Traded

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: [seeing Riker indulging in a variety of Klingon dishes] I'm familiar with the practice of a feast before a transfer; I've done it dozens of times. However, I made more palatable choices.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, "A Matter of Honor" (2/4/89)

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Late last week, the Lead ITAs (most of them, anyway) were pulled from our regular schools to assist at a high school that needed several meetings done quickly.

Something like this wouldn't ordinarily be a big deal; we're only too happy to help. But this year we have much bigger caseloads than we used to, and we haven't spent a ton of time in our schools, so I for one was a little nervous about going to the high school when I'm not even sure that I've got it all together at the schools that I'm SUPPOSED to be in.

Add to that the fact that, during the upcoming four-day week, I'm expected to spend three of them in court, and you've got one stressed-out person in me, plus a couple of principals who are also probably a little nervous as well. The court stuff is work-related as well, so nobody's going to complain about that one. Not out loud, anyway.

But here's where my anxiety, I think, truly lies:

When you're assigned to a school, you become a part of that school's culture. You get to know the teachers, the students, the way the principal operates. A lot of little pieces come together for you, and you can fall into a kind of comfort zone as you start to follow people's lives and understand why this parent needs an afternoon meeting; why that student is so frequently late to school; who tends to abuse the photocopier, and so forth. And as you get into this groove, you're able to make better decisions for the students whom you serve.

If you work in more than one school (as many IEP Team Associates do), it's a little more difficult but it can be done. But I've found that there's a tendency to lean toward one school as the "home" school and the other school is just that: the "other" school where you have to go and you're not quite so comfortable and you don't feel you have as good a handle on everything that's going on. And when you get transferred frequently, as I do for numerous reasons, and you have to start the process over yet again, you start to lose your willingness to connect with a school because, well, what the hell. We're just so much cattle anyway and I'm just going to get yoinked out of this building and stuck into another one so what's the fricken point of building relationships with an IEP Team and the teachers and the kids and the principal? Honest to god, why even bother?

And it doesn't help that, on the days that you're visiting another school and helping out there, you've popped in on a tightly-knit little community that just needs an extra set of eyes, or some expertise that they may not have (or, in fact, do but they don't realize it), and you're still the outsider in a way. And now, without some sort of "home base" to operate from, it's a very detached, free-floating sensation. I'm not grounded.

The school where I assisted this past week is really big on the "community" aspect of things. It's a Transformational School, which is ultimately going to be a Middle/High school, although all it has right now is a sixth grade and a ninth grade. But you can see that they are indeed building a community there, and one of the key components of that community is that nobody is excluded. In fact, this is why we were there: to re-write the IEPs to ensure that the students affected weren't removed from the community for any more time than was absolutely necessary.

We've had nine work days so far this school year. I've been in my assigned schools for fewer than five of those days. By the end of this week, by the end of the thirteenth work day, I'll be up to six.

Excluded.

Dr. Andy Gets Around

Earl Hickey: How was your first day of school?
Randy Hickey: Great! I really enjoyed science class. Did you know that before we were humans we were monkeys?
Earl Hickey: Really? What were we before monkeys?
Randy Hickey: I don't know. I can't even remember being a monkey.

My Name is Earl, "Randy's Touchdown" (10/4/05)

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The first day of school is different for people in my position. We're still getting our act together, making sure that teachers have the stuff they need for the Special Education students, chasing after records for the students who have transferred in, and so on. Most of us couldn't get all of this done last week because, of the four days we had last week, two of them were spent in staff development. How much of it could have waited until, say, early next week? Most of it. Not all of it, I'll concede, but most of it. We could have done a half-day, then gotten our preliminary work done, then done a couple of solid days of the staff development, and probably NOT have been as stressed as so many of the IEP Team Associates now seem to be.

My next day in the new school (Friday), incidentally, went better than the first one. I met with the principal, who'd read the email from my boss about what had happened the other day (or maybe she read the post here? Ha! Ha! Just kidding. I don't get that much readership). The conversation opened with something along the lines of "I hear you had a little trouble here on Wednesday." I didn't get too deeply into it but conceded that this was the case. She promised me the information that I needed, and later on was kind enough to introduce me to the rest of the staff, but the documentation I'd asked for didn't materialize until yesterday.

The other thing that happened on Friday was that the principal told us to be ready for a visit on Monday by Dr. Alonso and an entourage of others, and that the press was likely to be there as well. This turned out to be no exaggeration. There were two TV vans out front and about ten people in the parade of people touring the school. They probably would have walked right past my office if someone hadn't said "That's the IEP Office." Dr. Alonso poked his head in the doorway–literally–and said "Hi, how are you?" We said "good morning", he wished us a good year, and moved on. The rest of the parade, although they had stopped behind him, simply walked past because he was in motion. Picture a mother duck and her ducklings following behind: mama stops, all stop. Mama goes, all go. It was practically cute.

The tour ran throughout the building and moved on to another school. They were all over the city, based on what I later saw on Channel 13 and Teach Baltimore's post at his blog. (Dude, you need a snappier moniker.) At least three schools were visited yesterday that I know of, and perhaps they got in one more that I wasn't able to suss out. Supposedly there's more touring going on today.

But ponder this: at least three schools visited on the first day; at least two of them staffed by people who write blogs about life in Baltimore City Public Schools, and both of those people directly engaged by the CEO. That's an unsettling coincidence.

First-Day Hostility

[turns to the camera after being dissed by Elaine]
Ted Striker: What a pisser!

Airplane! (1980)

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So yesterday was actually the second day of work, but since we were in staff development the entire first day, it was my first day in the schools.

I got to keep my assignment from last year, but since they decided that that school, plus helping about 30 others didn't have me busy enough, they added a second school to my caseload. So now I have on school one day a week (last year's assignment), another school two days a week (new assignment), and helping the other schools the other two days a week. This would be in addition to fielding phone calls and emails when I'm in my schools, because if my attention isn't fractured then I can't screw up effectively.

Most IEP Team Associates get to see their homes by 4:30, even if they work in a "late" school. I'm usually hoping and praying to see my front door by 6:00. But, this is the life I chose, so.

I went to my new assignment yesterday morning. I got there later than I expected to, largely since it's on the other side of the city from where I live and I didn't anticipate the traffic involved. But nobody gave me grief about that part. Not that part.

As soon as I got in, I went to the staff sign-in book and the secretary told me to sign into the Visitor's Book. I said to her, "But I WORK here." Again she told me to sign in the Visitor's Book. Again, I said, "I WORK here." "Well, you're not in the book." I told her that it doesn't matter, I still need to sign in. She told me to create a line at the bottom of the appropriate page and sign in, then.

My next stop was at the mailboxes. I scanned the boxes looking for the IEP Team, or the ITA box. The secretary asked me what I was looking for and she told me that I'm looking for Mr. [my predecessor]. A few seconds later, she walked over to the boxes and smacked at the box, then sat back at her desk. I thanked her, took the materials and went to the office.

One of the special education teachers was there, reviewing a folder. She told me that when she came by on Monday, the room was a disaster, probably from the custodians taking everything out so they could wax the floors. She and another teacher took some time to put it back together, so that was kind of her. I started to get my caseload together and realized that, among my mail, there was nothing to indicate the students who'd entered or left the building since June. My caseload won't be accurate if I don't know who's there and who isn't, so back to the office I went.

"Hello," I said to the secretary. Nothing. Finally, after about ten seconds she looks up at me. "I need the entry and withdrawal documentation from the summer."

"OK," she said, and returned to what she was doing. Now, I didn't expect her to drop everything and come running to my aid, but what I didn't expect was to be competely ignored for the next fifteen minutes while she went about whatever she wanted to go about, rather than helping me. That was the point where I left the building and went to my other school, where the open arms welcomed me. And let me thank Jebus publicly that I have the same assistant because she's Just Plain Golden to me.

I'm not sure what it is that inspires this level of instant hostility in people, but this isn't the first time that this has happened to me. It's not even the second. But if I can't get my job done, then the school will wind up in violation of the Consent Decree and Federal law as well. And if the school gets charged with a violation, it's not going to be on me. BCPSS spies, you've been warned.

Half the Battle

James St. Clair: Sir, don’t you think all these deletion marks in the transcripts make it look as though you do nothing but swear?


Nixon (1995)


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Today, for the last day of the Summer program, I had to go to a mediation session.


A couple of months back, I attended a meeting for a student. The bottom line of this (and, of course, helping to preserve the confidential end of things) is that the parents wanted Baltimore City Schools to pay for the student to go to a private school, BCPSS said that what they can offer is perfectly adequate. There was no argument whatsoever with the content of the educational plan itself–the goals, objectives, accommodations, everything was fine, except the placement.


When parents and schools can’t come to a consensus on a student, either side can opt to go to court over it. This parent decided to take that route. So the first step was a mediation session, to take one more shot and see if we can get our acts together. Today was the mediation session for this student.


The student was represented by Wayne Steedman, with whom I’ve worked previously several years ago. The school system, of course, was represented by our own attorney and someone from the Office of Due Process. I was there and so was my boss.


We sat down and an administrative law judge explained everything that was going on. That this wasn’t on-the-record type stuff, what the intent was, etc. etc. Then we all had to sign a form indicating that we wanted to mediate the case. Then the discussion began.


About two days ago, Wayne hit us with a list of generic criteria that the student was expected to meet. Along with those criteria were some specific details. For instance, I’m totally making this one up, but they were looking for something that looked like: “Johnny will reduce the number of times he hits his peers with a French Bread. [no more than 3 times]” What we couldn’t figure out was where he got the “no more than 3 times” part from. Wayne told us that it came from the student’s former teacher, and that it was based on information she’d collected.


Something about this didn’t smell right to any of us and the discussion went around and around until finally I asked if he had this information from the school with him. He said he didn’t. I was floored. This is such a hot topic for you and you didn’t bring the documentation to back it up? I asked him, “Did you really not think it was important to have here?” Again he said no. At this point I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at him.


That’s when he lost his cool. He didn’t appreciate my laughing at him, my scoffing, and then he did something which I think took everyone aback: he called me an asshole. In front of my coworkers, the parents, his other associate and the administrative law judge. What could I do? I kept laughing at him.


Wow! I knew I was pushing buttons, but that’s got to be one of my better efforts. The judge immediately called for a break.


For once, I didn’t get crap from my boss for being snotty to someone because the bottom line was, I managed to cut to the heart of his argument right there. He had nothing, he knew he had nothing and he was pissed because I was calling him out on it. When we re-convened, the judge even asked if he had any data anywhere to back up the standards he wanted to set (never mind that he didn’t have it with him). He started to answer, “Well…” and didn’t get farther than that word. The judge interrupted him and asked again if there was any data anywhere. At this point he had to say he didn’t. I looked at my boss and raised my hands in the universal “There ya go” gesture.


Having said that, we got down to some serious points and we thought that we were actually going to get out of this with a satisfactory conclusion, but the fact is that Wayne was dragging his heels. We’d settle on one thing and he’d find something different that had a problem. This went back and forth and the judge asked for another short break. At this point we were all about out of patience with him and decided that we were going to take a stand.


I get the feeling that if it had been just us and the parents, we’d be done and everyone would be happy. Instead we got Wayne in there, trying to swing his dick in a huge arc because, I don’t know. I was going to say that it was because I managed to get to him (and he refused to apologize when our attorney suggested it–way to be professional there, Wayne), but who really knows. The fact remains that we’ve got a pretty strong case and this kid’s parents are wasting their money on this guy.


I can’t really offer up a lot more detail than I already have, but let me say this: It’s a pretty dark day when I’m the voice of reason.

Downhill From Here

Dave: I want you to look around. Here we have Lisa, who today very nearly gave up a career in journalism for a life in the fast food industry. Over here we have Beth, who dresses like a barmaid from “Blade Runner.” Mr. James, a millionaire who has spent the entire day eating food he knows for a fact to be spoiled. Joe, who has earned upwards of 11 dollars working as an amateur surveillance expert, albeit half of that is Monopoly money.


Newsradio, “Lucky Burger” (10/14/98)


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I can’t tell if this day has been disastrous or just plain bad. You be the judge:


My court date for the guy who stole stuff out of my garage was today. I checked the state’s website just to be sure I’m going to the right building and there’s a note that there’s parking adjacent to the building. Really!


So I get down there and nearly every space in the lot is Permit Only. There are three hundred and seventy-five thousand cars trying to get into 100 parking spaces. The nearby steers are no help, either, as they’re permit-only as well. Finally I decided to cut my losses and park in the Harford Heights Elementary/Middle lot. At worst, I can argue that I’m a BCPSS employee, so that counts, right?


Cross the street, up the hill and follow a sign that points me to the District Court. I go in through the doors and the person there asked me if I was there for Court. When I replied in the affirmative, she told me I was in the wrong entrance. “Out, around the side, down the stairs and in the front door.”


In the courtroom. I check in with the DA and have a seat. Thank god I have my Kindle with me because while some of the proceedings are interesting, most of them are not. The Kindle, incidentally, got some attention from a few of the lawyers walking around. Amazon may owe me a few bucks for the referral. It was two-and-a-half hours from that point before “State of Maryland v. Keith Joines” was called. I was a little nervous because I didn’t see him in the courtroom and I thought they were going to have to issue a bench warrant. Turns out that Keith Joines wasn’t in the courtroom because he was in the holding cell, in cuffs and ankle chains. I can’t say I feel very badly about that.


His attorney (the Public Defender, of course) noted that there were a few cases against him and that he wanted them all tried at once. I’m not sure of the reasoning behind this tactic, but whatever. The State attorney offered a year in jail for a guilty plea, which was rejected. Then he offered eight months if Joines would be willing to reimburse me for my losses. This, apparently was also rejected. In short, for whatever reason this guy wants to go to a trial. My guess is, based on a Maryland Judiciary Case Search I did, looking up the name “Keith Joines”, this is someone who’s gotten good at gaming the system. He’s hoping for a verdict that ends with “time served” at worst. He’s also probably enjoying the idea of using up a lot of time and resources. (Why am I using this Keith Joines’ name a lot, you ask? It’s sort of a baby Googlewhack.)


Since I got out before noon, I decided to go back to work. There was a student I was interested in observing, so I headed down to that school to see what was going on. Apparently there’d been a bit of trouble with Mom’s reliability in getting him to the school for testing (he’s a preschool-age student), so plans were made with the mother’s caseworker and all of the assessors descended on the school at the same time. This poor kid is SO autistic that he reminds me of my days working in the nonpublic school on Long Island. He’s going to be tough to place but I’m confident that we’ll do well by him.


A while later I got home and noticed that the package from Kansas hadn’t arrived yet. I checked the UPS website and noticed that it passed THROUGH Baltimore early yesterday morning, then went to Philadelphia, where it was scanned at about 7:30 AM. So I gave UPS a call and asked them what was up. They said that they had one more scan just outside the Philadelphia area around 12:30 PM but that was all they knew. However, the package could still arrive anywhere between now (almost 7:00 PM) and midnight.


Just for the giggles I checked again to see if there was a new scan. Now there was a new notation with a 7:58 PM timestamp for today: THE PACKAGE WAS DAMAGED IN TRANSIT. UPS WILL NOTIFY THE SENDER WITH THE DETAILS / ALL MERCHANDISE DISCARDED. UPS WILL NOTIFY THE SENDER WITH DETAILS OF THE DAMAGE


And, of course, GF neither declared a value for the package nor did she insure it. Let me do that sentence again: GF, and her mother the postmaster, didn’t insure the package or declare a value for the 35 pounds of meat inside it, when they handed it over to UPS. GF’s excuse was that she didn’t pay full price for it so she didn’t know what to say. Hm. 35 lbs of beef times about $5 a pound makes for a rough value of $175. So the most we’re likely to recover at this point is the original shipping fee.


You know, a more cynical mind would suspect that the package was “damaged” in transit, and that the merchandise was discarded by throwing it on a Weber full of hot coals. But I’m a trusting soul.

Second-Class Citizens Initiative

Evergreen Villager: The homeless first started arriving in Evergreen about 3 months ago. At first they were only a few of them, asking for change, sleeping in the parks. But then more showed up. And we realized there was something different about them. They fed off of our change to the point that they could actually start renting apartments. We knew it wouldn’t be long before the homeless actually started buying homes. And then we’d had no idea who is homeless and who wasn’t. People living in the house right next door to you could be homeless and you wouldn’t even know. Nobody could trust anybody. Fights broke out, war! That’s when I starting suspecting my own wife, who I’d be living with for 20 years, was actually homeless. So I had to burn her, in her bed, while she slept.


South Park, “Night of the Living Homeless” (4/18/07)


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Changes are afoot in Baltimore City Schools, but they aren’t all good.


I’ll do the good stuff first, since I’m so used to ragging on BCPSS that this will be a nice change of pace. By now you may know that BCPSS has posted significant gains on the Maryland State Assessment, pretty much across the board. A lot of people will try to take credit for this and I say: what the hell. Let everyone have a moment in the sun on this one. A lot of people have worked very hard for a long time for this (i.e. Alonso gets close to zero credit), and it’s good to see all that effort finally starting to pay off. You can click here to see how your youngster’s school did.


In the meantime, there are changes taking place in Special Education. As I’ve mentioned, there were previously nine areas in BCPSS: Areas 1 and 4 were Elementary schools, Areas 2 & 3 were K-8 schools, Area 5 was Middle schools, 6 & 7 were high schools, 8 was Charter schools and 9 was the “reconstruction” area, where schools had previously done poorly by NCLB standards. This all changed on July 1, when Areas 1-4 were rolled into one big area, 5, 6 and 7 were put together, and 8 and 9 were divided according to whether they were elementary/K-8, middle or high schools.


Each area has a Special Education Coordinator, and at the Elementary/K-8 level this is no different. There are still four coordinators, although they now have about 122 schools total among them, which is up from 98. So the Coordinators’ overall caseload has increased. Each Coordinator also has a Lead ITA, of which I am one. As of today, we maintain space at the old Area I office, where we share the room with the Area 4 Coordinator and her Lead. The Area 2 and 3 Coordinators and their Leads had space at Edmonson-Westside High School.


Cratchit0080 In order to ensure that the Coordinators were more consistent with each other, it was finally decided that all four of them should be located in the same place. The bad news was that they were all going to the Puzzle Palace at North Avenue. The worse news was that the four of them are going to be sharing a space that’s roughly the same size as the space that’s just occupied by me and my boss at present. Four desks, no bookshelves, no file cabinets, no privacy at all. You need to call a parent about a sensitive matter? Tough. You need to counsel an ITA who’s being disciplined? Let it all hang out, baby. Oh, and you’ll be sharing electrical outlets to power your respective computers, monitors, printers, fax machines and whatever else you have there. Hope you know where the breaker panel is, and don’t forget to save your work often.


The Lead ITAs? In a word, homeless.


That’s right. The Coordinators’ right-hand people have been given no space whatsoever. Desk space? Nope. Reference binders? No where to put them, so they’re out. Mailboxes for incoming documents from other schools? Forget it. Storage for archived technical assistance reports? Nuh-uh.


It’s bad enough that the Coordinators, who are supposed to be fairly high on the food chain (roughly Principal level; maybe a little higher but I’m not positive about that), aren’t being treated like the professionals they are, so much as they’re being reduced to this weird-ass Bob Cratchit state. It’s almost as nice as the photo above.


But now we’re learning that the people upon whom they depend will have no place at all to do their jobs in a couple of weeks. And it’s not as though we can temporarily move our stuff to the schools to which we’re assigned, because that’s still a state secret: we don’t even know what schools we’re assigned to yet.


Puzzle palace Why is this happening? Possibly some people are doing it simply because they can. Possibly they’re doing it because they didn’t really think ahead and to make a change now would be an admission of failure somehow (this is the “Dubya” model, which worked out pretty well in Iraq, right?). Possibly the people who could exert some pressure to give us space have more or less checked out of their jobs because they’re retiring, or transferring, or whatever, and don’t really give a damn anymore. Possibly because in the eyes of the Puzzle Palace we’re all just so much cattle rather than the educated professionals we thought we were. You make the call. 

Power Plays

Gil Grissom: It’s only the truly powerful that have the luxury to relinquish power.


CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, “King Baby” (2/17/05)


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One of the things you get to deal with when there’s a reorganization, especially in the school system, is the near-constant shuffle of bodies. Along with this comes the gossip and rumors regarding who’s in, who’s out, who’s where and who did they piss off to get there.


The other thing you get to adjust to is the shift in the political spectrum. It’s not unlike the old Soviet system, where people make these sudden rises to power, seemingly out of nowhere, and other people seem to just disappear. Some of them will get moved to other positions, often quietly. Others will suddenly “decide” to retire. But once they do, it’s like they’ve checked out of the game altogether, and even though they’re still in the job, they’ve begun to cede all the decision-making to someone else. If I have a problem that needs attention at the North Avenue level, my boss will tell me “Send it to A and copy B; C hasn’t been responding to emails lately because they’re leaving.” This often means that I’ll get two different (and sometimes contradictory) replies from A and B, and now I’m worse off than I was before I asked.


This is pretty much what I’m going through at this point. There’s all kinds of reorganization going on at North Avenue and elsewhere in the city, and everyone is still scrambling for their own little piece of the real estate because the dust hasn’t settled yet. Changes are being made on a daily basis with regard to who’s going to move where, who now works for whom, who got promoted, who got demoted, and whatever else there is to deal with. And right now my boss and his counterparts are the bones in a dogfight. First they’re told that they answer to one person, then another, then they’re going to move to one location, then another, then they’re told that they may not go to the second location after all. (And while the four of them are being given direction as far as moving/not moving, there’s been no word whatsoever about whether the Lead ITAs will be going with them. Which means that the Coordinators could get moved to North Avenue and the Leads be left without an office, or a desk, or much of anything else other than extra responsibility and not a dime extra money.)


In addition to this, my boss and his three counterparts have tried to take some initiative to get themselves organized before school gets started. And in each instance, because he’s taken the lead on whatever they’ve done, he’s gotten a rather rude and public smackdown from one of the Bigger Paychecks Now In Charge because, how dare he do what he’s done. So for the time being he’s going to play dumb and deaf and wait for all the dick-measuring to be over and done with so that we can maybe start to get some work done.