2011-05-27 / Columnists

School Scope

Commentary By Norman Scott


Norman Scott Norman Scott Let me make this quick about our just released movie, “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman,“ made by our production “company” Real Reform Studios. The movie was made by NYC teachers, parents and students in response to the recent attacks on public education, teachers and their unions and specifically the “Waiting for Superman” movie lauding charter schools. In a few short days since its world premiere in front of an audience of 700 people at Riverside Church, the movie is going viral. Our guest speaker, the always awesome Diane Ravitch, tweeted to 13,000 people how great the movie was and we have distributed a thousand DVDs in 4 days. Requests have poured in from all over the nation – and from Canada, Mexico and Israel, too. We are ordering 3000 more. We are not looking to make a dime on this (though we encourage contributions to cover our costs) and we tell people to “steal our movie – go forth and make copies and distribute widely.” I’m hoping I can arrange a showing here in Rockaway real soon. Look for info in The Wave.

One of the ironies so far is how strong the response has been from some NYC public school principals while we have heard little from the UFT. We’ll keep tracking that story. Since the film was made by members of the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM), a NYCbased group fighting to defend public education, I wonder if the UFT sees the movie made without a budget (using my cheapo camera, imovie to edit, etc.) as a threat. After all, as a $100 million plus organization, the UFT certainly had the resources to do such a movie. Here is a tale of how this movie has led me to sell out. Yes, I was asked to be principal for a day.

Brian De Vale, Principal of PS 257 in District 14, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – a parking spot in his schoolyard, lunch and a serenade from him – if I would come to the school May 23 and serve as principal for a day. Ahhh, the power. I would cancel all the high stakes tests. I would rate teachers on how they relate to their students and on the responses I see from their students to their lessons and not on tests. I would ban all bureaucratic officialdom from the school. And away with all the useless paperwork that feeds the data monster. What glory!

Brian, for some reason, wanted to honor me for the work I’ve been doing battling the ed deformers through my Ed Notes blog and GEM. He was my guest at the premiere of the ITBWFS on Thursday night and was thrilled to meet Diane Ravitch. Brian is a guy who really gets it. Before a recent District 14 CEC meeting, he held a pizza party attended by a bunch of other principals. Brian made one of the most incisive statements about what ed deform is doing to education – a total condemnation of the neo-liberal agenda though that is not the term he used.

Brian told me to arrive at 10:30. When he introduced me to the security guard as principal for the day, she laughed and said, “My principal gets here at 7a.m. “Nice!

Brian’s aim was to use our film to educate his own staff about the ed deform agenda. I got to show a piece of the film at different lunch hours. The first thing I told them was that I will uphold their right to a duty free lunch hour so they should leave if they want to. I was pleased to see Elizabeth, a former student from my 1975 6th grade class and a teacher at the school. Elizabeth is already a grandmother. Oy!

Many of the teachers seemed truly unaware of the threat they face from charters and privatization. I learned something myself from the experience of watching the film with them.

You know our theme at Ed Notes – and in GEM – Educate! Organize!! Mobilize!!! – each action building upon itself. I assumed our film would reach people who were already aware of the attacks – already educated on many of the issues – that it would help move them to the next steps of organizing and mobilizing. But here was a group of teachers who have been somewhat insulated by a great principal who fiercely protects them as much as he can. There is no charter pushing into their space and they are not threatened with closure. So I saw for myself their reactions as they watched even a small portion of the film. They truly seemed shocked.

Then I was invited to chair the School Leadership Team (SLT) meeting over a delicious lunch. What? SLTs still exist? Brian explained that at PS 257 the SLT makes real decisions. The discussion ranged over the Tweed attitude towards parent involvement – their aim is not to get input from parents but to explain their policies to parents and use them politically.

After the meeting, I was invited by a teacher to observe a science lesson on plants. I was told this was a difficult class.

The kids were gathered around a table with soil and plants. They were enthusiastic and every question led to a gaggle of eager raised hands. I was impressed.

Then the school tech person asked me to try to solve a problem in getting a triple DVD burner to work. Ahhh, now I was into the meat of what I used to do in my last decade in the system. After an hour I still hadn’t gotten it to work. Looks like when it comes to tech stuff, nothing has changed. I just know enough to get into trouble.

It was interesting how slow the Internet was and how some of the DOE filters made getting stuff done quickly so frustrating (I was trying to download drivers and software for the DVD burner.) Actually, I would say from this narrow experience, tech at the DOE has gone backwards since I left the system.

I stopped by Brian’s office to thank him, where he serenaded me with a song. My hearing may be off a bit – I think I heard the words “Waffles Walcott” – Brian reminded me of the day Walcott became chancellor, he did his waffles PR stunt at PS 10. Brian also made waffles for the kids that same day. There was no massive press corps to watch him.

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