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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Here's an Idea. Now I Need Feedback.

I am seeking your feedback on a proposed book (approximately 2,100 words, entitled: from ONCE THERE WAS A SCHOOL, to A SCHOOL WAS ONCE THERE) It was inspired by Shel Siverstein's The Giving Tree. It attempts to depict the feelings of anxiety and vulnerability within districts facing budget problems and potential school closings. The gaps between verses represent blank pages where an artist will render illustrations with the same type of simple drawings that characterized Silverstein's works. Please note that the font becomes smaller as the dollars become scarcer in the plight of the school.
If the text holds enough promise, then it will be illustrated and subsequently self-published.
Please let me know what you think (email = Candid opinions are welcome.

Once There Was A School
A School Was Once There

Dr. Michael Mugits, Superintendent
Green Island Union Free School District

Once there was a school.
 where learners of all ages,
and learners at all stages,
could advance toward their dreams*
through multidisciplinary themes,
of teacher imagination*
and learner cooperation,
encountering success*
with the potential they possess.

* I wanted to make a reference to one of my favorite quotes, from Henry David Thoreau, because it should be a guide for all schools: If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” It contains three essential terms – dreams, imagined, and success – fundamental to successful schools.
In that school (Longshore Elementary) -
Eyes grew wide during Reading.
Thoughts focused on succeeding.
Learning was the guiding rule.
Pride filled the entire school.
Laughter echoed through the halls.
Smiles lined the classroom walls.
Then, in 2001

Came a sermon from the mount,*
“All schools to be held account.”**
Learners would be inspected,
and selected.***

* NCLB = No Child Left Behind (produced by legislative act of the federal government); or, as I see it, FPLA = Few Politicians Looking Ahead
** This is a great opportunity to share a maxim often attributed to Albert Einstein: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
*** An ode to Arlo Guthrie’s classic song, Alice’s Restaurant (seems as appropriate a reference as anything else)
State Education declared
no public school would be spared
from the list of new mandates.
We will beat all other states!
To the top we will all race,
No matter the issues we face!

The more schools were regulated,
the more fear resonated.
The testing became excess
and proved a logistical mess.
It created lots of stress,
and didn’t measure success.
Teachers got new learning standards
and wore them like heavy lanyards.
Because of added teaching chores
in the form of new Common Cores,*
principals under duress
cancelled playground recess
to maximize learning time
in hope that test scores would climb.
* “The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative was a joint effort by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in partnership with Achieve, ACT, and the College Board. Through this initiative, Governors and state commissioners of education from across the country committed to joining a state-led process to develop a common core of state standards in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics for grades K-12.”
Here’s the familiar greeting
at many a staff meeting:
     “According to NCLB* and RTTT* we must make AYP*, no matter our SES,* our CWR,* or any IEP* from the CSE,* or we will be a SINI* or a DINI.”*
       said the S.O.B* for B.S.*
* NCLB = congressional act of 2001 – No Child Left Behind
* RTTT = Race To The Top: (federally funded competitive grants incentive designed to stimulate improvement (and compliance)
* AYP = Annual Yearly Progress
* SES = Socio-Economic Status (usually measured by the percentage of learners who qualify for the federally funded free and   reduced lunch program)
* CWR = Combined Wealth Ratio, (which is a formula in New York that combines personal income and property wealth to measure the ability of communities to generate revenue through taxes).
* IEP = Individualized Education Plan; (an instructional plan to support learners identified with special needs) developed by the CSE* = Committee on Special Education
* SINI = School In Need of Improvement: * DINI = District In Need of Improvement
* SOB for BS = Supervisor of Basics for Better Schools: (I made this one up for some levity! The rest are all too real and true.)

Parents choose where kids can attend.
School districts had to contend
with Charter,* Private** or home-schooling***
now competing and dueling
for potential scholars****
and taxpayer dollars.*****
* according to statistics compiled by the U. S. Department of Education, 1.6 million learners attend Charter schools, a significant increase from the .3 million in attendance at Charter schools in 2000. There are 5,714 Charter schools in America.
**meanwhile the U. S. Department of education reports that the number of learners attending private and parochial schools has declined sharply in the same decade of comparison, 2000 – 2010. There are 6.3 million (12.7% less than in 2000) attending 28,220 private schools and 2.2 million (19% less than in 2000) attending 7,400 Catholic schools.
*** The U. S. Department of Education reveals that the fastest growing alternative to public school education is home-schooling, where 1.5 million learners receive instruction at home, nearly doubling the .85 million who were home-schooled in 2000.
**** In the state of New York, public schools are required to provide textbooks and transportation to resident children who opt to attend private schools within a certain distance from the school.
***** Charter school tuition must be paid by the public schools in which the child resides. In Green Island that’s over $12,000 per learner. 
Then, in 2007

The economy stumbled,
job markets really tumbled,
and the housing bubble burst.
School budgets slipped to their worst!
As houses went in foreclosure,
revealing in budget disclosure
that the school district’s tax base
won't maintain its former pace.

The public wanted “belts tightened.”
Learners and staff felt frightened,
by the program decreases
and the class size increases.
The Governor commanded
what taxpayers demanded!
Budget decisions were tough.
Tax crusaders claimed there was fluff
and schools were top heavy,
so the state capped the tax levy,
of no more than two percent*
to control what schools have spent.

* after approved allowances are made for court judgments, payments in lieu of taxes, and local capital expenses, schools use a complex formula developed by the state to determine an allowable tax levy limit of the lesser of the rate of inflation (consumer price index) or two percent and publicize the outcome to local taxpayers.

The scarcity of resources
reduced many class courses,
and left more classrooms bare,
with empty teacher’s desk and chair.

To make matters even worse,
as if it was an evil curse,
the state raised the performance bar
 mandating the A.P.P.R.*
This unfunded regulation
caused more budget strangulation.
* Annual Professional Performance Review: To qualify for federal Race to the Top funding and state education aid, all school districts in New York must adopt and receive state approval of APPR plans for teachers and principals. All teachers and principals in grades K-12 will earn a rating of either: highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. Ratings are based on a 100-point scale. A score between 0-64 is “ineffective.” A rating of 65-74 points is “developing,” and 75 to 90 points is “effective.” A rating from 91-100 is “highly effective.” The final score is derived from three areas: 60 percent will be based on observations of teachers in the classroom; 20 to 25 percent will come from student growth based on either state tests or progress made toward meeting student-learning targets (Student Learning Objectives or SLOs); and the remaining 15 to 20 percent is determined on measures of student achievement that are created within each school district. 
Unemployment data features
a loss of 10,000 teachers,*
from public schools across our state
with little worry of the fate,
and the impact on student learning
or the effect on their future earning.*
* NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) the largest teachers’ union in the state has reported that there has been a loss of over 10,000 teaching positions in recent years.
** Research studies point to education as an economic engine, claiming that effective educational systems produce a skilled workforce that can attract businesses and sustain job creation and retention, thus resulting in community benefits through increased tax revenues.
Anxious people inquired
if schools don’t meet required
regulations and payroll,
can a financial black hole
cause schools to become bankrupt*
and communities to erupt?
* There is a debate about the term bankrupt from two different views: mandates and instruction. The State Education Department asserts that schools are not insolvent as long as they continue to provide programs that are not mandated by the state, such as sports, many instructional electives, Advanced Placement classes, or Kindergarten. This perception is in contrast with those who insist that a school should be considered “bankrupt” when they can no longer provide an enriched, broad based curriculum necessary to produce graduates prepared to compete for college admission and career opportunities. In either case, there appears to be no precedent of a school “going out of business” although Dr. Rick Timbs of the Statewide School Finance Consortium has analyzed school district budget and warns that over 100 school systems will have exhausted their fund balance (like a savings account) and may not survive after the 2013-14 school year without fiscal intervention by the state. Apparently, only time will tell how this issue unfolds.
Debates arise over the funds
needed to educate our sons
and daughters in the public schools
amid the state’s financial rules.
Equality has been our creed,
while equity is based on need.*
* In 2006, after a 13 year long legal challenge, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity was victorious in the court system of New York State with their claim that the existing formula exercised by the state to distribute funds in support of public school education did not meet the constitutional requirement that “the state offer all children the opportunity for a "sound basic education," defined as a meaningful high school education that prepares students for competitive employment and civic participation.” (Campaign for Fiscal Equity Inc. v. State, 86 N.Y.2d 306 (1995). Political debates and the economic recession combined to stall efforts to sustain the implementation of a funding formula that addresses the need to distribute funds to public schools in an equitable manner.
This is an issue that many states have confronted, most recently in Vermont where Act 60 became law in 1997 in response to claims that towns with higher real estate values had an unfair advantage over those lacking such a tax base. “Act 60, also known as the Equal Educational Opportunity Act, was signed into law in June 1997. The Legislature drafted the law in response to a Vermont Supreme Court decision that said Vermont's existing educational funding system was unconstitutional. The court, in Brigham v. State of Vermont, concluded that the state must provide "substantially equal access" to education for all Vermont students, regardless of where they reside.” (
Money distress prompts the urge
to consolidate or merge.
School districts A and B
combine to form district C.
That’s more difficult than easy,
leaving communities queasy
over their identity loss
and i’s to dot and t’s to cross.

After deliberations
and much consideration
by the Board of Education,
(shaken to their foundation)
the only viable option
was an unwelcome adoption.
Reluctantly they propose,
an elementary school must close.
The district was stricken with grief,
people were shocked beyond belief.
The budget was placated,
the building was vacated.
It seemed like in short order,
the building had a new boarder.
The transfer of the keys went
from school board president,
to top level management
for senior citizen resident.

Ten years later

One bright and sunny spring day
as April was near to May,
I walked rather slow
with nostalgia in tow,
through the old neighborhood.
From the spot where I stood,
without missing a beat,
I pointed across the street
at the red brick edifice.
I was incredulous.
Years ago as a boy,
I recall with great joy

everything I had learned
and the future I had yearned.
All of the hopes and the dreams,
teachers, classmates and teams.
I looked at the building and lawn.
The playground was long gone.
So were the echoes of laughter,
gone for ever after.
The big sign above the front door
read Senior Center of Longshore.
I muttered in despair….

A school was once there.

The End
 * Or is it? We’ll see if our legislature and Governor have the political will to collaborate and provide a system of funding that is equitable and fair in time to avoid more school closures and loss of learning opportunities.

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