A Teacher’s Wish for Joy, Not Depression

My friend Kipp Dawson in Pittsburgh sent me this Facebook posting by a teacher who calls himself Les LBL, but from context I assume is Les Williams, a middle-school teacher.

Unfortunately, there are far too many of us who can’t recognize the depression many of us suffer in. The expectations, stress, and demands are far worse than I ever imagined. At the level I teach (middle school), the expectation and pressure that you’re held to control the behavior of some students who obviously and sometimes not so obviously have social, emotional and mental and family challenges that make classroom learning a far-off secondary priority are at its highest with the least bit of support.

Everywhere I have taught I have found great and inspirational educators and great students who want to learn. Unfortunately, due to the shifting of challenges once shared by teachers, students, parents, and adminstrators, that has now fallen squarely on the shoulders of teachers, it makes the day to day struggle difficult and the future seem bleak, and many of us who are upbeat, charismatic, passionate, fun-loving, inspired and hopeful people have slowly changed into shell-shocked, beaten-down, tired humans who are soul-searching and trying to find a glimmer of hope at the end of a vaguely colored rainbow.

I still love teaching but the way it’s structured today, it certainly isn’t as fun as it used to be, and the more creative and passionate one is about learning and teaching truths, the more you are under attack and scrutinized in your profession.

Teaching shouldn’t be so combative between adults. Kids, I understand, lol, but between adults? Please. Definitely not only does each student and teacher deserve better but all of my family deserves better.

At the end of the day my wife Nikia N Williams just wants her best friend and husband to share quality time and be by her side each night, and my children just want their goofy dad who inspires, encourages, laughs with them and listens to them each day I come home. Too many days they get an exhausted, saddened but hopeful, loving father who wonders if their school days could be as uninspiring and negative as some of my daily experiences are. It’s really unfair to all parties.

My wife hates hearing about most of my school experiences because so many are negative or have a negative impact on my career and subsequently our immediate and future financial health. My wife has to delicately balance my children’s experiences with listening to mine and try to manage to stay positive herself- a tough chore in this social and political climate.

Many teachers are depressed not only with their own current situations but with the doomsday direction our education system is headed through. To me, I am a revolutionary so I’ll keep fighting but that doesn’t make it any easier. I wish many of my friends would not so much as say, “I gotta give it to you, I couldn’t do that,” or “these parents and kids today . . .” and instead say, “oh, now I understand how all of this is connected to all of our presents and futures, how can I help?” I’d say become more informed and become active because even if you have no children, today’s students still are tomorrow’s future.

My resolutions are to still try to find that line which allow me to leave a lot of stress and negativity at work day’s end and bring home only smiles, listening ears, hugs, positivity, laughs, loving support and quality time to my family. Thanks.

Paul Fucaloro, Director of Pedagogy At Success Academy Charter Schools, on Children as “Little Test-taking Machines”

Since Eva Moskowitz explained in today’s Wall Street Journal that the iron discipline at her school was devised by a veteran teacher named Paul Fucaloro, I decided to google him.

The first thing that popped up was this reference to him in an article about the high test scores of Success Academy charter schools:

Because the state’s exams are predictable, they’re deemed easy to game with test prep. But in contrast to their drill-and-kill competition, Moskowitz says her teachers prepped their third-graders a mere ten minutes per day … plus some added time over winter break, she confides upon reflection, when the children had but two days off: Christmas and New Year’s. But the holiday push wasn’t the only extra step that Success took to succeed last year. After some red-flag internal assessments, Paul Fucaloro kept “the bottom 25 percent” an hour past their normal 4:30 p.m. dismissal—four days a week, six weeks before each test. “The real slow ones,” he says, stayed an additional 30 minutes, till six o’clock: a ten-hour-plus day for 8- and 9-year-olds. Meanwhile, much of the class convened on Saturday mornings from September on. Fourth-grader Ashley Wilder thought this “terrible” at first: “I missed Flapjack on the Cartoon Network. But education is more important than sitting back and eating junk food all day.” By working the children off-hours, Moskowitz could boost her numbers without impinging on curricular “specials” like Ashley’s beloved art class.

The day before the scheduled math test, the city got socked with eight inches of snow. Of 1,499 schools in the city, 1,498 were closed. But at Harlem Success Academy 1, 50-odd third-graders trudged through 35-mile-per-hour gusts for a four-hour session over Subway sandwiches. As Moskowitz told the Times, “I was ready to come in this morning and crank the heating boilers myself if I had to.”

“We have a gap to close, so I want the kids on edge, constantly,” Fucaloro adds. “By the time test day came, they were like little test-taking machines.”

Then came Juan Gonzalez’s article in 2014 describing Eva’s move from Central Harlem to Wall Street offices, where the rent will be $31 million over a 15-year period. We learn too that Paul’s salary as director of pedagogy jumped from $100,000 to $246,000.

Then I read an article about the “miraculous” transformation of an elementary school in Queens, financed by Wall Street hedge fund manager Joel Greenblatt, working with the same Paul Fucaloro; the key to the dramatic rise in test scores was adoption of the scripted Success for All curriculum. That was in 2002. I searched some more and found that on the latest state tests, the same school did not do very well. Despite the hype, it was ranked 20th among 36 schools in the same district in New York City. Virtually 100% of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is struggling. Greenblatt and Fucaloro have moved on to Success Academy charters.

(The original name of the chain, which is a category on the blog, was Harlem Success Academies; the word “Harlem” was dropped as the chain moved into other neighborhoods across the city, like Cobble Hill in Brooklyn, a solid middle-class community.)

Carillon Groups Object to Moving Police Memorial

Byrd Park is fine, they say, just not near World War I memorial.

Fallen Richmond police officers, you aren’t wanted by World War I doughboys — at least not so close by.

That seems to be the message as plans move forward to relocate a statue commemorating 28 Richmond police officers who died in the line of duty from 1869 to 2003.

For years, the statue has languished in the Nina F. Abady Park at 412 N. Seventh St. downtown. The once-popular area has seen the public move to other local venues, such as Brown’s Island, and has fallen into neglect.

Last summer, plans seemed to be coming together to move the police memorial to the Carillon area of William Byrd Park.

“It turns out, the Carillon Civic Association doesn’t want it. Can you believe that?” says Glenwood W. Burley, a retired police officer who is leading the effort to spiff up and move the statue.

“There’s a lot of opposition to it where they wanted it to go,” says Sharon Hill, a vice president of the Friends of William Byrd Park. She says that it would have been placed in a setup of memorials and landscaping drawing one’s eyes to the Carillon, which was built to commemorate those who died in World War I. The Carillon was built with money from England, she adds.

Hill says she has nothing against the police memorial, just not in the place suggested for it. “It has nothing to do with World War I.”

Jack Frye, a board member of the Carillon Civic Association, agrees that the police memorial is a bad fit and that there are other places in Byrd Park where it might go. “There’s a little triangle on Blanton Avenue at the southwestern corner of the reservoir,” he says. “It has lots of foot traffic.”

He wasn’t sure who might make the final decision of where the police memorial might go, but says the city likely will be involved with its historic commission.

Back at Abady Park downtown, Maria J. Kirby-Smith and Lynda Solensky are busy cleaning up the statue of a police officer holding a child. Kirby-Smith, who lives in South Carolina, drove up with Solensky, who lives near Austin, Texas, to do the clean up with wax and water. “Chlorine is the kiss of death for bronze,” Kirby-Smith says.

She designed and built the memorial in 1986 and 1987 and drives to come up every now and then to keep it clean. That’s been a problem, she says, because of bird droppings and that homeless people have sheltered outside nearby and have used it as a bathroom.

Burley watches while he mutters about the Carillon situation.

InLight Richmond Announces Winners

This year’s InLight Richmond at VMFA was a success judging by large crowds on both Friday and Saturday nights.

Small protests by Virginia Flaggers of the Confederate Chapel being used as part of the art installation didn’t amount to much at all. For the most part, people were wondering what all the fuss was about.

Today 1708 Gallery announced the winners of this year’s InLight Richmond: Best in Show went to artist Alice Pixley Young’s “Lightgeist” which was selected by juror Alex Baker, director of Philadelphia’s Flesiher/Ollman Gallery. And, selected by the InLight audience, the New Market People’s Choice award went to local artist Eva Rocha and her Object-Orientalis (pictured above).

Here’s more from the press release on the winners and their work:

Alice Pixley Young studied at Ringling College of Art and Design and the New York Studio Residency Program, and received an MFA from the University of Maryland and an MA from the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Her work has been exhibited at Bullseye Projects in Portland, Oregon, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the 21c Museum in Cincinnati and Louisville, and the Currents International New Media Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In Young’s work, ideas of nature, place and memory are experienced through the layering of media and visual information. Lightgeist addresses the idea of systems, cycles and the change of light within the season. Through a small cityscape “set” and a projected video of flocking birds, she explores the way memory effects the construction of both our psychic and physical environments. Video projection marks autumn moving into winter, overcast days and crepuscular hours- dimming late afternoons and evenings and murky dawns.

In Object-Orientalis, Rocha explores the correlation between the de-humanized commercial relationship we have developed with the contemporary art object and the ways we have allowed ourselves to objectify other humans. Rocha is interested in how object-oriented views relate to other social issues, particularly the objectification of women and its implications for human trafficking.

Eva Rocha, a multimedia artist from Brazil, is a graduate student in the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University. She brings together her studies and her early experiences as an actress in avant-garde theater in Sao Paulo to create her current work, which utilizes video performance and mapping projection to explore the relationship between objects and cultural perspectives. She was awarded the Theresa Pollak Prize for Excellence in the Arts in 2015. Her work is in prominent private and public collections in the US and Brazil.

Event Pick: The 24th Annual James River Sacred Harp Convention at St. John’s Church

Nov. 7 Few things are as immediate as the human voice. Shape-note singing, the practice of singing music to syllables designating pitch, is one of the oldest forms of social singing. It dates back to the 11th century, when Italian monk and music theorist Guido d’Arezzo first assigned syllables to notes. On Saturday, Nov. 7, St. John’s Church holds the 24th annual James River Sacred Harp Convention from 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. The Richmond Shape Note Singers will sing from both the “Sacred Harp” and the “Shenandoah Harmony” tune books. Given the nature of the American a cappella tradition, all are welcome to join the vocal festivities regardless of previous experience. A dinner social follows the inclusive performance. Free. richmondshapenote.com or saintjohnsrichmond.org.

Event Pick: The Extravaganza at the Broadberry, Strange Matter and En Su Boca

Nov 6 With the cancellation of Fall Line Fest, the organizers of Strange Matter, Friday Cheers and Slimehole Productions teamed up to hold a music festival anyway. The Extravaganza, the one-night music showcase Friday, Nov 6, at the Broadberry, Strange Matter and En Su Boca, features a diverse collection of local music-makers playing with just-below-the-surface regional and national acts. Highlights include performances by New York rockers DIIV, Detroit industrial noise merchants Wolf Eyes, Montreal shoe gazers No Joy, and Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires from Alabama playing alongside Richmond’s own Avers, Mutwawa, the Snowy Owls, the Trillions and Manatrees. Sponsored by Plan 9 Records, Ardent Craft Ales, WDCE-FM 90.1, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and VA Comicon, the festival kicks off on the two performance stages at the Broadberry at 5 p.m. Tickets are $12-$30. thebroadberry.com.

Event Pick: “Newsies” at Altria Theater

Nov. 3-8 Inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York, the Broadway musical “Newsies” delivers its Tony Award-winning news Wednesday through Sunday, Nov. 3-8, at Altria Theater. The David vs. Goliath tale focuses on delivery boy Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro) and his efforts to unionize his exploited co-workers against the trickle-down ruthlessness of big business. Directed by Jeff Calhoun and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, “Newsies” features music by eight-time Academy Award-winner Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman. With more than 1,000 performances attended by more than a million people since its run on Broadway started in March 2012, Richmond gets its turn to check out the headlines. Call 592-3401 or visit altriatheater.com.