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The second shoe

January 20, 2010

Scene: 8:30 a.m. in Harriet’s driveway. Harriet is getting ready to drive AJ, who overslept thanks to a slumber party the previous evening, to school.

AJ: I went to Ben Franklin Boy’s over.

Harriet: ?

AJ: I went to Ben Franklin Boy’s over.

Harriet: ???

AJ: Well, it wasn’t a sleepover, because we didn’t sleep. So it was an over.

Harriet: I always thought sleepover was a misnomer.

AJ: Miss Nomer?

Harriet: Misnomer. Can you figure out what it means?

AJ: It’s like the opposite.

Harriet: Sort of. Nom means name. Now can you figure it out?

AJ: Misname. Oh, it’s a name that doesn’t make any sense.

Harriet: Exactly right.

* * * * *

There were things that didn’t make any sense yesterday. Like why I got embroiled in an interesting conversation about homeschooling in an elementary school parking lot after midnight while the icy wind numbed my feet. Like the person in the front row who kept asking questions that had already been answered. Unfortunately, the more than $5 million dollars in cuts the board of ed voted in last night made perfect sense. I wish I could say they didn’t.

The best thing that happened at the meeting was in a presentation of a benchmarking study of financial and academic health with an overly aggressive powerpoint presentation that included many graphs and charts, including one labelled in giant letters, BORING. They meant they were mining the data. But by that point, we were just looking for things to amuse us.

Several unexpected things happened. One was that during the committee meeting, when I thought I was being asked to talk about what our committee had done, I found I was being asked to give a lecture on successful grass roots organizing. I hadn’t really thought about it, but that is what I did. I believe I now have nearly half the families in the district’s gifted program on board, and that’s using a setup where they have to ask me to join the group. They have asked. They keep asking.

Another unexpected thing was the large group of high school students who came to show support for their former teachers, two of whom spoke eloquently about how the programs on the reduction list have affected their lives.

But the rest of it was expected. The long list was approved. A few board members tried to delay the vote, but with the teachers behind me chanting “Just vote! Just vote!” under their breath, they went ahead and did it. 70 teachers will find out they are losing their jobs. It’s nearly a third of our teaching staff. It was heartbreaking.

And yet the energy was still good. Everyone’s talking about what we can do. My speech was very well received and I’ve been fielding emails from teachers, other parents and board members all day. Some are thanking me. Some are giving me more information. Some want to know what we’re doing.

This whole project has had unexpected effects on me too. Where I’d expect to be depressed and frustrated, I’m finding sources of energy I did not know I had. I’m gaining confidence and skill. I like this work, not just the writing and thinking and speaking part, but also the people management part. I like encouraging them, trying to understand people’s individual issues and build a consensus. And I’m certainly passionate about the cause. Now if only I could like doing something that paid me a salary.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2010 8:05 am

    What is left to organize? Can you add art/music/PE/gifted as after school clubs? If there is no chance of getting them in the school day, where do you go next?

  2. January 21, 2010 8:54 am

    After school programs are one option — some of us have been talking about a parent coop for the gifted kids. But the state mandates still require they be taught during the school day and the school day will still be shortened and that time is likely to come at the expense of core curriculum. We are working with the board to try to come up with alternatives to what they are offering — new models. For example, at the moment, they are talking about having a music teacher and an art teacher train the classroom teachers to teach those subjects. We are suggesting that instead, they look at residency models, where the art and music teacher can teach art and music, movie from school to school in intense blocks of time. Teachers can supplement in class when it’s not their turn for the teacher and grants and the district foundation, which by state law are not allowed to pay for anything but materials and special events, could pay for residencies or special presentations of professional artists or field trips to museums and concerts.

  3. freshhell permalink
    January 21, 2010 10:43 am

    Well, regardless of the budget outcome, it sounds like you created something positive. I wish you the best of luck in all this. It is so depressing to see a state/city/county/what have you just give up on its children. I mean there are choices and their are choices. I’m still not convinced the best ones have been made by those who are responsible for making the decisions. But, it sounds like all your work will not be in vain.

  4. January 22, 2010 2:11 pm

    Harriet, I think the most similar job to what you are doing now that would pay a salary would be in the nonprofit world. But I’m not sure that a nonprofit job would ever provide the quick action you’ve seen as a result of your current efforts or the sense of satisfaction. You mention frustration a lot, but I’m reasonably certain there is a certain core sense of “I’m doing all I can.”

    It’s a shame that AJ’s school is in such financial straits.

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