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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

So What??? It's only $48,000!

The refrain among members of the school board is, "Why the hue and cry over the money spent on Alan Hilburg?" Additionally, I am told that our superintendent is truly perplexed over the sustained outrage over the hiring, and subsequent firing, of a public relations executive to spin Alexandria's travails into something  palatable and press worthy.  


Since so many of the readers of this blog clamor for 'just the facts, Voltaire,' I will dispense with the editorializing about how wrong it is, ethically and morally, to hire a PR consultant to pitch public schools performance to the...well, public.  Instead, let me focus on the following disgrace that comes as a direct result of Mr. Hilburg's $48,000 contract for four months work (neither the time nor product has been realized).  


Recently, the superintendent had this published to the attention of all teachers in ACPS:

Teachers, we have approximately $22,000 remaining in the Tuition Assistance Fund to cover tuition reimbursement between now and the end of June. Tuition Assistance ranges from approximately $570 to $1,300 per course, depending on the actual tuition costs. As you know, these funds are used to support four, and only four, ACPS priorities (the IB program; ELL or SPED certification holding more than one endorsement; math - content and instruction; reading - content and instruction).
Applications for reimbursement are processed on a first come, first serve basis. When the funds have been fully expended there will be no additional reimbursements, so you should take this into account in your planning for course enrollment.
We wanted you to know the status of the funds available at this time so you are aware of our budget realities. We will post regular status updates on Blackboard. If you have any questions, please contact Margaret Frasier mfrasier@acps.k12.va.us.

 $22,000...that's it.  And that money is limited even more.  Unless a teacher pursues courses designed to help deliver instruction in one of four permissible priorities, no money is available.  While I may be a bit off on the exact number of teachers/paraprofessionals in our system the number is approximately 1,500. You do the math...not the ACPS way, but the real math.  It comes to $14.67 per teacher for furthering his/her education.  Obviously, every teacher in our system is not seeking to take courses at present.  But I can tell you that I know of five of my colleagues (and I welcome the testimony of others in the comments on this site) who have been unable to pursue courses that are invaluable to keeping up with the latest in their particular area of interest or specialty, either because funds are inadequate or because the course falls outside of what is permissible.  
Yes, it was only $48,000 for Hilburg and the obscene spin machine.   And, yes, we are talking about an annual school budget in the millions of dollars.   But, at a time when we can only come up with $22,000 (severely constrained in how it can be used) for teachers to go back to school,  the number 48,000 speaks volumes as to our superintendent's priorities. 

52 comments:

  1. It is very easy to be out of touch when spending other people's money. I encourage all to ask the question, "What was gained from the spending of this money?" Again, getting back to that all essential, yet often missing, component, assessment of proposals and initiatives put into place by Mr. Sherman. Forget unions and public employees for the economic woes of our States, it is the wasteful proposals such as this hire, left unevaluated and uncontested, which are bleeding us dry.

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  2. For the first time, I am impressed with analysis rather than simply entertained by ranting. Thank you.

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  3. Where is the Discovery Bridge Survey? Why was Hilburg let go before the four months was up? What about the Saturday door to door initiative Mort and Hilburg dreamed up? What was the outcome of that? Did Hilburg really write that letter to the Gazette Packet or was it Mort using Hilburg's name? Is that why he disappeared so aburptly? Just some lingering questions that have yet to be answered from the $48,000 expenditure. Hmmmmm??????

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  4. For a lark I decided to do a little research on Alan Hilburg to see what was on the net with regard to ACPS.

    Here' what the Washington Post wrote about Mr. Hilburg and his contract with ACPS.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/18/AR2010121802566.html?wprss=rss_metro/dc

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  5. "Hilburg will make $48,000 - an amount district officials hope will be repaid several times over in new corporate support."

    So where is that influx of corporate support for Alexandria's schools ACPS was hoping this outrageous hire would generate?

    This is just one more thing which demands that Sherman should step aside for the betterment of our students.

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  6. Another interesting bio on Hilburg... as well as community comments.

    http://www.123people.com/ext/frm?ti=person%20finder&search_term=alan%20hilburg&search_country=US&st=person%20finder&target_url=http%3A%2F%2Fparkergray.blogspot.com%2F2010%2F10%2Fdangerous-liaisons.html&section=blog&wrt_id=262

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  7. Should any one wish to review the Hilburg Contract with ACPS received via a Freedom of Information request, you may contact satiricalalexandria@gmail.com

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  8. Here's a novel concept: Happy hour!!
    Starting at 3pm at Union Street Public House and Lighthorse Tavern.
    And maybe we can talk something that matters like our families, friends and fun outside school.

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  9. Found this little diddy on "Fairfaxunderground: "One superintendent included in the Dec. 25 analysis, Rebecca L. Perry of Alexandria, left the job this month. Before her departure, she was drawing an annual salary of $226,243 as leader of the city's 10,570-student system. In the 2006-07 school year, she received total compensation of $285,765." Just in case people think Mort is overpaid.

    Plus she was a supporter of extended school year and wanted to open schools before Labor Day. -and she didn't bother to poll anyone.

    Excerpt the Washington Examiner, Mar 30, 2007, "Employees also were supposed to receive a 2 percent cost of living increase, and another option on Perry’s list is cutting that. School officials expressed concerns about doing so because they want salaries to remain competitive with area jurisdictions. "It’s an easy drive to Arlington or Fairfax," Perry said. Sound familiar?

    You may not like Mort, but I really believe what he is trying to do will work to benefit of ACPS students and I support giving him more time.

    I encourage him and the School Board to stay the course in spite of the critics!

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  10. Let's state the facts here and not pick and choose quotes from an article written almost 4 years ago to defend the actions of a divisive Superintendent. Here is the full article for others to read and draw conclusions:

    http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/alexandria-school-board-presents-case-more-city-money?category=16&quicktabs_1=1

    Now, while not a fan of Perry, her statement in the article about a "drive to Arlington or Fairfax" was in reference to the Alexandria City Council not providing $6.8 million more to the school system's '08-'09 budget. According the Perry and the School Board, if the City Council did not spend this money, help fund the cost of living increase, and keep Alexandria competitive, then teachers would start looking elsewhere. Like Arlington or Fairfax, which are not a far drive. Perry was in no way saying that the teachers of Alexandria should take a hike if they didn't like what she proposed. Mr. Sherman did, and even offered to send you packing via a bus.

    Since you assert that Mr. Sherman is truly doing work which will benefit ACPS students, please give some specific examples of where that work is being done and how the benefit is being measured?

    And just what course are Mr. Sherman and the School Board plotting for our school division? At present time the ship appears to be all over the map, with no direction, and no port to call home.

    I encourage the critics to speak up in spite of the rubbish our students and teachers are subjected to within ACPS.

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  11. The announcement from Sherman you posted says there is $22,000 remaining from now until the end of the year. It didn't say $22,000 was allocated for the whole year. How much was budgeted for the whole year? That would be a good number to know, just to see how much has been spent to date.

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  12. Here is the full article, only part of which was mentioned or quoted above:

    http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/alexandria-school-board-presents-case-more-city-money?category=16&quicktabs_1=1

    Shame on you for using a quote out of context to support the actions of a divisive Superintendent. The line from Rebecca Perry, love her or hate her, about "an easy drive to Arlington or Fairfax" was not about teachers taking a hike if they didn't like Mrs. Perry's proposals, it was about teachers leaving if Alexandria City Public Schools could no longer remain competitive with other jurisdictions. The article focused on Mrs. Perry and the School Board seeking an additional $6.8 million for the proposed '08-'09 budget from Alexandria City Council. Mrs. Perry asserted that, should the City Council not provide this money, teachers would go elsewhere, like Arlington or Fairfax. Her comment were neither shocking, nor were they divisive. The same does not hold true for the current Superintendent.

    Mr. Sherman has publicly stated that those who do not wish to go along with his proposals would get a "bus ticket to Fairfax." To me, that doesn't sound like a great way to start off a "courageous conversation" and encourage true collaboration or dialog. In fact, it sounds like a great way to lower morale, discourage open dialog, and silence critics with the threat of removal.

    I encourage the critics to be loud and put an end to the shameful business within ACPS.

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  13. I read the article and it was saying Perry wanted to cut a 2% cost of living increase the teachers were going to receive. Her comment was if they chose to leave because of the cut, it was a short drive to Arlington or Fairfax.

    Be loud critics, because apparently you can't be consistent. You're screaming at Sherman for want went unnoticed for others.

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  14. It really is not unusual for employers to set criteria for tuition reimbursements- most dictate that the funds be spent for what the employer believes is beneficial for the company, not what the employee thinks is beneficial. That is standard practice.

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  15. Yes, it is standard practice for a company to dicatate how tuition funds should be spent, and I do understand 3 of the areas he is focused on. I don't understand the IB piece though, because all teachers in a building with an IB program need to be trained, via IBO, and the district will pay for that..they should have funds for that specifically, if they get approved to teach IB. I don't know that any school is actually considered endorsed by IBO yet (perhaps Jefferson Houston, but I think they are still in the process..they aren't listed on the IBO site as being an IB world school).
    In addition, it is not standard practice to spend as much money as he has on consultants when much of the PD could have been developed internally, and the need for Hilburg's specific contract was rather dubious.

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  16. Consider yourself lucky that there is $22,000 left for tuition reimbursement for the remainder of the year. Other jurisdictions do not have any tuition reimbursement, nor have they had cost of living increases, or step increases for the last 2 years.
    The teachers in ACPS are much luckier than those is Providence, Rhode Island right now.
    http://www.browndailyherald.com/mobile/school-board-dismisses-district-s-1-926-teachers-1.2500926
    The entire district over 1900 teachers, (that is more than ACPS) were terminated for the upcoming school year.

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  17. The IB piece remains a mystery to me because it is such an expensive program and the comparable public system model in an Arlington elementary school has been a complete failure there. The students who were already succeeding are now receiving a pricy, private-feel education and the students who were failing before are still failing a few years into the turnaround plan. So much money wasted in Arlington already. Why does Sherman expect it to work here?

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  18. Almost all teachers in the Rhode Island district, to which you refer will have their pink slips rescinded. It is strictly a move toward flexibility in staffing. Regardless, what does that have to do with teacher education? Do you know the Providence budget and restrictions for that expenditure? By your logic, you should have made the following case:

    Be glad that they only wasted $48,000 paying for propaganda, in Tripoli a teacher was strafed by a helicopter gunship!

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  19. I am just saying that things could be worse.

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  20. Actually the teachers in Rhode Island have not had their pink slips rescinded.
    "Despite the vote, administrators say it's likely many of the teachers will receive a letter that 'rescinds' their dismissal, effectively restoring their jobs." It is only likely.
    Frankly, I would not like the odds of "likely" especially in this economy.

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  21. Hey, Votaire...care to speculate why the EAA website has only two followers and rarely generates a comment?

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  22. Because too many would rather complain or remain silent, when they could actively participate, even when things don't go their way.

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  23. It's a shame that some choose the logic of "it could be worse" over the logic of "it could be better."

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  24. Equally sad that people can't see how much better it is- some people will never be happy regardless, some will always want more. I'm not happy that too many kids fail, I want more of them to succeed and I want the community to stop picking each other apart-it just doesn't help the kids.

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  25. I emailed Dr. Sherman last year asking about tuition reimbursement. I asked him why (at the time) he was removing tuition reimbursement from the budget, considering how much he seems to care about professional development. His response was that "teachers in Alexandria are the highest payed in the area" so therefor "that increase in salary compensates any tuition costs."

    Hmmm...

    Really Sherm? That's the best you can come up with?

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  26. Please elaborate on the comment about "how much better it is." What are the improvements and how are they gaged to be effective?

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  27. Seems to me that we haven't even brushed the tip of the iceberg in substantive discussion of segregated school zones in the elementary (K-8th) education of our Alexandria kids.

    I'm all for great "picking" at this topic (by which I mean labored, open minded, slowly and reasonably debated pubic discussion), as it's where the biggest bang for the buck will be obtained for ultimately exiting our high school's persistently lowest achieving label. Our community should fully integrate our elementary through 8th year schools and classes so that high schoolers come from the same roots in Alexandria.

    Jefferson Houston is an example of decision being made by our School Board and Administration which ignore the inherent demographics of at risk and under-served children at great folly. A new school not fully integrated won't change a thing. You're telling me Alexandria parents are going to elect to bus their kids to JH to attend their IB program? That's a dream which will go unrealized.

    Better to scratch the $30 million dollar JH redo, and bus the 180 children to the best elementary and strongest middle school in Alexandria. If the Board and community object to that then find a middle ground of including the kids in one of the 2 new and integrated elementary schools on the CIP agenda.

    Let's get a real conversation going on true integration of school kids in Alexandria. The 1999 Eberwien school zone districting set us back on this issue by over a decade. We're running out of time, given our PLA status and the fix starts with our young.

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  28. So a real conversation about integration would have to include the reality that integration in and of itself doesn't ensure all learners learn. Why not adopt the plan of many other urban districts and implement practices that work, like Chicago's Urban Prep. 100 young black male students, struggling within their community problems, a school that teaches them and their needs, raises their achievement- all 100 of them graduate and all of them accepted to 4 year colleges. Leave the kids at JH right where they are and do right by them.

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  29. Good point. One I didn't include in the scenario, but I have heard of similar schools in New York City which have excelled: aren't many of them charter?

    But, I don't think that is the ACPS plan for JH is it? No, in fact they are moving towards a rigorous IB program, calling for all Alexandria families to participate on location.

    Where's the community sign up, the actual numbers that supports fellow students will come? And if other families don't travel to JH, will ACPS be content, and fully focus that IB program on the 180 JH who do? Or, will they move it?

    JH students are running out of time for more social experimentaton. They deserve an experienced program (like you suggest) that has been shown to work.

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  30. But see here's the problem, if you do agree with me, many many of the instructional practices, like mastery and differentiation that are being deployed in Alexandria and facing stone walled resistance, are the exact practices that are working at places like Urban Prep and at urban schools across this country. We don't have to start a charter school to implement the practices that work, we just have to do it. Too many teachers are just not buying in to the program and too many in the community don't see that these are the practices that will work, have been proven to work for the similar populations of kids as we have here that are currently failing. So we as a community should put our money and our actions where are mouths are, and JUST DO IT ALREADY!

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  31. "Mastery and differentiation" I see. You mean break into little pods of kids and teachers. No, that isn't what I see as a means to success.

    I'm talking about what someone above called Apartheid. Segregation. Isolation.

    No amount of little pods all over Alexandria address this huge social ill in this town. Shame on us for ignoring over the last decade. Let's not make the same mistake now by alleging "quick fixes" are through minimization and pods of sheepled kids.

    Teachers aren't dumb and neither is the JH community.

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  32. Some of the statements made about JH are incorrect.
    First of all, JH has 350 kids enrolled.
    The PYP program was brought up by a group of parents (including me)3 years ago, before Mort came to ACPS. The parents and teachers do embrace the PYP programme, which is very different from the IB Diploma programme (not as rigorous in PYP)If anyone would like more information about the PYP programme, go to IBO.org and search for PYP.
    I am appalled that JH is brought up in a negative light in yet another blog. The parents, teachers and students don't deserve this. We send our children to JH because it is a fabulous school with top-notch teachers and staff. We do not base our sole decisions on "making AYP". Dr. Sherman has supported JH when many others have put us on the back burner and ignored the needs of our children for many years.
    If anyone would like true statistics or information about JH, please contact me. I'd be happy to talk with you.
    Beth Coast
    PTA President, Jefferson-Houston

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  33. Chart schools have the luxury of keeping the kids that work for them and booting the ones who don't. Public schools are open to all. That is the fact which is often left out in this debate.

    And as far as differentiation, you can differentiate lessons, instruction, and assessments all you want, but you can't differentiate the reality which is the lives of some of our students. Can't differentiate mom out of a mental unit, can't differentiate dad away from drugs, can't differentiate mom and dad from choosing career over quality family time, can't differentiate zero books at home, can't differentiate parents working three jobs, can't differentiate family apathy towards education, can't differentiate ________ (insert sad reality here). Differentiation is yet another educational silver-bullet buzz word making the rounds, yet again. A stable environment, both at school and at home, ensures improvements in student learning. Until you have that, you can throw any buzz word you want out, it still won't address the underlying issues and needs which directly impact student learning.

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  34. Sorry, that should have read "charter schools" not chart school. I guess I was thinking about a lovely dining experience at the Chart House as opposed to the realities faced by public education.

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  35. Nope, mastery and differentiation does not mean break into little pods of kids and teachers. It means teaching mastery of a subject, and differentiating the instruction. That could happen right now if not for resistance.

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  36. Differentiation is happening right now. Take a seat in a good classroom within ACPS and you will see it at work.

    However, differentiation is not the educational silver bullet. Differentiation has it's limits. Sure you can differentiate planning, instruction, and assessment, but can you differentiate your way around drug abuse in the home of the student? Can you differentiate your way around physical abuse at the hands of family members? Can you differentiate your way around the fact that a student had to move in with Grandma because mom is in a psyche ward? Can you differentiate your way around parents who choose their career over the development of their children? Can you differentiate your way around decades of generational poverty? Can you differentiate your way around decades of family apathy towards education? Can you differentiate your way around lack of books in the home? Can you differentiate your way around children who are not spoken to enough? Can you differentiate your way around homelessness?

    There is not a resistance to differentiation, there is simply the recognition of the realities which public education can not address, no matter which educational buzz word in the flavor of the month.

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  37. You are right shame on us! We now have to pay up. The old saying "pay me now or pay me later", later is now. A decade and longer of neglect will not vanish in two and a half years. Great also to recognize the Eberwein plan was flawed, too bad, more people didn't fight it then, when some of us stood alone. If we're going to really move forward, now is the time to stop the naysaying, and stone walling.

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  38. So why can Urban Prep do it? Do you think Alexandria is worse then Chicago, relative to the impacts of poverty on children? And yet, Urban Prep is successful and it is working and those kids are succeeding, and they are homeless, come from abuse, neglect and every urban ill you can name and some you probably don't even know about it.

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  39. Every seat in every classroom should be good, but that isn't the case, it just isn't.

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  40. Private educational programs such as Urban Prep have luxuries not alloted to public school systems. They have selection over whom they accept (note that the admission policy of Urban Prep only indicates a lottery system for Freshman students, 10-12 grade admission is by selection). Educational programs such as Urban Prep may expel students for academic, social, or behavioral infractions. Programs such as Urban Prep historically have low ELL and SPED student populations. Programs such as Urban Prep also place a large amount of responsibility on the parent and student. Dress codes, mandatory parent/teacher conferences, student attendance at community service and school functions, and strict absence and tardiness policies are some of the glaring differences between programs such as Urban Prep and public education. Programs such as Urban Prep are today's version of Boarding Schools and Military Academies of the past.

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  41. Hmmm, Urban Prep...a small, homogeneous, unisex school. Perhaps (thankfully) ACPS is just a little bit different. I am sick and tired of my dedication to real learning over data-driven nonsense being used to define me as a roadblock to success. It is because I care so much about my students that I am alarmed by the sidelining of teachers and the devaluing of their expertise. Worshipers at the altar of "Education Reform": I hear your crap every day, all day. Please take your rants to your own blog and allow me the small peace I find in connecting to other teachers who feel that children are more than widgets and teachers are more than manufacturers of data.

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  42. Yes Urban Prep is not a public school. It is serving kids that many in the public school system had written off years ago as the "unteachable". Yet they broke away from the status quo and taught those unteachable kids anyway. The kids became the true focus and their success the only goal. You are also correct that Urban Prep requires more of their students and parents, and they get it because both parents and students buy-in. So what does Urban Prep do differently to get homeless kids from drug abused, neglected, crime ridden neighborhoods and their parents to participate that we could learn from? Student and parent buy-in is critical in order to partner with engaged teachers who really care and want to teach every student that enters their classrooms. There are lessons we could apply if we really wanted to.

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  43. Maybe it isn't Urban Prep that does anything, maybe it is the parents who feel this is the right choice for their child?

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  44. Concerned teacherMarch 4, 2011 at 7:40 PM

    If ACPS could operate under the same circumstances as schools like Urban Prep, being free to refuse students who don't bother to come to class or who break school rules, or whose parents do not come to scheduled conferences for their child, then we would have made AYP from the very start. But we do NOT operate that way: we take everyone, including students who come here illegally or who begin high school here with the equivalent of a fourth grade education, or less. I have no problem with educating every student who comes into my class room, but don't you dare compare our open, truly public school system with one like Urban Prep, with all the advantages it has over our 'take all comers' approach.

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  45. Yes, I dare. Yes we take all comers, that's why it is a public school. Yet, there are ingrained attitudes that don't have to be here, like judging a student's ability before they even say a word. That happens to my student all the time. Students shouldn't have to disprove a negative. There are all kinds of barriers to effective communication and it is a two way street. From my experience, only parents that can take some of the blatantly negative attitudes, look past them and stand toe to toe with teachers, for the good of the student, can successfully engage. And what I have found, is that often teachers and parents who struggle the most, actually do figure it out for the benefit of the student- it is just very hard work for everyone.

    Some parents are looked down upon and simply don't feel they can communicate with teachers.

    Others are too apathetic, disengaged, and offer no support to their kids, which is why we should look and keeping trying the old and the new to find ways to teach those kids anyway. What is the alternative, just keep a track of how many continue to fail. We have to keep trying and yes it is a lot, and it feels like too many things at once, and maybe it is, but I prefer this current environment to the quiet sound of looking the other way. There are ways, Urban Prep and other programs take kids well below grade level too and they are able to teach them and bring them up.

    We take everyone, so we have to figure out a way to connect, from my experience there are plenty of times when the school environment just didn't want me there, some people are not able to push pass that and come anyway.

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  46. ACPS can close TCW and turn it over to a private education corporation. It's one of the Transformation options- why don't we just try that and see what happens?

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  47. You operate under the assumption that public education can address the social ills faced by the students of public education. I assert that public eduction can never address those ills, not for lack of trying, but because they are outside of the realm and means of the public education system. Private educational programs, such as Urban Prep, create confines by which students and parents must abide. The programs do not produce their achievement statistics by simply addressing the kids who are well below grade level, disengaged, or lack parental support, they produce their achievement statistics by addressing the kids who abide by their rules. Ingrained attitudes have no place in public education, yet, what ails our struggling schools and struggling students can not be attributed solely to the bias of a few teachers.

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  48. You are extremely hard on those same teachers with whom your child is reportedly having such success. I am very glad to meet with parents who care enough to make time in a busy schedule to come to school and try to get the best possible education for their student, but the majority of parents didn't come for conferences during parent teacher conferences, or even to the IAP meetings we have held so far. It really is a two way street: teachers can do our very best, but we need the cooperation of parents and the support of the administration,too.
    Right now, there is such an atmosphere of blame that it affects everyone negatively, and that cannot be good for our students.

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  49. I'm not hard on them, I'm telling it like it has been from my experience. It is what it is, we have fought to make sure good teachers actually teach, and don't ignore. Many got over their biases, many did not. The success my student is having has been hard fought, and not just the hard work that is required for all students to learn, but to overcome negative attitudes and low expectations. The same attitudes that caused the Virgina State Department of Education to find ACPS in non compliance with Special Education laws in 2009. The same environment that an independent panel found that there is an environment of low expectations and dismissal of those students who learn differently. The same environment that has not changed much since the State found ACPS out of compliance. Those reports are on file at Central Office. I've lived it and can confirm it isn't just a few. My student has had wonderful teachers as well, but when the people post comments that students who learn differently or who are native English speakers are the ones who parents don't care, it just isn't true. And no one says it just a few parents, the statements are broad generalities and they are not accurate. The atmosphere of blame is not good for our students, so both sides should stop blaming and work together. You are stating the facts as you have experienced them and so am I.

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  50. I believe it would be fair to say that Alexandria is still out of compliance with regards to the needs of special education and ELL students. The lack of compliance is not due to the attitudes of teachers, it is due to decisions by Alexandria's out-of-touch central office. Even with student enrollment increasing (including ELL and SPED students) the folks at central office have proposed eliminating much needed positions in those areas. On the chopping block for the 2011-2012 school year are 5 special education positions and 12 paraprofessional positions. Rattle the saber at them.

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  51. We have rattled the saber at them and we will continue to do so. Read the report, it does not agree with your assessment. Central Office should make it mandatory reading for all teachers. The entire system, general education and special education has to change. Read the report for yourself.

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  52. Perhaps, the Virginia Department of Education remembered that they found ACPS out of compliance when they applied the PLA designation. Hopefully they will review the facts, and not just the feelings of those who do not support the current Transformation policies, as they now review the waiver.

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