We’re hunkered down and in survival mode here in NJ… it’s like wandering in the badlands. We’re looking for a way out of the imposing terrain. To navigate out of the mess we’re in will be difficult.
At least three times a day I am engaged in conversations with colleagues and fellow administrators from other districts. It seems all we can talk about is the direction of our schools; we ask ourselves if this could get worse, if there will ever be any relief from the devastating budget cuts, or if we will ever be able to become the schools we currently operate. No one knows… and no one will know. But if I were to believe some people, the future of public schools looks dreary – but not because of the political winds or the budget woes.
NJ.com hosts a forum service for online readers. Some forums are sports oriented, other are town focused. The town forums often take on local political issues and events. The forum of interest to me has been alive with debate and comment about the school budget and the current showdown between the Governor and the NJEA. Here is a sample forum comment that has educators worried:
Rather that freezing salaries for one year and paying 1.5% of there salary into Health Care costs is unacceptable. Remember its all about the “children”. One more tidbit. With other Unions there membership has a loyalty that is missing here. The Union members would sacrifice two weeks a year without pay to allow subordinates to keep there jobs. Why are the N.J.School Unions so quick to through the less fortunate to the curb. Again, its all about the “children”. Hogwash!!!!
Anyone in our field knows the point trying to be made here is that the veteran teachers are throwing the younger teachers out with the bath water. In fact, it seems to me like the general public would like to see a sort of professional euthanasia; kill the older (i.e. “useless”) teachers and save the younger (i.e. “better”) ones.
Then there is the great iPod debate on the forum. Our district purchased a mobile iPod cart, equipped with 20 or so iPod touches. Anyone in education knows that an iPod can be used for some much more than just listening to music. But not everyone understands this:
COMPLAINT: Can someone please explain to me what is our BOE thinking???
If they are cutting out sports and other clubs for our kids at the High School, why in Gods name would they be giving every upper level Spanish student a new iPod touch? Aren’t they supposed to be CUTTING the budget, not spending so unwisely?Who will pay for these iPod touches when the kids break them or they are reported missing or stolen? Nice move BOE- let’s take away sports but hey, we’re giving you an iPod touch!
RESPONSE: You are mistaken. My daughter and her friends are using them. The iPods are on a mobile cart that is used around the entire district. This week it arrived in the high school so that the Spanish AP students could practice using them for the oral recording portion of their AP tests in two weeks. No one takes them home. The cart is in the main office – full of iPods. This iPod cart is used by all grade levels for science, math,ESL, and languages. An iPod is versatile and useful for more than just music. The district purchased the iPod cart because of its many uses. No one plans to give students iPods. Please get the story straight.
REBUTTLE: Who controls what apps are installed or used on the IPod touches when the students have them? what is wrong with purchasing normal calculators the rest of the world uses? keeping up with technology doesnt neccessarily mean giving students ipods.
REBUTTLE: When did the BOE buy these iPod Touches? And WHY did they? How much money did that cost when new media centers were built all equipped with new computers might I add. There aren’t any comparable programs out there that could be used on the new computers? Correct me, please, if I am wrong, but if there are only ‘X’ amount of iPod Touches available that are on this chart, just how many students can use them at any given time? With the new computers in each school, wouldn’t that have been a better avenue to pursue?I guess you should be thankful your daughter is benefitting from our BOE’s frivolous spending.
RESPONSE: Education is supposed to keep current with viable and purposeful technologies. Lots of schools use Kindles, iPods, and clickers – tools that assist the students and enhance learning for today’s students. You should be proud that the BOE has invested in such cutting edge learning tools. It’s called progress – not wasting money. Will you be upset when they have to replace all district computer stations every three to four years? Education is morphing – Dumont seems to be on the right track here.
REBUTTLE: I love the iPod touch. It is truly amazing. It has revolutionized the way I use a calculator.Agree with all who believe purchase of iPod Touches are a waste of $$.
RESPONSE: Come on… no one in their right mind would purchase an iPod cart so they could be used as calculators. There lots of Science apps, Spanish apps, Physics apps, and more. They are useful and meet the mandates of the new NJ State Learning Standards. Will you have a problem when the kids begin using blogs? It’s in the new state standards. The apps are controlled by the teacher. Perhaps you should visit iTunes University or explore all of the educational apps available other than the commercial baseball score-checker or gas station finder. Please, read something other than the Record (try educational technology journals, edu-blogs, or even explore the Apple Education site).
REBUTTLE: Now I don’t feel so bad about voting down the budget.
REBUTTLE: Vote down the budget and let the Mayor and Council take the extra Million. This will force our State Teachers Union to make draconian cuts to there future contracts. 30,000.00 teachers are scrambling to retire so they do not have to kick in for there Health Care. And they claim there for the children….Bull, there only in it for themselves period.
REBUTTLE: I agree that while an understanding of technology is crucial to furthering ones education, particularly at the high school level, this is not the time to be purchasing any new media. Unfortunately,per the budget, we just can’t afford it. Maybe next year.
So we’re into a whole bunch of issues here; a short sightedness to technology investment, a misunderstanding of what technology’s role in learning is, and a basic mistrust of the district. While combating this may be simple (talk to the community), it seems that, for now, the anger and angst is so deep that no one is prepared to listen to each other, nor do the opposing forces have much patience for each other.
I met with my staff last week. At the end of presentation, I made it a point to let them know where I stand with the dilemmas we find ourselves. In very simple terms:
- You are deserving of respect – by everyone.
- Your students need you and love you.
- The “outside” will never know your life on the inside. Don’t expect them to.
- Rally around each other.
- No matter the outcome of state and local politics, this profession is worth the mission.
It’s all I can do to help the faculty stay positive. I don’t have the answers, but I do have the insight to what is going on here. The public is attempting to place private sector economics and principles on a public and socialist employment system. Like forcing a square peg into a round hole.
BOTTOM LINE: What is happening in NJ is like a divorce; both parties blame each other for the problems; both parties want the other to pay the freight; both parties are using the kids as pawns; and both parties are looking to hurt the other. I tell the teachers that this is what a political divorce looks like. For years the NJEA and Trenton insiders have been married. Now that the Governor has called for a divorce, the separation and blame has gotten ugly. Much like the rhetoric on the forum.
As I said, the NJ education terrain is rough… this is the badlands.