Wednesday, February 24, 2010

School Board Issues and Diversity

I can't go on without posting something about the current goings on in the Wake County Public School System. I will attempt to summarize:

A new school board majority took office this past fall. For the first time in years, a majority of members were in place who were opposed to the board's attempts at achieving diversity. For those of you not familiar with WCPSS, diversity here means attempting to keep all school populations at a mix of 40% free and reduced lunch students, 60% non free and reduced lunch. To achieve this, the board has redistricted, on an annual basis, shifting students around to try to keep that 40% f&r number steady. To parents, this meant never knowing where their kid would be attending school. To schools, it meant weak PTA's because the student body changed from year to year, never allowing for a strong PTA to be put into place.

All of this, with no viable proof that the diversity efforts had accomplished the system's goal of improving achievement among minorities, and a school board and superintendent who steadfastly stuck to their guns regardless, and who routinely ignored the voices of the parents who were directly affected by the board's decisions.

Imagine, as a parent, having a child attend three or more different schools from kindergarten through fifth grade. This is what was happening. A school board so intent on looking out for the kids was curiously deaf to the potential adverse affects caused by this routine lack of stability. How do you foster school pride, social development, or a strong PTA, when your school changes every single year?

As you can imagine, the new board, who immediately set about with voicing their desire to end the diversity policy along with their intent to try a different means to improve student achievement, has met with a great deal of hand-wringing among groups who are appalled that the school system may be abandoning its most at-risk students.

And major newspapers, like the New York Times, are following the issue closely, since Wake County is supposedly a national model for success. A shame that no one is looking closely at the issue - they'd see that there are a lot of smoke and mirrors in place when it comes to measuring that supposed success.

Recently, Del Burns, the long-time superintendent of the system and staunch supporter of diversity efforts, announced quite abruptly his intent to leave his post over his dissatisfaction over the changes. There's some debate currently going on about whether he should be asked to leave immediately, or whether he should be given until the end of June, when his contract is set to end.

Everyone is up in arms over this, since he's got so much raw experience under his belt, even while he really is acting like a spoiled teenager who's pissed because he's not getting what he wants.

It will be interesting to see how the board moves forward, in regard to Del Burns, as well as to eventual move back to neighborhood schools. I'll try to post an update here and there about it, but I will say, as one who believes that something new needs to be tried, I'm not sorry to see some changes put into place.

The Never-Ending Winter

Oh my gosh, will this winter never end??? I have been down south for eleven years, and I'm accustomed to enjoying pleasantly warm days and early blooming flowers at this point in the season.

Not this year! This is truly the coldest, longest winter I can remember. I remember posting a link on Facebook last fall, one that indicated that the Farmer's Almanac was calling for an unusually cold, wet winter for the Northeast with lots of snow. I found it amusing, and I admit to rubbing it in a bit for my northern family and friends.

Well here I sit, during the last week of February, looking outside at yet another cold, damp day, wondering if the weather forecast is correct and we will see a snow dusting tonight. Even my kids, enticed as they may be by the tease of snow on the ground, are ready for warmer weather. M has been having trouble sleeping lately - too much on her mind, she says. When asked what could possibly be bothering a six-year-old so, she tells me she can't stop thinking about the beach. God love her.

Truly, it is enough to send us to the nearest airport. Or at least send me to the hardware store for some grow lights that I could sit myself under so I won't be S.A.D. I can't imagine what my northern counterparts are feeling like right now - they're expecting a foot of snow in Maryland, on top of record snowfalls this year. That state has actually agreed to forgo up to five make-up days since most counties are already beyond their alloted snow days for the year and otherwise may have ended up being in school into July!

Ah well, the forecast for the weekend is calling for sun and temperatures in the 50's. I suppose I should be happy about that, but it was 60 degrees last Sunday, a terrible tease! No. I don't think I will be happy until the weather is solidly in the 70's, with no chance of a slip back into cold weather, when I can sit outside at night with my husband and stare at the stars as a warm breeze stirs the leaves of the trees above. I guess I really just ought to buy that house in the islands instead! Think I'll go check my lottery tickets one more time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Birthday Parties

So G's birthday was nearly a month ago and given tight finances that always seem to occur at this time of the year, we have not yet planned a party for her.

Actually, I was hoping she'd forget about it, but possessing a highly tenacious sort of personality, she has not. I have, therefore, been searching for some sort of option that isn't completely and utterly ridiculous in terms of price. Now some more frugally minded people may ask, "why not just have it at your house?" and I would nicely reply, "been there, done that, NO WAY!!!" Ever deal with ten preschoolers running wildly around your house while their moms stand chatting, oblivious to their kids sugar-crazed behavior? Not doing that again.

But oh how I hate the whole birthday party thing. You have the grandparents, silently wondering if our generation has all gone crazy for the making these celebrations into all-out, overdone events. You have the parents of our generation, getting completely sucked into the madness because everyone else is doing it to the point that it is a foregone conclusion. It becomes not, "are you?" but "where are you?"

You have the agony of the guest list - do you invite the whole class, thus upping the cost and the attendance numbers to a ridiculous level? Or do you only invite a few kids, risking hurt feelings by the excluded kids and, more often, their parents? If you do only invite a few kids, how do you keep the invited kids from chatting about it? And how do you avoid the ire of the teachers, who have to deal with shushing that chatter?

And then there's the question of, where does it stop? I told my girls that after age six, that's it for the parties. They could have a few friends over for a slumber party after that point, or I would pay for one or two friends to go skating. But I know plenty of parents who are perfectly happy to continue on with these massive celebrations every single year until their kids are 18. Really, when is enough enough?

And finally, there's the cost. For example, G wanted to have her party at Monkey Joe's, after attending a friend's party there. All fine and good, but the minimum weekday cost was something like $160. Though I know her friend's mother had a coupon, I could find no such offers to help us alleviate the financial burden. Really? $160 for a party room, cake, appearance by a huge monkey that reminded me too much of Peanut, one of the deranged puppets in comedian Jeff Dunham's show, and play time for what will likely amount to about six kids? I'm sorry, but I haven't completely lost touch with reality yet, and so I gently discouraged the idea. Gently meaning, sorry G, it just isn't going to happen, unless you happen to have a very full piggy bank sitting up in your room.

Most of the venues in our area run in the same price range, though, and so it becomes a $200+ endeavor once you figure in food, cake, and gift bags. It's ridiculous. And we're supposed to buy them presents on top of this cost? I can understand why my parents' generation thinks we're all nuts.

For G, I think we've finally settled on a pool party. Yes, it's February, but the fitness club we belong to and which I, conveniently, work at, has a huge indoor pool area, the cost is very reasonable, and I get a discount on top of it since I'm an employee. Since all of the kids we'll be inviting are strong swimmers, this is the best, and only, option. Since M had her birthday party at the outdoor pool in September, it was an easy sell to G, so I think we'll choose a date and get on with it. And hopefully, end this madness once and for all.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rain, Snow and the Beach

Baltimore is expecting two feet of snow this weekend. Now, we've had an unusually wet, cold winter here in North Carolina but usually we're blessed with sunny, mild winter days. So even though we had our own little snow event last weekend and today is raw and rainy, I am damn glad I'm here and not there!

On the other hand, where I'd really like to be is two states farther south - Georgia or Florida would be just fine thanks. At the coast, of course. Because when we move from here, (and it will be soon), the only place we'll be going is to the beach.

It's becoming harder and harder to wait. It used to be that I could count on my monthly dose of Coastal Living to help keep the dream alive. Pages of sea green and blue and tan photographs, images of beachside bonfires, cedar shake shingled houses softened by tan and green seagrass around the perimeter left me longing but inspired.

But then they went and changed the entire format of the magazine into some cheesy retro attempt to be cool that speaks nothing of the beach, so that now it totally sucks, and I am spinning into an abyss of despair.

I had hoped that painting our landlocked Wake Forest house in white and tan and infusing it with navy blue and ochre decor and a smattering of seashells would help me weather the time. But it just looks like some crazy person in denial lives here.

I just want to pack up the entire family and drive to Sanibel, on the gulf coast of Florida. But we don't have any money at the moment, which puts a certain kink in the plan.

We have to leave. We don't belong here. We don't care about what cars we drive, or how our house compares to everyone else's, or the school system, or climbing a corporate ladder. Our hearts are buried somewhere in the middle of a sand dune. Our windows belong open, with salt-infused breezes whipping through the house. Our girls should be perennially barefoot and tanned, surfboards under their arms as they run to the waves. Time to go, time to go, it is more than past time to go.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fish the Magish

Since neither G nor M had school today, (M due to this third snow day, and G because she doesn't have school on Wednesdays) we decided to make our way down to G's preschool. In honor of Catholic School's week, they were sponsoring a performance by Fish the Magish, a local entertainer for kids who's really a lot of fun.

Many parents in Raleigh have probably seen Fish the Magish perform at one time or another. He's been to the girls' preschool each year, though this is the first time I'd had the opportunity to see him.

In business for fifteen years or so, Mike Fisher is a middle-aged southerner who presents his 30 minute shows to preschool through junior high audiences, tailoring his act to specific, age-appropriate themes. He incorporates lessons in character education into his preschool shows, and curriculum based standards of learning in his elementary aged shows.

For G's preschool, he emphasized self-control and appropriate behavior, made the kids laugh at his silly mistakes, and wowed them with some pretty neat magic tricks. He was engaging, funny, and kid-friendly. Both the kids and the adults loved it.

For information on upcoming performances, check out the calendar pages of Carolina Parent, or email him at

Snow Days

It is Wednesday, five days after the big snow. School is still out, but that's par for the course here in our area of North Carolina.

Raleigh just doesn't usually get much bad weather. They can't justify the cost of massive amounts of snow-removal equipment or salt, and so in most cases, they try to salt in advance, they plow a little, and they wait for it all to melt. As frustrated as I want to get with this, I guess I can't blame them.

The problem I have is with the lack of common sense that goes along with the emergency management efforts. For example, part of the reason schools are closed on this sunny, 50 degree day is because the school parking lots are still full of snow and ice, as are the parking lots where the buses are stored. The roads are all clear. So are our neighborhoods.

So couldn't the principals have just planned in advance to pay someone 20 bucks to plow their school parking lot? Heck, for the amount of money the administrators make, they could even foot the bill, or take it out of the PTA funds, or something. They've had four days to figure something out. I know there are people out there willing to run a personal plow through for next to nothing, especially in this economy. I know, I know. Liability issues and all that junk. But our kids have lost three days of school that half-day Saturdays aren't going to come close to making up for.

Yeah, emergency management - that's an issue I'd love to see our new school board tackle.