Category Archives: Schools

What home feels like

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The stone staircase alongside the waterfall

Memorial Day weekend probably seems like the ultimate cliché when it comes to traveling a couple of hours (or more) to revisit one’s childhood. Not to take anything away from our nation’s true heroes, but surviving our teenaged years in the small village of Greenwood Lake made us veterans of an entirely different sort.

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Fitzgerald’s Falls

Since we had been brought back to the lake to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Class of 1980, meeting at the Middle School for what we exaggeratedly called a “hike,” was the perfect re-entry to the past. Heading for the trail, we walked alongside the brick building where we had once ruled, recalling intramural soccer games, events from the bicentennial celebration of 1976 and the family of ducks who once resided next to the now fenced in pond. It all felt like it could have been yesterday.

The trail into the woods was filled with memories of hikes, both with teachers and without adult supervision. How lucky were we to have had the Appalachian Trail behind our school and to have grown up at a time when exploring our surroundings was considered a valid use of class time? How many nights did we spend in the woods drinking cheap beer, listening to the waterfall splash against the mossy rocks, gaining an entirely different education?

Pink lady's slipper orchid

Pink lady’s slipper orchid

When we got to town a little later in the afternoon, it was remarkably familiar, yet ever so different. Businesses have come and gone, as is to be expected, but the renaming of childhood landmarks was jarring. What was known as “the field” or Pembleton’s to the more precise, was now named after someone who made their mark long after most of us had left the lake for lives elsewhere.  It felt like a weird responsibility to be the bearer of memories of what came before.

If I squinted my eyes I could still see the flea markets and fairs of long ago, along with the remnants of what was rumored to have once been a play area complete with mini golf and a concrete pool in which to sail toy boats. Situating myself along Windemere Avenue, relying upon buildings which may serve different purposes yet eternally remain the post office and Christman’s Realty to me, I located the slab of concrete which will always time stamp both my first “serious” boyfriend and the year the sidewalks were installed in town.

Look closely - can you read it?

Look closely – can you read it?

I took a run around the arm of the lake, a distance which is far shorter in miles than I ever would have guessed. So many of the places are different yet easily envisioned in my mind’s eye. Frank’s Pizzeria, now a residential building, but once home to great slices and a nice man who often gave me a ride up the mountain on his way home. The Bristol Bridge, long ago replaced by a span with far less interest and minus my name written in surprisingly weather resistant red lipstick.  McMansion-esque home replacing the cottages and bungalows where my friends lived so many years ago.

In Greenwood Lake everything feels familiar, yet nothing is exactly the same. Going home is like being dunked in a well of memories, moments from the past which, upon reflection, either gain or lose significance. There are ghosts everywhere – of friends lost to time or death and older versions of ourselves. But there’s a comfort in all of it. We were there and who we are today is directly related to the experiences we shared so many years ago. Going home feels like just the place I wanted to be this weekend.

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Filed under aging, friends, musings, relationships, road trips, Schools, Uncategorized, upstate New York

April Fool me

If I had known 25 years ago that choosing a career as a public school teacher would mean fighting for survival against a megalomaniac governor, I might have elected to simply stay full-time in the hospitality industry. During my college days, I imagined my biggest challenge would be landing a job in what is a fairly specialized field after graduation, particularly in an area with a university which was churning out qualified applicants. Ha.

I no have education. I have inspiration. If I was educated, I would be a damn fool. Bob Marley

My first job, landed within months of graduation, was a long-term sub position in a small urban district. I was racing between three buildings and loving it. Even though the job was only temporary, I poured my heart into it and felt completely gratified that I had made a great decision and had indeed found the perfect career for my skills and strengths.

A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.  William Shakespeare

Since that time I’ve been tenured in three different school districts, in three different counties. Each time I changed jobs I did so with tremendous consideration – how would my new position impact my family, my day-to-day life, my career, my salary? Without exception, I embraced the new opportunity and have been satisfied with my decision to start over again in a new district.

Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.  Charlie Chaplin

I’ve been a public school teacher for nearly 20 years and I have never been more discouraged about the future of my profession. In the last few years, I have seen quality educators leaving the field in alarming numbers. They’re tired of being beaten down by elected officials and bureaucrats who wouldn’t last a day in their shoes. Positions go unfilled because of lack of qualified applicants. A person would have to be crazy to go into education now.

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. Abraham Lincoln

Our governor has sold out the children of NYS to for-profit companies who will subject students to tests which are age-inappropriate and rigged for failure. He will continue his efforts to break organized labor unions and privatize education. The legislature had fewer than 12 hours to read and vote on Cuomo’s final bill – less time than the average NYS 9-year-old will seated to take their assessment exams.

Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do. Benjamin Franklin

I didn’t vote for Cuomo last year and I will never again support politicians who supported his education bill.  Unlike the elected representatives who provided lip service to educators and parents across the state, that’s a promise I’m going to keep.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

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Filed under Education, politics, Schools

Testing boundaries

Last week I attended a meeting sponsored by the NYS Alliance for Public Education. The forum discussed current controversies and issues in public education including the Common Core Learning Standards, teacher evaluations, Governor Cuomo’s 2015 Education Budget and the NYS assessments given to elementary students in grades 3-8.

My interest in attending the meeting was more personal than professional, I have a child in 4th grade who will be expected to sit for multiple days worth of testing later in spring. At this time I am actively seeking information about the credibility of the exams and the impact they may have on my child, his teacher(s) and his school. His experience with the tests last year began the very first week of third grade when he came home from school talking with concern about the assessments he would have to take 7 months later. The very same tests which we wouldn’t even receive the results of for more than a year after that first conversation.

The presentation was professionally delivered and informative. I left with a sheaf of papers and the commitment to do a bit of research before making a final decision regarding my own child’s participation in next month’s assessments. A day later, I saw this document shared on Facebook and immediately became outraged. A friend of mine (who has been involved in the news business for more than two decades), suggested I look at the document a little more critically. I mean, is it feasible that a big testing company would really be monitoring the social media accounts of millions of students?

Apparently, the answer is “yes.” I suppose all it would take would be a bot of sorts to troll hashtags focusing on things like #Pearson and #PARCC, right? Geez, Pearson could probably spend some of the $108 million they were paid by the state of New Jersey to actually hire a person or two to monitor Twitter and other social media platforms, if they chose to.

I’ve spent an almost combined 40 years being a student and teacher. I remember excitedly taking the CAT tests, confident in my abilities to demonstrate my knowledge. Sitting down with my sharpened #2 pencils in the cafeteria felt like a special treat, not a stress inducing threat. I’m not opposed to testing in theory, but the commercialization of education, complete with a single vendor who provides curriculum, assessment and remediation for those scoring poorly on tests doesn’t sit right with me. I think we’ll pass on the tests this year.

A couple of other related posts to read:

Bob Braun’s Ledger
Diane Ravitch’s post

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Filed under Boys, Education, News, Schools

Feeling testy about NYS assessments

imageHow much do you know the mandated state exams administered to elementary school students in New York State? What do you know about these tests and their significance? Have you heard about Assemblymember Jim Tedisco’s bill proposal to allow parents to “opt out” of the required tests? If these three questions were on a test you were taking right now, how would you do?

As a teacher and a parent, my interest in these exams is pretty intense. Although there was initially the threat of my being required to test my population of students, I don’t have to administer tests in my “subject” area because I’m a secondary (grades 7-12) librarian and we have been given an alternative assessment rubric. At present my annual professional performance review (APPR) doesn’t include a student test component.*

That fact that I am currently exempt from delivering tested curriculum does not mean I am unaffected by the exams. I see the impact of these tests on my colleagues, my students, and of course, my own child. Last year, when my then-third grader came home the first week of school talking about “the tests,” I was dismayed. This year, I’m disgusted.

I’ve heard about a dozen different “facts” related to opting out of the tests. Things like “if less than 16 children in a given class or 95% of a building’s population take the tests the results can’t be counted against the teacher of the school” and “students must sit for the tests even if they refuse to participate, yet will be given a score if they so much as mark the answer sheet.” I just don’t know what is accurate information and, believe me, contacting NYSED with my questions is probably about the last thing I’d consider doing.

This Thursday, March 12th at 6:30, the Bethlehem Public Library is hosting a forum presented by the NYS Alliance for Public Education on the topic of the excessive use of testing in New York State. A portion of the forum will be devoted to Opt-Out and I hope that many of the questions I have will be addressed. If you have questions of your own this may be just the opportunity to get some answers.

*It also doesn’t include any evaluation of how I manage a budget, a sizable collection in multiple formats, or a facility (or two).

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Filed under Education, Events, politics, Schools, Uncategorized

Getting educated – 500 miles worth of lessons

Three day weekends should leave those fortunate enough to have had 3 consecutive days off feeling relaxed and satisfied. There definitely were some moments during the 72 hours which prompted some pretty positive emotions, but the overwhelming sensation I’m experiencing right now is simple exhaustion.

As I am inclined to do, I scheduled the weekend pretty tightly. My agenda included a ski, some yoga, a house party or two, and a whole lotta driving the Lilly boys where they wanted to go. All in all, the weekend was a success, but not everything went as planned. I mean, really, does it ever?

Lesson 1. Plans need to come with alternatives, options and flexibility. Sometimes the unexpected is welcome, like running into someone special at a party. Those are the moments we’ve got to hold on to.

Saturday I dropped my middle son off at the train station in Poughkeepsie. I resisted the impulse to get out of the car and walk inside with him to help him get his ticket and find the right track for NYC. Griffin’s independent trip to Grand Central Station was the second leg on his journey to his first show at the Beacon. Upon his arrival in the city, he met his older cousin and he went to see a jam band that his father assures me I would have hated.  He loved it.

Lesson 2. My children are growing up and I need to encourage the pursuit of entertainment and adventure, even if the thought of sending my 15 y/o son to Manhattan solo is scary. It’s time.

Sunday, my oldest child took the train from Albany to meet me in Poughkeepsie (I had spent the night with friends nearby). We immediately got on the road for an epic trip to Elmira College for a Monday morning tour. The roads were insanely icy as the rain fell on highways that were ever so cold and the drive took much longer than expected. After our visit on Monday, Liam decided that while Elmira had a lot to offer, it was probably too far away from his family for him to continue considering it as an option for the fall.

Lesson 3. Often the road to where we want to get to is treacherously slippery. Sometimes, once we arrive we find that the place isn’t really where want to be.  The thing is, you’ll never know unless you make the trip.

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Filed under Boys, Education, family, NYC, road trips, Schools, snow, upstate New York

Dog years and the passage of time

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The day we first met Jeter

The youngest of my “boys” recently celebrated his first birthday and, while the occasion was a happy one to mark, I also noted the date with a tinge of sadness. That year certainly went quickly. When I thought about the number of years we got to love Cassidy (12.5) and started doing simple math in my head, I got a bit melancholy considering how few more years we can expect Jeter to be our baby. It simply doesn’t feel like nearly enough.

I don’t dwell on the lack of how much time remains, but I do find myself conscious of it. I’ve been thinking a lot about time recently. The older I get, the more I value it. What to do with my time and who to spend it with are two of the most important decisions I make each day. What once seemed infinite has definitely evolved into being one of life’s most precious gifts. It’s true, time is a present and I’ve vowed to become even more discriminating about how I use it.

When it comes to time, how long are you willing to invest in someone? What length of time would you give a person to show you their very best? A week? A year? Or, are you of the mindset that we’re all works in progress and it is acceptable to wait forever? It’s a tough call, one we each have to make (and live with) ourselves.

How do we ever know if we’ve done the right thing(s) with our time? As my oldest son gets ready to make decisions about where to continue to his education and to leave home, I wonder how the time of our living under the same roof went by so remarkably fast. Is he ready? Did his father and I sufficiently prepare him for what comes next? Was our time together well spent?

Is there a way to ever truly know? Or, maybe a means to just slow down the clock?

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Filed under aging, Boys, family, love, musings, relationships, Schools

12/13/14

Image: nydailynews.com

Yesterday’s date was remarkable because it was the last time in our lifetime, barring some crazy medical advances, that we will see a consecutive numbers date. What begin with 1/2/3 is now over for the current century. Pretty momentous, don’t you think?

I’ve learned there are occasions which demand recognition for various reasons – holidays, anniversaries, cool calendar dates, while others only reveal their importance retrospectively.

Two years ago today, on 12/14/12, Adam Lanza entered an elementary school and executed 26 people. Twenty of the victims were children who were essentially the same age as my own youngest son. Two years ago, 12/13/12, was the last night all of those families were intact.

I cant help but imagine the children on the final night of their lives.   I picture them talking excitedly about their Christmas lists and other holiday traditions. Maybe they did some homework, played a game or two, or attended a sports practice or other activity. Along with their teachers, they were probably looking forward to the weekend to have some time with family and friends. There was nothing to suggest that they would never again sleep in their beds.

On 12/14/12 the residents of Newtown, CT, and the world, learned what a violent and mentally ill individual was capable of destroying. We’ll never know what the future held for those twenty children – what they would have grown to achieve and accomplish, how they might have changed the world with their presence rather than with the void of their absence.  My own heart will always be missing a piece which was taken on that day.

In the next century, when those cool consecutive number dates roll around again, I hope that thought of an individual possessing and using weapons such as the Bushmaster rifle used to execute 20 elementary school children, is considered even more insane than Adam Lanza.

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Filed under Events, musings, News, Observations, politics, Schools