Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Surgeon's smocks, Education, Government shutdowns

You probably already know this...let's review for those who do, and expose for those who don't.

Surgeons weren't always professionally schooled and papered by Universities.  They were barbers who amputated - and most of their patients died by infection from the amputation.  But not for the reasons you think.

If you were to select a barber to amputate, you did so based on the individual wearing the most experienced looking smock.  I mean, who would want to pay for an amputation from a person wearing a white smock = no amputations.

The dirtiest, bloodiest, rankest smocks denoted the most prolific barber.  Also, it turns out, the ones with the highest mortality rates.

When in the course of research, it was determined that gory smocks and mortality rates correlated, you'd think that barber-surgeons would listen to their colleagues who preached sanitation as a simple life-saving measure.

You'd be wrong.

For them, was it about saving lives or clinging to the reputation of a dirty smock? 

I find similar conditions in politics and education.

A GROSS unwillingness to fundamentally change the way we practice our profession, even if it saves lives, at the risk of loosing our white-knuckled grip on our positions. 

While people die, perhaps not as violently as they did at the hands of a smocked-barber, they still eventually die at the hands of smocked politician or superintendent.

Drop out.  Don't vote.

It turns out that Common Core, accountability measures, and evaluations are very much similar to the sanitary practices preached by surgeons long ago.

Simple ways to improve the lives of patients.  Simple ways to improve the lives of students.

And yet, the proverbial death toll continues.  Just as it did centuries ago. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Yesterday we had a fight in the cafeteria.  7th graders.  I use the word typical in the sense that these things can happen in a school setting.  At my school, in all honesty, we've had 3 fights in three years, so this was an atypical occasion.

Atypical has so many layers.  A boy was verbally harassing a girl.  She'd had enough, so she took matters into her own fists.  They're both African Refugees, familiar with the consequences of hatred, violence, fear, and malice.

Our entire First Grade saw the fight.  "Why does this have to happen Dr. Sharp?"  "Why wouldn't that boy leave her alone?"  "What is going to happen to them?" were just some of the questions.

Typical disciplinary action calls for immediate suspension, depending on district policy and number of previous offenses.

This was not a typical situation.

Today Seraphine visited each 1st Grade classroom and taught a 10 minute lesson on two of our school's CHOICES (Choosing Habits Of Investigation Character Excellence & Success).  She focused on Responsibility and Respect.

23 little ones gathered on the learning carpet to listen to a 7th grade student talk about how choices impact our lives.  Sharing her experiences in Refugee camps...

...and her choice to come to America.

We all have choices. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

An open letter to grand-daughter

Welcome to our family.  The joy you bring everyone is indescribable.  Having just come from Heavenly Father, I have to ask's Grandpa Glen?  What does Heaven smell like?  What's the best book in Heaven?  Best food?  I know that sounds silly, but I have those questions  because you're here.  You remind me that Heaven is a real place.

I'm glad you chose to come.  I'm learning how much better I want to be.  For you.  For our family.

This world is a mix of wonder, joy, and a fair measure of pain and sorrow.  I want to protect you from that.  To keep you safe.  To shelter you.  But I can't.

It would be unfair.  It's not part of the plan.  So...I pledge that I will do all in my power to serve you, to teach you and show you all that I can.

You have amazing parents.  Your father, my son, is a worthy priesthood holder.  The spirit resides with him - he is worthy to go to the temple with your mother, whom I also love so much.  She made great sacrifice to bring you here - and will continue to do so as she helps to guide and teach you.  I love your parents - my son, my daughter - so much.

You hail from hard-working & God-fearing people.  Farmers, ranchers, miners.  People familiar with God's creations, with sacrifice, with love & loss.  I hope your parents teach you of your ancestry, your heritage.

Willow, three things I would that you always remember;

  1. Who you are - a child of God.
  2. Where you come from - your heritage.
  3. That you are LOVED.  You matter.
I can't wait to get to know you Willow.  I can't wait to meet you.  

So begins our eternal journey together - so begins your blessed life.  May it be long and full of pure joy!

-Papa J

Monday, January 21, 2013

Children of Deployed Parents - How do we better serve them?

Recently my friend brought something to my attention that stopped me in my educational tracks - and heightened my overall awareness to new levels.  I've always fancied myself a conscientious educator, but let me ask you a question, how well are we serving the needs of children who's parents are on deployment?

After over two decades of service, I felt a dear friend of mine is qualified to answer so I asked her to be a guest on my blog and share her thoughts.  I'm thankful she agreed.

"The military children of today are dealing with so many uncertainties....beginning with unscheduled deployments.

Generally a sailor will begin a "work-up" cycle before deploying...meaning training out to sea for short periods of ...during this time...the children learn to adjust without the parent.  The remaining parent also learns to balance household/parenting/work without the help of the other parent.

It becomes a crazy balancing act....and my husband and I jokingly refer to it as tag team parenting.  One of us was always in a work-up/deployed status...while the other one was on shore duty.

I think it is best to refer to a recent episode of my best friend...

R spent her lifetime with her dad on "shore duty" status....he was in the training track for flight school, therefore she has had to deal with a deployment yet.  They moved to San Diego...where new surroundings can be overwhelming for a 3 year old.  Daddy deploys within a couple of months...and she is forced to deal with his absence almost immediately.  Any parent can imagine the psychological impact, deployed families can tell you how a mother feels when left to deal with a sudden departure of Dad when he's been a constant fixture up to this point.

R is a daddy's girl.  The deployment proves challenging for both P (mom) and R...temper tantrums ensue with almost no relief.

Adjustment to a new city, new home...and no daddy are taking their toll.

After several months go by...both learn to deal with the situation...but it does not come easy.  P finds a preschool to help R stay occupied...but this only complicates issues as everyone else's daddy is able to come to the school to participate.

When Daddy finally gets's as if he was never gone.  R remarkably goes back to the sweet little girl she always was and temper tantrums and crying spells stop.

A couple of months goes by...and Daddy is being deployed out of cycle....and the process starts over. This is a different situation....because usually there is a turnaround period where the parent is home for a while....not the case here.  

The temper tantrums start...her acting out is class starts...and Mom is left to deal with something she can't control.  Nothing seems to put R in the right frame of mind.  She misses her Dad...and it is unfair that her daddy had to go again.  This is really hard to explain to a young child.  This time I am there to help out...but only because I have dealt with I even begin to know how to help her.

Here's an example:

In March of 2012, the USS John C. Stennis (JCS) and her embarked airwing (5500 sailors total) returned from a 7 month deployment.

In April...the the same ship went out to sea for a couple of weeks.

In June...she again went out to sea for a couple of weeks with her airwing....only to be told that they would be deploying in July.  Recent news is that this will be upwards of an 11 month deployment.  5500 sailors and their families are affected.  I can't begin to tell the compounding numbers with regards to children are.  Babies are being born every week without daddy.  Kids are going to school and haven't had their parent for the last 18 months.

Just because the kids are older, doesn't make it any easier.  Too many times my boys needed a father figure for problems etc.....and let me tell you how many times I had the "talk" with my girls prior to they knew what to expect with respect to their embarrassing it is to ask your dad for supplies.

I have yet to have been blessed with a DOD school where all the kids in school went through the same kids have always been in public schools and didn't get the opportunity to have someone to go through it with them.  The older one's suffer in silence.  The younger ones don't process it very well.

Here are some suggestions:
  1. Each child handles the deployment differently.  Embrace the differences.
  2. Communicate with the parents.  Write letters to deployed service members.  Make it safe for parents who are at home to ask questions and receive support.
  3. Challenging behaviors are an opportunity to help a child process the deployment.
  4. Understanding goes a long way.
  5. If there are other parents who's loved ones are deployed, facilitate support groups.  The classroom can be a community of support."
To all the men and women who serve, thank you.  We endeavor to care for your children and we are grateful that you trust us with your most precious gifts.  Thank you Brenda, for your service, and for being an incredible mother, wife, and friend.

On we go!

Principal Sharp

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Legislation gone bad...

Esteemed Members of the Arizona House and Senate,

As a concerned Arizonan, I'm writing to ask for your help, and because I respect your service to your communities' educational agencies.

I have worked in Arizona district and charter schools for a combined 18 years here in Arizona.  Most of those were shared with underprivileged, homeless, at-risk, and more recently refugee children.

I have lobbied some of you, worked campaigns as a LD10 (now LD20) Precinct Committeman, lobbied members of the House and Senate at the Federal level, and most importantly I am a father of five incredible children.

Presently, I'm a school principal in East Phoenix, where we've labored diligently, turning a major corner taking our school from corrective action to a B in one single year.  We also have some of the highest re-classification rates among Latino, Refugee and Homeless children (50-60%).  We are building a national model for serving this population of children.

I'm encouraged by the momentum...and yet troubled by the increasing challenges we face in meeting the legislative mandates.

Those that vex me most are:
  • Mandating 4 hour blocks of reading, writing, vocabulary and speaking courses.
  • Implementing strategies determined to meet a government standard.
In order to meet these mandates, I've had to;
  • cut my mathematics instruction by 180 minutes per week campus-wide
  • shorten enrichment and intervention activities for non-ELD students, 
  • limit ELD student access to differentiated mathematics, science and technology instruction,
  • and require teachers to spend 10-12 hours on the weekends creating lesson plans that meet government templates/standards - outside the normally accepted - and already proven best practices.
There may be a few educators who understand the need to set and meet high expectations for our students better than I.  I fully accept that I may not grasp all the ins and outs of this process, but as a successful practitioner, I can demonstrate that I know precisely what it can entail.

Resources are already limited.  District leadership, while facing federal cuts, is trying to support these mandates via private grants or application of already diminished Title III funds.  In other words, they are doing their level best to make this work.

The single most troubling factor is that while we may eventually meet the government standard, in so doing, we grossly neglect Science, Mathematics, and Technology learning opportunities.  

These are the skills that we all know must have the highest degree of focus in the coming days, months, and years if we are to ever prepare our children for sustainable jobs in the growing job fields. To make them college and career ready.

I'm asking that you;
  • Create legislation that limits the mandated instructional blocks to 2 hours maximum, allowing successful site/district flexibility to meet the individual needs of children.
  • Limit governmental ability to impinge on LEA (Local Education Agency) scheduling and application of State and Federal resources without first assessing the efficacy of existing programming.
  • Limit governmental corrective action oversite when districts/LEA's post consistently high rates of re-classification (40%).
  • Formulate an LEA/District/Charter appeals process for corrective action/monitoring that allows LEA's to submit to a third party for review.
  • Re-direct funding to groups that can highlight best practices and share them with struggling LEA/Charters/Districts in a collaborative venue.
In short, put children first.


Principal Sharp

Monday, September 10, 2012

I know a guy...and a gal.

I love connecting people.  I mean, I'm no Scott Lazerson, but on a local and on a growing national level, I love saying to people, "I know someone you need to meet."  Here's a few to add to your list.

  • Jeff Bradbury of TeacherCast - here's a humble professional reaching out across the Twitterverse and connecting professionals of all walks.  His site features app reviews, podcasts, blogs, and tips that light your educational fire!  

  • John Angelo of The Angelo Group - My grandchildren will buy houses from John.

  • Eric Bennett - from loosing his arm in a car accident at 15, to Paralympic contender, 4th in the world.  Father, husband, Physics teacher, hunter, and dear friend.

  • John McLean - graduates with his Masters Degree in counseling this month.  He's 55.  Alaskan fish-boat captain.  Dad.  Grandfather.  Husband.  Hack on the basketball court.  Beat his demons.  Prime example of human potential.  

  • wife.  Mother.  Healer.  Friend.  Sister.  Life-long student.  

I'm always looking to surround myself with kind, smart people.  It's the key to whatever success I achieve.  Do you know someone I should know?  Let's connect!


Principal Sharp

Monday, September 3, 2012

5.5 Ways to Choose a School

School choice.   Hot topic at both extremes of the political pendulum.  Legislators and activists beat the choice drum with vigor, urging stakeholders to exercise their ability to choose, while some important criteria remain elusive to those of us who will find themselves facing a growing myriad of choices.  Whether public, private or district...the array is broad.

So, how does one choose a district, charter or private school?  It may be one of the most important commitments we make.  Here are 5.5 criteria that should help get you thinking:
  1. Vision - sounds cliche right?  Well, consider asking where the district or group intends to be 5-10 years from now.  If the word traditional is found anywhere in their mission statement or foundational documents...I'd ask some tough questions.
  2. Awards - not just the type of awards but from whence to they come?  Accolades can be indicative of the network the district or group belongs.  If their going around patting one another on the back, be wary.  If business and commerce groups are recognizing innovation and performance, that's a good indicator of sustainability.
  3. School ratings - many States provide indicators of student performance.  These are one of the many ways that school's can be held accountable for resource application.  Growth is the tale of the tape.  Stagnation is a sign of doldrums.
  4. Innovation - band-wagon creativity isn't necessarily indicative of staying power.  Anyone can jump on the STEM train and follow the tracks.  Districts and groups who do things barely anyone is doing are aggressive about changing education.  Calculated risks can bring great educational dividends.
  5. Community partnerships - A district or group is only as good as its friends.  These friendships can bring alignment or distractions.  Consider the organization that's partnering with everyone, their spread too thin, their resources are diminished to a point of unsustainability.  Choiceful agreements aligned with the shared vision build cultures of success that last well beyond changes in leadership.  
5.5.  Traditions - embedded cultural practices build cohesiveness outside the normal routines of education. They can be something to fall back on and look forward to as your children matriculate through the years of schooling.  All great institutions have them and share them with the community.

Notice I didn't list money...that's not my thing. Choosy parents choose choicefully. Do your homework.  Interview stakeholders. Commit. Stick with it.  Be a part of the solutions. Heck, run for school board!

My personal best,

Principal Sharp