These Lucky Little Riders Get Personalized Handmade Toys from Their School Bus Driver

This yarn lover is in love with the story about a Wisconsin school bus driver who crochets stuffed dolls for her students. Let me clarify, every student on her bus gets a personalized, handmade toy courtesy of their bus driver, Ms. Trudy Serres.

As someone who crochets and knits (not well, but my heart is in the right place), I can appreciate the time and dedication Ms. Serres commits to each project, interlacing love throughout each stitch – hundreds of stitches for each toy. Oh yeah, let’s not forget, yarn is not free!

The greatest story within the story is Ms. Serres’ commitment to her role in the lives of children. Understanding that the school day starts when students step onto her bus and that she is as integral to students’ education as anyone in the school building.

“My elementary students see me crochet and they thought they could challenge me,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “It all started with a taco, and it ended up being 34 items.”

Yarn on, girl!

Check out the full story and hear from Ms. Serres here.

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Ed Reform and Its “Polite” Segregationist Agenda Take the Stage at NAACP Convention

It’s Saturday, July 22, 2017 and the 108th Convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is in session. At the drop of the opening gavel members of the NAACP will begin the business of deliberating and voting on the issues meant to further the progress of Black people in America.

Screenshot 2017-07-22 at 7.40.32 AMThroughout the next five days nearly 80 celebrities, members of Congress, and more political, religious and community leaders will take the convention stage and speak on any number of issues that disproportionately affect the Black community. The membership will hear from the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson — just to name a few.

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Even more interesting than the star-studded plenary is the days leading up to the convention. The interwebs have seen a series of shots fired on the education battlefield. You already know the century-old organization dedicated to advancing “colored people” will – once again – take a stand in opposition to charter schools. I’ve written extensively on the moratorium to halt the proliferation of charters around the country and it never not shocks my system when I think about how anti-advancement of Black people this resolution is!

In preparation of the defense of the moratorium (because they already know it will be affirmed), the NAACP landed some surprise punches through its powerful partners. Known NAACP partner Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called charter schools and vouchers “slightly more polite cousins to segregation.” But before the ed reform community was called semi-segregationists, they were called outright racists by Black America’s best friend.

I understand the teacher’s union relentless pursuit to protect its bottom line and, quite frankly, I’m sure the loss of union dues will make you say things like that, but the R-E-V-E-R-E-N-D?

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There are a number of blogs, commentary, and news stories devoted to the NAACP’s stance on charters and I’ve certainly not been shy about my thoughts on the subject. I have no expectation that the NAACP will turnaround their stance on charter schools. That they will actually look at the data that represents millions of families that CHOOSE to be in these schools. The data that shows Black and Brown children knocking it out of the park. The data that shows these schools are providing a high quality choice in neighborhoods where there are none. How can anyone equipped with a heart and brain believe a moratorium on these schools is advancing a people? Unless…

The only thing can be is an inherent determination that the people who were formerly in slavery, regardless of anything else, shall be kept as near that stage as is possible…  – Thurgood Marshall

Check out these other voices:

Parents, Educators and Community Members Speak Out Against the NAACP’s Charter Moratorium by Michael Vaughn

A History Lesson For Randi on Black Education in America by Dirk Tillotson

BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY: WHAT IF THE PRIVILEGED ACTUALLY LIVED BY MALCOLM’S WORDS? by Sharif El-Mekki

Federal Government Says Child Poverty Rate is Down in Nashville, Withholds Millions from Schools

More on the continuing saga of Taking from the Poor…

Last week I wrote about Tennessee’s largest counties losing federal funding due to the government’s (mis)calculations identifying poverty decreases within the geographic boundaries of our largest school districts. Yes, you read that right – decreasing poverty in urban schools districts. Shelby County, Tennessee’s largest school district, will suffer a $5 million deficit in the coming school year and it seems that the funding is being redirected to the smaller, wealthier districts. 

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In Nashville, the district has been on the budgeting battlefield preparing for the $4 million kick in the gut. As much as the deficit itself is a hard pill to swallow, the rationale behind the funding loss betrays logic.

The Metro Schools’ Federal Programs department has this to say:

“The poverty rate that drives our federal education budgets (such as Title I) are determined by the poverty rate for children 5-17 in Davidson County reported by the US Census.  To allocate funds to the State of TN and each of its districts for next fiscal year, the USED will use the US Census child poverty rate from 2015.  Our current Title I budget was based on the rate of 2014.  As determined by the US Census, Davidson County’s child poverty rate went down 13.18% in one year from their reported rate in 2014 to the 2015 rate.

In comparison, the national child poverty rate went down only 4.40%.”

The Heck You Say

Anyone living in Nashville for six minutes can see our growing homelessness (6th in the nation) and housing epidemic and say with total confidence that the federal government is just plain wrong.

As a matter of fact, just three months ago I sat in a day-long community needs presentation proving Nashville’s growing needs for the city’s most vulnerable (see Nashville’s Prosperity Rests on Backs of Unhoused, Over-Jailed, and Undereducated). Annually, the city’s social services department releases a community needs evaluation, collecting a year’s worth of service delivery data from governmental agencies and nonprofits. The nearly three-hundred-page tome doubles as an indictment on the city’s priorities and roadmap to absolution. Ultimately, it serves as proof of the colossal hole between what is reported and reality. 

What Could a $4 Million Loss Mean for Students?

While scrolling through Facebook last week, I came across a post from the principal of Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 10.16.52 AMmy old high school. Dr. Sue Kessler, principal of Hunters Lane High School (go Warriors!), posted a message to parents and students reminding them that the Warrior Bookstore is stocked and ready — relieving their minds of any worry of being ill-prepared for the first day of school. Just writing it gives me chills.

How on earth is Dr. Kessler able to provide free school supplies to every Hunters Lane student?

“We are in year 9 of this practice. Our marketing 1 students run the bookstore as an “inventory” exercise. All students can get what they need during lunch when the bookstore is open. It’s a win-win that ensure everyone has what they need, and requires that students take responsibility for retrieving the supplies they need when they need them. So, if geography teacher says you need colored pencils for next class the student knows to pick them up rather than ask parents to get them. For kids who come from families without resources for school supplies it’s a great equalizer. Free for all Warriors, no judgement and proof of “need” required. We use Title 1 funds to stock the bookstore and for 1600 kids only costs about $8000 to ensure everyone has access to the school supplies they need.”

Yes, Title 1 funds.

The government designates these funds to schools with high numbers of students living in low-income situations. Students with limited means struggle to get even the most basic of supplies and, thankfully, we have leaders like Dr. Kessler who identify student need and creatively make the funding work for every student. I believe she will fight to continue the underappreciated service of stockpiling the school bookstore and offering supplies to all students free of charge. More chills.

And it appears Metro Schools is working to protect students from the nonsensical funding shortfall. I pray they are successful.

NAACP’s Misguided Moratorium on Charter Schools Puts Children Dead Last

Since 1909, the NAACP has been at the forefront of civil rights struggles in the United States, from ending lynchings to securing Black voting rights and ending school segregation.  But its rigid stance on charters flies in the face of reality.

Take the ACT college exam for example. On what planet does it make sense for the NAACP to tell a black charter school leader like Christopher Goins, whose black students average 19.5 on the ACT, to stop serving students when the national average for ACT scores among Black students is 17? A 17 and a 19.5 are only two and a half points apart, but that’s the difference between going to a community college or 4-year university.

Goins isn’t alone. He is in good company with charter school leaders like Lagra Newman, of Nashville’s Purpose Preparatory Academy, a school of mostly black, brown and poor students where nearly every student is reading at or above grade level. Then there’s the award-winning Soulsville Charter School in Memphis led by NeShante Brown.

All over the country, dedicated educators of color are leading charter schools that cultivate the minds of children too-often locked out of success in traditional public schools. In Philadelphia, Mastery Charter Schools’ Sharif El-Mekki not only treats his students like his own children, he is teaching his own “grand-students” (students whose parents were his students, too). Plus, he’s working to bring more Black men into the teaching profession.

img_0867Let’s be clear, the inequities of public schooling persist everywhere, both in the charter sector and in traditional public schools and parents know this better than anyone. Last October, I traveled to the NAACP’s annual meeting in Cincinnati with 150 parents, mostly from The Memphis Lift parent group, to stand for children and families in opposition to the moratorium on charter schools. That event produced the NAACP’s commitment to conduct “hearings” across the United States, including a stop in Memphis, to consider the merits of the debate.  Less than a year later, emboldened by their “listening tour,” the NAACP is likely to double down on its moratorium in even bolder terms.

But the NAACP must not have listened carefully to all the testimony it collected during hearings on its charter moratorium proposal. It feels like they still don’t have a good sense of the bigger picture.

Back in April, charter supporters and opponents at the New York City hearing found surprising common ground. Basically, they concluded, when parents are looking for options, that tells us the public school system isn’t working. And we can’t pit schools against one another when all of them are striving toward the same goal: educating our next generation to help them reach their highest potential.

It’s sad that the NAACP is focusing so much energy on road-blocking the only path many black and brown students have toward a brighter future. Perhaps the most painful thing about all this is to watch the NAACP join forces with the teachers’ unions, a powerful union that puts adults before children.  Now is not the time to form unholy alliances in a desperate attempt to restore relevance.

The NAACP is famous for its role in challenging the U.S. Constitution and winning. Heck, they’re still riding on those laurels. But we’re at another critical time in the American education system where severe inequities threaten our most vulnerable communities. If education is the civil rights issue of the day and the NAACP is clearly on the side of adults, then we must ask who stands for the children?  If not the NAACP, then who?

 

Longtime Educator Offers Last Rites, Lays to Rest Tired Debate on Public School Choice

Guest Blogger Dia L. Jones joins Volume and Light to lay to rest the charter school vs. traditional public school argument – once and for all. Ashes to ashes.

Dearly Beloved,

We are all gathered here today to celebrate the life and death of a perennial verbal battle. An argument where the 1% continues to pull the strings of the 99%. Where the 1% narrate the perpetual oratorical debate that poor folks should not…will not decide whether their children deserve a first-class education. This argument is now dead and we come to pay our last respects to the old banana-in-the-tailpipe BS. 

I would like to begin by reading from the gospel according to Howard Fuller “How can it be that in a country as great as ours that we can understand that 17-year-old Black and Latino young people are doing math and reading at the same level as 13-year-old white children in this country? How can this be?” 

No More

You see, my friends, this can’t be…anymore. We won’t let this be…anymore. My brothers and sisters, we all want the same things. All parents want…the same things. We want our children to earn a great education via great schools with great teachers, teaching rigorously engaging and relevant lessons in a safe, respectful, warm environment.

We want our children to gain knowledge of themselves and the world around them. We want our children to leave learning institutions with 21st-century marketable skills to take with them to and through college and into the workforce. We all ultimately want our children to have the life that only they can dream of.

Can I get an Amen?

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So, why are we even arguing about public charter schools vs. traditional public schools, aren’t we all speaking the same language? Whether the school is traditional, charter, magnet, parochial, online, project-based, Montessori, application, neighborhood, or suburban. If a parent says, “I want my child to learn from here because I want my child to have this type of education,” then why are we fighting about it?

And this is why the Charter vs. Traditional School Argument is Dead. 

Parent choice is a choice for educational freedom. Freedom, my brothers and sisters! Freedom for parents to enroll their children into the school of their choice despite location, race, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation, income, sexual orientation, sexual choice, nationality or disability. 

So, everyone… Everyone who wants to remove the shackles of academic oppression of all children – gather ’round. Pick up a rose, a lily, because, yes, He’s the Lily of the Valley…Amen? 

Or grab a handful of dirt and throw it on this pine box where this argument now resides. May it rest in pieces. Now and forever more…Amen and 1 Love


Dia L. Jones has worked to build culture rich schools and organizations for the past 20 plus years. For the past 13 years, she has been a teacher, Dean of Students and an Assistant Principal in traditional and charter schools in Philadelphia. In 2016, she was chosen by Educators Rising to help create a national curriculum to cultivate high school students from around the country to become highly qualified teachers. She was a 2017 Ryan Fellowship Finalist. She’s an avid reader, traveler, a photographer, news hound, sports watcher, foodie specialist and awesome auntie extraordinaire—ask her multitude of nieces and nephews.

Later this year, she is launching a blog where she will shed light on school culture and climate in hopes to push educators into 21st-century discipline practices, ultimately destroying the school-to- prison pipeline. STAY TUNED!

What the —-? Nashville Loses 50% of New Teachers in Three Years

I’m working hard to clean up my language. I’ve not tweeted, facebooked, or blogged an expletive in a full 48 hours. But the near-constant barrage of reports of meanness, stupidity, and just plain BAD warrants a few choice words don’t you think?

Don’t worry, I’m sticking to my moratorium on cursing even though the thought of losing so many new teachers every year makes me wanna scream “what the &%$@!”

I won’t bore you with a lot of words drenched in self-righteous platitudes – at least not in this post. Just throwing out some food for thought (with links to supporting articles).

 

  • We must also think in terms of quality teacher preparation programs and a robust support system within the district. Apparently, Dr. Joseph is working on the latter.

Who is Butter Emales? (But her emails…)

 

Redirecting Federal Dollars from Poor Districts and Giving to Wealthier Ones – REALLY?

As you know, a few years ago Memphis City Schools underwent major surgery as several suburban districts seceded from the large urban district to establish their own school systems. Now called Shelby County Schools, the district is still rather large post-secession and overwhelmingly comprised of schools filled with children from distressed circumstances.

No urban district is immune to problems, but the large secession makes Shelby County unique. The surrounding middle/upper-class communities made it clear they no longer wanted to be associated with the urban district and now it seems they are being rewarded. According to the Commercial Appeal, five surrounding school districts have discovered they are the beneficiaries of healthy monetary gifts from the federal government.

So the largely poor district loses federal $5 million in Title I funding—money meant for schools with a majority of low-income students—and meanwhile, the districts with significantly less impoverished students get the cash. Maybe I’m oversimplifying the scenario a touch, but the outcome doesn’t change. Large urban poor school district loses millions of dollars to wealthier school districts.

Incidentally, this leads me to Nashville, which is expected to lose $4 million in funding for schools with low-income students. This is a huge concern. As our city gets more prosperous, our school district becomes increasingly impoverished and these funds are given based on the income levels of residents in the district. The crazy thing is that people can’t afford housing here. It’s well-documented! We have a ridiculous amount of people moving around, month-to-month, trying to find affordable housing. No way we should be losing federal funding. I need a little help understanding this one.

Check out the Commercial Appeal article about Shelby County Schools in its entirety.


If you’re interested in how Nashville’s growth -”prosperity”- is happening at the speed of light and leaving scores of families in the dust (literally on the streets), check out the pieces below. Few articles, if any, talk about the negative impact on schools.

Nashville’s Prosperity Rests on Backs of Unhoused, Over-Jailed, and Undereducated

The Costs of Growth and Change (Series)

New Data: Nashville Region Still Growing By 100 People A Day

Cost of Living Rising in Nashville, Study Says