Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Failure to Lead in Allentown SD

Where was admin. support for our elementary art show?
Our school board just approved more teacher cuts, another 98 positions on the chopping block, 406 positions eliminated since 2012. The vote was 6-3. See details here. And today, to add even more insult to injury, The Express TImes "Newspaper" decided to publish the names of  the teachers who are losing their jobs. Shame on the editors of that paper.

As a current substitute teacher, former ASD teacher, and a parent, I see the overall damage caused by the mass elimination of teachers. The decision to cut even more teachers is short-sighted and immoral. These cuts don't heal, children only get this one chance at an education. This is a failure in leadership of school board, and ASD central administration. 

This past school year my active 7th grade son was robbed of physical education/health class all year, because PE teachers were cut. No tech ed class for my son. The beautiful school library is dark, art and music teachers slashed to .5 teacher to serve over 900 students, but they keep piling on the reading/math, and other content classes, even though kids cannot concentrate at end of long day of seat work. This is a disservice to children, not age appropriate, it's even abusive. Teachers are stretched too thin. Schools have become unsafe due to understaffing. Kids are not happy. It's a failure to lead our district.

I taught art as a long term sub at 3 ASD elementary schools, seeing 2,000 students. These sweet children saw me only once every 3 weeks. I was unable to get to know them. But I do know that they are suffering because of cuts to related arts. Arts/PE programs are critical to a child's overall health and development. These programs have always been essential to public schools. They bring joy and teach important skills. These classes must be taught by certified specialists. So why is our superintendent, Dr. Mayo,  courting an arts academy charter school, for select "talented" young children, instead of restoring certified arts teachers so every child has an opportunity? I find his efforts to be immoral, and not in best interest of majority of students he serves. A real leader would be fighting, and finding ways to reinstate our arts teachers, to minimize testing, working to put a stop to unproven common core, which is diverting millions of dollars away from our classrooms. Dr. Mayo did not attend the opening of the elementary student art show, neither did our school board. In fact, the only administrator in attendance was the ASD's former arts coordinator, who is now an assistant principal. There were no administrators at the Trexler Middle School Spring Concert. Again, failed leadership, no real support for our arts programs, and demoralizing for teachers and students who work so hard.

Access to books is critical to improving literacy for children of poverty, yet our board approved cuts to librarians, with no plans to restore those positions. Failed leadership.

We need more Special Ed and Emotional Support help. Support is SO critical. Para professionals should get a better salary, they are paid under 12k per year to start, while Dr. Mayo makes over 170k! And he plans on taking a salary increase this year! And there are plans to cut special ed teachers and paras. This is a failure to lead, and a failure to protect our children.

There is no shortage of funding for shiny new unproven common core textbooks and materials, a new STEM coordinator, supervisors of instruction, other administrators who don't work directly with students. Why isn't anyone questioning the validity of new standards? How will college and career  standards help our students? STEM is a joke, since science is barely taught in elementary school, and tech ed has been cut, librarians cut. ASD has narrowed the curriculum, cut teachers and essential programs, so how does this prepare kids for college? Where is the early intervention? ASD has cut vital Pre-K program. Another failure to lead our district, and mismanagement of funds.

Close to $30 million being diverted to flavor of the day charter schools, which appeal to parents because these schools can exclude students with behavior issues, and they offer smaller class sizes. These new "schools" take more vital resources away from neediest students at our neighborhood schools. The charter schools may seem appealing and customized, but children should be offered a well rounded curriculum, they are too young to be focusing on a career path at school. And the high quality schooling that parents want for their own child, they should want for every child. Most charter schools hire young, inexperienced teachers, pay them less than traditional public schools, and don't provide special education or ESL services. They are run by non-educators, and overall, students at charters do not outperform students at regular public schools. Plus, these de-facto private schools increase racial segregation, and promote inequality. I try to convince parents to stay and fight to improve the neighborhood schools, which are a foundation of democracy, but few share my point of view, and ASD has become unsafe. I don't blame parents for wanting to protect their children. How long can we stay committed to a district the keeps cutting teachers?  

The larger political plan is to starve neighborhood schools, creating a need for charters, run by business men and huck$ters who know nothing about teachingMost charter schools are SCAMS. The "executive education" school is a joke, and it is inappropriate to train Kindergarteners to be business executives, and to teach primary grade children how to create spreadsheets. Why didn't anyone question the name and mission of this school? And I see they are heavily promoting their full day Kindergarten, for future "executives". They bought a curriculum at last minute, and ASD board approved the school. The school is based on a misguided goal- to meet Allentown's need for skilled workers in the new NIZ (Neighborhood improvement Zone). What if those jobs don't materialize? A school should be focused on meeting STUDENT needs.This is NOT public education. I don't know how any teacher worth their degree could support this school's mission.

 The community is being duped into believing that choice will benefit all children. What about the 700 homeless kids in ASD, how will choice help them? And busing kids out of their neighborhoods to charters does not help strengthen our community. ASD students must walk across dangerous intersections and long stretches because the district does not provide busing for majority of students. This is a failure in leadership at all levels of government, and Democrats no longer stand for democratic values and principles. Where is the shared humanity, the concern for the greater good? Where is the leadership? 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Full Day Kindergarten Should Not Focus on Academics


What Kindergarteners should be doing
I have a lot of experience teaching Kindergarten and Pre-K art, mostly before the NCLB, Race to the Top debacles. In the 90's I helped to coordinate the DAP (Developmentally Appropriate Practices) curriculum for early childhood centers in the Allentown SD. What I see happening now in our elementary schools is backwards. DAP is not followed.

I think that a full day kindergarten, with a focus on academics, is a bad idea. And what's an even worse practice is how schools target those so called academically "at risk" kids for full day K. Many of these children are not developmentally ready for a full day of school. Every young child should be given the chance to progress at his or her own rate. I don't believe children will fall behind if they are not reading and writing at age 5. The current misguided trend of imposing "college and career ready" standards in the primary grades, is completely absurd, and not age appropriate. Kindergarten is now like 1st or even 2nd grade. These babies have been alive for only 5 short years!

When I attended Kindergarten in1970 we played, snacked, and napped, there was no guided reading or writing in journals. There were no worksheets, benchmark assessments, or requirement to learn 100 sight words. There was no timed testing for nonsense word fluency. The teacher did not sit at an overhead projector, she sat at the piano. There were class plays, dress up, dolls, blocks, kitchen sets, hula hoops, jump ropes, singing, show and tell. There was a big slide right inside the classroom! These are the things I fondly remember. I was ready for 1st grade. I turned out okay. Young children need time to play and explore. They WANT to play, and that's normal, because that's how young children learn. A full day of school is just too much. These children should not be pushed to do more work, follow a rigid schedule, or be punished for misbehaving. The focus of Kindergarten should be socialization, and adjusting to being at school.

I am going to  rethink how I teach my art lessons to full day K classes, because I don't think it's right to expect 5 year old babies to sit quietly and follow directions at the end of a long school day, it's just not age appropriate.  Some children are so small, they fall off stools or chairs in the classroom.They want to explore, investigate, and play, sometimes under the tables. I hate to see children crying at school, but it happens often.

Seems like full day K was designed to help parents more than children. I don't care what the research or data says about standardized test scores, or how inner city children benefit from full day K. I see the same behavior issues in every full day K class that I have taught. The expectations are unrealistic. Children have trouble listening and following directions. They want to play. All full day K programs should include an afternoon of napping, snacking, unstructured play, outdoor recess, singing, dress up, toys, blocks, painting at easels, and the classrooms should be set up in this way. That's not happening, and it's a tragedy.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Example for Van Gogh Lesson

This is a piece I made to use as a teaching example for a 1st grade lesson on Van Gogh. The vase is cut out from construction paper, and then I used oil pastels on blue construction paper. Please see right sidebar for more examples of my art work, or search label "art work by Angie Villa." Unfortunately I folded the paper to make it fit in my bag! I LOVE oil pastels, and use them often with my students. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Kids Need Art Class Once a Week

3rd grade landscape, Van Gogh style
I've been assigned to a long term subbing position teaching art at 3 elementary schools in the Allentown School District. I will teach 2,000 students. Elementary students have art class with a certified art teacher only once every three weeks. I am seeing first hand how children are suffering from reduced related arts at school.  Children should not be expected to sit quietly all day long in over crowded classrooms working on "rigorous" math and reading content in order to prepare for tests. When the adults in charge fail to make sure the arts are an essential part of the school curriculum, children suffer and grow up with no understanding of how the arts have value. We must return joy to learning, and put an end to dehumanizing testing and standards centered education policies. Education should be student centered, and students must be given opportunities to discover their talents at school. To see more examples of student art work, please search the label "student work" at this blog. Thanks.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cutting Librarians From Allentown Schools is Undemocratic


Back in 2011 I wrote about the Allentown School District's short sighted decision to cut school librarians to balance the budget. Click here to read the post. Since then, even more librarians have been slashed, and currently there is only 1 librarian to serve 15 elementary schools, and the district has eliminated two of the four middle school librarians. The two remaining are teaching six classes a day, three at two different middle schools. They are not able to do their regular librarian duties as they are teaching full time. My son's school no longer has a book fair or before/after school library. When I spoke with my son's librarian at Trexler Middle School, she said that her role is very different this year. While her title is that of 'librarian', she is actually a full-time related arts teacher and her schedule does not allow time to work in the library.

Allentown SD is an 89% low SES/high poverty district where access to books is important to offset the impact of poverty on learning. Independent reading greatly improves literacy. These deep cuts will not heal, and our children only get this one chance at an education. They must be given opportunities to choose books at school, right now.

How can schools prepare children to be informed and engaged citizens in a democracy without access to books at school?  It's undemocratic and immoral to cut librarians in schools that serve poor children, while schools that serve more affluent children employ full time librarians. Library funding should be increased, not decreased, in Allentown SD, where it is needed the most. My 7th grade son has taken out one book this entire school year. And it is unfair that our children will be denied a Book Fair this year.  The Book Fair is a fun family/school event that children look forward to all year. Children should never suffer because of budget cuts and bad decisions by school board.

At a recent Trexler Middle School PTA meeting, parents expressed their concerns about the library.  I encouraged parents to attend school board meetings and to speak up. Parents must demand reinstatement of certified librarians. Any state funding must be used to bring back librarians. Legislators must hear from parents. Every building should have a full time librarian. The library is the HEART of the school, it should never be closed! There will be no "renaissance" in Allentown without fully funded and fully staffed school libraries!


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Friday, December 20, 2013

No More Charter Schools in Underfunded Allentown SD!

4th grade student work, ASD
The arts are mandated by the Pennsylvania commonwealth as core subject areas, and have always been essential to the public school curriculum. Experiences in the arts should not be reserved for select "talented" young children, who must audition to attend the "arts academy" charter school, while other young children suffer at schools where arts have been greatly reduced. Charters promote inequality, and drain funding from traditional public schools. Every child benefits from quality arts education, especially disadvantaged children who may struggle academically or behaviorally. Every public school child should see a certified art teacher at least once a week. Charters skim the cream, weakening community schools, which are the anchors of neighborhoods and a foundation of democracy. Shame on politicians from both parties for promoting efforts to privatize public education, instead of fully funding Allentown SD schools, for the greater good. The best "choice" is a fully funded, fully staffed neighborhood public school. These long standing schools must be strengthened, not abandoned.

These four school board directors should be ashamed of themselves: David Zimmerman, Scott Armstrong, Mike Welsh, and Charlie Thiel. They voted FOR an arts academy for select, elite "talented" youngsters. The "arts academy" model does not accept children with behavior problems or special needs. Traditional public schools accept every child.The arts academy model does not even integrate the arts into other subject areas. Charter schools are business ventures, motivated by profit. The arts academy founder plans on expanding his school model to other states. All Allentown school board directors should be focused on reinstating related arts teachers, restoring the ASD's arts programs to what they were 4 years ago. No more charter schools in ASD! Currently ASD spends $19.6 million on charters, while barely able to deliver a basic education. Students are suffering in over crowded classrooms, with minimal opportunities to engage in creative learning activities. 

Thank you board members who voted AGAINST the charter school: Joanne Bauer, Ce-Ce Gerlach, Debra Lamb, Ellen Bishop, Bob Smith, it was denied!!!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Charade of Urban School Reform

The following scenario is playing out in urban schools across the country, not just in Allentown: 

With continued reduction/elimination of art, music, social studies, library, electives, and physical education in urban public schools, kids have become unhappy and unhealthy. Implementation of tougher, unproven "college and career" standards, with increased and harder testing, in chronically underfunded and understaffed urban schools has resulted in these worst practices: For example, 12 year old children must sit for 7 periods of "rigorous" content classes per day. Teachers have told me that many young students are drained, have trouble concentrating in the afternoon, due to this developmentally inappropriate schedule and narrowed curriculum. Kids need breaks, daily exercise, and time to be creative at school. 

Teachers see that kids are drained, but per orders from central administration, they must pile on more reading, math, science content during "intervention and enrichment" periods. Teachers must comply to keep their jobs, and are observed closely by administrators, and told how they must teach the enrichment class. Teacher morale is low. Parents are not happy. Children suffer and hate school.

Charter $chools are expanding to make up for the loss of arts/activities, further draining funds from  neighborhood public schools. The Allentown SD currently loses close to $20 million to charter schools. This number is expected to go up to over $25million next year. This creates an unequal, undemocratic public school system, where the arts are reserved for the chosen elite. And expansion of charters promotes racial and socio-economic segregation. The best "choice" is always a fully funded, and fully staffed neighborhood school. Don't believe the rhetoric that choice means equality. 

 Certified arts teachers are being fired, while supervisors of instruction,  PR director, and more administrators are being hired. Grossly underpaid and undervalued paraprofessionals keep school libraries open for elementary students to select books. The Allentown SD now has only one librarian for 15 elementary schools, in an 88% poverty/low SES district, where access to books is critical to reducing effects of poverty on learning. Middle school students rarely have an opportunity to take out library books. Cheaper outsourcing of arts, and bogus arts "integration" is being implemented, instead of hiring certified teachers. Our district spins this as "developing the whole child." Our superintendent is once again conducting a study to determine MINIMAL staffing needs, when he should be working on finding ways to restore what has been lost. Over 4 years, ASD has cut 371 positions, and there is a possibility that 94 more will be cut next year. Schools that serve impoverished children need much MORE than the minimum, in order to meet needs of students.

What can we do? Without a mass joint effort of parents, teachers, and students protesting at every school board meeting, I believe there are 2 things:

 1: Parents can write/call local state legislators and demand that strings are attached to any money from the state, so that the money must be used to reinstate teachers. We must by-pass the Allentown School Board, and central administration, because they continue to ignore pleas from parents, and they continue to hire more overpaid administrators, while cutting essential teachers, and implementing unproven initiatives. State Rep Mike Schlossberg and Senator Pat Browne must hear from parents en masse. And vote out current school board members who approve cuts to teachers.


2. Opt your children out of ALL standardized testing, Go to Lehigh Valley Opt Out on Facebook, or UnitedOpt Out the National Movement for more information. Deny the politicians the flawed data that they are using to label schools, teachers, and students as failures. Say "not with my child!" End the charade.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Leave the Arts Alone!

Joy of painting (Kindergarten lake scene)
The geniuses with no teaching experience who developed the unproven common core standards only see value in the arts at school when arts are attached to their dumb  standards. Check out this document written by David Coleman, president of The College Board, architect of the common core standards, never taught a day in his life, and has no art or art education background, but he is telling art teachers how and what to teach! He's a haughty pontificator! The reformy geniuses are even developing ways to measure the arts using data driven instruction, with the support of duped/sell out arts organizations who want to keep up with the "era of accountability" in education.  Check out this "arts advocacy" blog that promotes common core and standardized testing in the arts.


These pompous corporate hacks who developed the CCSS (David D-Bag Coleman, Gates, etc.) don't even understand that certified art teachers already reinforce academic concepts, teach across the curriculum for deeper meaning, incorporate art criticism, assess during the lesson, and challenge students while using age appropriate methods. Leave the arts alone! What a huge waste of time and money. We don't need your stupid common  core, just let us teach! And just let the kids enjoy learning! Experiences in the arts should never be "rigorous" or standardized!! Art has so much value in and of itself. 



Sunday, October 27, 2013

Malala: Growing Peace

New art work I am donating to the Allen HS Arts Academy Alliance's annual "8x8 Event" art auction to raise money for arts programs at Allen High School in the Allentown School District. The opening is on November 13th, 2013 from 4-6:30pm at Muhlenberg College. Baker Center for the Arts. I chose Malala Yousafzai, the courageous Pakistani girl who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban while trying to get an education, as my subject. I think she is a great role model for students, and she should have won the Nobel Peace Prize, even though she is a young 16 year old girl. She is planting the seeds of peace and equality by standing up for her human right to an education. It was difficult working on such a small canvas (8"x8") because I felt a bit constricted, and because I think large work has a bigger impact. I wanted to portray her as being soft, yet very powerful. The color green as a symbol of youth, growth, and hope. The flowers, also symbols of growth, are cut out images of the Nobel Peace Prize. This is a mixed media/acrylic painting on canvas. I hope someone wants to buy it!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Intervention and Enrichment"

7th grade wire sculpture
 "enrichment - act of making fuller or more meaningful or rewarding"

Allentown SD middle school students used to participate in 2 related arts classes per school day. This year, they only get one related arts class, and the extra period is now being used for "intervention and enrichment." Related arts classes have been reduced by 50%, due to budget cuts and bad decisions by school board and ASD central administration. Currently, there is .5 art teacher to serve each middle school. There are over 900 students at Trexler Middle School. The .5 art teacher teaches three classes at Trexler, and then travels to Raub MS to teach three more classes each day. Some ASD middle school students will not even have an opportunity to see a certified art teacher at all this year. When I taught art in ASD (2001) we had 2.5 art teachers per middle school. Then it was reduced to 2, then 1, and now .5 over the past 12 years. What's next? NO art teachers?

 My son (7th grade) will not have tech ed or family consumer science this year (two classes he enjoys) and will not have any physical education until 4th quarter. He has not had an opportunity to take out a library book. There are plans to hire paraprofessionals to work in the libraries, so students can take out books. Right now, enrichment class is used for extra reading, math, or science. The principal at Trexler has told me that since this is a new class, they are still figuring things out. So, as they figure things out, our kids miss out. Also, they are finding out which kids need "intervention" based on test scores and grades. I think ALL kids should have enrichment. It's not right that the kids who are struggling academically are excluded from enrichment. The school already offers free after school tutoring.

Middle school students need breaks from seat work. 7 periods of seat work per day, with only a short lunch break and no recess is not developmentally appropriate, and it is not healthy. The ASD's expectations of "increased rigor and college readiness" are unrealistic. 12 year old students do not need to be ready for college and career, or for competing in the global economy. They will burn out, misbehave, hate school, and not even want to go to college if ASD continues to pile on more reading and math, while decreasing related arts (also known as narrowing of curriculum). It's just a BAD idea, and it is the opposite of the district's stated goal "to develop the whole child." All kids, and especially those who struggle academically or behaviorally, need opportunities to discover their talents and strengths at school.

As the PTA artist in residence chairperson, I told our principal that the enrichment period lends itself to  possible residency opportunities. Residencies should be supplemental and provide enrichment. Residencies should never take the place of certified arts specialists, who are trained to teach a high quality, age appropriate, and comprehensive arts program. Last year we had poetry and visual art residencies that went well and reinforced concepts learned in class. But I do not feel comfortable with a residency unless it is initiated by the teacher.

 ASD must reinstate all certified related arts teachers immediately in order to truly work towards their goal of developing the whole child. I blame central administration and our school board for approving cuts to related arts teachers and essential programs. Our kids only get this one chance, and right now they are being denied a well rounded education. We don't need more administrators, or testing. We need more arts teachers. Our legislators must attach strings to any money given to ASD from the state, to make sure that the money is used to reinstate arts teachers. Parents, call representatives Pat Browne and Mike Schlossberg and tell them you want strings attached to the money. We must take back our schools. We must demand better leadership at all levels of government.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Young Kids Don't Need to Be Ready for College


My son, ready for 7th grade, just turned 12 yrs. old
Could someone please explain to me why it is so important for middle school children, ages 11,12 and 13 to be ready for college? I looked at my son's textbooks and they are from the College Board, to prepare kids for AP, PSAT, SAT, etc. With so much focus on who we want kids to be in the future, we lose sight of who they are right now- they are KIDS. Let them be kids and let them enjoy their childhood. My kid has to sit for 8 periods of seat work, and he told me that by 7th period he cannot concentrate. Kids need breaks, exercise, and activities every day to be healthy. I don't even think adults could sit for 8 periods a day. The expectations are unrealistic. This is why I don't like Common Core and "rigor". 

"Common Core’s whole focus is pushing children to college. Shouldn’t it be about learning today? Shouldn’t it be about giving children the chance to enjoy the here and now?

Ask yourself, with the school push to college, what is your student missing ou
t on with their journey through life today? Will they later hate school because they missed out on the joys of childhood? Let’s let our children be children. It goes by much too fast already."  Nancy Bailey

Monday, August 5, 2013

Dishonesty Is Not Best School Policy

The Allentown School District's new goal is to "develop the whole child" and provide a well rounded liberal arts education to all students. This goal will be impossible to reach without an adequate number of certified, highly qualified teachers, and consistent programs that build a strong foundation for the arts. This goal cannot be reached while narrowing the curriculum and robbing children of  opportunities to discover their talents at school. This goal cannot be reached while changing hundreds of teacher and principal assignments. Dishonesty is not the best school policy. Parents need to know the truth. How does reduced arts help develop the whole child? I thought that developing the whole child was always the goal of ASD? The only thing that is "well rounded" about ASD is the bloated salaries of incompetent administrators.

The ASD has greatly reduced its related arts (art, music, PE, library) offerings taught by certified teachers, and has completely eliminated elementary school librarians. For the last 2 years, young students saw a certified art teacher only 9 times per school year. This year, there will be one art teacher for every 3 elementary schools, working on a crazy rotation schedule. Middle school related arts will be reduced by 50%. The district almost completely eliminated the elementary related arts staff, but at the last minute got some money from the state, and a few of the arts teachers were saved. This will be the third year of reduced arts. There have been hundreds of changes to teacher and principal assignments, which adds to the instability in our district, and is especially harmful to disadvantaged children. These changes will also negatively impact the quality of arts education. These changes negatively impact the student/teacher relationships which are built on trust and respect, and which are necessary for students to succeed.

Instead of finding ways to fully restore arts teachers and provide our students with the same opportunities as neighboring suburban public schools, ASD superintendent Russ Mayo supports a new "arts academy" elementary charter school, for select talented youngsters. Opportunistic charter school operators and local business/real estate moguls are positioned to fill the ASD's arts/PE educational gap. As an art educator, I believe an "arts academy" for elementary students is an unnecessary waste of taxpayer money because all young students should have access to quality arts programs at traditional public schools. The arts should not be reserved for the elite. Public schools are supposed to promote and preserve equality of opportunity.

Charters, either for profit or so called non-profit, can pick and choose best students, follow different rules than regular public schools, while funneling public money into private coffers with little public oversight. Applying business/market principles to public education has led to fraud and cheating. Charters are really private schools since they can skim best students. Public schools accept all children. And school choice rarely benefits disadvantaged students, it actually increases racial segregation and destabilizes urban neighborhoods. We must preserve and strengthen the existing neighborhood schools, since they are the anchors of the community. Mayo is promoting inequality and he should be fired.

It appears that the new website and a new ASD Facebook page (to promote the new school uniform policy) is the work of the new PR director/spin doctor, recently hired by ASD at a salary of 88k, twice a teacher's salary, while arts teachers were cut. A move that speaks to ASD's misplaced priorities. We know what the students will be wearing this coming school year, how about telling us what they will be learning? Here's a link to the website page: http://www.allentownsd.org/domain/1832

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Children Must Not Feel Pain of Budget Cuts


My son and honor student at the Trexler MS Science Fair
I have contacted members of the Allentown School District board and advised them on what to do with the $9.6 million in state aid: My advice is to do what is morally right by students, and use the money to reinstate teachers. Arrogant and divisive board member Scott Armstrong is dead wrong when he says that we all must make sacrifices. Children should never have to "share the pain" of budget cuts. 

The community has spoken, Brave parents have made passionate pleas at several packed board meetings. We have rallied, and we have written letters. Some of us have been very active and dedicated to this cause since the first round of cuts to related arts 2 years ago. I have met with Dr. Belardi ( salary $132.5K) and other top administrators to discuss my concerns about the harmful narrowing of curricula. The Muhlenberg PTA met with Dr. Mayo (salary $170K) and presented a resolution to restore the arts and he told me "don't treasure what can't be measured." Appalling!

 The majority of board members, and many administrators have ignored parents. ASD school board director David Zimmerman said that teachers are the "lowest priority" in our school district budget. Board member Scott Armstrong said that given rising pension and other employee costs, he does not support restoring any teaching positions and would put the entire $9.6 million in state aid toward restoring reserves and reducing the tax hike. They must immediately be removed from our school board. 

There should be no debate. Providing a quality education to our children, as mandated by the state's constitution, is top priority, and ASD cannot fulfill the state's obligation without teachers. Robbing children of their education in order to reduce taxes is criminal. And only the worst criminals rob children. There should not be a two tiered public education system where urban students sit in overcrowded test prep factories, while other kids enjoy the arts and a safe, rich learning environment. Armstrong and ZImmerman are promoting inequality! They should both "share the pain" of being booted off the board and publicly shamed for their cruelty to children.

Parents, it's time to get angry, be a badass, and take back our schools! There is strength in numbers! Write letters. Speak up, speak loud, and speak often.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Dear ASD Board: Use $9.6 Million in State Aid to Reinstate Teachers

Student work ASD

 Dear Allentown School Board Director:

I am writing to you as a concerned parent. I am concerned about my child's future and the future of our school district. All ASD students must be provided with a quality public education, as mandated by the state constitution. Students must be your top priority, regardless of the dire financial situation of ASD. There should be no debate about priorities.

Please make sure the $9.6 million in state aid is used to reinstate teachers. My suggestion is to start at the elementary level to bring back librarians. Full restoration of related arts in middle school, and at all grade levels is of utmost importance as well. Middle school children should not be forced to sit for an additional period of reading and math test prep while parents are told this is "enrichment." I have had enough, and will not stand for the implementation of anymore schemes to improve test scores while the curriculum is narrowed.

Please end data driven instruction, high stakes testing, and other highly flawed methods that do not improve academic achievement, and diminish a child's joy for learning. The ASD administration's business model approach to education does not motivate or engage children. Children are not data points, they are human beings. ASD students need year round art, music, social studies, physical education, and library taught by certified teachers. ASD students deserve the same well rounded education as children from neighboring suburban districts. Anything less is an injustice and disservice to children and community.  Please do what is morally right by children and reinstate the teachers to our schools. Thank you for your service.

Sincerely, 
Angie Villa

Friday, June 14, 2013

Allentown Teacher Describes Real Consequences of Teacher Cuts

ASD teacher Deb Brobst with her students in DC, 2010
 Terrific Allen High School social studies teacher Deb Brobst posted a comment at this blog, and I think it deserves attention. Congratulations to Deb on her retirement, and thank you Deb for your years of service, and efforts to improve the ASD. Deb has been a tireless advocate for students, frequently speaking at school board meetings and rallies.

"ASD has closed its eyes to the destruction of the public school education that it is supposed to protect. The public does not understand the true repercussions that have been caused in the daily life of an Allentown public school student. With the cut of 25% of the teachers in ASD in the past 3 years, much of the curriculum has gone by the wayside. Students in the high schools have to take the 4 core subjects of English, Math, Science and Social Studies (only 3 years). Most of the electives are gone. No more Law Academy, No more Science and Fitness Academy and now, no Dance Academy. Without the electives, many students have no way to explore a subject that interests them more fully: the law science, physical science, artistic expression and so many other interests that could be stimulated with a complete curriculum. Instead we will have a "minimal" curriculum. One that does not stretch the imagination, call for higher thinking, asks the great questions, teaches to fix the ills of society. There is no outlet for the curiosity and creativity of the mind without the course choices previously offered in abundance. 

ASD has been "bare bones" for the last 3 years. Now, it will be at the marrow. The last 3 years have seen a 25% reduction in faculty with only a 4% decrease in student population. The District has seen no such decrease in administrators, rather an increase. I am wondering, who will teach the kids? Certainly not an administrator, since their eyes have been closed for too many years to the actual day to day life of the public school student. I am also wondering, how will students in overcrowded classrooms (do the math) be able to learn? It will certainly be harder. Harder to hear the teacher, harder to see the board, harder to ask a question, harder to have one on one time with a teacher. I am also left to wonder one last thing: how is a teacher to get through the curriculum of a course with 6 weeks taken out for Standardized Testing? Why are we paying for PSSA Tests, at all? 4-Sights and Keystones all take a toll on curriculum requirements. Will this mean that a teacher cuts into the required information for the course year, or does that mean the course gets watered down by the District in order to justify constant standardized testing? 


No matter which way you slice it, ASD is just about dead. The cuts that started 3 years ago and continued this year are not done, yet. Stick around. It will get worse!"

Monday, June 3, 2013

Calling out ASD Board Directors for Crimes Against Children

Allentown School Board Directors
 I believe the ASD's "curtailment plan" to cut teachers and vital programs is a crime against children because it robs them of their right by law to a quality public education. Teachers should never be cut, no matter how dire the district's financial situation. The board and administration have ignored public outcry against the harmful plan. After attending several recent school board meetings, I have concluded that ASD is mismanaging funds, the test and data driven curriculum is a disaster, and both the administration and majority of board members are immoral and not qualified to make decisions on education. But a minority of three on the board are advocating for children- Joanne Jackson, Ce-Ce Gerlach, and Julie Ambrose. I do appreciate the efforts of these strong and intelligent women.

All board members should be focused on the big picture of making sure ASD students receive a quality education, as mandated by the constitution. Instead, divisive and arrogant board directors Scott Armstrong and David Zimmerman use their positions of authority to grandstand about politics, bully teachers, parents, students and fellow board members while offering no reasonable ideas. I have written about them here and here and here. And it's very disturbing that ineffective directors Lamb, Bishop, and Zimmerman were recently re-elected to serve on the board. Allentown is headed in the same direction as Philadelphia and Chicago, where schools are being closed, resulting in destabilized neighborhoods where children's safety is at risk. The following commentary on the situation in Philadelphia is exactly how I feel about the outrageous "curtailment plan" recently approved by a majority of Allentown School Board Directors:

PHILADELPHIA: the school decimation budget through the eyes of a Temple student:
"These cuts should not be understood as a simple response to the current economic climate or lack of public funding in Philly or PA. These cuts should be understood as crimes committed against young people and workers; they should be understood as forms of structural violence in that these decisions will create incredible social harm in young people’s life choices and eliminate their access to community, recreation, mental and physical health services, mentors, creative outlets, higher education, employment and a meaningful culture of learning – in the one of the most impoverished, incarcerated, racist cities in the US – our nation’s birthplace nonetheless." Read more:
http://teacherunderconstruction.com/2013/06/01/a-response-to-philadelphias-budget-cuts/


 Allentown schools have also been decimated by deep cuts to teachers, including cuts to vital programs and services for children.

Art, music, physical education, and library are mandated as core subject areas under the Federal No Child Left Behind Act, and also under PA state law, and these programs should never be cut or reduced. Allentown SD plans to eliminate 132 teaching positions. Over the past 3 years nearly 400 positions have been eliminated. Related arts will be nearly eliminated. The curtailment plan will narrow the curriculum to mainly test prep, robbing children of their right to a quality education, robbing children of equal opportunities to discover their talents. It will put children in an unsafe learning environment where their needs can not be met. Classes will be over crowded. It will be less than bare bones. It will be educational malpractice, child abuse, and a violation of educational ethics. Would you want your child to be educated in this harmful environment? Parents will have no choice but to protect their children by leaving ASD. This is a quote from an ASD teacher working on the front lines of this impending disaster:

 "132 more cuts -- more than 1/4 of our staff over three years. Our school balance WILL shift away from safe. Our education program WILL become so basic that it will not be able to sustain itself.
I believe that certain board members truly do not know how devastating an impact this will have on our students and this city. I also believe those that don't should not have a voice in an education forum and must be removed. 

Out last round if cuts was absorbable to a point. This one is not."


The  school board directors who approved the harmful "curtailment" plan are Ellen Bishop, Debora Lamb, David Zimmerman, Scott Armstrong, Andrew Weiss, and even board president Robert Smith Jr. Smith voted "yes" after he got what he wanted- restoration of full day kindergarten. But related arts and full day kindergarten should go hand in hand. If you are going to restore full day K, you must also fully restore related arts! What a mess.

I believe that there is no hope for the ASD unless the six unqualified board members are removed, along with superintendent Dr. Mayo and other top administrators. Let the teachers run the district! Hold the Mayo accountable! He has no ideas, and has continued with Dr. Zahorchak's crackpot plans and failed business model. This is SHAMEFUL AND DISGRACEFUL. This is an OUTRAGE. These people are not leading, and they do not understand that their short sighted decisions will have huge negative consequences. These cuts will never heal. The cuts are a disservice to children and community, and an injustice. These people must be called out by name, and held accountable. Only the worst kind of criminals would rob children.

UPDATE 6/22:  ASD has found some money to keep 5 art teachers at the elementary schools, and 5 phys ed teachers. Hmmm, I wonder where else can they find some money? So this is good news for our kids, but we must demand FULL restoration of specialists at all grade levels. Note that Scott Armstrong and David Zimmerman voted against using the money to keep teachers, calling it "irresponsible." Demand removal of these immoral cretins from our school board! There should be no debate, the money MUST be used to restore teachers! Bizarro world Allentown! Demand accountability from Mayo and school board! Our kids deserve same opportunities as kids from neighboring suburban districts.

Friday, May 17, 2013

ASD Board Director David Zimmerman's Insensitive Email to a Parent

David Fehr Zimmerman

The following is a letter to the school board from an ASD parent:

Before you vote on cutting the arts in the Allentown School District, I ask that you watch this TEDx talk by Brian Pertl.

http://www.tedxlawrenceu.com/speakers/brian-pertl/

Pertl is an ethnomusicologist, didjeridu player, and Dean of the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music.

I think you will understand my point once you have watched his talk.

Please find a way to keep the arts alive in ASD, from elementary school through high school.

You MUST find a way to do this. Our kids' futures are at stake.

Please save the arts in Allentown!

Thank you for your attention.

Ed White


 Here is the insensitive response from ASD Board Director David Fehr Zimmerman:

When we get our priorities straight and provide a balanced education to all students, given the horrendous financial constraints the school district is under, then maybe I will be more attuned to more realistic and genuine initiatives addressing deficient areas.

I will not support any arts or other special interest resolution until ALL students are provided an equal education. It is unconscionable to even introduce a resolution of this type when we are considering cutting all day kindergarten.

If you want to preserve "the arts" advocate that teachers reduce their salaries to accommodate those that may be furloughed, then we will all have some more breathing room.

My focus is on the fact that we are in DIRE financial condition. We may have to consider closing schools next year. People need to begin to understand this reality. All the research in the world is moot at this point in my opinion.

David Fehr Zimmerman


My Reaction:  It is clear that Mr.Zimmerman does not understand this fact: according to both state and federal law, ASD children have a right to a quality public education. It is his job to make sure our children receive that quality education, regardless of the "DIRE" financial situation of our district. Children are the priority. Children should be his focus. He is robbing ASD children of a quality, well rounded education, in order to balance the budget, and that is what I find truly "unconscionable."  Find the money to adequately fund vital ASD programs, by choosing other areas to cut that don't directly impact our children.

An "equal" education is one that includes core subject areas of art, music, physical education, and library, in accordance with state and federal law and our school district's mission statement. The arts are mandated by law as core subject areas essential to a quality education. The resolution to save the arts is not a "special interest" resolution. Related arts are essential. Zimmerman is misinformed. The arts have already been unfairly reduced. The school board should be finding ways to fully restore the arts and provide a full time certified librarian at each building. But Zimmerman dismisses educational research, so he does not know about the importance of access to books.

Zimmerman is only focused on the bottom line, and is not looking at the whole picture, and the whole child. Decisions about curriculum should be based on meeting needs of students through proven methods to increase academic achievement. What are his ideas, besides asking teachers to make more sacrifices?  We must hold Zimmerman accountable, as an elected official, to do his job and find a way to provide a well rounded education for ASD kids, one which includes the arts, PE and library, just like the kids in more affluent suburban districts enjoy every day.

Full day Kindergarten and related arts go hand in hand. Zimmerman would know that if he didn't dismiss educational research in order to follow his own misguided, narrow views on education. The fact that he is a regular contributor to local blogs and forums that publish lies and misinformation, speaks to his poor judgement and low standards. He was even a regular contributor to the overtly racist Allentown Commentator online forum. He has continually ignored my polite and informative Emails on the value of the arts in education. 

Ed White gave me permission to share his letter. Ed has been a committed parent and volunteer for many years. He has spoken at board meetings and rallies to save our schools. It's disgraceful that Zimmerman would respond to a parent in the way that he did. Don't vote for Zimmerman as ASD Board Director.