Why Charters are Here to Stay:

As a public school teacher, I chose to become a charter operator because the stagnant, cookie cutter model of bureaucracy within a large school district made me miserable. This misery was evident in most schools where I worked (not all). When I watched the recent strike I was reminded of the years of complaining I heard in the lunchroom on a daily basis. I am talking 30 years of listening to it. I was a substitute in the last strike but didn’t cross the line.

I love to solve problems. I also love mystery dramas on the BBC, which is a good model because the problem or criminal is always a layer beneath the obvious suspect. In the recent strike, the major complaints were about the class size and charter competition. The class size complaint is definitely fair. Large numbers mean more controlling and less teaching. You can, however, have 17 students or less and have the same problems. Been there. What I have deduced is that it all comes back to leadership.

Leaders in our public schools often take school site roles as a stepping-stone to another position whether they want it or not. A leader who finds their niche in a certain community, and the success that follows, is then moved to another school in the hope that they will have the same results. Everyone knows this so it becomes increasingly difficult to trust leadership because of the likelihood that someone else will be in that office in the next couple of years. The teachers begin to feel like pawns in the leader’s efforts for promotion and become cynical. They continue to do their J.O.B. but…lack trust.

When you look at successful schools you usually find continuity of leadership where the teachers have partnered in the philosophy over a long period of time and hires are made based on those values. (Just like Charters)  In large schools those values become an established, successful culture and appropriate replacements in leadership sustain that culture and add to it. These leaders were also recognized and supported by their leader in the district offices. I saw this at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica and Palm MS in LAUSD.

Too often new leaders optimistically enter a school position only to find their vision is stunted because they have no control over the hiring or placement of teachers at that would support their vision. Bill Gates discovered that it was easier to start new than change an existing culture at public schools. Therefore we have an increase of Magnet schools in the district. They are similar to Charters. A reconfigured school as a Magnet can then control hiring and are able to refocus and hire fresh under a specific vision and mission.

I just shake my head when I hear the complaints about Charters when the Magnet format is basically the same exact thing. One difference between the operation of Magnets and Charter schools are in discipline or “social justice”. LAUSD teachers complain that Charters can just remove students but LAUSD leaders just move them to other schools within the district. Opportunity transfer. Charters can’t do that.

I have worked in Magnets and Charters and I can tell you that the main reason parents send their students to Charters is that they believe that they are safer. Charters tend to be smaller in size, both in student population and room structures. If they co-locate they are crammed into a single building or cluster that allows for close supervision. This also leads to more teacher collaboration. — a More personal connection between colleagues and students that creates a close community.

The campuses within LAUSD are big and with the reduction of students and staff, there is more physical area to supervise but fewer people to do it. This is an opportunity for mischief. I saw an increase in negative behaviors when teachers no longer were required to do supervision, a union provision. Unions exist for a reason. I get it. And supervision is a burden when you have little opportunity to grab a bite or use the restroom, which may be located across campus. I personally would prefer to supervise a bit each week to be able to teach more.

I was a member of four unions at one point in my life so I understand their role. One of the best teachers I have ever had the pleasure of working with and was my most influential mentor was harassed and almost fired because she used centers in her 4th-grade classroom. Her principal was old school and didn’t understand what she was doing. The appeal process saved her and she now teaches kindergarten where her ELL’s and all at-risk students leave reading. The Union works to protect people like her but unfortunately, some support is a mistake. Two years of students got no science education at one school where I taught because the union protected an unstable Science teacher.

I have watched LAUSD toss around qualified –on paper only– leaders and bounce them around from school to school spreading around the destruction in an effort to protect their colleague’s jobs and but minimize the chaos. (The dance of the lemons.) There is protectionism within schools that stifles progress and breeds cynicism.

What is needed is to develop great leaders, support them and let them stay in the community. Schools are one of the last central structures for a community and school principals can play an important role if they stay long enough.

When you walk into most classrooms you will see students engaged with books, computers or activities. School is school. Five years old to eighteen is about developing a baseline of information, being a generalist so that the student has a foundation to become a specialist –whether in college or in a skill-based program. They also spend these years developing as people.

Charters are going to continue to be a popular choice because parents find everyone is safer; everyone knows their children and the parent feels heard. Yes, some have a unique curriculum, opportunities, and philosophy but that is where parents choose between charters. I think you would see very different enrollment in local district schools if they were contained in a single building with continuity in great leadership.

We also need a serious conversation about discipline and social justice but that is for my next blog.

August 14, 2018

Another school year begins.  What can you do to make it successful?  Establish routines.

At every age, routines decrease anxiety and increase success.   I know that some adult jobs can make it difficult to have traditional routines but, the lack of routine from the adult increases the importance of home routines.  Work with your child to create the routines by identifying core family values and coming to agreements.  If you include the entire family in the initial phases of routine creation then they will have ownership over them.   If they desire a change they will need to justify the changes based upon the values agreed upon by the family.   You can hold each other accountable and it can be helpful to add some for the adult to be a role model.

Example:  One value is that as a family we agree that education is important.  This translates into some agreements (think contract) about realistic goals for the end of semester grades, communication about needed support (time management with projects) and the commitment to extracurricular activities.  The parent may need to agree to tutor support in areas of weakness.

One way to hold a student accountable can through creating an established percentage that needs to be maintained and can be monitored by the parent.  (Make these percentages realistic.  Maybe 78% is the best expectation for a certain subject at this time.)  The consequence for falling below the goal percentage needs to be the loss of a privilege that is age appropriate until the goal is met.  Limits on technology and social functions are the easiest and most effective to implement. It is especially important not to select a consequence that you cannot enforce such as spending the weekend with a cousin where you have plans to be away and will have to do it.  Routines are about consistency and this applies to all aspects of parenting.

I do not advise taking away a sport or extracurricular. These activities have many educational benefits even if they do not receive a “grade”.    If there are too many after school activities then there needs to be a conversation about balance.  Almost every young man I know who did a lot of sports in high school did none in college.  They did, however, make great friends, learn discipline and maintained good physical health all of which is a big benefit.  The same applies to art focused.  Students who are committed to a school community decreases involvement in unhealthy and at-risk behavior.

Some routines are easy to establish:  A place for backpacks and time for washing them so they get cleaned out, required family meals, check in on school events for participation and chores.  Others are more difficult like shutting off technology.  (See next blog posting.)

I strongly encourage every adult to participate in at least one school event every year K-12.  This is easy to do for the elementary years but just as important for the secondary years as well.  This is the place your child spends a lot of time.  You need to know the people influencing your child and your presence reinforces how you value them and their education.   I used to help with registration at the start of every year in high school.   I saw the students from year to year and got to know the office personnel and counselors.

I hope you have a great start and know I am here to help with specifics.

June 6, 2018

I think there is nothing more challenging for parents today than managing the technology usage of their teens.  Cell phones.  I call them blankies because the students hang onto them as my daughter did her blankie needing it for comfort as a toddler.  Adults too.  I have given a lot of thought to this and feel strongly that there is no real benefit of a smartphone for anyone before high school.  I know they want it but I am not talking about desire.  I am talking about need.

Giving someone a cell phone is giving them access to all information, everywhere – a driver’s license.  Would you give an 12-year-old a car with unlimited gas?  Adolescents look primarily outside themselves and their family units for validation and identity.  Is it fair to add “followers” and snap chat to that phase?  They need to be and talk with you whether they appear to enjoy it or not.  The medium is appealing to their most base self and they need a conversation that grows them rather than mirrors their simplistic and shallow view of themselves and their peers.

If you are going to indulge, then at least take it away during homework/study time (They cannot self-monitor.) and at bedtime.  They will text into the wee hours.  Yes, even the sweetest and most compliant feel the pressure.  Have the charger units in your bedroom.

I sometimes think that the phones and pads are a way to give adults some much needed quiet.  I understand that need and so what I am talking about is parental responsibility to set safe and reasonable limits on young people at appropriate developmental stages.  It is their time to complain and tease and pout and sneer and pose.  It is yours to not care…about their reaction.  You are the wall they need to feel secure.  They will try and knock it down but you are wiser, even if you are tired, and they will eventually be more mature, caring and responsible people because of your sacrifice.