Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Violence? What violence?! OR, As if my school needed more bad press

My school - not my district, but my school, was recently placed on "The Watch List" for being a school with "persistent violence." My understanding is that we've achieved this level of infamy due to 9 expulsions for weapons posession last year, which was part of a 3 year trend.

Now, I have experienced many emotions tied to my job. Joy, exhaustion, silliness (is that an emotion?) anger, skepticism, irritation, sublimity, and frustration are all in my emotional repertoire. But never, ever have I felt fear at work.

My school is not an unsafe place to be. My students, while not always the best behaved, are kind people. I enjoy them immensely. They make mistakes, they do stupid things. They come from places that require them to constantly be on their guard. They sometimes forget to switch from street rules, the rules they use to survive in the real world, to school rules. For my kids, school rules are completely different from home life rules. But they try, they really do.

We are one of 11 schools in the state to have earned this label. I wonder how hard it will be to undo the damage of being labeled a violent school.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A very repetitive meal plan

It's tech week for the show, which opens on Friday. Tech week, also known as hell week, means very very late nights. Thus, our meal plan looks like this:

Mon - DIY
Tues - DIY
Wed - Happy Birthday Ricky! DIY
Thurs - DIY
Friday - DIY
Sat - DIY

Creative, no?!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Farming inspiration

I know I've mentioned before that friends of ours have a "mini-farm" or "farmette." We enjoy going there to see all the goings on - goats and chickens and apples, oh my! - and I enjoyed a day of making and canning applesauce, apple butter, and apple pie filling at their home...which has allowed us to enjoy the fruits of that labor. Yum!

That coupled with something an older gentleman once said to me at Al's Garden Center - "Everything you grow should have a purpose. I don't grow anything I can't eat!" - has led Ricky and me to begin thinking about our new backyard and what we should do with it.

There isn't a lot growing in our yard at the moment, and it's kind of liberating and scary all at the same time to know that we can do whatever we want come spring. We're finding that we'd really like to be able to grow our own fruits and vegetables, to have those things available to can and keep for the winter months, so we're seriously considering taking steps to turn our backyard into a semi-urban garden and orchard.

Currently we are investigating dwarf fruit trees. These are trees that bear the same fruit as larger orchard trees, but the trees themselves are much smaller and bear less fruit. After seeing the number of apples a regular apple tree can produce, I think it's definitely a good idea to look toward the dwarf options! We'd definitely do an apple tree, and perhaps a pear tree as well, as that is one of Ricky's favorite fruits. And yes, we do know that fruit trees are messy, but that's ok! Besides, Jacko thinks dropped fruit are balls, and the entertainment value of watching him play with the dropped fruit is worth the mess all by itself!

We're also gearing up to build boxes for square foot gardening next spring. We'd like to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables this way, including tomatoes, potatoes, beans, lettuce and strawberries. We've also talked about investing in some grape vines. Our friends have concord grapes on their property and Oh. My. Word. Those grapes are incredible, like a burst of grape juice in your mouth with each bite! I cannot even begin to describe how wonderful and juicy those grapes are.

We're finding that homegrown tastes so much better than the store bought options, and there is certainly some pride in being able to use produce from one's own garden in the kitchen. We'd never make it as country folk, we like the city far too much for that, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy some of the benefits of country living while staying in our quiet suburban neighborhood.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Will you join me in voting no?

If you are not local to Oregon, you may want to skip this blog. It's the political rantings of a teacher about two Oregon ballot measures that make no sense.

I've had the opportunity to speak at length with people who are much smarter and have much more experience than I about Measures 58 and 60, and since this is my blog and I can say whatever I want here, I'm going to use this space to try to convince you to see things my way.

Measure 58 has to do with the length of time students can be in ESL classrooms. The way I understand it, students entering the American public school system for the first time (meaning they've immigrated to us from another country, most likely) will receive limited ESL help. Those who enter for the first time between Kindergarten and 4th grade will receive 1 year of ESL. Those entering between 5th and 8th will receive 1.5 years. Those entering during high school will receive 2 years of ESL.

The way the bill is written makes it sound as if all ESL students are receiving unlimited ESL instruction being delivered in their native language. Obviously I can't speak to all schools and all classrooms, but I can tell you that's not the way it is in my school. Sheltered ESL/ELD/ELL means the kids are being taught English for beginners. Basically, the stuff you and I learned as toddlers and early elementary school kids. They are just beginning to know the language and at this point are having a difficult time even with survival language skills. But they are being taught in English, because their classrooms are a mix of cultures and first languages. How in the world do you expect a teacher to deliver instruction in everyone's native tongue when the classroom is made up of Spanish, Purepecha, Russian, and Ukrainian native speakers? While some instruction in some ESL classes may be delivered in the student's native tongue, it is far from all instruction in all classrooms state wide.

If this measure passes, we will be forced to phase kids out of their ESL classes in 1.5 years at the middle school level. I'm not sure what language level that translates to, but I can tell you that in 4 years of German I managed to make it to a first grade reading level. There is no way a kid at a first grade reading level is going to survive in a mainstreamed 8th grade classroom. This is setting them up for failure, 100%.

Yes, students need to learn the language. Yes, they need to be phased out of the program. But it needs to be done when the student has learned enough to be successful in the "real world," as opposed to on a timeline that suits politicians and people who don't have the everyday experience of teaching students who simply don't speak English. I have two kids like this. I don't think I could handle an entire case load of students who have been mainstreamed because the law says it's time.

Measure 60 is all about merit pay. Now, before we get into it, let me say this - I agree with merit pay for teachers. I think we should be paid based on our ability and achievements, just like people in the corporate world. I agree that teachers who are ineffective should be the first to be cut, rather than cutting on seniority.

HOWEVER, Measure 60 gives us no definition of how teachers' performance will be evaluated. This will be left up to politicians to decide. Experience says my pay and job security will then be tied to standardized test scores. But wait! How will that work for me? I'm an electives teacher, there is no standardized test for my subject. Does this mean that we'll now have to create one?

And let's just pretend for a minute that I teach a "real" class, like Language Arts. Am I to be punished because 40% of my students don't speak the language well enough to pass the test, and in fact have lived in the country less than 5 years? Should I be punished because my students didn't score above the cut score, even if they did make a 17% gain in their scores over last year? Is it really fair to expect a child who comes to me at a 3rd grade reading level to make that jump from 3rd to 8th grade in one academic year?

If measures 58 and 60 pass, it will make it harder for schools in poor and culturally diverse areas to find teachers, because our pay will likely be based on our students' performance on standardized tests - and those students will not be getting the services they so desperately need to be able to one day pass the tests. As I tell my students every day, I can present them the information they need to know and I can create new, fun and exciting ways of getting that information from my head to theirs, but I cannot force them to learn it. I also cannot force them to learn at a faster speed than they are capable. Please, vote no on 58 and 60.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Meal Planning? What's that?!

With my busy schedule and stressful life, I haven't been great about keeping up on my meal planning lately. Actually, I do great with meal planning, but I'm doing horribly at making the meals.

This week, I gave up. So far I've eaten out; Sunday I ate at The Bomber with some of the cast and Monday I grabbed a sandwich on the way to rehearsal. Ricky ate most of a lasagna I made and froze a couple weeks ago. Last week, I didn't keep up well at all. Of all the meals I planned (and shopped for!) I made exactly 1 - the chili.

So, here's this week's meal plan. You'll likely see a lot of repeats, since I have the ingredients sitting around the house from last week.

Sun - DIY
Mon - DIY
Tues - Angel Hair Shrimp Bake
Wed - Breakfast
Thurs - Hamburger Helper
Fri - Cheeseburger salad
Sat - ??
Tues -

Saturday, October 18, 2008

An apple a day...

Things in our household have been very, very stressed of late. Ricky is worried about the economy and money, especially with the constant fear of me losing my job hanging over our heads. As is his way, instead of talking it out he holds it all in and begins to withdraw. I have a hard time understanding this, as those who know me well (and even some who don't!) know that I am the queen of emoting and sharing what's going on in my head. To have him withdraw makes me immediately think that I did something, and then I begin to try to figure out what's wrong and I end up smothering him when he'd really just rather be alone. It's quite a viscious circle, and you'd think after nearly 6 years of marriage and close to 9 (Nine!) years together I'd have started to figure it out, but nope.

So he's been stressed, but not talking, which has caused some tension in our house (don't worry, it's been talked out, the air is cleared, things are fine). Add to that the job issues (although the latest rumor is it will be March before we see more cuts so I'm starting to relax a little) and the fact that my grandma had a stroke (she's recovering rapidly and is now in the hospital rehabbing), and I'm just slightly on edge. If it gives you any idea of how awful things have been, the most stress free part of my life has been the show I'm working on - and we open in two weeks!

Today was just what the doctor ordered, though. We met up with friends to go to the apple and pear tasting at Portland Nursery. This is the 21st anniversary of the event but the first time we've ever gone. Our friends have a "farmette" (also affectionately referred to as "the mini farm") with several apple trees of unknown variety, so we had fun tasting the 60+ apple and pear offerings at the nursery, deciding which ones we liked and trying to figure out which ones tasted like the apples growing on their property. I think we may have identified a couple of them, too!

After hanging out there, tasting and walking around looking at the plants, we decided to head to The Lucky Lab for some refreshment. We got the chance to sit and chat with our friends, which is always nice, and unwind a bit. It was quite the relaxing day, filled with sunshine and friendship, and was definitely a much needed respite in the sea of stress we've been calling life these past few weeks.

Tomorrow it's "back to the grind" with all day rehearsal. This week will be hectic, with work and rehearsal. Hard to believe we open in less than two weeks!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Meal Plan, 10/12-18

Sun - Probably fast food on the way home from Corvallis
Mon - Chili
Tues - Hamburger Helper
Wed - Angel hair shrimp bake
Thurs - Cheeseburger salad
Fri - Brats and Sauerkraut (holdover from last week)
Sat - ...? I got nothin'

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Job updates: The good, the bad...I don't think there's any ugly!

Let's start with the bad, shall we?

It was discovered, and revealed to the district as a whole on Wednesday, that we are 3-4 million dollars short of being able to simply pay our bills this year. Meaning, if cuts aren't made soon, we won't even be able to make it through the year. Awesome.

Originally the intent was to cut around 5 million this year to be put in the bank. Our district has no savings, so if a roof needs to be replaced, too bad. School floods? Oh well! You need text books? Not in the budget. Now, it appears, that many things were not in the budget, including coaches stipends and extra duty pay, among others.

Thursday we got word that 23 teacher contracts had been rejected. Every teacher's contract gets voted on by the board, and these 23 hadn't yet been voted on as they'd been hired just before school started. The board voted to keep these people in position until Dec 31, at which time their contracts would run out. We've heard that their contracts may be extended, but I don't see it as a likely event. We've also heard that our union is going to try to fight to keep these jobs in place; sadly, I fear that in order to keep these 23 we'll have to sacrifice a different 23. In the end, the result will be the same - at least 23 teachers will be lost, and we're all very sure there is more to come.

Needless to say, things in our district, and in our house somewhat, are tense. Everyone just wants to know what's going to happen next and for how much longer we have jobs.

The best part of all this? The man who was in charge, the man who allowed this all to happen (and, in my mind, though it can't necessarily be proven, caused it) got a $200k severance package.

Onto the good...

We had our first softball games today. Things went really, really well! I'm very pleased with where we are as a team, and where the pitching staff is right now. We're in a very good starting place and I know that with all the work they're doing, we'll continue to see improvements and will hopefully be the team to beat in the spring. I know that's an odd thing to want, but I think this team needs it. They need their fire fueled. We've been the underdogs long enough, it's time to come out and strut our stuff.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Meal Plan, 10/5-11

Sunday - DIY. I have rehearsal until 7
Monday - Meatloaf (we didn't end up having it last week. Oops)
Tuesday - Hamburger helper (exciting, I know)
Wednesday - Brats and Sauerkraut - our very own Oktoberfest!
Thursday - Spaghetti
Friday - Chicken barley soup perhaps...still thinking on that one
Saturday - DIY, I think. I have a double header

Heads are a-rollin'

I'm not going to get too detailed, because I don't want to get the facts wrong and I can't find any articles to back me up, but we were told in a meeting the other day that two people in our district office were promoted and given raises "illegally." Basically, there are protocols for promoting someone and giving raises, and those protocols weren't observed in the case of these two individuals. My understanding is that they have been restored to their previous positions (demoted, essentially) and are to repay their raises. Hoo-boy, I'd hate to be them about now.

For fun, let's recap:
  1. Superintendent is brought under investigation
  2. 2 days before teachers report to work, board calls emergency meeting to accept the resignation of said superintendent
  3. It becomes clear that we have major debt and things need to change
  4. Paper rationing is imposed
  5. We cut a few classified positions (custodian, noon aides) and do not fill others left vacant by those changing buildings
  6. We realize teachers are very likely to lose their jobs
  7. Head of HR is investigated for benefits fraud for failing to remove his now ex-wife from his benefits package when they divorced 5 years ago. Writes a personal check for the $33k the district paid out for ex-wife's medical care over the past 5 years
  8. Head of HR then "retires," saying he's doing it to hopefully spare someone else's job. Rumor in the district is he was told to retire
  9. New superintendent is appointed. He begins investigating
  10. Two district office personnel are "demoted" and ordered to pay back their raises

It's been an interesting school year - and it's only October!