Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Superintendent Barresi's letter to Moore Teachers with Teacher Comments

**DISCLAIMER** This piece has been read and revised and edited with the eyes of my friends...I'm sure Superintendent Barresi has even MORE friends than I who would have helped her with her letter. I am grateful for the sharp eyes of friends.

**UPDATE** A fellow teacher, formerly an attorney, found the statute Superintendent Barresi quotes in her letter below. To quote my friend, Christie Paradise, "Here is the statute she references. I don't see anything preventing her from getting supplemental funding for this year. Next year's allocation isn't effective until August 1st. Whatever they gave them would have to come from this year's budget. However, if the SDE can afford to pay Koch Communications to manage a FB page, I assume they have money to allocate. I also don't see anything preventing them from getting a supplemental allocation from the legislature. All in all, in my very non-expert, non-researched opinion, I would think there are ways to accomplish this if they wanted to. Notice that she never mentions the fact that she said she doesn't think they really need the funding."

I am (was) an English teacher. Words matter to me. Clear communications matter to me. Respect for the audience matters to me. I was trained early on in my career to carefully proofread any note or letter that would go to parents or colleagues. I was trained to get a second pair of eyes to double check. NOT doing that can easily lead to a loss of credibility in the eyes of my audience. I try here and other places to read, reread what I've written. I expect the same from colleagues and other professionals. 
That's why I was surprised and deeply disappointed by the forwarded letter I read from Superintendent Janet Barresi to the teachers of Moore, OK. 
Moore lost two schools, seven babies in those schools, and a teacher who took refuge in a convenience store. Those losses are real and devastating. I had taught a graduate course for a local university in one of the schools, Plaza Towers Elementary, and remember our happy times within those walls, now gone forever.
Superintendent Barresi insinuated herself in the district meeting, attending the meeting at a local church in blue jeans, arriving late, walking directly to the front and sitting with the district leaders. Her appearance made few friends among these grieving educators. She took the microphone and promised to move heaven and earth for Moore Schools. She invited the leaders to think big, to ask for what they wanted.
She insisted she'd postpone due dates for district reports, even after being told by Moore officials that the reports were ready to be sent to the OSDE, and they did not need a postponement. The reports were sent early.
There was one request...funding. Money to carry the district through until appropriations law in August, in practice more like September. That one request was summarily refused, citing 'state law' but not quoting state law. Funny how NOW she's bound by state law. She's played fast and loose with the law before this pronouncement.
Pushback on social media and reports in mainstream media have prompted this self-serving, poorly written, even more poorly revised and edited, letter to all the teachers of Moore, OK...
I have read it and here offer my concerns with the writing, not the substance, of the piece. Superintendent Barresi has, at her disposal, a spokesperson in charge of public relations, and she has recently hired Koch Communications to run social media, and presumably, her re-election campaign. One would hope she availed herself of these resources, but judging by the writing here, I can only think she did not.

Read how many times she used the word "I", how many times she took credit for learning something, talking to someone, directing her staff to do something.
Editing your communications before you send them is a sign of respect for the audience. It is dignifying others, helping them to quickly and accurately understand your message and your intent.

When words are used incorrectly, editing is overlooked, entire sentences are repeated, I wonder how much the author really cared about the audience. This was an important message that went out to hundreds of professionals. Whatever the intent was, it has angered and offended these professionals. It's angered and offended me FOR them.
A word about the formatting...underlined text is related to my remarks in parentheses, in red. I don't ever use a red pen with my students, because they're learning the trade...Professionals, I hold to higher standards.

What might be the underlying motive of the piece, I am not sure -- to inform, or as I suspect, to convince. There are times within the text that I editorialize, but as this piece is my model, I gave myself license.

"Dear Moore Public Schools,
As you know, we’ve passed the one-month mark since the May 20 tornado ravished (Um – ravish is what a pirate does to a princess. Ravage is what a tornado does to Moore, OK) Moore and southeast (Or SW?)  Oklahoma City. I know that you have been working hard, focusing on recovering, rebuilding or helping others to do so. It is important for me to communicate directly with you (Why? No reason is given. I wonder if the teachers in Moore felt it important to hear from Superintendent Barresi.) to let you know Moore Public Schools is and has constantly been in my heart and prayers as well as those of the entire staff at the State Department of Education. I also want to update you on what the SDE has done to help your district and what plans are ahead to help further.As you know, we’ve passed the one month mark since the May 20 tornado ravished Moore and southeast Oklahoma City. I hope this letter finds you well as many of you are recovering, rebuilding or helping others to do so. It is important for me to communicate directly with you to let you know Moore Public Schools is still in my heart and prayers as well as those of the entire staff at the State Department of Education. I also want to update you on what the SDE has done to help your district and what plans are ahead to help further (Repeat…cut and paste problem…no spacing after last sentence).
Just days after the tragedy, the State Board of Education (Did the Moore Schools ASK you to do this? Did they need you to do this?) unanimously voted to waive the remainder of the district’s instructional days as well as end-of-year deadlines for state required reports. This was done to help the administration focus on recovery in the aftermath of the tornado. (I have heard the district already had the reports completed and turned in early…why take credit for something the district distinctly did not request? Why hide the fact the district didn't want this extension? This seems to dilute the point.) In the days that followed, I announced that our teacher certification department would waive the usual fees for duplicate certified personnel certificates for any teachers or support staff who lost their certificates in the tornado or the storms that followed. I’m pleased to say that some teachers have already taken advantage of this offer. If you are in need of a new certificate, please call 521-3337. The fee is waived until May 2014.
(New paragraph…space needed)I want to address reports claiming (Loaded language. Diction matters…’claims’?) I refused to release the district’s state aid a month early (That  is not a claim – that is a fact. The superintendent has been on TV telling us she wouldn't release funds) so the district would be able to cover up-front costs for recovery before the start of the new school year. I want you to know that I am personally committed to helping Moore Public Schools in any way I can, but it is simply not possible for me to grant this request. It is against state law (Title 62. Public Finance, Chapter 1, Section 34.46) (Aha! New information. This is the first time specific statute has been referenced. We’ll be checking this) for the State Department of Education to release money to school districts before August and those funds must be distributed on an 11-month basis. I regret that I was not able to grant this request ( What was done instead? I hear the Superintendent promised to do anything…whom did the OSDE consult? I know Legislators have not been asked to look into creative solutions. I’ve asked) made by your incoming Superintendent Robert Romines, but I have to abide by the law.
After being met with that red tape, I looked aggressively for other options. One option included using the Emergency Cash Management System that has been set up to help schools with cash flow problems (What a slap in the face to a solvent, careful district…a district that has been a good steward…That CANNOT be the only solution. This is an insult to a grieving school community). Private lending companies extend these loans and they come with fees and interest as is associated with any loan. Neither I nor the state has the ability to waive these fees and interest. Your administration did not want to incur the extra cost that comes with these loans so they declined this offer. I fully support and understand that decision.
(Again…new paragraph needed…spacing, please) Continuing on our pursuit, I reached out to the director of the state’s Office of Emergency Management (So, the only reason Mr. Ashwood knew about the problem is because the OSDE contacted him? Sounds like OSDE is trying to take credit here. WHY isn’t he contacting Dr. Romines? That's DR. Romines, NOT Mr. Romines, as mentioned below. Why isn’t the state of Oklahoma reaching out to this district?) , Albert Ashwood, to inquire about what could be done to help your school district. He assured me he would work to take care of every affected school district that had any needs arising from the tornadoes or storms. I encouraged Mr. Romines to contact the Mr. Ashwood.
The Commissioners of the Land Office, of which I am a member, provides monthly distributions to school districts. I found out today ( Shouldn’t this news be shared FIRST with the leaders of the district? Tone suggests credit is due, even though the Superintendent learned of the news, didn’t participate in any decision) that Moore Public Schools will be receiving $518,810 this month. That is almost $400,000 more than you received last year in the month of June.
As we move closer to the first day of school, I continue to work with my staff at the SDE to make sure the new school year starts well. (Awkward…again, must correct Dr. Romine's title. He has a PhD. it must be honored, as we would honor a DDS) Mr. Romines has asked me to send a letter to all district superintendents asking them to cooperate, not just with Moore Public Schools, but all school districts that have families requesting emergency student transfers for their children. This is so their children may attend school at their home schools while their families rebuild. I will be sending this message out later this week. It is very important for students whose families have had to move out of their home district while rebuilding to attend school with their friends and teachers in the fall so they can all support each other during what maywill (may well??) be a difficult year.
(New paragraph…spacing problem -- again) When I spoke  with you at the district meeting held shortly after the tornado, I promised to help meet the classroom needs of those who lost so much to the tornado so they would have what they need as teachers, administrators and support personnel on the first day of school., and (punctuation) I stand by that promise. Many caring and generous individuals, businesses and organizations have donated school supplies to you already, but I know there may be additional needs. I have directed my staff (Again, seems to be more taking credit) to create a process where school staff can send a “wish list” to the SDE for what they need. We’ll post those needs on our website for the public to review and make donations. The SDE staff will deliver those supplies before the start of school. You will be hearing more about this project we call “Project Meet the Need” (Oh, goody! It’s a project with a name. That makes it all better.) in the near future.
Lastly, I wanted to share with you my goals for Moore Public Schools as they relate to you:The district should not be forced to spend General Fund (Classroom) dollars on response to the tornado and storms,
My intent is for teachers to have what they need for the classroom to begin the school year, andFor the 2013-14 school year to begin in the most positive way possible. (Fragment)
(New paragraph. Needs spacing) Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address you directly  (Speaking for myself, I find it mystifying that this letter was sent. Shouldn’t communications come through the district office?). Please know that you can always contact me by phone at (405) 521-3301 or email at It is an honor to serve as your state superintendent. (Confusing. Lacks parallelism -- this section of goals is not clear)."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Letter to Bill Gates -- details to follow

Dear Bill Gates:
You and I took very different paths to where we are now. You chose to drop out of college (I hear that hasn’t hurt your success any); I chose to follow my father and grandfather into teaching (bachelor’s degree, Reading Specialist, hours past my masters, National Board Certification, renewed until 2020). I have earned awards from my peers and from the state of Oklahoma. I have had the honor of teaching thousands of young people. I have had a very successful career, also. but even though I’m the career educator, YOU’RE the one affecting policies that directly affect the way I do my job.

Without any research, you dabble and try this idea and that. What do you use for credibility? Your bankbook.

Using extensive educational research on how students learn and how to help them learn more, I invented an English elective, Reading for Pleasure. Don’t, as other critics do, assume this is a blow-off class. It’s grounded in educational research on reading and writing. It affects lives. It raises test scores, it inspires students to read long after they’ve left high school. It creates life-long readers and role models for children.  All in one semester. Because I know how to teach, how to respond, how to do my job. What have I used as credibility? Two education degrees, National Board Certification, and 39 years of experience -- all of which you discount as important for my job.

Because of you and your reform ideas, states around the country, including my own, have moved toward more high stakes testing, high stakes for students and for teachers. We have had to cut back on electives that we KNOW help students become productive adults, so we can put them in classes that will raise our school’s state grade. We have been forced to turn students into tools – widgets -- for our own survival.

My class, ten years of documented success, will dwindle to nothing so students can take more AP classes…because AP enrollment raises OUR school grade. My class, ten years of documented success will die as my former school focuses more and more on test scores, school scores, in a desperate attempt to game the new system and the system after that. No longer is school a place for students to discover who they are, and what they love. Now, because of your reform ideas, school is a constant pursuit of test scores. The joy and love and passion is draining out of every classroom. I hold you and your money partially responsible.

Your ‘reforms’ have killed my class. Common Core will hammer the last nail into the coffin of true student-centered learning and teaching. No longer will students be allowed, as they were in my class, to choose what to read, to read for their own reasons, to write reflectively (David Coleman, also with no teaching experience, has decided Readers Response, a time-honored tool for helping students reflect about what they’ve read, is of no value), to become part of a reading community for the first time in their lives. No longer will student discover they ARE good readers, they CAN comprehend. They DO have good ideas.

So, you, the non-educator, have deeply affected me, the educator and all my students. You have helped destroy a class that truly allowed and demanded students find their passions, their gifts, their way in the world.

I would never assume I knew how to do your job. I understand there are intricacies and procedures that are vital to your success.

I would never dream of coming into your workplace, elbow you out of the way, and take over. But you and your money and your success have done just that in MY job.

You have helped destroy my legacy.