Monday, January 16, 2017

Sharing resources from a recent NASBE webinar

NASBE (National Association of State Boards of Education) reprised a session from the October annual conference that explored school environmental conditions impeding student learning. Discussion focused on indoor/outdoor environments, quality of water, official efforts in Michigan to improve conditions for their students, and review of policy levers state boards of ed can use to keep students safe from environmental hazards in schools.

I was sorry my state Board colleague from the mitten state, Pamela Pugh, was unable to make the webinar (she works in Flint and was scheduled to take part), but the other two presenters, Claire Barnett, Coalition for Healthier Schools, and Matt Vallevand, Detroit Health Department, had excellent presentations.

I was pleased to see this offered as a webinar, as I had been in a Board Meeting at the time of the session at the annual conference. Most of the links from the webinar have been added at the bottom of this post.

Since viewing the webinar, much of the information from Claire's presentation has haunted me, including:

  • Children are not just little adults: because of their size, children absorb indoor pollutants at a much higher rate than adults
  • Risks to children's health at school include the indoor and outdoor environment:
    • contaminants on ground sites
    • indoor air quality
      • mold
      • moisture
      • pests, pesticides, etc.
    • lead, PCBs, asbestos: these are in many schools, especially any with an average age of 50+ years
    • decades of deferred maintenance leading to failing systems
    • renovations and reconstruction in occupied buildings (which creates new indoor/outdoor pollutants)
  • Climate change affects children and schools
  • National Data Summary (data rich - begins p.7 HERE):
    • There are more children in public schools today
      • More children with special needs in them
      • More children with asthma
      • More children in meal programs
    • Less money for public schools
      • fewer staff
I wasn't surprised to learn that State Education Agencies (SEAs) alone don't have the capacity to address school, physical environments. At DESE, for example, there is no "facilities office" and the Massachusetts School Building Authority is focused on "statements of interest" proposals for rebuilding or renovating schools, not on the maintenance of existing schools, which falls within the local school committee's purview.

However, at the state level, best practices for healthy schools may be advanced collaboratively with state health, environmental, and energy agencies (though, these agencies seem inadequate to me as I look through their links, especially given the bullet above about children not being little adults, and that schools serve as particular environments for them).

NASBE has made the recording available for any who may be interested in it: Water Quality - Addressing the Environmental Hazards that Lurk in Schools and Impede Student Learning is available HERE.
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Links to Resources Referred to in the Webinar:

Healthy Schools Network

Lead in School Drinking Water: Guide for Parents and Others:

National Healthy Schools Day:

Toward Healthy Schools: Reducing Risks to Children


Student Health and Academic Performance:

Healthy Schools, Healthy Kids:

City of Detroit

Testing Results in Schools and Childcare Centers:

Sunday, January 8, 2017

True Sympathies

In the birth-order of his large family, Glen's place was somewhere toward the eldest end of siblings. He was a few years older than me and I was close to him by association, which is to say, I wasn't close at all.

After college, a dozen of us singers from UMass, joined singers from New York, North Carolina, Florida, and California to work as performing wait staff at the Mount Washington Hotel, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. I'd worked hard at the several jobs I'd had before this, but the work at the hotel was most intense.

We worked breakfast and dinner and rehearsed every day for a few hours following the breakfast shift, until about 1:00 or so. We had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves (such as it was) until returning to the dining room at 5:30 to prepare to serve dinner and, most nights, to perform one or two songs in the main dining room at about 8:00. After dinner we made a quick change (out of alpine-inspired waiting garb) into evening costumery and performed an impressive floor-show for hotel guests in the ballroom.

The living was intense, too. The vast majority of us lived in small, private rooms in the on-site housing (dormitory) above the hotel's laundry and dry cleaning because housing, beyond the rambling resort property, was scarce (if you've ever visited the Bretton Woods area, you know how remote it is); it also made it easier to be on time for those 6:30 AM breakfast calls.

Only a couple of weeks into the season, and there was an outbreak of salmonella. Kitchen, housekeeping, and dining staffs were reduced by more than a third. We were asked to call on friends and family to see if any were available and interested to join the ranks of hotel workers while those ill went off to recuperate; some hunkered down in their rooms; others left altogether. That's when I met Glen. He was one of the replacements who showed up that June to work as a member of the performing wait staff. Glen teamed up with Mary in the dining room and lived, not in the dorms but behind them, in a dwelling that was a bit further down the property. Instead of stressing out about the work and rehearsal schedules, Glen seemed amused by it all.

The music, sweat, and laughs we all shared, as well as the dorm-style living and long days of work with little time off, made fast friends of us all, and some of those friends married each other; Mary and Glen did so not long after that summer. I didn't keep up with them afterward, even after the birth of their daughter; they stayed up north and built their lives in NH. After a few years, though, they divorced. I'd seen Mary only a few times since then and lost touch with Glen altogether.

An out of the blue email, sent to me and my bestie, Carol, informed us of Glen's untimely passing. She had remained in touch with Glen and, in her follow up email to me, wrote that she wanted to go to the service, and offered to pick me up early and drive us there.

Spring in New Hampshire is the exact opposite of its lush green summer or crisp colorful autumn; it's called "mud season" for good reason. The landscape is bleak and uninspiring, but grey Cranmore, Moat, and white-capped White Mountains rise above it all.

We arrived ahead of schedule, parked on the street across from the church, and walked up the block for coffee. Our reminiscing, begun in the car on the drive up, continued in the cafe. We talked easily and laughed hard about those busy, chaotic hotel days. Memories, of the time we mapped our dreams and held them close, quickened. Unconsciously, I panned to my twenty-something self, then to my contemporary me, as if scanning a view in different seasons from high atop some precipice.

Our coffees consumed, we walked to the church. Mary greeted us at the entrance, all twinkling eyes, bright smile, and open arms. Inside it was pristine and light and full of family and years of friends. Sunlight streamed through clear glass, full-length and clerestory windows. Glen’s casket was at the foot of the altar steps. People acknowledged each other with big hugs or smiles or by simply nodding. During the service they shared delightful, heartfelt stories; beautiful music and songs and poetry and tears were offered. Before the final blessing, a piper played “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes, outside, from the knoll behind the church.

The church emptied slowly as we followed the casket and pooled onto the walkway. Only immediate family would go to the interment. The rest of us were slow to move to cars, but eventually we did and drove a few miles to the inn where we would meet up with Glen's family for a reception.

The too-bright sky, brilliant blue and cloudless above dense pines, reflected on mirrored and polarized shades of the mourners, outside, on the inn's broad patio. We lingered there, over coffee or ale or single malt, sharing stories and laughing and catching up. I was struck to feel, after all the years between the hotel and now, this connected to Glen. No Time stood between us.

After visiting a good while, Carol and I said our goodbyes to everyone and settled into the car for the drive home. We did so in silence, initially, reflecting on observations from the church or during the service or at the reception. That "No Time" feeling, I now understood, was Love: Love between friends and shared experiences, for family, and for places and times. A poem had taken shape in my mind and, once home, I wrote it down:

to the big White Mountains
in a church to pray
the thoughtful people
what they sang and had to say

in the church
Love testified
to wise and poignant turns of phrase
a tapestry of vibrant hue
the record of his days

Love never dies

reflected big blue dome above
drove past pines
and heard the ‘pipes
amazing grace
how sweet the sound
put Love into the ground

Love never dies

Friday, January 6, 2017

FBRC. Again*.

A quick post as we head into the weekend, in light of statements reported in the Herald, the $98M in 9Cs, and Legislators sworn in to a new legislative session this week.

The genius of the original foundation budget was the commitment by so many to address the education challenges facing Massachusetts (yes, they were motivated, due to the decision of the SJC). Not surprisingly, new challenges have arisen in the 20+ years since: Too much funding today is being siphoned away from the people and things our students need ─ teachers and classroom materials.

A generation of students had gone through our public schools before a systemic analysis had been done of what it costs to educate a child from pre-school through high school. We've had high academic expectations, but an outdated financial plan. The state legislature sought to amend that by establishing the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) and charging it to " the way foundation budgets are calculated and to make recommendations for potential changes in those calculations..."

What's at stake is that the present system is about $2B short because of some basic flaws built into the foundation budget assumptions (i.e., health insurance costs, special education costs, and the programs serving multi-lingual and economically disadvantaged students). FBRC findings came with the expectation that they'd be addressed by the governor in his FY17 Budget. They weren't. (As has been noted elsewhere, the governor's 9Cs were part of his FY17 budget that the Legislature ultimately restored when they approved the FY17 Final Budget).

And, while the FBRC was commissioned by the Legislature for the Legislature, the Senate was the only chamber to champion FBRC's recommendations, enfolding them in the RISE Act.

The last legislative session may serve as a preamble for what's to come. It remains to be seen what Legislators will do to advocate for some progress with respect to FBRC recommendations this session. And many of us are eager to find out.
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* Previous posts pertaining to FBRC, in whole or in part, may be found on this blog HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HEREFBRC recommendations are central to everything the Board does.

More from DESE on the Chapter 70 Program HERE and HERE plus THIS go to from MassBudget.