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R. J. Smith a. k. a "Still Working"

I can’t leave home today because our construction crew is installing doors in every room on the first floor of my house. When the levees broke following Hurricane Katrina, my house was flooded and stewed by 4 ½ feet of muddy, salt water for two weeks. All of the doors were off the hinges or warped and bloated when we were finally allowed to return, a month after the storm’s passing. It’s costing us $6,000 to replace them—with an upgrade. I included some fancy etched glass doors for my new home office and the front foyer. I’m determined to work from home more in 2008 and the setting will be ideal once everything is finished.

My friend Paulette Bruno is the Principal and CEO of Moton Elementary Charter School. Her school is one of 12 chartered by the New Orleans Public Schools. The program is unique in that the calendar is a 45:15 year-round schedule. We talk almost every day about school stuff even though our chartering agencies are different. She the one who nicknamed me “Still Working” because I work every day, in spite of my officially retired status. In return, I renamed her “Hard to Help” because she is strong willed and sets extremely high standards for anyone around her.

Since I’m stuck in the house, I decided that my work would be limited to tasks that make me happy. How hard can it be to plan fun activities for the school? Let’s start with the holiday calendar of events. We already have dates for the following list of activities.

December 7 – TCSA Door Decoration Contest
December 12 - Band Concert
December 13 - Basin St. Station Luncheon and Book Give-away
December 19 - Santa Pictures
December 19 - School Wide Winter Activity
December 20 - Classroom Winter Activity
December 20 - Distribution of Student Gifts
December 21 – Student Gift Lottery
December 21 - TCSA Holiday Party
December 21 - Distribution of Staff Gifts

I would like to use the holiday season and special events to create some positive public relations for McDonogh 42 Elementary Charter School and the Treme Charter School Association. Therefore, I want to publish a listing of all of the holiday related activities scheduled at the school for the month of December.

We need dates for several other activities including the Christmas Luncheon for Students –the Board has to purchase the ice cream; a Parent Holiday Gathering (5:00 - 7:00 p.m.); it's a Board activity; and a performance by students from Joseph S. Clark High School. Mr. Norvelt Estrella, the principal, offered to have his choir and dance group entertain our students.
I am also going to design the invitations for the Christmas party. We will be sending out Holiday greeting cards to all of the other schools and special donors, but I don’t have a roster with addresses. This is the kind of “work” I really like.

An email to the principal asked that she make sure our students have grade level Holiday Homework packets with real assignments and projects. One of our former superintendents did this with district designed packets for all schools. The teachers hated it. But, as a classroom teacher, I always looked forward to creating this type of thematic unit that allowed students to teach themselves. I found some cute mazes and puzzle sheets to share before I remembered that I was no longer a teacher (or a principal). Probably, our principal has already planned this project. Just in case she’s been too busy with a thousand other tasks, I suggested that the packets should include components such as the following:
• Spelling Bee Word List
• Writing Assignments
• Math Practice pages
• Social Studies Project
• Science Investigation
• Current Events Assignment
• Reading Assignment
• Study Guides for Exams (extra work for individuals who need more practice)

Our quarter ends on December 21 and the two-week winter break from December 24 – January 4 will mean fewer grades to compute for report cards. Teachers must prepare to grade these holiday assignments—it’s not busy work. The holiday packets should be distributed on December 20th. That’s the day of the class parties and student gift distribution so I know we’ll have good attendance and every child will get a copy. We will have quarterly exams as soon as the students return from the break. Teachers should develop their quarterly exams this week or on the weekend and prepare the study guides for the take-home packets. I am especially concerned about science and social concepts and math word problems for grades 3-8. We have a school improvement consultant who suggested that the students focus more on the writing process.

I took a break to drive uptown for some festive paper to use for our invitations and special announcements. Although it’s after 7:00 p.m. now, I’m “Still Working” and it’s fun.

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