Monday, November 24, 2008


As I've said before, I like Unfortunately my attempt at directing readers to a group of BCPSS projects that I selected was a total failure. I'm thinking the issue was that I just didn't have a catchy-enough concept going. Plus, this blog is anonymous, and who wants to sign on with someone that they can't see? So my idea is to link you to someone with a catchy theme and pictures and some deserving projects. The theme is Mustaches 4 Kids - Baltimore and the dude with pictures is Nick "Oates (not Hall)" Greer and his projects are here. If this guy is willing to embarrass himself with a rather, how shall I say... sketchy... mustache, I think it's the least we can do to pitch in towards the projects that he's selected.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Some Justice

I posted this spring about a teacher in St. Lucie County Florida who had her class of kindergarteners vote on whether a 5 y.o. presumably autistic child should be allowed to stay in their class after he stood and listened to why they didn't like him.

It turns out that the school board has suspended the teacher without pay for a year as detailed in this story. I found it kind of encouraging until the end where the mom was saying she felt she had to homeschool her son because of how bad he feels about the incident.

I guess there is some level of justice to be found here, but the root cause of the problem is that a teacher with so little understanding and training about special needs kids was allowed to teach this class. I would feel better if the story had included a statement about how the district was going to prevent this from ever happening again. As it is, I just worry more about my special one and what's lies in his/her future.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Things that wear me out

  1. Teenagers, adolescents and the hormonal/emotional roller coaster that they are on
  2. Bureaucracies that eat up records requiring me to check that everything has made it to everyone who is supposed to have this information
  3. Important enrichment activities outside of the school day that require modifying my work schedule, split second timing to avoid being late and too much time in my car
  4. High stakes tests/classes that will have big impacts on my kids futures that I have to just sit back and watch
  5. The alternation of "things are going very well" with "there are big problems here" with little or no warning of the change coming up
  6. Staying up late to watch election results
  7. The seemingly endless list of things that I, as an involved parent, should contribute time/money/energy to that I actually do care about and can't blow off, even if it kills me
  8. Waking up before the alarm goes off because I'm thinking about all this
  9. Almost forgot my favorite...washing machines that forget they're supposed to turn off if unbalanced, walk across the hall, smash into a wall and then fry their little brains, thereby forcing me to sit in a laundromat because the repair-person can't come for 4 days and then has to order a part that will take 3 more days which the stinking diagnostic code said he'd need to get, but he couldn't decide to do that until he had actually come out to see the machine...lovely.

That being said, I am beat. I know wishing away your life is a bad idea, but the Thanksgiving break can't come soon enough.

That sounded a lot like whining. Something positive? The special one is making eye contact, socializing more and disrupting the class less. That makes me smile even if I am half asleep :-)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What's the deal?

Anybody else think it's a strange that a single network (CBS) has two prime time shows (11th Hour and Numbers) on two consecutive nights (Thursday and Friday) where the main guest character is autistic? I just noticed this as I was watching adds last night. I hadn't been searching the information out and I haven't seen anything on other blogs. Is autism the flavor of the month? Why didn't anyone tell me?

Visibility is great and all, and I have no idea what these stories will be about, but I'm not really up for being inundated about the "tragedy" of autism. My kid's day to day life, or for that matter our family's life, is not a tragedy. There's a lot of unique, quirkiness that could make for interesting stories. Maybe that will be the theme of these stories. I guess I'll try to watch (even though these are shows I've never or seldom seen), just to have a first hand opinion. Hopefully this won't piss me off.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The debate and special education

Admittedly it was the last question of the last debate, but finally there's some talk about education in the presidential debates. And they even talked about autism and special education! Maybe I already had my mind made up, but McCain said nothing to give me pause, while Obama continued to say what I wanted to hear.

I first got put off when McCain wanted to say his ticket was the one that could speak up for special needs kids because his running mate has a child with Downs Syndrome. Sorry, that's not enough to be given a blank check to speak for me or my autistic child. I find myself way-annoyed with quite a few autie-parents who feel like they can speak for me. We're not a uniform crowd. And to imply every parent of a special needs kid knows just what I'm going through is insulting. Pandering is the word that comes to mind.

And then he segued into autism and he really lost me. Another politician who thinks supporting autistics is all about a cure and wiping out autism while at the same time talking about the tragedy of our kids. Yuck! Just because you've read the 1 in 150 statistic about autism doesn't mean that you get my vote for mentioning autism while never showing any such concern when there were bills before you. I'm not sure what to make of "the American people opening up their wallets", but I can't imagine that means that autistic kids will be guaranteed meaningful, inclusive education.

Finally, holding up an infant at rally after rally, as Ms. Palin does, is dehumanizing to Trig and disturbing to me. I don't hide my kid's disability in shame, but I also don't use it as some sort of card that lets me get into a club. I have no idea why any parent of a Down's child feels energized by these displays. But, as I said, special needs parents are not a very uniform group.

And what did Obama say that gave me hope? He said that the federal government would need to provide funding for educational mandates. He said that he agreed with the idea that our schools must provide education for the disabled, but that without the funding this was an unfair burden for our schools. And he said he supported charter schools, but not vouchers for private education. Pretty much 100% in line with my feelings. I wish he could have had the time to talk about autism, but what he did say I liked. On his website, here, his position on disabilities is about respect, inclusion and support. Again, he's 100% in line with my feelings.

Can't ask for much more than that.

The high school challenge

The transition to high school continues to be a challenge for both the HSS (high school student) and me. It's not the fit of the school. In fact, the HSS seems to be glowing about the course content and the fellow student in classes. The problems are more related to the amount of responsibility that these kids are supposed to take on and inversely the lack of any way that I can figure out how to support/help the HSS in growing into this responsibility.

A couple of examples:
  • I've tried informally emailing a teacher with an idea of how a 504 plan that had worked in one school might be transition into the new school. Definitely a non-confrontational email saying that I wanted the HSS to learn to take responsibility, but maybe we could help? No response. I asked the HSS to talk to the teacher and it seemed clear to me that the teacher wanted to work this out with the student and felt my input wasn't needed.
  • This PSAT day was bewildering for me. Some schools were giving it to 100% of the students, ours was not giving it to 9th graders who were supposed to stay home for the morning. This information was given out in one handout that somehow the HSS didn't get or lost. Nothing on the website besides "10/15 is PSAT day". No newsletter. The BCPSS calendar very clearly states early release days for teacher conferences and for HS mid-terms and finals. Nothing about PSATs listed there.

I know that eventually the HSS will need to be way more organized, but right now we aren't there. I guess that means that I've got to figure out how give support - I've got no clue on how to at the moment, beyond trying to talk to other parents at the school more often. It's a learning experience for both of us.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What should a "good involved parent" do?

OK, here's my dilemma. I've got a kid who's been without a teacher in a core class for at least half of the seven weeks school has been in session. That means for several weeks in a row they've been doing "sub work", which as far as I can tell means doing homework at school. On one hand I really want my kid to learn in this class both for the current work and for the work that will come in the future that is based on what they should have learned. On the other hand I understand the problems of staffing and the need to be flexible and supportive of staff that has personal/health issues. I am hesitant to call up the school and complain, because I understand that there's a very fine line between involved parent and overbearing one.

This doesn't seem to be an isolated occurrence in BCPSS schools. Between the three kids I'd say that one of them has a long term substitute every year or two. Staffing is difficult and people's lives are complicated, so I guess this is to be expected, but it seems like this adds up to a lot of wasted time in school.

So what's the right thing for me to do? The kid isn't complaining - given that there's is much less work going on that's not surprising. Eventually I suppose there will be an actual teacher in this subject, but honestly I don't know when. I guess I could call just to find out if they know the answer to that.

Update 10/23/08

As of this week there's a new teacher. I ended up not calling the school since I wasn't sure what was happening. I'm afraid that there will be a lot of catching up to do, but the word from the HSS is that the new teacher is "cool", so I'll be optimistic that they will learn what they should this year.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On the spectrum

Last week I posted about being told there were three types of autistic kids, and that knowing which type they were you knew how to deal with them. I've already expressed how annoying I found that.

Yesterday, I filled out a form where I had to check one of two boxes to describe my special child. The idea was if you were autistic you were either - "Asperger’s (high functioning)" or "Low functioning". For those who don't know, Asperger’s is a diagnosis on the autism spectrum characterized by no language delays, but lots of socialization delays/deficits. My kid has very limited expressive language so Asperger’s is wrong, but there is no way I'd say "low functioning". As far as I'm concerned low functioning gives people an excuse to not try to engage with an autistic person. The thinking goes, if they're low functioning there's much intellegence. There are a lot of people who prove this to be wrong (check out this blog). I'd never label my kid as "low functioning", so I checked other and wrote what I could in a text limited box.

I'm not a person who sees much meaning in luck and patterns, but I think if the same issue comes up repeatedly in your life you need to state a position that lets you deal with it in a consistent fashion. Here is mine: We need to abolish these little boxes that we're supposed to sort our autistic children into. I hate this low functioning / high functioning dichotomy. I refuse to sign on to there being three types of autism (true autism, atypical autism and Asperger’s). Life, and especially the autism spectrum, is much more about shades of grey. My preference would be to say autistic or not and if you need more data than that expect at least a couple of sentences. I think we, as parents of autistic kids, do them a disservice when we label them with one or two words (especially high or low functioning), because people have an image of what that means and almost always it's way off base.

So, my kid's on the spectrum. If you want to know more than that expect a long answer.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Exit strategy

I forced myself to watch the presidential debates tonight. Generally these debates makes me crazy - I've already made up my mind and I can't imagine anything being said that would change my opinion. I felt obliged to watch though, mainly because I wanted to be able to get all the jokes on the Saturday Night Live parody. In watching I've made a decision. If McCain wins I'm moving myself and my family to France. Drastic? yes. Silly? probably. But in the end it's the only way I think I could deal with the shame I would feel in being American, the only way I could think of to totally disassociate myself from the US and everything American.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Donors Choose

I like The projects are small and personal and I feel a direct connection with the students and teachers of the projects that I've supported. There's a blogger's challenge at Donor's Choose that I've decided to support. If you look at the right sidebar of this blog you'll see a widget that should take you a page of BCPSS projects that I've selected. Give it a look. If you don't like the projects I've selected, pick your own, but I encourage you to give to Baltimore's schools.

Ya learn something new everyday

So, guess what I learned at the last IEP I went to. There are three types of autism! Who knew? And all this time they've been talking about a spectrum. Hopefully the dripping sarcasm comes across, because this kind of crap really ticks me off.

This statement was from a supposed expert who's had training. That has got to make you ask what sort of bozos are giving training. I started asking said expert what the three types were (black, white and oriental, or overweight, underweight and average or perhaps something more cryptic like red, green or blue?), but when he/she said they couldn't remember I figured I'd better drop the subject quick before I got mad and brought the meeting to a screeching halt. As prevalent as autism is you'd think that BCPSS could have some half-way decent training. And what do you want to bet that they paid good money for some supposed expert to yammer on about all sorts of outdated and disproved ideas about autism? Honestly, that kind of misinformation is worse than no training at all.

I don't want to give the impression that the meeting went badly. There was a lot of open and honest conversation. That was pretty refreshing. No bombshells were dropped - that was what kept me from getting a good sleep the night before. There were some creative solutions to problems offered. All in all, a pretty good IEP meeting. And the above mentioned expert came late and left early, another big plus for me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Couldn't we just talk this through?

So, for the last two or three weeks I've been getting these recorded calls from BCPSS. Typically tape recorded phone calls are an immediate hang-up for me, but given that I was getting the same call day after day I eventually got the message - my child was out of date on shots and was going to be kicked out of school. I should contact their school directly.

Well...first off I've got three kids so saying my child is not really all that helpful. All three have been in school with no shot issues for at least four years. We're pretty good at filling out those stupid emergency contact forms in triplicate, so there should be no problem reaching us. So no calls directly from any school. I randomly picked one school/child and asked them how being out of date for shots would work. Would they just tell a kid to leave school one day? I was told that no, we would be contacted by mail first. That actually the mail should have come before any call. maybe the tape recording machine is just messed up. Nobody has said anything to us or our kids at any school. The shots are good for all three of them. So fine, I just started ignoring the phone calls. Then, finally one of the schools says we've got a problem - no vericella vaccine of the youngest. Well...actually none have had vericella shots since all of them had chickenpox. Somehow that was good enough for two of them, but not the last one. And it was good enough last year, but not this year. Finally between the pediatrician and the school office personnel spending lots of time reasoning with North Ave. it gets straightened out.

Too much stress and drama for all parties, if you ask me. Just a little direct communication when this all started is all it would have taken.

Monday, September 22, 2008

An interesting blog

I found this blog on Slate. It's called Schoolhouse Rock.

The blogger is Paul Tough. To quote from the blog:

Paul Tough is an editor at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest To Change Harlem and America, published this month. He has been writing about schools, poverty, and inequality for several years, including an article in the Times Magazine in 2004 about the Harlem Children's Zone that evolved into Whatever It Takes. He has also written about the achievement gap and charter schools, about Ruby Payne's theory of class struggle, and, last month, about the effort to remake the school system in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Fascinating reading.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Back-to-school night x3

So, we've completed three back to school nights. There were some late nights, but I feel pretty uplifted. With a few exceptions, the teachers were there and excited to see us parents. I really love seeing enthusiastic teachers, and I assume they're at least that psyched when they're in front of my kids. Hopefully all three kids now qualify as having involved, but not obnoxious, parents. After signing lots of sign-in sheets, I hope the teachers are getting some sort of brownie points for parent participation. I know the schools will be judged, and hopefully there's some sort of trickle-down to the teachers.

It was nice to meet the teachers, but there were a few parents I could have done without. I know that I should feel a sort of solidarity, but some of them were just too annoying. When you're in a big meeting how about turning off, or at least muting, your cell phone? Also, I could have done without the stories of older siblings in the same class and blah, blah, blah. Really, do some people's lives have so few outlets for public speaking that a school meeting seems the perfect place for a soliloquy?

But, besides being long, I loved meeting the multitude of teachers that my kids spend so much time with. We've made it through the first four weeks of the school year, and I'm thinking maybe this will be a good year. Here's hoping so.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

High school is... different

Transitions are always hard, so maybe this one to high school isn't all that unique. To know if that's true would require more perspective than what I've got down here in the trenches. From here it feels like I've thrown the HSS (high school student) out on their own into a vast unknown. I have absolutely no idea what high school is like beyond the fuzzy memories I have of about 30 years ago. I think we qualify as involved parents, but in high school involved parents don't seem to be wanted in the school so much. Being in the school was how I got my glimpses of what it was like in elementary and middle school years. Now...I've got no glimpses at all.

I know that they're not little kids anymore - which is a refrain I've heard for probably 10 years. Given their level of physical maturity I guess I have to agree to some extent. School is now something I support from more of a distance. I suspect I'll have few, if any, first hand impressions of what the school day is like. I've tried discussing it with the HSS and have heard that it's scary, harder then middle school, exciting...but no real picture has formed in my head.

So, I'll meet some teachers at the back to school activities and I'll keep asking questions. Slowly the HSS will become a mature and independent being. I suppose that's the big goal in the parenting job description, but I think we're not quite there yet.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A "Touching Story" about an autistic boy ...?

Being as intimately involved with autism as I am, I follow most of the news. In the stories that have to do with life (as opposed to scientific or often pseudo-scientific studies), the main thing that draws me is how they portray the lives of those with autism and their families - to see how they match what we have experienced, either first or second hand.

This brings me to the story that made headlines in TV and newspapers a few days ago. You can find it here. Basically, a father and son are swept out to sea after going for a swim at the beach. The father tried to stay with the boy, but after many hours they got separated. A lucky find by some fishermen and the dad was rescued. A few hours later the boy was picked up in the area by the coastguard. It's a story of good fortune and two people's determination to survive.

What gets me is the gratuitous nature of the emphasis the press has put on the boy's autism. That's always in the headline. But, I've yet to see any way that has been tied to the story, in a positive or negative way. Was the boy a better swimmer because his autism let him focus on swimming for 15 hours? No. Was the dad unable to stay with his son because his autism kept him from allowing him to make contact? No. Had the rescuers said it would have been easier to locate him if he had been more verbal? No. There was nothing in the story that made his autism even remotely relevant.

Let's try replacing autism with national origin. An Italian-American father and son were swimming at the beach... how absurd. Look, I'm all in favor of autism awareness, but I'm not sure that just saying a kid is autistic really raises awareness in any meaningful way. Meaningful awareness requires understanding of ways that we are the same or ways that we are different. This story was all about touching your heart. Is it more or less touching because the boy had autism?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The honeymoon…it is over

With a crash, the veneer of optimism has fallen off to reveal yet another year of hard work and challenges.

It started with an assignment that the special one just wasn’t up for. What would be a no-brainer for the neuro-typical crowd was a brick wall for my kid. We just don’t have that level of expressive language. You can ask questions and get simple answers, but the blank slate of "what-questions" was too much. Much frustration ensued on all sides with a lack of understanding about how something that seems so simple, for a kid that is obviously so smart, can be so hard. Then I saw a general level of frustration and I started to wonder about the choice to push for an inclusive education instead of staying in a segregated special ed school.

A few minutes later, with a different kid, and I found out that the no melt-down streak was over. I started wondering what was going on when frustration with homework seemed out of line. After a little detective work I found out that at school there had been a misunderstanding about a homework assignment, leading to a frustrated teacher and said kid being singled out in the class with threats of detention. That in turn led to the shame of tears in the classroom. I was left trying to calm a once again crying kid that was groaning “What the hell is the matter with me…”

Then, the cherry on top – the 3rd kid was too sick to go to school the next morning. I gave the “tough it out” response to “my stomach doesn’t feel good” until vomit was involved. I guess I should have pushed for phone contacts in each class to get homework assignments earlier.

All I have to say is BLAH!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Parental school year resolutions

OK, so we've had a fairly successful first week of school, which turned out to be stress-relieving after I had been worrying all summer. We've had our glorious 3 day weekend where I could catch up on housework and laundry (3 kids wearing tan pants every school day for like...forever). Eight million forms and handouts have been examined and signed and filled out. So far, so good.

Now it's time to hunker down and get ready for the long haul of this school year. As a parent, I have a fair number of things I'm responsible for. Some of these I've done every year since I've been a parent of a kid in school (or pre-school for that matter), and some are new goals based on new situations or past problem areas.
  • Become a member, pay dues and make a donation to all of the schools' parent organization groups.
  • Go to all the back to school nights and make sure all teachers involved with my kids understand there are involved parents that can help out. Usually there's no time for interaction at these things and generally they seem to just go over the class rules hand-outs that I've already seen, but all the same, one or both of us will be there.
  • Find out policies on 504/IEPs at new schools and make sure communication is open and in a positive tone.
  • Get a calendar with all school, extra-curricular, holiday, BSO tickets etc marked and keep it accurate through the year as activities get added.
  • Make sure kids have phone numbers for classmates to get homework or arrange social activities.
  • Establish some sort of order for at home school supplies. Throw out dried out markers and broken crayons. Make it so everybody involved knows where the hole-punch, stapler, scissors etc are located and keep them put away.
  • Touch base every day with each child about how school is going. Find out favorite and least favorite teachers and why, who the kids they pal around with are, how they feel they are doing grade-wise, what interaction are they having with school administrators, what's the vibe like in the hallways...
  • Have a folder for each kid to collect all the handouts, announcements, newsletters, printed out emails that are sent home. Make copies of major assignment and keep them here as well. We've had way to much stress finding papers in the morning before going to school.
  • Do notebook checks, including looking at homework logs to make sure they're in order and getting filled out. I'll take a look every day, but I'm going to enforce cleaning out and ordering every week. This might be a stretch goal since I have trouble keeping my own files in order.
  • Although not directly tied to school, get some sort of physical activities going regularly for me and the kids. Between the membership at the league, the trampoline and other stuff in the backyard, the park and the dog in need of walks and the new favorite - the wii fit - this shouldn't be that difficult. It's just a matter of making a commitment.

There's probably more, but that's what comes to mind at the moment.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Week one

Well, we made it through the week and I, for one, am fairly psyched. We've avoided any melt-downs this time. I'm thinking this is a combination of little ones toughening up a bit, preparation for the transition of the special one, and this set of teachers not feeling the need to start of the year with the harshness that has started some years with tears. I'm not sure if this is a new philosophy or just good luck on our part, but I'd like to think it bodes well for the year to come. Maybe something related to the training about establishing a good atmosphere in the classroom? You never know for sure, but I choose optimism about BCPSS as a starting point for the year.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Again and again and again and again...

Not to be a jerk, but can someone please tell me why I have to fill out 3 duplicates of emergency contact/medical information every year for each kid? And certainly not electronically so that I can just hit print three times, no it has to be on the stupid card stock index card thing. Every year, even though the information has never changed. Every year, even when they are staying at the same school. It's a small thing I guess, but it bugs me. I pretty much do everything on PCs and I have gotten used to copy and paste operations. It would seem to be bad for the school as well - can they really read every one's handwriting? Do they toss out all the cards from every year? That's a lot of paper that they could be putting to better use I would think. Sorry...I'll stop whining now.

I'm guessing that some of this frustration is more about the level of stress that we're all under at the beginning of this school year. There are big transitions and a lot of things that you can't help with as kids get bigger. You stand back, you watch and you hope like crazy. Oh, and being that's how I'm wired, I worry and have flashes of all sorts of worst case scenarios.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Twas the night before the first day of school...

OK, so 2 out of 3 start tomorrow. Got the backpacks together, check. Uniforms together, check. Stuff to pack lunches, check. So, somehow two different schools that start and end at the exact same time, and one parent doing the drop-off/pick-up. Well... somehow everything works out in the end. I know life would be easier if they were doing the MTA thing, but I'm just not comfortable with that. I remember the rowdiness on the bus when I was in school about 25 years ago. I have a hard time imagining that things would be better these days. So... rushing around in the morning and the evening is a given. No use over-thinking it I guess. Anyway, time for bed and setting the alarm for the first time in several months. Ughhhhh. Wish us all luck.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Bad blogger, bad

Apologies for being so bad about posting lately. Somehow this end part of the summer is tough. Right now we're in the gap - camps, goodbye to old schools, getting through the summer assignments, getting out of the city and the yearly amusement park trip. I'm trying to relax, but I keep on picturing the coming school year. I'm pretty nervous about it, actually. Three kids in three schools leads to logistical nightmares. We were there two years ago, but last year it was just two schools. Don't forget extra-curricular activities and homework when you picture the chaos.

Then there's the concept of having a kid in high school that's just about killing me. I don't know if I'm ready for dates and college applications. I remember being in high school. And my mom? She was old, really, really old. And what does that make me? Plus the special one is going back into general education. That's a tremendous transition for everyone involved. And it was only a few years ago we were transitioning the other way. Learning together to live together sounds right to me, but that doesn't keep me from being anxious.

It would be a lot more comfortable if everybody could just stay put for a few years. Alas, that's not the way it goes in the parenting business. That reminds me of a joke I heard about fourteen years ago (new babe in arms): Ask a parent about what's great right now in their kid's development. After they tell you respond, "Don't worry, they'll grow out of it." So there you have it - kids grow, schools change, teachers change, PTAs change. Love it or hate it, it will change. I've got a few weeks, but then it's time to keep plodding through and learning on the job.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Kids play a part too

MSA test score gains are something we can all feel good about, but let's remember everybody chips in. And where the graphite hits the paper is in the students' hands. When you look at extraordinary scores, you can see them travel with the group of students. That shows that individual kids can make a difference.

Certainly individual teachers and principals can make a difference as well, and since they have an impact on many students they can make a big difference. Principals get recognition (and bonuses in some cases I believe) when test scores make AYP for their schools. I think that teachers get recognition for MSA tests results, though I'm not sure. Hopefully, if a teacher consistently has classes with good MSA grades they would be told and would be asked to share what they are doing with other teachers. If I've got that wrong, let me know.

But the students get no recognition. Test results are sent home and parents may or may not make a big deal over the results, but there are no school awards. In my experience, when kids get good grades or have good attendance they get recognized in assemblies and with certificates. When they do well on the MSA, there are no such recognitions. I suppose there are some kids that this recognition could back-fire with (they don't want to be labeled as geeks or something), but for most I would think this would be positive. Maybe there would even be some surprises if MSA scores were acknowledged. I've seen awards for taking the MSA, but nothing for the results. Why?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Being a Special Parent

When you've got a special needs child I think the parenting you need to do, to advocate for that child, makes you pretty special too. So after some heavy-duty stress on that front, I have decided, I'm a special parent. Not necessarily better or worse, or even harder working. My job description is just different from the general population's parents.

So here's my special education rant. I'll work hard to keep it general and refrain from any attacks, but it's been frustrating.

We special parents (and I haven't been elected spokesperson, but I think these are generally held opinions) don't want anything all that different for our kids than what typical parents want. We want happy kids that are in learning environments, reaching towards their potential to become contributing members of society. We don't want our kids isolated from the world, but we want them to be safe and happy. Optimistically, we want our schools to show us that they will care for our kids academically, socially and emotionally in the least restrictive setting we can find.

Here comes the rant...Why when we go to this less restrictive setting are our kids penalized? When a child (and their parents) takes a risk to go to a less restrictive, more challenging setting, the government needs to give them extra support. What I see is an attitude on the order of "if you think you can make it in a less restrictive setting you don't need our support." It's an absolute Catch-22. In a restrictive setting we don't need extra services. The school day is filled with as much of that as can be tolerated. We could have supplemental services, but we didn't need them. In a less restrictive setting there aren't as many services during the day. To be able to make it in that situation we need to supplement services, but now that we need them we can't have them.

Let me try to state this more generally because I'm talking about a mindset and not a specific problem. Growth requires risks and the occasional failure. Special needs kids need to be encouraged to take these risks. If we set it up so that they are punished, by losing supports when they take a risk, the result is going to be stagnation.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

2008 MSA Test Results

The results are in and, whooo-hooo, BCPSS moved up!! Both relative to the state and in an absolute sense BCPSS is moving up. I'm not sure if MSA's are the be-all and end-all that they are made out to be, but the BCPSS's failings on this test have been used to prove how bad we're doing so I say, why not use our success as an excuse to say "uh-huh, in your face!"

You can look at the results here and join in a discussion about them at Inside Ed here.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A question for BCPSS employees

After reading a comment on Inside Ed here (it always seems I start my posts this way...) I'm confused about how things work in the BCPSS. The comment was about many teachers receiving non-renewal letters because they weren't certified when in fact they were certified, but that North Ave. hadn't processed the paperwork in over a year.

My question is about the management responsibilities in BCPSS. The structure seems similar to my corporation's in that there are local leaders (in BCPSS the department heads, assistant principals, principals) and corporate leaders (North Ave. staff). We also have training requirements that come down from corporate. What's different is that our local leadership helps us meet corporate requirements. Let me make up an example to illustrate what I mean. Say we need to have ESD (electro-static discharge) training to continue to test boxes and meet our quality procedures. This training might be done on-line. Let's say the system doesn't record me finishing my training, even though I did it (perhaps a computer glitch). I would talk to my boss (or maybe my boss's boss) and let them deal with it. They've got schedules that count on me being able to test boxes, so they will make sure that any problems get fixed before my certification goes up. Also, if the system didn't work for me, there are probably other people in the same situation. It's more efficient for a local leader to fix the problem once than for each lower level person to individually work on the problem. Wouldn't the school's administration feel the same way about teachers being terminated for not getting certified when in fact they were certified?

Updated 7/15

From the comments being posted, I guess I wasn't being clear. I think that a big part of the problem in the situation of certifications falling through the cracks is that the school administration isn't standing up for their people the way that a good boss should. I'm not saying that HR isn't messed up in this situation, but if your principal values you as a teacher they ought to go to bat for you in this situation. They are higher up the food-chain and they should have more clout. If they're unwilling to use some of their influence standing up for their staff then I would be more angry with them then the faceless bureaucrats of HR.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

You've got to accentuate the positive

After reading an article on Inside Ed about a grant for W.E.B. DuBois high school here, I've got to comment on the idea of rewarding schools (or students, or districts for that matter) for having problems. I understand that when you come from a deficit you need extra help, and I've got no problem with that. What I have a problem with is rewarding those who emphasize and dwell on their problems, or worse, punish those who make progress in spite of starting in a bad situation. I'm not saying that's the case with W.E.B. DuBois, I just wonder about singling them out.

The neighborhood of the first BCPSS school we attended was economically diverse, but they knew they would get money for the school by being Title I. After I complained about a change made to our free lunch form, which moved us from not qualifying to qualifying, it was made pretty clear that our presence at the school wasn't appreciated.

In the Special Ed arena it seems that focusing on and emphasizing a child's needs are the only way to get the services to help them succeed. Then, if they start doing well, you have to downplay those triumphs and talk about failures or those services will get taken away. As a parent of a special needs child, I know that I need to focus on the positive for every-one's mental health. I dread the doom and gloom that descends after these meetings.

I know that W.E.B. DuBois can benefit from this grant. Mentor programs and work opportunities are great, but if the school becomes "safer" will they deserve these programs less? And what about other schools who wish they could have these same programs? It seems that they will have to get more "dangerous"... is that what we should be shooting for?

Monday, June 30, 2008

New Principals

An interesting article in the Baltimore Sun here says there will be about 45 new principals by the start of the new year. This is up from the approximately 30 new principals last year. I guess this could just be normal blip in attrition, but I'll bet that the new structure is a big factor.

I wonder how the new funding structure is causing this turnover increase. Since the metrics for success haven't been finalized, I can't imagine these principals are failing to adjust and being asked to leave. Is this an indication that these principals aren't interested in trying their hands at increased autonomy? I know that in general people are resistant to change and this kind of massive change might encourage principals to quit or retire early, but I would think, that people who have decided they want to be in charge of a school, would want the power to make their school better. The idea of these changes is to give the principals more power. Is that something that these principals don't believe?

The idealistic part of me is saddened that so many people would quit before giving the new structure a good try. Certainly it's chaotic and scary, but challenges are what makes us grow. In reality, I'm sure the politics that I'm not aware of make it a much more complicated decision. All I know is, that as a parent, quitting or retiring is not really an option. So, I choose to be optimistic that these changes will improve BCPSS overall, and I'll keep working with the schools that we're involved with to try to make it work.

Monday, June 16, 2008


There's been some talk on Inside Ed that the budget reforms aren't respectful of the principals, or that the staffing cuts at North Avenue aren't respectful of the people who work there. I'm not sure respect is the issue here. It seems though, that respect means different things to different people.

Respect is one of the buzzwords of the moment. At work we have training in how to be respectful of co-workers. I listened to a fascinating interview with some BCPSS students on violence at the CEM website here. I was struck that they saw a major source of friction as being acts of disrespect. In this context respect is more about fearing someone than holding them in high regard.

From my point of view, and I know this sounds trite, respect (the high regard kind) is earned, not instituted. Rules for actions that are related to saving your neck or your job don't equal respect. Rules from above about politeness (no name calling, no interrupting or yelling, etc) can make the environment less hostile, but that politeness doesn't mean there's respect involved.

In that light here's my reaction to the idea that we should be respectful of those who's jobs are being shook up by changes in the BCPSS. The implication is that the changes should be slower and more careful so that feelings aren't hurt. In nine years I have never once heard a respectful statement from a teacher about "North Ave." I've heard polite statements, less polite statements and lots of silence, but never a comment about how much North Ave. helps in the classroom or in any other way. Since my interaction with North Ave. is limited I have no reason to argue with them about how they should feel towards North Ave. I have also gotten the impression from these same teachers that North Ave. doesn't respect them. This usually has something to do with training that they don't find beneficial or paperwork that they don't think is necessary. From my position of outside looking in, I don't think that there's currently much respect between North Ave. and the teachers, so it's doubtful that systemic changes are going to make it worse.

If Dr. Alonso can change things in North Ave. and schools enough, maybe the two parties can start with a clean slate and develop respect. I'm afraid careful, evolutionary changes that seem safer will never have enough momentum to changes these entrenched feelings.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

2007 - 2008 closes out

Well, we made it to the end of the school year. For the record the middle one was there for all 5 of the half days. The teachers and school did a good job of motivating them to come, with parties, award ceremonies, report cards and the threat of tests (seemed unlikely to me, but I guess 'tweens who worry about grades bought it). I was a little surprised at the motivation of both the teachers and the kids up to the bitter end. Something changed since last year, but I'm not sure what...

In the end we juggled the logistics to make it happen, not because there was any learning going on, but because who has the heart to say "No" when a kid say "Please, can I go to school today?"

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Another Magnet School Mystery

So, I've been trying to understand how the magnet high schools work in Baltimore these days. With the controversy about student retention and some of the heated discussion on Inside Ed I'm thinking it's not the same as it was 20-odd years ago when I was last involved. High schools don't have MSA's but they do have prestige, based on awards and college acceptances, which are prominently displayed on these schools' websites (Poly, City, Western ). That seems reasonable. Then on the Poly news section I read about a teacher, Dennis Jutras, being recognized for his work and for helping Poly do well in history competitions. Seems like just the type of teacher you need at a magnet school to lead these students to more awards. But then I read on the Center for Emerging Media's blog that this same teacher is being forced out through some sort of re-organization. I'm confused. As with the discussion with making it harder to remove students I've got to ask why. What am I missing here? We have something that's working very well. Reward and recognition is deeply needed in a school system that's dogged by violence, poor graduation rates and the like. Poly and BCPSS should be killing themselves to keep award winning teachers, but instead we seem to be giving them reasons to move on.

Update - 6/14/08
I still don't get it, but I've heard the department merger has been undone and Dennis Jutras will be at Poly in the fall. The alumni were involved, and it's good that the administration can be flexible and listen to people outside the school. On the other hand, I don't think that what really happened and all the issues involved will be public knowledge, so the pluses and minuses of this outcome will remain a mystery.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Are we there yet?

Well...almost. One more day this week, then we've got that lovely week of half days for the middle one while the big one "graduates" from middle school and the little one keeps going to a 12 month a year school. I've been to two award ceremonies so far and have two to go. I need to get end-of-year presents for about 16 teachers. A week of chaos and then a quick out of town visit to a grandparent. And as always, the craziest times of the school year lines up with some sort of crisis at work, so I feel guilty for not being able to put in extra hours.

Next year we're back to the insanity of three kids at three schools. There are two new schools to try to figure out, both of which stress me out. Am I ready to parent a high schooler? Will inclusion be the right path for the little one?

But now I just want to make it to the end of the school year and start in on the summer break. Only one lunch to make every morning - yipee!!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How to deal with pity

I've been trying to figure out what to say to people when they express pity on learning that I have an autistic child. Being stumped with that question I tried to figure out what I would like them to say and I drew a blank there as well. Autism is complicated and reactions to it are complicated as well.

It took me a long time to accept the diagnosis. There are so many stereotypes I held about autism that didn't match. After a while I realized that it was my understanding of autism that was wrong, not the diagnosis. Then it took a while to feel OK with telling people about the diagnosis. I don't feel like explaining to everybody who stares. It might make people quit judging us, but I'm not comfortable with starting up conversations with strangers. I especially don't want to start up conversations with people who are looking disapprovingly at things they don't understand.

On the other hand when I'm talking to acquaintances and it comes up I don't hide the fact. When the discussion turns to where we're going to school or why we don't go out as much as some people do, it seems like the right time to bring up autism.

Then come the reactions, most of which bug me.
  • "That must be tough for you." Generally having kids seems pretty tough to me. Maybe this is more challenging, but the rewards seem higher as well. The only response I can think of without sharing more than I feel is appropriate is "I guess, I don't usually think of it that way."
  • "Oh no, he/she's not autistic." Doubting the diagnosis bugs me too. Look, I spend a lot more time with it than you do. If I've come to terms with autism don't second guess me. My response - "No, it's a good diagnosis. Autism is just a spectrum."
  • "Those damn vaccines are the cause of autism." Just because I've got an autistic kid don't assume I agree with your conspiracy theories. Besides, my goal is to focus on my kid, not doing research to solve a puzzle that won't help us anyway. My response is "Yeah...maybe, I don't know."
  • "I've got a (friend, 2nd cousin, neighbor...) who's autistic. I know exactly what you're going through." Probably not. If it's not your kid you don't really know. Plus it's a spectrum - different autistics have different traits. My reaction - "Ummm..."

All these reactions that bug me - seems like maybe I've got a problem. But there are reactions that I don't find objectionable. Questions about what autism is like for us are good. Discussions about school selection or inclusion can break the tension. Even silence and moving on to another topic is better than saying something annoying. I'm sure as time goes on I'll do better, but it's a journey.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Autism and Inclusion

Yet another discussion at Inside Ed that I felt I had to comment on. Seems like the same issue is a Hot Document at Slate.

A quick synopsis - A kindergarten teacher in Florida felt overwhelmed by an autistic student in her class. After having him sent to the office she decided that she (and the class) weren't ready for him to return. When the vice-principal sent him back to his class the teacher made him stand at the center of the class and listen to his classmates tell him why they didn't want him there. She then lead a vote and by 14 to 2 he was voted out. He spent the day in the nurse's office. That day he didn't eat and since has been unwilling to go back to school.

I tried to re-tell this dispassionately with just the facts in the police report on Slate. I am anything but dispassionate about this story. This makes me angry beyond words. Perhaps the teacher was overwhelmed and untrained, but this is mental abuse. As a parent of a special needs child I want my child to succeed in society, and I know the best way to do this is to move him back into general education as soon as I can. But will I be subjecting my child to this kind of abuse?

Clearly some teachers think of special needs kids as a burden to them and their "normal" students. There are so many ways that they are wrong. My child taught his classmates that just because you don't talk doesn't mean you can't think. My child gave a youngest child in a big family the opportunity to be a big sister, which gave her great joy. My child's pictures and music have amazed many. When we pulled him/her out of general education my first thought was - "Your loss!"

So what's the answer? Well, we'll try general education again, but this time I know that the teacher and school really believe in inclusion. Since we can't get verbal responses to "What happened at school?" we'll be there observing and asking questions. We'll help and support in any way we can. And we'll keep our fingers crossed. And if it doesn't work, we'll try something else.

Seems like working, trying and hoping - no other choice as far as I can see.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Half days for a week?!?

So, does anyone think these half days work? Last year they were sprinkled throughout the year and on those days attendance was awful. Since attendance is one of the metrics used in grading schools this was a problem. So the solution this year is to put all the half days together during the last week of school. The only advantage is that attendance records have no doubt been turned in so no one cares that attendance is non-existent. The down side is that looking at the number of school days Baltimore City Schools looks like it is meeting the state requirement, but in reality at least 5 of those days are totally bogus. Maybe 5 days isn't a big deal, but this is dishonest.

Another problem I have is that I'd like to teach my kids that you go to work on workdays. There are days when I have no desire to go to work, but I do. It just seems to me that that is what is expected of a professional. It's been made clear that attendance in the last week is optional. Generally their teachers don't want them to be there on the last days. This happens every year, but this year it's for an entire week. So do I drag my kids to a logistical nightmare where their teachers say "Go home!" just to make a point about work ethic?

I'm not saying this is a big problem, like class size or violence, but it makes me crazy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Magnet Schools

Over in Inside Ed they're discussing the BCPSS decision to make it harder to kick kids out of Citywide highschools once they get accepted. Seems like a bad idea to me, but maybe I'm missing something. First off these schools are getting money per head for these kids, so they've already got incentive to keep them there. I would think we're talking about kids that are disruptive or are just not doing the work. Hard to imagine that making the schools keep these kids won't bring down the school overall.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

What's my motivation?

Given that I don't work for Dr. Alonso why would I defend these changes to the funding structure to BCPSS as I have been over at Inside Ed ?

Well for one reason because when things are totally messed up it seems like big changes are in order. I also think that Dr. Alonso is refreshingly honest and open. That's not to say I don't have any issues with the funding formula. Like, what's the concept with giving schools $2200 extra per advanced kid with no strings attached to that money as far as gifted and talented education? I've been told specifically that this money will go towards general staffing. There might be a small increase in G&T funding, but basically the extra funds will just make the funding less tight at their school. So what happens to schools that have a majority of kids who are neither advanced or basic? Those schools are pretty well screwed. And schools that advise their brightest kids to go into G&T magnet schools are now going to stop doing that. So is the concept to stop having magnet programs? I think that's a bad idea - I think that G&T programs need to draw from a bigger population than a neighborhood school.

On the plus side leveling funding between schools has got to be a good idea. Schools which have been underfunded in the past deserve better and schools who have been over-funder (relative to other city schools) need to figure out how to cut waste. I think the waste has had more to do with sloppy management rather than providing the students with an excellent situation. That's just a guess, but when a list of over and under funded schools is published it might be a little clearer.

Regardless, I think that it's time to try a new approach. Fine tuning can come later.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I got a little mad...

Something about being called an "incompetent newbie"...perhaps I should have counted to 10 first...
To the supposedly "concerned parent" -
In fact I have 3 kids in the BCPSS - 2 at one school and the 3rd at a different school. What do you want for proof? I've got a PTA membership card. I come to work around 10 of 8 at which time I can get on the computer for a while, plus since I'm doing computer work most of the day I can usually check the blog periodically. And beyond that I even have a computer at home.

I have been following the new budget with interest and being that's the way my mind works I tried to read and figure it out. The link that I posted came from links that Sara had on this blog probably a month ago. My kids' school had (as all schools are supposed to) a budget meeting where I asked a few questions. I'm posting what I figured out. There was a comment about plugging numbers into a spreadsheet to see how they work, that's why I figure it's a formula. I had a question answered on Marc Steiner's show on WEAA last Monday by Dr. Alonso.

I'm no shill of BCPSS! Do you want me to tell you details of the IEPs I've sat through and lies I've been told to prove it? Sorry, not sharing that kind of information on a public forum. And until I know you're not an BCPSS adminstrator (perhaps from one of the "over-funded" schools that you want to defend so badly?) in a position to harm one of my kids I'm not telling you any details."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My First Post

So I've been reading blogs for quite a while, but I never really had much of a drive to make my own blog - commenting on other blogs (very occasionally) has been enough. Today though, after being accused of not really being a BCPSS parent I feel like making a blog to prove myself.

So I'm a 40-something mom of three kids in elementary and middle schools in Baltimore City. My youngest is in a "non-public placement" because of special needs, so I guess literally s/he's not in a Baltimore Public School, but since BCPSS is paying the tuition I'd say we're still 100% in the system.

I work as an engineer in a moderate sized company in the greater Baltimore area. I completed all of my K-12 education in BCPSS, graduating from Western High School a long, long time ago. My husband is also a product of Baltimore City public schools.