June 18, 2010

Best friends are bad?

Some educators and child care professionals are discouraging the practice of having a best friend. Who knew?

This New York Times story looks into all the measures taken by educators and people who work with children to thwart the practice, which they say can lead to exclusion, bullying, etc.

One camp has gone as far as hiring "friendship coaches" to encourage kids to become friends with everyone else.

While I'm all for encouraging peace, inclusion, and all that good stuff, I also think that it is human nature to have a best friend or close circle of friends. I also think that this is the latest way that adults are overextending their reach into the lives of youth. It's kind of hypocritical. I doubt that many of these same adults have such a broad spectrum of friends. Heck, I doubt their friends aren't even all that diverse.

What do you think?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 2:21 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Parents

June 15, 2010

New tools to monitor bullying, predators on Facebook

With the news of bullying still fresh on the minds of Marylanders, I thought I might pass along this article to you about new computer programs that help parents monitor bullies and predators on Facebook.

The programs GoGoStat Parental Guidance and Social Shield, are free Facebook apps that allow parents to monitor and set rules for their childrens' use of certain features of Facebook.

Parents can use the program to send alerts about abusive postings and potentially inappropriate contacts originating from a certain geographic range or from potentially questionable online acquaintances.

Have any of you tried out these programs? Do you have any other programs to recommend?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 5:41 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Parents

September 15, 2009

Baltimore County happenings

A couple noteworthy items for schools in Baltimore County today.

The governor, county executive and superintendent will preside over the groundbreaking for the new Carver Center for Arts and Technology building, which is to open March 2012.  The facility, which the school board has approved for LEED certification, is being built where the magnet's playing fields are now located.

This afternoon, parents from Ridgely Middle School plan to protest at the Towson courthouse, as they continue to push for air conditioning at the Lutherville school.  Several elected officials are expected to join them, including members of the local delegation. I'll be going, and will post an update later today.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:30 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, Parents

September 14, 2009

Baltimore County to use progress-reporting system countywide

My story today highlights an online program in Baltimore County that outlines what students should be learning in every course - and includes a detailed progress-reporting system that tracks their progress in mastering those objectives. Even as students move from teacher to teacher and school to school, a running record is kept, showing the skills they have mastered and those they have yet to grasp.

The program, called the Articulated Instruction Module, also provides access to the district's entire curriculum, including sample lessons and questions that teachers can reference while crafting quizzes and tests. 

Even though the bulk of the county's teachers are in the process of learning how to use it, the module has been in place for several years at a few schools, particularly in the southwest area. This month, a couple thousand teachers are to be trained, and the school system expects the program to go countywide by the spring semester.  It is also supposed to be shared with all the other districts in the state for their own use.

The goal, according to county educator Barbara Dezmon, who created the program, is to ensure all children are receiving the same education, regardless of where they are going to school.  And having such a system also helps create some kind of record for homeless students, who sometimes are only at a school for a few days.

Several teachers I spoke with were looking forward to the benefits of the module: having a sense, from the beginning, of where their students need help - and the ability to access instructional resources.  But the teachers union has expressed some concerns about adding to workload.

What do you think?  Does the benefit of having much more detailed information about each student - for teachers and parents - outweigh whatever additional work might be involved?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:00 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Baltimore County, Parents, Teaching

September 6, 2009

Addendum: President Obama's school speech

You just might be aware of President Obama's upcoming speech to students, which will be broadcast live this Tuesday.

A transcript of the president's remarks is supposed to be posted on the White House Web site tomorrow, for those who are curious.  I will post a link here once it's released.

On a side note, I understand several Harford residents - in addition to the parent mentioned in my story - plan to picket the Board of Ed in Bel Air during the speech, to protest its decision not to show the address in schools.  Harford seems to be the only Baltimore-area school system to have gone this route.  Most others are leaving it up to individual schools and teachers to decide whether they want to watch it.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:00 AM | | Comments (44)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Parents

August 5, 2009

Transfer option meetings in Baltimore County elementaries

Last night, I attended a parent meeting at Halstead Academy, a Baltimore County elementary school in the Parkville area.  Because Halstead did not make adequately yearly progress this year, and is a Title I school, parents must be given the option of transferring their children to either Carroll Manor or Jacksonville elementaries.  A similar meeting was to be held at Riverview Elementary about the same time last night.  The two are the only elementaries in the county on the state school-improvement list.

Crowded into a classroom, parents met Halstead’s new principal, Karen Blannard, taking over for Jill Carter, who was transferred to Halethorpe Elementary.  It was interesting how much some of the tension dropped once Blannard did a presentation explaining the position the school was now in: Halstead failed to make AYP for its special-education students, but met requirements in all other areas.  Blannard noted that attendance, which counts toward AYP, fell short by one-tenth of a point.  She and the many teachers present emphasized that they need parents’ help in improving the situation in the coming year.

A few other tidbits:

Continue reading "Transfer option meetings in Baltimore County elementaries" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:34 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, NCLB, Parents

June 18, 2009

Including more males in the classroom

In my story today, I wrote about efforts to increase the number of males in schools.

For whatever reason, males have been noticeably absent from the school setting. Recently there have been initiatives to reverse that. The program that I found at one Howard County elementary school encourages fathers at the school to spend the day helping out teachers, and serving as an addition set of adult eyes in the hallways.

What do you think about increasing the number of males in the school? Is it necessary? What other creative ways might work to accomplish this?


March 4, 2009

Pushing for online instruction in Baltimore County and beyond

A handful of Baltimore County parents are in the process of incorporating a group to advocate for access to alternative education - particularly online instruction - for all Maryland students.

The idea for Emerging Minds of Maryland was born sometime last fall, said Kia Drake-Cummings, the organization's president and a mother of seven.  Drake-Cummings and several others regularly spoke at county school board meetings for months, asking board members to reconsider funding the Baltimore County Virtual Instruction Program - a one-year pilot done in conjunction with the Baltimore-based, online Connections Academy

When it became evident that they were getting nowhere, Drake-Cummings said she began thinking about forming a cooperative program, as home-schooling parents do to help socialize their children, or to exchange services and academic skills.  But then she realized this was "more than just a co-op," she said.  "We need to be working toward some other things."

She and a few others decided they needed strength in numbers - and a more official platform - to fight for their cause.

One of the key goals of Emerging Minds is to get access to online instruction for public school students - an appealing element of the county pilot.

Living up to their online emphasis, the founders have launched pages on Facebook and Twitter.


Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:35 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Parents

June 19, 2008

Problems in PTA-land

As I report today, the Maryland PTA has made the Baltimore City Council of PTAs an inactive organization. That means, for as long as the council is not allowed to operate, there will be a little more extra office space at North Avenue. And school board meetings just won't be the same.

The PTA council is one of the organizations allotted a five-minute slot during the public comment portion of each board meeting. In recent months, the president of the council, Eric White, has voiced opposition to a number of system projects. As I said in my story, he called into a local radio show recently to give Dr. Alonso a poor midterm progress report. (On the air, he was identified by host Marc Steiner as "Amos;" White said later that Steiner made a mistake. But he also didn't do anything to correct it.) 

What's unclear is whether White is presenting the views of anyone other than himself when he speaks in public. The PTA council's charter requires him to speak for the organization.

One unlikely fight involves BoardDocs, the Web site where school board agendas and exhibits are posted. White is upset that the site was developed without parental input and is demanding a public forum on the issue. But before BoardDocs, it was like pulling teeth for the public to get any school board documents at all (as I know all too well from firsthand experience). Now the system is doing what every other district in the area does, posting the documents online.

Last week, White rallied against the system's new parent engagement initiative. Charging that the board was abdicating its own responsibility by contracting with a third party to engage parents, White demanded that board members on a parent and community subcommittee raise their hands. He also insisted that the time it took to get the BoardDocs site projected on a screen in the board room not be deducted from his five minutes for public comment, and he asked that the meeting minutes note that a system employee was “blocking my access” when the screen was changed to say his time was almost up. (He wanted to highlight the procurement item on the agenda.)

As White asked Alonso to respond to his progress report on the radio, he asked the board members to respond to his presentation at the board meeting.

"The bait that you've thrown out there is not gonna be taken," said the board chairman, Brian Morris.

"This is not bait," White replied. "This is information for the public. We don’t put out bait. We put out information."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City, Parents

May 5, 2008

The special-education debate for Towson's crowded schools

Tomorrow night's Baltimore County school board agenda includes a "special order of business," with officials from the Maryland State Department of Education expected to render an "interpretation of special education facilities accommodations."

The issue arises from the ongoing debate over what, if any, role one of the county's schools --- the Ridge Ruxton School on Charles Street --- should play in helping county school officials fix the situation of the area's crowded elementary schools.

My story in yesterday's paper took a look at some of the factors that have fueled this overcrowding situation as well as some of the possible solutions that have been tossed around.

When school officials began last fall looking at ways to ease the crowding at Towson's four neighborhood elementaries --- Rodgers Forge, Stoneleigh, Hampton and Riderwood --- one of the first suggestions involved changes for the kids at Ridge Ruxton School, a standalone special-education facility where about 125 children attend from ages 3 to 21. One suggestion has been to build a 400-seat addition onto Ridge Ruxton to accommodate regular students.

That plan, however, has drawn sharp criticism, especially from some Ridge Ruxton parents, two of whom have filed federal complaints and are considering a lawsuit. They said they believe that their children, who are "medically fragile," will have their educational rights compromised if they are forced to attend school with regular students.

The school board recently postponed a vote on the Ridge Ruxton expansion plan and ordered a feasibility study to look at all its options.

The board appears to be poised to take up the "crowded schools" discussion during tomorrow night's meeting. Under the contracts to be approved is one listed for architectural/engineering services "for the construction of a new elementary school, or addition(s), in the Towson area."


Posted by Gina Davis at 2:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, Parents, SpecialEd

April 28, 2008

Would-be parent volunteers, if not for the criminal background

I went to a PTA meeting last week at a city school with an interesting predicament: Some parents who want to volunteer in their children's classrooms can't because they have criminal backgrounds. The audience was thrilled to learn that the principal can apply to the CEO for a waiver for a particular parent. Dr. Alonso said he's willing to sign off on the waivers, provided that volunteers with certain crimes on their record never be left alone with children and that those with a history of drug abuse undergo periodic testing to demonstrate that the behavior is truly in the past. One mother at the meeting who said she's been clean eight years was so happy to learn about the waiver process that she broke down in tears.

As the city school system strives to recruit 500 volunteers in two weeks, it faces a delicate balancing act. On one hand, officials need to do everything they can to protect the safety of the children. On the other, children are better off when their parents are involved in their education, and many parents in the city have criminal histories.

If, in some neighborhoods, letting the community into a school means letting in people with criminal records, what's a principal to do?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:01 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City, Parents

April 15, 2008

Calling for 500 volunteers

Some people may be skeptical that the city school system will find 500 volunteers in the next two weeks. (I report on the campaign in today's paper.) But whether the initiative is successful may depend less on the number of people who step up to the plate than on how they're received at a school. System officials say the schools where they'll be deploying volunteers en masse will all have to ask for the assistance, and they'll have to give the volunteers something specific to do.

Historically, though, it's clear that some schools have struggled with parent involvement because they haven't made parents feel welcome. Letting parents into a school means more eyes on the adults running the place, as well as on the children.

If you haven't read Dr. Alonso's email to the community yet, I've pasted the text below.

Continue reading "Calling for 500 volunteers" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:25 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Baltimore City, Parents, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

March 4, 2008

What do you think about harassing helicopter parents?

They hover. And many teachers say that they harass, and disrupt the learning process in the process. Helicopter parents are landing at a school near you!

My article today looks at the overbearing actions of parents in schools.

Take Howard County as an example. For the past two years, 60 percent of the teachers responding to a job satisfaction survey conducted by the Howard County Education Association reported that they have been subjected to harassment. Last year's survey specifically identified parents as the offenders in 60 percent of the cases. This year's survey will report similar results, according to Ann DeLacy, the HCEA president.

Through my research I talked to educators from school systems throughout the state who recalled numerous examples of over-zealous parents who made their lives miserable.

What do you think? Have you witnessed parents who overstep the boundaries and interfere with the learning process? Are you a teacher who has been harassed by a parent? Please share your experiences. Or, are you a helicopter parent?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Nation, Howard County, Parents, Teaching, Trends

March 3, 2008

How do schools treat gay and lesbian parents?

Not well, according to a new report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and two other advocacy groups. The study looks at the experiences that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families have in K-12 education. Its title: "Involved, Invisible, Ignored."

The study's authors received completed surveys from 588 gay and lesbian parents nationwide and from 154 of their middle and high school-aged children. Compared with a national sample of all parents, the gay and lesbian parents were more involved: 94 percent had attended an event such as a back-to-school night or a parent-teacher conference in the past year, compared with 77 percent in the general parent population. They were also more likely to have volunteered in their children's school and, in high schools, more likely to be a member of the PTA.

Yet more than half of the parents reported being excluded from their school community in some way, and more than a quarter said they had been mistreated by other parents. Among students, 42 percent said they had been harassed in the past year because of their parents' sexual orientation. Twenty-two percent said that a teacher, principal or other school staff member had discouraged them from talking about their family at school.

What steps can schools take to make all families feel welcome? In this case, the report recommends anti-bullying policies and legislation; training school staff to intervene in cases of bullying and harassment; supporting of clubs such as gay-straight student alliances; and increasing student exposure to information about gay and lesbian people, history and events.

February 29, 2008

Holding parents accountable for truancy

A Northeast Baltimore woman named Sonia Dunton is scheduled to appear in district court this morning, charged with failing to send her 6-year-old son to school. Legal action can be taken against any city parent whose child has more than 10 unexcused absences. But officials say it is rare for one to face jail time -- up to 10 days in this case -- for a child's truancy. School and social service workers have been trying since last summer to get Dunton's son educated somewhere.

The most recent of the Open Society Institute's ongoing forums about truancy focused on absenteeism amoung young children. According to a blog post by the forum presenter, education consultant Hedy Nai-Lin Chang, one in six Baltimore children in kindergarten through third grade were chronically absent last year. Obviously, these kids face enormous social challenges. But to what extent should their parents be held legally responsible? Is jail an appropriate sentence for a mother who doesn't send her son to school?

Click below to read a package of stories about truancy in Baltimore that I wrote last year.

UPDATE, 2/29: The city state's attorney's office reports that Dunton failed to appear in court this morning, and Judge Barbara B. Waxman issued a bench warrant for her arrest. This was the second time she didn't show up to a court date; the first was Jan. 3.

Continue reading "Holding parents accountable for truancy" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:06 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City, Parents

February 18, 2008

Banning books

Word of a book ban is in the news again. This time, the Washington Post reports, the book "And Tango Makes Three" was pulled from shelves at schools in Loudoun County, Va., after a parent objected to the book because it "promotes a gay agenda" and "tolerance of alternative families."

"And Tango Makes Three," a picture book written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry cole, is based on a true story about two male penguins in New York City's Central Park Zoo that adopt a fertilized egg and raise the chick as their own. The book is geared toward children ages 4 to 8 years old, according to the publisher's Web site. (Two Lives Publishing)

Few topics bring out the passion in folks like a book ban. A couple years ago, I covered a book ban in Carroll County schools. I will long, long remember the interviews I conducted for the multiple follow-ups I did on the issue. The book that caused the stir? Gotta love it -- "The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things," by Carolyn Mackler.

While remaining professionally impartial on the issue of the book ban, I must say that Carolyn's book has an amazing message. I read "The Earth" for the articles, but I went on to read all of Carolyn's books because although she writes for an audience that is quite a few years younger than I am, I still found her writing style and her messages to be compelling.

For those of you who are interested, here's some of my coverage of the book ban in Carroll County:

Continue reading "Banning books" »

Posted by Gina Davis at 3:47 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Parents

January 21, 2008

Should pregnant students be allowed maternity leave?

That’s the center of a debate brewing in one Denver high school.

Pregnant students there are asking for at least four weeks of maternity leave and not to be penalized with unexcused absences.

Colorado's public schools, like many school systems, tend to place pregnant students or new moms in specialized programs or craft individualized education plans for them.

Denver Public Schools has no districtwide policy, which leaves it up to schools to work out plans for students continuing their education, according to a Denver Post article.

What kind of policy does your school system have for pregnant teens or teens who have recently given birth? Do you agree with students receiving four weeks of maternity leave while not receiving unexcused absences?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Parents, Trends

January 14, 2008

Girl's false accusations have readers fuming

I've heard this morning from several readers about articles I wrote last week regarding the 11-year-old girl at Perry Hall Middle School who falsely accused a construction worker of sexually assaulting her in the school's restroom.

Most of the emailers expressed anger that a man's reputation was nearly ruined and his livelihood could've been jeopardized by the girl's false assertions, such as this one from a reader in Irvine, Calif. ...

"I think that rape is a serious and terrible crime, and that clearly it does go on. However, it is also clear that unsubstantiated allegations of rape or violence happen very frequently and that these false allegations also victimize innocent people and destroy lives. We need society to move toward a model in which people cannot get away with either of these things."

But the most compelling one (at least by my estimation) is one that comes from a vendor representative who says she has spent many years coordinating efforts between her company and local school systems. In her email, she wrote that she often suggested that school systems issue IDs to contract workers. She wrote, in part:

"There are many people on a school campus. Those that belong, who are employed by the school system, have IDs. Volunteers now go through more of a process and most also have IDs. But those that are contracted by the school system, and actually need to conduct a serious amount of work, for the greatest good, are subject to understandable protocol, numerous questions from a multitude of staff, who are just trying to do their job in protecting children.

"I would get stopped repeatedly, questioning why I was on campus. While making deliveries for children in which I needed to dolly in numerous loads, employees would actually shut the door in attempt to protect the school without any way to indicate I was coming back with more items for their children. I finally made my own sign to post on the propped door indicating its purpose. But I didn't get upset, as I, too, have children and respect everyone's dedication to protect them.

"I have always thought that since everyone is on the same team, and protecting children is of the utmost importance, subjecting vendor personnel to fingerprinting is understandable. These employees should receive a photo ID from the school system indicating they are approved to conduct work on campus. It turns a stranger into a comrade at a glance. And allows everyone to achieve their individual successes to complete the puzzle of best support for everyone's children in academic acceleration."

Here's part of my reply to the angry emailers:

In the end, as I have shared with another reader who called me today, it's unfair to assume the school system and legal authorities aren't taking the girl's false allegations seriously. As I reported, the school system is prohibited from discussing with us what, if any, consequences the girl may face (such as suspension or expulsion). And the state's attorney's office made it clear, as we reported, that they felt confident the girl's family was best suited to handle this situation.

One of the questions I asked of all the parents to whom I spoke was whether they worried that these false allegations would cause them to initially doubt other reports of similar accusations, should this ever happen again. Most of them said it was unfortunate, that one who lies can create this layer of doubt for all others. Again, they came back to the point that it would be better to take this as an opportunity to tighten those controls at the school site to avoid being in this position again.


To read more of the emails and the rest of my reply, click on the link below ...

Continue reading "Girl's false accusations have readers fuming" »

December 17, 2007 Baltimore-Towson among best places to educate your children

The Baltimore-Towson area comes in at No. 4 on a recent list that ranks the Top 20 Places to Educate Your Children.

School support, private school options, library popularity, "college town," and college options were the five key factors used in drawing up the list. (Read the full article here). The Washington, D.C.-Arlington, Va., area topped the list. Durham, N.C. was No. 20.

The top 10 include:

1. Washington, D.C.-Arlington, Va.
2. Madison, Wis.
3. Cambridge-Newton-Framingham, Mass.
4. Baltimore-Towson
5. Akron, Ohio
6. Columbus, Ohio
7. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, N.Y.
8. Syracuse, N.Y.
9. St. Louis, Mo.
10. Ann Arbor, Mich.

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:28 PM | | Comments (0)

November 30, 2007

The special-education debate --- is mainstreaming good or bad for kids?

This recent front-page article from the Wall Street Journal raises some intriguing points in the debate over "mainstreaming" special-education children. It's an understandably emotional, complicated and thorny issue. What are your thoughts? I'd especially love to hear from teachers and parents on this one.

Here's an excerpt (click on the link below for the full article).

Parents of Disabled Students
Push for Separate Classes
November 27, 2007; Page A1

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Last fall, groups who favor placing disabled students in regular classrooms faced opposition from an unlikely quarter: parents like Norette Travis, whose daughter Valerie has autism.

Valerie had already tried the mainstreaming approach that the disability-advocacy groups were supporting. After attending a preschool program for special-needs students, she was assigned to a regular kindergarten class. But there, her mother says, she disrupted class, ran through the hallways and lashed out at others -- at one point giving a teacher a black eye.

"She did not learn anything that year," Ms. Travis recalls. "She regressed."

As policy makers push to include more special-education students into general classrooms, factions are increasingly divided. Advocates for the disabled say special-education students benefit both academically and socially by being taught alongside typical students. Legislators often side with them, arguing that mainstreaming is productive for students and cost-effective for taxpayers.

Some teachers and administrators have been less supportive of the practice, saying that they lack the training and resources to handle significantly disabled children. And more parents are joining the dissenters. People like Ms. Travis believe that mainstreaming can actually hinder the students it is intended to help. Waging a battle to preserve older policies, these parents are demanding segregated teaching environments -- including separate schools.


Continue reading "The special-education debate --- is mainstreaming good or bad for kids?" »

Posted by Gina Davis at 1:00 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Nation, Parents, SpecialEd, Teaching, Trends

November 27, 2007

Imperfect choices for overhauling school?

Faced with planning an academic overhaul of Woodlawn High School, principal Edward D. Weglein acknowledged in a recent interview (in my story this week) that of the strategies being considered, "there's no real perfect answer."

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools that fail to reach state standards after five consecutive years enter the restructuring planning stage. Failing schools must develop a plan to replace most or all of the staff, reopen as a charter school, contract with a private entity or bring in a "distinguished principal" from another district.

With little data on which of the options has proven most successful, Weglein and other school system officials are facing a difficult choice. Teachers are understandably concerned about what this means to their job security. Parents are worried about how this will affect their children.

Which option do you think is the best course of action?

Continue reading "Imperfect choices for overhauling school?" »

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:54 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, NCLB, Parents

November 15, 2007

Looking for powerful parents

At Baltimore County's Cromwell Valley Elementary School in Towson, state education officials and cable giant Comcast this week launched the Comcast Parent Involvement Matters Award. The award, whose theme is "Choose Your Seat. Get Involved.," is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation and was created to bring attention to the ever-important role of parents in local schools.

The award will recognize a parent or guardian in each of the state's 24 school systems whose "exemplary contributions to public education have led to improvements for Maryland’s public school children, teachers, schools, programs, and/or policies. The purpose of the award is to highlight the positive impact parents have on public schools and to encourage all parents to get involved in whatever they can," according to a statement from state education officials. In addition to the local winners, one state-level winner will be chosen.

Nominations, which must be postmarked Jan. 23, may be made in five areas of parent involvement:

Communication – Fostering communication that impacts the school community.

Volunteering – Recruiting or organizing volunteers, or supporting school activities, both internal and external.

Learning – Organizing or coordinating learning activities that reinforce homework or classroom skills.

Decision Making – Participating on decision-making committees, or in programs that advocate system or policy changes, or serving as a representative for the school or education community.

Community Collaboration – Coordinating resources and services for the school community, which could include fundraisers that would enhance a school’s services or environment, or coordinating resources or services from the school community that may serve an external community.

To be considered for the Comcast Parent Involvement Matters Award, nominees must be a parent, or legal guardian, of a child who attends a Maryland public school and not an employee of Comcast, MSDE, or the Maryland public school system.

If you know someone worthy of being nominated, you can download an application at

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Parents

November 7, 2007

A mother gets what she wants

Score one for Sheila Slade-Lee, the parent whose relentless activism to get better special education services for her 7-year-old son caught both the attention of the city school board and this blog. She called this week to report that her son, a second-grader at Northwood Elementary, has gotten a one-on-one aide. And, much to her surprise, administrators have agreed to transfer him to a private school for special education students in the coming weeks. "Non-public placement," as it's called, as an incredibly expensive option and therefore one of last resort for school systems, which effectively have to admit that they aren't capable of serving a child and therefore need to foot the bill for private school.

Slade-Lee has spoken passionately about her son's plight at the last two school board meetings. She's hired a lawyer, and she's gotten help from one of the city's loudest special education advocates, James Williams. (She's also been more than a little persistent about contacting me with updates.) Last week, she attended an IEP meeting for her son, her 17th such meeting in two years. While there normally are about five school officials present at an IEP meeting, she said, this time there were around 20. Previously, the officials have resisted when she requested additional services for her son, who has hearing problems, sensory and auitory processing disorders, attention deficit disorder, and possibly dyslexia. This time, "everybody changed their story." When they offered non-public placement, "I was just floored."

"He got what I asked for a year ago," she said. "If he got all this stuff I've been asking for, that means they were wrong, right?"

A victory, yes. Yet she was still in tears. Why? "I'm still not happy about it because it's been such a terrible fight."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:41 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City, Parents, SpecialEd

October 31, 2007

What grade would you give your parents?

A Connecticut school board member wants parents to be evaluated on criteria including: whether their children have done homework and eaten a good breakfast.

Needless to say he has caused quite a stir.

Steven Edwards, a Republican member of the Manchester Board of Education, wants teachers and school administrators give the parents a pass or fail check during parent-teacher conferences.

Read more about the story here.

Is it time that the tables are turned on the parents? With all the pressures that educators have to deal with, should parents also get a grade?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 9:17 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Parents, Trends

October 24, 2007

At Woodlawn High, some good news and some bad news

Good news is a welcome respite at Woodlawn High School, where this week's news coverage of student violence on campus has once again brought unwanted attention to the school.

So here's something good to report --- an extremely reliable source has told me that a couple days ago the air conditioning was finally restored to the school's computer lab. Apparently, students had been unable to use the computer lab, which houses about 30 fairly new computers, since the beginning of the school year because of that air conditioning problem.

Now for a bit of bad news --- at least for those of you who have applauded Miko Baldwin's efforts as a parent to get more attention paid to needed repairs and other concerns at the school. According to Miko, during Tuesday night's meeting of the school's Parent-Teacher-Student Association, Miko was stripped of her role on the group's executive board. With only 11 members present, the board decided to cast votes on "reaffirming" the positions of the group's officers. Some time ago, Miko had been asked to serve as the group's treasurer. Last night, however, she wasn't even listed among the officers being considered when the members took a vote, which essentially left Miko without a role.

An obviously disgusted Miko called me after the meeting to tell me about this latest development. She believes the group's leaders are trying to send her a message that they weren't happy about her contacting a reporter from The Sun (me) to talk about issues at the school. But she said she is vowing to be unmoved. With or without the PTSA's support, she said she will continue to advocate for the school's needs.

However, she did add this troubling thought ---

"This kind of mess is part of the reason some parents don't get involved. They don't want to deal with this."

It's sad to think that some people might be turning something as seemingly wholesome as the local PTA into petty power struggles. And I wonder how many parents have been turned off by the politics of their school's PTA.

Any advice for Miko???

Check out earlier discussions about Miko's efforts at Woodlawn.,0,1273872.story?coll=bal_tab01_layout

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:22 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County, Parents

October 11, 2007

The Parents Trapped

The Baltimore Teachers Union protest got most of the attention at this week's city school board meeting. But during the public comment portion of the meeting, two desperate mothers stole some of the thunder.

One was Sheila Slade-Lee, whose 7-year-old son is in second grade at Northwood Elementary. He has hearing problems, sensory and auitory processing disorders, attention deficit disorder, and possibly dyslexia, though she hasn't been able to get the school system to test him for that. In two years at the school, she's called 16 IEP meetings, and the boy still isn't getting the special education services he needs. She said staff at the school have told her that he's getting more services than his classmates with disabilities. "These are the kids where the parents don't fight for the children," she said.

And special education is only one of the problems. In two years, she said, her son has never brought home a piece of artwork that he made. The cafeteria, she contended, "is pure chaos." Paint is peeling off the new doors at the school, and it's falling off the ceiling. There aren't enough books for children to bring home.

Slade-Lee works as a nurse at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center, the correctional facility on Madison Street. She said she asks the young inmates she meets there, "'Why are you here? What started you on the path to this destruction?' Guess what it was? School. They couldn't read. They couldn't write. They couldn't get a job." 

The other parent was Blondelia Caldwell, past chair of the city's Special Education Advisory Committee. In Baltimore education circles, she is known for her activism. Until this week, her grandson was enrolled in eighth grade at George Kelson Elementary/Middle, where she ran a support group for other grandparents.

Two weeks ago, much of the public comment at the board meeting centered around praise for Kelson, as parents and staff turned out to praise the school's partnership with the Enterprise Foundation. This week, Caldwell was there to tell a different story. On Sept. 27, Caldwell said, she was at the school when some bigger kids tried to attack her grandson. She got in the middle of the fight, and, she said, one of the boys accused her of threatening to stab him with a pencil. She was arrested and charged with second-degree assualt and spent the night in jail. Her pastor accompanied her to the board meeting to urge system officials to resolve the charges against her. Caldwell transferred her grandson to another school this week.

Caldwell's description of the middle school portion of Kelson was similar to Slade-Lee's description of Northwood: "out of control."

"Every year for five years, it's been a new principal," she said when I talked to her Wednesday. "They can't handle the school." Of the self-contained special education class where her grandson was enrolled, she said: "Those kids run the hall every day. They should be in the classroom with instruction going on. There's nothing."

School board Chairman Brian Morris assigned staff to follow up with both the women.

UPDATE: Slade-Lee met with a system administrator on Wednesday who promised to get her son the help he needs.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City, Parents, SpecialEd
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