Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elected by Unanimous Vote--Virginia Pollard Joins the Lower Merion School Board

In an historic turn of events on Monday, October 25, 2010, the Lower Merion School District School Board of Directors elected Mrs. Virginia Pollard, an African American, to a position as Board of Director to replace a recently vacated seat by Linda Doucette-Ashman who relocated out of Pennsylvania. People say this moment in time is historic because a wealthy, majority white suburban school district and school board membership seated an African American. Mrs. Pollard is not the first African American to become a Lower Merion school board member, although it has been decades since the last. There are plenty of points to be made, but these few make this Board's unanimous vote amazing.

No one thought it would happen, like it did.
The thought was that, at least, the vote would end in a 4 to 4 tie and be decided by the Courts. At best, Mrs. Pollard would win by a 5 to 3 vote. Eight school board members were obligated to interview the final four of 31 candidates in an open forum as top school administrators and a standing-room only crowd attended. Mrs. Pollard made it as one of four in the final round. Each candidate was asked the identical seven questions in sequence. Mrs. Pollard was the third person to be interviewed. All of the candidates were excellent finalists, one would win the seat.

With the impending November 2 elections around the corner, Democrat or Republican politics was not the prevailing issue on the floor. Rather, electing Mrs. Pollard, a clearly qualified candidate, was an opportunity for school board members to begin to heal racial pains and divides sustained over decades that culminated more recently with several unresolved federal lawsuits and many resolved and unresolved, on-going due process hearings brought against the school district by African American families and organizations.

The PEOPLE challenged and changed the outcomes.
If there was any indicator that the Board's vote would not have ended as unanimous, it comes with the body language of a long-standing board member, Gray Friedlander. The usually stoic Mr. Friedlander seemed to have taken on a twitching disorder as he sat listening to the dozens of commentators intent on convincing him and the entire Board to vote for Mrs. Pollard; eyes rolling, legal pad covering his face to converse with Ms. Guthrie, red-faced, selective inattention, teeth-gritting and then calm attention to his seeming favored candidates. This behavior went on for hours into the night, a couple of breaks, and suddenly he sat calmly. Perhaps resigned.

Candidate supporter after supporter commented (overwhelmingly for Mrs. Pollard). Black, white, brown, young, old, Boy Scouts, two former township Commissioners (including Maryam Phillips via a letter), at least two sitting commissioners (Steve Lindner and Cheryl Gelber) sat among the crowd, Republicans, Democrats, and even a woman who dared the Board to make a liar out of her (she had no faith in them electing Mrs. Pollard to the Board). White people told the Board it is time to include Blacks who have been ignored and disenfranchised for years; it was time for them to take the gift this opportunity presented to make the right decision. Blacks and Whites spoke of the Mrs. Pollards extensive community involvement, skills, and history with which they and all of Lower Merion would be complemented. Mrs. Davis, unintended to speak, ask the Board, "if not now, when?"

It was even fun.
Attendees shared plenty of laughter. Reverend Pollard opened public comments with a request to the Board to do as the music soul legend James Brown and "Please, Please, Please" vote for Mrs. Pollard, his wife of many decades. In other light moments, James Brown would be referenced by other commentators and even a board member. Then attendees watched with eagerness when James Brown was called to the podium to make a comment. A white man appeared and identified himself as, "the real James Brown" and the audience roared with laughter. What a moment.

A word about redemption.
Lynn Kugal, who during the racially heated redistricting federal lawsuit brought against the district by African Americans admitted that she did not know that Ardmore was a predominant minority sub-community within Lower Merion leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of many, nominated Mrs. Pollard to become the next school board member. There were no other nominations. Within minutes Gary Friedlander and every other school board member voted to seat Mrs. Virginia Pollard as the Lower Merion School District Board of Director. They made the right decision, as implored to do by Lower Merion residents.

The vote was unanimous, by the end.
The audience jumped to their feet energized by amazement and joy. No one sang we shall overcome, but the sense of triumph and healing was as pervasive as the face-wide smiles of several board members and most of the attendees. At that moment, a point of community pride was manifest.
Truly this was a win-win for Reverend and Mrs. Pollard.
It was a win for Lower Merion students.
It was a win for the Lower Merion community.
It was a win for America. Yes, America.
Mostly, it was a win for the prayer team who stands on Simpson and Spring Avenues in Ardmore every night in any kind of weather praying for change.

White House Hosts Science Fair for the First Time

In an effort to Educate to Innovate, the White House held the first ever Science Fair to recognize middle school and high school students who have created outstanding, innovative science, technology, and engineering projects. A diverse group of students from schools across the nation converged on the White House on October 18 to demonstrate their award winning projects to President Obama.

One presenter's, Mikayla, comment sends a resounding message and directive to all of us to share with our youth, "When you apply for a job nobody will care if you were at the mall or texting or Facebooking, but stuff like this will matter."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Word on Special Education--IEPs...well, maybe a few words

Let’s say, a teacher alerts you that your child is struggling or misbehaving in school. A recommendation for the school psychologist to conduct an education evaluation to determine the underlying cause follows the alert.

You agree to the evaluation.
After an evaluation, the school psychologist may determine your child has a disability that requires special education support services. If not, all actions stop. If so, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meets to discuss your child’s strengths and needs and they and you create an IEP plan.

Welcome to special education.
Here are a few things to consider IF you agree with the school staff—.
Your child is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education—FAPE. FAPE means the special education support services are to be designed to provide——
a) meaningful benefit,
b) significant learning,
c) impact your child’s ability/potential,
d) conform to applicable federal requirements, and
e) is provided at no cost to the parents.

Are your child’s IEP goals measurable and objective?
In order to provide a student with FAPE, an IEP plan must be “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits.” Your child should experience more than trivial benefits.

Vague IEP Statements are NOT Enough
Vague IEP statements might look like this, LC will “write a correct sentence” with 80% accuracy or “will complete the fourth grade curriculum in reading” or “will improve her organizational skills.” Objective criteria against which achievement can be measured should be provided in the IEP language and specific strategies for adequately evaluating a student’s academic progress. How will you know if teaching methods are effective or revised? Bring an advocate or a Special Education Buddy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Marva Collins

In an age of the "achievement gap," we should recall the accomplishments of a master teacher, Marva Collins. She profoundly changed the lives of her students by educating them; even those other teachers and administrators thought were learning disabled. This veteran public school teacher, who became disillusioned with schools, unions, and underachievement, refused to relinquish her responsibility to educate students.

Our Hall of American Achievers---Mrs. Collins is one of America's greatest gems. Cum Laude, with praise.

ASK ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING public information sessions

Are you a parent/guardian who's concerned about the academic achievement of your Lower Merion public school student?

Do you need a second pair of eyes to review your child's IEP, GIEP or 504 Agreement?

Are you concerned about whether your child is on grade level?

Is your child enrolled in courses called ISL, math labs, "active" or remediation?

That's right. Lower Merion students, parents, guardians and anyone with a questions or concern about general or special education can ask absolutely anything of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia team and get answers. FREE public information sessions are taking place on Fridays, September 10, 17 and 24 from 2pm until 6pm at 92 Greenfield Avenue in Ardmore, PA 19003. Bring whatever paperwork is pertinent to your question and/or concern, including course rosters, transcripts, school program guides, individualized education plans, gifted individualized education plans, 504 Service Agreement plans, reports cards and the like.

Come to these free sessions. Get help sorting it all out.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

President Obama Delivers Commencement Address to Hampton U

Mother's Day, May 9, 2010, took on new meaning as President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address to Hampton University students and attendees. He highlighted the importance of obtaining a college education for each individual, but also that their achievement impacts the nation as well as the global community. Obama reminded attendees of a statement made by Frederick Douglass that still seems to rings true today, "Education is Emancipation."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Education Summit to Focus on School Discipline and the Pipeline to College Readiness

Concerned Black Parents and the Zion Youth Advisory Council are hosting the fourth and final Education Summit: The Village Takes Responsibility Part IV Explore the Impact of School Discipline on Academic Achievement and Success--What YOU should know & think about on Saturday, May 8, 2010. Feature presentations begin at 10:00 am with Umar Abdallah-Johnson, school psychologist; Sonja Kerr, civil rights attorney with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia; Dr Wagner Marseille and Doug Arnold, vice principals at Lower Merion High School; Giovanni Campbell, defense attorney; and Detective Henry of the Lower Merion Police Department. The summit opens at 9:15 with a lite breakfast and is open and free to all who venture out to 92 Greenfield Avenue, Ardmore, PA 19003.
A trip to the office for disciplinary purposes is a step out of the classroom and away from direct instruction, the impact of in- and out-of-school suspensions on academic achievement is great. With that said, imagine the impact on a student who is completely removed from his/her home school and remanded to an alternative school? Worse yet, what does academic achievement look like for a child whose school discipline involves the police and the juvenile justice system?
In an effort to ensure that more African American students are college and career ready rather than tracked off into the pipeline to prison, Concerned Black Parents and the Zion Youth Advisory Council would be remiss to end the 2009-10 school year without tackling this subject as a final summit matter. In fact, even in the wealthy Philadelphia suburban Lower Merion School District at the center of this discussion has a disproportionate number of black and Latino students receiving more stringent discipline than their non-minority peers.
Developing a community "village" centered approach to school disciplinary action and outcomes, supporting youth and schools, and eliminating the tolls of black students thrust into the "juvie" system from school are a few of the areas to be discussed at the summit. The primary focus is on disciplinary action prevention, intervention, and keeping students on a track to academic success and achievement.
Everyone is welcome!

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Proposes Increase in Title I Funding for Family Engagement

On May 5, 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Education Department's proposal to increase Title I funding targeted toward enhancing family engagement in public schools. Schools receiving Title I federal funds are required to designate 1 percent of that amount toward parents and family communication, collaboration, relations, and engagement. That 1 percent funding level would increase to 2 percent: that is, 270 million nationally available to school districts across the nation to draw families into their child's' learning experiences and school. Another 145 million would be made available on a competitive basis for states to identify the best practices for family engagement.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

2010 Conference on the State of Education in Pennsylvania

Register now to attend the 2010 Conference on the State of Education in Pennsylvania on Saturday, May 1, 2010. The conference features several outstanding experts speaking to topics ranging from the high stakes tests to the Education Empowerment Act to National Core Standards and the Keystone Exams. The Youth Strand presentations will empower youth to move forward with a purpose and plan and to better understand wealth and financial development. The event takes place at Cheney University from 8:30am--3:00pm. Register online and get more details at

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Federal Government to Invest in Students, Ousts Banks as Middle Man

The federal government has guaranteed payment of student loans to banks for many years, but that has changed with the stroke of the presidential pen. With this change to the loan system, the federal government will no longer subsidize banks. Rather students will now go directly to the federal government to obtain loans to attend college. President Barack Obama eliminated banks as the middleman, in part, because of the $68 billion savings to American taxpayers. That money will be invested in higher education. However banks are not eliminated completely from the student loan process, they will have an opportunity to grow as a business by servicing the loans.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Obama to Overhaul Education Law & Shake Up No Child Left Behind

In his March 13th weekly address, President Barack Obama announced his plan to overhaul the nation's education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that's well recognized as the No Child Left Behind law of 2002. The shift is away from student profiency by 2014 to holding teachers, principals, schools and states accountable to prepare students to be college and career ready and prepared to fulfill their dreams by 2020. The federal government plans to make an unprecedented investment of billions of dollars toward the success of this education blueprint to make sure students have access to a well rounded education.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

USA to Become First in World in College Completion by 2020

Building Blocks to 2020 is one of President Obama's many initiatives to reform public education in the United States. The goal is to make the USA first in the world in college completion. No more college dropouts. Well, sounds a bit ambitious. What will it take to transform a child in 2010 into a college graduate and working adult by 2020? At least, independent colleges are willing to work with the Obama administration to make this initiative a reality and success. Does this translate into increased supports for students, particularly those at risk of dropping out of college due to academic failure, financial need, or lack of support.

Another education challenge facing the Obama administration is the K-12 academic success movement; No Child Left Behind is still leaving millions of students behind. Let's see if the re-authorization of this law becomes a slam"Duncan" success.

Good news is way over due!

House to Start Hearings on Reauthorization of NCLB

On Thursday, February 18, 2010 in Washington, D.C., Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Education and Labor Committee announced plans for "a bipartisan, open and transparent effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind" federal education law, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

The House wants to hear your thoughts and recommendations. They will start holding hearings on Wednesday, February 24 at 10am. The first hearing subject is Charter Schools. Can't make the hearing, email comments to The House members desire to build a world-class education system in America. The deadline for comments is March 26, 2010.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

High School Competency Graduation Exit Exams Become PA State Law

As of the January 9, 2010 issue of The Pennsylvania Bulletin, the Keystone Exams are officially and finally approved as high school competency graduation exit exams. Pennsylvania's public school students and school staff will join those from 28 states who are required or are in the process of implementing state-prescribed high school comprehensive exams as high school graduation requirements. Unlike some all-or-none tests, the Keystone Exams will be administered as end-of-course tests as student complete courses, and they may count for one-third of the course grade. Publication of the Keystone Exams as a new rule and regulation in the The Pennsylvania Bulletin was the final "legal" step in making these exams state law.

Exams will be phased in over time, beginning in the 2010-2011 school year. The class of 2014-2015 must demonstrate proficiency in English Composition, Literature, Algebra I and Biology. Beginning with the class of 2016-2017 students must demonstrate proficiency in English composition and literature, two of the following; Algebra I, Algebra II or Geometry; Biology or Chemistry, and one of the following: American History, World History, or Civics and Government. If there is a delay in implementing these exams, a "grandfather" clause has been written into the new law to avoid penalizing students unable to follow the regulations as currently provisioned.

You can read The Pennsylvania Bulletin online at