An Honest Look At Education Today

Raise Your Hand Texas is a public school advocacy group based in Austin.  Among the many things they are involved in is an on-going effort to tell the story of today’s schools and what teachers are asked to cope with.

As they say: “Being an educator in today’s schools is hard work. Harder than ever. The expectations are high, and rightfully so. The future of Texas is in our public schools – the future of our economy, communities, and citizenry – and so the responsibility of educators to prepare students to be successful after graduation is tremendous.

The work of educators is made more challenging by inadequate funding for public education, a long history of misguided negative rhetoric about our schools, fast-changing student and family demographics, and a shifting accountability landscape. And yet, every day they face these challenges head-on. They dig deep into their own pockets to provide students with classroom essentials. They work diligently to deliver a high-quality education to every student. And they go way beyond their job descriptions to address student needs.

For that, educators deserve our respect and support.

If you know a teacher or school leader who deserves a little thank you, a little appreciation, we hope you’ll share this video with them. And if you’re an educator, this one’s for you. We created this as one small way to show educators that we see all that they do, for every student, and that we honor them for preparing the future.”

Please watch this video of less than two minutes.  And even better, share it with others, especially local elected officials and legislators.  Alabama teachers face the same challenges as their counterparts in Texas.

Honk If You Have Seen Jason Taylor

When then state superintendent Mike Sentence took over the Montgomery County school system early in 2017 one of his first moves was to sign a three-year. no-bid contract for $708,000 to bring Huntsville City school’s Chief Financial Officer, Jason Taylor, to Montgomery.

Actually the contract was with Northbay Strategic Partners LLC, an entity hastily put together by Taylor.

Taylor did begin working on Montgomery’s financials, which were a mess to say the least.  However, from conversations I have had with other CFOs and local superintendents around the state, Taylor many have been better at sleight of hand than anything else.  Those familiar with Taylor’s work in Montgomery were skeptical of how he was shifting funds from one account to another.  They did not agree with his actions.

But we are now months beyond when Taylor entered the picture.  Mike Sentance is long gone and Eric Mackey is now state superintendent.

But where is Jason Taylor?

All we know for sure is that the state is still paying Northbay Strategic Partners $19,250 a month   According to the state open checkbook web site, his last check was Sept. 13.  The first check was May 17, 2017.  We have now paid Northbay $346,875.

Montgomery County has its own CFO these days, Arthur Watts.  He started in late July.

Since being appointed to the Montgomery board Aug. 31, I have asked several other board members if they knew where Taylor is or what he is doing.  None had a clue.

So at the first board meeting I attended on Sept. 11, which was a budget hearing, I asked publicly about Taylor.  Terry Roller is the state’s chief administrative officer for the intervention these days.  He told me Taylor no longer has any duties involving Montgomery.  However, this not what state superintendent Mackey says.

After I inquired about Taylor to a state board member, Mackey said that Taylor is very engaged trying to get Montgomery’s financial house in order. He was also adamant that MPS is not paying any of Taylor’s contract.

I am not the only one curious about what Taylor is doing and where he is.  Josh Moon with Alabama Political Reporter is also asking questions–and coming up as blank as I am.

Of course I am glad MPS is not writing Taylor’s monthly check for $19,250–but that is beside the point.  I also pay state taxes and the fact that the state is paying this much a month and doesn’t appear to know what its for does not sit well with me.

I gave $50 today to a teacher at Ware’s Ferry elementary in Montgomery to buy tables for her classroom.  I did this through the DonorsChoose.org web site.  This is the fifth such donation I’ve made in recent weeks.  At this moment there are 47 projects at 16 Montgomery schools listed on this site.  They need $42,000 to buy cleaning supplies, books, paper, chrome books, etc.

Three checks to Jason Taylor would way more than fund each of these projects.

If Jason Taylor is really doing something worth while for education in Alabama, fine.  But the fact that we don’t seem to know blows my mind.  Maybe if he shows up he will donate some money to MPS schools.

 

 

Saluting National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalists

One  of the highest recognitions a high school senior can receive is becoming a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist.  The current group of Alabama students to gain this honor has just been announced.  There are 215 of them, from both private and public schools.

Al.com put together a list of all these students.  You can see it here.

I attended the ceremony at Loveless Academic Magnet Program high school here in Montgomery where nine seniors were recognized.  A very, very impressive group.  Congratulations to one and all.

 

When Did Rube Goldberg Highjack Public Education?

Rube Goldberg is a name that will sound vaguely familiar to many of you–but you don’t know why.

Goldberg was born in San Francisco in 1883 and though he graduated from the University of California with a degree in engineering, he gained fame as a newspaper cartoonist.  He was noted for drawing cartoons depicting complicated gadgets that perform simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways, giving rise to the term Rube Goldberg machines.

He even won a Pulitzer Prize for his political cartoons and today there is a national Rube Goldberg machine contest where high school and college teams build contraptions that have to complete a certain task.

For an up close and personal look at some Rube Goldberg machines, go here.

As I’ve poked around in public education for the last decade I have often thought that what education has today morphed into reminds me of a Rube Goldberg device more than anything else.  By this I mean it seems we basically continue to add to and add to whatever we are supposed to be trying to achieve education wise until we end up with an insufferable number of rules, regulations, steps and mis-steps between good intentions and the classroom.

And now, having been appointed to serve on the Montgomery County school board for the next three months and having spent nearly six hours earlier today in a training session about how school boards work, who does what, and the myriad of rules and regulations associated with EVERYTHING, I am thinking more and more of Rube Goldberg.

There are wonderful, intelligent and dedicated professionals doing their damnest to make sure our young people get good educations.  But to this country boy, it appears we have burdened them with more “stuff” than Carter has liver pills.  It seems we are drowning in a typhoon of paperwork and bureaucratizing the process to the point of unreasonableness.

Yes, I know we want to ensure equality and equity and ensure fair treatment to all children and level the playing field as much as possible. but have we gone overboard?  Is it really necessary to Rube Goldberg any and everything?

Were I czar (and trust me, I am not even czar fourth class) I would have all central office personnel at both the local and state level carefully consider every single piece of paper or documentation they handle and ask if schools would cease to function if that form did not exist?

 

 

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In A Strange Twist Of Fate, I Am Now On The Montgomery School Board

Yes, sometimes life takes twists and turns that we never would imagine.

Exhibit A is the fact that just after noon today (Aug. 31) I was sworn in as a member of the Montgomery County school board for District 2.  This is the seat I ran for earlier in the year and lost the election on June 5.

So here is what happened.  The incumbent, Durden Dean, was giving up his seat to move to North Carolina to be closer to grandkids.  To my knowledge, he originally planned to stay through the end of his term that ends Nov. 30.  However, the tug of grandkids came into play and Durden resigned his position effective Aug 28..

This meant the MPS board could name someone to fill out the rest of his term. I sent an email to all board members when I got the news and told them that I would consider filling this position.

I was picked in a special called meeting.  Here is the story in the Montgomery Advertiser.

Obviously I am grateful for this vote of confidence.  And though I will serve for only three months, every journey begins with a step and hopefully I can be part of taking some positive ones for this community and school system.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I can ask a lot of questions.  (Maybe this is why I became a journalist.)  And I already have a number of them.

I also know that real education takes place in schools and classrooms and it is very important that those who make decisions about education work hard to keep in touch with the reality of classrooms and listen to teachers and principals at every opportunity.  Since being sworn in today, I have been in two schools.  I will be in many more in the next three months.

Russellville Schools Impress Tracey Meyer

Our friend and former longtime state department of education employee Tracey Meyer recently visited the Russellville city school system in northwest Alabama.  She was super impressed at the work she saw of superintendent Heath Grimes and West Elementary principal Deanna Holliman and her staff.

The fact that more than half of all Russellville students are Hispanic gives them unique challenges.  But educators are tackling them with remarkable success.

You can read about Tracey’s visit on her blog post here.

Some of you may wonder why her blog has lots of pictures, while mine seldom does. 1. My camera does not take pictures.  2. She is much more technically advanced that I am.  3.  It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks.