Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Thoughts

On The Macon Miracle
The opinions, thoughts, and ideas expressed in this post are MY OWN and do not reflect the opinions, thoughts, or ideas Board of Education or any other employee of the Board of Education.

For those of you that don't know what's going on in this community, we have a new superintendent who was hired to come in and completely revise our public education system (the problems of which deserve their own post...maybe another day). I will refuse to comment on the man. I'd rather focus on the PLAN. I am writing this so in years future, I can return here and revise, reconsider, reevaluate how I feel about the changes that have taken place.


Yesterday, school closed at noon and every employee in the county was required to attend a celebration as the plan was revealed to us. In the fall, the employees, parents, and community members participated in two days of "strategic planning," during which our thoughts and ideas about how to change the system were collected and organized and used to draft "The Macon Miracle." I do, shockingly, believe that SOME of our ideas were heard and implemented into the plan--or at least the plan already contained some of the changes we believe will help improve our school system.

Last Friday afternoon, after some serious misjudgement on people in charge, there was a BOE meeting where the plan was revealed early. The public was outraged, immediately polarized. No one should have been shocked by that--that's what this community does best.

Another board meeting was held Thursday. Attendees were invited to come early and submit their questions prior to the meeting. I did not attend, but it seems as if those that did felt that their voices and concerns were not heard.

Also, Thursday morning, a peaceful group of highschoolers protested the plan. They spoke with the media beforehand, sharing their concerns. They elected spokespeople, had their concerns laid out and even had solutions for their problems. They tried to contact members of the Board of Education and were brushed off. Employees at the top of the food chain KNEW they were coming, yet the students were not even allowed to step foot in the Board of Education. The Superintendent and all of the deputy superintendents were unavailable to meet with them or listen to their concerns. The Director of Risk Management met the students outside and refused to let them in. I find this behavior deplorable. These kids were TRYING to do the right thing.

Friday's Meeting:

We were seated and ready by 1:00, with a start time of 1:30. Honestly, I was shocked that there weren't many community members there--the public reaction was dismal. I expected the arena to be filled to capacity.

I was beyond shocked when 2 classroom teachers opened the celebration. Seriously!? After all the fallout from the public, I expected Board members to kickoff this celebration.

Listening to the recorded message from a previous keynote speaker was a major waste of time. Not only could we not understand a single word he said, it was not a positive way to gain our attention.

The video? POWERFUL. I'm probably the only person who liked it, but I thought it was very nicely done and I thought there was a nice representation of community supporters. It was nice to see influential community members say they will support public education. I also liked that black and white community leaders were heard from. Too bad that's not always the case. I'm also a sucker for a good documentary and that's sort of how the video was done. Could have done without the children in it--even though I know all of the children in it.

The high school singer? Nice voice. Terrible choice of song in light of the speech that would be given in a few minutes.

Okay...the heart of the matter.
Finally, the superintendent showed up. I felt like the presentation was a rally cry for the employees. There was NO unveiling of the plan. He did not give us any new information. Everything he said had already been presented in the media. He did not provide any research to support his decisions (Mandarin Chinese, anyone? Extended day?). He did not touch on ANY of the hot topics. I was looking for him to actually present the plan, if not point by point, then at least a glossed over version of it. Instead, he spent a lot of time talking about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Not where I would have gone given the state of race relations in this community. I'm not sure if he was comparing himself to MLK, Jr. That wasn't the impression I got, but I might have missed that.

These are the things he did talk about:
Mental health support for children who are struggling in the classroom and their families.
Transitional programs for students who have been in the judicial system and are returning to the classroom.
Extended day (basically current afterschool programs) with support from teachers.
Class size will be capped at 25.
Closing 12 elementary schools because some schools are not filled to capacity and we need to utilize our resources.
There will be no layoffs. The 300 less teacher positions will come from retirement over the next 5-10 years.

Basically, that was it. He shared his personal story. He preachered-up on us at the end, which felt like the rally cry. Some teachers and the small-ish group of community members were standing and clapping. Other teachers were sitting quietly. He marched off the stage and that was that.

A major let down as far as presentations go.

I will not discuss the Chinese artists. Don't ask.

My opinion didn't change. There are still a lot of things I like. There are still a lot of things I have concerns about.

I'm sure I'm going to get hate mail about my next comment. I've taken measure to protect my heart from hateful comments.

If I had to decide for or against RIGHT NOW...

I'd have to say for.

I have many, many questions. I'd like to see research. I'd like to hear answers to my questions and know that I'm being heard. I hope that some of the things in the Macon Miracle change to better reflect the needs of the community.

But this system is FAILING it's students. We are working so hard and spinning our wheels. Something has to be done. Out of 164 systems in the state, we are ranked 151. Dismal.

I'm willing to try being part of the change.

Please, don't be a hater.


lolly said...

Agreed, change is needed. My two biggest concerns are the mandatory % of representation in AP and honors classes, and the focus on less discipline referrals instead of clamping down on misbehavior. What are you thoughts on these?

Sarah said...

Change only happens when people are willing to step up and be a part of that change. No plan is ever perfect, but sometimes doing something is better than not doing anything at all. Proud of you and I hope you not only get your answers but also the better schools that the community deserves!

Carrie said...

Good for you for looking out for the most important aspect of all of this: the students. I am amazed (as always) at the way you make yourself step back and look at the big picture as well as the little details. I've only caught snippets here and there from your fb commenters as to what is included in the plan. I really need to make the time to read up on it since it all sounds so interesting... I wonder how/what effects that will have in other counties?

Arizaphale said...

Bless you Nat! It's so hard to stick your head up when it might get shot off.

Good for you, having an opinion!!

Education has always polarised viewpoints and split communities. Let's hope that with your reforms you can address the ACTUAL problems.

Stacy said...

I hope the changes work for the better in your school district, Natalie. I would only be concerned about them not appearing to listen to the community and blocking the kids from speaking to them.

We have had problems in ours where the BOE and the superintendent did not listen to the community at all. Just did what was best for their kids and what they thought would get them awards based on their talking points. Guess what?? Once elections rolled around only the BOE members that listened to the community and tried to stop the Superintendent and her lackeys on the BOE got voted in...and she "decided to leave". It was that or be fired!

I understand the frustrations with school leadership, but only as a community member and parent. The teachers here were afraid to speak up or risk getting fired. Not exactly a friendly situation. :(