This week I look forward to attending the Brentwood (N.Y.) High School Awards Night as a presenter of two scholarships in memory of my father, Herbert Fischman, who was a teacher and principal in the school district for 25 years. With this gesture, I will join with many other individuals and groups who together award hundreds of scholarships to Brentwood’s deserving graduates. I suspect that we are all part of a much larger group this spring who will also donate scholarships to high school graduates across the country.
In these difficult economic times, it hardly seems like a $500 or $1,000 scholarship makes a difference, but it does. Many of the students are awarded multiple scholarships, so while most of the individual awards are modest, they can add up — and numerous students receive sizeable support.
But it’s not just about the money. It’s about honoring young people who have excelled in spite of adversity, and who passionately want a shot at college. One of those Brentwood graduates, Samantha Garvey, made national headlines earlier this year when she was named a semi-finalist in the Intel Science Competition while her family was living in a homeless shelter. She is president of her school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, and has a 3.9 grade point average.
But you don’t need to have Samantha’s resume to receive a scholarship. The more 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. I have to confess that the scholarship was not my idea. Vicki Novak, a Brentwood graduate who later became president of the Smithtown Council of PTAs, had the council donate the scholarship when my father died in 2005 and I was the administrative liaison to the PTA Council.
It wasn’t until three years ago while writing a book with my husband and brother that a light bulb went off in my head. Our book is about honoring memories and carrying on legacies, and the idea for the scholarship came from two of our interviewees — Nick Clooney, the father of George Clooney and brother of Rosemary Clooney, and Yeou-Cheng Ma, the sister of cellist Yo Yo Ma. Both separately suggested that one of the most accessible ways of honoring a loved one was to establish a scholarship in his or her memory. It was then that I made the commitment to continue the scholarship each year.
While the students are the recipients of the scholarships, attending the assembly and presenting the scholarships 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. Some of the past recipients have sent me thank you notes expressing their appreciation.
One female student wrote:
“It is with great appreciation that I thank you and your family for allowing me to be one of the recipients of the $500 Herbert J. Fischman Memorial Scholarship. Words can’t describe how grateful my family and I are for your help towards my future. In this economy every little bit helps.”
And a young man who was on his way to an Ivy League college wrote the following:
“I would like to thank you for your generosity and support toward my college education. I would also like to pay respect to your father since he did serve in the community for an outstanding 25 years and is most likely respected by former colleagues and students. It still must be tough to cope with this loss since it is just over five years, but I know he still lives through people like you who give back to the community of Brentwood.
I am of Mexican and Haitian descent and I will be the first in my family to attend college.
I am blessed that I am one of the recipients of your scholarship. I will work hard to keep the spirit of your father alive and I will not let you down.”
In these difficult economic times where discretionary funds are diminishing, a scholarship, no matter how small, can enhance the life of a young person. It also perpetuates the living memory of a loved one.
Education news has been breaking at such a fast and furious pace that I’m calling your attention to a few important stories you may have missed.
New Organization to Engage Families in Education
First, I’m delighted that my good friend Myrdin Thompson of Louisville, Ky., has been named regional director for the central states in the newly formed National Family Engagement Alliance (NFEA). The organization was unveiled this week as part of Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress Conference in Washington, DC. Gwen Samuel of Meriden, Conn., was appointed as regional director for the eastern and southeast regions and has been an advocate for disenfranchised families.
The organization will provide resources, education and support to engage families, individuals and organizations in schools for the benefit of children. Both women have been recognized for their advocacy and training of parents and education professionals in effective family engagement in education.
While Myrdin was in Washington this week, she was honored as a White House Champion of Change and met with President Barack Obama. He characterized her as “awesome,” which is exactly what she is. Myrdin and I are both part of the blogging team at ParentNet Unplugged, a great group of people dedicated to parent engagement in education.
A few months ago, I featured Myrdin in two consecutive Your Education Doctor blogs because one just wasn’t enough. I called her a Parent Advocate Par Excellence, and I’m thrilled that she will be bringing her experience and expertise to our shared passion of parent engagement in education! To read more about Myrdin, here are my blogs:
A Letter to the President from School Boards Leader
Standardized tests have recently been on the minds of both parents and children. Last week, Mary Broderick, president of the National School Boards Association, wrote to President Obama urging him to begin a national dialogue on education — not among politicians but educators. She asked him to wear his “parent hat” to the endeavor of finding a new direction for public education.
Your daughters, she wrote, “like all of our children and all of our teachers, don’t need more tests designed to identify weaknesses. They need excited, motivated, passionate teachers who feel challenged, supported, and encouraged to try new approaches, who share with their students a learning environment that is limitless. …”
She also decried the focus on standardized testing, saying: “Strict quantitative accountability has never worked for any organization, and it has not worked with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. … Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it more difficult to share a love of learning with their students.” Here is the full text of her remarks.
Resolution to Reduce Standardized Testing
Finally, the National Education Association (NEA) has thrown its support behind a resolution calling on federal and state policymakers to reduce standardized test mandates, and to base school accountability on multiple forms of evaluation that will support students and improve schools.
Other supporters include: Parents Across America, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The resolution’s signers have joined with public education advocates Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier to call upon state officials to “reexamine school accountability,” and to develop an evaluation system that reflects the “broad range” of how students learn rather than mandating extensive standardized testing. Click here for the full text of the resolution.
Presidents’ Day always makes me remember my maternal grandfather, who encouraged my brother and me to learn the names of all the US presidents and vice presidents when we were still in the early grades. When we got together each week, we would play quiz show, mimicking the popular TV shows of that era. He would give us our assignment the week before and then reward us with pocket change for our correct answers the following week. He also had us learn each of the states and their capitals, as well as difficult spelling words.
My grandfather, who came to this country from Russia at age six, had to leave school at 14 to work as an errand boy to help his family of 10. But he knew the importance of learning. He later secured a plum position at the Post Office and courted and married my grandmother, who was one of 12 children born to immigrants.
My grandmother had graduated from high school, which she attended at night – something that was unusual for her day and station. My grandparents later ran a drug store with a soda fountain and put my mother, their only daughter, through college. When my mother graduated from New York University in 1943, she enlisted in the military after seeing a film about the Nazis. A generation later, my brother and I both received advanced degrees.
Only in America — the land of freedom and opportunity — is such advancement possible. Only in America could an errand boy have a daughter graduate from college and grandchildren earn a doctorate and a law degree. Only in America could individuals from humble origins — such as Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Lyndon Johnson — become president of the US. Only in America could Oprah Winfrey achieve her incredible success. Despite being born into poverty, her grandmother taught her to read when she was three-years-old. Later, when she went to live with her father as a teenager, he made education a priority.
Traditionally, public education in the United States was considered the passport that would level the playing field for the poor and disadvantaged. But an article in last week’s New York Times reported that several research studies indicate that while the racial gap has been shrinking, there is a widening achievement gap between affluent and poor students that is threatening to weaken education’s equalizing effects.
Researchers aren’t certain why, but some hypothesize that affluent children may perform better because their parents spend more time and money in providing them with enriching experiences, such as tutoring, music lessons, and literacy activities. Additionally, they appear to be more involved in their children’s schools. The recession likely has exacerbated this disparity.
But James J. Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, contends that parenting counts as much or more than income in developing a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school.
“Early life conditions and how children are stimulated play a very important role,” he said. “The danger is we will revert back to the mindset of the war on poverty, when poverty was just a matter of income, and giving families more would improve the prospects of their children. If people conclude that, it’s a mistake.”
One young person who still believes in the power of education to be the great equalizer is Samantha Garvey, the 18-year-old Brentwood, L.I., high school senior who in January was named a semi-finalist in the Intel Science Competition while her family was living in a homeless shelter. She is president of her school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, and has a 3.9 grade point average. Her amazing story so captivated the public that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone arranged for her family to move into a rent-subsidized home.
“My family’s setbacks are a source of motivation. I want to get my family ahead, which is why I do well in school,” Samantha told Newsday.
“My daughter is a blessing,” her mother, Olga Garvey Coreas, an immigrant from El Salvador, told the Huffington Post’s Latino Voices. “I never tire of thanking God for giving her the talent she has. She lives dedicated to her studies — nothing stops her.”
She added that parents must be vigilant in encouraging and supporting their children’s education. She pointed out that her husband, Leo, worked nights and that she worked days.
“The fact was that we never left them alone; we were always there to help them with their homework,” she said. “I believe that good communication is the basis for guiding our children.”
As we observe Presidents’ Day, let’s remember the promise and the possibilities of our country. We must ensure that public education continues to be the great equalizer. But that requires a team. We need more parents like Samantha Garvey’s, who encouraged her to learn despite the odds — enabling their daughter to achieve the unimaginable. We need more teachers like the ones in the Brentwood Public Schools, who embraced and encouraged Samantha, enabling her to shine. Samantha, of course, deserves credit for internalizing her parents’ values and grasping the opportunities her school offered.
There is no substitute for active and involved parents partnering with caring public schools. They are still our country’s best hope for enabling young people to become all they are capable of being.
I’m pleased to let you know that beginning this month, I will be a regular
contributor to Long Island Parent Magazine.
Published by Liza Burby, it is a wonderful resource for parents as it addresses issues of concern to parents on Long Island and beyond.
My first article, What You Need to Know About Your School District Budget, provides tips about how to navigate the budget process in your school districts.
Here are a few tips from the article:
- Know your school district’s budget calendar, which will give you a list of meetings and topics. 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. Keep up with local media reports of budget meetings.
- Know when PTA meetings are held. Your PTA president should have the latest budget information.
- 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.
- Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Board of Education members and the District Clerk.
- 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.
- Make sure you register to vote. Check with the District Clerk for procedures and deadlines if you are not sure if you are registered.
- Remember to vote. 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.
To read the full article, go to http://liparentonline.com/features3.html.
In addition to the print version, I will be writing a monthly online column, Ask the Education Expert, on the Long Island Parent website. There I will be answering questions submitted by readers. In the current column, I discuss parent concerns related to kindergarten registration and readiness. Take a look at http://liparentonline.com/ask-the-school-expert.html. Email your questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out LI Parent online for the answers each month.
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`Tis the season and everywhere we look there are suggestions for gift giving. No doubt on your list of recipients are your children’s teachers. Newspaper articles, TV spots, websites and blogs — not to mention catalogs — provide a potpourri of possibilities for teacher gifts. There’s a lot of pressure out there to give your children’s teachers the right gift. So what should that be?
You might want to start by examining your school’s policy on gifting. Some schools set a limit, e.g. $25, some don’t allow it at all, some specify one gift from the entire class, while others say nothing on the subject. Whatever your school’s policy, it’s likely to be ignored by at least some people. My experience has been that parents feel very pressured to give the teacher a gift she/he will appreciate, and worry that no gift could influence the teacher’s perception of their child.
Some parents go all out, while others begrudgingly do the minimum. I will never forget that when I was in first grade my teacher announced to us that Becky had given her the best gift in the class. She had been invited to Becky’s house for lunch and Becky’s father, a dress manufacturer, presented her with a beautiful dress. I remember that I and the other children felt powerless and unworthy as she opened our gifts. Throughout the year I understood implicitly why Becky was the teacher’s pet.
Those days may or may not be gone. There are still some parents who will lavish expensive gifts on teachers, causing others to be resentful. There are some parents who believe teachers don’t need “tips,” and others who simply can’t afford it in these difficult economic times.
Conversely, as a former teacher and administrator, I can safely say that most teachers don’t even want gifts. They truly appreciate a lovely note or card expressing appreciation, or perhaps even a homemade gift or gift card. But while receiving a truckload of extraneous gifts is flattering, they usually don’t know what to do with all the random stuff they get.
Case in point: one year I sent an email to all 1,000 teachers in our district asking for new items that we could use to put together gift baskets for the elderly in the community. I was inundated with “stuff” — unwanted Christmas presents. We recycled the gifts, assembling beautiful baskets wrapped in cellophane and curling ribbon, and made a lot of people happy. It’s amazing how a potholder, dishtowel, and hand lotion can be made to look so good with the proper wrapping!
There are some schools that ask parents to refrain from giving teachers gifts and instead suggest they honor their teachers with a contribution to any number of worthwhile causes. In this way, families can contribute what they are able to afford – or not at all if they are strapped – and the gift is from the entire class. Here are some ideas:
- A gift card to a supermarket or department store for a needy family
- A class collection of non-perishable food items for a local food pantry
- Purchasing holiday gifts for a homeless family
- Providing a holiday dinner for a needy family
- A donation to a charity
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently suggested several humanitarian organizations, many of which would be appropriate as an educational exercise for students.
For example: donations to CARE can provide school uniforms; contributions to Heifer International provide gifts of livestock and training to help families improve their nutrition and generate income, and Helen Keller International’s ChildSight program screens children for vision problems and provides eyeglasses.
Don’t forget your local charities; it’s meaningful for kids to know they are helping those close to home.
Even if it’s too late to change your school’s culture now, start a discussion now – and maybe things will change next year. Engaging parents and children in choosing the cause and bringing it to fruition will infuse both kids and adults with the true meaning of giving
North Shore, South Shore, all around Long Island there’s talk of school closings to save district’s money in these dire economic times.
Several school systems, including West Islip, North Bellmore, and Smithtown, have already put school-chopping proposals on the table. And more are sure to follow in a weak economy with decreased state aid and a 2 percent budget cap on the horizon for 2012-2013.
Whenever school closings are proposed, parents get upset. For the most part, they are dedicated to their home schools and don’t want their children to be used as pawns in school-shuttering plans. They like their principals and their teachers and the familiarity of their neighborhood schools. But the financial burden is becoming almost insurmountable. So what are districts to do?
And just this week, New York State’s new education commissioner, Dr. John B. King, Jr., agreed with the idea for Long Island and Westchester.
Dr. Cantor, a former director of the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute at Dowling College, estimates that the 47 school districts in western Suffolk County could save $32 million a year by forming five town-wide systems.
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. Although consolidation has been proposed many times in the past, Dr. Cantor believes the time may now be right if parents want to stop the trend of increased class sizes and reduced student services.
Dr. King, on the other hand, is in favor of a more sweeping countywide consolidation.
He points to county systems in similar suburbs, such as those in Maryland and Virginia, which have comfortable, well-educated residents.
Merging districts has always been a political hot potato and no one expects school boards and central office administrators to voluntarily give up their power. Yet Dr. Cantor says he is trying to raise awareness that there is an alternative to the yearly decimation of educational programs and services.
By the way, Newsday this week supported the concept of consolidation. It sided with Cantor’s proposal for town-wide district consolidation, saying the commissioner’s proposal was too severe for Long Island. The paper noted the historical hardcore resistance to mergers on Long Island, citing Elwood’s failed attempt last year to find merger partners. But it says the state could offer incentives to make the idea more palatable.
It is up to parents to lead the charge if consolidation is to become a reality. As Newsday put it, “The solution lies in making parents understand that as times get hard and the recently passed tax cap kicks in, the only way to save beloved programs threatened by tight budgets is efficiency. Taxpayers who really want to see kids get the best in education and activities may have to let go of their dedication to tiny schools and tiny districts.
“As money gets tighter, things change. If the other choice is a drop-off in educational offerings, parents and taxpayers should demand that districts look hard at consolidation rather than fight it. Once they do, the process will be halfway home — and everyone will be closer to a more efficient and equitable way to educate our children.”
Dr. Cantor offers some reassurance to parents who are frightened by the prospect of consolidation by emphasizing that it “gives parents control of their local schools; children remain in the schools that the parents moved into the neighborhoods for. Parents will have more say in education because their local principals will be in charge of the budget and student achievement, not isolated administrators. Classes would remain smaller and teachers preserved.”
He added that the factors that would change with consolidation would not impact the students’ school experience but rather are “budget items that have no role in the children’s education; in fact it directs more school budget dollars to the classroom.”
And, Dr. Cantor stressed, “the plan preserves the neighborhood school. Children are not transported to other schools and districts. Nothing changes but better education at lower costs.”
I urge all parents to read Dr. Cantor’s consolidation plan on his website, www.martincantor.com. Click the publication link; the paper is at the bottom of the list.
Become familiar with all of the issues related to this topic. Deep cuts are on the horizon in all districts. Be informed, and decide for yourself what’s best for your children’s education!
NY schools chief eyes consolidation plan http://www.newsday.com/long-island/ny-schools-chief-eyes-consolidation-plan-1.3352428
Albany joins school-consolidation chorus http://www.newsday.com/opinion/albany-joins-school-consolidation-chorus-1.3354740
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