The Birthday I Have Been Dreading

75.  Seven decades and half of another one.  Half a century plus a quarter of a century.  Fourteen presidents.  It becomes official on Jan. 21.

How in the world did this happen?  Why it was just a few days ago I had a full head of hair, wore pants with a much smaller waist size and ran in 10 K races.

Honest, I have never been all that concerned about birthdays coming and going.  However, I do recall that becoming 30 seemed a bit of a jolt.  Suddenly the 20’s were gone and I was plunging headlong into middle age.  Then 60 got my attention a bit.  What I remember most about that one was hosting a birthday party for friends from all over the south.  That was great fun.  One friend said he came because he could not believe I was footing the bill.

But 75?  Dad gum.  I am much older than my grandpa was when I first met him.  And he was the oldest man on earth.

However, I am not complaining about getting here.  Just glad I made it.  Too many friends and colleagues did not have this good fortune.  But this does not prevent you from spending time wondering how it happened.  And where did all the days go?  How did I end at this point where I have many more yesterdays than tomorrows.

And I of course reflect on so many good times and am grateful for all the kindnesses I’ve been shown along my life’s path.  I am especially grateful for so many new friends I have found during my venture into blogland.  People who have been willing to join me in my wee little effort to bring attention to our educators in public schools and all their contributions to our way of life.  People who have stepped forward when I’ve asked for emails to the governor, or state school board members or legislators.

I will always be thankful for you.

And for anyone so inclined, I direct your attention to the little place on this home page where you can support the cause by using PayPal.  In honor of the occasion, may I suggest $7.50.

Editor’s note:  While I appreciate the friend who suggested that 75 is really the new 74, not sure I am yet convinced.

Snow School Today

My little front yard in Montgomery is a blanket of white this Wednesday morning as Mother Nature sprinkled between one to two inches of snow during the night.  And not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse.

Nothing is moving and  I’ve yet to see the youngsters across the street venture out to make snowballs.  Which, of course means there is no school across most of the Heart of Dixie today.

And thanks to our friends at AL.com, you can go here and listen to some really funny messages from around the country about school closings.  I don’t think you will discover any hidden talents, but you have to give all of these folks an A for creativity and willingness to make light of themselves.

Enjoy the day.  Be extra careful.

When The Light Comes On

Editor’s note:  My friend Wendy Lang is a former teacher who lives in Decatur.  She works for the Alabama Education Association as a uniserv district director and is a weekly columnist for the Decatur Daily.  Here are some reflections from her.

Educators often have a thankless job.  With rising healthcare premiums, lack of adequate compensation, legislation upon more legislation heaped on by those who know nothing of how a classroom really works, unending classroom mandates, tests upon tests and even worse, the make it or break it test scores, the occupation is not seen as the profession it once was.  Ask anyone in education (or those that got out of education, for that matter) and they will tell you two things; first, it’s not a job, it’s a calling and primarily, they just want to teach.  The mounds of paperwork and meetings and lack of appreciation have taken their toll.  But for those who doubt that the light at the end of the tunnel exists, I know for a fact that it does.

Today I attended the Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast at Ingall’s Harbor pavilion in Decatur.  This annual event sponsored by the Decatur-Morgan County Minority Development Association was full to capacity for this, their 25th year. In all honesty, the last thing I wanted to do was get up at the crack of dawn on my off day, but I did and I came home with much more than I could ever have imagined.

Years ago, I fell back into a teaching career because I had two children to raise and a degree that was collecting dust.  It was a perfect fit, or so I thought, until I was placed in fifth grade.  It was a daunting task at best and try as I might, between the testing and the paperwork and the crowd control, I never knew if anyone was really “getting it.”  The math was above my head and enticing preteens to read was a struggle.  But I never stopped trying.  Neither did Stacey Staten.

Stacey lived for recess.  He could shoot basketball and run off the immense amount of energy he had for ten minutes every day.  His mother, Latrise Jackson, made sure that he got his homework and passed the tests; but I never really knew if he “got” it.  Fifth grade is a difficult age and grade for parents, students and teachers.  Even if they do the work, do they understand the importance of what they are doing?  Do they know that in the course of life that it counts for something?  Does the eye rolling over assignments ever stop?

Today I walked in the pavilion looking for coffee.  Instead, I saw Stacey and his mother.  We hugged and loved on each other and I was thrilled to see him there.  I asked him about his future plans, and he grinned, dropped his head and stated as a matter of fact that he still just wanted to play ball.  I was not surprised.  After all, he is a star player at Decatur High School and his coach, Sam Brown, has referred to him as a “lockdown defender.”  Last week, he led his team to defeat Austin High School in the city rivalry by scoring 16 points.  This also won him the title of the Decatur Daily’s Player of the Week.  He’s not just good; he’s amazing.

The DMDA began 25 years ago to promote education as the primary means for minority development.  That first year, they awarded one $500 scholarship.  Today, they awarded over $31,000 in scholarship monies to deserving disadvantaged students for their education.  It is estimated that by the spring, approximately $50,000 in scholarship monies will be provided to area students in a joint, unified effort between the Association and community partners.

As students approached the stage, Stacey took his place in line to receive one of more than 50 scholarships given..  That’s when I knew….he might want to play ball, but he gets it; he gets every single bit of it.  He knows what opens doors and ball courts; an education.  And somehow, someway, he got the math, too.  And I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

This Time Montgomery Mayor Gets It Right

A few days ago we took Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange to task for his plan to turn to charter schools to solve Montgomery’s education woes.  In our opinion, he is ignoring deep-rooted issues and is hoping for a “quick fix” instead.

But earlier this past week, he came out forcefully for the Montgomery community to get involved with the public school system  and to especially pay attention to the elections for county school board.  Five of the seven seats are to be filled.

In this case, we believe he is on target.

Time after time we have stated that “education is everyone’s business.”  This means not only politicians, but the faith-based community, the business community, non-profits, civic clubs, the chamber of commerce, etc.  There is no better window to the soul of a community than   its school system.  What is more important than taking pride in how we are educating our young people?  What is more important than developing a new crop of citizens to be the best they can be?

Mayor Strange also announced a website, EducateMGM.com to educate the public on this year’s election and to provide info to those who might be interested in seeking a school board seat.

However, I do wish the mayor and others would stop throwing out the red herring about how many students the Montgomery school system lost in the last year.  Some would want us to believe Montgomery was alone in declining enrollment.  This is hardly the case at all.  In fact, the state lost 3,250 students from 2016-17 to 2017-18.   There are 136 school systems in Alabama, 85 lost students.

The decline is especially apparent in central Alabama where Autauga, Elmore, Macon, Bullock, Crenshaw, Butler, Lowndes and Dallas counties and Selma all saw enrollment fall.  The only systems in the region to gain over these 12 months were Pike and Troy city which gained 60 together.

Other notable declines happened in Jefferson, Lee, Madison and Mobile counties (which fell 1,328) as well as Birmingham and even Mountain Brook.

Hopefully the mayor will continue to encourage community support for our public schools.  Hopefully he will lead by example by making a concerted effort to spend more time in schools observing students and talking to educators.  Hopefully he will come to understand that too many of the challenges children face today that impact learning are outside the education environment.

UWA Increases Rural Impact

My friends at the University of West Alabama continue to carve their niche as the four-year school that has help for rural areas as a key mission.

Now they have announced plans for offering its first doctoral program in the near future. Pending approval from its accrediting body, UWA will soon offer through its Julia S. Tutwiler College of Education a unique Ed.D. in rural education.

The proposed program will offer two tracks to best meet the needs of educators and professionals. The teaching and learning track is designed for teacher leaders in a variety of settings, instructional coaches, directors, team leaders, and lead teachers. A track for organizational change and leadership is designed for curriculum leaders, instructional leaders in a variety of settings, directors, team leaders, lead teachers, higher education leaders, or leaders of non-profit organizations.

“ACHE’s approval of our Ed.D. in Rural Education is outstanding news for our university,” said UWA President Ken Tucker. “This innovative and unique doctoral program, the only one of its kind in the nation, has the potential of being a national model for other universities in rural environments.”

The University received approval from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education in early December, and the proposed degree program will go before the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Commission on Colleges in the summer of 2018. Should SACS approve the proposed degree program, UWA will begin offering the Ed.D. in rural education in the fall of 2018.

UWA’s commitment to rural education has continually grown over recent years, including the establishment of the Black Belt Teaching Corps, partnerships with the National Rural Education Association and the Rural Schools Collaborative, a position as the Alabama Affiliate for Rural Education, and a broad slate of programs and initiatives designed to equip rural educators. The college is a Teacher Quality Partnership grant recipient, awarded $3.3 million for training the region’s best educators.

If anyone can relate to the needs and challenges of rural communities, it’s Ken Tucker.  A native of Linden in Marengo County, he also served as a county commissioner.  If anything will get you to where the rubber meets the road, or should we say where the motor grader meets the ditch, it is being a county commissioner.

I am delighted to see what is taking place on this campus in Livingston and glad to have the chance to help in some ways..