Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I am More Than Just an Index Card!

I am More Than Just an Index Card!

Today, the Newark Educational Success Board met with the community of Newark at the Abyssinia Baptist Church.  So I threw on one of my good ole #PARENTPOWER t-shirts laced up my Chucks and drove on down to see what the hype was all about. This new hybrid of committee sent to lead the charge of restoring control back to the City of Newark was created by Governor Christie with the aid of Mayor of Newark Ras Baraka back in June of this year.  The panel has nine members, four appointed by the Mayor and five appointed by the Governor. One being newly appointed ( cause we all know Governor Christie loves his appointees) Superintendent Christopher Cerf.   HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM ODDS? Sounds like a bad Vegas bet to me.  You guessed it the only Newarkers the 4 selected by Mayor Baraka.  Here are the players on the Newark Educational Success Board:
  • Mary Bennett, Educator, Coalition for Effective Public Schools
  • Ross Danis, President and CEO, Newark Trust for Education
  • Honorable Rochelle Hendricks, Secretary of Higher Education
  • Donald Katz, Founder and CEO of Audible, Inc.
  • Al Koeppe,  Trustee, St. Benedict’s Preparatory School;  Former CEO of the Newark Alliance, Inc.;  President and COO PSE&G (Retired) and CEO of Verizon (Retired)
  • Jose Leonardo, Student, Arts High School
  • Grace Sergio, Parent, Newark Public Schools
  • Reverend Perry Simmons, Pastor, Abyssinia Baptist Church
Now, being completely honest, when this list was released back in June there was only one name I was enthusiastic to hear was being represented and that was Jose Leonardo, student leader and activist. I have spent time with Jose in the past and spoke to him about many different issues. The guy is a bright young man who is up for the task and I know, will keep the rest of these folks in line and most of all...honest!  Now as far as the rest of them doing what needs to be done and that is ultimately to educate Newark children and the only agenda, well that remains to be seen
My son and I walked into the lower level of the church where the meeting was going to take place. A table full of city hall employees was set up so that attendees could sign in. One of the ladies behind the table handed me a flyer of the event and another slid a legal note pad my way and asked me " do you want to sign in to speak tonight?" I immediately, slid the pad back and told her that I would take a seat and think about it. Truly, I was not sure if I wanted to lend my input in that capacity. You see, I have spoken many times at various city meetings and sessions and my view now is that I am not the lone Super Dad who will save the city! It's going to take a league of Super Parents to actively show change is occurring. My son who wanted to come along and see what it all was about and I took our seats. The room was filled with familiar faces from the educational fight, members of the Newark Teachers Union, the Newark Advisory Board, from City Hall and in front the Newark Educational Success Board. Cerf, floated around the room and as I watched him converse , he would only speak to very few and mostly those in suits and ties. Very little engagement with the actual members of the community.  For someone who just last night on 1 to 1 with Steven Adubato, said he " is committed to engaging in dialog with the community, parents and teachers," you would think doing a little more "CROWD CERFING" would have been more appropriate.   As much as I love me some Jose, one student, one parent  from the panel is just not enough of a voice, for me anyway to understand the concerns of a whole community.  If he is going to be different than his protegee Cami Anderson, he needs to connect with the people. 
The meeting started and was opened by Reverend Perry Simmons, Pastor of the Abyssinia Baptist Church. He welcomed the the attendees and told us that he had to leave early as he had a prior commitment, he introduced the the Chair of the board Mary Bennett who explained that the board was not the same as the Advisory School Board but will work with them. She said the NESB ( already have an acronym for themselves) already met 3 times since its conception in June and will have a deadline to submit their findings and their report by June 2016.  I did frown a bit on the deadline, partly because the State of NJ has been in control since 1995 and already over 2 decades of traditional Newark Public schooling has been impacted. The bleeding needs to stop and stopped now! The other part of me has heard committees like the Standards Review Board and some other state appointed "transitional committees" issue their deadlines, they come and go and we still see no change! Mrs. Bennett went on to discuss how they were not working on a "4-5" vote but rather than consensus. This was reiterated several times throughout the night and I wasn't sure if they were trying to convince us or each other. "As long as you remain at the discussion table and  work with each other, we may not agree with everything but we can learn to support what needs to be done in order for the greater good."  It was at this point she started the introductions of the board, but quickly advised that the following members would not be in attendance Al Koeppe as he was in California on a prior engagement and Rochelle Hendricks as she was ill.  The members one by one took the podium introducing themselves and their roles in the community and what they hope to lend to the committee. 

Mayor Baraka, entered and was given a moment to speak. He spoke to us about how we as a community may not always agree and that is part of democracy , having the right to debate our difference of opinions.  He also said that just because we get local control back, doesn't mean we stop fighting and also "choice doesn't mean that choice made is your choice. We all have our own individual choice, but that's not how things are done." Mayor Baraka said, the choice that is being discussed is the choice for everyone. I could not agree with him more. However, from what we have seen from what has been masked as "choice" through things like One Newark, skepticism and hesitation on what we are told has to be our choice is a very sensitive subject matter.  When One Newark has been dismantled and local control has been  restored, neighborhood schools return, maybe choice will be an easier topic open for discussion.   He said some more words of hope an encouragement and returned back to the audience. 

The introductions continued. There were a few things that jumped out at me and these are simply my observations. Superintendent Cerf as he has been saying when in public said that he wants to "change the narrative of what is being put out in the public." That "the state and district have been at fault for some of the problems in the district." WELL YA THINK???? He really didn't say all that much or anything new or worth wild.  Some other key comments that jumped out at me where " Our employees volunteer in tutoring North Star students (Charter)..oh and public schools as well" said Donald Katz, CEO of " I am not from Newark, but I hope my work in education as earned me a seat at the conversation in the change that is needed to return local control back to the community of Newark" said Ross Danis, CEO of Newark Trust for Education who received $3.5 million from the Magical Mystery Zuckerberg  $100 million donation from Facebook for awards that are supposed to be administered to principals in high-needs schools and schools who showed achievement support. The most poignant introduction for me came from the youngest. Student Jose Leonardo, introduced himself with a "POWER TO THE PEOPLE!" He want on to tell the crowd that "the students where tired of fighting for something they deserve!" He said we needed to look back, but also needed to look forward as 20 plus years and generations have been impacted by the Cami Anderson reign. As I said before, Mr. Leonardo is my only hope for this board.  Lot to put on his young shoulders, but knowing Jose, I am sure he is up for the challenge!

The floor was opened to questions. Maybe one or two where asked  before Mary Bennett said " We will not have time to hear many questions and input this evening but please raise your hand and we will pass out index cards for you all to write down your ideas and input." SERIOUSLY!!! This is open dialog? I was not happy with that remark. This event was promoted and marketed as a meeting to gather community input so voices can be heard. I appreciate trying to facilitate the meeting but maybe the chair of the meeting could have done less with the wordy responses and allowed the PUBLIC to take center stage in this discussion. For every hand raised, there was a snappy comeback followed by "write it on your index card."  Now, did she honestly think that was going to go over well? I understand the premise of the meeting was to get as much feedback as possible but the room was not that large and not everyone asked questions or had something to lend as far as "what schools after local control would look like!" They did have a sign in sheet when you walked in but that was either lost or totally forgotten about. Prior to the event there was no way of registering to sign up to speak. I mean even state run "pretendamittees" offer that. I quickly saw that the format had slipped away and raised my hand. I announced my name and proudly stated that I was a Newark resident and NPS alumni. I told the NESB that what I saw was a school that was on equal levels as those in our suburban neighbors districts. I explained to them that I do not want my son to come home with a school schedule and not know what is being taught and why it was full with double and triple blocks of ELA. No arts, no home economics, no wood shop. I told them I don't remember what some early grades were like but I do remember my 8th grade and how can a curriculum core and basic get my child anywhere near that of the competing child in Short Hills, Livingston or any other suburban town? It is completely unfair! I also told them that a perfect school to me would be one who allows parent input and that did not focus on heavy standardized test preparation. The Chair's response " put it on the index card." The hairs on my neck all jumped up!  Other hands were selected during the course of evening. Here are a few in summary:
- Revitalization of the public school Athletics programs in Newark
- Externships offered by the corporations that occupy our city like Audible, Prudential, Panasonic and PSEG. 
- More elective curriculum such as Music, Performing Arts, Culinary Arts,  etc.
- Curriculum designed for those geared for more vocational students 
- Learning other languages such as Mandarin Chinese (and no it was not my suggestion)
- Opportunities for children to experience and learn abroad 
- Instituting the Amistad Law into curriculum 
- Having Teacher Forums so educators can lend their input on whats needed in the classroom
- Clean and up to date facilities
- Up to date technology
All fantastic suggestions, all received a " put it on your index card" response! the only two questions that didn't were one someone asked" there is outside third party company handling the algorithm to select the teacher process in Newark through a teacher support portal and they had completed an OPRA  request for what is the algorithm parameters and who is third party? The OPRA request was kicked back district had no info. Cerf, stood up as if to answer and basically said" see my staff, Mr. Garrett in the back and he will get your information and we will get back to you. A young elementary student bravely asked " why are there more students, than teachers? Why does my school have more than 30 kids, the legal limit in some classes?" He was deferred to se Mr. Garrett as well.   
I am not trying to rag on the process or nip pick at this newly appointed committee. I understand this was just 1 out of 4 meetings that will engage the public (I so feel that 4 is not enough) but if this committee was created in June 2015 and they only have a year to furnish data, info and a report to the state, do they really think having the community who has tremendously valuable info to lend will keep showing up when they are told  your voice looks like a 4x6 index card, they have failed before they have even gotten out of the starting gates! I urge this " appointed committee" to re-evaluate their tactics when asking the city for their input. When these index cards get lost in the shuffle and when the valuable information never gets it's way to the actual decision making table, will this still look the people of Newark's perfect schools, the corporations that sit on this new board or the Governor's? Will it still than be the "choice" the people are looking for?


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Not Waiving the White Flag Just Yet!

Not Waiving the White Flag Juts Yet!

At the risk of starting off my next entry sounding like a complete broken record...oh wait records if this is about a modern day Dad, who even knows what a record is! MP3s really don't skip, but if they did my bad for sounding like what ever that may be.  When I started this blog, it was never to "seek media attention" or even to be read among the masses. I just wanted to keep a log for myself and other parents out there to look back on as the modern world evolves and have a record to refer back to. Something my parents didn't have the ability to do as I was being raised.  About two weeks ago, my last entry " An Uneven Playing Field"  seemed to have struck a nerve from many who had read it. Whether positively or negatively.

Posting my son's 8th grade Newark Public School schedule and blogging about the inequalities in comparison to other communities and defeat I felt as a father trying to give my son the best hit home for many. Not just dads but with moms, educators, and various communities on social media. Thanks to two of my parent friends and fellow bloggers, Julie B, who decided to blog about my experience and to Sarah B. for reaching out to Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post. Valerie wrote an article about such inequalities in education and used excerpts of both Julie and my parent blogs! Check out Valerie Strauss's An eighth-grade boy's "outrageous" class schedule . My blog got circulated among various other outlets such as YahooNews, The Patch and a few other social media forums.  It was a grateful experience. The most important part and why I started a year and half ago, was sparking conversions that needed to be had!

When you put yourself in a forum such as blogging, you are subjected to feedback some good and some bad. I was applauded for speaking out and by the next comment trashed by readers saying "what more do you want, least he has an education." or " if you don't like it take your son out of the school!" This one to me was the best " well maybe if you would have educated yourself and got a better job you wouldn't have to live there and can live in a more affluent district and your kid would have a  better education!"  Whoa, being on display you have to have a very thick skin! Over 1,000 comments were posted and that was just one outlet! My blog went from about 100 readers to about 14,000 over night!  To say I hit some nerves is an understatement!

Let me quickly address some of the readers who of course not knowing who we are as a family said, "if you want all these extras why don't you be better parents and go outside school and give experiences to your son!" Well, we do just that! Always have! My son plays for a internationally recognized soccer academy. I myself in a past life, was an Arts in Education Coordinator for a performing arts center so we are always going to see performances. Music, Dance and Performing Arts is prevalent in our home. Just this past month we took the family to Philadelphia and at my sons request we were able to make it to among many stops, the Franklin Institute. We explored the museum where he did things like  made his own paper, but his main reason for wanting to go was to see the exhibition The Art of the Brick.  He is part of his community and even has spoken on the state level regarding his experiences with standardized testing and inequalities in his school district.  We go outside of what schools provide.  I am actually volunteering my time bringing in some additional programs after school. A National Archery in The Schools Program ( I am a certified instructor ) and a music and dance show case as well. I know that if the district will not provided it to my school as a parent, I will seek and find programs not only for my son to engage in but for other children and families to take part in as well. Parents in our community are desperately trying to keep roofs over their heads and food on the table so having the time and resources to bring experiences to their children outside of what the school experience brings can be rather tough. when I was in school we had Opera Appreciation, band, a great art program that included ceramics and computers. We went to the airport and got to sit on a plane and see the cockpit, every year the 8th grade class put on a production (happened for many generations) we had home economics and wood shop and went to Washington D.C.! All provided by the Newark Public School system! 

I promised my readers that I would follow up on how things went when I attended Open House this week at my son's school. So here is a recap.  The first open house is usually parents sitting in the auditorium for a brief talk with the principal. This year, unlike no other. The scene a sweltering auditorium and in attendance parents who either were uninterested or did not understand much of the presentation. To no fault of our principal. Let me stop here for just a quick second and say that my family has a very respectful relationship with our principal! His door, always open and he does not waiver when approached on a tough topic nor when replying to the many emails that I send him in regards to our school. Don't forget, its's my alma mater so I can be a little demanding at times. I am fully aware when it comes to curriculum being selected for the students he has very little autonomy  as he is faced with much of it being assigned already by the district trying to align with Core Standards and what he can decide on, the district has a budget freeze pretty much on anything outside of keeping the schools operational. Now, back to the sweltering heat of open house.  

Like most of the traditional public schools in Newark, air condition is unheard of! A few newly built schools do have them but those are far and few between.  Unlike, Charters, but I am not going to go least in this entry! Even in the late weeks of Summer when the temps outside are in the high 80s, inside the buildings it is upward into the 90s and even into the 100s. Open house was at 4 PM. Even as the sun began to set upon the day, the sweat was literally dripping down my face and back as I listened to our principal give his open to the year presentation. He spoke about changes in faculty members and how even with some new staff my son's school and my alma mater had the best educators in the district. I knew already of some of the faculty changes as one of my friends was a staff member there. A gem to the school. One of the most engaged and involved staff members there. After many years of service, the district about 2 weeks before start of school advised she either accept a relocated position at another school or lose her job. This actually happened to another friend who I had blogged about previously Freda Barrows. Great educators under the dictatorship of NPS and it's budgeting cuts and freezes.  As I glanced down at my phone for a moment and looked back up a slide appeared on the large projection screen. The words, "ALIGN WITH COMMON CORE STANDARDS" was said and like finger nails down a chalk board I got goose bumps. My eyes closed in on the slide. " Rigorous Curriculum, Instruction and ASSESSMENTS aligned with COMMON CORE STANDARDS."

 I guess my blog did not reach the hands of our principal. "High levels of Parental and Community Involvement" I saw next! I looked around and I seemed to be the only parent in the hot auditorium who seemed to have high interest  in these bullet points and my temperature began to rise. I had made a solemn oath to my wife to keep it cool. I took a few deep breaths and I noticed my hands gripped the paper I had carried in with me. Neat and freshly printed copies of my Refusal letter for standardized testing this school year! My pristine letter now crinkled and wrinkled.  As he concluded his presentation and a line formed at the podium he was standing behind, I waited until several other parents finished speaking with him.  I told him I had some bad news for him. His face dropped! I handed him my now crinkled Refusal letter and said "This year we have decided to refuse the tests." He accepted the letter with a smile and said " That's not bad news at all, you scared me!"  I wasn't expecting a bad reaction I must say as we moved about 40 families in the school last year to refuse and all were treated with dignity and respect. Like I said, he is a great guy and I want to make that totally clear. I looked behind me and saw a line of parents waiting to speak with him. Curriculum would be a conversation him and I would probably be going on about for sometime so I told him I would stop by his office next week to discuss somethings. We shook hands and I preceded to my sons's 8th grade homeroom. 

We walked up to the 2nd floor where my son's homeroom is located and into his class. I signed in and took a seat next to my son's desk. THE HEAT WAS SWELTERING! Almost to the point of being unbearable. My son looked at me and I said to him " Man, it's hot!" His response " This is nothing! Try being in here, ALL DAY LONG!" The first presenter was one of the 8th grade guidance counselors. She spoke to us about how the students are being introduced to the various high school possibilities that existed in Newark, Some traditional public schools, the higher performing magnet schools , vocational schools and she even mentioned the " C WORD," Charter! I must warn the reader while I am totally about choice for parents. Personally, I am very Pro Traditional Public School! She then went on to say that parents should expect to encounter difficulties when applying for the high school of their choice. She said there is this thing called "One Newark and you have to select your top eight choices and if they have seats you get to go to that school." She went on to say that the children will have an opportunity to visit the schools of their choice throughout the school year and it was encouraged they pick a variety of schools throughout the city. Her speech was translated in Spanish and she gave the floor to the 8th grade Math teacher. She extended her services an open door to all the children as well as parents in our transition from our school on ito high school. It was comforting for me to know someone would be there for not just me but for the parents who I know had no clue what they would be facing encountering One Newark!

Having worked with many parents through The ParentPower Movement, it has just been a total struggle getting our parents placed in schools in their neighborhood where parents and students feel comfortable to learn! I just wanted to get up and shout WAIT! Let me tell you all about how ONE NEWARK will really impact you! RUN FOR THE HILLS!!! I really wanted to give a shameless plug out to my team and give them our Facebook page and telephone number! 

The 8th grade Math teacher, came to the front of the class and stood in front of the Smart Board, probably the only the real stark difference from when I sat in the same school ( other than that, it was as if it was frozen in time) and told us what the class would be working on. She talked about topics such as algebra, proportions, rational numbers, linear equations, and radicals. The importance of practicing times tables was touched upon as well as they would need to call on their times tables pretty quickly in the topics being covered. My son pulled out a copy of his math text book. 
Math in Focus Singapore Math by Marshall Cavendish. I knew already he was using the Singapore Math Method of teaching. At an open house when he was in the 4th grade, his teacher explained to us the school would be transitioning from the US method Math to the Singapore method because the students were finding it confusing and this method would be easier concepts for them to follow. If you are not familiar with the Singapore Math method, there are tons of articles you can read up on. Here is just one that I had saved in my bookmarks, "What's Singapore Math?"
Of course, I pulled out my smart phone and snapped a picture of the cover to research the text book before handing it back over to my son to return in his very small desk. You would think over the years the school furniture would improve? She was younger and full of energy and appeared to be very nice. Ya  know that cool teacher all the kids gravitate towards. What came out of her mouth next, threw me for a loop! Although it could have just been my irritability from the heat! " If you need help, I am here for you and your child after school, but really all you have to do is type what ever they are working on in Google and there are 3 million teachers online who are doing the same thing and can teach them." With so many of her peers loosing their jobs and with the debate on how much technology should replace in class learning. eh maybe not the greatest comment to make,  Maybe the other parents didn't catch it, or possibly felt nothing wrong with that, but to me that was the most helpful comment as an educator to say hey "oh just jump on Google, there are a million teachers doing the same thing and anyone can learn from a video. I am sure that her intentions where to let parents know there is additional support if they need it with their child's homework, but its all in how you say things isn't it,  She made her exit  my son, seeing me taking notes said " Dad, she is my favorite teacher and I really like her."

Up next was his Science teacher. She stood in front of the class of parents and started her piece saying, she was a bit strict and demanded a lot from her students. That they always had homework and for parents never to ask "do you have homework?" The question parents should be asking is "let me see your assignment log!"  She talked about work not being done in a certain manner, would be returned as her job was to " make sure the kids knew the work load but also looked good on paper." That they were " marketable" That any employer would say " I would hire this kid!"
Okay, is this the skipping college ready and moving right on to being "work force ready?" Lemmings maybe? She mentioned how her main goal was for them to be prepared for the "Big Science Test." I immediately asked when is this "big science test" going to be? See our 8th grade students in NJ, not only take the PARCC exam but they take the NJASK for Science. she said " May" and I thanked her. My question , her answer you see was not for me , it was for the other parents in the room who may not have known. she went on to explain some of the projects that they would be working on and experiments and labs they would be doing. One being a how to make ice cream in a zip lock bag.
As a side note, I do have to say is hearing of changing of classes and actually working on labs and using instruments in one of my favorite subjects like Science is an improvement since I went to the same NPS school. We sat in the same class, mostly with the same teacher. If we did have a fun outside the norm course the instructor came to our class. Except art. 

Next up in front of the Smart Board was two out of the three ELA teachers assigned to the 8th grade. Little much don't ya think? They spoke about the ELA book I posted in my last blog and how they had the most time out of the week with our children. They talked about double and sometimes triple blocks of ELA. How the work was designed to push students to prepare them for tests to align them with Common Core standardized. This was all just too much for me! More reassurance that me initial feelings on my sons schedule were correct. I was really feeling overwhelmed and somehow I don't think it was from the heat! Then they began talking about this mysterious "Social Studies" block, One of my hot topic questions. Basically, there is no text book. There is open discussions based on their ELA novel about the Vietnam War. 

They will also discuss some current events as well as work on a social studies project researching a person in history or one of the upcoming presidential candidates. one teacher said "text books are out dated" which we all know to be true, so they were using the block as a piggy back on the first novel they were reading in ELA. It was at that point that one of the teachers stood up and said" Yes, all the curriculum will mirror some concepts to help us align your child with common core standards!" They completed their 8th grade presentation and opened the floor to questions. I had a few but, felt me questions would be best answered at my meeting next week with the principal. My intentions of going were to listen to how the process was working, not bamboozle their presentation. They are used to parents not asking questions so I wanted to hear what information they were giving out to parents. Open houses, are a new experience for me. Mom usually goes, but as I get more involved and knowledgeable  on what is going on, I want to be able to go either along with my wife or on my own to see what is being said and ask questions.  
My last blog, I felt I had failed my son in some way. That I was too busy fighting for others that I had not paid enough attention to what was going on right in my own home. I have always said, my intentions is to write with truth and honesty. I felt like just putting up my hands and saying I give up. After talking with my ParentPower Movement team members and some of my friends I  quickly realized that giving up is what they expect from parents who are in the fight. They want voices silenced so they can continue the assault and dismantling of our public education in our nation. So, I am not waiving the white flag. Instead I am going to continue to keep educating myself and other parents in the #PARENTPOWER Movement. Ask the questions! Know what the curriculum is like! Know what text books and material will be covered! Know what tests your children are taking. Know how much test preparation is being done. Know how much classroom learning is being done to engage your child. If your school doesn't offer programming outside of core curriculum, find resources for your school to bring into the school and the community! Be part. Be engaged! Demand being part of the conversation!  

I will make it my mission to ensure that my son has every opportunity I possibly can to open up doors and paths to a future that is bright and successful for him. I am determined to climb over any inequalities that are in our way so that he may turn every single dream he has into reality! That's my job as his dad and now I realize that giving up and not an option!  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

An Uneven Playing Field!

An Uneven Playing Field!

It is only the completion of the first week of school and I am already on Defcon 5 with the way things are going! Normally, my blog is about issues others are encountering and the injustice of those that I work with in the fight for public education. Not today! Not this entry! My son, a 8th grade public school student in Newark Public Schools, ready for a year of moving towards the path of higher education and ya know what, DAD IS SCARED OUT OF HIS FREAKING MIND!  I feel like helping and being so involved in what others' families have been going through, I let certain things in my own child's education slip through the cracks! WTF AS I THINKING!

Let's start from the first day of school. As normal the conversation at the dinner table went something like this ...
Mom: "How was your first day of school today?"
Son: " Okay"
Me: " Just Okay? It' was your first day of 8th grade! Nothing exciting going on for the year?"
Son" Nah! Not really."
Mom: " Do you like all your teachers? Did you get any handouts or anything from your teachers?"
Son: " I got my schedule."
Dad: " Go get it and let's see what you will be doing this year."

This is what he pulled out of his newly organized bookbag:
As my eyes scanned the schedule, they widened at the course schedule that my son was embarking on for his last year of elementary school! It did not sit well in my stomach. Now, lets remember, I am just an average dad. I am not a prolific scholar or expert in the area of curriculum by any means. This however, just did not seem to be a schedule of a 8th grader getting ready for high school! I showed my wife. As her eyes widened the same as mine did, I knew we were in a world of trouble! 

Our son, is a honor roll student and has been so pretty much since he started receiving letter grades. I am sure I must have mentioned before, that he took several years of Mandarin Chinese as a second language before the program was abruptly dismantled. That as well we found out at the dinner table! You would be amazed what you find out at the dinner table! Last year we read of 8th graders taking advance STEM courses and winning technology grants for the school. So, we expected to see more! More than what was on the 5"x 7" mustard yellow piece of paper that outlined the course for the 8th grade year my son had in front of him. 

Now, my wife and I are in the educational fight and have been very involved in our child's school. My son actually goes to my alma mater as did many generations of my family have as well. We know the dwindling of arts and music in the district, but when we saw this schedule it was a great disappointment. My heart had sunken into the pit of my stomach. Had, I been looking out for others so much, that I had failed to look out for what was happening to my own? I could not help but feel a sense that I had failed!

After dinner, I immediately took a snap shot of the schedule and dropped it into a group I am part of on Facebook. This group includes parents that I have gotten t o know and work with from all over the state. Parents, I turn to for help, advice and for knowledge that I may lack. We are talking about parents who know their stuff! Most sit on their towns Boards of Education, know curriculum and some even educators as well as parents. The response I got was horrifying! More horrifying than I thought the response would be. I was expecting some reaction , but what I got was almost embarrassing! These are people I respect and I was totally and utterly humiliated! Not by them, but by the lackluster schedule that son's school district felt was suitable for a child who has aspirations of becoming an Architect! Who says "Dad, lets look up Pratt! That's the college I want to go to!" 

As the conversation in this group grew, and parents dropped pictures of their kids schedules some from suburban areas and some from other urban districts, I was like wait a minute. OH HELL NO! We are talking straight up 90210 type of schedules. Ya the ones you see on TV shows about school and wish you went there. Some of these schedules even a hop skip and a jump away from right where we are! The feeling of being dupped intensified as my phone pinged with notifications from our parent group.  I looked at schedules like the one below ( and this is just one example) and I was left with a sincere feeling of shock and dismay!
I would be lying to you if  a bit of jealousy came over me. I wanted for my son what their kids had! Fair and equal opportunity to a great education. Know, don't take me for a complete fool. I know in suburban and better off communities the resources differ from district to district. Hell, Newark, is fighting to keep schools open! Never mind, having courses like Ceramics and Google Hacks. Ceramics, by the way is a course I did have in 8th grade at the very same school my son attends but no longer is available.  The stark differences a child revives in education from district to district is an amazing and stark reality of how different  and uneven the educational playing field is for our children. My friend Julie B even wrote a great blog about it after seeing my son's schedule titled "  This Is 8th Grade In Newark " 

His schedule is packed with ELA, Math & Science. We are very concerned about the amount of time he has in ELA. A family member who is a teacher said that he is sharing his ELA periods with Social Studies. I didn't feel too confident about that. My son, actually took the PARCC last year, he did pretty well on ELA so why this year give him a schedule filled with ELA. Now, I may not know much , but I do know that Common Core standards do focus on ELA & Math. My wife said for me to calm down and see what happens when he actually takes the Social Studies component of the schedule. So I cooled off and waited a day or so for his courses to begin. Today, I followed up with him on what was going on and here is how the conversion went.

Me:" So how is Social Studies going?"
Son: " ok"
Me: " So how was it? what did you do?"
Son: " Nothing really."
Me: "Nothing? What do you mean nothing"
Son: " No my teacher didn't have her teacher's manuals and her Power School Program was down."
Me: "What is Power School and what did you do the whole time?"
Son: Power School is how she records our grades. She had no way of recording what we are doing. Plus, she didn't have her books so she really couldn't teach us or give us any homework.Tuesday we  Yesterday we created emojis of ourselves."
Me: "What about today?"
Son" We broke up in our project groups and discussed the whole class what we wanted to do for our project. My group is doing research on the people defecting from Sierra to other European Countries and how they only allow a certain amount of immigrants to cross their boarders."
Me: " How long did it take you to pick your group and discuss what you are going to do? "
Son" About 15 minutes."
Me:" What did you do the rest of the time?
Son: "Just talked in our group." 

After about 15 minutes of trying to understand this " Social Studies" period in his class and the lack of work done over several days, I decided to drop the subject and move on to ELA. I asked for him to show me his ELA workbook and the reading that was attached.  The work book,is about 25-30 pages. A boring, dull and monotonous work book that is tied to a book entitled Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. The experience of an immigrant's passage to the US and the fall of Saigon. Seems very interesting, but the freaking work book was a total buzzkill. Was this simple workbook as the cover is titled "Paths to College and Career" going to get my boy in to the doors of Pratt as he is so eager to attend? Would it elevate his thinking to a state of mind that would have him contend with the children across the state? Hell I am not even reaching as far as to say across the world anymore. Somehow I don't think this 38 page workbook was going to do the job! At this point after seeing schedules and hearing how my friends across the state in other districts 8th grade kids are having engaging experiences and its not even the end of a full week! I did a little digging and this material is just a product of more Common Core Standard BS material being forced down our throats. Manufactured by PCG a publishing clearinghouse for Common Core educational materials. A business partner of Pearson.

I am totally frustrated at the inequality of education that is running through this state and this country! Ye s and maybe even a bit jealous of some of my parent friends throughout the state.  Don't get me wrong, love my city! Love my Newark Public Schools. I am a product of traditional Newark Public schools, and far from a genius, I am surly no dummy. If you would have asked me as a kid walking through the same halls as my child, if having an enriched education full of academics, art and culture would be enhanced or reduced in the future I would definitely have said enhanced. I could have marched my way down to the central office in our district and complained. Hell, some of those same friends said, " PULL HIM OUT!" These same friends also were simply flabbergasted at the fact that my son, just like me had remained in the same school since he was in kindergarten. So to pull him out in the 8th grade, not a good move and something that we just could not do to him. I could have fired off a gruffy email to his principal. Instead, I think I will just wait until next week...IT'S OPEN HOUSE! BOY DO I SURE HAVE A MOUTH FULL!   Until then, I will continue checking in daily at the dinner table!