Monday, January 31, 2011

Some questions just have to be asked...

The coincidences between the protests taking place in Egypt and the outrage over the state of public education in our city are down right eerie.  Think about it...they (the Egyptians) are marching by the tens of thousands in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, facing tear gas, rubber bullets and clubbing to bring down a corrupt dictator who masquerades as a caring, benevolent leader.   At the same time, we, also in the city of Alexandria, want to topple the scheming, conniving head of our school system.   And like our Egyptian counterparts, we citizens, parents and teachers alike are willing to risk...uh, never mind.

Somewhere along the line, someone made the decision that Alexandria's school superintendent, like Hosny Mubarak, would be allowed to make himself rich on the backs of hardworking taxpayers.  The question is--why?  What is it that Mort Sherman does that merits a quarter of a million dollar annual salary?  Forget the perks...the fringe benefits and the car,...we are talking a quarter of a million dollars a year simply in base salary ($240K) plus his TSA/Deferred Compensation.

Let's put this in perspective, shall we?
Mort earns $76,000 more than members of Congress.
Mort earns nearly $20,000 more than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Firefighters in our fair city start at $29,000 and top out at $138,800. And I've seen them make a positive difference in Alexandria!

But wait, you say, Dr. Sherman is responsible for more than 11,000 students...isn't that degree of responsibility, the safety, nurturing and education of our young people worthy of a salary commensurate with such a duty?  Let's be fair, you cry, and measure our Mort against those similarly situated, i.e. superintendents.  Okay, how about the superintendent of neighboring Arlington.  With a population almost twice ours, the super there pulls down only $195,000.  What about Richmond...challenging, inner city population, twice that of Alexandria?  How does $170,000 grab you.  And the real inequity of these comparisons is that Arlington and Richmond have, by all accounts, great superintendents.  Sherman is paid obscene amounts for failing the students and parents of this city.

Of course, there are the intangibles that the Doctor delivers.  If not for Mort, who would give the blessing at the annual school board/superintendent retreat dinner (play following link):

Who among us is prepared to show even a fraction of the courage of the citizens of our sister city and reveal Sherman for the snake oil salesman that he is?

"It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong."
— Voltaire

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The U.S. Waits for Superman, Alexandria Waits for Batman

(left to right)• Catwoman •  Dr. Hugo Strange  • The Joker• Mr. Freeze • Number One •Lex Luthor The Penguin • The Riddler •   Scarface * Poison Ivy

The premise of the documentary "Waiting For Superman" is that, just as comic book cities and towns in crisis look to Superman to save them from catastrophic events, citizens decrying the failings of our American public education system look to a superhero to rescue us.  Locally, the city of Alexandria should place a call, not to Superman, but to Batman.
In the 1960's campy, pop art televisions series by the same name, Batman (and Robin) fought against an inept, bungling group of villains determined to take over Gotham City.  The parallels to the Alexandria school board are uncanny.  As Wikipedia notes,

Many sports, music, and media personalities, and a number of Hollywood actors, looked forward to and enjoyed their appearances as villains on the Batman show. They were generally allowed to overact and enjoy themselves on a high-rated TV series, guaranteeing them considerable exposure (and thus boosting their careers). 

The cast of characters who comprise our school board relish the spotlight and the opportunity to treat, Alexandria like an educational laboratory.  An unusually cozy relationship between the board and the Superintendent (no customary checks and balances, here) mimics the plot line on so many Batman episodes, with a brain behind the nefarious plot and a team of henchmen.  Little doubt that Mort Sherman is the Lex Luthor of our local tragicomedy.  Lex Luthor transcended his role in Batman, seeking national, even worldwide attention and becoming the arch enemy of Superman, too.  Mort Sherman seeks the national spotlight, dining with Goldie Hawn and delighting in the company of national figures.  Lex Luthor became so powerful that he dominated the media and used it to portray himself as a wealthy, benevolent benefactor. Mort Sherman has certainly dominated the conversation in Alexandria, going so far as to hire a spin doctor of Wendy's "Where's the Beef?" fame to spread his propaganda.
Where once Alexandria could turn to its school board to limit the damage done by a Luthor-like superintendent, the city finds itself with a spineless, group of co-conspirators, content to rubberstamp Luthor', Sherman's mad initiatives.
What to do?  Some point to the fact that given time Sherman and his board will simply go away.  Failing schools and falling test scores will drive Sherman off and the school board will soon cease to exist in any form, they aver.  Maybe the real super heroes in Alexandria, the parents and teachers, will defeat Sherman (or at least send him to another Gotham).  And maybe the school board is a dinosaur, destined to extinction. It's true that there were more than 80,000 school boards in 1950. There are now fewer than 14,000. But can we count on time and heroes (who've remained absent and silent for years now) to save us?  I say send up the!

"I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it."
— Voltaire

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Is ACPS the mausoleum of failed teaching practices?

One popular adage has it that Alexandria's public schools are where costly, unproductive and unproven teaching practices go to die. Recently, at a local happy hour populated by TC teachers, the following Washington Post Article was circulated:

Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 01/24/2011

Teacher: The worst of "best practices"

By Valerie Strauss
This was written by Roxanna Elden, the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. She teaches high-school English in Miami and is a National Board Certified Teacher. This piece explains how the push for teachers to use "best practices" can get out of hand, and it will make you both laugh and cry. It first appeared on Rick Hess’s blog, Straight Up, on the Education Week website.

The reaction by the teachers was, as Valerie Strauss predicted, one of laughter followed by sincere sorrow and commiserating.  One of the few elementary school educators present shared the following story concerning what passes for best practices at her school:
Our building principal called an emergency/unscheduled meeting of all faculty one day.  She announced that we would be purchasing a new online, computerized reading program known as iStation.  It would be at the cost of thousands of dollars for a site license and all classroom teachers would be required to undergo training for implementation and be held responsible for using it, daily, in the classroom.  Use would include; setting up an iStation lab, keeping track of student progress, ensuring that lesson plans be written to incorporate its use and, of course, finding time in a 55 minute class period for iStation, whole group, guided/directed reading, vocabulary, running records and streamlining the 1099 reporting requirements of health care reform (I made that last part up).  Never mind that no one was consulted on the adoption of this program.  Never mind that knowledgeable teachers shook their heads at the spurious and ludicrous claims about the program's success that were offered. (One such claim was that students who were new to English vaulted several grade levels in just months!  No supporting data was presented.)  In fact, this teacher claims that noone had any input as to whether this was a strategy that was needed, wanted or proven effective.  It was presented as a done deal!  The money had been spent and faculty were to stay late into the evening for training at a future date.  
What's sad is that this is not an isolated incident.  Throughout the school system, dozens of unnecessary, even counterproductive 'initiatives' are being trotted out.  Valuable resources, both money and student/teacher interaction time are being wasted.  At a time when administration calls for greater student/teacher face to face time and, simultaneously decries the shortage of funds, iStation and boondoggles like it are presented as great ideas.  
Where are the teacher protests and the parents up in arms?  We have entered a brave new world, where advertising execs are hired to spin for the superintendent and principals foolishly and thoughtlessly spend taxpayers' money during austere economic times.  WAKE UP ALEXANDRIA!

Common sense is not so common.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Sherman's retreat...lap dog school board finally confronted by articulate parents

It's taken a long time (years, in fact) but involved, educated parents of ACPS students have found their collective voice.  Morton Sherman's ill-conceived plan to extend the school day by thirty minutes withered under the pointed questioning from parents concerned by yet another ineffectual Sherman initiative.  

Sherman apologist, and school board chairperson, Yvonne Folkerts, offered a tortured and inarticulate explanation for tabling the initiative.  
Said Folkerts, "We’ve gotten lots and lots of e-mails from people who are very much in favor of adding time to the day as well as weeks to the calendar, and then last night [at the community forum] there were people who are opposed to it, and those are mixed and need more information. Last night was mostly people who are opposed to it. … There are a lot of concerns from parents of students, particularly of older students, that they’re already taxed with homework and stress levels, and parents felt we would be asking too much if we asked for more time. Parents of younger students too, particularly kindergarteners – their parents were worried that their elementary kids would come home exhausted."

Oh, Yvonne...when will you realize that  your intellectual laziness and your chummy relationship with the superintendent have yielded a school system that rewards outside consultants,throws half-baked, unproven programs and initiatives at teachers, all at the expense of our children?  And Yvonne, did anyone ever speak of adding weeks to the school year? 

It is a hopeful sign, parents questioning authority and holding to account those who govern...but maybe, just maybe this is the beginning of the formation of resistance to the scheming of Mort Sherman and his crew.

In the halls of ACPS central office, employees are fond of quoting Mort as saying, "Bad press is better than no press.  I'll start worrying when they stop writing about what I'm doing."  I wonder if you still feel that way, Mort, after being awarded the Dim Bulb Award by the Washington Examiner (see below):

Dim Bulb: Mort Sherman

Who: Mort Sherman, superintendent of Alexandria Public Schools

What: Hired Alan Hilburg, the ad guru behind Wendy's "Where's the beef" campaign, to improve the school system's reputation.
Why it's dim: Paying $48,000 to improve the schools' brand won't fix the failing grade it got from education officials for not meeting federal benchmark standards.
Cure: Cancel the contract and tackle real reform.

History is just the portrayal of crimes and misfortunes.

Read more at the Washington Examiner:

Read more at the Washington Examiner:

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Giant in Education is Leaving Us...

When you have a moment, check out the Falls Church Public School's website...and the announcement that the superintendent, Lois Berlin (formerly of ACPS) is leaving.  Ms. Berlin is, by all accounts, one of the state's and the nation's finest public school visionaries and leaders.  While you are on the website,, try to find references to the superintendent's position.  Except for the search for a new superintendent, it is almost impossible to find even a sentence highlighting Lois Berlin.
She is what a superintendent should be, dedicated, unassuming, self-deprecating and selfless in her devotion to her colleagues, teachers, in particular.  No doubt the process of selecting her successor will be laborious and time-consuming.  But the city of Falls Church and its educational community seems to rise to the challenge, eschewing richly compensated head hunters and opting for hands on, cooperative efforts in securing its leaders.  Falls Church, like Alexandria, has but one high school.  But there the similarities end.

Have a look at ACPS's trouble locating the superintendent there.  In fact, as the saying goes, "you can't swing a dead cat without hitting" a link to Morton Sherman; his photo, his press coverage, his press releases, his blog, his musings, his directives, his life story.  To wit:

Home » Superintendent

Office of the Superintendent


Contact Information

Dr. Morton Sherman, Superintendent
Office of the Superintendent
Alexandria City Public Schools
2000 N. Beauregard Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22311
Phone: 703-824-6610
Fax: 703-824-6699

It's possible that the one easily accessible reference to Ms. Lois Berlin on the Falls Church site is the only one missing on ACPS's.

He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he is asked.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

ACPS Teachers...your paycheck and your pension are about to take another hit

The Washington Post, today(, echoed the alarm raised in Steve Kroft's 60 Minutes piece last month (  Simply put, the pension that you are counting on for part of your retirement package is in dire trouble.  In Virginia, revenue declined 28.4 percent, to $25.9 billion, between fiscal 2008 and 2009.  This is the very revenue that funds teachers' pensions.

Think that this doesn't affect you because retirement is years and years away?  Think again.  ACPS teachers have seen their take home pay reduced, already, because of a mandatory contribution to the pension fund.  This represents a pay cut to every ACPS employee.  And the cuts are just beginning...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The First Salvo From The ACPS Underground

Coming soon on this blog will be the first of, hopefully, many attempts to document the fraud, deceit and waste within the Alexandria City Public Schools.