Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Random Thoughts from Rural Schools

Back from the Rural Schools Conference in Cooperstown, where leaders from impoverished districts live it up for a couple of days at the pricey Otesaga. A few random thoughts:

1) Whatever the theme, we end up talking about poverty. It might be nice to share teaching strategies or successful online communication tips someday, but we're too deep in the weeds of rural poverty. It's everyone's primary focus. One session I attended dealt with how to track down every single child in a region who might be eligible for PreK, because they're dealing with kids in many cases who are preverbal and not even close to being prepared for K. One dealt with how to establish a community school that connects parents to desperately needed social services while extending the school day for their kids who need help and a safe place to be. Everyone talked about the scourge of drugs (meth/heroin) and how they're making the lives of small, poor children even more perilous. We heard from John Sipple that we cannot rely on schools to be short-term poverty eradicators, but time and again, we heard from schools that were trying their very best to be exactly that.

2) Even as we talk about poverty, we don't completely get it. I heard over and over how technology was going to bridge the gap for poor rural schools, allowing them to supply kids with the AP courses or shared classrooms that kids in richer districts get. Yet at the same time, we were hearing about families who lived off generators that they turned on for a couple of hours a day. Even universal broadband isn't going to fix that.

3) A flipped Senate won't help upstate schools. Many assume that the State Senate is a seat or two from flipping Democratic. Yet even if the IDC suddenly votes with the Democrats, that's not automatically a plus for upstate schools. Democratic senators are largely downstaters, pro-charter, pro-voucher, etc. It's a sad fact that our GOP senators are often upstate schools' best friends. We'd need a lot more than a simple majority—we'd need a sudden glut of upstate Democrats voting as a bloc. Seems unlikely.

4) Teachers as Regents? Not the greatest plan. Yeah, I was unimpressed by our new "backcountry" Regent, Bev Ouderkirk. Did we need to replace a progressive 70-something Regent with another 70-something Regent whose goals seem to be to oust the Regents leadership and turn the clock back? Her self-comparison to Susan B. Anthony and Hillary Clinton (I think she was trying to illustrate some sort of lineage of strong women that led directly to the new commissioner, but just couldn't help including herself) was especially disheartening. I'm not a fan of the current leadership, or even of the Regents as a concept, but I think we're all better off if they work together rather than sniping per the NYS legislature. Think about who wins in that scenario. (Hint: Not children.)

5) On the other hand, the new commissioner seems to be someone to reckon with. I still don't know why anyone would want that job, but she's a bit of a pistol. Ours was the first group MaryEllen Elia formally addressed in her new tenure, and she did not pontificate or do much more than greet us and thank us for our service. Nor did she just fly in and out for an hour or two as John King was sometimes wont to do; she stuck around and met a lot of people. We'll see.

More to come as I sort through my notes.


Phillip Anderson said...

You should crosspost this at TAP.

Kathy Guenther said...

Yes, I too, was at the Rural Schools Conference which I found very helpful to the issues in our school district of Penn Yan. My first impression of the new Education Commissioner is very favorable and I am hoping there are better days ahead for NYS education. I came away with some great ideas I am hoping to use in our own district.

KAZ said...

It's always my favorite conference for its intimacy and relevance to upstate schools.