Open Letter to Community – Re: Racism, Equality & Freedom

“Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

June 1, 2020

An Open Letter to our Community,

The tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, brings racial violence to the forefront of our country and our psyche as a nation.  While our nation and local communities have made strides regarding racial equality over the years, the reality is, our nation has a lot of work to do.  The current sadness I feel and that is felt around the nation and world is not sadness that should be present in our society. We are all and we are each better than this. Everyone deserves respect and honor as a human being.

Our school district takes great pride in serving families of many races, creeds, ethnicities, religions, languages, etc.   While we value these as strengths of our district, we continue to look for ways to respect and engage our differences. In the days, months, and years ahead, our district will need to engage students and families in exploring their own identities and learning through a lens/perspective different from their own. We must go beyond celebrating diversity in surface-level ways. It’s time to go deeper. It’s time to raise the generation that will erase the legacies of institutionalized racism.

I recently watched the History Channel miniseries on Ulysses S. Grant, it was a three day, six-hour documentary of Grant’s life, leadership, trials & tribulations. It also chronicles the American Civil War and the Reconstruction efforts in the South. Through literal bloodshed, slavery in the US was abolished and racial equality was legislated and put forth into law. In the decades that followed the US Civil War, the evils of institutionalized racism reinstituted a 2nd class society for people of color. Each time achievements were made in our nation, there were steps backward. Perhaps this is the time for us to step forward and stay forward.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Dual Language Two-Way Immersion, Spanish-English program in District 112. The blending of race, culture, language, ethnicity, and personal family histories serve to strengthen our schools, our children, and our communities. I’m proud to oversee an ethnically and linguistically inclusive educational program.

Standards-aligned curriculum & instruction serve to support the facilitation of balanced and thoughtful learning in all grades PK-8. Flexible changes in school boundaries and attendance centers sometimes appeared to be the greatest challenges and “problems” we faced in our district. World and national events surely put all of this into perspective as we reflect on the abundance and joy in our school district. If ever there was a time for perspective — it is now!

As we reflect on recent national events (racial oppression and inequity) and global events (worldwide Pandemic bringing nations to a close), I call upon us all to rise up above the myopic views that sometimes stifle true understanding and growth. In North Shore School District 112,  we are committed to educating each one of our students. We are also committed to supporting each member of the staff.  We stand by equity, justice, kindness, respect, and good character. It is no longer enough to be against racism and oppression, we must become anti-racist and accomplices in the fight for equality and justice for all.         

Remember our motto is Inspire…Innovate…Engage through our collective efforts and unity in kindness and good we can help to create a more just and bias-free society. While we endure the uncertainty of a Pandemic and we bear witness to the tragedy of racism and systemic oppression, it is my belief that we can unite and learn and grow in partnership for the good and right!

While we commit to embedding the tenets of social justice and anti-racism in our core, we are not there yet. We have work to do to actualize equality in both action and results. We are committed to this work and to ensuring that each child is able to grow in an educational environment that is safe and actualizes their greatness. To our students and families of color, I commit to start with me. I commit to not just reflect and discuss but to act upon injustice. I commit to acknowledge the rich contributions of Blacks and Latinos in the curriculum, to both listen and to act. I commit to using my power and privilege to fight against racist policies and practices. I commit to lead a school district that pays back the educational and societal debt that is owed to you.

With hope and respect,

Mike

Michael Lubelfeld Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Impact of a Teacher – #112Leads

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
– Benjamin Franklin

With this school year coming to a close on June 4, 2020 I was reflecting on the power of a teacher, and in February 2017 I shared a similar story about one of the most impactful educators in my life. I thought it would be a good time to reflect on Dr. McFarland and share his impact on me again as we prepare to bring the most unprecedented school year to a close! Originally shared in February, 2017 I shared some thoughts about how a college professor from an undergraduate course on the American Presidency from many years ago impacted my life and my professional journey. A journey that currently has some powerful meaning/relevance with our district’s move to remote e-Learning. With this blog post, I’ll draw the connections!

As a former 6th and 8th grade social studies teacher (U.S. history, civics, law, world history, reading, etc.) I have a deep interest in our nation’s culture, history, values, beliefs, celebrations, etc. In addition, I hold a degree in political science, so I have been a “policy wonk” for many years, and to this day I follow the news, politics, etc.

While I was a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, UIC, I had some of the best teachers in my life. The late Dr. Twiley Barker Jr., Dr. Kevin Lyles, and Dr. Andrew McFarland, to name a few. During a course on the American Presidency, POLS 229, an event took place in my life that impacted my philosophies, beliefs, and actions as a teacher and educational leader over the past 30 years. In some ways it likely shaped my philosophies and impact as a teacher and as an educational leader so many years later. Right now there is a current challenging transition from the abrupt changes to remote e-Learning and how teachers have to “report progress” in this unusual time. Looking back at my personal educational history, I’m reminded of why meaningful feedback, teacher /student relationships, and the mastery of content and the flexibility of instruction supersedes any percentage grade or mark in terms of meaningful feedback and communication about learning.

With this blog post, I’m reflecting on the congruity of an impactful event in my life during an undergraduate course, and the realization that this impactful event has impacted my beliefs whether I consciously knew about it or not. This is an “aha” moment for me – this is partially why I so strongly believe the growing pains and transition are worth the time, effort, energy, and extra work involved in pupil progress reporting.

 


Change is hard (I’ve written a lot about the change process) – Unlearning is hard (I have also written about this concept).

My college professor Dr. Andrew McFarland gave me a chance in the “real world” -when I was in college. Because he knew me, he knew what kind of student I was – he knew my passion for political science he treated me like I was more than a percentage or a score. Dr. McFarland also taught so that students would learn. He had high standards for each and every student and he held himself to high standards too.

So what is this all about? What is this big event that caused me an “aha” moment? Dr. McFarland called me one night while I was eating dinner with my parents; it was 5:30pm – I don’t know how I remember this fact, but I do. This event took place in 1988 or 1989 and I still vividly remember our call!

He called me that night because earlier that day when I took the final exam, I inadvertently forgot to answer one or two additional questions. If Dr. McFarland graded or assessed based on the “old” system I would have received an F. Dr. McFarland, though, was using standards based learning and instruction (whether he or I knew it or not). He called me on the phone and asked me to respond to the final exam question prompts – for 30 maybe 60 minutes. Because he cared about learning – not about percentages or “harsh” lessons, I was able to demonstrate mastery and competency of the American Presidency course (in which I did earn an A, not only because of what I learned, but more importantly, because my professor cared about discovering what his students knew).

He assessed my knowledge acquisition in an alternative learning setting because my teacher was more concerned about assessing my learning and mastery than he was about issuing a grade or a percentage. Had this caring professor used traditional methods I would have failed the exam. In my opinion and in my experiences, standards based grading, reporting, learning, and assessment actually prepares people for real life by holding them accountable to learn. Thank you Dr. McFarland!

Our district will transition through this remote e-Learning to next year (whatever that may be … ideally safe, healthy, and in person). Through this transformational experience for our schooling and for our society, we have all shown how quickly we can unlearn when we must, we have shown how we can relearn schooling, and we will show that we can learn how to create a new reality as necessary.

Dr. McFarland unlearned old school and rigid grading and assessment practices and I consider him to be remarkable and gifted, he was a leader who impacted me and my practice. Let’s use modern instructional strategies to maximize the impact and effect of learning whether we’re in person or remote, or in a hybrid combination of both. Let’s help people unlearn practices that make no sense other than to have been used in their past school experiences.

Preparing students for the future world requires teaching them content that is meaningful in learning environments that are powerfully purposeful and full of clear, regular, meaningful feedback and opportunities to learn and demonstrate learning. As we bring the school year to a close, we are reminded of the impact and power of a teacher and his or her feedback. Thank you to all educators — and thank you again, Dr. McFarland!

Paint by Numbers or Creative Leadership – How do you lead?

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become  more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Students have one chance to experience whatever grade level they are in. They will be in third grade once … it’s incumbent upon we in education, then, to make that the best and most meaningful third grade experience we possibly can. This takes creative, innovative, and empowering leadership. Gone are the complacent days of the “good old days” when rote memorization and “cemetery rows” of desks and chairs in public schools were the norm. Gone is (or should be) the “paint by number” mentality governing the public school system.

Well, I hope so … I endeavor to be a leader who demonstrates creative leadership and courageous leadership in support of excellence and the development of others so that we create optimal conditions for learning, growth, and success. One way in which I do this is through attendance at and participation in professional learning conferences.

When superintendents gather at a professional learning conference, there are some expected traditions. There will be a welcome reception, we’ll get a directory of members, we’ll review the history/tradition of the organization, we’ll have sessions that are whole group, keynote presenters, small group break out sessions, work with partner organizations, local culture/history excursions and networking opportunities. These are legacy traditions that bind us together in our professional organizations in pursuit of scholarship, fellowship, and leadership development.

Although there is a rhyme and reason, and while there is a set of expectations and predictable events, opportunities and experiences, the gathering of school superintendents – our nation’s chief education officers – is anything but paint by numbers professional learning. Today’s leaders must support one another and inspire one another and help one another be better than they were yesterday! The concept of Paint by numbers can be defined as:

Adjective. paint-by-numbers (not comparable) (of a picture) Made from a painting by numbers kit. (figuratively) By rote, without thought or creativity.

paint-by-numbers – Wiktionary

https://en.wiktionary.org › wiki › paint-by-numbers

From PAINT BY NUMBERS

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“For critics, the paint-by-number phenomenon provided ample evidence of the mindless conformity gripping national life and culture. “I don’t know what America is coming to,” one writer complained to American Artist, “when thousands of people, many of them adults, are willing to be regimented into brushing paint on a jig-saw miscellany of dictated shapes and all by rote…”PAINT BY NUMBERS

So paint by numbers became a craze in the 1950s in America so that “anyone could become an artist”. It was part of the postwar (World War II) leisure and recreation fads in the newfound postwar American prosperity. After the Allied victories in the European and Asian theaters, the nation experienced a postwar boom of economic prosperity, educational attainment (GI Bill) and suburban sprawl out of the urban and rural areas.

Life was good. Anyone could “paint by numbers” and become an artist. Through rote, orderly rule following, in clean, linear fashion, everyone and anyone could create masterpieces that were originally created through innovation and creativity and talent.

In the period of time following World War II, and following the Korean Conflict, it can be argued that America was lulled into a peaceful and prosperous conformity where leisure, complacency, and pursuit of the American Dream was the norm. This was until the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR/CCCP, the Soviet Union (archenemy of the United States during the Cold War) successfully launched Sputnik … that started the space race, and was a starting point for the American wake up call for many things, including a focus on scientific and mathematical learning in the nation’s public schools. “History changed on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched SputnikI. The world’s first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball…” Sputnik

Followed up with President John Kennedy’s bold, audacious goal that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. The palette of change and growth in America was about to become anything but “paint by numbers”.

Some argue that in the 19th year of the 21st Century, American public schools are again getting a wake-up call to create conditions for learning that resemble modern learning in response to the 4th Industrial Revolution instead of lingering traditions from the first or second Industrial Revolution. Why should our nation’s schools and classrooms still look like the image below?

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When the world and the expansion of knowledge is far different and the work force has far newer needs, it’s urgent for K-12 schooling to change and adapt for the reality of the present and the possibility of the future. As illustrated in the image, there are degrees in college today that have significantly changed in the past half century. More and more of these college degrees, industry certifications, and career opportunities for which we in K-12are charged with preparing the future that cannot be mastered via rote, paint-by-numbers thinking.