In A Room Full Of Miracles

Each year the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS) hosts a luncheon for what they call “Schools of Distinction” from throughout the state.  CLAS has been around for 30+ years serving as an umbrella for a number of groups such as elementary, middle school and high school principals and providing an array of professional development opportunities.  They have 4,000 members.

They divide the state according to the eight state school board districts and go through an extensive evaluation process to select usually four final schools per district.  These schools are then recognized at a luncheon.  They have been kind enough to invite me to attend these events.  (There was not one last year due to the pandemic.)

So May 3 I was right there amongst them–no teeth and all.  (I tried to keep my mouth shut as much as possible, which ain’t easy for me. Luckily the meal included mashed potatoes and a slice of pie that did not need chewing.)

Everyone at my table was from Tuscaloosa.  (I never once mentioned Auburn or War Eagle.)

Each of the 31 schools being recognized were given a few minutes to highlight why they were recognized.  For a lay person like me, it was a great reminder of the amazing work that goes on in our public schools.  Of the dedicated teachers and special education personnel and supportive principals who give so very much each day for the young folks in their classrooms.

These people are passionate about what they do.  And this passion carries over into their classrooms and schools.  Because of this, miracles happen.  A light goes on in the mind of a second grader and suddenly a math problem becomes much clearer or a phrase in a book takes on new meaning.

I am in awe of teachers.  Of their patience, devotion, dedication and love. There are easier ways to make a living.  But thank God, this is the career they have chosen.

Here are the schools recognized this year:

Chickasaw Elementary, Clark-Shaw Magnet Middle, E. R. Dickson Elementary, Nora Mae Hutchens Elementary, Jerry Lee Faine Elementary, Lakewood Elementary, Lakewood Primary, Webb Elementary, Berry Middle, Chelsea High, Millbrook Middle, Sycamore Elementary, Hillcrest High, Northridge Middle, Southview Elementary, University Place Elementary, Gilliard Elementary, Prattville Primary, R. B. Hudson STEAM Academy, Williamson High and Middle Grades Preparatory Academy, KDS DAR Elementary, Ohatchee High, Sparkman Elementary, Haleyville Center of Technology, Harland Elementary, Kilby Laboratory , Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools-Elementary, Collins Intermediate, James Clements High, Mae Jemison Hill and Mill Creek Elementary.

Congratulations to each of these and thank you for the miracles you create.

Another Gem From J. L. Strickland

Editor’s note:  From time to time I open my inbox and find some more of J. L. Strickland’s musings.  He is a retired textile mill worker from Alabama’s Valley region (Chambers County and surrounding areas) who certainly has a way with words.  Enjoy his most recent:

“I haven’t been doing much of anything since I got really sick off a new drug they started me on for the Parkinson’s.   The damn stuff almost killed me.  For two days I thought I would die, and by the third day I was hoping I would.

But my son’s wife is a nurse/practitioner.  She quickly realized what was happening to me and told me to stop taking the new drug at once.   I did and have gradually, gradually returned to nearly normal. Or what passes for normal these days.

(These days, my normal is barely being able to walk, but still possessing the ability to talk the horns off a billy goat.  If anyone has a billy goat that needs dehorning, send it my way.)

Related to the barely walking situation, a while back I came across some walking sticks online that were made in Ukraine.   I liked the way they looked and ordered two of them.   It took about a month for them to arrive from Russia, but they finally got to Huguley.   

(The Russian girl, Tatiana, who handles the Ukrainians’ American sales, and I corresponded several times.  In each of her emails, she quoted verses from “Sweet Home Alabama” in closing.   I’ve noticed that, while most furriners hate Americans, they sho’ ‘nuff do like our music and our money.)

Anyway, let me get to the point of this story:

When I went to the hospital for some tests yesterday,  I was hobbling about with one of my new Ukrainian walking sticks.   I couldn’t believe that three different women – two hospital employees and one stranger I met in the hall– complimented me on how nice my walking stick looked.  Two of them actually picked it up and examined it more closely.

After I got home, and thinking about the attention brought on by the walking stick,  it occurred to me that I had reached a milestone of sorts. A Plateau of Pitifulness and Inevitability.

You know a fella has passed the point of no return when the only attention and compliments he gets are for his handsome  walking stick.

Wouldn’t you agree?

The final words spoken by my late wife on her death bed came to mind.  After being comatose for two days, Yvonne suddenly opened her eyes and, to no one in particular, exclaimed, “Golden Years, my ass!”

And my darling brown-eyed girl went to her reward with those insightful words hanging in the air.

Can’t say I don’t agree with her assessment of the situation.  I have no doubt she had given it a lot of thought. Unlike me, she was never one to jump to a conclusion.”


The Nightmare Of Dentures

Daddy passed away at age 86 with one filling in his teeth.  Mother was not so lucky and had teeth issues her entire life.

Unfortunately, I apparently got my teeth genes from mama, not daddy.

So over the years I’ve had my share of fillings, crowns, bridges, and teeth being pulled.  And a couple of months ago I lost one of my front upper teeth and a big hole in my smile.  Which honestly didn’t concern me all that much, but it meant I was not interested in smiling.  And no doubt, for someone having lunch with me, that was not a pretty sight.

So I begin seeing dentists, of course including the one I’ve used for years here in Montgomery.  In all, got opinions from three.  All said the same thing.  What teeth I still had were all not long for this world and the best solution was to pull them all and get dentures.

The thought of having false teeth was not a good one.  All I could think of was talking to someone and listening to their teeth rattle, snap and pop as we conversed.  Surely that would never be me.  Now I wonder.

But long story made a bit shorter, on April 12 I spent four and one half hours in the dentist’s chair while he pulled the 16 teeth left in my head.  I could have had open heart surgery in less time.

The dentist had some temporary dentures ready and waiting.  He said they normally pop those in as soon as the pulling was complete since this would cut down on bleeding and begin the healing.  That might work for some, but not for me as my mouth was one bloody mess.  It looked like part of a piece of cube steak that had just been beaten by one of those meat tenderizer gadgets.  Touching my gums with any thing other than gauze was out of the question.

So I left the dental office with a mouthful of gauze and headed straight for the house.  The bleeding was not slowing down and I stayed up the entire night changing gauze.  The internet suggested using tea bags for black tea instead of gauze.  My gums apparently don’t read the internet as this didn’t seem to work.  Heck, I was afraid that if I could go to sleep I would drown in my own blood.

Bright and early the next morning I was back at the dentist.  Fortunately, by then the bleeding had pretty much abated.  The dentist said he had never known anyone to bleed so profusely.  Yes, it is great to be an exception to the rule.

Two weeks later and I’ve got a long way to go.  My gums remain very sore. The dentist wants me to wear the temps as much as possible to get used to them.  I can handle the ones for the bottom for a few minutes, but not the top set.

I would kill for a sausage and biscuit.  Two weeks of a liquid diet leave a lot to be desired.  If I never see another bowl of soup, I won’t fuss.  I suck down liquid drinks like Boost and eat ice cream and fruit popsicles. Have been to Waffle House a couple of times to get scrambled eggs and a bowl of grits.  Even tried some baby food.  It is awful.  No wonder babies spit that stuff out.

The plan is that after a few months of wearing the temps, I will get permanent dentures.  I have eight screws inserted in my gums, just below the surface.  (Try sitting in the dentist’s chair while he uses a wrench to work on your mouth.  All I could think about was adjusting a cultivator back on the farm).  Small pins will be inserted in the screws and these are supposed to anchor the permanent dentures–though you will still take them out each night.

I really hate to sound so negative.  But it ain’t easy to be upbeat when you are hungry and your mouth hurts like hell.

First it was hearing aides.  Then reading glasses.  Now false teeth.  What stops working next?  I can scarcely wait to find out.

A Surprise At My Door

We all get packages delivered to our door, particularly during this time of pandemic.  For me it is usually a book or some of the too many pills the doctors have prescribed.

So when I saw the recent package, I figured here is another book.  Then I looked and it was from William Jones of Bay Minette.  I was curious because if I have met Mr. Jones, I’ve forgotten about it.  (Definitely not uncommon at age 78 I might add.)  As I began to unwrap the box’s contents, I was really surprised.

Because to my delight and amazement, I found two pint jars of fig preserves very carefully wrapped.  And this written neatly on a card:


Quite some time back, you mentioned in your blog your love of fig preserves.  I thought at the time that I should send you some  of my 80 year-old grandmother’s, but I got busy and forgot.  In November, I left my job at Daphne High to join Dr. Melissa Shield’s team at the Alabama State Department of Education.

In conversation the other day she mentioned you, and I remembered my plan to send you figs.  I must admit convincing my grandmother to relinquish these from her canning pantry was no easy task.  These figs were grown from her own trees in Bay Minette.  I hope you enjoy!”

Talk about making my day?  Wow.

I indeed recall once writing about my love for figs and how mother made the best biscuits in the world to stuff with a couple of preserves and wash down with a glass of milk.  I also related my efforts to find fig preserves and turning to the internet where I found some, but not like the ones I put in mama’s biscuits.

And I certainly know my friend Melissa Shields and consider her one of the top educators in Alabama.

I quickly fired off an email to William and told him to thank grandma–profusely.  Which he said he did and she was very pleased.

I hope to meet William one of these days and thank him in person.  And even better, I would like to hug grandma’s neck, just in case she might have another pint jar tucked away.

We should all take a lesson from William and do something special for someone.  (If that includes sending me more figs, I will be glad to give you my address.)



To Vaccinate Or Not

Editor’s note: As you can tell, I spend a lot of time on the internet (which no doubt greatly increases my stress level).  And I come across many articles that are worthy of calling attention to.  And in this moment when the issue of Covid vaccinations is increasingly becoming more and more political, which I don’t understand, the following by Dr. Lenna Wen, a public health expert, for The Washington Post, seems especially meaningful.

“Recent news coverage is fueling a pernicious narrative: What’s the point of getting a covid-19 vaccine if the vaccinated might still get infected, if protection doesn’t last that long and if the vaccine itself could lead to dangerous outcomes such as blood clots?
Clinicians need to address each concern head-on, and we need the media’s help to do it.

The science is squarely on our side. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data on breakthrough coronavirus infections — meaning instances of fully vaccinated people testing positive. The data highlighted how effective vaccination is, but you might not have drawn that conclusion from news reports.
“So far, 5,800 fully vaccinated people have caught Covid anyway in the US, CDC says,” read one headline. “CDC reports 5,800 COVID-19 infections, 74 deaths in fully vaccinated people,” said another.

By themselves, the numbers sound concerning. But let’s take a closer look. An infection rate of 5,800 infections out of 77 million fully vaccinated people is less than 0.008 percent — a remarkably low rate. Compare this with 68,000 daily new infections in the United States — which, over a 30-day period, is nearly 100 times higher than the infection rate for those vaccinated. Put another way: A total of 5,800 infections among the inoculated is orders of magnitude better than 68,000 infections per day in the general population.
Furthermore, the CDC reported that nearly 30 percent of breakthrough infections were asymptomatic. Just 7 percent resulted in hospitalization, and 1 percent of those infected died. This is particularly stunning considering that the initial groups inoculated included the most medically frail; 80 percent of those over 65, who constituted 80 percent of earlier deaths, have now received one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Even including this group most at risk for adverse outcomes from covid-19, there were only 74 deaths total among the fully vaccinated, compared with an average of more than 700 deaths daily overall.
The media needs to put these numbers into better perspective. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, and the covid-19 vaccines rank high in terms of providing extraordinary protection against infection. Among the vaccinated, the rate of severe illness — the endpoint that really matters — is also extremely low.

A headline like this one in the British Medical Journal is a much better descriptor: “U.S. reports low rate of new infections in people already vaccinated.” Another helpful framing appeared in this article from the Hill: “Hospitalizations have occurred in 0.0005 percent of all full vaccinations and deaths in almost 0.0001 percent.”
In the same vein, a headline such as “Pfizer CEO says third Covid vaccine dose likely needed within 12 months” needs more context. Some might use the possibility of a booster to question the need for vaccination — why bother if protection doesn’t last that long? In fact, we know that immunity from vaccines will last at least six months. If immunity wanes after that, or if new variants develop, a booster could extend protection. The takeaway should be that it’s great for scientists to continually optimize these already very effective vaccines. People should get inoculated now; a booster shot, if needed in time, would add to that protection.
The most concerning narrative from this past week involves the discovery of rare blood clots that could be associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I’ve argued that the initial pause on this vaccine was the right decision, though I worry that the length of the pause is allowing anti-vaccine activists to spread disinformation about vaccine safety.

Here’s how we need to reframe the pause. Federal health officials are being so cautious that they are willing to stop for a possible side effect that is literally so rare that it’s one in a million. That should make Americans feel more reassured about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which have been given to more than 100 million people without a red-flag safety concern arising. If anything, there’s legitimate criticism about whether the pause will harm individuals who otherwise could have been vaccinated during this time — but no one should doubt that vaccine safety is the top priority.
Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, predicts that the CDC will make a decision about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by the end of the week. Very likely, the pause will be lifted, perhaps with an added warning as the European Medicines Agency has done. When this announcement is made, it will be essential not only to talk about its safety, but also to emphasize why we need vaccines.
Put simply: More than 560,000 Americans have died from covid-19. Vaccines protect us against this deadly disease and are our pathway back to pre-pandemic life. Science has delivered a remarkable breakthrough, and all of us — from the medical establishment to the government to the media — should be putting the minimal risks into perspective while celebrating the vaccines’ overwhelming benefits.”

Fewer Students Need Remedial Work

Editor’s note:  The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, housed at Samford University in Birmingham, does some great research, especially concerning our public schools  They have just released a report showing that the percent of high school grads needing remedial course when they enter college continues to decline.

This is certainly good news, particularly since students must pay tuition for remedial classes–but get no college credit for them.  Translation, the fewer remedial classes a students has to take, the less expensive their education.

Here is the PARCA news release about the report:

“The number and percentage of Alabama public high school graduates assigned to remedial courses upon entering college continued to decline in 2019, one measure of academic progress for K-12 schools and Alabama’s public higher education system.

Remedial classes are non-credit college courses covering material students should have learned in high school. Alabama’s Community College System (ACCS) has recently developed alternatives to those courses, and the decline is attributable to those schools. According to ACCS, not only are fewer students being placed in remedial courses, but also passage rates in introductory courses have risen. Meanwhile, the number of students assigned to remedial courses at four-year colleges has increased modestly.

The data comes from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE), the state higher education coordinating board. ACHE works with K-12 and colleges to follow the progression of Alabama high school graduates into Alabama public colleges.

The data provides feedback to high schools about how prepared their graduates are and can give colleges insight for improving student success. Use the tabs in the visualization to explore the data. Compare the performance of graduates from your local high school or system.

This remediation data is the final dataset that looks back on students who graduated in the Spring of 2019.”