Scholarships Keep Memories Alive


The 2013 recipients of the Herbert J. Fischman Memorial Scholarship with Meryl Ain

On Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of attending the Brentwood High School Awards Night as a presenter of two scholarships in memory of my father, Herbert J. Fischman, a former teacher and elementary principal in the district. With this gesture, I joined with many other individuals and groups who together awarded hundreds of scholarships to Brentwood’s deserving graduates.

Principal Richard Loeschner and his family were among the presenters, memorializing their mother, Mary Ann Loeschner. There were also countless relatives, colleagues and friends of former Brentwood employees, local residents and students who also presented scholarships

The evening, which was coordinated by Paula Santorelli, was filled with warmth, spirit, and excitement. It was particularly inspiring to hear presenters speak about the loved ones in whose memory they were donating the scholarships. Listening to the speakers actually brought me closer to my father, who worked in the school district for 25 years. I recognized many of the names as colleagues and friends with whom he had worked, all of whom were so dedicated to the students, staff, parents, district and community.

In these difficult economic times when discretionary funds are diminishing, a scholarship — no matter how small – is particularly meaningful because it can have such a positive impact on the life of a young person. It also perpetuates the living memory of a loved one. The more scholarships that are available, the more opportunity there is to acknowledge young people who work hard to do their very best, as well as those who exemplify character traits that our communities and country desperately need, such as service and caring.

Four years ago, while writing a book with my husband and brother, I decided to establish the scholarship in memory of my father. Our book, The Living Memories Project, due to be published this fall, is about honoring memories and carrying on legacies. The idea for the scholarship came from two of our interviewees — Nick Clooney, the father of George Clooney and brother of Rosemary and Betty Clooney, and Yeou-Cheng Ma, the sister of cellist Yo Yo Ma. Both separately suggested that one of the easiest ways to honor a loved one was to establish a scholarship in his or her memory. It was then that I made the commitment to continue the scholarships each year.

While the students are the recipients of the scholarships, attending the assembly and presenting the scholarships each year has been both cathartic and therapeutic for me. For example, I met retired teachers who worked in my father’s school and who shared with me their reminiscences, as well as their affection and admiration for my dad.   In addition, listening to others speak about their loved ones confirmed that dedicating a scholarship, no matter what the amount, helps to keep alive the memory of those who are no longer here.

Since establishing the Herbert J. Fischman Memorial Scholarship I have met some amazing students, parents, teachers, and principals in the Brentwood School District. I thank them for the opportunity to enable me to honor the memory of my father in a meaningful way!

Why Coming Out Benefits Straights as Much as Gays

collinsThe recent news that NBA center Jason Collins is gay was greeted with widespread attention and acceptance. In a measure of just how much public opinion has shifted, the 34-year-old Collins was lauded for his courage in coming out of the closet as the first openly gay professional athlete in this country. Collins even received a call from President Obama.

Most agreed this is a good thing for professional sports. More important, it is a good thing for young gay people struggling with their own sexuality. Hopefully, Collins’ announcement will help save lives. Gay rights advocates claim gay and lesbian teens are three to four times as likely to commit suicide as their straight counterparts.

The Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people under 24, weighed in on the announcement:

“For nearly 15 years, The Trevor Project has heard from young people all over the country who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning. Too often, they struggle with accepting who they are, or helping the important people in their life love, understand and accept them. Coming out is a brave thing to do for anyone because of the prejudice, fear and hate that too often confront LGBTQ people for being who they are. Today’s public announcement by NBA veteran center Jason Collins that he is gay is an important step in professional sports and makes a great deal of positive difference for his young and impressionable fans…”

As Collins told Sports Illustrated, his announcement impacts most families:

“Some people insist they’ve never met a gay person. But Three Degrees of Jason Collins dictates that no NBA player can claim that anymore. Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who’s out.”

In an interview with New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, Collins described how difficult it was to conceal who he was:

“It’s tough to live a lie. It’s really tough: I describe it as you know the sky is blue but you tell yourself it’s red. It’s an insane logic. It’s tough to continue to live with lies and half-truths. It weighs on you. You put on a mask, but at the end of the day you’re not happy telling yourself a lie over and over again to the point where I am now being honest and truthful and not having to have a censor button; it’s liberating.”

“Coming out” isn’t just healthy, necessary, and liberating for gay people; everyone else benefits as well. Lies are destructive, not only to the person telling them, but also to everyone else who becomes collateral damage. For example, Carolyn Moos, who had an eight-year relationship with Collins, told TMZ that she had no idea that he was gay. His former fiancée said she never suspected at all, and she could not understand why he broke up with her.

“It’s very emotional for me as a woman to have invested [eight] years in my dream to have a husband, soul mate, and best friend in him,” she said. “So this is all hard to understand.”

Hopefully, she will now go on with her life and find a husband, soul mate and best friend. But despite her shock and heartbreak, she added that she wants Collins to be true to himself, and wishes the best for him.

I suspect that is what most people who love someone who is gay – boyfriend, girlfriend, brother, sister, child, niece, nephew, cousin, or friend — would want for them. If they only knew! It’s time to open all of the closets for the emotional health of everyone in the family.

George Will, the conservative pundit, once said that to his children’s generation, sexual orientation is no more consequential than eye color.

Perhaps with honesty, love, forgiveness, acceptance and understanding, that day is not too far off.

April is Autism Awareness Month: 4 Great Reads from Parents in the Know

WAA-DayApril is Autism Awareness Month, a time when the public pays attention to autism – something parents and teachers in the special education and autism community live with every day.

One in every 50 children has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And because it is Autism Awareness Month we are seeing a plethora of wonderful articles – filled with sensitivity, insights, wisdom and first-hand knowledge – written by those who are the true experts on the subject. Here are four great reads on the topic.

Ellen Seidman @LoveThatMax shares her take on autism awareness through the prism of her son Max. In her blog in the Huffington Post, World Autism Awareness Day: The Problem With Labels, she writes why stereotyping her son and other kids with autism prevents others from experiencing their uniqueness as human beings.

“But here’s the thing about labels: they whitewash the uniqueness of the child,” she wrote. “When people figure that Max has autism because he looks or acts a certain way, or when people think that kids with autism are like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, they presume to know what our children are like — which does our kids a major disservice. That’s where we, their parents, come in.”

All of us can do the following:

“…Help people understand that kids with special needs are distinct individuals with definitive preferences, likes and dislikes. You know, like any kids. Help dismantle the stereotypes that accompany the labels. Help people see the ability in disability.”

To read the whole article, go to:

Dennise Goldberg @SpecialEdAdvice, who writes the Special Education Advisor blog, says in her article, April, a Time for Autism Awareness……a Time to show Compassion, that April may be the only time of year when the entire society discusses autism. Believing that there are many who have yet to be diagnosed, she calls for compassion for all those who struggle with the disorder:

“We’ve all seen other children or adults who struggle with autism-like behavior, but for whatever reason they are or were unable to receive early intervention.  We all know the importance of early intervention to assist anyone with special needs; the reality is that not everyone who needs it will be given the opportunity to benefit from it.

“My hope is that as a society, we not only look at all those who have been diagnosed but we do not ignore those who haven’t.  Don’t forget about those you might see in your child’s school, in the market, at a sporting event, the mall and the list goes on and on!  If you see a child or an adult struggling to navigate in a social situation show some compassion for them.  Maybe they are having a bad day or they have yet to be diagnosed with a disability and receive the necessary help they desperately need; we can offer assistance instead of judgment.”

To read the entire article, go to:

In another Huffington Post blog, Saint Judy, Leda Natkin Nelis writes in praise of her mother who has provided her and her autistic son consistent and loving support from day one. She writes that every parent of a child with special needs should have support and an advocate like her mother.

“Raising a child with special needs has been challenging to say the least. Convincing the medical community that my concerns about my son were valid, and then attaining a proper diagnosis, was a gruesome battle. My mother has been right there in the trenches with me from day one. My gorgeous and successful Asperger’s son would not be where he is today without Judy’s belief and support. From the day he was born, I struggled to understand why this tiny baby was clearly in pain. Family members judged me as a parent and judged my child. Mothers at the playground whispered and pointed at the non-functional displays of behavior. Throughout it all, Judy’s belief in me and in my son never swerved. She insisted that together we would find answers, and always asserted that she could see in his eyes that my son was a genius.”

She goes on to urge all mothers of special needs children to not feel ashamed to seek support:

“We all, as vulnerable mothers of special needs children, need an advocate. Your advocate can be a parent, a spouse, a friend, or a charity worker. Do not be afraid to ask for support. Do not feel ashamed.”

To read the entire article, go to:

In his blog, Autism from a Father’s Point of View, Stuart Duncan @autismfather presents the facts about the disorder to strip away the fear. He says that while awareness is “mandatory,” the facts and figures can often lead to fear. He urges parents who have received an autism diagnosis for their child to “embrace the fear.”

“What I mean by `embracing the fear’ is that some parents fight against the autism and thus fight against their own child, pushing them to not be themselves, to not be autistic at all and take that fight outward as they try to find someone or something to blame and forcibly share more and more information that they find in an attempt to perpetuate the fear onto others so that they can fear autism as well.”

To read the whole article, go to:

Dismal Jobs Report: What are the best and worst careers of the future?

The March jobs report was released last week and it is disappointing. There were just 88,000 new jobs created in March and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.6 percent, indicating that about a half-million people stopped looking for work. This means that these individuals are so discouraged in their job search that they have given up.

Hopefully, the economy will improve. But whether it does or doesn’t, the workplace is changing due to advances in technology and the ubiquity of the Internet. There are certain fields that are waning and others that are booming. That’s certainly something young people and their parents may want to keep in mind as they look toward the future.

Kiplinger’s Report analyzed employment projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to identify the best and worst jobs for the future. It analyzed fields that are expected to add the most positions at the fastest rates through 2020. Additionally, Kiplinger’s looked for occupations that pay well and have been increasing wages. Included are fields that both require higher education and those that offer good pay and opportunity with less schooling.

Top 10 Worst Jobs of the Future

1. Post Office Clerk

2. Switchboard Operator/Call Receptionist

3. Semiconductor Processor

4. Sewing Machine Operator

5. Printing Press Technician

6. Desktop Publisher

7. Door-to-Door Salesman

8. Floral Designer

9. Newspaper/Magazine Reporter

10. Jeweler

Read more 10-of-the-worst-jobs-for-the-future

Conversely, other fields are booming due to changes in demographics and technology.

10 hot jobs of tomorrow

1. Registered Nurse

Projections indicate that more than 711,000 RNs will be added to the employment rolls by 2020, the most of any occupation. As the population ages, there will be more patients requiring care. To become a registered nurse, you need a degree in nursing from an accredited nursing program, as well as a nursing license. For an advanced nursing position such as a nurse practitioner, a master’s degree is required.

2. Systems Software Developer

This is a burgeoning field due to the escalating computerization of our personal and professional lives. It’s necessary to have a college degree in computer science or software engineering, and a master’s degree is required for certain positions.

3. Plumber

The demand for plumbers is expected to grow with new building construction, heightened attention to water efficiency, and the perennial need for plumbing maintenance.

Most plumbers begin with a paid four- or five-year apprenticeship. You might also need to be licensed, depending on your state’s requirements.

4. Construction Equipment Operator

As soon as it becomes a priority to repair the country’s rundown infrastructure, construction workers will be in demand. This is a field that is typically learned on the job, but there are also apprenticeships or private trade school programs available.

5. Electrician

The need for increased connectivity at home and at work, the growing use of alternative energy, and housing renovation and construction will offer more opportunities for electricians.

Most electricians get started with a paid four-year apprenticeship. Most states also require you to be licensed.

6. Personal Financial Advisor

As baby boomers age, they will need investment and retirement advice.

A bachelor’s degree in finance, economics, accounting or a similar field is the best preparation, but most employers don’t specify a required major. Certification, which requires a bachelor’s degree, at least three years of relevant work experience, and passing a rigorous exam on a wide range of financial issues, enhances your professionalism. Licensing is required to sell certain types of insurance and investment products.

7. Physical Therapist’s Assistant

The aging of the population will increase the demand for physical therapy professionals.

Therapist assistants fall between full-fledged physical therapists and lower-skilled therapist aides in terms of pay and training required. Although assistants typically earn about $27,000 less a year than physical therapists, they just need an associate’s degree, as opposed to a therapist’s doctoral degree, to get started.

8. Computer Network Administrator

To become a network administrator, who runs the day-to-day operations of an organization’s computer network, you will need a degree in computer or information science, or in computer or electrical engineering.

9. Painter

Little experience is necessary to become a house or building painter; you can get on the job training. But formal paid apprenticeships are also available. To become an industrial painter, you may need certifications for certain jobs, which can take one day to several weeks to obtain.

10. Dental Hygienist

In addition to growing demand for dental hygienists, the numbers of dentist and dental assistant jobs are expected to increase by 20.7% and 30.8%, respectively.

To become a dental hygienist, you usually need a two-year associate’s degree in dental hygiene, which requires you to study anatomy, physiology, nutrition, radiography and periodontology. You also have to get a license to practice. Requirements vary by state.


Top 10 School Budget Checklist for Parents

Now that school districts are in the home stretch of the yearly budget process, it’s a good time to reiterate the importance of parent involvement. Parents are their children’s best advocates, but you can’t be effective unless you are informed. Here are the Top 10 things you need to know to help you navigate the budget process in your school district.

  1. Know your school district’s budget calendar, which will give you a list of meetings and topics. Attend these meetings if you are available.
  2. Be sure to check your district’s website for information, and read budget brochures that are mailed to your home. Read the fine print so you will understand if your children’s school experience will be impacted.
  3. Keep up with media reports of budget meetings. Local newspapers and the Patch offer different perspectives, which may not be covered in official school district information.
  4. Know when PTA meetings are held. Your PTA president should have the latest budget information.
  5. Know when and where Board of Education meetings are held, attend them, and feel free to voice your opinion during the public participation part of the meeting. You must sign up to speak before the meeting. This is the time when you can join together with other parents to protest proposed reductions that you oppose, such as full-day kindergarten, or increased class size.
  6. Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Board of Education members and the District Clerk. In public school districts, trustees are elected by the residents and should be responsive to their constituents’ opinions and problems.
  7. If you are upset by a proposed cut, you may circulate petitions to the board, discuss the topic at PTA meetings, write letters to the board and to the newspapers, and come to board meetings en masse. Impassioned and organized efforts sometimes have the desired results.
  8. Make sure you register to vote. Check with the District Clerk for procedures and deadlines if you are not sure if you are registered.
  9. Remember to vote. There is a uniform voting date for all school districts in New York State, which this year is Tuesday, May 21. If you live in another state, check with your district for the date of this year’s budget vote.
  10. If you will be out of town you may request an absentee ballot. Check with the District Clerk for information about absentee ballots, polling places and voting hours.

Declining Enrollment: Is it Time for School District Consolidation?

As Long Island school districts continue to massage their 2013-14 budgets, declining student enrollment casts a huge shadow.

About 70 percent of Long Island’s districts had a decline in elementary school enrollment over the past six years, according to a Newsday editorial this week that argued there are too many Long Island school districts. Gov. Andrew Cuomo agrees, recently calling for more consolidation of districts throughout the state.

According to Newsday, the number of K-12 public school students on the Island has decreased from a high of 471,000 in 2004-05 to a projected estimate of 430,000 in 2015-16, a decline of 8 percent that is likely to continue. The drop in enrollment is due to a variety of factors, including a weak economy with slowing housing turnover, an aging population, lower birthrates, high property taxes, and a shortage of job opportunities.

For district leaders, dealing with the fallout from declining enrollment can be a very tricky proposition, and it typically leads to rancorous battles when school closings are proposed. Parents are often attached to their children’s schools and seldom appreciate a change.

The number of full-time teachers on the Island dropped 3.5 percent in the past seven years and in the last two years, at least six school districts have closed their elementary schools, Newsday pointed out. It says more schools are on the chopping block and that the “trend shows no sign of reversing.”

How school district officials and parents respond to these changes will determine the future quality of education here.

“We’ll also need more sharing of services, willingness to close unneeded schools and a plentitude of innovative thinking,” the newspaper argued. “In one sense, there is some good news: The decreases are significant enough that some financial savings can now be culled.”

In the last decade, school districts have been reluctant to sell their closed buildings. This is because districts that sold their buildings in the past often needed them just a few years later when enrollment picked up. District officials faced criticism and remorse when the buildings could not be reclaimed. But Newsday suggests that this would no longer be the case.

“That’s a harder sell now,” it said. “No one knows when or if the tide will turn, holding on to underutilized schools and property keeps them off the tax rolls. Beyond that, a building erected in the 1950s or 1960s might not be equipped with the infrastructure, like high-tech labs, audio-visual devices and computer wiring, to fit future educational needs.”

In addition, the entire way schools do business may change, the editorial suggested. For example, the three BOCES on Long Island have just started a cooperative venture to create online advanced placement courses.

“With pension and health care costs climbing, a property tax cap in place, and little or no new revenue on the horizon for districts, the time for change is now,”

the paper said.

One person who has long been a proponent of district consolidation is Martin R. Cantor, CPA, Ed.D., the director of The Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy. He contends that consolidation of Long Island’s school districts could save millions of dollars a year and would still preserve local control and save educational programs.

Under his proposal, the merger of dozens of local districts would allow the elimination of the vast majority of school superintendents, business and personnel officials. And he would give principals the power to budget and hire. He points to county systems in similar suburbs, such as those in Maryland and Virginia, which have comfortable, well-educated residents.

He argues that consolidation would not impact the students’ school experience but rather is a budget item “that has no role in the children’s education; in fact, it directs more school budget dollars to the classroom.”

“The plan preserves the neighborhood school,” Cantor insisted. “Children are not transported to other schools and districts. Nothing changes but better education at lower costs.”

To read his proposal, go to his website, and click the publication link: Town-Wide School Districts: 
A Case for Long Island Education at Lower Costs.

Become familiar with all of the issues related to this topic. Deeper cuts are on the horizon in all districts. Be informed, and decide for yourself what’s best for your children’s education!

Increased Use of Smartphones Among Teens: What’s A Parent to Do?

kidsphonesA new national study shows that the use of smartphones among teens has increased during the past year. The news is hardly shocking to parents and educators – but it does give us an opportunity to reflect on the role of technology in our kids’ lives – and also in our own.

The study, conducted by the Pew Research Center, indicates that one in four teenagers use their cellphones to access the Internet, compared to 15 percent of adults. Seventy-eight percent of 12 to 17 year olds have a cell phone, and 37 percent have a smartphone, an increase from 23 percent in 2011, according to the study, Teens and Technology, 2013.

We are well aware of the escalating challenges and benefits of cellphone ownership and use. The benefit of cellphones is that it creates a safety net for teens and gives parents the ability to stay connected with their kids at all times. There are even tracking devices, such as Sprint Family Locator and AT&T’s FamilyMap.

But the challenges are many. Previous generations of teenagers used the landline to connect with their peers. Teens may have tied up the family phone for hours, but parents were well aware of their activities. In fact, parents were usually able to vet potential dates and friends simply by answering the phone or observing their kids’ phone activity. Those days are long gone. The privacy and portability afforded kids by cellphones makes it increasingly difficult for parents to monitor their teens’ behavior. Texting, sexting, taking and sending inappropriate pictures, and cyberbullying are all serious concerns, as is the potential of smartphone addiction.

The incident this week in northern New Jersey is an example of how comfortable a group of teenage girls became with their cellphone camera, taking nude photos of themselves and sharing it through a device that erases the pictures a few seconds later. But some boys to whom the pictures were sent took screen shots of the photos before they were deleted and then shared them with others.

The superintendent of the Ridgewood school district sent a letter to parents informing them that police are now investigating the matter and urging them to have their children delete the photos. He said it is a crime to create, transmit or possess child pornography. Police say they will charge any student caught with the pictures after 7 a.m. Monday.

How many adults sleep with their smartphones next to their beds? Do you really want your teen to model your behavior? Hanging out with friends at the mall is one thing, but virtually hanging out 24/7 with a cellphone not only interferes with sleep, but intensifies the peer pressure that is part and parcel of adolescence.

According to Mashable, another study by TextPlus found that half of the teens they polled said they “couldn’t live without their mobile devices for a week, while 36 percent said they weren’t able to go 10 minutes without checking their phones.”

On the other hand, smartphones can be powerful learning tools, instantly connecting users to information and visuals. But kids also need to know that everything on the Internet is not necessarily true – such as the Tweets someone sent this week claiming to be Pope Francis. Young people need also to develop critical thinking skills. And there are concerns that texting may hamper the development of communication skills, such as writing and speaking.

Our parents and grandparents decried the use of the car, telephone, television, and portable radios by teens. In every generation, parents have had to cope with emerging technology. There is no shortage of lists to tell parents how to police their kids’ activities online, how to talk to them about cellphone use, and how to set rules and insist on responsible behavior.

But beyond that, we all should take a step back and see whether we are controlling the technology we use or whether technology is controlling us. That is the ageless question.

Parenting solutions are timeless too. There is nothing more powerful for parents to do than being present for kids, creating quality family time, sharing real life experiences, communicating face-to-face, inculcating values, and modeling appropriate behavior.

Education News and Views

Fat Letters to Parents Spark Controversy

The North Andover (Mass.) Patch recently reported that parents there received letters from their schools alerting them to the weight status of their children. Selectman Tracy Watson called attention to the letters when she got one indicating that her son Cameron was classified as “obese.” The letter explained BMI (Body Mass Index) standards and suggested that she and her husband contact Cameron’s pediatrician.

Watson was bemused because her son is engaged in sports and participates in martial arts. He’s a member of a wrestling team, wrestling club, and plays football. A child’s BMI is calculated with a BMI-for-age chart established by the Centers for Disease Control, and a percentile (compared with age and gender) is determined for classification. The classifications are: underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. Cameron was in the 95th percentile so he was classified as obese, although he looks – and is — fit.

Massachusetts Department of Public Health has required public schools to adopted a “BMI initiative” since 2009. The initiative requires schools to calculate the BMI of elementary and secondary students of specific ages and send the results to the children’s parents.

The letters have sparked controversy in the town, with some saying they are damaging to kids’ self-esteem and that school suggestions should focus on healthy living and eating.

Good News for Parents of Kids with Autism

There’s some good news for parents of children with autism who have been told that if their child isn’t speaking by four or five-years-old he/she may never talk. An article in Autism Speaks reports on a new study of more than 500 children with autism. The study in the journal Pediatrics indicates that some children with autism develop language skills as late as elementary or secondary school. Scientists at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Baltimore, Md., studied 535 children ages 8 to 17 who at age four were diagnosed with autism and with severe language delays. Their language delays ranged from not speaking at all to using single words or phrases without verbs.

Researchers discovered that most of these children later developed language skills. Forty-seven percent became fluent speakers and 70 percent were able to speak in simple phrases.

“These findings offer hope to parents that their language-delayed child will go on to develop speech in elementary school, or even as teenagers,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. “By highlighting important predictors of language acquisition – especially the role of nonverbal cognitive and social skills – this also suggests that targeting these areas in early intervention will help to promote language.”

Personal Notes: In the Family

bookCongratulations to my daughter-in-law, Beth Ain of Port Washington, N.Y., on her new children’s book, Starring Jules (As Herself), which was just published by Scholastic. This is the first in a series and is geared to the 7 to 10-year-old set. It got a great review from Publisher’s Weekly and I, of course, loved it too! It brought me back to the days of reading Judy Blume books with my kids!

Kudos to my friend Mark Wasserman of Boca Raton, Florida, on being named an “Unsung Hero” by the Sun Sentinel for his award-winning project, Houses for Change. After retiring as a senior economist for the Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C., he has put his heart and soul into helping the homeless with this endeavor.

Since the end of 2010, 25,000 kids have raised more than $375,000 in the Houses for Change collection boxes they created for homeless organizations. Mark has been nominated by Congressman Alcee Hastings for the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian award in the nation. He is looking for more schools and youth organizations throughout the country to participate in this great community service project. For more information on Houses for Change, visit: Family Promise,0,597718.story

Sequestration – What the President and Congress Can Learn from School Districts

Each day we get closer to the dire predictions that will be brought on by the impending sequestration cuts, I – and many other Americans — become more and more incredulous. The country has not had a budget for 1,400 days! Is it really possible that the President and Congress (who are the elected representatives of the people) cannot agree on any reasonable reductions that would not imperil the health and safety of the nation?

As a public school central administrator for 20 years, much of my professional life revolved around the “budget process.” This is the yearly activity engaged in by every school district in the country in which budgets are proposed, massaged, presented for public discussion, approved by school boards, and then passed or defeated by the voters.

If school districts, which are mini-government entities, are capable of crafting budget plans each year, why not the federal government? If school districts can mine their budgets to find non-essential and less essential areas to cut, why can’t the President and Congress do so within the vast $46.3 trillion in federal government spending?

Sure, school districts engage in politics too when presenting their budgets. They may threaten to cut full-day kindergarten, sports programs, or other popular offerings, and sometimes they are cut. But often when there is an outcry from parents, these reductions are shelved in favor of those that have less impact on students and the educational programs.

There is no question that there is a political game going on now and voters should be outraged by this fifth budget showdown in two years. We are being told that the cuts will result in an unsafe food supply, an end to important medical research, more criminals on the street, dangerous air traffic, the devastation of Head Start, the crippling of the military, etc., etc.

I have a strong suspicion that there is likely some fat in the federal government. Why can’t Democrats and Republicans stop the shenanigans and start looking for at least some of the $1.2 trillion draconian sequestration cuts in less painful parts of the vast governmental enterprise? For starters, here are just a few areas where there could very well be hidden spending:

  • New equipment, including furniture, computers, etc.
  • Food – lunches, dinners, meetings, special events etc.
  • Overtime – clerical and custodial
  • Conferences
  • Travel
  • Staff – clerical, custodial, administrative
  • Consolidating and eliminating programs that do not affect health and safety.

School boards generally try to engage in responsible spending at the same time they refrain from hurting their constituents and decimating the heart and soul of their educational programs; the President and Congress should apply that lesson as they move forward.

Education News Round-Up: Food for Thought

Should educators be armed?

Mississippi teachers and principals would be allowed to carry concealed guns in schools under a bill passed Wednesday by the House. The bill must still pass the Senate and be signed by the governor.

Those who supported the bill said it was a victory for those who want heightened school security following the tragic shootings in Newtown, Conn. last December. The bill enables boards of education to develop policies for their own districts, subject to state approval.

Opponents criticized the bill as a “knee jerk” response to the tragedy in Newtown, and insisted that security matters should be left to trained law enforcement personnel and not educators.

It is not clear whether the bill actually has a chance to become law. No similar bill exists in the Senate, which has a proposal backed by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, to provide $7.5 million in matching state funds to allow schools to hire more armed police officers for their campuses

School buses to have Internet access and GPS tracking

Kokomo-Center Schools in Indiana will install wireless Internet – including a GPS tracking system — on all of its 65 buses by the end of the year. Internet access will enable students to do their homework on the bus, especially during long rides to and from after-school competitions. The GPS technology will keep track of the buses and will allow the district to more closely monitor bus transportation.

“This GPS tracking system will enable our transportation department to handle parent concerns in a timely, more efficient manner,” said Larry Johnson, the district’s transportation supervisor. “It will prove invaluable when answering parent questions concerning bus estimated time of arrival and present location.”

South Koreans Bemoan Lack of Values in Students

Don’t think that inculcating values in children is just an American problem. A survey by the Korea Education Development Institute released this week calls upon South Korea’s schools to focus on values education to combat the lack of ethics in its elementary and secondary students.

More than 55 percent of the 1,800 adults surveyed said that students in grades k-12 are lacking in ethics. Improving students’ character and personalities was ranked as the most important responsibility of schools with 35.8 percent, followed by the need to tackle school violence with 34.5 percent and reducing the heavy burden of educational expenses with 11.6 percent, according to the survey.

“A series of appalling school violence incidents, including suicide attempts by bullied students, likely led the public to put priority on ethics education,” said an institute official, calling for education officials authorities to take action.

Bad News About Bullies

Do you think bullies are anti-social outsiders? Think again. A new study has found that middle school students who bully are often the most popular among their peers. This was equally true of both boys and girls who spread rumors, started fights or bossed other kids around.

Researchers from UCLA surveyed 1,900 students at 11 Los Angeles middle schools. The seventh and eighth graders were asked to name the students who were the “coolest” and the ones who were bullies. The students who were labeled the coolest were also often named the most aggressive, and those considered the most aggressive were much more likely to be named the coolest. The findings suggest that bullying and popularity go hand in hand. This is indeed a disturbing finding, and one that may shed new light on efforts to prevent bullying.