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  • Parkland: One Year Later

    One year ago today, 14 students and three teachers were killed at their high school in Parkland, Florida, in the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook. Three months and four days later, a 17-year-old gunman killed 10 people and wounded 13 at Santa Fe High School only a few miles from my hometown in Texas.

    As a freelance writer and photographer, I’ve written two cover stories for magazines on the aftermath of these horrific events. Published just days before the Santa Fe shooting, “Generation Why” focused on the March for Our Lives movement started by Parkland survivors that spurred student walkouts and protests all over the U.S.

    The second story, “After It All Falls Apart,” looked at the slow recovery that is ongoing in Santa Fe, a small school district forced to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the school shooting within a nine-month period.

    The stories were written for the school board and administrator audience but provide interesting perspectives for noneducators as well. If you haven’t had a chance to read them, I’ve provided links to text versions in the comments below. I’m interested in hearing what you think.

  • Parkland: One Year Later

    One year ago today, 14 students and three teachers were killed at their high school in Parkland, Florida, in the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook. Three months and four days later, a 17-year-old gunman killed 10 people and wounded 13 at Santa Fe High School only a few miles from my hometown in Texas.

    As a freelance writer and photographer, I’ve written two cover stories for magazines on the aftermath of these horrific events. Published just days before the Santa Fe shooting, “Generation Why” focused on the March for Our Lives movement started by Parkland survivors that spurred student walkouts and protests all over the U.S.

    The second story, “After It All Falls Apart,” looked at the slow recovery that is ongoing in Santa Fe, a small school district forced to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the school shooting within a nine-month period.

    The stories were written for the school board and administrator audience but provide interesting perspectives for noneducators as well. If you haven’t had a chance to read them, I’ve provided links to text versions in the comments below. I’m interested in hearing what you think.

  • 'Communications 101' Column Published

    Communications 101 is my latest column published in American School Board Journal. Given the turnover that school boards see each winter following an election cycle, it’s a a good time to look at the do’s and don’ts of communications. Consider this a how to help your board become educated about the norms and protocols of your governance team.

  • 'History Lessons' Feature Published

    History Lessons, my timely feature focusing on the challenges of teaching U.S. history in volatile times, appears in the new issue of American School Board Journal. Read it in HTML form here or download a PDF of the story here.

  • A Tree Where Houses Used to Be

    Background: This photo, which I first posted seven years ago today, is from a trip I took to Joplin to report on the schools' efforts to reopen following a devastating tornado. At the time, my then-supervisor did not see "the point" in my going to Missouri to write the piece, because she thought it was not a good use of time and resources.

    Obviously (and respectfully), I disagreed. At the time, I had not written a feature in two-plus years, and felt an urgent need to keep my skills sharp. I also thought the story presented an important lesson that bears repeating no matter how many times you hear it: The best leaders are those who are the most resilient in tough times.

    Resiliency has since become a recurring theme in much of my work, and I point back to this trip as the true start of that.

    To see the piece, go to http://glenncook.virb.com/joplin.

  • Early Childhood Feature, Photos Published

    My four-page freelance story on the push for improved preschool programs is featured in the current issue of American School Board Journal. See the story, which includes six of my photos, here.

  • 17 Killed: It's time to DO SOMETHING

    Wrap your thoughts around the following paragraph. Say a prayer. And for God’s sake, DO SOMETHING.

    "This is at least the third school shooting this year, and one of the deadliest on record. Beginning with Columbine 19 years ago, more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus, according to a Washington Post analysis of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures, and news stories. That doesn’t count dozens of suicides, accidents and after-school assaults that have also exposed children to gunfire."

    — Source: The Washington Post, 2/15/18

  • After the Town Hall

    So I watched the CNN Town Hall as part of research for a story I’m writing on school shootings. In many respects, it had the feel of a community wake and the start of a larger conversation that is 20+ years too late.

    You can’t help but be moved by the raw words and visceral responses of a community traumatized by yet another horrific incident on one our nation’s campuses. Kudos to those who went into this knowing they would be roasted, such as Rubio.

    Most of all, kudos to those who said the time for talk is over. Don’t say something; do something.

    It’s worth noting those who were conspicuous by their absence. Why did the governor and the FBI not show? Why won’t state leaders engage these kids in public?

    Why? That’s the lingering question no one seems to be able to answer. But the tide could be turning.

  • More Thoughts on Schools and Gun Control

    I’ve been giving the situation in Florida a great deal of thought over the past several days and have a few observations:

    1. What makes this school shooting different than similarly horrific incidents is you have a community of teens who has had enough and is willing to do something about it. Say what you will about timing, grieving and place for these types of debates, but denying the power of these future leaders to galvanize and force change at a time when our government is stuck in its same-ole, same-ole battles is the equivalent of impersonating an ostrich. (An ostrich that, BTW, can’t decide whether to bury his/her head in the sand or a chosen part of his/her anatomy.)

    2. Saying these kids are fake actors or are having their statements written for them is a either a blatant misunderstanding or utter lack of respect of their intelligence and values.

    3. These digital natives are smart, pissed and have access to tools to bring their message to a worldwide audience in a nanosecond. They have no patience for platitudes, thoughts and prayers, no matter how sincere we are. Lip service is out; action is in. The fact that they are grieving openly while demanding change is not something that should be dismissed, but heralded.

    4. We talk about the current generation’s lack of civic engagement. And yet, when kids become engaged about something that goes against society’s longstanding beliefs/mores, we try to dismiss or disparage them. You can’t have it both ways. A bedrock of engagement is the knowledge that people can and will disagree before reaching consensus, and being comfortable enough in ourselves to allow that to happen in a civil manner. If, sadly, the pain and suffering of others is what has to happen to bring change, then we should be applauding them for their courage instead of denigrating them or dismissing their opinions.

    5. Note that I’m not making a blanket statement about gun control, espousing conspiracy theories, or disparaging the values and beliefs of others. There’s plenty of that going around already. My hope is that this level of engagement from our kids — the ones we claim are our future leaders — can be appreciated, respected and, ultimately, valued.

    #CNNTownHall #StudentsStandUp #ParklandStudentsSpeak

  • Following Harvey's Trail

    Earlier this month, I spent a week taking photos and reporting a story on Hurricane Harvey for an upcoming issue of American School Board Journal, the National School Boards Association’s magazine. Having written on the aftermath of natural disasters before, I wanted to understand Harvey’s far-reaching impact on communities and schools in the wake of the late August storm.

    Being there from Sept. 11 to Sept. 18 gave me the chance to follow Harvey along much of its 300-mile path from Rockport, near Corpus Christi, to the Louisiana border. At this point, cleanup was kicking into gear and schools were just resuming in many of the impacted communities, although it will be some time before those near the storm’s eye will be open again.

    In the hardest hit areas, the loss was overwhelming. Contents of family life spilled out into yard after yard and neighborhood after neighborhood, mixed with swollen sheetrock and the growing presence of mold. “Strong” was the byword used in many communities as they demonstrated an unheard of level of resilience in the face of an economic and environmental tragedy. The generosity of others — some fellow community members, some total strangers — was constantly on display.

    The story will appear in the November issue of the magazine, and I’ll be sure to share it here. For now, follow my camera on a day-by-day journey through a state that is injured, but not broken. And check out more photos on my Facebook photography page here.

  • Art Therapy Story Published

    Art therapy is a fast-growing but still relatively new practice around the world, having started in the early 1970s in the U.S. and Britain. In a story for the magazine International Educator, I looked at how this type of therapy is moving beyond the visual arts to incorporate dance, music and other forms to promote healing around the world.

    You can see this and other recent pieces I've written at http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.

  • '13 Reasons Why' Story Published

    A freelance story I wrote on the “13 Reasons Why” phenomenon and the effect it is having on school districts is featured in the current issue of American School Board Journal. The story looks at how school districts were caught off guard by the Netflix show about the death by suicide of a teenage girl and the tapes she leaves behind, as well as the potential legal and ethical ramifications for school districts.

    You can find the story at http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.

  • DeVos: A Poor Choice for Department of Ed

    Since the election, I've taken most of my political commentary over to Twitter, and tried not to weigh in here on the current "situation." It's just easier that way, and I'm not in the mood to offend my friends.

    But the appointment of our new Secretary of Education is worth more than 140 characters of snark that everyone can digest with ease.

    FIrst, I'd like to congratulate all of the choice proponents who've declared war against a proven, but not perfect system. Today, thanks to an unprecedented tiebreaker, you won. Our nation's children lost, especially those who are low-income, dealing with disabilities, and are traditionally marginalized. If you think student debt will get better because we have a billionaire running the education system, think again.

    Second, to Ms. DeVos, please join the other cabinet members who have managed to purchase power from this administration. Now, I hope you'll all get together for happy hour and salute the president with a rousing chorus of "I'm Your Puppet."

    Third, for those of you who voted for Trump because he is a businessman who does not represent business as usual in Congress, congratulations to you too. As my wife's grandmother used to say, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

    Peace out.

  • Apprenticeship Story Published

    Apprentice Approach, a freelance story that looks at how schools in Colorado are adopting facets of the Swiss apprenticeship model, appears in the new issue of American School Board Journal. You can read the story the story I wrote here and see a slideshow of photos from my trip with the delegation in the Events section of my website.

  • Making K-12 Ed Regulations Interesting

    How do you make the regulatory process surrounding the nation’s largest education law interesting? Take a look at my story in the Summer 2016 issue of ASCD’s "Policy Priorities," which focuses on the development of regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act, the long-awaited successor to No Child Left Behind.

    In addition to the main story, you can also read a sidebar that includes a step-by-step breakdown of the process. (And it really is interesting, too.)

    For more recently published articles, visit http://glenncook.virb.com/freelance.

  • Back to Summerton

    Note: Today is the 62nd anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that led to the desegregation of America's schools. For the 50th anniversary, I made several trips to Summerton, S.C., where the first of the five cases that led to Brown was filed. Last month, for the first time in more than a decade, I returned to Summerton. This is what I observed.

    If you would prefer to read this report in PDF form, download it here. To see the previous stories I filed for the Brown v. Board anniversary, go to my Award-Winning Stories section.

    For someone who doesn’t like cars much, I spend a lot of time behind the wheel.

    Between commuting and long rides to far-flung places, the miles are starting to add up. I have to take my wallet out of my pocket, just like my dad did, or my back starts to hurt. I need to get out and stretch more often, even though that adds time to the drive.

    I was thinking about these and many other things as I moved our daughter’s things home from Florida to Northern Virginia — a 900-plus mile commute — last month in a Budget rental van. Because the van’s top speed was 70 mph, no matter what the law allowed, common sense dictated that the ride needed to be broken up into two longish days.

    The advantage was that I had time to think and ponder. I also could stop to take pictures at several places along the way.

    One such place was a return visit to Summerton, S.C.

    First to Footnote

    Sixty-six years ago, a group of black residents from South Carolina’s Low Country filed a lawsuit that eventually would change history. Four years and one day later, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court made sure of that.

    The court decision in Brown v. Board of Education led to the eventual desegregation of our nation’s public schools and helped spark for the Civil Rights Movement. The roots of Brown, however, started in Summerton, a fact that is better known now than it was when I first went there in the fall of 2003, if only slightly.

    I was collaborating with a longtime friend, Cecile Holmes, and a group of her journalism students from the University of South Carolina. Cecile grew up in Columbia, about an hour from Summerton, and as a longtime religion editor, was interested in the role of African-American pastors in the fight against segregation. I was interested in the history and in the effect it had on education in the Clarendon District 1.

    Working with Cecile’s students, we went to Summerton seven times between September and December 2003 to learn about the community, its schools and what led to the lawsuit. The results of our collaboration were published in my magazine, American School Board Journal, as part of a 50-page special report marking the Brown anniversary.

    My story, “From First to Footnote,” looked at events before and after Briggs v. Elliott, the first of the five cases that eventually became Brown. The legal action started in 1947, when petitioners led by the Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine sought a bus so black children would not have to walk as many as nine miles each way to school.

    A subsequent lawsuit, filed by farmer Levi Pearson, was dismissed, but service station attendant Harry Briggs and his wife, Eliza, sued to challenge the “separate but equal” status of blacks. They were represented by Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

    For the story, we conducted extensive interviews with DeLaine’s children as well as current Clarendon officials and Joe Elliott, the grandson of the school board chairman named in the lawsuit. At the end, Joseph DeLaine Jr. — the torch bearer for his father and the lawsuit — said he might have to reach out to Elliott, who found himself ostracized when he started speaking in favor of integration.

    It was a small sign of hope at the end of a long and tortuous saga, one that saw families lose their jobs and homes. DeLaine Sr.’s church was burned by segregationists; he fled the state and never returned. U.S. District Judge Walter Waring, who supported the plaintiffs, was forced to resign his position and leave South Carolina altogether.

    Kill ‘Em and Leave

    The year after the Brown v. Board decision, a man from Barnwell, S.C., released the first of his many hit singles and embarked on a fractured version of the American dream. James Brown’s “Please Please Please,” released in 1955, started a six-decade career that saw him crowned as the “Godfather of Soul,” the father of funk and the forefather of hip-hop. He is the most sampled artist of all time.

    Brown’s childhood — he was born to a teenage mother in a small wooden shack near the Georgia border, about 100 miles northwest of Summerton — was not unlike many black children in the South. Growing up in extreme poverty, moving from town to town and house to house, he left school after the sixth grade, had a brief career as a boxer, and spent time in a juvenile detention center after a robbery conviction.

    “Nothing is simple when you’re poor,” author James McBride writes in Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul. “Poverty, for example is very loud. It’s full of traffic, cussing, drinking, fisticuffs, wrong sex, anguish, embarrassments, and psychic wounds that feed all sorts of inner ailments and create lots of loose ends.”

    What makes McBride’s book, released this spring, such a fascinating and gripping read is that it’s not a traditional biography, but a series of profiles of the people who played a role in Brown’s life. What emerges from the book is a man full of contradictions, driven by such an unshakable fear of loss that he trusted no one.

    “Behind the looking glass, behind the bluff and the ranting, the rages, the hollering, and the shouting, was a man so torn by conflict that he snuck off to smoke cigarettes so that no one would see him,” McBride writes. “Here was a man who rarely drank or cursed or let down his guard in public — which meant in front of people, in front of anyone, period; an incredibly lonely, overwrought, and sensitive man. A man who lived alone inside himself.”

    On one hand, Brown valued the promise of education for poor children — black and white — and helped calm communities inflamed by violence during the Civil Rights Movement. On the other, he treated his band members, wives, and children terribly and distrusted banks so that he left gigs with paper bags stuffed with cash.

    “If you want to keep your money,” he told one of his band members, “bury it in your yard.”

    No Outsiders

    I was in a rental car with Illinois plates the first time I drove through Summerton in the fall of 2003. We were just starting our reporting, and I wanted to get a feel for the place before we met with DeLaine’s children. I quickly found that outsiders weren’t welcome.

    As I drove down U.S. 301 and then onto Main Street, a police car pulled in behind me. I was heading toward the old Scott’s Branch High School, where there’s a small marker honoring the original plaintiffs, and had moved into the “other side of town.”

    The patrol car’s lights flickered and I pulled over. The officer checked my driver’s license and asked what I was doing. I explained and then was allowed to leave, but the random check shook me. The officer looked me in the eye and told me to “be careful”; I wasn’t sure what he meant.

    This past April, no one stopped me as I drove down the same street in the moving van. I’m not sure if folks weren’t paying attention, or whether the fact that the van had Georgia plates on it was a sign.

    Eventually, I found my way to Liberty AME Church, the site where the original petition that became Briggs v. Elliott was signed. I had to navigate around roads that were partially or fully closed due to floods last fall that devastated the Low Country. Even though 19 people died statewide in what was described as a 1,000 year flood, no one from Clarendon County perished. Many lost homes and property, however.

    As several men worked in and around the church, I introduced myself to the Rev. Robert China, who became Liberty Hill’s pastor in November 2014. China, a South Carolina native who is not from Clarendon County, showed me around the church and talked about the hardships of his parishoners. He showed me with pride the original petition, which was framed and hanging on the wall.

    “There are a bunch of roads still out, even though it’s been six months,” he said, referring to the flooding. “You’d think they could have done something to fix them and help our folks get back on their feet, but that’s not how it seems to work around here.”

    China talked about the church members attending a play In Charleston on the case, and how a museum in nearby Sumter is featuring an exhibit on Briggs v. Elliott. Later, when I mentioned that Joe DeLaine Jr. and Joe Elliott appeared on a panel together after the play, one of the church members shook his head.

    “Well, what do you know? I guess time does change some things.”

    Words, Context Matter

    In May 2004, after my magazine story was published, Cecile invited me to speak at a Brown v. Board panel in Columbia. Also on the panel was Edwin Darden, a longtime friend and colleague who has taught me more about race and race relations than I would have imagined possible.

    Ed, who was raised in New York City, has worked with schools for years, helping to ensure that boards, administrators and teachers look at education through an equity lens. We don’t always agree, in part I’m sure due to our backgrounds and past experiences, but my trust and respect for his opinion is paramount.

    I took Ed to the Summerton Diner, the white restaurant in the middle of town. Despite the mid-May humidity, there was a palpable chill in the room. The waitress was polite, but like the officer I had met months before, it was obvious that Ed — who is African American — and I weren’t necessarily welcome. When we left, he was visibly shaken; at the time, I’m not sure I fully understood why.

    You could say that children of my generation don’t know what it’s like to be part of a segregated education system. At 51, I’m part of the first group of students who went to integrated public schools starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, so if you’re threading the needle of the truth, you would not necessarily be inaccurate.

    But as one of my first editors reminded me: “Words matter.” More important, as Ed likes to say, “Context matters.”

    Race and Power

    Naively, I grew up thinking that integration was how things worked, that segregation and overt racism were going away. After all, wasn’t that the law?

    My hometown district was racially mixed, increasingly so as I moved from grade to grade. The prism I used to evaluate people was not based on skin color, but on attitudes, work ethic, and the like. As a kid, I had no frame of reference or understanding about the deep, ingrained attitudes and beliefs of the people around me.

    I was reminded of that again that day with Ed at the Summerton Diner.

    Even though institutionalized racism was no longer legal, the institution had not been taken away completely. Far from it, in fact. And all it takes is one look at the many regressive practices and policies of the past two decades to see what should have been obvious all along.

    Racism, at its very core, is about power.

    It’s about holding on to power and using it to control others. It’s about dictating movement in the status quo on your terms, a distorted version of “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” And when that power is threatened, when the shifts in the status quo go against our beliefs and values, we fight rather than adapt. At that point, power matters more than words or context ever could.

    Thank God some people — in Clarendon County, in Topeka, Kansas, and in other places across the U.S. — chose to fight the power.

    POSTSCRIPT:

    Thirteen years after my first visit, Summerton remains the best example of time moving slowly in small Southern towns. If you read my story, “From First to Footnote,” about the Briggs v. Elliott case, you might be interested to know what has happened to many of the sources mentioned in the piece.

    • In September 2004, Congressional Gold Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously to Harry and Eliza Briggs, the Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine, and Levi Pearson.

    • DeLaine’s children — Joseph Jr., Ophelia, and Brumit — spent years talking about the case and its impact on their family. Joe DeLaine Jr., 82, who served on the presidential commission that oversaw the 50th anniversary commemoration of Brown, lives in Charlotte and remains active with the BDP Foundation, the nonprofit that is working to help educate Clarendon school children about the case and improve opportunities for the district’s students. Ophelia DeLaine, now 79 and living in Florida, wrote a book on her father and the case. Dawn of Desegregation was published by the University of South Carolina Press in December 2011 and remains in print. Brumit, also known as B.B., died in 2012 after several years of poor health.

    • The Levine Museum of the New South’s interactive exhibit, “Courage: The Vision to End Segregation, The Guts to Fight for It” debuted in Charlotte in 2004 and was shown in New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles and other locations before returning to Charlotte again in 2011. It is on display now at a museum in Sumter, S.C.

    • U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring, whose dissent in the original Briggs v. Elliott lawsuit was the first against “separate but equal” schools and served as the foundation for Brown, was honored with a life-sized statue at the federal courthouse in Charleston, S.C., in 2014.

    • Sadly, it’s no surprise that desegregation failed miserably. Today, signs in Summerton point you to Clarendon Hall, a private, almost all-white school promoting “Excellence in Education in a Christian Environment.” No mention of Briggs v. Elliott is found on the Summerton website, although you can read about it on the Clarendon County website. 

    • The public school district, Clarendon 1, is all but ignored. But thanks to the efforts of Rose Wilder, who was recognized as South Carolina’s Superintendent of the Year in 2014, Clarendon 1 now is the second highest performing among South Carolina’s high poverty schools.

    The ongoing challenge for the district, in addition to the high poverty rates of many of its students, is to increase enrollment. Because Clarendon County's overall population has declined, so has enrollment, which is down by more than 30 percent over the past decade and now stands at just under 900 students. 

    The district has started advertising with billboards along Interstate 95, using the theme “Come Grow With Us.” Ironically, a majority of the children on the advertisements are white.

  • New Freelance Articles Published

    Two recently published freelance pieces, one focusing on the effect of student trauma and the other on Career and Technical Education, are now up in the "Writing" section and available to read here.

    “Responding to Student Trauma,” written for ASCD and published in its Education Update newsletter, looks at how trauma affects students ability to learn. According to the Defending Childhood Initiative, more than 46 million children are affected annually by trauma, with one in 10 facing five or more violent incidents in a year.

    Children exposed to repetitive trauma are at risk for a variety of physical and mental health issues—anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and a propensity for substance abuse. (Education Update is a member-only newsletter of ASCD; you can purchase print copies of the article and publication here.)

    The second piece, “Coming Around Again,” looks at the comeback story of Career and Technical Education in the February 2016 edition of American School Board Journal, where I am a contributing editor and technology columnist.

    Congress’ passage of the long-awaited successor to the No Child Left Behind Act was a major victory for many who opposed the constraints posed by the federal law on school districts, but perhaps the biggest win was for CTE. The program had seen its influence on policy decline amid demands for more academic rigor, college access, and standardized testing.

    Hope you’ll take some time to look at these pieces and glance through others that I’ve done over the past several months.

  • Comeback Season

    “As a journalist, I’ve always been fascinated by two subjects: The intersection of high school sports and community and how schools recover from trauma, whether it’s a natural disaster or a terrible event. The story of Sayreville has both.”

    Those words are the start of a six-minute slideshow I wrote, edited and narrated to accompany my cover story that is featured in the newest edition of American School Board Journal.  The story focuses on how a New Jersey school district responded to a hazing scandal that forced the cancellation of the 2014 high school football season.

    The slideshow is designed to give readers more insight into the reporting and what I learned during my two-plus days in Sayreville in late September. It also is a showcase for many of the more than 100 photos I took during the trip. Three of those photos appear in the story and on the cover of the magazine.

    I am extremely proud of this "Visual Storytelling" package, which examines the effect the scandal had on district leadership as well as students. The photographs give you a sense of the town and community, which strongly supports its high school athletes. The writing looks at how, after the resignation of the athletic director and the involuntary transfer of a Hall-of-Fame football coach, Sayreville’s team returned to action this fall with new staff in place and a heightened awareness about the effects of hazing and bullying.

    You can read the story, titled “Comeback Season,” online for a brief time here, or you can download a PDF here as well. Check out the slideshow too, and let me know what you think of this approach in the comments.

  • Teacher of the Year Honored

    President Obama honored Rebecca Mielwocki as the 2012 National Teacher of the Year in ceremonies in the East Room at the White House. Mielwocki, who lives in California, was picked for the award by representatives from various education organizations. I represented NSBA on the selection committee for the 10th time.

  • Education Nation: Post Script

    I recently had a chance to cover NBC’s Education Nation summit, an event that at times uneasily mixed the obvious with the surreal and left me feeling both overwhelmed and optimistic at the same time.

    The ambitious multimedia event, streamed live on the web and shown in excerpts on NBC News and the conglomerate’s multiple cable channels, drew a who’s who of star power from education, politics, and entertainment. On its own, the people gathered for this event would be enough to overwhelm. But after 2½ days of bickering, tears, posturing, and wary but determined hope, I was left fried.

    Did anyone get off their pre-established soapboxes? Not really. Will it result in lasting change? The jury’s still out. Did it pay attention to a deserving — if not the deserving — issue of the 21st century? Absolutely.

    Overall, the sessions I saw — except for one notable exception — generally were balanced. The events touched on math/science performance, the global economy, the need for highly qualified teachers, the battles between reformers and unions, and, especially, the plight of low-income minority students in high-need urban schools.

    On that front, it was not anything new or revolutionary. But then again, the issues are not new.

    One of my biggest fears was that the event would be a two-plus day infomercial for “Waiting for Superman,” the new documentary that I have very mixed feelings about. And those fears were not allayed when the film was shown under the tent in Rockefeller Center to an invitation-only crowd of 300 that stuck around for a panel session featuring director Davis Guggenheim, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Chancellor Michelle Rhee of Washington, D.C.’s public schools, and Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone.

    Canada is impressive. His fervent desire, entrepreneurial spirit, and outright chutzpah have led to a great success story — and an ever-present American Express commercial — in one of the toughest areas of the country. I appreciated the fact that he went out of his way to note that charters are public schools, some traditional public schools work as well as his, and the crisis we face is one we all should embrace.

    The Rhee/Weingarten battles, which continued throughout the summit, became tiresome, as did the relentless bashing/undermining of the work of teachers’ unions. I will never go down as the biggest fan of unions, but it was nice to see Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter come to Weingarten’s defense with regard to contract negotiations.

    Speaking of Duncan, the man is everywhere. I have never seen an education secretary be so passionate about getting his message — whether you agree with it or not — out to the public. And Nutter provided a nice counterbalance to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, whose allegiance to Rhee was a factor — but not the sole factor — in losing his bid for re-election earlier this month.

    If one group was underrepresented, it was school board members.

    My executive director, Anne Bryant, was featured on the closing panel that aired Tuesday, and board President Earl Rickman also was at the meeting. However, only a handful of school board members attended, and they represented other groups, such as parent organizations that were invited to the summit.

    That fact wasn’t lost on Andres Alonso, chief executive officer of Baltimore City Public Schools. Speaking at a session on "change agents," he pointed out that no school board members were on the panel and only two were in the audience.

    “They should be here discussing these issues,” Alonso said. “Reform in the absence of the board of education is problematic.”

    Amen to that. It’s why the absence of school board members continues to disturb me, both for personal and professional reasons. For districts to be successful, school boards must be part of the conversation. I was — and am — very concerned that the constituency of my organization did not have fuller representation. Worse was the powers that be at NBC didn’t seem to care.

    That said, you can’t help but be fired up about the future after what became a three-day pep rally to improve education in this country. I’ve always said that everyone involved in education knows what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and who should be part of the conversation. Where we disagree is on how to do it.

    If we know what works in public education, then let’s just do it. Bickering between adults gets us nowhere.

  • New York: 9/11/09

    Five years ago, on the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, I was in New York with Ben, who was about to start rehearsals for Ragtime. Because we were trying to work out the rehearsal schedule and how he would acclimate to his new surroundings, I got to know the assistant principal/dean of students on a first-name basis. This is what I witnessed that day.

    ••••••

    This morning, I was sitting in the assistant principal’s office at my son’s new school when the principal walked in and asked, “Do you think we should have a moment of silence? There are four times we could do it.”

    They proceeded to go down the list: 8:45 a.m., 9:03 a.m., 10:05 a.m., 10:29 a.m. The times were etched in both men’s memory.

    “The last one is during lunch,” the assistant principal said.  “Too noisy,” the principal said. “I don’t think we should do it then.”

    At that point, they agreed to two, one-minute moments of silence — marking the times that the planes struck the south and then the north towers of the World Trade Center.

    This low-key approach, coming on the eighth anniversary of 9/11, was refreshing, especially given that my son is now in a New York City public school just 5 miles from the Twin Towers site. No extremist hyperbole, no talk of terrorists, just two short moments to pause and reflect on a day that changed our world.

    Just down the street, at the corner of 8th Avenue and West 48th, a group of firefighters from the Engine 54 station gathered on this drizzly morning. Together, they walked across the street to a short memorial service honoring the 15 firemen from Engine 54/Ladder 4/Battalion 9 who were killed on 9/11.

    Another Anniversary Story

    On a related note, I was in Chester, Pa., when 9/11 occurred, reporting on a story for my former magazine about the takeover of the state’s lowest performing school district by a private education management company — Edison Schools. Five years later, I went back to see what had happened to Chester and Edison in the interim. The resulting story, “Failing District, Failed Reform,” can be accessed here.