Articles in the Urban Schools category

Q&A with Chef Jeff Henderson

Jeff Henderson is an award-winning culinary figure known simply as Chef Jeff — although simple would hardly be the way to describe his rise to fame. Growing up poor in southern California, Henderson quickly fell in with one bad crowd after another. When he was 24, he was nabbed for drug peddling and was sent to prison for nearly a decade.

While incarcerated, Henderson worked in the prison kitchen where he found sustenance and salvation in cooking. Today, he is a New York Times best-selling author and television personality who will be speaking at NSBA’s 72nd Annual Conference in Boston in April. The self-made entrepreneur recently took time out of his busy schedule to provide some food for thought to ASBJ Senior Editor Naomi Dillon.

When did your passion for food ignite?

I was placed on pots-and-pans detail in the prison kitchen. I realized the kitchen staff, like in any restaurant, gets to eat the leftover food. I thought, “OK, maybe this is the place to be.” The opportunity came for me to learn to cook by helping the head inmate cooks, and I got very good at it. I was very fast at seasoning and organization. Six months after I worked in the kitchen full time, the head cook left and I was promoted to head inmate cook and eventually head inmate baker. I had to be creative with the ingredients — onions, garlic powder, salt, pepper, top ramen noodle seasoning packages, canned tuna, a piece of bell pepper, some squeeze cheese. Whatever it was, we’d create these dishes.

You re-entered society with gusto, becoming the first African American to be named executive  chef at Café Bellagio in Las Vegas. How did you make that transition?

I took the same drive and tenacity that I had on the streets into the corporate world. Prison makes you very disciplined, and so do the streets. That added to my ability to move quickly up the food chain in the corporate world. I was the first one in and last one out every day. I studied the best talent around me. I bought the same shoes they wore, the same chef jackets, the same eyewear, and the same books. I watched how they moved through the kitchen, how they held knives, how they seasoned, how they held a pot handle, a sauté pan, and incorporated it all into what I do.

What does food represent to you?

It means a lot of things. Early in my life, it was survival. In prison it was an opportunity for me to eat better. After prison, food became a career. It became that vehicle for my redemption. The power of food is like a metaphor; food changes life. I get e-mails and letters and blogs and tweets from people who talk about how food changed their lives.

What is the Chef Jeff Project?

It was born out of my Los Angeles business called the Posh Urban Cuisine, where we catered to Hollywood celebrities and corporate executives. I would always hire at-risk kids through Job Corps, Pro Start, and local culinary trade schools. I would take these young people into multimillion-dollar estates and catering events and teach them how to cook. Many of these kids had social challenges. They didn’t smile, they sagged their pants, and their facial expressions were intimidating. So I wound up teaching these kids the importance of self-presentation. Then the Food Network reached out to me after I was on the Oprah Winfrey show and said, “Chef Jeff we want you to do a show.”

So how are you able to break through to the kids you work with?

Most teachers don’t come from poverty so they don’t understand the mindset. They don’t understand the trauma that these kids have been through. Until you understand that, you can’t connect. You can’t get them to buy in to the idea that education pays off. You get them to buy in by building up their self-esteem. You have to help them discover their gift and figure out what they want to do [in life] and cultivate that. In my travels, I meet kids who have never been on an airplane, never saw the ocean, never been to a white-tablecloth restaurant, never been to a museum, never been told that they were smart, never been told that they have potential. These kids were born in poverty to drug-addicted parents, abusive single parents, and broken family homes. It’s them against the world and the odds are stacked against them. So you’ve got to let them taste it, feel it, and see it, so when they go back to that environment that little voice talks to them and says, “You know what, there really is an ocean, there really is a New York, there really are opportunities.”

Naomi Dillon|February 24th, 2012|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2012, NSBA Publications, Nutrition, Student Engagement, Urban Schools, Wellness|Tags: , |

School counselors move to central education role

Just as the role of teacher has shifted in the last several years, so has the role of the school counselor, turning a once-fringe position into a proactive, data-driven, and integrated part of delivering a world class education for every child.

A distinguished panel of school counselors talked about these changes and the challenges of being a school counselor in the 21st century during a Saturday session of the Council of Urban Boards of Education winter Issues Forum at NSBA’s Leadership Conference.

“Yesterday’s counselor was very reactive. You rarely found them. Today’s counselor is serving all students. They’re not waiting for students to come to them; they’re looking at student’s needs and planning for them,” said Julie Hartline, the head counselor at Campbell High School in Georgia’s Cobb County School District. “Yesterday’s counselor would say, ‘I don’t know what kind of impact I have on a student until they’re gone. Today’s counselor has that data. It’s moved us into the role of being school leaders, instead of being ancillary.”

Indeed, Cobb County schools must set annual goals and part of her job at Nickajack Elementary is to track the school’s progress on those goals and areas where the counseling program can help achieve them, said Nicole Pfleger, who jsut names the 2012 National School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselors Association.

A focus on improving math scores, for instance, resulted in targeted interventions for struggling math students. Meanwhile, the identification of “frequent flyers” or students who were continually referred to the disciplinary office, led to the DREAM Team, a program for at-risk boys that works on issues like character development, self-control, etiquette, and respect, Pfleger said.

“Our job is to help raise aspirations and aspirations come with information,” said Carolyn Stone, who spent 22 years as a school counselor at Florida’s Duval County Public Schools before becoming a professor of counselor education at the University of North Florida.

School counselors are ideally situated to close the information gap, which Stone said must be part of any effort to close the achievement gap.

“It’s about helping them connect the dots, making sure they know this is what you need to do to be successful,” Stone said. “I don’t want to sound simplistic, but sometimes it comes down to setting goals, so that when that kid is about to graduate, they have options, whether it’s a two-year, a four-year program or technical college, they know what they’re options are.”

Naomi Dillon|February 4th, 2012|Categories: Leadership, Leadership Conference 2012, Urban Schools|Tags: , , |

Successful community college/school partnerships

The importance of building partnerships was the centerpiece of Prince George’s Community College President Charlene M. Dukes’ presentation to attendees of the Council of Urban Boards of Education’s winter Issues Forum at NSBA’s Leadership Conference  on Saturday. And small wonder– strong alliances between the Maryland community college and its feeder school district have been the key to delivering innovative programs and opportunities to the students they both serve.

“The idea of partnering is nothing new. You partner with neighbors, churches, and communities to get things done,” Dukes said. But building partnerships to support education, upward mobility, and improved quality of life are what drives the work and shared goals of Prince George’s educators as well as those in the state.

“For the fourth year in a row, Education Week has named Maryland as number one for education,” Dukes said, referring to the annual Quality Counts report the publication produces that examines the current education landscape and where various states fall. “That doesn’t happen by chance.”

Dukes said every three weeks she has breakfast with Prince George’s County Public Schools Superintendent William Hite to vent, celebrate, and strategize.

“Dr. Hite and I want our students to see beyond the walls of school, beyond the boundaries of neighborhoods,” Dukes said. “We want them to see themselves as part of the world.”

One of the ways the two school systems are working to achieve that is through the Academy of Health Sciences at Prince George’s Community College, which opened in the fall of 2011 with 100 high school freshmen as the state’s first middle college.

As the name suggests, students who enroll in this program, which will eventually serve 400 low-income high school students, will graduate with a diploma and up to two years of college or an associate’s degree in the health sciences field.

“And it’s all free of charge to the students and their families because we were able to work in partnership as a school system and community college,” said Dukes. She explained to an audience eager to know how it was funded that some of the money comes from per-pupil expenditures the district gets from the state, but much of it comes from the college in the way of waived fees and free use of space.

Dukes said the program received 978 applications for the first class of freshmen. This time around, it received 4,000 applications for the freshman class.

“That tells you how hungry people are for something different in public education,” Dukes said. But it doesn’t stop there.

“In America, we’ve done a great job with access, with providing opportunities, but we have to do more to make sure that people make it out on the other end, that they reach their goals and walk across the stage with those academic credentials,” she said. “We have much work to do and we think we can do it together as boards of education.”

 

Naomi Dillon|February 4th, 2012|Categories: Dropout Prevention, Governance, High Schools, Leadership Conference 2012, School Boards, School Reform, Student Engagement, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , |

The week in blogs

Beware the blog that begins, “If you want my opinion….” because chances are you’re going to get it, whether you want to our not.

So, as I was saying, if you want my opinion (promise I’ll keep this short) on the whole Newt-Gingrich-wants-poor-kids-to-work-as-school-janitors thing, it’s not the idea itself that bothers me, it’s the attitudes that seem to support it.

That is, I could imagine a small charter-type school in a disadvantaged neighborhood where the students were charged with taking care of the building as  part of a team-building, esprit-de-corps type activity.

But to suggest, as the Republican presidential candidate did, that poor children as a group lack any kind of working role models — well, that to me is a bit much. Gingrich obviously hasn’t spent much time in a diverse American high school with lots of poor immigrants, where oftentimes the problem isn’t students not working, but working so much outside of school to help support stressed families that they have precious little chance of passing their courses.

For the record, here’s some of what Gingrich said, according to the New York Times’ Politics blog, which, in turn, quoted Politico:

You say to somebody, you shouldn’t go to work before you’re what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You’re totally poor. You’re in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I’ve tried for years to have a very simple model. Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.”

Among the many who criticized the candidate was Charles Blow, of the Times, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“Who in their right mind would lay off janitors and replace them with disadvantaged children — who should be in school, and not cleaning schools,” Weingarten said. “And who would start backtracking on laws designed to halt the exploitation of children?”

Others, including Peter Meyer of the Fordham Foundation, said Gingrich was on the right track.

“It was a bit odd to to see Charles Blow (of the New York Times) take out after Newt Gingrich for saying that ‘really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,’’’ Meyer said. “I had just returned from an inner city school where teachers and administrators and parents were saying the same things as Gingrich.  In fact, I’ve been hearing these complaints from teachers – and business leaders – for years.  Teaching children the ‘habits of working’ is a growing part of the school reform movement.”

Yes, there was other news this week. For starters, check out Joann Jacobs’s discussion of how schools’ emphasis on reading and math tests could be crowding out other subjects.

Lawrence Hardy|December 10th, 2011|Categories: Curriculum, Immigrants, School Board News, Urban Schools, Week in Blogs|Tags: , |

Half-day pre-k + half-day kindergarten = big reading gains by third grade

Full-day kindergarten and half-day preschool both lead to significant academic gains — the research consistently bears this out. Put together, these programs offer students the best chance to achieve at high levels.

But what if your district can’t afford that combination yet still wants to provide a rich learning experience for young children? Would it be better, in terms of later reading proficiency, if your students got a half day of preschool and only a half day of kindergarten, or full-day kindergarten alone?

In a report released today entitled “Starting Out Right: Pre-K and Kindergarten,” NSBA’s Center for Public Education looked at both options and concluded that the half-and-half approach — half day pre-k plus half-day kindergarten — is more effective in boosting reading scores at the third grade level, which is often described as the grade in which students are expected to have largely moved from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

The Center’s conclusion is more than academic: It has practical implications in these tough economic times, when school boards are faced with difficult choices about which program to cut, and which to maintain or expand. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), state funding for pre-k declined in 2010 for the first time in nearly a decade, leaving school districts to pay more of the cost. But the report suggests that cutting half-day preschool would be a mistake.

“Early education is vital,’ said Jim Hull, the Center’s senior policy analyst and author of the report. “With today’s release of the NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] 2011 Nation’s Report Cards in Mathematics and Reading, this report gives us more information on how we can increase academic success in our schools by expanding access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.”

Here are some of the report’s key findings:

# Children who received a half-day of both pre-k and kindergarten were 3 percent more likely than those attending full-day kindergarten alone to comprehend words in sentence.

# These half-day pre-k, half-day kindergarten children were also 12 percent more likely than those in full-day kindergarten alone to be able to make “literal references” such as those expressed in the simile “Her eyes were as blue as the sky.”

# Children who received half-days of both pre-k and kindergarten were 18 percent more likely than those in full-day kindergarten alone to be able to extrapolate from their reading. That is, they were able to identify clues in a text and use those clues and their background knowledge to understand the contextual meaning of homonyms, such as whether a sentence containing the word “bear,” meant “to carry” or “an animal.”

In almost all cases, these results were more pronounced among African Americans, Hispanics, low-income students, and English language learners.

 

Lawrence Hardy|November 1st, 2011|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Center for Public Education, Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Preschool Education, Student Achievement, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , , |

Urban school boards, board member honored at New Orleans conference

CUBE Award Winner

Texas’ Mesquite Independent School District receives the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) Annual Award for Urban School Board Excellence.

Three urban school boards were honored at NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) annual meeting in New Orleans on Saturday. Texas’ Mesquite Independent School District took top honors as the winner of the 2011 Annual Award for Urban School Board Excellence. Boston Public Schools and Nevada’s Washoe County Public Schools were named as finalists.

Mesquite Board President Kevin Carbo, board members Christina Hall and Cary Tanamachi, and Superintendent Linda Henrie accepted the award.

“We are very proud of our district’s accomplishments,” said Carbo. “This award is not just for the Board of Trustees, but for everyone in the district-from the administrators to the teachers to the auxiliary employees who day in and day out give our children their maximum effort.”

Henrie accepted the award on behalf of all of those across the country who are dedicated to public education. “This honor affirms that public education works and works well,” she said.

“This is just one more step in the right direction,” Carbo added. “We have more work to do, and CUBE just gave us a little more incentive to continue working toward a better future for our kids.”

The award recognizes excellence in school board governance, building civic capacity, closing the achievement gap (equity in education), and demonstrated success of academic excellence.

A 37,000-student school system located less than 20 miles east of Dallas, Mesquite has systematically made gains in student achievement and significantly closed achievement gaps while successfully rallying community support around the schools.

Eighty-four percent of students tested proficient in math in 2010, up from 67 percent in 2004. The percentage proficient in science grew from 52 percent in 2004 to 82 percent in 2010. Reading test scores rose from 82 percent to 91 percent proficient during the same time period, while social studies scores went from 86 percent to 95 percent passing.

While all subgroups showed improvement, minority students enjoyed particular gains, and the test score gaps between white and minority students closed significantly in all subject areas.

For more information on the winning district and the finalists, go here.

Also at the CUBE meeting, Arizona school board member Eva Carillo Dong was honored with the 2011 Benjamin Elijah Mays Lifetime Achievement Award. Dong has been a member of the Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board since 1999.

She was honored for her long-time dedication to the community and her strong belief that education can improve life for children in Sunnyside Unified, which serves more than 17,000 students.

President of the Sunnyside board three times in her 12 years of service, Dong has helped the district gain state and national attention for its innovative programs and initiatives to increase student achievement, reduce the dropout rate, and increase community engagement.

The Benjamin Elijah Mays Lifetime Achievement Award is given to individuals who demonstrate a long-standing commitment to the educational needs of urban schoolchildren through school board service. Benjamin Elijah Mays, whom the award honors, was a teacher, minister, author, and civil rights activist who served as president of Morehouse College and the Atlanta school board from 1970 to 1981.

For more information on the awards and CUBE, go to www.nsba.org/cube.

Kathleen Vail|October 11th, 2011|Categories: Announcements, Conferences and Events, CUBE Annual Conference 2011, School Boards, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , , , , , |

Analysis: NBC learned its lesson with this Education Nation

Glenn Cook, American School Board Journal’s editor-in-chief, attended NBC’s Education Nation summit in New York for the second straight year. Here are his observations.

You can’t blame traditional public school advocates if they were filled with dread when NBC announced that Education Nation would return this fall. Last year the network bought into the hype surrounding the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” inexplicably tying the event to a flawed film that exhorted charters as the pancea for public education’s ills.

Thankfully, NBC has learned its lesson. This year’s event took pains to correct past wrongs as it recognized the complexities school leaders face in managing a public system that is open to all.

Starting with a screening of “American Teacher,” a documentary that helped erase some of the “bad teachers” taste left by “Superman,” and ending with an appearance by former President Bill Clinton, Education Nation featured a strong balance of heavy hitters from education, philanthropy, and politics.

You also had a touch of celebrity — basketball player Lebron James, actress Jennifer Garner, and what amounted to a family reunion with former Gov. Jeb Bush and First Lady Laura Bush participating in sessions — but in this case, it fit the overall tone.

The key word here is balance. Last year’s programming was flawed because it exhorted simple antidotes to complex problems. This year, silver bullets were nowhere to be found, but calls for more effective teaching and improvements to early education were.

You can watch many of the sessions online at www.educationnation.com, but here is my list of highlights:

• Start with “Brain Power: Why Early Learning Matters,” a fascinating hour-long session featuring Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, and three university professors. Held on Monday morning, it was the best, most concise presentation I’ve seen yet on why we need to reach children much, much earlier than we do.

• The dramatic rise in poverty rates was a focus throughout, especially in the session “What’s in a Zip Code?” moderated by Brian Williams. Poverty is reality for many people in today’s economy — Clinton was eloquent on this topic in the closing session — and communities must come together to do more.

• Education Secretary Arne Duncan was everywhere this year, participating in interviews with Tom Brokaw and responding to questions during various panels (a nice touch).

• We saw an entertaining back and forth between Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone and Diane Ravitch, author and professor of education at New York University. Their approaches are so different, but both made excellent points. Canada and Sal Khan, another Education Nation speaker, are scheduled to keynote NSBA’s 2012 Annual Conference.

• Teacher and student accountability, as you might expect, was a recurring theme. Michelle Shearer, the current National Teacher of the Year from Maryland’s Urbana High School, said teachers “want to be evaluated on things that really matter.”

“There are all sorts of different ways of looking at student growth,” she said. “Whatever evaluation looks like in the end, it has to be a system of multiple measures, because often what’s most important are those intangibles … that are tough to put on a check list.”

• At the same session, Khaatim El, a former member of the Atlanta school board, addressed the cheating scandal that has plagued the district he served for almost a decade. “We wanted to be the hype,” he said of the allegations, which are based on the state assessments. “We wanted to be the first to get it right so bad.”

But El noted the district also made huge gains in NAEP scores during that time, an achievement untouched but overshadowed by the scandal. “I would be remiss if I didn’t point to the hard work that many educators put in,” he said. “We focused on the basics. Literacy instruction in elementary school. Autonomy for principals. We invested in professional development. Those things were overshadowed by the cheating scandal. And they were good things for kids.”

The setting for Education Nation was not perfect — the big tent in Rockefeller Plaza is a good idea in theory, but the humidity and poor audio were ever-present distractions. And while this year’s session was far more substantive, future years should stop belaboring the problems and focus instead on how to solve them. Panels featuring districts that have been successful at “what works,” with ideas and content that are easily imitated and replicated, would be a valuable start.

Chances are good that will happen. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) had a strong presence in the planning and execution of the meeting. Anne L. Bryant, our executive director, met with NBC officials about the content and answered audience questions in a video Q&A format prior to the event. Mary Broderick, NSBA’s president, was featured in a panel session with the mayors of Albuquerque, Baltimore, and Newark.

“What we’ve heard from the last two days of this conference is that we need to come together around a sense of urgency,” Broderick said during her session, noting that it takes a shared vision between the school board, the mayor’s office, and the community. “The vision needs to be of excellence. If that cohesive message can be carried through our schools … there’s nothing off the table.”

Finalists announced in NSBA annual urban ed award

NSBA’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) is pleased to announce that Boston Public Schools, Washoe County Public Schools and the Mesquite Independent School District have been selected as finalists for the 2011 CUBE Annual Award for Urban School Board Excellence.

Identified by an independent panel based on data provided by the school district and their state school boards association, the finalists were chosen based on the following four criteria: excellence in school board governance, ability to build civic capacity, commitment to equity in education, and demonstrated success of academic excellence.

“All three of the finalists have made extraordinary efforts to reach students and increase student achievement,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. “The CUBE Award finalists are proof that diverse urban school districts can succeed, even during difficult economic times.”
(more…)

Naomi Dillon|September 8th, 2011|Categories: CUBE Annual Conference 2010, Diversity, NSBA Recognition Programs, School Boards, Student Achievement, Urban Schools|

Is NCLB leading to cheating?

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke out this week in The Washington Post on the recent standardized tests cheating scandals and noted that “testing and teaching are not at odds.”

But could No Child Left Behind (NCLB) be to blame on these high profile cheating scandals?

As Duncan noted “Now as NCLB’s deadline for 100-percent proficiency approaches and performance goals grow steeper, we learn of egregious, systemic cheating in Atlanta and suspected cheating elsewhere.”

Duncan stated that “poorly designed laws” are “part of the problem” and that “NCLB has created the wrong incentives for boosting student achievement.”

Duncan promoted the need for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and stated “we are working with Congress to fix the law by instead measuring individual student growth against college and career-ready standards.”

BoardBuzz thinks it’s time Congress moves forward on ESEA, but wonders when that will happen. Instead as the 2011-2012 school year is about to begin shortly, schools are stuck with a flawed accountability system.

Alexis Rice|July 21st, 2011|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Teachers, Urban Schools|Tags: , , , , |

Urban school boards have role in closing achievement gap

There is no achievement gap among 1-year-olds. By the time those babies are 3, the gap is there. It’s firmly in place by kindergarten, when most children show up in public schools.

Ronald Ferguson, Harvard University economist and education researcher, talked to members of the Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) at its annual issues seminar in Memphis over the weekend about addressing and solving the black-white achievement gap in their districts.

Board members should look to three things: teachers, peers, and parents.

Successful teachers watch one another teach and talk about their students’ work together, said Ferguson. School board members can figure out if and how this is taking place at their schools by asking some strategic questions: “How are you organized? Do you have a professional learning community? Tell me how your teachers look at students’ work together?  If they aren’t doing it, if you ask, they will start doing it,” he said.

Addressing student attitudes and paying attention to how they treat each other is another piece of the solution. “A majority of students say they aren’t trying hard when they are. Sometimes, it’s better to look lazy than stupid,” he said. “We have to get them to give one another permission to high achievement. Launch a conspiracy against your own youth culture.”

Parents are another important component, said Ferguson, not just parent involvement and engagement with the schools, but also parenting. He acknowledged that the topic of parenting is a sensitive topic, but differences in the way people parent account for some of the achievement gap before kindergarten.

“Black people don’t want white people come to their community and say, you don’t parent the way we parent,” he said. “We have to create a safe space to talk about these things.”

Ferguson said that school leaders, educators, and advocates need to think of closing the achievement gap as a social movement. “Inside a social movement, not everyone agrees, but they have the same sense that they need to move in the same direction.”

“There’s a lot of work to do,” he continues. “Keep it simple enough to wrap your mind around it, but not so simple that you blur the distinctions.”

Board members should not micromanage, he said, but “you guys can ask the questions and compare the notes on answering those questions. Get the ball rolling on things.”

For more information on CUBE, go to www.nsba.org/cube.

Kathleen Vail|June 27th, 2011|Categories: School Boards, Urban Schools|
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