Monday, December 19, 2016

Not Everyone has a Merry Christmas

This is typically an awesome week for most of us. We're surrounded by family. We have plenty (too much) to eat. We play games. We laugh. We express gratitude for all we have. We go to church. We drink hot chocolate. We sleep in warm houses. We open too many presents. We are lucky.

As we head into "Christmas Week," I just want everyone to remember that it's NOT a Merry Christmas for all. For way too many, December 25th is just another cruel reminder that they're struggling with very little "hope," if any, at all.

It hurts for me to think that too many of my students won't be helping grandma bake cookies. They won't be sipping hot chocolate with the awesome, little marshmallows while playing board games near a fire. They won't be unwrapping "too many" presents, and maybe not any at all. They won't be sleeping in while in a warm house. They won't enjoy a large and delicious Christmas meal, with leftovers for days. Heck, some of them may not eat at all on Christmas Day.

I don't write about this to bring anyone down. I write about it just to bring some real-life awareness to this issue. I never ask any student what their "favorite Christmas gift was" because some won't get any at all. I also know that too many of our students are dreading Christmas Break. Once our break begins on Wednesday at 2:00, we won't be back in session for 14 full days when we open up again at 8:00 AM on Thursday, January 5th. Too many of our students won't have enough to eat over the next two weeks. They will be in cold apartments and houses. They will be looking forward to January 5th like you can't believe.

If you can, see what you can do to help a student or family in need. We work with lots of different groups and individuals to provide "holiday meals," jackets, games, clothes, and small toys to families we know that need a helping hand. Some students are embarrassed about this so we just drop these things off at their house while they're in school.

I don't want anyone to feel guilty about all you have. I just want you to think about helping others that might not be so fortunate. If you get a lot of new clothes, boots, shoes, etc. this week, consider donating some of your older items to kids that aren't so lucky.

I believe in "HOPE" and I think it is the #1 factor in a child's future success. If a child has "hope" that they can achieve greatness, that they can graduate, that they can become a productive citizen, become an entrepreneur, become a business owner, a fork-lift driver, a farmer, a teacher, a nurse, an electrician, a plumber, whatever.....they can do it. You have to believe it to achieve it and that is where we can all help instill "hope" in others.

Make kids smile. Tell them they can "do it." Help them see that everyone has adversity, everyone has things they wish they could change, and that everyone who works hard can have a bright future.

Have a Merry Christmas and try to help those that won't.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Inspired by our Students

At last night's board meeting, we were lucky enough to have Mrs. Jane Brogan and her Mock Trial Team tell us about their undefeated season and 3rd place finish in state. They even modeled some of their closing arguments, witness redirects, and so on. It was fascinating. I sat there in awe as these kids are just simply amazing. They are such wonderful representatives of their families, our school, and our community. Many of these kids are not only leaders within the Mock Trial Program but also integral parts of our State Champion One-Act Program. They're leaders within golf, tennis, and basketball too. Oh yeah, they make outstanding grades and treat others the way they wish to be treated. They're amazing and I'm glad they're York Dukes.

Everywhere I look, I'm inspired by our students. I got to see an 11th grade JV basketball player make his first basket of the season this past Saturday. The sheer joy on his face and the excited body language he had made my whole weekend.

Last week, I was able to judge some senior portfolios for Ms. Holder's class. I was able to see four great presentations that were all different but all well done. Visiting with each of those students about their plans past high school was so fun. They have lots of energy and enthusiasm to carry out into the "real world."

I've gained inspiration from my students in our After-School Fantasy Football Club at York Middle School. Their creativity and wit and acceptance of each other has been so fun to see.

I always gain inspiration from interacting with our special needs students. Whether I spend some time with them at lunch, visit with them about their recycling jobs, or walk through their classrooms, they are always so proud to show what they're doing. If everyone had their enthusiasm and kind hearts, the world would be a much better place!

Students at York Elementary make me smile just because of their energy level and willingness to learn new things, try new things, and be kind to their classmates in all kinds of situations.

I usually get to visit two to three times a month with one of our students who is having major emotional/psychological issues. I pray for him and his family. I try to make him smile as much as I can. He inspires me because of the battles he faces. Many of us have no idea some of the issues many of our young people are dealing with.

Being around outstanding students is truly inspirational. I will always defend our students and young people. They may spend lots of time on their devices. They might listen to cruddy music. They may not do things the way my generation did them. But, today's young people are amazing.

I really do consider it a blessing to go to work each day in this profession of public education. Our students deserve all of the support, admiration, and guidance we can provide for them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Public Education (as we know it) is Under Attack

First off, this article will talk a lot about the importance of public education. This is in no way a knock against St. Joseph’s Catholic or Emmanuel Faith Lutheran as we have a tremendous working relationship with them and admire and respect what they do and how they do it. I’m writing this piece as someone who loves Nebraska. This is more about the state landscape than just 17-county but make no mistake, it has an impact on every small town in the Cornhusker State.

This article is about putting all of the cards on the table and calling a spade a spade. Public education is under attack in Nebraska. Public education is under attack in the United States. Public education is worth fighting for.

Emanuele Corso wrote in his October 4th blog that “the foundational conception of public education is neither capitalism nor socialism, it is not about Republicans or Democrats, and never has been, before now, about profit. Public education has always been about the development of each child as an individual to the fullest extent of their abilities for the ultimate benefit of society.” However, a few folks seem keenly interested in changing this ideal.

This is about more than the money and the property tax relief we desperately want to provide our patrons. We’re still working at it, believe me, but it is extremely frustrating, to say the least. We’re down to just $225,000 in state equalization aid. We received over $3.7 million a few years ago. We predict we won’t receive any state equalization aid by 2019.

You see, we live in a time right now where not only are we not receiving the funding that we need (that forces an overreliance on local property taxes) but we’re having salt put in the wound by some politicians, think tanks, and organizations that want to push for charter schools, vouchers, and other mechanisms that they promote as “school choice” when, in many instances, they surely mean “for profit” or “exclusive.”

Many of these “school choice advocates” have never stepped foot in a public school. If we’re being perfectly honest, many of them simply don’t want their kids to go to school with “those public school kids.” They do want, in many instances, however, to take public funds away from already under-funded public schools and use that for “special schools” or “exempted tax credits” that don’t have the accountability and same rules to follow that we do. They don’t want to have to accept the $150,000 a year Special Education student. They don’t want to deal with the students and families with emotional disorders. They want the funding and support but none of the responsibility the rest of us have. That’s just plain wrong.

Perhaps these folks are excited about the school funding nightmare. Perhaps they applaud that state aid to schools in 2016-17 increased just .6% over 2015-16. Perhaps they look forward to more flat-line budgets and cuts. Perhaps they support unfunded mandates and the fact that public schools have to do more today than ever before. It seems as if they’re openly rooting for us to fail. Well, they don’t know Nebraska public educators like I do.

Public education is not perfect. We are always a “work in progress.” We have some under-performing employees just like hospitals, restaurants, construction companies, law offices, manufacturing plants, and all other walks of life. We have places across the board to improve in. Just like everyone else. We also have some of the most dynamic professionals you could ever hope to run into.

Public education is often the most important economic development initiative in our communities. We’re often the hub of our communities. Yes, we need to close achievement gaps across numerous disaggregated subgroups. Yes, we need to provide more early childhood offerings for our youngest learners. Yes, we need to increase the number of school-to-career opportunities for our students. Yes, we need money and political support to do so.

Nebraska’s public schools are also doing pretty doggone good! We have one of the highest average ACT scores in the nation for the 17 states that have 80% or more of their students taking it. We have one of the top high school graduation rates in the country. Our young Nebraskans in public schools also excel on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments and perform well above national averages across the board.

Public education is a big business. But, we’re different too. We can’t suspend the night shift when the economy slows down. We can’t close early. We can’t reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. We can’t go to our 1st graders and tell them that due to the economic forecast we won’t be able to teach them how to read or subtract this year. We’re different than Corporate America or even the private sector up and down Main Street all across Nebraska towns.

We live in a time where everyone wants “change.” It’s trendy to want something new, something different than the past. Public schools are CHANGE and we are NEW. We’ve changed so much in the last 15 years, it is unbelievable. Many of us provide programming for 10-11 hours a day. We provide summer offerings. We provide new work certification programming, college credit courses, job shadowing, and more. We offer new opportunities in early childhood, high ability learning, and STEM initiatives. Don’t turn your back on public education because you want “change” and something “new.” That’s who we are and that’s what we do, for ALL students in ALL communities.

We also live in a time where many people in shiny suits like to blame public schools for the state’s property tax crisis. They have mastered half-truths and distorted data. It seems to be part of the larger plan to discredit public education, to play the “blame game,” and open the door for “new opportunities.” It’s a downright shame.

Statewide data from the Department of Education’s website shows us that Nebraska now has over 307,000 public school students. Around 45% of them are living in poverty as they qualify for free/reduced school meals. This has increased by more than 10% since 2004.

ALL of Nebraska’s children deserve our support. Please help us stand for ALL kids in ALL communities with ALL kinds of needs, talents, and issues in ALL public schools.