Red Clay Parent Ashley Sabo Speaks Out In Support Of Inclusion

Red Clay parent Ashley Sabo, who I’ve written about a few times on here, just gave a stirring public comment at the Red Clay board meeting.  While I wasn’t there, Ashley was kind enough to share it with me.

As an involved parent and inclusion advocate, the magnitude of inclusion did not become real until my daughter started kindergarten last year.  It was with great trepidation, major anxiety and a lot of prayer that we put her in full inclusion at Forest Oak.  We met with her teacher soon into the school year and we continued the constant communication throughout the year.  It did not take long at all to know that not only did we make the right decision putting her in full inclusion, but when it came to Kindergarten teachers we hit the jackpot.

Jackie Gallagher worked with our daughter, Anna, to meet her where she was then pushed her forward to develop new skills and abilities and onward to success. When one method or plan didn’t work for Anna, she would alter things. If equipment or modifications were needed she worked tirelessly to get them.  She reached out to other staff who had different knowledge and experience to create new ways for Anna to learn.  She approached each day with understanding and patience and behind her was an administration who listened not only to the teacher but to us as parents – fully respecting our expertise when it comes to our daughter and was committed to the mindset that Anna was just as much a Forest Oak student as any other student without special needs.

We often hear about needing to close the achievement gap and more rigor, rigor, rigor.  I can assure you it was not the rigorous worksheets and overwhelming curriculum thrown at kindergarteners these days which made Anna’s year successful.  It was the open communication between parent, teacher and administration. It was the willingness to be flexible and make adjustments. It was the collaboration between colleagues to develop plans and find the right resources which made Anna’s kindergarten year so successful.

Growth and success will never be from a standardized test or learning at a computer. Closing the achievement gap is not something that can be done through legislation.

Successful inclusion happens when the line of communication between parent, teacher and administrator is always open. When requests for resources and equipment are met in a timely manner.  When teachers are flexible and willing to make changes to meet the needs of their students.

Seeing the joy as my daughter received a birthday invitation to her classmate’s party is the outcome of inclusion and is proof inclusion can be a wonderfully, beautiful thing.

If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And Inclusion is worth doing so we need to make sure it stays as a top priority and that changes take place so that we can look back and say Red Clay has done well.

Colin Bonini Would Not Have Vetoed House Bill 50, The Delaware Opt Out Bill

On the Rick Jensen show, Delaware State Senator Colin Bonini just told Jensen he would have signed House Bill 50, Delaware’s opt out bill that Governor Markell vetoed last year.  He agrees with many people in this state that the federal government is too involved in education and decisions are best left to the state and local districts.  Bonini said he doesn’t agree with getting rid of testing altogether, but the high-stakes involved are too much.  He thinks there needs to be some type of measurement to compare students and how they are doing.

He mentioned he will have a Delaware State Education Association interview next week but he doesn’t expect their support since he is a Right To Work guy.  Jensen joked that he could agree with everything they said but would still endorse a Democrat even if that Dem disagreed with them on different things.

Bonini said the recent bill passed by the Feds (ESSA) is a healthy thing, but I would encourage all candidates for any public office in Delaware to read up on the nasty regulations U.S. Secretary of Education John King is trying to roll out.  Which basically gives the feds a lot of the accountability power the bill was meant to get rid of.  This WILL be a major thing during the next four years, guaranteed!  I would also urge the candidates to look into the Delaware DOE supporting those regulations and their already shameful Delaware School Success Framework which was custom-designed for this legislation and the regulations King introduced.

All four Gubernatorial candidates in Delaware need to read between the lines on some of this stuff.  They will be facing whatever comes out of the Every Student Succeeds Act when it is implemented into law next year.  Wrong answers could, and most likely will, come back to haunt them.

Dover High School’s Anti-Bullying Plan Should Be A Model For All Schools In Delaware

Bullying.  It can be one of the most damaging experiences any student goes through.  It can cause school-wide disruption in some cases and robs students of the ability to learn.  Are Delaware schools safe?  Do they take the best steps to prevent bullying from happening?  Dover High School, in the Capital School District, is in the midst of launching an Anti-Bullying Protocol.  They will be discussing this at the Capital Board of Education meeting this evening.  Principal Courtney Voshell has heard the concerns and sees what happens when bullying happens.  This school, students and staff alike, are sick of the bullying and are saying “Enough is enough!”

Final_ABW_Logo_-_V

Any stop bullying plan is only as good as the implementation of it.  I believe the drive to make this plan work is there, but it’s long-term outlook is unknown.  I believe it is a good plan, but I do have some concerns.  The words “students with disabilities” or “special education” are not mentioned once in the below document.  Special needs students have been the victims of bullying and have also been the agitators of bullying.  There are very specific laws, at a federal and state law, that protects these students in certain situations.  Can a school-wide plan contradict an IEP team, state law, or federal law?  If a school isn’t implementing an IEP correctly, should a student be punished for behaviors that are a manifestation of that disability?  This is a very hard question to answer and I don’t have the answer.  I am not saying this to be a Donny Downer on the plan.  I think it is excellent, and if it takes off, it should be a model for many schools in Delaware.  But I believe this is an angle they should look at.

My other concern is this: Why is this being done at a high school level and not the elementary or middle school levels?  One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard in the Capital School District is the middle schools.  Students are coddled in the elementary schools which go up to 4th grade in this district.  But then they are thrown into one school for 5th and 6th grade, and then another for 7th and 8th.  If those schools aren’t aggressively tackling the bullying issues (and they might be but I haven’t seen any plan this extensive coming from them), leaving the burden on the high school could be a lesson in futility.  I strongly urge William Henry Middle School and Central Middle School to take a hard look at this plan and try it out in their own schools.

I would say a lot of responsibility for bullying should be on the part of parents.  If they see their child participating in any type of bullying activity, they should crush it at the onset.  I always tell my son when he is crossing a line with friends or online.  Even though he has disabilities that affect his thinking at times, it is my duty as a parent to let him know what is right and what is wrong.  By the same token, when I see him standing up for others who are bullied, I congratulate and praise him.  This is just as important.  I firmly believe parents need to watch their children’s social media and online activities, even if they are in high school.  Things happen outside of school that may never manifest itself in that setting.  Parents or guardians need to know who their kids are hanging out with and who could be seen as a bad influence.  If they know of something going on outside of the school, I believe they should proactively tell a school to inform them of the situation.  I don’t expect the school to fix those issues, but knowing about things is half the battle.

If other schools or districts in Delaware are already using this type of bullying plan, I apologize in advance for giving Dover H.S. the credit for all this.  If that is the case, kudos to those schools and to Dover H.S. for picking up the ball and running with it.  This is what we should be doing in Delaware: finding out what truly works and emulating it so all our students can truly succeed (this is not an endorsement for Common Core, Smarter Balanced, or any corporate education reform Kool-Aid agendas).

2016 Update: Which Articles Get The Most Hits?

2016 has been a very interesting year in blogging.  Some articles took off way beyond what I thought they would while others didn’t even hit the 1,000 mark.  Such is life in Delaware education!  The articles that get the most hits on this blog seem to take on a life of their own.  It is very odd to watch as the writer of this blog.  I think to myself, “this is Delaware, it can’t be that interesting!”

Without further ado, here are the top 2016 articles on Exceptional Delaware:

  1. Delaware Public Schools: You Have Until Thursday To Get Rid Of Your Data Walls Or I Start Filing FERPA Complaints 51,505 hits
  2. Her Name Is Amy 36,029 hits
  3. Holodick & Brandywine Named In Lawsuit As Father Seeks Justice From Year Long Nightmare 22,277 hits
  4. Tragedy Strikes Howard High School In Wilmington As Student Dies From Head Injuries In Fight 6,924 hits
  5. Niche.com Delaware School Rankings By High School, Middle School, Elementary School, Best Teachers, & More 3,098 hits
  6. Delaware Senate Passes The “No School After Labor Day” Bill With Close Vote 3,054 hits
  7. Delaware DOE Hits All-Time Low With Very Scummy Move Against Teachers… 1,993 hits
  8. ***UPDATED***Channel 6 ABC Action News Gives Updated Information About Details In Amy Joyner-Francis Case 1,823 hits
  9. Governor Markell Takes It To Facebook And Receives The Beat Down Of His Life! 1,783 hits
  10. Delaware’s Pee Problem 1,712 hits

Out of all the above articles, the one that was the hardest to write was Her Name Is Amy.  It was the day after her murder at Howard High School of Technology, and the words just came out of me.  The data walls article really took me by surprise.  I wrote the whole article in about five minutes while at work one day in response to a Facebook post.  When I checked my laptop a few hours later at my next break, it had over 3,000 hits.  The whole Senate Labor Day bill was also a post I thought no one would really care about, but it clearly resonated with readers for some reason.  A lot of these articles generated so many hits because they were either original topics that couldn’t really be found anywhere else or because they dealt with a tragedy on a scale we weren’t used to in Delaware.  The fact that three of these articles dealt directly with Amy Joyner-Francis speaks volumes at the grief we felt (and still do) over her senseless death.  There was a lot of misinformation about what happened that day.  Some of it was discounted only to be later verified.  In some instances, it was just bad information.  When I was prepping the Brandywine lawsuit article, I had a feeling it would be big, but not that big.  The Pee article was meant to be serious, and it was.  But sometimes the title just jumps out and says “read me”.

For the data walls article, I will be keeping a close eye on this topic.  I want to hear from any parent, teacher, or student who sees data walls in our schools that give out names and test scores and rankings of students.  In the classroom or out, especially if it is in an area where anyone can see it.  Many schools who practiced this last year got a reprieve from me because it was the end of the school year, but I will not be so kind this year.

Blogging is an odd thing.  None of these posts were heavily linked to with the exception of Facebook in certain situations.  Facebook, Twitter, and Google have always been my biggest “referrers”.  What none of these hits include are hits to my “homepage” which received 93,065 hits so far this year.  Each year, this blog gets bigger, and I am very grateful for that.  When I began this little thing back in June of 2014, I didn’t foresee anything like this or what it became.  I thank all my readers, near and far, for coming to visit.  It’s been controversial, it’s been real, and it’s even been fun with some stuff.  The people I’ve met since have left a very big impression on me.  I am a better man for meeting a lot of you!  And some, I won’t go there!

While I don’t always slow down in the summer, my readers do.  I have noticed a crystal clear trend with this as my 3rd year of summer blogging comes to a finish.  Things ramp up big time in late August/early September.  That continues up until Christmas.  Slows down for a few weeks, and then the General Assembly comes back.  Things slow down around Easter for a week, and then back up again until June 30th.  Slows to a crawl on 4th of July, and goes up or down all summer depending on how many people are around and not purposely checking out from “real life”.  But summer is when the DOE is usually the most crafty, so I make it an extra point to monitor them closely then.  Sometimes it takes a while to put the pieces together, but eventually a picture forms.

Funny story, the first time I wrote an article about Governor Markell in the title, I thought for sure the Delaware Secret Service would be collecting me at work.  It never happened, and as time went on, I stopped worrying about stuff like that.  It’s not that I’ve ever been about to destroy Jack Markell.  I’ve always hoped he would wake up one day and do the right thing.  But he is very predictable once you figure him out.  He constantly disappoints me, but that feeling leads me to the truth every singe time.  I’ve always made it a point to tell the truth on here.  Some of that is perception, and some were gut reactions, borne out of frustration and anger.  I’ve flip-flopped on a lot of things, but some things have stood the test of time: my stances on Smarter Balanced, Opt Out, personalized learning, Rodel, Markell, the Delaware DOE, and the Delaware State Board of Education.  I still think special education needs vast improvement in Delaware.  Following the money has taken more time and research the past few months, but I understand things so much more than I used to.  It isn’t just a charter thing, it’s a Delaware public education thing.

I’ve written some things on here that some found reprehensible but I stand by those decisions.  To my detractors, I ask this: if I am wrong about so many things, why do I get no response for those things from those who know the truth?  They have the ability to reach me.  They all know how.  It has been a very rare event when I left a comment in moderation because of the nature of the comment.  I can count those on one hand.  I have never edited a comment.  I’ve corrected articles many times.  In Delaware education, transparency is not always there so you draw conclusions based on what you have and the information presented.  I’ve even apologized if I was wrong in the past.  Sometimes I hear that others are upset with me, but I never seem to hear from those “others”.  To those “others”, you should not feel afraid to reach out to me.  I may not agree with you, but I will certainly present your side of the story.  As long as you don’t lie to me or intentionally try to mislead me.  Cause if I find out, you can be pretty damn sure I will write about that.

At the end of the day, this isn’t my blog.  It isn’t even about the people who read it.  It’s about the Delaware kids in public education.  It’s about my kid and yours.  When politics gets involved, it can get ugly.  I won’t endorse those who toe the party line or vote against something that could and should be in a student’s best interests.  In Delaware, we have the capability of ushering in true change to education.  We stand on the cusp of something better and different.  But all of this depends on how you vote in the September primaries and on Election Day in November.

I urge all of you to do research into which legislators have stood up for public education.  Who has supported the rights of teachers and parents?  Who voted against the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  Who has openly, even in the face of disdain from their peers in their own party, voted for what is right and not for what the Governor or the forces against public education want?  Who goes to a lot of education meetings and serves the will of the people and not the Governor?  This can be a very thin line at times.  There are many parents who support charter schools and school choice in this state.  I recognize that, and I accept that.  Some assume certain politicians are out to destroy charters.  They aren’t.  They just want transparency and honesty, about their finances or their enrollment practices.  They see and hear things you never hear a word about.  They see the lobbyists in full swing at Legislative Hall and know who is zooming who.

I think most of us want something better for our kids than what we have.  But if you want to live in a sheltered island where everything is safe for the few, and not the many, then that isn’t always the best thing.  Parents are used when they exist in those kind of environments.  They are more willing to believe certain things because it is all they know.  But trust me when I say the reality is very different.  There are people in this state who are all about themselves.  They may smile and appear to be the nicest people in the world.  They aren’t.  They know who they are.  They know what they do.  I believe most, if not all of them, are fully cognizant of their actions.  I’ve seen many of their faces when they aren’t in a crowd.  They aren’t the same faces.  It is truly horrifying to see sometimes.  I can also see the weight of guilt on some of them.  I see the stress on their face and the remorse in their eyes.  But they feel powerless to do the right thing.  This isn’t something I can fathom.  I guess it just isn’t in my genetic makeup.  I feel for them in the same respect I feel bad for anyone who does wrong and it eats at them.  We have all been there at one point or another.  It isn’t a fun feeling.  But at the same time, I don’t feel any loyalty to these people.  Everyone has the opportunity to tell the truth or live a better life.  It might mean sacrificing something these people aren’t willing to do.  I don’t think it’s a question of not being able to do so for any of them.

We all make choices, for good or bad.  I believe we all face moments when we wrestle with those choices.  Struggle with what to do.  We may be protecting someone else, or just ourselves.  But when it involves kids, there is no place for ego or greed or manipulation or lies or fraud or power.  Because most of these kids, they don’t know how to do those kind of things.  They are seeing the paths set for them by the adults.  So for those who I am talking about here, and you know damn well who you are, are you okay with Delaware students being who you are when they are your age?  Are you okay with them taking the same actions you have?  Because that is what will happen.  If it isn’t your own children or grandchildren, it will be someone else’s kid.    Someone who will grow up and think the game is more important than life.  Is that really what you want?