests that were coming up after spring break.  I knew immediately what he meant.  The teachers were worried about student performance and that translates to behaviors that kids pick up on much quicker than many people realize.  I asked him if his friends were worried about the tests.  “We don’t talk about it much” he replied, “but when we do I can tell they’re all worried about how they will do.  Our teacher doesn’t come right out and say she’s worried, but we do hear how important it is for us and for our school that we do our best.”  That concerned me, so we talked some more about why he was worried.  “Nobody really knows what’s going to be on the test, and it’s not like the tests our teacher gives.  She makes sure we know what we’re supposed to answer,  and it only lasts for a little while, but this one’s different.  It’s long and takes up a whole week and every day is a different part we’re supposed to know.”  He also said they spent at least part of each day for the past several weeks on timed assignments.  I knew what that meant too.
    My first step was to talk to their parents.  They had both picked up on the subtle clues that the boys had given about their concerns for “the tests” that were coming soon after spring break.  “I wish they didn’t have to take them” their Dad said.  “They’re worrying for no reason.  From what I’ve read those tests don’t help teachers and certainly don’t help with the boys’ education.”  “If you’re serious about what you just said” I told him, I know where you can find out more information.  I directed him to the Opt Out Georgia Facebook page.  They read everything they could find from that source and from others.  They also read up on some of the things I had written about standardized tests; how they harm rather than help kids and how they serve a political and not an educational purpose.  The final straw for him was when I told him “politicians mostly have their kids in private schools.  They don’t insist that private school students, teachers or schools be graded through forced “accountability” measures.  They only insist on it for public school kids.  If it were a really good idea and helped the educational process, don’t you think standardized testing would have been adopted by private schools by now?”  He wanted to know what they could do to opt their boys out.  “It’s pretty easy” I told him.  “I’ll send an email to the Superintendent and to both Principals telling them you will send a note with each boy to school.  We will keep it simple.  Write ‘my son Stevie will not take any test not created by his teacher.’ Put your contact information on it.  You can follow up with a phone call to the Principal to make sure they got it and to decide with him whether they should stay home during test mornings or can be provided at place to read, study or do classwork in the media center.”
    There was no issue with either grandsons’ teachers, Principal or with the Superintendent.  They didn’t come right out and say it, but I got the impression they would like to see an end to the madness of political testing and a return to a concentration on educating children.  Opting out is one of the best ways I can imagine to fight the stupidity of mandated standardized testing that, after more than a decade of failed test, retest and test again is finally seeing the pushback from parents that will eventually mean its end.
    Just imagine the millions of dollars spent on standardized test development, scoring, actual testing, test training and test security that could be spent to hire new teachers, lower class sizes, restore art and music and elective classes, buy new school technology, books, materials, end furlough days or - gasp - give teachers a raise.  Imagine an end to the political accountabullies and their silly insistence that standardized testing is the only way to hold teachers and schools accountable.  Just imagine the return of the authority of the classroom teacher to actually teach their students rather than follow a scripted test-centric routine designed not to improve teaching and learning but to improve test scores. Just imagine schools focused on taking students where they are educationally and socially and concentrating on teaching and learning rather than on how they test.  Just imagine students being judged by the classroom work they do rather than by a score on a standardized test.  Just imagine the students in public schools being educated just the way that students in private schools are learning - from their teachers and not from a mandated testing curriculum. Just imagine your kid’s school being judged by the parents, teachers and community members on their effectiveness rather than some made-up metric based on the junk science of standardized testing.  Just imagine teachers being judged by their administrators and mentored by other teachers to help them learn how to be more effective in what they do rather than by basing their effectiveness, salary and advancement on a precentage of the test scores of students in their room using a voodoo math VAM method that has been condemned by the American Statistical Association?  
    Just imagine that opting your kids out of the insanity of standardized testing could help bring an end to the abomination of political testing, the charade of corporate school reform, the resegregation of schools, the intrusion of a standardized national curriculum and end the demonization of the teaching profession.  Just imagine. That’s why we’re opting our boys out.  Can you do less for your kids and grandkids?

4/4/15

Building Administrators Making a Difference in Public Education in Georgia - Gina Linder

Building Administrators Making a Difference in Public Education in Georgia - Gina Linder


    In the hall just outside the Main Office of Murray County High School, in a long glass display case, is a row of eight graduation gowns.  Each gown represents a different school year and each is covered with the signatures of the students representing the Senior class for that year.  Gina Linder conducts a ceremony for every grade level at the beginning of each year emphasizing the importance of graduation, but the Senior meeting is special.  At the end of that meeting, each member of the Senior Class gets to sign the green graduation gown.  The gown, with the signatures in silver ink, goes on display in the hall and serves as a daily reminder to MCHS Seniors of their commitment to graduation.  Gina wears the gown to the graduation ceremony and gets to spend at least an hour before the event posing for pictures with Seniors pointing to their signature on the garment.  Afterwards she returns it to the permanent display in the hall to continue to serve as a testament to the graduating class and as a reminder for other classes of the commitment to graduation..  
    Murray County High School is in Chatsworth GA.  The 2010 census counted 4,299 residents, and the town serves as the county seat.  It sits on the western edge of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in the mountains of north Georgia, and is less than 12 miles from Dalton.  The school serves grades 9-12, has 835 students, is 21% Hispanic, has an economically disadvantaged student rate of 74%, has 61 certified staff including teachers, administrators and counselors and 19 classified employees.  The leading employers in the area are the public education system and the carpet mills.  Every year, MCHS has a number of first generation graduates and many families struggle to make financial ends meet.  MCHS students spend countless hours volunteering their time and efforts to assist with the Community Christmas program, several canned food drives throughout the year and the “Saturday Sacks” program that provides sack lunches for students to take home when they leave school on Fridays.  Students volunteer in raising money for a Child Abuse Awareness program and Relay for Life. The school also has a free summer lunch program for students from disadvantaged families.
    When Gina Linder was appointed Principal, her first goal was to change the culture of MCHS.  The graduation rate was 57%, test scores were below state averages, the school was on the “Needs Improvement” list for the 3rd consecutive year and, even more troubling, averaged almost 1000 discipline referrals per school year.  “There were distinct feelings of frustration and negativity from students, parents and teachers” Gina remembered, “and my first day I made our school motto ‘Graduation is Our Goal.’  Students hear that every morning and afternoon now as part of the announcements.”  She also decided the Student Council and  a teacher led Leadership Team would become key elements in the decision making process.  “Both are active participants in academic and social aspects of our school,” Gina said, “and develop strategic goals, analyze data and present new strategies for each school year.”  One of the student contributions is the PRIDE model that became the foundation of the school culture.  “Model Responsibility, Commit to Graduation, Have Self Control and Show Respect.  The MCHS model encompasses our school culture” Gina said.
    “We have overcome the obstacles created by budget cuts” she noted, “including our 160 day school calendar.  Our graduation rate has increased significantly, and has been over 90% for the last three years.  Our students’ scores on standardized tests have been consistently above the state average and we now average less than 250 discipline referrals per year.  We offer 8 college courses on our campus, and have about 150 of our Juniors and Seniors enrolled in the college program.  Our state CCRPI scores are among the highest in the northwest Georgia area.  Our school is the focal point of our small community” Gina continued, “and the academic success and climate of the high school is one of the first things people look at when deciding to move into a community or start a business here.  The school and the community have to be partners in ensuring that students become responsible citizens.  A high school is a direct reflection of the community in which it resides, and a community, in turn, is a direct reflection of its high school.”
    Gina went to college on a basketball scholarship, and graduated with a degree in ELA and a desire to coach girls basketball.  She taught and coached for 12 years before accepting a position as a middle school assistant principal.  She was named MS Principal the following year and asked to become Principal at MCHS in February of 2007.  “Coaching helped develop my already competitive nature” she said, “and even though I knew I had a lot to learn, I loved the idea of taking on the challenges at MCHS.”  
    The Superintendent of Murray County Schools is Vickie Reed.  She observed “Gina has successfully developed a positive culture where all staff and students are held to high expectations.  Her hands-on approach of using data to inform and monitor instruction when meeting with teachers and staff has led to higher academic achievement for all students.  Mrs. Linder exemplifies the term instructional leader.”  Andrea Morrow, Curriculum and Instruction Facilitator at MCHS agrees.  “I have been working with Gina for over 10 years.  She is my mentor and role model.  Mrs. Linder has created a caring and positive school culture, but that’s only part of it.  She believes that academics, relationships and communication with parents are crucial components for helping students achieve success.  She is innovative and values the thoughts and ideas of her stakeholders.  She has taught us that success is not an isolated accomplishment nor is it achievable without consistency and hard work.  Teachers and students work hard to meet her expectations because they know they have her support and loyalty.  Our teachers believe in Gina Linder because she believes in us..  She creates and supports opportunities for growth, and is a visionary.  She knows that as teachers grow and learn student learning increases, teachers feel empowered by her support and become leaders and teachers stay at MCHS because of her leadership.”
    “I look for teaching strategies and personality when hiring teachers” said Mrs. Linder.  “A person can be an expert in content knowledge, but if they aren’t energetic, can’t build relationships with students, aren’t enthusiastic about teaching and don’t have the ability to actively engage students in learning through a variety of solid teaching strategies then they will not be a successful teacher.”  Gina expects teachers to engage in bell to bell instruction, expects every teacher in every classroom to use writing and SAT vocabulary, use lexile data to differentiate instruction and to use “depth of knowledge” activities to help prepare students for life after high school.  “I think teachers appreciate the fact that I am open and honest with them.  Most of them also know I was a very dedicated teacher who understands the challenges they face.  My administrators and I have an open door policy, and I think teachers appreciate the fact they can come into our offices and share both professional and personal issues with us.”  
    Timothy is a 2012 graduate of MCHS, and believes strongly that MCHS is a special place and that Mrs. Linder makes a positive difference in the lives of her students.  “The lesson I learned there is that happiness comes from service” he said.  “The teachers are accessible and go out of their way to help students.  I always felt I was an individual there instead of just another student.”  The involvement of community members and business leaders also made an impression on him.  “They led experiences for students that included filling out college applications, career days and Leadership Murray, where business leaders helped bridge a gap between students and those who make the county work.”  
    Gina observed that being a high school administrator is a rewarding career, but can be stressful and challenging.  “I focus on being proactive” she said, “and always try to be fair, firm and consistent with students, teachers and parents.  Our students need us and depend on us to provide a safe and rigorous learning environment, and their future has to be our first priority in every decision.  I laugh when I say this, but being an administrator also includes all of those things I tried to avoid as a teacher; lunch duty every day, bus duty every day, hall duty every day, 15 hour days every day...the list goes on.”  She also says her parents prepared her for the challenges of administration by teaching her independence, morals, values, determination, a positive work ethic and self-confidence.  “They taught me that mistakes are to be embraced and that people should be valued and cherished.  They helped me understand that there is a difference in thinking you are a leader and in earning the respect required to be a successful leader.”  Gina also learned from Danny Dunn, the Principal that hired her for her first teaching job.  “He involved teachers in decision making, and walked us through the process.  He also taught me that just because we thought something was a great idea doesn’t mean it would turn out great in practice, and that admitting those things to teachers was a strength and not a weakness.”  She also admires her Superintendent, Dr. Vickie Reed.  “Dr. Reed leads by example and sets high expectations for herself and for those that work for her.  She helps me stay focused on the important aspects of being an administrator, and has given me the opportunity to implement new initiatives and help make positive changes at MCHS.”
    Gina’s leadership led MCHS to be the first high school in Georgia to be named as a National Model High School for the Commit to Graduate program, an AP Honors School in 2014 and a Title I Reward School for progress, also in 2014.  She presented at the National CASE conference and the Georgia “Turnaround Schools” Conference, serves as the 2nd Vice President of the Georgia Association for Secondary School Principals, serves on the Superintendent’s Action Team for her system and has completed training as a Principal’s Coach for the Georgia School Superintendents Association.  
    Mrs. Linder feels one of her most important duties is to mentor teachers.  She plans meaningful professional learning activities for the faculty that she also attends.  “Great teachers are leaving our profession” she observed, “and many of them because of the amount of time we spend testing students and the misplaced emphasis on the results of those tests.  Between overtesting and unfunded mandates, a teacher’s job has become exponentially harder over the last several years.  A good administrator can never forget what it’s like to be a teacher, and has to truly care about her faculty professionally and personally and about her students.”  Andrea Morrow sees this commitment from Gina daily, and remarked “when I look back at my career after thirty years, I will remember her as the person who made sure I stayed in the teaching profession and who helped me determine what type of educator I would become.  She is that rare breed of administrator who maintains utter professionalism while still cultivating an element of approachability that allows us to respect her as much as we lean on her.”
    There is no higher praise.  Gina Linder is indeed making a difference in Murray County.




3/17/15

Building Administrators Making a Difference in Public Education in GA - Chris Lindsey

Building Administrators Making a Difference in Public Education in GA - Chris Lindsey



    “Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.”  Chris Lindsey heard that from his Dad at least a million times, and has made the biblical saying a key pillar in his beliefs and methods.  Mr. Lindsey has been Principal of George Washington Carver High School in Columbus GA since August 2005.  His Dad, Dr. Eddie T. Lindsey Sr. began his teaching career at Carver in the 1950’s, and in 1975 was appointed as the first black Assistant Superintendent in Muscogee County.  Chris’ Mom taught PE in the District until her retirement, and his older brother Eddie Jr. is Principal at Key Elementary School in Columbus.  Both sons were expected to do well in school, earn a college degree and put their educational achievements to use helping others in the community.  “Dad told us the keys to success began with education and expectations.  He was a role model for us and for the community, and made sure we understood our obligations.  He let us fail but never let us give up.”
    George Washington Carver High School is a new building with an old tradition.  The original building opened in 1954 as a junior high with 15 teachers and 379 students in grades 7 and 8 in South Columbus.  The current structure is only 2 years old, and houses the Science, Technology and Engineering Magnet Program for Muscogee County.  The Magnet program operates as a school within a school, and application to the magnet is open to high school students across the district. GWC currently serves grades 9-12, has 1165 students, 90 teachers and staff, is 95% African-American and 100% free lunch.  The school’s Partners in Education are Georgia Power Company, Freeman and Associates, Balfour Beatty, Citizens Trust Bank, The Columbus- Ft. Benning Medical Association and the Airport Thruway Wal-Mart.  In 2005, Carver’s graduation rate was 47% and less than 95% of its students participated in state mandated testing.  Since 2005, student scores on state tests have risen 10% or more in all areas and the graduation rate is now 75%.  “We graduate more than that” said Mr. Lindsey, “but it takes longer for some than for others.”
    Chris began teaching Marketing and Entrepreneurship at Columbus High School in 1995 after graduating from Savannah State University with a degree in Marketing.  “I wanted to encourage students, especially minority students, to embrace control of their destiny through education and business ownership.  Marketing concepts and strategies got them excited about my class, and to stay in my class they had to pass their other classes.”  He was encouraged by Principal Ronnie Shehane to prepare for his own future by obtaining administrative certification.  Chris earned that certification along with a Masters degree at Troy State in Phenix City, AL, and later completed an EdS degree in Administration and Leadership, also from Troy State.  He transferred to Shaw HS in 1998 and taught Marketing and coached football.  Charles Flowers was AD and Head Football Coach at Shaw, and Chris learned from him how organization, preparation, focused effort and inspiration could combine to not only produce a winning football program but to positively influence students and the community.  “I saw far too many economically disadvantaged students who thought school was a waste of time.  They didn’t know how the real world operated.  They had intelligence but no direction.  They blamed the world rather than dedicating themselves to self-improvement, and had no knowledge of self or self-worth.  I wanted to help change that” he continued.  “The things I learned from football added to what I had learned from my Dad.  The same principles that were effective in sports were effective in my classroom.  I learned that caring wasn’t enough, and that I had to work hard to convince kids they didn’t have to fail.”
    Chris was named Assistant Principal at Shaw in 2001.  His Dad gave him this advice before the school year started; “Son, if you are not able to multi-task all day every day then go back into the classroom.  If you can’t deal effectively with parents and the community and develop community support, then stay out of administration.  If you can’t deal with criticism, true or not, then stay in the classroom.  Be humble, but be passionate about what you do, be strategic, be decisive, and learn to listen before you make a judgement.”  His Dad’s advice proved to be prophetic.  “I learned the hard way that my Dad was right” Chris said.  “I told myself I would be visible, I would be accessible to students and to teachers, I would find the resources to make teaching and learning more effective, I would listen, and that I would under no circumstances allow one person to disrupt the learning process for others.  My parents had high expectations for discipline in our home.  I have the same expectations for students and teachers in our school” he said quietly.
    “Family” is a word you hear a lot at Carver, from teachers and from students.  Erin is an 11th grader, and has been a Carver student for almost 3 years.  “Teachers here actually see your potential and encourage you to build on it and become something bigger than your circumstances.  They will not allow you to waste space and talent.  Mr. Lindsey helped me to see the bigger picture.  I’m not just working to pass anymore.  I’m working on my future” she stated.  Mr. Cabrera teaches Automotive Technology, and noted “I am amazed at how far teachers here will go to make sure students succeed in their classes and in their career choices.  The one thing we all have in common is we operate as a family.  There are issues and problems and arguments and disagreements, but everybody working here cares enough for kids to make sure they do the right thing.  We care enough to correct them.”  “I feel appreciated by the administrators, the other teachers, my students’ parents and by my students for the things I do” said Ms. Williams, Finance Teacher.  “It’s not just a school, it’s truly a family.”  Mr. Lindsey believes that the idea of family is an integral part of their success, and noted the attitude goes beyond the walls of the building or the time constraints of the school day.  “We’re much more than just part of the community” he continued.  “We ARE the community.  Our school and business partners make sure community members are part of our students’ education, goals and plans.”
    Mr. Lindsey looks for teachers who can relate real life situations to the subjects they are teaching.  “Going beyond the textbook” he said “is crucial.  Not everything in the textbook is an absolute, and relying solely on the textbook encourages stagnation.  It’s like the teacher that has 10 years of experience as opposed to the teacher that has one year’s experience 10 times.  I also look for teachers who are willing to develop strong nurturing relationships with parents and students.  Those relationships are crucial in helping kids and their families through tough situations.  I also encourage collaborative planning for teachers across the curriculum.  Great teachers learn from other teachers, and planning, collaboration and the integration of real world experiences are key to good classroom management.”  His methods have been effective. George Washington Carver High School was named a Reward School by the Georgia Department of Education in 2012, 2013 and 2014.  
    Chris points to several personality traits that he believes are essential for effective school administration, and lists being a good listener at the very top.  “It’s also essential to be an effective communicator, but you have to listen before you speak and listen more than you speak.”  His teachers say he can be inspirational, does not shy away from making a decision and shows great courage and a willingness to handle controversy inside and outside the building.  “Mr. Lindsey supports teachers in ways they may not even realize” one noted.  “He sets the tone and the family atmosphere in the building, and makes this a great place to teach and to learn.”  “He is also highly visible” said another teacher, “and attends almost every event or function that involves students.  That means a lot to the kids and to their parents.”
    “One thing I have noticed,” observed Mr. Lindsey, “is that demands on my time from the District and State levels have increased exponentially.  It seems there is a meeting or a form or a survey or a test or a directive from above daily, and it cuts dramatically into the time I would rather spend in the classroom.”  He suggests that our state leaders visit schools personally to see what schools and students do every day.  “A few visits to our world will hopefully help them see the struggles and adversity that kids and teachers face on a daily basis, and help them to see that new rules and regulations aren’t helping anyone succeed.  They need to know they can’t legislate excellence.  They need to be helping teachers and not blaming them for problems teachers didn’t create.”  Chris also sees Common Core as a corporate scheme to make more money rather than an honest attempt to improve education.  “Teachers, school administrators, business leaders and universities need to collaborate to decide state curricula.  Instead, politicians have hijacked the process and pitted local public schools against the University system rather than finding ways to encourage development of a more seamless transition from one to the other.  Opportunities for our students diminish or vanish completely in the current political climate.  Our teachers and students remain frustrated and confused because of the educational “reforms” and fads that rip through our system every couple of years.”
    Chris Lindsey and his teachers and staff have created an environment where expectations drive the mission and vision of the school and the community.  “We refuse to let outside forces dictate the menu of failure to our students.  We have a learning community that serves our community” he said proudly.  Senior Qhamora said the same thing in a different way.  “George Washington Carver is a special place to me because of the relationships I have with teachers, students and administrators.  When I arrived here I was timid and afraid and unsure of myself.  Now, as a Senior, I know I have the tools to succeed.”  In a world that says that minority kids from high poverty areas are supposed to fail, Chris Lindsey has successfully created a caring, learning community that works together to teach kids how to expect to succeed ...just like the family where he grew up.

3/1/15

Common Core and the Titanic

Common Core and the Titanic
    Common Core is a standardized national curriculum.  You might debate the difference in standards and curriculum till the cows come home, but when the standards drive textbook production and, in systems starved financially by the cumulative effects of years of austerity cuts, are used by classroom teachers to develop daily lesson plans, the standards become the curriculum.  The debate over whether or not the standards are curriculum is a diversion to distract parents from the real issue of Federal intrusion into what is a state issue.
     From an historical context, a centralized school curriculum serves the goals of totalitarian states.  It’s also illegal.  The General Education Provisions Act, the Department of Education Organization Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act all forbid or protect against the USDOE sticking its nose into the curriculum choices of state and local districts.  In spite of this, the USDOE funded the efforts of two separate testing companies to create a national test for English and mathematics.  Joseph Califano said “Any set of test questions that the federal government prescribed should surely be suspect as a first step toward a national curriculum…….[and] a national control of curriculum is a form of national control of ideas.”  
   Despite legal issues, CCSS were created through a secretive process with no opportunity for public input, little or no attempt at the solicitation of public dialogue, no evidence of discussion or critique from experienced educators, no foundational research or pilot programs and on the assumption that any standardized national curriculum was better than none at all.
   Where did the Common Core originate?  The National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practice, the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve, Inc., ACT, the College Board, the State Higher Education Executive Officers and the National Association of State Boards of Education all claim credit for developing these standards on behalf of the states.  States quickly jumped on the Common Core train before the standards were completed and before anyone had any idea what they would cost to implement.   RTTT dollars were the carrot and now states are being hit with the financial stick in the form of costs of implementation and standardized testing.
There are additional issues:
    1) There are few interdisciplinary connections between subjects in spite of research showing the positive effects of those connections on student learning and achievement.
    2) Citizenship, personal development and the promotion of democratic values are ignored.  Do not believe for one second their omission was inadvertent or unintentional.  
3) These standards are, by design and intent, difficult to amend in any way, shape or form despite what state committees might have told you during their “listening sessions”.
   Perhaps the biggest fallacy with Common Core is found in the belief that if everyone does the same thing at the same time to the same degree then all results will be wonderful.  Tell me how wonderfully that works with your kids or your job or your church or your spouse.
     CCSS, however, is just the part of the iceberg that’s showing above the surface.  It’s the part you can’t see that’s really dangerous.   The standards, along with the denigration of public school teachers, the re-segregation of schools, the constant assertions that public schools are failing miserably and an insistence on the “market based” (translated as privately owned for- profit educational agencies) approach to education fits nicely into the anti-public education agenda of the last decade.  None of the reasons presented for the adoption of the Common Core had anything to do with improving achievement but had everything to do with testing and regulating public education down the tubes until the public gives up, throws its collective hands into the air and consents to allow public education funds to be used by for-profit educational enterprises.  
    Common Core is part and parcel of the continued efforts to divert public money to private pockets, a continuation and an extension of vouchers,  Race to the Top, NCLB, teacher bashing, the use of value added measures to evaluate schools, administrators and teachers, the charter school movement, the Governor’s new Opportunity School District, ALEC led initiatives, changes to the Teacher Retirement System, the evaluation of schools of education using test scores, the continuation of useless standardized testing, the erosion of the authority of teachers in their classrooms, the imposition of rules and regulations designed to inhibit student learning, creativity and teacher morale and support those who insist that public education is an abject failure and must be abandoned.  As if that weren’t enough, the educational intent of those standards is not to  build upon success from one level to the next, but to instill a finite amount of information and achievement that creates good little workers that don’t have the imagination, creativity or problem solving skills to question authority.
    They want rules and testing for your kids, but not for theirs because their kids and grandkids are in private schools.  I might suggest to you that if a legislator has no kids or grandkids in public schools their their votes on public education should be met with all the skepticism and suspicion given a Methodist vote on the next Pope.
      In 1996 E. D. Hirsch wrote “The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them.”  In 1983 “A Nation at Risk” told us of the failure of our system of public education. The Educational Testing Service discovered in 1976 that college freshmen could correctly answer only half of forty multiple choice questions. In 1969 the Chancellor of NY schools, Harvey Scribner, said that for every student schools educated there was another that was “scarred as a result of his school experience.”  Admiral Rickover published “American Education, a National Failure” in 1963, and in 1959 LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space because “the standards of education are shockingly low.”  In 1955 Why Johnny Can’t Read became a bestseller, and in 1942 the NY Times noted only 6% of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75% did not know who was President during the Civil War.  The US Navy in 1940 tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed. In 1889 the top 3% of US high school students went to college, and 84% of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen.
    You can see that stories about public education failing us all are not new.  The age of the lie, however, does not improve veracity.   Using international testing comparisons ignores the fact that US public education attempts to educate everyone and not a select few.  Other countries do not imitate our methods of testing or national curriculum but do seek ways to replicate the creativity and innovation of our people instilled by our system of public schools.  Fans of Seinfeld will remember George Costanza telling Jerry “it’s not a lie if you believe it.”  Listening to those who insist public education has failed lead me to believe that perhaps George was Arne Duncan’s father.
    What about the failure of public education?  Doesn’t everybody know those anti-God government schools have no discipline, no academic focus, no good teachers and high dropout rates?
  Evidently not.  The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that educational attainment is rising continually. Here’s their table providing decade-by-decade figures for high school graduate rates:
    US HS Graduates (total %)     
1940          38.1           
1950          52.8                        
1960          60.7                         
1970          75.4                         
1980          85.4                         
1990          85.7                                  
2000          88.1                        
2010          88.8                         
2013          89.9                         
    GA HS grad %     
1990     70.9           
2000     78.6                 
2006     82.2                 
2009     83.9                 
  Wait a minute - everybody knows Georgia’s graduation rate is in the 60’s.  How can this be?  Here’s how it can be - you only count the number of graduates that finish in less than 4 years and discount all the ones that took longer because they struggled through parent and family issues, financial hardships, poverty, working, parenthood, drug abuse, legal difficulties and life problems.  Those are not counted even though teachers will tell you the hardest kids to reach are the ones they are most proud of reaching.
    So what can you do to fight the corporate takeover of public education and to prevent the advance of thieves and liars that threaten to destroy the hope that public education gives children of all races of all levels of income and of all abilities, goals and handicaps?
   Tell your story.  When you hear of a success story, when you experience a success story, when you see a success story tell your friends, tell your neighbors, put it on Facebook, talk about it in the grocery store, put it in the local paper and tell other parents.  Talk about great teachers, great students and student achievement.  Use statistics, common sense, facts and the successes of students in your community to show how schools are succeeding every day.  Last year there were over 21, 260 applications for the freshman class at UGA.  There were 11,650 of those were accepted and 5,285 first year students enrolled.  Some would have you believe every one came from a private school.   Also remember successful public schools contribute to your local economy, to your community, to higher property values, lower crime rates and to a better quality of life in your community.  .
    Second - Opt out, opt your children out, opt your grandchildren out, opt your neighbors’ children out, encourage your local board to opt your system out and encourage teachers that choose to opt out and refuse to allow anyone in your family or sphere of influence to take standardized tests.  Period.  Allow this perversion of the educational process to die of its own weight and poison.
    Third - and most important - I used to think I could vote for a good person and that I could depend upon good people to do good things.  I have learned the hard way that most politicians are interested in being elected and once elected in being re-elected.  Testing companies, textbook companies and corporations have lobbyists and deep pockets, and campaign promises mean nothing but voting records mean everything.  Politicians that meet my criteria for support below will generally support issues and take stances commensurate with patriotism, common sense and the public good as I see it.  I no longer vote for anyone because of their party, their stand on immigration, on the economy, on their religious beliefs or on their fiscal policies.  My three non-negotiables are:
1) vote for a veteran when possible;  
2) vote for the candidate that supports public education and has their kids and grandkids in public schools. Period.  
3) follow up with letters and emails to that person if they are elected.  
     It’s not about race, it’s about poverty; it’s not about a test score, it’s about student achievement; it’s not about a standardized curriculum, it’s about good teaching; it’s not about the business model, it’s about personalization; it’s not about competition, it’s about cooperation.  Until we elect people that not only believe that but support it, we will continue to get the kind of politicians and public education system we vote for.
    Stay in close touch with your elected officials and let them know you are watching.  Make your voices heard.