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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Well, I Certainly Didn't Expect THAT to Happen...

Who knew that getting cut off AGAIN in the parking lot would inspire a blog that 70,000 people would read?

My biggest blog before this was over 3,000 on when the principal took the crayons out of my daughter's 1st grade classroom because coloring was not part of the Core Curriculum.  That got me a call from a Crayola executive.  She was on vacation in Italy and was horrified. 

But this... who knew?

I got an enormous amount of feedback from people- overwhelmingly positive.

I did want to address some of the issues, however, that were brought up.

First, I do not in any circumstance think that schools are overfunded.  I thought that was fairly clear when I pointed out that we have the lowest per pupil funding in the country.

I do think money is mismanaged, the budgeting process is archaic and the funding formula in need of a major do over.

I should clarify that this is my opinion.  Which I did in my initial post:

So I have some opinions that no one wants to address when discussing the biggest issue CCSD faces...
Disclosure: These are simply MY opinions. It's not based on anything other than my thoughts. It's what blogs are about. Of course, that part DIDN'T go viral.  But again, I didn't know...I would have included it in the actual blog...

Second, I'm not sorry if my assessment of SOME parents was mean.

I'm not.

I didn't say I was perfect.  I even said I'd met a LOT of fantastic parents. 

But hey, if you're the parent that's constantly pulling into the Do Not Enter entrance during drop off, I hope you were a little offended.  I mean it.  Please stop doing it.  It's dangerous.

The sign is there for a reason.  Follow the rules.

And I should be upfront, I DO say something to people.  To their faces. I have asked people who are talking during concerts to please be quiet so I can hear.

And I say it nicely.

And well, you can guess how that goes.

People think I'm far more flexible than I am based on what they tell me to do to myself.

If you're my friend and you start going on and on about how a teacher sucks and I don't think so, I can assure you already know that I will stop you and tell you why I back the teacher if I do.  Or if I think the issue is your kid.... I'm not exactly shy about it.  I'm polite, but I do speak up. 

I blow my horn at U-Turners.  They think I'm #1!

But I have to say, I was a little surprised how defensive some parents could be.

My favorite part was to stumble onto some online boards where they were trashing me about trashing people online (gotta love the irony).  I don't remember saying anything about specific people.... I do think a lot of people saw themselves in the blog and took offense.

I get it, as parents, we screw up.

But the whole flipping point of the blog was I like CCtSD and I'm tired of people trashing them.  Especially the people who have no idea what they are talking about. I think in spite of the ridiculous obstacles they are forced to overcome, my kids are having not just a good experience, but a GREAT experience.

My friend moved here from NY 2 years ago and asked me my honest opinion before she moved.  I said there are issues but if you're engaged and stay engaged, there are some exciting programs.  For elementary schools, it's hit or miss.  I wish that wasn't the case, but it's true.  I also told her the district was fairly flexible about moving schools.  They moved and her kids are in a fantastic elementary school.  When her mother, a retired principal visited and volunteered at the school, she was amazed at the GATE program and the school over all.  I know she came in with doubts-- she was honestly impressed.  My mom,  a retired teacher, spent time volunteering in my kids' kindergarten classroom (the one with the alleged 'lazy' teacher-- who is one of the most amazing teachers ever).  She told me that she only wished her school had had the staff.  The teacher was the type of teacher she had dreamed of being.

Both of those compliments are huge from people who know.

And like I said, we've had a not wonderful experience here and there.

But overall, we're good.

I've stepped up to participate in the business community partnership program for more than 20 years.

I participated in the community program to update the sex education curriculum.  If you remember that, it completely blew up for the district because a couple of people didn't understand the materials, distributed materials-- against the agreement we had signed-  and the rumors started that CCSD wanted to teach kindergartners about masturbating.

(Which OBVIOUSLY any non-moron knows they weren't.  If you're a pre-school/early education teacher, you know that sometimes little kids like to touch themselves in public.  Not all.  But some.  My mom had a little girl in her classthat let's just say had an issue with that.  So it happens. 

The bullet point was to start, early, about appropriate and inappropriate self-touch.  As in, it is not appropriate to adjust or touch your personal areas in public.

Crazy talk, right?)

So I'm not simply some silly mom going off on other parents.

I've been fighting the fight to make things better for a loooong time- well before I even had kids.

Really.  I have.

Which is why the sudden popularity of this blog surprised me.

I honestly did not realize I was the only person in the room who was willing to just say it.

But the best part, by far, was seeing the teachers, administrators  and support staff, take a deep sigh and and say "Thank you-- I thought it was just me."

I feel like my little blog gave them an opportunity to join together and know it's not all them- because society has suddenly started making educators the enemy and I just don't get it.

The educator I'm married to is sitting next to me writing lessons plans and a study guide.

He's not the enemy.

My kids are busy studying and working on school projects that are thoughtful and helping them learn.

Last night we had a band parent meeting and I was in a room full of parents excited to help (and I was the one who was late and texted friends to buy the fundraiser coupon book during the meeting). 

I saw the kids working together learning skills that will follow them off the band field for life.

Maybe CCSD doesn't rank at the top of any list, but to me and my family, it's been pretty fantastic.

THAT'S what I wanted to say.

Oh -and-


Friday, August 17, 2018

What's Wrong with Clark County Schools

Last night we had our daughter's open house at her middle school.  This morning I dropped my son off at the bus hub for high school.

Both experiences reinforced my views that I had shared with a friend earlier in the week on what is wrong with the Clark County (NV) School District.

My friend is in a position of influence and was genuinely interested in what I thought as a parent of a CCSD students, spouse of a teacher and a long time volunteer with the district.

I said very simply I thought there were three main issues:

1) Poor fiscal management at the top. 
2) Classroom size is ridiculous.
3) You can't fix stupid.

The first one has to do with the district's assertion that there is a $68 million shortage- as if they did not receive every penny of funding they requested-- and then some.  Then they try to blame the teacher pay raises, which they agreed to in negotiations and an arbitrator reinforced.  Since my background is in labor relations, I am baffled that EVERY SINGLE YEAR there is an issue with them actually paying out the raises that they agreed to in collective bargaining.  Every year there is a lawsuit.  Every year, the district loses.  Then they blame the teachers for the shortage.  Or the legislature. 

The truth is, they have consistently mismanaged funds and they cannot seem to keep a CFO.  I don't think people are stealing money or anything like that.  I think the state's funding methods are odd and not working.  I think the district needs to review how they allocate funds and how they then manage those budgets. I think they need to honor the contracts they negotiate.

This constant year to year "crisis" is getting old  We have not been in a recession for nearly a decade.  We have the lowest funding per pupil in the country.

Get it together.  It's your job. 

The second one is baffling.  My daughter's 7th grade accelerated history class has 41 students.  Elementary classes are routinely over 35 students.  When my husband taught high school, one year he didn't have enough desks or textbooks if everyone showed up.  That's what happens when you have 60+ students assigned to your class.

I don't think it takes a PhD in education to determine that a high teacher:pupil ratio is bad.  It's why US News and World Reports uses it as a ranking criteria in colleges.  You don't see private schools bragging on their brochures about crowded classrooms.  But according to CCSD, classroom size is not important.

Well, if you shove an extra 10 kids into each class, for every 3 teachers, you save 1 therefore reducing labor costs by 25%-- that's their logic.

Or, MAYBE, you could make an accurate budget and request the appropriate funding so that class size stayed under 30 for elementary and at 30-35 for middle and high school.

Because then teachers wouldn't have 200 students and 400+ parents to manage.

Then the teachers wouldn't quit or walk out.  Or more importantly, that might allow the teachers to, I don't know... what's the word... teach?

If you essentially have a full schedule with 40 kids per class, how on earth are you supposed to be able to grade projects and papers?  It forces teachers to resort to worksheets and "bubble" testing- less thinking required from the students. It becomes more about memorization and less about education.

There will always be great teachers who manage.  But the giant classroom sizes really impacts the average teacher-- they COULD be great, but they can't if they spend their day on classroom management.

Every teacher I've spoken with says they'd be far more happier with smaller classes than a significant pay raise.  They'd be happy with simple cost of living adjustments if they weren't being forced to manage classrooms that are out of control.  In fact, reducing classroom sizes by 20% is a pay raise- since they are buying supplies and working more hours to keep up.

But this last one- you can't fix stupid-- that's what is the biggest issue facing the district in my opinion.

Because there are a LOT of great things about the district.  International award winning robotics programs.  Top notch vocational schools.  A performing arts school that is extraordinary and has produced successful alumni too numerous to list.  Nationally ranked varsity quiz. 

My son's high school had TWENTY THREE national merit scholars last year. 

Not bad for the worst school district in the country.  And that was one high school out of more than 20 in the district.

The problem with the low test scores (and why on earth every kid is forced to take the ACT, I have no clue) is that Las Vegas is the dumbest major city in the US.

We are.

I LOVE my city.  I don't think everyone is dumb, but on a quantifiable scale- which is how we rate schools- we have the lowest high school graduation rates and the lowest college education rates out of any major city.

We ain't the smartest population.

Last night at open house, my daughter's teachers were amazing.  They are dedicated.  They are passionate.  They are well spoken.  They are organized.  They are intelligent.

There was not ONE bad teacher in the mix.

My son went to the same middle school and he had one mediocre teacher the entire time.

These people are crazy good educators.  Thumbs up to the principal, too.  He brings them in, gives them a positive work environment and lets them teach.  He is constantly sharpening the saw and trying to improve things. 

So great teacher, great principal, great facilities--

But the parents.  Now most of them that were at Open House are on it. 

Go to a concert.  Parents talking.  Parents texting.  People just getting up and leaving during concerts- completely unconcerned about those around them.

The parking lot is the biggest tell tale.

Those no U Turn signs apparently don't apply.  Let alone the speed limit signs.  Or the crosswalk.

The Do Not Enter - Exit Only?  Well, only losers like me bother to follow those rules.

My son stopped riding his bicycle to school after almost getting hit 3 days in a row from people doing U turns.

This morning dropping off my son, a woman tried to U turn into a parking spot.  Another parent coming the other way, unaware that this was her intent (because who tries to pull into a spot from the opposite direction) pulled into the spot.  Rather than stopping the turn, she continued it, blocking the entire street both ways.  People were trying to get their kids to the bus.

Turn signals are optional, too.

So when you are working with stupid parents who have no regard for simple rules- what exactly is the school district supposed to do?


Please, explain to me.

When my daughter was in kindergarten, we were on the playground before school and talking about the "homework" they get.  The teacher gave us a packet every Monday with 5 worksheets to review with our child every night and turn in on Friday.  Some were simple projects like "Count 10 objects"- nothing crazy. It was about 10 minutes every day as a review of what she was covering in the classroom.  It wasn't even graded-- the kids got a sticker for turning it in.

One mother commented that she hadn't understood a page and I was explaining what we had done.  Another mom chimed in and said "I don't do any of that bullshit with my kid.  They should be doing everything in class.  I don't have time for that.  It's not my job to teach my kid.  That's hers."

I'm not kidding.

And another parent standing there agreed.

Stupid homework.  Who does that?


As a parent, it absolutely IS my job to teach my kid. 

As a parent, it absolutely IS my job to support the teacher.

Time and time again I hear that-- all this bullshit they want parents to do... who has time for that crap... lazy teachers...

You can't fix that.

"I don't have time to read to my kid every night.  I'm tired."

Well, suck it up, Buttercup, pull out a book and read a story to your kid every single night before bed.  It helps them learn language.  It bonds you.  It's your job. 

And if you're working late or too tired, do it in the morning.

You've got 15 minutes.

You do.

This isn't a rich person vs. poor person thing either.  I know wealthy families that treat their kids like accessory items and don't spend a minute with them.  I know poor families that are all about school and doing what the teacher says.  My husband taught in an at-risk school for years and said some of the poorest parents were the hardest on the kids "What do you mean you talked back to Mr. Bean?"  He said he had to be careful about conferences because either the parents didn't care or they cared too much and about smacked the kid in the conference! 

But you can't make a parent parent.

You can't fix a kid who thinks learning and rules and all the things that make society function "is dumb." 

I cringe when people talk about how they don't need math.  They have a calculator.

This is how people get ripped off.  You do need to understand math.

So I sat there and told my friend that CCSD's biggest issue is the fact that they are dealing with a populace that doesn't value education or see it as a need.

And it seems to be getting worse.

There is no way to combat it.  You don't take on Mom and Dad who think learning a second language is a waste of time (it's not.)  Or that the Bill of Rights is liberal propaganda. (it's the Bill of Rights)  Or that geometry is useless (which explains their inability to park). Or that a No U Turn sign doesn't apply to them (because that's just wrong.)

THAT is the biggest issue facing the district.

I don't think parents are any dumber or smarter than when I was a kid.  I don't.  The morons were around then, too. 

In Las Vegas, we statistically have a fairly large percentage of morons.  It's a city of second chances.  It's also one of the things I love about it here-- anyone willing to work can get a break. 

So asking a district to make educating children of people who place very little value ON education as a whole (again, based on statistics)-- I'm not sure how you are supposed to do it.

I know cramming 40+ in a classroom isn't helping and not every teacher is great-- but you can't teach someone who is unwilling to learn.

I think the magnets schools offer an out to those families who do place importance on education.  It's unfortunate that not every student gets in.

I wish I knew how to fix this. 

The school district is far from perfect-- as is any district- but I get so tired of them getting blamed for being terrible.  There are some great teachers, great parents and most importantly great students here.  I know this.  I've met them.  They are just as smart as any kid from a private school.  My son will graduate having taken Calculus III.  In order for my daughter to get into the arts academy, she will have to put together a professional portfolio.  A real one.

It's not all bad.  In fact, there is far more that's good.

But when parents don't make education a priority, you can't expect the school to fix it. They are already trying to feed the kids, dress the kids and in their spare time, teach them.

There's only so many hours in the day.

CCSD Fine Arts Program Leader

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Advice to recent high school grads....

This may seem a little late, but I remember the summer after high school graduation-- it was fun.  Your last fling with your high school friends.  Party after party celebrating yourselves-- you made it through.  Now life begins.

This is when you really need advice-- adulthood closing in around you.  You're either leaving or everyone around you is.

Here's the only advice you need.

Be you.

That's it.

Just be you.  You might not think you know who this "you" is -- adults LOVE to tell teenagers how much they don't know.

But you do.

You know you.

You know if you like mushrooms on pizza or not.  You know right from wrong.

You do. 

You don't know a lot about "stuff"- the importance of paying bills and the mundane aspects of life.  You probably haven't traveled much.  You probably haven't ventured much outside your faith or any faith.  You probably haven't kissed too many people- or any.

That's all "stuff."  It will help shape you and it's important.

But you do know you.

You know if you'd rather spend the night reading a book or raging at a party.  You know if you like to do both. 

Parents and adults are AWESOME at giving useless advice based on their bad choices. 

Here are some of the worst pieces of advice I've heard- and all of them coming from a place of love.

Go to College or You'll Never Go
Total and complete bs.

"Skip years" are a thing now.  I took one.  I applied to college, deferred admission and spent a year as an exchange student in Ecuador. Life changer.

I know that if I had gone to college right after high school, I would have burned out and probably dropped out.  I took a semester off as it was. I have a number of friends who never went back after burning out.

Some people go straight to college and nail it.  I think having an education is priceless.  If you're that person, go for it.  But if you're ambivalent, that's okay.   You know you.  Have a plan, though.  Parents like plans.

I don't think "college" is for everyone.  I also think that some students- especially people like myself who were focused on grades, work, etc.- need a break from academia.

I had a plan to make sure I returned.  And I remember when I almost took a turn off that plan and my boss at the bar where I worked told me in a profanity laced, grossly impactful tirade to get my happy ass to Cornell and get the hell out of there.  There was more to the tirade and I remember it almost verbatim, but thank you, Shirley.  I owe you. 

There's a difference between being scared- even after I spent a year in a country where I didn't speak the language I was still terrified the day my dad dropped me off at college-- but if your gut is saying "Hey, I have no idea what I want to do..."  then see if you can stay at home, work in a field that you're interested in working for a career-- maybe take a class or two online or at a regional school- or if you can't get a paying job in the field, find a paying job and do a free internship. 

This is the time in your life to try things.

You're 18.  You're not supposed to. know what you want to spend your life doing.

If You Go to College, Study a Field with Career Options

This one drives me nuts.

Go to college to get an education.  To learn to think.  To learn to learn.  To study things that broaden your mind and show you the world. 

Don't study accounting because it offers a good career.  Study accounting because you enjoy it.  You think that's not real?  I LOVED my accounting classes.  I only had to take 1 in college- I took 3.  We exist.  I loved how everything balanced out.  It's like art to me.

Don't let anyone tell you you won't be able to get a job out of college.  If you're looking for a job, go to a tech school. I don't mean that as a slam to tech schools, either-- they are great for training you to do a specific job.  If you know what you want to do, it's a fantastic choice.   There's a shortage of tradespeople as well- plumbing, electrical work, welding- they pay extremely well.  If you want a good job that's a far better choice than a degree in "business" which will get you nothing. 

Also, newsflash- very few people work in the fields that they study.  Obviously, if you want to go to medical school, you need to take certain courses.  But I know art history majors who manage investment portfolios or are political activists.  Graduate school is when you narrow it down.  But undergrad?  Study everything.  Learn as much as you can.  Meet people.  It's all part of the process.

I know so many people that are in careers that they hate because they checked a box at 17 when they applied to college. 

Plus, most of the jobs you'll be doing don't even exist yet.  Learn to think and you can do anything.

Again, be you.  

These are the Best Days of your Life

Total crap. 

I remember sitting at my graduation- beautiful day- and speaker after speaker talked about how these memories are our best ones... the great times we had...

And I thought "I hope this isn't the best it gets because I'm screwed..."

I hope you enjoyed high school.  For some people, they did peak.  But once you leave that building anything that you were is the past and you have a blank slate for the rest of your life.  It's why graduation is called commencement- it's the beginning, not an end.

I drove to the Quiki-Mart after graduation, got a slushie and went home.  I went to a few, not many graduation parties, hung out with my boyfriend and worked over the summer.  I have stayed in touch with quite a few people from high school, but honestly, only a handful know anything about my real life-- and they aren't the ones I thought I'd stay in touch with.  Most of them became close friends after high school.  Except my friend Marvin.  We've been close since kindergarten and if I ever ran for public office, I'd have to pay him off because of that...

My life got infinitely better after graduation.  I met people from all over the world.  I saw new places.  I tried new things.  I owned my life.  It's empowering, scary and consequential.  But it's my own unique path.  I'm not someone's child or some box that someone put me in because I had a certain test score in 2nd grade.  No one cares about who you were- they care about who you are. 

I enjoyed high school.  I joke that I stayed in touch with my teachers more than people from my class, but I have no animosity or hang ups about it.  I even got crap about it from my friends in college "Wait- you LIKED high school??"  I did.  But it was Chapter 1 in what I hope is a long a novel.  I picked up some good tools and had a good foundation, but it's a part, not the entirety of me.

Now you get to be the real you.  And it's really cool.

The Choices You Make Now Will Impact your Life
Tattoos, committing felonies and having kids, yes.  The rest.. meh.  Even a failed marriage can be overcome.  Bad credit only lasts7 years. 

This is the best time to screw up big.  Because you ALWAYS have time for a do over.  Try a career you want.  It's not like there's a time line or a finish line you have to reach. You want to write?  Write.  You want to be in a rock band?  Go for it.  It's a lot easier now than when you're 35 with kids and a mortgage.

You hate your job?  Find another one.  You don't need to stay 2 years to prove anything.  You never get those 2 years back. 

I had a friend say she thought it was cool that I didn't care what anyone ever thought about my decisions.

I remember thinking "How odd that anyone would... it's my life.  Hmmm...."

So in short, just be you.  Develop your beliefs.  Live your life.  Follow that internal compass.  Listen to yourself.

You're going to mess it up.  You will.  And you'll get up, roll your eyes at all the people that said "I told you so" and get on with it.

Congratulations on Chapter 1-The Childhood.

May your next chapters be filled with love, adventure and friendship.