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Dancing the Two-Step


This morning, I was thinking about the progress we’ve made in the past month. The New Year started off well for us at McDonogh 42 Elementary Charter School. We’ve been able to hire a bright, young man for our middle school math position. The students’ reception was positive at their first meeting. We’ve also hired a Special Education para to work with regular education teachers in classrooms that have students with special needs. We almost hired a second person as a para, but she got a better offer from RSD as a Math teacher, her area of concentration. Although she has a degree, she’s not certified yet and we must make every effort to hire certified teachers according to our charter agreement. We can’t honestly say that we’ve exhausted all possible sources until we advertise the vacancies in the newspaper.

Our new speech therapist is working very well. She has already screened quite a few children identified by the teachers. I expect that she will have a full schedule of students once all of the new students have been evaluated. She’s also working on compensating the students who have IEPs. She is making up their time lost in the first semester when speech services were not available.

We are finalizing the paperwork for our Social Worker, who will be with us full-time. She will report soon, but must give notice to her current employer before she can start working with us. Her work is cut out for her because we hope to offer Family Services in addition to meeting the needs of our students. Hopefully, she can assist with medical and mental health referrals for our families who are returning to New Orleans. There are lots of agencies offering assistance; we need someone to coordinate the resources and maintain contacts.

Just as I became gleeful about these new hires, this afternoon,I learned that one of our great teachers will be leaving for a new position with RSD. The central office position is a good opportunity/growth experience that pays about $5,000 more than the regular teacher salary. This teacher was in a similar position pre-Katrina, so I can’t be angry about the move [Good-bye and good luck, friend] , just disappointed. Good teachers are a valuable commodity here (and everywhere).We seem to be taking two steps forward and one step back in stabilizing our staff. How hard can it be to staff one school?

We made a decision to only hire people who were not already obligated to another local school. Although several teachers from different schools have inquired about transferring to our school, we have not hired anyone who is working at one of the RSD-operated schools or another charter school since September. I want to suggest that an agreement on teacher transfers be drafted among the charter schools to avoid the “musical chairs” that is going on with our teachers. This would not include promotions or new job categories. People must be allowed to move up in their careers or they will move out.

Our principal wants to hire someone as a Curriculum Coordinator. His first choice is a teacher(a former principal) who is currently teaching fourth grade in another part of the state. I wouldn't think about asking her to move before the high-stakes testing in March. I know she is anxious to get back on an administrative track. We can wait a little while; her fourth graders are short on time.

I think we should have a brief period—midyear—when transfers can occur. By now, we have listed the teachers on our state employee report, created budgets based upon their specific salaries and benefits, and turned away potential employees in favor of the ones we’ve hired. Yet, some teachers are willing to hopscotch from one school to another without any concern for the students they leave in a lurch. Even the lure of a contract that guarantees employment in an “at will” hiring environment does not always help.

This is not a new problem. Pre-Katrina when the district had 128 schools, we had a written agreement in our collective bargaining contract which prohibited the unorganized movement of staff that we are now experiencing in our multi-agency school districts. The state takeover and the subsequent opening of charter schools may seem unfriendly to union organizers. But, the lessons we learned when the teachers had a union should not be forgotten. We also had a time limit on when externally funded programs could cherry-pick our best teachers to move into central office positions. Too often we were left with inexperienced, and uncertified teachers because a newly funded federal program didn't start up until January.

We also need to make a better effort to recruit retired teachers who were forced out of work by the state takeover of 107 of our schools. Many people retired earlier than they had planned because they had no other income. The schools need them back. We have lots of incentives to draw out-of-state teachers to New Orleans. Maybe what we need now is an incentive to draw people out-of- exodus.


I understand that you had a wild day at school on Friday. So many fights and one of them involving almost 20 girls. You were in the building at the time but chose to ignore the chaos.

How will these almost daily fights affect your school's high stakes testing?

Funny, this kind of thing didn't occur with the former principal. But when she encouraged certain third floor teachers to be more proactive with discipline, they complained to you that she was "mean". You took their side, of course, and now their classes are chaotic and crazy. Very little learning takes place. You should visit one of them. This is a mess that you created. Talk about "having little concern for the students".

Wow! Cindy Lou, you were up early this morning to post your comment. I heard that we had a visitor at the school on Friday, so I’m not surprised about the post. You are correct that it was a chaotic afternoon for some of the middle school girls. Not surprisingly, there were no boys involved in the arguments. It paints an unbalanced picture, if you only report the negative or positive aspects of school life. Most of the classes are orderly and well behaved. I think they will perform well on the high stakes tests. It is unfair to the teachers and students to paint a picture of the school that is so negative.

I suppose you got there too late for the school wide book club presentation to the Pre-K through 1st grade students, the accompanying musical presentation or the storyteller who encouraged our youngest students to read and start a personal book collection. It was the third such event this school year. Now, every student has at least one hardcover book to start a personal library at home.

Since you commented on what you think I ignored on Friday, let me tell you what I did during the two hours I was in the school. I was at the building to co-sign checks for our monthly bills and to sign some documents required by the state department of education, However, I got there just as the lunch period ended. I believe that’s when the arguments began. As I signed in at the office counter, I talked to the one of the girls who was involved in a fight. She was being suspended, but didn’t seem to care, until I explained the possibility of expulsion. I heard loud voices as I walked into the corridor and pointed it out to the interventionist; she left to see what was going on immediately. I saw the administrative assistant whose office is on the third floor where the middle school grades are housed. He confirmed that it was a chaotic day (his words) and that there was something going on with the girls. It is not a new problem, but something that has been festering since October. He is also the school’s disciplinarian so I believe he knows.

I met with the principal who was in the process of signing suspensions for a few girls (no where near twenty). You were not in the room with us so you don’t know what I said or didn’t say. However, the principal had an emergency meeting with the middle school teachers at the end of the day. I visited three classes to encourage teachers to identify well-behaved students who were eligible for a special upcoming NBA event. I interrupted one group where a class meeting was being conducted as teachers discussed the behavior and class rules. They stopped long enough for me to tell them that the guidelines for the sports event prohibited many of them from participation because they had been suspended from school for their misbehaviors. Their teachers were not being mean when they didn’t give the offenders “one more chance” and a permission form to attend the game.

The middle school students present a special challenge. I understand that they have sleepovers and parties on the weekends. Any arguments or gossip that happen at these gatherings can spill over to the school. I hope that the social worker can address this with the parents when she starts next week. The controversy will affect their schooling. The eighth grade girls who have to take the high stakes tests this year are not as distracted as the seventh grade girls. The majority of these young ladies should be in high school, but have repeated grades or missed out on schooling for large periods of time. They are mature girls caught in an elementary school environment with very few age appropriate outlets. We have rules and consequences, but we also need rewards that are reinforcing for girls their age. That is a high priority, in my opinion.

It’s Mardi Gras time in the Crescent City and anyone with school experience will tell you that we frequently see an annual spike in misbehaviors when students attend night parades and celebrations on school days. It is especially prevalent with secondary students (or students that age in elementary schools). We will focus on the toughest groups starting next Thursday.

I believe that the absence of a school wide discipline plan in the first semester has resulted in the current state of affairs. It is unproductive to blame anyone, but we will take responsibility for everything. The teachers developed a school wide discipline plan near the end of December. If they implement the plan consistently, we should see the behavior improving.

Dr. Smith,

I assure you that I did not send the comment about the fights in the school. I read this blog regularly because I am very interested in your take on what is going on in the school and because I am concerned about the children. Yes I was in the school on Friday. I have been reluctant to enter the school since I was fired in December because the board member who called my cell phone to inform me that I was terminated also stated that if I needed to return to the school for any reason, I would need to inform the business manager of my intention so that she could meet me and handle the reason for my needed presence at the school. I took this to mean that unpleasant things would happen if I returned to the school without having some business need to be there.

My visit to the school

On Friday, I was invited by one of the staff to pick up some invites to the ZULU ball for that night. So I had a legitimate reason to be there. I did not want to create any problems, so I entered the school, greeted the guard with hugs, and signed the visitor’s roster at 3:00 PM, the time when the students would be leaving.

I called the staff member I was to meet and was told that I needed to wait about 10 to 15 minutes. I decided to walk through the school to the exit gate where my students would be. My pulse was very fast with the anticipation of a reunion with my students. Several teachers stopped me and asked with happiness and a bit of excitement on their faces if I was back. I tried to be polite and say something to each teacher, but the last teacher I had to talk to her while running and looking back at her and saying that I had to see my kids.

As I reached the door to the yard that leads to the exit gate, I met face to face with one of my girls. Her face lit up with excitement and she wanted to talk, I said that I wanted to catch up to the other students at the gate. She took my arm and we walked out into the yard and towards the gate like square dancers promenading with smiles on our faces. Other students who were already out the gate came running when they saw us and I was mobbed by about ten students.

It was a great reunion and I felt both happiness and sadness. My kids were asking if I was coming back. They then said that they needed me to finish teaching them the Math. They said that they did not like the new teacher. I told them that every person has a different style and that the new teacher just has a different style, that they should give him a chance. I told them that ultimately they needed to get from this new teacher what they needed to pass the standardize test (LEAP test) coming in March.

How I developed such a close relationship with the students

I wrote in an earlier comment about me getting parents involved in the solving the behavior problems in my class. This strategy worked well because all parents want their children to do well, and because I showed these parents that I was not interested in putting their children out of school. I showed the parents and the kids that I was willing to give extra effort to keeping their children in school where I could influence them and teach them.

I started giving the students little bite sized pieces of success in my class. I showed them how to understand the Math problems not just to get an answer. I related the Math to their everyday experiences. I also extended their experiences to my experiences by discussing how I applied these various Math principles and concepts in my engineering career, in my bakery business and in my Subway franchises. I told them of some of my experiences growing up on welfare in the projects in New Orleans. They were amazed when I told them that I too failed a grade in school and that I was embarrassed, but decided that I would be the best in the rest of all my classes.

On days when the weather prevented PE classes, and the students were going to just sit in a relatively small cafeteria until the next class, I was there to take them back into my class and explore more discussions on how the Math concepts we were applied, and to cover new sections and chapters in the text. When other teachers were absent, I was there with my kids to further explore Math.

I got these students to buy in to the fact that nobody was better than they are and that they could do as well as anybody could. Our relationship became much like a football coach with his players. A coach is often able to get into a students face and demand performance from a student. I demanded performance and I praised them when they gave it.

I continually reminded them of the LEAP test looming in March 08. I checked into how a student who has failed a grade can apply to take a test to be put into their correct grade. I gave this information to the students and told them that they could actually be put into their correct grade (with hard work and better behavior). I was in their faces demanding performance and pointing out the possibilities.

My method to getting 100% to pass the LEAP test was to cover all of the subject matter by the Christmas break and then to go into more depth as reviews of the concepts until time to take the LEAP. We were able to cover about 90% of the text book by Christmas. When I announced that we had covered 90% of what we needed to cover for the LEAP test and that we would essentially be reviewing until March the students were startled. I asked them if anything we covered had been too difficult for them to understand and if it was too difficult to demonstrate their understanding on the LEAP test. They all said in amazement, “No!!”. All agreed that they could do it.

I believe that all but four of my students were headed for passing this LEAP test, and that six were going to reach advanced. I had plans for the special four students. I was going to work with them starting in January by tutoring them individually before school and after, and any other time such as rainy day PE and other opportunities. I believe I was going to reach 100% passing of the LEAP.

I have been primarily a coach and a Math teacher second.

I have told that I will be hired in March in the engineering position that will be very exciting for me. I am still available to assist my kids if you will have me at your school. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE allow me to help the new teacher bring my kids to peak at the right time for this test.

Mr. Peaden

Thank you for your insightful comments on a formula for success. The details on "How I developed such a close relationship with the students" are lessons for any teacher who wants to touch students in a meaningful way. I hope the students reach the goals in your dream.

Congratulations on you new employment opportunity. Your successful business endeavors (engineering career, bakery business and Subway franchises) are inspirational to students who live in poverty but want to have brighter futures. I believe you are concerned about our students.

We have hired a young math teacher to teach full-time. He has similar high hopes for their achievements. Some of the students bonded immediately. It will take more time for others who are worried that he is a substitute who might also leave them. I have high hopes for him and his seventh and eighth grade students.

You were not the only visitor on Friday, Mr. Peaden. I do appreciate your assurance that the negative post was not yours. It would have been uncharacteristic of the man I think you are. I hope you continue reading the blog and commenting. You will learn about our philosophical shift that requires a curriculum coordinator in lieu of a math consultant/teacher as we work more closely with the Region 1 office of the LDE.

Although you are a former employee, I will not discuss your personal employment issues in this public forum. It violates one of the policies by which I publish. Honestly, I am a little surprised about your take on the turn of events which make me leery about the future of a productive relationship. However, if you truly want to offer ways you can assist the math teacher with his students, you should email me using the link on this site. If you want to talk, give me a call.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Roslyn: Thank you for your insightful comments on a formula for read more
  • Harold Peaden: Dr. Smith, I assure you that I did not send read more
  • Roslyn: Wow! Cindy Lou, you were up early this morning to read more
  • Cindy Lou: I understand that you had a wild day at school read more



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