Why Betsy DeVos is the Perfect Metaphor for Trumpamerika

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Of course Betsy DeVos was selected and approved to be the Secretary of Education.  She donated millions of dollars to the republicans that voted for her. That is really all that matters.  Politics aside, she was the perfect pick.

She failed to turn in her paperwork.  Failed to do her homework.  Failed the interview.  And even failed to get through the door at the first public school she actually tried to enter. And while it would have been interesting to hear her explain her views on assessments and accountability and the relative value of measuring academic growth over time… it really doesn’t matter. In trumpamerika, up is down and DeVos is the ideal charlatan to jump in and privatize our public schools. Of course, she will destroy the Department of Education, but that’s the objective.

422_devos_a_630She is a product of the right-wing, evangelical Christofascists that have been percolating up through homeschool networks, school boards and community groups for decades.  She may be nuttier than hell, she may be a zealot,  but when she figures out which end of the very loud  megaphone she’s just purchased, she could be a force. And not for good. If her history is any indication, she will be the messiah of Generation Joshua and a rock star for privately-run, for-profit charters, homeschool schemes, voucher initiatives and any other vehicle to stimulate the exodus of white kids and public tax dollars out of public schools.

She will be the billionaire’s model cabinet choice. Amongst an entire team of otherwise kiss-ass, rich white men– she is simultaneously the darling of the alt right– and public enemy number 2 of the NEA.

unknownShe is inexperienced and ignorant of the office she has purchased– so she’ll fit in well with the rest of her cabinet colleagues and her boss. As the heiress to Amway, she is a symbol of unfettered greed.  She is a beneficiary of one of our nation’s most successful ponzi schemes and brings (thankfully) few transferable skills to benefit her new constituents.

Fortunately, the Constitution (like the president and his Amway heiress) is silent on education.  So most of the responsibility for our public schools falls to individual states anyway. The power for oversight, accountability, standards (including the Common Core), teacher quality, school spending are vested in them alone.   Most of the day-to-day authority to manage curriculum, instruction, student safety, professional development, school culture, organizational direction, and innovation…all fall to local schools and school districts and the real educators that actually run them.

My two schools– Mueller Charter School and Bayfront Charter High School–  are both fiscally independent organizations with our own governing body.  We sometimes ask for forgiveness but rarely ask for permission– for anything, local or otherwise. We didn’t need DeVos’s predecessors to create “El Milagro”– and we don’t need her either.

Betsy DeVos has never run any organization– let alone one with the scope and gravity of the Department of Education.  But she wasn’t selected for her business acumen or for what she actually has to offer to our schools– she’s a metaphor and she won’t have the mandate, the reach or the time to destroy our public schools.

So who will DeVos be in the short time she has before the wheels come off the trump debacle and his house of cards?

She could be a champion for children but she won’t be. In her first opportunity to stand for kids that need us the most, she already failed.

She could be an advocate for educational equity— assuring that children do not suffer in ineffective schools as a result of their zip code or their family income.  But instead of being a conduit for best practices– she will circle safely above, dropping vouchers from a helicopter.   The challenges of overcoming the effects of poverty on learning are immense.  They are well documented on this blog site.  The skills and expertise and innovation and vision and commitment required to lift achievement in low income neighborhoods do not suddenly appear simply because parents are promised a golden ticket to a private school.

She could be a trustworthy steward of federal tax dollars and ensure that they are protected for the populations for which they were intended.  Many public schools– mine included– have made huge strides in supporting children from low income communities.  But we have depended on federal funding– promised primarily through IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. While less than 9% of our school funding comes from the federal government, it is critical in our service to populations with complex needs. But DeVos hinted as far back as 2001 that her world view of public education was steeped in faith-based philanthropy and the new world order: “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”

Never mind how we might measure that advancement.

She could leverage the power of her office to seed innovation in schools across the country- but her experience in Michigan is with for-profit charters –not to be confused with organic, community-based, student-centered charter schools that grow from the collaborative efforts of parents and teachers.  President Obama was eviscerated for having the temerity to earmark $4 billion to stimulate innovation through his Race for the Top initiative. Trump bloviates about committing $20 billion for a school voucher scheme. There is nothing innovative about schemes to accelerate white flight.

She could serve as a model of competence and an absolute commitment to the power educators have in every community.  But nothing during the senate hearings suggested she knew the first thing about what it really means to teach or to run a school. In fact her responses were void of any substance at all-  as if she had been coached to nod and smile and commit to nothing.  And so she did. And for her efforts she was approved by the republican majority who evidently thought that having the ponzi lady at the helm of the Department of Education would be ok.

She could strengthen and promote the Office of Civil Rights, which enforces federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in programs that receive federal financial assistance from her Department of Education.  She could stand up for our most vulnerable children who are bullied, tormented and victimized enough that the OCR is their last line (or only line) of defense.  She could uphold the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and stand against discrimination on the basis of race or religion. Or she could stand for children protected by Title IX— especially youth from the LGBT community.  Or she could stand for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990if only she knew that that law too comes under her direction.

imagesShe could fight to preserve the office of Civil Rights in the face of so much conservative pressure to scrap the department altogether.  But she withered in her first test when trump’s new attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, raised the stars and bars over the US Capital building and struck down Obama’s protections for trans children in public schools.

DeVos should have learned from the courage of Sally Yates that advocating for children is not a hobby.  When you join the fight to protect them, you fucking fight with everything you have. You protect them with you words, your actions, your job…your very life. Or you stay out of the way. And that is Lesson #1 in school leadership.

Or maybe this newly appointed Secretary of Education could just stand there and do nothing but provide some buffer against a  president who is bat-shit crazy.  But of course, we’re not likely to see that either.

In speaking to a friendly CPAC audience this past week, DeVos said: “it’s our job to protect students and to do that to the fullest extent that we can and also to provide students, parents and teachers with more flexibility about how education is delivered and how education is experienced and to protect and preserve personal freedoms.”

Fortunately, our children aren’t actually depending on her for protection at all.  And we don’t need permission to exercise our flexibility or autonomy.

Today we can thank the Founding Fathers for leaving public education to the states.  Betsy Devos is an empty suit.  An empty chair.  A checkbook.  A diversity pick.  A lost opportunity to actually lead.  A metaphor for the dangerous path our nation is on. The perfect choice for trumpamerika.

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Sanctuary

 

253“Let it be known that, as of January 20, 2017, the undersigned staff of Mueller Charter School and Bayfront Charter High School declares our K-12 school community to be a safe haven and a sanctuary for all students and their families; it is our collective resolve to protect and insulate every individual from persecution, harassment, hate speech or intimidation.”

Simple as that.  Our Safe Haven Initiative.  We declare that at least our two schools–Bayfront and Mueller, will be sanctuaries against anything that the trump,inc. government can bring.

Well, almost anything.

At the very least, this resolution is a strategic response to the climate of heightened fear and anxiety that now exists for many school-aged students and their families;  to the intolerant rhetoric made over the course of the 2016 presidential race; and to the steady increase in hate speech at public and private K-12 schools across the United States of America. Among other things, trump,inc. promised to end an executive order that granted temporary status to immigrant students living in the country illegally. During his campaign, he also promised to launch a “deportation force” and withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities.

He has already built his wall.

The president elect, and the cadre of bigots, blowhards and billionaires that he has selected to serve in his administration, have collectively made statements that are denigrating to women, immigrants, Latinos, African Americans, LGBT, Moslems, people with special needs, and even veterans. Our school community is a rainbow comprised of all of these groups and we happen to be unapologetically committed to diversity, inclusion, and justice for all students.

In recent weeks, the College for All Coalition, with the support of more than 120 other organizations, has been urging California educators at both the K-12 and university level to stand with them in defiance of any effort from federal authorities to harass our students or families.  So we are standing:

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We are designating both of our charters as “Sanctuary Schools”  

–Specifically, we will refuse to comply with immigration authorities regarding deportations and raids, and will refuse to allow any immigration agents onto our school campuses without a judicial warrant.

–We will guarantee privacy of all our stakeholders and will refuse to release information regarding the immigration status of students, staff, or community members.

–We will continue to assist our families, as we have always done,  with resources and services such as immigration legal assistance, mental health counseling, and undocumented student support programs.

We will strategically allocate resources to promote diversity, inclusion, and intergroup harmony.

We will provide the tools, training and resources to nurture a learning environment free from bullying and discrimination. In the face of intolerance, we will make sure that every adult that works in our schools has the information and training they need to be effective advocates for all students.

We Vow to Protect All Students from Bullying, Intimidation, Harassment, or Discrimination

We will insure that every staff member understands and enforces state and federal laws regarding bullying, intimidation, harassment, or discrimination on the basis of protected categories, including actual or perceived immigration status, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.

–If and when such incidents of harassment do occur, our schools will take prompt action to ensure accountability and justice through restorative justice and other approaches that focus on repairing the harm caused to the victim and the wider community.

–Counseling and other supportive services will be provided to victims, but also made more broadly available to all of our students.

–We will compile data on every incident of bullying, intimidation, harassment, or discrimination on the basis of the protected categories listed above.

We will Promote Civic Literacy as a School-Wide Theme: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
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Our students will need to find their own voice.  They must know their history, their civil rights, and the promise of both the State and Federal Constitution.  They must learn how to monitor their government and their world. They must learn how to research and read critically and distinguish between propaganda and the truth.  They must learn to speak up, advocate, defend, protest, and organize when they observe social injustices around them.

We will Challenge Every Student to Rise to Their Academic Potential and Compete on Merit

 We can’t rely on any special accommodations or assistance to be structured into external school or social systems. Our students must demonstrate—by every measure– a profound capacity for academic excellence. They have to learn to compete on an uneven playing field… and they have to excel.

America will change on January 20.  We are taking no chances. While we’ve never had to organize to protect our students from their own president, we have also never experienced such a hostile takeover.

We’ve never had to fortify the walls of holy ground, or declare our house of learning: a  sanctuary.

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Power and Privilege and the Boiling Frog

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America, the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”–A Nation at Risk, 1983

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All schools have a choice. My schools have a choice. Bayfront Charter High School and Mueller are at a familiar crossroads, and the world is not waiting. On January 20, Trump will begin to govern as he promised and we can prepare our students to compete in that game or we can soldier on—business as usual.

And as usual, we ain’t taking that chance.

Inside my building are Latinos, immigrants, girls, African Americans, LGBT kids, Moslems, Jews and children of democrats. At least that describes 99% of them. And of those, 85% qualify for the free federal lunch program on the basis of their parents’ income. They are–if we falter– the next generation’s working poor. And they are all in our new government’s crosshairs to either deport or demoralize.

America’s educational system has experienced multiple defining moments during which sweeping social or political events have led to ideological and transformational change in the direction of our schools.

Think US History 101:

In the earliest days of our country’s founding, there was a clear religious motive behind teaching kids to read. As waves of Christians colonized the new world, they brought their Bibles and handed down their favorite verses to children who were expected to spread the good news. After the Revolutionary War and the subsequent ratification of the US Constitution, our Founders banked on an “informed citizenry” to nurture and grow the new experiment in democratic governance .

Fast forward 100 years and the industrial revolution churned kids out of farms and prairie schools and into factories that prepared kids for the factories.

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Then in 1958, the Russians launched a rocket into space, and the subsequent race to the heavens was on. Sputnik scared the crap out of America’s post-WWII “Greatest Generation” who realized in the span of one evening newscast—that their kids had somehow been passed up in math and science. So the education pendulum swung to math and science with a vengeance—and schoolkids paid.

Then there was the Civil Rights era. The malaise of the 70’s. Forced desegregation and bussing and waves of white flight to suburbs and private schools. And education was the medium for maintaining the sociocultural and economic advantage that was a perceived birthright of white families.
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The ominous warning of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 unleashed the pendulum again. Reagan’s ‘rising tide of mediocrity’.

Then the Apple IIe drove a whole generation of post-Viet Nam War era teachers to ask “what am I supposed to do with an Apple IIe?” And they used them as door stops on the theory that this too shall pass.

By the early 2000’s Bush had appropriated no child left behind from the Children Defense Fund and we were awash in still another pet project of Republicanism: “back to basics” and the core belief that what we really need to do in schools is just test the hell out of kids and fire the teachers and the schools that can’t produce evidence of extraordinary achievement.

Public education. America’s whipping boy. Always something.

So now what?

George Bush’s “soft bigotry of low expectations” has given way to trump’s straight up, bold-face racism. And our students have heard every word.

ap_77642174753What is the purpose of schooling in a trumpian culture where bluster and lies and bullying and misogyny are rewarded with keys to the White House; when shadowy election schemes and gerrymandering and voter suppression and an archaic electoral “college” are intentionally designed to undermine democracy; when in 2016 it is harder for citizens to cast their ballot then it was in the era of poll taxes and literacy requirements; when it is impossible for citizens to believe that their vote is even really counted; when half our nation considers it anarchy to remind ourselves that black lives matter?

unknownRemember the parable of the boiling frog:

If you place a frog in a pan of hot water– he’ll jump right out. But if you place that same  frog in a pan of cold water, then bring it gradually to a boil—he will be oblivious to the changing temperature. Pretty soon it’s too freaken hot to jump!

Our schools move too often like the boiling frog. They wait until it is too late to jump, and for our children, even generations at a time, the results are fatal.

One thing this past election has taught us is that our students need the skills to navigate a massive sea of propaganda and misinformation that seems to routinely persuade the adults to vote against their own best interests. They need a discerning eye that separates entertainment from “the truth”; that rejects Facebook’s brand of political discourse and revives the tradition of deep critical thinking and informed debate.

They need to compete in a workforce that demands higher levels of thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurialism.

They will need to find their generation’s “true North”. And then their voice. And then a spirit of activism which is in their DNA: empathy, vigilance, authentic patriotism, and advocacy for others.

Our kids will need the armor of resiliency– in the face of an apparent national sentiment that their success, their future…their very lives may not matter at all.

So in our school at least, at Bayfront Charter high School, EVERY student will be…

  • Ready for college whether they go there or not; and they will be
  • Equipped with the real 21st Century skills: including the ability to think, create, communicate and play nice with others; and they will be
  • Masters of technologies that are befitting of digital natives; and
  • Keen and curious observers of their community– with a depth of civic literacy and   global awareness; and finally, they will be
  • Beneficiaries of learning that is confined by neither time nor space.

In defiance of who this president promises to be, we will be proactive. The water’s on the boil… but our children rise.

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Liberty’s Re-teachable Moments

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“Struggle is a never ending process,” said Coretta Scott King. “Freedom is never really won– you earn it and win it in every generation.”

And so it was on September 11, 2001, when America woke up from its gentle malaise to a very uncertain new world order and a decade of endless war.

Similarly, the election of Donald Trump on November 8, 2016, has scorched the landscape for– among many others– our children of color.

Our first African American president will be replaced by a blustering bully appealing to the worst nature in all of us. 3 steps forward. 5 Steps back.

imagesAs educators, we don’t know what it is all ultimately going to mean. But we know what he has said. He called Mexicans “rapists”, advocated for a ban on all Muslims, argued that a federal judge was unqualified because he was a Mexican, and questioned the citizenship (and thus the legitimacy) of our first African American President throughout his two terms of service. “Why won’t he show us his birth certificate?” asked Trump– as if he were citizen/slavemaster.

And of course, he promised to send millions of immigrants back to whatever hopelessness they fled to get here. “I’m gonna build a wall,” he promised. “I’m gonna send em all back.”  That’s what our children heard. That’s what they saw. And for many, he’s talking about their parents and grandparents.

And we know what his actions mean too.

His first appointments as President-elect included a governor who passed some of the nation’s most discriminatory laws against the LGBT community in his home state; an avowed white nationalist; a Southern KKK sympathizer who has challenged the Constitutional principle of birthright citizenship; and a retired general who has echoed Trump’s own threat to ban an entire religion from US soil.

All of this…while the nation’s most respected media outlets intensified their light on conflict of interest laws, international business ties, and the specter of an American president mired in graft and corruption. Trump’s response is to rail against the messenger. Indignant. Entitled.

And even children begin to wonder why he wanted to be President. Why he wants to be King.

We can’t predict the future or how our nation will move to protect its citizens. We only know what we know:  that the civil rights of others can be sold for votes. And in the 15 days since the red states spoke— we know, that Coretta Scott King was right. Again.

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What The Red States Teach Us

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I’m at the tail end of the election-induced grief cycle… and that grief has yielded to action. So I have dusted off this blog page to channel my rage and trepidation– for however long it roils.

I hate what our country did on Election Day. I hate the fascist monster that was elected, and the frightening nest of characters he is weaving in to critical roles… and I will fight every day to the protect the civil rights of my friends and students.

But today… I looked in the mirror and realized just how complicit I may have been in this debacle. We learned that this was–in part, at least–  a revolution of disaffected voters who put their own economic interests ahead of the moral and cultural arc of our nation.

Their disaffection must be profound. And it is. And at least on one level, it is owed to the schools they attended– because their disaffection was, at the core, as much about job preparation… as it was about disappearing jobs.

Alvin Toffler said:  “Our job is not just to prepare students for the future… it is to prepare them for the RIGHT future.”

And this is where my epiphany lies.

In 2014, I founded Bayfront Charter High School in the heart one of the most economically depressed pockets of Chula Vista. 95% of my students are children of color—90% are Latino and 85% qualify for free and reduced lunch. A healthy percentage of those are the subject of the country’s rage about immigration and building walls (which by the way we already have.) This school is organized around preparing our students for College and Career pathways that they might not have otherwise discovered in the other overcrowded neighborhood high schools. And that’s the backdrop for this election.

In the run-up to Election Day 2016, I was, like most Americans, shocked and outraged (and at times amused) by trump’s antics and vitriol. I tuned in every night for the latest daily outrage waiting for him and the Republican cabal to implode.  Then, just as we settled in to celebrate the election of America’s first female President and dismiss trump to the footnotes of history, the nightmare unfolded. I was numb. And livid. I had dismissed trump’s backers as bigots– but that was too simple an analysis.

So I started connecting the dots…

This is the electoral map:

 

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Bayfront Charter High School sits squarely in the blue on the southwest corner of the United States. All that red? Those are the middle class/working class voters we heard so much about. The white, male, non-college educated citizens of Michigan, Alabama, rural Florida and points in between. The ones that were so angry about lost jobs that trump could have thrown babies off a roof top on one of his reality tv shows and they still would have voted for him. It’s the economy, dumb ass!

The problem, however, isn’t necessarily the scarcity of jobs in that red sea.

It’s a lack of jobs that align with the skill sets and education level of the available work force. In fact, according to America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have Nots, 2016– published by the Georgetown Center on Education and The Workforce, “a quarter-century of U.S. economic growth under Democrats and Republicans alike has added 35 million net new jobs.”

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But the number of jobs held by Americans with only a high school diploma or less has fallen by 7.3 million. The disparity is striking. The country has experienced a doubling of jobs for Americans with a four-year college degree, while the number of jobs for those with a high school diploma or less has fallen by 13 percent.”

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This trump can’t bring jobs back to an unskilled or undereducated work force. But that’s his problem.  And theirs.

Meanwhile, the large swath of blue on the two coasts is not coincidental. California is the largest state in the union and the strongest driver of our nation’s economy… fueled by rapid innovation in technology, energy, and STEM in general. And many of the companies driving that growth—can’t find enough skilled candidates—American or otherwise—to keep up with the job opeings.

It’s not just a demand for folks with a specific degree– it’s the degree plus some very distinctive skills: like the ability to adapt, solve problems, collaborate, make stuff, innovate, and exercise creative and critical thinking.

Those skills. Soft skills. The ones we have been talking about since the SCANS report of the 1990’s. The ones that the Common Core actually demands and develops. And the ones that are still not front and center in our schools. The ones required in every community of America that can’t quite figure out how to reinvent itself– short of importing a regional arm of Amazon.

So at Bayfront, we are sharpening our focus around preparing our students for the right future.

Yes, they live in a country filled with racism and intolerance that has bubbled to the surface– and at least for the moment it is personified by our bigot-in-chief.  They are the very students who trump wants to deport and to whom he would deny fundamental civil and constitutional rights.

But we intend to fight; to launch our own counter-revolution to assure that the cultural direction of our high school positions our students to compete in an entrepreneurial economy.  We intend to prepare every student to achieve whatever they imagine…whether its a career in Silicon Valley, or their own community,  or one right there in the White House.

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Napalm in the Mourning

I’m pissed.

I’m disgusted.

Americans have elected a monster and they are jubilant.

The adjectives are endless. Authoritarian. Racist. Bigot. Mysogynist. Narciscist.

Dangerous.

He has come from the same party that gave us George W. Bush and the inevitable world chaos that spun from 9-11 into an endless war that had been planned long before he became Cheyney’s puppet.

He has been elected by otherwise good people who would wave this ugly flag with the sole objective of denying Hillary Clinton the presidency.

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The republican party has aligned itself around a man so vile that even their own leaders are repulsed. They pushed a few predictable candidates out on the stage and Trump annhialated them by saying things that—in previous years— would have lead to instant revulsion and elimination from serious contention for any public office—let alone the Presidency. Think George Wallace. Think David Duke.

Anything to deny Ms. Clinton.

The entire party is complicit in this. They smeared Hillary with every possible lie they could muster—as they would have even if one of their other weaklings would have been selected: Vince Foster, Whitewater, Lewinsky, Benghazi, emails. Hundreds of millions of dollars, senate investigations, and

Liar… criminal… unethical… unaccountable… above the law…

So she will not be President. Trump will be. And I am disgusted. I hate that this has happened in our country. This is beyond politics.

When Americans voted for George W. Bush, they did so fully knowing that he was maleable and not real bright. But he ran on the illusion of family values and the right to life and all the platitudes of phony evangelicalism— in spite of the Constitution’s commitment to the separation of church and state. When Cheney appointed himself vice president, and the right wing arm of the Supreme Court anointed them all in 2000—we should have known we were in for trouble. And it started on September 11.

When Obama was elected in 2008 Republicans vowed to block him at every turn and undermine and emasculate his presidency—and they stayed true to their promise. To justify their treasonous opposition they peddled the lie that he wasn’t an American and that his Presidency was illegitimate. He served 8 years and made some mistakes—but led our nation out of the deep deep ditch into which Bush ran our nation.

He succeeded in spite of them. But he succeeded because he is honest, intelligent and deeply committed to serving all Americans—including (and especially) the haters.  Obama has righted the ship in the face of very public opposition—not opposition to his ideas as much as to his race. So the counter-response is Trump. The birther.

Friends, we are all accountable for the votes we cast. If you voted for Trump, if you made an “informed and rational” decision that he is best suited to lead our nation, then whatever happens next is on you.

You knew full well that he promised to build a wall on our Southern border, to deport millions of American born children, and to ban immigrants from the United States on the basis of their religion and you voted for him anyway.  You heard him express disdain for woman, people of color, veterans, judges, media, elected senators and congressmen of both parties, and you voted for him anyway. You know he simply refused to illuminate the concerns raised by trusted journalists about the state of his financial affairs and his international ties and you voted for him anyway. You heard him bully and bullshit his way through debates and interviews and you voted for him anyway. You heard him claim to know more about our enemies than our generals do and you voted for him to be our Commander in Chief.   You listened as he defiled and embarrassed our country and you chose to award him with the presidency. You heard him threaten to use nuclear weapons, because, “that’s what they’re there for.”

And maybe all of this will be ok some day. But when democracy is at its weakest, when people are deluged with so many lies, conspiracies and hoaxes that they begin to believe them– and when a strongman is given power he has not earned, we pave the way for fascism.

So while republicans celebrate and wave their flag and shout jingoist chants about the good old USA—it all repulses me now.  We are now supposed to respect the democratic process that he was contemptuous of.  We are supposed to suspend judgement, give him a chance, get behind the new president-elect…while he quickly assembles a transition team of alt right renegades who are as deplorable as him.

I won’t fly or salute or even possess a flag that flies above this shit pile. I wont stand or even listen to the National Anthem again until I am convinced our country has the courage to protect its own people and that the Constitution—upon which it was founded—is not trampled on by this cartoon character that poses such an existential threat to our national security and civil liberties.

This is not my America. This monster will never be my President. I’m with Kapernick.

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EL MILAGRO GROWS

images-1Sometimes we have an idea… and we search for a pathway to bring  that idea to fruition. And sometimes we don’t.  And sometimes our ideas just roll off the edge of the keyboard like once-familiar coins that have long since lost their shine.

So that drive along Bay Blvd. last October was not one conducted with any great promise.  There was no urgency to find this building– dropped so neatly by the side of the road.  There was no expectation.  I was just driving– and sometimes that’s all it takes.

I wonder if the universe reached into the driver side window and grabbed the wheel and pulled me to the curb.  Or whether it was the building itself.  Or the magnetic force of ideas stacked for years and waiting to take wing.  Seabirds…pinned to the wind and pushed as if flying sideways would always be their lot.

But then in instant those ideas are all set free… because that is what we live for.

So I was in the moment and Bayfront Charter High School was born. By providence.

usu front COVER

United States University is a half mile away from El Milagro.  It is a newly renovated 30,000 square foot building with 18 colorful classrooms, and meeting spaces.  They are a small private university that caters to working adults.  75% of their students are on-line and the rest come at night.  They could have leased a double-wide storefront in the strip mall; built a one room virtual schoolhouse sandwiched between 7-11 and the beauty supplies.

But they didn’t. They rolled the dice on a business model built for agility and open to change. And that decision contributed to Bayfront Charter High School, too.

So there it sits.  A gorgeous building with exquisite functionality– architecture in search of its own meaning along an undeveloped bay front– and instantly, it became the face of a dream that had been incubating for years.

In 2007 we launched our middle school called  Mueller Charter Leadership Academy (MCLA) because it broke our hearts to graduate six graders and send them off to a two-year under-performing school that was public education’s answer to purgatory.  The traditional middle school is that two year wasteland that promises neither rigor nor relationships.  So we built our own bridge and by-passed it all together.

Then we started to take a closer look at the comprehensive high schools with nearly 3,000 students.  In those schools kids have to compete for every inch of support. They compete for attention, for opportunities, for services, for lunch, for access. They compete to get into the freaken rest rooms.

images-2Maria went to one of those neighborhood high schools and was told by a counselor that she needed to go to the community college because her grades weren’t good enough for a four year university.  She disagreed and today she is a sophomore at USC. Aldo was the class valedictorian last year but they decided not to let him deliver the valedictorian speech because it didn’t conform to their expectations.  He’s at Dartmouth.  Jose’s parents called multiple times to speak to a counselor and were consistently instructed to leave a voicemail message.  They never called back.  Alejandra wanted help in her math class– but the tutoring times she was given by her teacher were actually the teacher’s lunch time.  And he ate lunch in the faculty lounge.

We decided that if these high schools aren’t going to teach the students that we send them– if they are not going to inspire and lead and love and counsel and advocate and push and support and celebrate the children we have invested nine years in– we will take them all back.  And we will do it ourselves.

But this building had to fall out of the sky on that October morning in order for us to do that.  And then other stuff had to fall out too.  And so it did.  And now its March and we are on schedule to open the doors in July to our first 150 freshmen.  The Class of 2018.

El Milagro grows. Bayfront Charter High School.

Bayfront screenshot

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Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, college, El Milagro, empathy, Fighting for Ms. Rios, innovation and change, public education, school reform