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Springfield VT School Nurse Illustrates Need for Health Services Early and Often

December 30, 2018 Comments off

Decades ago, when I was Superintendent in Exeter NH in the mid-1980s, I questioned the value of having two full time nurses in an elementary school that housed 550 students. That was then, but a recent article in our local newspaper, the Valley News, profiling the school nurse at Springfield HS in Vermont describes the situation now. Valley News writer Nora Burr-Doyle does an excellent job of describing the role of the high school nurse in today’s word, which is far different than the world I grew up in and far different from the world in the mid 1980s:

Being a school nurse is about much more than giving out bandages.

Such has been the experience of Jenny Anderson, a longtime nurse working at Springfield High School who recently was named Vermont’s school nurse of the year. She’s seen the profession evolve plenty in her 28 years on the job.

Anderson and the four other nurses tasked with caring for the district’s 1,500 students do tend to cuts and bruises, but they also increasingly find they are helping students to manage mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression.Anderson’s work also has included developing school nutrition policies and preparing for emergencies.

“To get out of our office and do extra things is difficult sometimes, (but) that’s really important, connecting with teachers and students who don’t come to the office,” Anderson said in a recent interview at Springfield High.

The article describes how a highly functioning school nurse operates, but it also makes two important points: that the public fails to appreciate the need for health series in schools and that by the time a child enters high school it might be too late to help them:

One of the goals of teaching the teachers is to help drive home the connection between academics and health. It’s frustrating, Anderson said, that others in the community sometimes struggle to see that link.

“If kids were more healthy, then they would just be so much better behaviorally (and) do better academically,” she said.

While the high school has health educators, the elementary schools do not, Anderson said. Though many elementary school teachers incorporate elements of health education into their lessons, such as gardening and hygiene, and guidance counselors address subjects related to social and emotional wellness, there is no standardized health education curriculum for the elementary schools, she said.

“I feel like risky behaviors are developed by the time they get to junior high,” she said.

Ms. Burr-Doyle does an excellent job of capturing the role Ms. Anderson plays at Springfield HS, but she also captures the way Springfield HS serves as a hub for social services in the community, especially for children whose parents do not have comprehensive health care provided by their insurance:

To try to improve access, the school district began working with Springfield Medical Care Systems this year to provide doctor’s visits and dental cleanings at the schools, Anderson said. As a result, a doctor comes to one of the district’s schools each week. A dental hygienist visits when the school has five or six students in need of cleanings, Anderson said.

“It’s small right at the moment, but I really feel we’ve helped some kids get the services that they need,” Daniels said.

As states struggle to interject mental health services into their schools, they might look to Springfield, VT to see how it could be done through the school nurse’s office and by collaborating with local health care providers.

Massachusetts Teacher Laments Her Role as Human Shield, Mourns Her Student’s Loss of Innocence

December 29, 2018 Comments off

I read with sadness a recent Washington Post op ed by Revere MA teacher Sarah Chaves written in the wake of the report of the Trump administration on how to deal with school shootings. Titled  “I’m a Teacher. Don’t Ask Me to Stop a Mass Shooting. I Can’t” with a sub-heading that reads “The Trump administration is standing behind the idea of arming educators. But I don’t want to be a hero”, Ms. Chaves describes the pain she feels because she has no idea how she would respond if a shooter was to enter her school, the sadness that permeates the school whenever they are required to perform a drill of some kind, and the loss her students feel because they have been educated in schools where fear is a constant condition.

But in addition to her feelings of pain and sadness, she also feels a sense of anger and bewilderment because gutless politicians are willing to put courageous teachers on the front lines. She writes:

The (Trump administration’s) report had little to say about gun control. Instead, it urged schools to defend themselves with more guns, echoing statements President Trump has made numerous times since 17 students and staff members were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Armed teachers, not more thoughtful gun laws or comprehensive mental health care, are apparently the answer. We are the ones tasked with stopping a mass murderer.

Instead of hiring more mental health counselors, more “good guys with guns” who cannot possibly man every doorway in every school in America, politicians in both parties have decided that making local decisions about arming teachers is a better path than passing national laws that might make it more difficult for anyone to purchase any weapon they want.

The result? As Ms. Chaves eloquently describes it:

…every day I feel closer to being thought of as armor for stopping a gunman instead of an educator. Every day, each state looks less “red,” less “blue.” Instead, the country has turned a deep shade of purple, an overwhelming bruise of hurt and loss.

And she offers this poignant description of how her attitude towards shootings has changed over the past several years:

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, a shooting that feels like a lifetime ago because of the number of massacres since then, I held a gathering with my ninth-grade students. They spoke of their sadness, their anger. I spoke with tears in my eyes.

“You know I would do anything I could to protect all of you,” I said.

Anything.

That morning, my students met me with hugs for my selfless words, but with each shooting, with each added ounce of blood that spills, I feel that selflessness waning, feel my fear rising. I have envisioned countless scenarios. I have mapped out escape routes, hiding spots, defensive talking strategies. But in each imagined scene, I don’t get deemed a hero. My picture doesn’t appear on cable news stations across the country. There are no vigils held in my honor. I survive. That’s all.

Teachers across this country have to deal with the sadness and anger their students feel, and reconcile that with their own sense of “waning selflessness”… a sense of selflessness that is exacerbated by the constant drumbeat of the politicians who decry them as being selfish while accepting the blood money of the NRA and echoing that organizations demand for more armed personnel in every nook and cranny of our country.

Here’s hoping that 2019 will bring about a change in our thinking about guns in school and guns in our country.

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The Conversation We SHOULD Have About Schools vs. the Conversation We ARE Having

December 28, 2018 Comments off

Medium contributor Arthur Chiaravalli’s recent article, “We’re Having the Wrong Conversation about the Future of Schools” crosswalks many of the points made by Anand Giridharadas in Winners Take All into public education. Like Giridharadas, Mr. Chiaravalli notes the subtle ways the tech plutocrats and testing industry have changed the conversations we are having about public policy in a way that undercuts the structural problems of our economy that are the result of the status quo.

And like Mr. Giridharadas, Mr. Chiaravalli sees the so-called “agents of change” as champions of the status quo, a status quo that rewards “entrepreneurs” and marginalizes or penalizes those who raise questions about the status quo.

After laying out his case that we are having the wrong conversation about public education, Mr. Chiaravalli concludes his post with this:

…reformers peddle the so-called empty doctrines of individualism, personalization, objectivity, entrepreneurialism, and meritocracy—all while exacerbating inequities and deprofessionalizing teachers.

….The primary effect is always to atomize: content into itemized bits, classrooms into individualized projects and timelines, and each of us into solitary individuals pursuing personalized pathways.

Among the many omissions implicit in (the reformer’s) vision is the notion that each student has equal access to a pathway of choice. Once that false premise is established, you are truly on your own.Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, find your own personal road less traveled, dive headfirst into the entrepreneurial shark tank. Unfortunately, far too many smaller-scale reform movements espouse a similar ethos, often flooding Twitter with a toxic positivity that ignores intransigent inequities and injustices.

The reformers who want to isolate us from each other, who promote the idea that since one individual overcomes poverty thanks to grit means that every individual born into poverty can do so, who see the purpose of education as improving the economic growth of our country are leading us down the wrong path and causing us to engage in the wrong conversation about the future. In fact, they are envisioning a future that is based on the premise that what worked for them in the past is what should work for everyone else going forward. That is not reform… it is reinforcement.

Mental Health in Schools: Mission Creep? Mission Impossible? or Mission Essential?

December 27, 2018 Comments off

Over a decade ago when I was working as Superintendent of Schools I wrote an op ed piece for our local newspaper titled Mission Creep, a piece I later posted on this blog. The premise behind the article was that schools are being asked to take on far too many tasks that are beyond the scope of providing a sound academic education. It concluded with this observation:

Over the past fifty years public education had also absorbed responsibility for implementing social changes mandated by courts and legislatures. Schools became responsible for desegregation, educating severely handicapped children, and providing meals for poor children. During that same time period, legislators used public schools as a vehicle to show voters their responsiveness to issues in the news during the legislative session requiring schools to provide curricula on dental hygiene, gun safety, bullying, education on HIV and AIDS, and animal husbandry. Many of the social mandates are flashpoints for the public and result in erosion of support for schools and, in some cases, lower enrollments in public schools. The curricular mandates, taken in isolation, may seem reasonable. When they are required during the limited time students are in class, however, they supplant instruction in core areas of the curriculum.

That was then… and this NPR report of a survey result from Virginia Commonwealth University is now:

A recent VCU poll added a new question: whether or not people see providing mental health services for students as a core part of a public school’s mission.

Grant Rissler coordinates the VCU Wilder School’s Public Policy Poll. He says this question was new in last winter’s poll.

“Education is a key hub of so many other things policy-wise, especially related to youth. So I think the public and policy makers are constantly trying to figure out: what can we ask public schools to do?”

81 percent of respondents agreed – somewhat or strongly – that a student’s mental health should be part of a school district’s mission.

Virginia legislators will grapple with what that means next month. There’s already been legislation proposed that would require school counselors to spend more one-on-one time with students.

I wholeheartedly agree with the 81 percent who agree that schools should take on mental health issues… but I also believe they should do so by becoming community hubs for the provision of health and social services. Space for these services could be readily provided in rural areas where student populations are diminishing, in urban areas where public schools are expected to carve out space for co-located charter schools, and in suburban areas where the public has the funds needed to expand school space to accommodate health professionals of all kinds.

Tackling mental health might be mission creep and may be perceived as mission impossible… but in this era of social isolation and prolific guns, it is clearly an essential mission for public education.

 

In Privatization Debate, it’s the Walton’s Billions vs the NAACP’s Principles

December 26, 2018 Comments off

A recent AP article in that appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press described the ongoing debate that is raging in the black community between the NAACP and (presumably) grassroots organizations consisting of parents whose children are enrolled in deregulated for profit charter schools. The lines of the debate have been delineated in several posts in this blog, but here’s how they are outlined in the AP report:

The Walton family, as one of the leading supporters of America’s charter school movement, is spreading its financial support to prominent and like-minded black leaders, from grassroots groups focused on education to mainstream national organizations such as the United Negro College Fund and Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, according to an Associated Press analysis of tax filings and nonprofit grants data….

While some black leaders see charters as a safer, better alternative in their communities, a deep rift of opinion was exposed by a 2016 call for a moratorium on charters by the NAACP, a longtime skeptic that expressed concerns about school privatization, transparency and accountability issues. The Black Lives Matter movement is also among those that have demanded charter school growth be curbed.

One of the big problems in determining who is on which side and who is on the right side is the source of funding for these various groups. As noted in the first paragraph, the Walton family, whose primary motivation appears to be profit, is underwriting what are described as “grassroots groups” along with “mainstream national organizations” making it difficult to know the extent to which these groups are truly speaking their own minds as opposed to the minds of their financial backers.

Another major complication from my perspective is that the engaged parents, those who want and expect the best from their public schools, will do whatever they can to get the best education for their children. And, if their neighborhood school falls short of their standards and a charter school seems better for their child, it is difficult for me to stand in the way of them doing what they believe is best for their child. As a by-stander or as a school superintendent I think it would be problematic to tell them that they should sacrifice the well-being of their child based and instead join with those who are seeking funding reforms so that all of the children in their “short-of-the-standard” neighborhood school can benefit.

Since the non-engaged parents are those most likely to be trapped in single-parent roles, trapped in low wage employment, and incapable of having the time rescources needed to advocate for their children and their children’s neighborhood schools, it is incumbent on principled groups like the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and hopefully  mainstream national organizations who are not compromised by the lavish funds showered on them by the likes of the Waltons, to advocate for the social justice issue of equitable school funding.

Connecting the Dots: Meritocracy in Children’s Athletics and the Disappearance of Childhood

December 25, 2018 Comments off

Several posts on this blog made reference to Neil Postman’s 1980s book The Disappearance of Childhood, which describes how well-intentioned adults of my generation ended the existence of childhood by imposing tight schedules on their children instead of the freedom children of my generation experienced, highly organized sports activities instead of the pick-up games children of my generation threw together in an ad hoc fashion, and lots of lessons instead of the trial-and-error method of learning children in my generation experienced.

American Meritocracy is Killing Youth Sports, a recent Atlantic magazine article by Derek Thompson, underscores the damage done to childhood by our generation and illustrates how the next generation is diminishing it even more. In the article, Mr. Thompson omits the legacy of pick-up games but does describe how sports went from the town and school sponsored leagues that accepted all comers in all sports to the “elite” teams that sort and select only the best athletes who are increasingly “specializing” in only one sport. This means that amateurs like me, who had lots of chances to play lots of sports with lots of kids of varying abilities are left on the sidelines… and it means that lots of kids who played multiple sports in multiple leagues — like my sons in laws– are finding it necessary to resist the pull their children feel to specialize in one sport or one area.

From my increasingly curmudgeonly and nostalgic perspective, I wish that kids could be free to explore in the woods, play two-or-three man baseball games, pick-up basketball on outdoor courts, and touch football in open fields instead of being compelled to play in fancy uniforms in highly structured leagues….

 

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Misrepresentation of “Obama Era Policy” Exemplifies Why Our Nation is Divided

December 24, 2018 Comments off

My daily Google feed invariably provides me with one blatant example of right wing propaganda a week, and this morning’s doozy from the “One America News Network” is pasted below in it’s entirety with egregious misrepresentations in bold italics:

Trump Administration Revokes Obama-Era Policy Urging Public Schools To Be Lenient On Students Of Color

OAN Newsroom
8:15 PM PT – Sat. Dec. 22, 2018

The Trump Administration scraps another Obama-era policy urging public schools to be more lenient with students of color.

The Education and Justice departments on Friday removed the 2014 rule, which the Federal School Safety Commission claims may have actually made schools less safe.

This comes after the prior administration issued guidelines, claiming students of color are disproportionately impacted by suspensions and expulsions,allegedly leading to the “school-to-prison” pipeline.

The Commission, however, claimed the policy tied the hands of teachers and administrators and ultimately decided disciplining students is best left to school officials.

The so-called “Obama-era policy” did NOT urge “public schools to be more lenient with students of color.” The purpose of the policy, as noted in a fact sheet prepared by Democratic Congressmen, was to remind schools that “Under Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, schools have legal obligations to administer student discipline without discriminating on the base of race, color, or national origin.

The “Obama-era policy” provided unassailable data demonstrating that a disproportionate number of students of color were suspended and expelled from school. This is not a “claim”… it is a FACT that cannot be altered any more than the time of the sunrise and sunset can be altered.

Similarly it is a fact that a disproportionate number of students of color have been arrested in school and placed in programs that increase the probability that they will end up in prison.

Finally, as written in this blog on more than one occasion and noted repeatedly in the mainstream and progressive news sites, none of the school shooters were minority students. None. The Federal Commission on School Safety was created by Betsy DeVos in the wake of the shootings in Florida and was charged with developing policies and guidelines that would address the horrific mass shootings that plague public schools. Given that NONE of these shootings were perpetrated by students of color it is hard to see how the elimination of a Civil Rights directive addresses this problem.

After reading this misleading and inaccurate report from a news agency, I wondered who was behind the agency and what their purpose might be. When clicked on “about” link at the bottom of the web page, I found that the “One America News Network” was actually an arm of the Herring Networks and when I entered their name into Goolge I eventually found my way to this Wikipedia post describing “One America News Network”. Here’s what I found:

One America News Network (OANN), also referred to as One America News(OAN), is an American right-wing[1] pay television news channel launched on July 4, 2013 owned by Herring Networks, Inc. The network is headquartered in San Diego, California, and operates a news bureau in Washington, D.C.[2] and New York City.

Originally launched with the intention of targeting a conservative and center-right audience,[3][4] OAN states a goal of delivering credible national and international news coverage throughout the day while its prime time political talk shows illustrate a conservative perspective.[5][6][7] According to The Washington Post, the channel has risen to greater prominence due to its pro-Trumpcoverage.[8] The channel has been noted for promoting falsehoods and conspiracy theories.[9][10]

If you want to know WHY this group is promoting the idea that the “Obama era policy” was designed to urge public schools to be more lenient with students of color.I encourage you to read the comment section… but only after pouring yourself a strong cup of coffee. You will see that racism is alive and well among the readers of OAN….