***Please read the disclaimer to the right. The following is the latest in several installments by former teacher and school board member for the Highland Community School District, Nick Smith. They are lessons to a future student, Cal-Em (Lesson 1 , Lesson #2 , Lesson #3, Part I, Lesson #3, Part II , LESSON 4 , Lesson 5: [part 1], Lesson 5[part 2], LESSON 5 [part 3], LESSON 6, LESSON SEVEN, Part I, Lesson 7, part II, LESSON 8, Lesson 9, Lesson 10 , Lesson #11 , Lesson #12, Lesson #13 , Lesson #14 Lesson #15 , Lesson #16 , Lesson #17 )
LETTERS TO CAL-EM A PERSONAL HISTORY OF HIGHLAND By Nick Smith SCREWED
Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers. [Socrates 420 B.C.]
Curriculum alignment became the craze for a while, and, of course, what we had wasn’t good enough to satisfy the trend of curriculum development, which was to document the relationship between every component of the curriculum. In short, it was a new way to do what we were already doing but on more specific and prescribed forms. Curriculum mapping is a process for collecting and recording curriculum-related data that identifies core skills and content taught, processes employed, and assessments used for each subject area and grade level. The completed curriculum map then becomes a tool that helps teachers keep track of what has been taught and plan what will be taught. Creating and working with curriculum maps is a 7-phase process involving:
Phase 1: Data collection
Phase 2: A review of all maps by all teachers
Phase 3: Small mixed group reviews, in which groups of five to eight diverse faculty members share individual findings
Phase 4: Large group comparisons, in which all faculty members gather to examine the findings of the smaller groups
Phase 5: Identification of immediate revision points and creation of a timetable for resolution
Phase 6: Identification of points requiring additional research and planning, and a timetable for resolution of those points
Phase 7: Planning for the next review cycle
The purpose of a curriculum map is to document the relationship between every component of the curriculum. Used as an analysis, communication, and planning tool, a curriculum map
- allows educators to review the curriculum to check for unnecessary redundancies, inconsistencies, misalignments, weaknesses, and gaps;
- documents the relationships between the required components of the curriculum and the intended student learning outcomes;
- helps identify opportunities for integration among disciplines;
- provides a review of assessment methods; and
- Identifies what students have learned, allowing educators to focus on building on previous knowledge.
Bear in mind that curriculum maps are records of implemented instruction — of what has been taught during the current school year. Sadly, at Highland, we somehow got the whole thing turned around and treated curriculum mapping like a curriculum guide, trying to pre-plan based on a monthly calendar starting in September and ending in May. It was the biggest flub I’ve ever seen. Not one single teacher understood what the Curriculum Director wanted, and what’s even more amazing, the Curriculum Director didn’t know what he wanted at all. We ended up with a colossal amount of paper work and effort that couldn’t be used by anyone. Many of our reform efforts turned out this way because the Richard Heads wanted what other schools were doing, but they didn’t understand what the initiatives were about, how they operated or what the process required. So, many of Highland’s so-called reforms were destined for failure before they began because they were poorly planned and poorly understood. Some, however, put feathers in the caps of the administrators, helping them with their individual careers. Staff could always tell when an administrator was looking to leave Highland because there was always a building project of some kind or a new fad improvement dumped in place.
Below is the template for Highland’s Curriculum Map
As you can see, this system was a disaster for the teachers and the students. Not even the curriculum director could figure out what was needed for this school improvement reform. We wasted our time trying to fill these dumb things out for three semesters and working them into our classes, but in the end, we abandoned it all and moved on to something else.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE
A board member’s son continually refused to do assignments for my class. This refusal, along with many other school violations, made him ineligible for sports. His parents were very upset, and his board member parent started retaliating against me and some other teachers. The complaint persuaded the administration to apply enormous pressure on me to pass the student even though they had failed my class due to their own actions. From January to June of that year, the superintendent harassed me constantly to pass this student. The student refused to complete even one assignment for my class, which was required for graduation. When it became obvious that the student would not graduate, pressure from the superintendent and the school board became severe. My career was in jeopardy as the administration continued to badger me. I offered several possible solutions, but the student refused them all. Finally, I was ordered to pass the child or be terminated. A grievance was filed on my behalf, infuriating the superintendent. The work place became a very hostile environment. In the end, the student failed most of their classes and could not graduate. Even on the Friday before graduation, the administration held a teachers’ meeting to inform us that this student would walk across the stage and receive an empty diploma case. The staff refused the idea, and threated to go to the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) and the Department of Education. The superintendent and the board member vowed to “get even” with me for being the teacher who wouldn’t pass the student. My “trouble maker” status continued.
Much of my “trouble maker” status came from one person who continued to perpetuate the myth from administrator to administrator. I’m not sure what I ever did to garner her dislike, but it must have been something. Bev was the superintendent’s secretary when I started at Highland, and then she became the school board secretary, and finally, she became the business manager for the Highland community School district. Bev Colbert was very good at her job, always pleasant and smiling, but she didn’t care much for anything or anyone that upset the apple cart. Know the truth, Bev Colbert actually ran the school, its finances, its administration, its direction and all of the decisions and programs related to the school. She knew the budget and administered it according to her own interpretation with little regard for the superintendents or the board. She held enormous power within the system because she knew the basics of school finance that none of the superintendents ever knew. Bev, like most valuable employees, liked to please her bosses, and it became natural, I believe, for her to offer them some form of comfort when they made horrible blunders and acts in violation of the contract and human rights. I, naturally, became the perfect scapegoat—the patsy fall guy when blame needed to be placed somewhere. She did the most to perpetuate my “trouble maker” label from administration to administration for reasons only she knows. Maybe she thought I really was a troublemaker, rather than the designated “rights chair” representative of the Highland Education Association.
Following is a note a former school board member gave to me some time ago. I had asked if he could share some memories with me from his time on the board, and this is some of what he sent me.
Regarding Nick Smith:
“When I was elected to the Highland School Board, the superintendent at that time, xxxxxxxxxx, asked to meet with me to tell me a little about Highland. During our meeting, he stated that there were two “trouble makers” in the high school. I pointedly did not ask who they were and instead asked other questions. Before our meeting was over, he returned to the subject of the troublemakers and said that he might as well just tell me whom they were and proceeded to name the two troublemakers as Nick Smith and Jerry Lippert.
“At that time, it was rare to have any one attend the board meetings so most of the meetings were just the superintendent, board secretary, Bev Colbert, and the board members. It was not uncommon during open board meetings for negative comments to be made about Nick Smith and Jerry Lippert. Comments usually were about how nice it would be if they would resign or if the administration could just get rid of them.
“During my first year on the board, I attended a board convention in Des Moines with the other board members. While socializing before dinner, xxxxxxxxxx was again complaining about Nick Smith. One of the board members asked just what the problem was with Mr. Smith and xxxxxxxxxx said, “He’s very intelligent, maybe the most intelligent person I’ve ever met, he’s an excellent teacher and the students and parents all seem to like him, but if it wasn’t for that damn union, I’d fire him anyway.” At that point, I said, ‘Well I guess we wouldn’t want any intelligent, excellent teachers that are liked by students and parents on staff.’ And I walked away, disgusted.”
Later, a former principal at the high school shared their experiences with the superintendent and Bev Colbert concerning my role as the rights chair with the union. He confirms the fact that I was targeted by the administration for special treatment as a troublemaker because I represented the rights of the employees, which the administration seemed determined to ignore or trample on as they saw fit. In addition, I gave them someone to vent their frustrations on when they didn’t get to disregard teacher’s rights and discriminate against them.
“I would like to go on record in saying Mr. Nick Smith was one of the most outstanding teachers and persons I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with and knowing. Mr. Smith spent endless hours before and after school working with students from the highest academic levels to our special needs students that required help. Mr. Smith provided summer school help to students before the school had a summer school program. This I might add was without any pay from the district or parents. Mr. Smith served on many committees to help formulate programs and building policies to help benefit students. These are some of the committees Mr. Smith was a member: At-Risk committee, Child Study Team, Alternative High School, SSR reading committee, CSIP School Improvement committee, Student Study Skills, Teacher in-service Committee, Teacher Rep, school calendar committee, MAP testing Proctor, Special reading Program for non-proficient students etc.
“Mr. Smith carried a full load of courses, which included three college credit courses, Comp I, Comp II and Forms of Literature. He was an ado teacher for a local college. Mr. Smith was always willing to give of his time and expertise to other teachers and students.
“I was Mr. Smith’s direct supervisor as principal and did many teacher evaluations of Mr. Smith over the years. He encompassed outstanding teaching methods and knowledge of the content he was teaching. His ability to help students understand the material, and allow them to express meaningful ideas and concepts was exceptional.
“During the time at Highland, I found some of the administrative team, like the school board secretary, superintendent and some school board members rude, unprofessional and filled with comments like, ‘Smith is incompetent, a troublemaker and poor teacher.’ As I first mentioned, I kept [anecdotal] notes over the years. As I searched though my logs, I found comments made about Mr. Smith.
“I was talking with the superintendent and the board secretary. ‘I’m telling you to watch out for Nick Smith he is a big troublemaker,’ Person 3: ‘I have not had any problems with Smith, in fact he has been helpful as a new principal” Sec. ‘You don’t know him, he is always behind most of the problems at the school. Just ask the former principal.’
Board Sec. ‘Smith is out in the hall with a student. I feel sorry for xxxxxxxx.” Person 2: “was the student getting smart with Mr. Smith?” Sec. ‘I don’t know but when Smith is there, there’s going to be trouble.’
“A member of the administrative team that works with another area educational agency was part of an administrative staff meeting, and Mr. Smith’s name came up in the conversation. ‘Smith again, we all know he creates problems at the school. I’ve worked with him many times.’
“The school board secretary makes the comment about Smith is a troublemaker.
The superintendent makes the comment that Mr. Smith is complaining about the teacher mentor selections. He is not very professional; he’s a pain in the butt.”
This is enough for now, Cal-Em. Let it suffice that when teachers stand up for their own rights, demand that the agreed upon contract be followed and insist that the dignity provided them by the Constitution of the United states not be violated through discriminatory actions by the school administrators or board members, someone will be labeled as a troublemaker. That person was I for many, many years. As for the administrators, they all do great for themselves, receiving large severance or retirement packages that no one else in the system gets. I’ve been trying to locate these secret packages, but I have not been able to locate them as of yet. I know that most of the superintendents received money packages, principals received money packages, and the board secretary received a money package as did the operations manager. Why these severance and early retirement plans are not reported up front with all the other normal expenditures, smacks of a little secretive club action to me. I will find the money, and I’m betting it’s hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars that’s gone to the administrators’ club of hidden benefits.