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Freestyle rant

Some days, I.just.can’t. Today is that day. Come along for the ride.

Kudos to the IPS board for wanting to hear the community voice to guide and inform the search for a new superintendent.  However, from what I understand, the community voice is essentially being DROWNED OUT because the meetings are intentionally being JAM PACKED with Mind Trust and Stand for Children staffers and Innovation Network school staff/supporters.  I hope that the few conscientious board members that are there can see through this charade.  There is one meeting left: I urge you to attend the last forum at IPS #87, 2411 Indianapolis Avenue, WEDNESDAY MARCH 13th 6-8 pm in the Gym.

Our next superintendent choice is incredibly important.  While a radical departure from the current plan is unlikely (DISINVEST IN A DISTRICT SCHOOL UNTIL IT FAILS, INNOVATE-NETWORK THE SCHOOL, WASH, RINSE, REPEAT UNTIL ALL SCHOOLS ARE OPERATED BY CHARTERS) – I still hold out some slim hope that we might find someone who can see the long term destruction in this model.  Maybe this person will even have some modicum of restraint toward the idea.

But then, I wonder – will the new superintendent arrive in Indianapolis and become a sellout??  There are so many temptations and pressures to succumb to…money talks, and there is certainly money in the hands of school privatizers such as Mind Trust and Stand for Children.  There is also the allure of power, and those at the mayor’s office and certain legislators seem to have it out for IPS.  Perhaps our next superintendent will have really grand ideas and great intentions – and still end up paving the road to hell.  Or is that a bit of deja vu I’m having?

Next topic.  What the hell is going on with the IPS teacher’s union?   I know there are issues.  Some union teachers are pissed on multiple levels, and I know some who would be the first in line with their sharpies to make picket signs at the slightest hint of a walkout, as has happened in other states.  On the flip side of that, I know other union teachers who generally don’t want to rock the boat.  I’m also aware of the scandal that rocked the union recently.  But damn, y’all.  How have things gotten to the point where an “Indianapolis Teacher’s Society” is being floated at the board meeting?  What is even the purpose of this?  I’m skeptical, and you should be too.  At least to the point of investigating!  So…IPS is in the state that it’s in.  Teachers are being treated terribly.  And who is coming to “save the day”?  The Indianapolis Teacher Society!?  I’m sorry, but I smell something fishy here.  Look, IEA may leave a lot to be desired, and ISTA too.  I’ll give you that, no doubt.  But the Indianapolis Teacher Society does not align itself with any national organization.  How will they fight for you, dear IPS teacher?  What resources do they have (WHO IS FUNDING THIS??) What protections can they offer teachers?  What skills do they have at the bargaining table?  My overarching concern is that this is another piece that will further dismantle IPS and leave it laying wounded and open.  Ready for the kill.  Why?  Because at least with IEA, [or any other nationally-affiliated union] teachers have a little protection, there’s some chance of a fight left.  It’s just not clear to me how this group of folks is going to represent all IPS teachers, offer them protections, and bargain for their best interests in salaries and working conditions.  That’s best left to…A UNION, not a loose collective of interested (perhaps disgruntled) people.  The Indianapolis Teacher Society sounds like a group that meets for a book club discussion, and Emily brings the brownies.  No, thanks…I think IPS needs a mob.  An angry mob of teachers who are tired of the apparent inequity that is happening to themselves, their schools, and their kids.  What will make them angry enough to demand change?

 

 

 

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Referendumb.

Dear Reader,

I struggled with this one, truly I did.  But, as they say, better late than never.  Voting is upon us, and a hefty monetary request from IPS is on the ballot.  I hope you weigh this vote very carefully.

I had an internal struggle with my position on the referendum because my son is an IPS student, and as a parent, of course I want him to have all of the resources and potential benefits that a $272 million influx of cash can bring to the district ($220 million is for Operations, $52 million for Capital Projects).

But, as a former IPS board member, I realize that it’s not just about my kid.   It’s not even about all IPS kids.  This is about everyone’s property tax bill, sure – but as always, for me, it’s about principle.

Here’s why I cannot support the referendum.  I need to jog your memory on something, dear reader.

Five short years ago, in 2013, Dr. Ferebee took the helm of IPS.  I was on the board at this time.  Despite his predecessor’s opposite finding that the district was in a severe financial crisis (negative $30 million), Ferebee announced that IPS ACTUALLY HAD A BUDGET SURPLUS.  This was huge news; there was coverage of the story in WTHR, Chalkbeat, Indy Star, and IBJ.  Do you remember this?  It was an awesome revelation – my question is, in the five years following this announcement, where did the money go?

I don’t want to over simplify a complicated situation.  Have there been cuts to public education?  Absolutely there have.  Are these cuts bullshit?  Yes they are…and the intricacies of school finance are not for the faint of heart.  I could never do full justice to all of these moving parts in the scope of one blog entry.   But here is what I think is the crux of the problem: Under Dr. Ferebee’s leadership, IPS has become a willing partner in its own demise – – the privatization of the district through the portfolio school model that is now being deployed.  

What does this mean exactly?  Every time a school is in danger of failing for seven years, or really whenever IPS administrators feel like it, a school can be converted over to an Innovation Network School, which means that a charter school takes over the operations of the school.  In the context of the referendum, the reason this is problematic is because the agreements that IPS is drawing up with charter school companies are extremely one sided, in favor of the charter companies.  In many cases, the charter school company pays NO RENT for the use of an IPS building, while enjoying free food service, free transportation, free special education services, and so on.  All of these freebies come at a significant cost to IPS, because IPS does not keep any of the money generated by the students who enroll at these Innovation Network Schools.  It simply passes through the IPS coffers and directly into the hands of the charter school companies, whose CEO salaries can exceed the $300k mark.

Here is my prediction.  The referendum is actually a money grab to continue expansion of these types of charter schools.  We are going to receive $272 million, close schools cause the Chamber said so, sell the Ed Center, and continue to turn our schools over to charters to operate in exponential fashion (not that charters perform any better).  I predict that IPS will become a shell corporation – a public entity that gives away its assets and passes most of its money on to charter school companies and their fatcat CEOs, while still providing a mediocre education.  I don’t speak for anyone else, but this is NOT what I’d like to see happen with $272 million worth of tax dollars.

Woosah.

My comments don’t reflect anything other than my personal opinion and don’t reflect any other organizations.

 

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The Rat Race x2

This is not a blog about education at all.  This is a blog about how I’ve been perceiving the world, and I wonder if you’ve felt it, too.

The world has shifted.

I can’t put my finger on what is different about us.  About people – about society, as a whole.  But I think there is a new gnawing in the underbelly, a permanent deep frustration, and an urgency in all of us that wasn’t always there.

This writing is an exploration of that feeling.

A couple of weeks ago I walked into Walgreens.  I was greeted with the usual, “Hi! Welcome to Walgreens!”  And so I replied – “Hello, thank you!”  I went on about my shopping toward the front of the store.  As I browsed, I heard the same “Welcome to Walgreens” greeting several times.  Not one person replied to the greeting.  Once I finished shopping and went to the checkout, I asked the cashier how many people responded to her greeting.  She said thoughtfully, “Maybe one out of every ten.”

In drive-thru lanes, through the static I can hear the shock when I always ask in return ‘ “How are you?”  The last woman I asked was so happy she said, “Wow! I’m doing good.  Thank you SO MUCH for asking!”

 

Just the other day I was picking up my six month old son, Atticus, from the YMCA.  I exited the building juggling his car seat on one arm, the diaper bag over one shoulder, and my (admittedly huge) purse on the other shoulder.  My baby is a big boy, y’all.  He is 18 pounds.  Add the carseat and the luggage, and I was struggling to carry it all.  I look to my right as I step off the curb, and I see a car coming, but it’s a distance away and has to slow down for two speed bumps before it reaches me.  So I head for my vehicle, directly in front of me and across the wide swath of driveway.  Would you believe – – instead of seeing me in my heavy laden misery and slowing down to let me pass – – the driver of said car pulls right up in front of me, blocking my path?  She apparently thought it was necessary to cut me off in order to sit there and wait for another driver to leave their parking spot.  She pretended not to hear my choice words as I walked around the back bumper of her Subaru station wagon.

Bear with me, there is a point.  My dear friend schooled me on something called the “precariat”.  The precariat is a relatively newer class of people who lack financial security, thus they are “precariously” positioned.  I got a B.A. in Sociology in the early 2000’s, read the hell outta some Marx, and had never heard of the precariat.  Interesting.  So, the precariat are the folks working “part-time” with no benefits for 39 hours a week, maybe they run their car into the ground delivering food for GrubHub, maybe they are breaking their back at the Amazon warehouse, maybe driving for Uber on the weekends.  Maybe they do some combination of all three and still find time to dream about owning their own business and being their own boss someday, or writing a book, or getting a record deal.  They take care of their kids, cars and homes the best they can in the little spare time they have.  They also look for ways to improve their financial circumstances, maybe an online college degree in medical coding will do the trick.  They can pay their rent now but worry about what might happen if they get sick.  They can’t get sick, because there’s no fucking health insurance.  They can’t get sick because if they take off work, then their pay is one day short and that’s too much to recover from.  Gotta keep it moving, keep on striving, keep on keepin’ on.

The precariat is a thing because neoliberalism is a thing.  Neoliberalism is a hard concept to define, mostly because it’s like the uber elite  and wealthy masterminds who run the world via their corporations got into a lab together and created the most evil and deranged Octopus ever, except the octopus has more than 8 tentacles, and the Octopus is so huge that it wraps around the whole world.  The deadly tentacles have wound their way into everything – the economy; governments, politics, and elections; jobs and the culture of working; higher education; K-12 schooling; and our concepts of leisure and family time; even the ways in which we procure our needs. There are remnants of “the way things were” still left, but the Octopus tentacles have infiltrated everything and what we are seeing happening are the tentacles slowly continuing their advance, taking hold of more and more.

What effects does this have on us, as humans?  Neoliberalism in the workplace has advanced the precariat by busting unions; therefore diminishing job security.  Think: the increasing numbers of adjunct instructors at colleges, TFA teachers in K-12 classrooms instead of experienced teachers, the freelancers, the temp workers.  AKA the “gig economy”.  The precariat is the largest growing economic group.  This financial insecurity, the need to be constantly in motion, working, striving, because one job just isn’t ENOUGH, will eventually have deleterious effects on us.  We need time to be human, to develop ourselves, to hear silence, to attend to our families, children, and friendships.

Instead, we are so in a rush we do not have time to respond to the Walgreens clerk.  When the drive-thru worker asks how we are doing, we plow right on through to our order because there’s shit to do and people waiting on us.  And fuck the lady carrying the baby, she is insignificant, we must rush to claim our parking spot so we can hurry up and get inside the YMCA and work out.  Because, time.  If the work out is not done by 4pm then I won’t have time to cook dinner and then the kids are late to bed, and then I can’t work on my online class, and then, and then, and then the domino effect is almost as irrevocable as missing a day’s worth of pay.

Our eye is so trained on the prize.  The neoliberal/precariat economic realities of the day have conditioned us to relish only in the outcome of things, never finding joy in the process.  Vincent Van Gogh presented one of his stellar pieces to the world and received high praise for his art.  One critic was especially fond of the piece and gave many compliments.  Van Gogh responded to the effect that it was not about the finished piece of art that he had just completed.  For him, it was the process.  His joy was in each stroke of the brush.  We, as people, need to mind the process, and find the joy in it.

Next blog: More about the Octopus.

Coronavirus Quarantine Guest Blog: Dr. Barbara Wylie

Dr. Barbara Wylie shares her experiences as a mother-scholar during the coronavirus quarantine.

I’d like to start off by saying:

I understand I have privilege; I sit here in my house, not worrying about my bills, the heat, food, or basic survival needs because I have a job that I can work from home, a savings account in case something would go horribly wrong with either of my jobs and we had to survive without income, and a family, that if I really, really fell on bad times, well, they would be able to help out.  I know many others are not that fortunate right now.

We are one week into the directive to work from home for the remainder of the semester.  My students just began their classes yesterday. The governor just sent out the “no non-essential travel/workers” directive yesterday.  For all accounts and purposes, this is really “just beginning”, and I’m already pretty burned out.

Last week, I was given the directive to take two face-to-face science classes and put them online.  Then create two fully online courses (in 5 days) for classes we’ve NEVER offered online.  Later in the week, the directive came that we were to hold Zoom office hours, advising appointments, curriculum meetings, committee meetings and staff meetings. This resulted in me being on Zoom yesterday from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. nearly continuously. Day two, today, was not much better.

In the last week, nearly everything has gone virtual.  We’ve done virtual counseling, physical therapy, tutoring, piano lessons, and a well child checkup. My son’s school has posted virtual cross fit, art lessons, and virtual counseling lessons.  My family has started doing facetime and zoom meetings because our father is quite ill and nobody really knows what to do with that.  I’ve been added to no fewer than 10 online groups aimed to help find resources for online teaching, or home schooling for people who don’t normally home school, or finding supplies in a time of shortage so we don’t waste our time roaming around and be exposed to Covid. I’ve ordered nearly everything I need for the next several weeks online.  I’ve been to several zoom yoga sessions in an attempt to relax and rejuvenate.  Even my friends, in desperation, scheduled a zoom meeting on Sunday to get some “girl time” and “human contact”.  It’s all so overwhelming.  A tool (technology) that I used to “supplement” my existence in the past (just weeks ago), has now become a necessity for continued survival in nearly all aspects of my life.

While all this is going on, the place I considered my respite and my refuge has now become my prison. When I would get fed up with work, I could leave and come home and feel peace. I could “choose” to work at home, or I could “choose” not to work at home. I could escape. Now, there is no “choice”.  No escape.  Now, my dining table has become more of a headquarters with 2 laptops and an iPad covering three of the four spaces where we normally sit to eat. Where we used to gather and give thanks has been converted to a place where I hold office hours and meetings, and where my son calmly completes some semblance of educational curriculum each day.

Besides being burned out, I’m worried.  I’m worried that the world I’m forced to shield from will not be the world to which I return.  What will things look like when we resurface?  Will we have changed things so much and adapted so quickly that we will be to a point of no return?  What will the long-term effects of a virtual world, in nearly every aspect, really be?

-Dr. Barbara Wylie

Mother-Scholars in COVID-19 times

Like most of us in these uncertain times, I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t know which way is up. I know that like many of you, I’m overwhelmed. I want to preface this entire thing by recognizing my privilege and openly stating that I have it better than a lot of people. I get to work from home and not worry about a paycheck for now. So, that helps. But it certainly doesn’t make this easy.

For four days I have not had any sense of taste or smell. Absolutely zero. Today, I ate two lemon slices hoping to “jolt” my senses back into being. A few days ago, I googled this and decided it was allergies. Today, I googled again. There are several articles out in British outlets describing this as a symptom of people carrying Coronavirus. However, no hospital will test me since I have no serious symptoms. We will apparently have to wait and see. If anyone else in the house (God forbid) has serious symptoms, they can get tested. For now, I will assume that I carry/carried the virus and my entire household is exposed to it.

In addition to worrying that I and my family have Coronavirus, I’m homeschooling my third grader, providing daycare to my 2 year old, and remotely teaching my education classes at Ivy Tech. I also have mountains of laundry And my kids are ravaging all the snacks. It’s a lot. I wonder how long this is really sustainable.

This blog, once used as a venue to provide critical friendship to Indianapolis Public Schools, is temporarily being repurposed to document the experiences of K-16+ educators navigating this new reality. I’m inviting others to document their experiences here, too. Then some happy day in the future, when we can look back at this from some distance, we may collectively compile these experiences.

Back to the current Coronavirus pandemic situation. I recognize the severity of this and the need for social distancing. But. A part of me wonders if this restructuring of our work/home life is some crude experiment.

My big question is this. What are the implications of this being successful? So. We prove ourselves capable of working from home while simultaneously taking care of our own children and all the other tasks that adulting requires of us?

I worry a lot. My worry is that our recent historical trend is toward demanding more and more from our workforce, while pay, benefits and personal protections do not keep pace with demand. In a time of economic uncertainty and the gig economy, we are proving that we are capable of taking on even more.

Is this a wise thing to do? Will it provide a basis for an even more sinister future neoliberal turn, especially when it comes to public education? For example, two years from now, will policy makers look to this time period to justify a shorter school year? A shortened week, perhaps? Or, maybe it will justify a huge proliferation in online schools? Or, other alternatives to traditional public schools, because clearly parents can rise to the occasion and educate their children when public education is not provided.

The policy makers will probably look to the almighty test scores. With standardized testing being cancelled for this year, how will this pan out?

The Octopus in Indianapolis

In my previous blog post, I attempted to begin unraveling the tangled mess that is neoliberalism.  I thought of a good analogy, the Octopus (well, I thought it was clever) and wanted to follow up with a more detailed explanation of how the Octopus works in Indianapolis.  Then, this article by Darcie Cimarusti, Communications Director for the Network for Public Education, a national organization spearheaded by Diane Ravitch, was printed in the Washington Post.  And it explains what is happening in Indianapolis really well, albeit without my cool Octopus references.

You should definitely go read it, here’s the link: Darcie Cimarusti / Valerie Strauss WAPO 

P.S. The Network for Public Education is having their annual conference in Indianapolis this year.  Click the picture below for the registration link.  I’m told some limited funds are available for anyone unable to afford the full cost.

NPE 18

 

 

“If you love something, let it go…

I love IPS, and I let it go.  I let go of my concern, my advocacy, the constant staying on top of everything that is happening.  I focused instead on our new baby, Atticus, mostly…trying to be a good mom while taking care of self (ok, kinda taking care of myself) is exhausting.   I also continued plugging away at school.  IPS still existed, doing IPS things, on the periphery of my life’s tailspin.

if it comes back to you, it’s yours.  If it doesn’t, it was not meant to be.”

IPS came back to me Saturday.  I was attending the Black Business Bazaar, [great event, btw] and a politician friend greeted me with a hug.  “How come you haven’t been writing?  There’s a lot of people that read your stuff.  We miss your voice.”

The answer to his question was right there in my arms.  I nodded to my four month old son and we chuckled at the demands of parenting.  However, our brief exchange had an impact on me.  Sometimes all we need to get back on track is to simply be confronted with it.

So, about this election we have coming up.  Alot of you are focused on the primary, but you know I am skipping all that to talk about the IPS board election that is held in November.

My simple question to you is this: do you think a free, democratically-controlled public education in Indianapolis should cease to exist?

If your answer is yes – then go ahead and vote for the incumbents: Mary Ann Sullivan (at-large), Kelly Kennedy Bentley (district 3, northside) and Dorene Hoops (district 5, west/northwest side).

(If you are saying to yourself – what the hell do you mean, “cease to exist”, then please read this article to get caught up!!)

IPS is on a destructive path – closing schoolschanging school start times, over-utilizing inexperienced teachers, under-paying the teachers they do have, teachers leaving in droves, clustering choice school offerings in white/wealthy/gentrifying areas and being indifferent to segregation in the district.

Many of us, mostly experts in the field of education, just so happen to think that this self-imposed destruction is very intentional and is paving the way for the privatization of our public school system.

If you believe in the promise of public education, you better be finding yourself a true grassroots candidate to vote for.  (As candidates emerge, I’ll write about them, maybe some will even grant me an interview.  I’ll interview incumbents too, if they are interested).

Till then, friends – vote wisely in the May primary and hold your elected officials accountable!!

~Muah!!

Gayle