Friday, January 17, 2014

Appreciating Clark Kent

Talking to Paul Pratt about Berryhill School this week made me ponder our vision of school reform.

The education documentary  "Waiting for Superman"  gave us an image of reformers flying in,  shaking up old systems and bringing hope to the children of the inner city.

Pratt,  a 60-year-old principal,  evokes mild-mannered Clark Kent more than his alter ego.  He retired as a principal in Clover, S.C., 11 years ago, then came to the school on Mecklenburg's western edge.  It stands out as one of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's most successful high-poverty schools,  but Pratt says his edge is neither flashy nor dramatic.  He and a core group of strong teachers just keep coming back,  year after year,  building relationships with students,  parents and each other.

"I've been here 11 years because I want to be,  not because I have to be,"  Pratt said.

It's a pattern I've seen before:  When you find schools that beat the odds,  the key seems to be the front-line educators,  not a reform program.  Unfortunately,  that's what makes success so hard to replicate.

Last year I looked for the highest-performing high-poverty school in CMS and stumbled across Windsor Park Elementary,  where principal Kevin Woods and his faculty had managed to stay under the radar and out of the CMS reform vortex.

Former Superintendent Peter Gorman got national acclaim for his strategic staffing program,  which brought in new principals and gave them money to provide hiring bonuses to recruit high-performing faculty.  But a close look showed the most significant gains were at two schools run by veteran principals who had a track record with urban schools,  Suzanne Gimenez at Devonshire Elementary and Nancy Guzman at Sterling Elementary.

Just months before Gorman left,  Berryhill was added to the strategic staffing program.  Gorman and the board had just decided to close troubled middle schools and move those students to eight elementaries,  including Berryhill.  Instead of bringing in a new principal,  Gorman kept Pratt but provided money for recruitment bonuses as he sought middle school staff.

Pratt was blunt when I asked if strategic staffing had helped Berryhill succeed:  "No."  He hired his new teachers through normal channels,  he said,  and used the extra money to award bonuses to the teachers who had stuck with the school.

Every five years or so,  CMS searches for a  "superman"  with the charisma, energy and vision to rally our diverse community around public schools.  We need those leaders,  and the superintendent's job demands extraordinary skills.

But it's good to remember the work being done by all those Clark Kents outside the spotlight.


Shamash said...

Yeah, but we're suckers for a good storyline.

Especially if the most gullible woman on the planet, Oprah, approves.

But doesn't it all seem like rehashes of "To Sir, With Love" and "Welcome Back, Kotter" after a while?

This sounds like a more sensible reality. Just good principals and teachers sticking around and doing their jobs "under the radar". And hopefully without too much burnout.

And not some made-for-TV movie that turns out to be an ad for some "academy" or the other.

And being approved by Oprah means so little.

Remember her girls "school" in Africa?

Yeah, Oprah really knows how to pick those winners.

Pamela Grundy said...

Congratulations to Paul Pratt and his staff. We saw the same thing at Shamrock Gardens, where Duane Wilson, a principal of similar age and experience, focused his efforts on building up a stable, experienced staff that knew their students and their families well, cared about them deeply and had the skills to move children forward. A lot to be learned here.

BolynMcClung said...


Is Ann's predicting a new superintendent in 2017?

If she is then she's making a statement about the community's inability to support schools.

While it is easy to look at the high percentage of parents who work in the schools, it is harder to see members of the community who are actively engaged in challenging school administrations to be better. I suppose that comes from thinking the leaders don't need help in forming new directions…that's what they are paid to do. That's wrong.

To some extent Dr. Morrison recognized that before he came here. He said the world beyond North Carolina saw CMS as better than Charlotte sees itself. His successful idea was to get the community to tell him what it wanted. That was The Way Forward forums.

Mecklenburg was lucky he took that approach. We are getting what we want rather than having to accept the policies of the new hire.

It is very likely that in 2017 CMS will be a different critter. I hope one of those differences is that it will be able to tell the superintendent what it wants without having to feel it takes a different person to receive the message.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Mr. Pratt, doing it the way it should be done.

Wiley Coyote said...

Good points Bolyn....

What's interesting is that tons of money doesn't seem to be the issue per se, but rather how it is spent.

Since the so called "poverty rate" in this country and our area appears to be skyrocketing, with billions more tax dollars being spent "on the war", it will be interesting to see what spin educrats put on the reasons why little Johnny can;t read in the coming years.

The war cry has been "poverty inhibits kid's learning", but this article seems to debunk that argument.

All we need are people who are adept at doing their job, focused on the end result and left alone by educrats and politicians.

So do we need more Pratts/Berryhills or Watts/LIFTs?

Pamela Grundy said...

Experience and stability matter, but resources matter too, especially when dealing with low-income students, who face many more obstacles than their better-off peers. Berryhill and Windsor Park have benefitted from weighted student staffing and Title I funding. At Shamrock, extra resources made possible smaller classes and other benefits that contributed both to students' performance and to helping make the school a place where teachers could work for years without burning out.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Mr. Pratt. But - I went to Berryhill a long tiome ago ( yes, different school and location). The alums of that school ( for decades) are proud of their alma mater. Mt own mother graduated from Berryhill. It had a long and distinguished past. It is so sad to see what it is today - even with these " gains". How far society has fallen. I do appreciate anyone who will take on a hard task - just sad it had to be done.

For what it is worth said...

Many us pooh-poohed strategic staffing from early on yet Washington and many other "foundations" spin your ears away with their "reforms".

Maybe the golden formula is get the feds and their programs out of our schools, establish more alternative schools to get the nar-do-wells out of the way of those who want an eduation, and rechannel all that money into teacher salaries and recruiting top collge students to the education majors. As someone pointed out a few months ago, it seems elementary schools need education majors and middle and high schools need subject matter experts. Maybe NC should loosen some fo the teeacher requirements so good people out of industry could teach in schools part time.

Lastly, the feds have destroyed many good college education programs with their nonsense. For example, UNC Asheville had superb people and a superb program that was a 5 year program but turned out top teachers.

We need to get loud and in the face of out legislators to get the feds out of the schools, deny their "tainted" money and recreate our schools with arts education, physical education, sciences, etc. Thsoe children whose families have failed them need them and their families into intense mental health and family services programs and put the families under penal threat and make them raise their children. Our teachers should teach, not backup slack family units. And stop paying those in poverty to have more babies. A report out earlier this week said within 2 to 3 years, 80% to 90% of the babies born in this country will be born under Medicaid. That is a disgrace and immoral.

Mamma Mia said...

changing the subject, what is CMS' policy for bus drivers playing video games (Candy crush, etc...) while loading and unloading students, as well as all the time spent waiting in parking lots with a bus load of students?

Anonymous said...

According to a Kaiser study, kids aged 8-18 are engaging with digital media an average of 7.5 hours per day. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1-2 hours per day of screen-time for ALL children.

“There is absolutely nothing in technology that is developmentally healthy. Any time spent in front of a device or with a device is detrimental to child development.” statement from Pediatric specialist Cris Rowan. Rowan’s outlook on child technology use is bleak — and irreversible.

Wiley Coyote said...

For What It's Worth: Our teachers should teach, not backup slack family units. And stop paying those in poverty to have more babies. A report out earlier this week said within 2 to 3 years, 80% to 90% of the babies born in this country will be born under Medicaid. That is a disgrace and immoral.

I agree, but as long as you have politicians like the current President and his minions who are hell bent on "income redistribution"; forcefully taking from those who succeed and giving it to those who could care less and want to live off of others, the only "Change You Can Believe In" is the current change of America going into the toilet.

Anonymous said...

When we first moved here one of the things I found most disheartening about the school system was the constant churn--not just the constantly changing assignments for students, but ever changing principals and teachers as well. Having come from a background of smaller systems we were used to school stability--principals and teachers who worked in the same school for many years. The schools were true communities--faculty got to know families and families developed rapport with the school and its staff. "Going to school" was certainly much less complex than it is here.

Interesting that after so many years of fighting assignment stability (because assignment based on rapidly changing demographics can never be stable) at least one activist appears to now appreciate the value of stability and experience in a school setting.

Anonymous said...

I have had kids in the CMS system for 13 years now, I can honestly say that things were "different" back then, and Yes I mean better. There was a sense of community at the schools we were involved in. The students and parents participated in school programs, like art shows, music shows, international shows, PE mile run, science fair, active and supportive PTA functions, and so on. The parents were more welcomed in the process. Glad I only have three more more years to endure the crazy public education changes within CMS.

To some of the technology comments on this blog, you are correct to assume that technology is being used at the schools for Non-educational purposes. My daughter enjoyed reading the "good" parts of "50 shades of Grey" at her middle school last year with all of her friends, as well as seeing inappropriate photos taken at school of her classmates. Teachers and admin are not capable of monitoring the nonsense going on with the student's personal tech devices. As a parent, I'm getting really sick of this.

Pamela Grundy said...

Note to Sharon: I haven't changed my mind, no matter how much you wish I had.

Shamash said...


It's mostly the US that has the poverty = poor performance problem.

Our poor lack "resilience" for some odd reason.

The Vietnamese don't have that problem.

Neither do the Poles.

Or the Chinese, or the Estonians, or the Swiss, or the Canadians, or the ...

See for yourself (again):

It's MAINLY THE US that has more low achievers than high achievers among its poor.

And we are NOWHERE near the poorest among the developed countries tracked by the OECD.

That's why I say poverty isn't the problem.

And I doubt that throwing more money at the problem is a solution, either.

After all, what kind of big bucks does Vietnam have?

Of course, there's big bucks in the "war on poverty" in the US,
so don't expect any real progress.

Everyone else just wants a piece of what we already have.

And that is enough motivation for them.

Anonymous said...

So sick about hearing about shamrock! Imagine what all this money could do elsewhere! Why-kids at AKHS could all have desks! Why will Ann or cms never address the bus or BYOT issues?

Shamash said...

For what it's worth...

Stop making sense. It'll get you nowhere.

Those Medicaid predictions are sad.

Maybe our new slogan should be:

Pocket Change You Can Believe In

(Brother Can You Spare a Dime?)

But you know, I think "poverty" has become a major industry in this country.

And that's why we see so many people moving into these high paying jobs to "solve" the problems associated with poverty.

It's really peculiar.

And something that only a wealthy country seems to be able to afford.

It's like George Carlin once said,

"Sure we could end homelessness, but there's just no money in it."

There's plenty of money to be had in poverty, though. It seems to be a growth industry.

I was just reading today that "social worker" was a hot career, and a smarter degree to get than psychology.

And that's good?

(Maybe if you like raw chicken.)

Barb S. said...

Shamash, always a good read! Stop making so much sense. CMS could use you in the highly paid central offices.

Anonymous said...

Bolyn, no forecasts, just saying what the pattern has been. Somebody's got to do the "big vision for change" stuff, and we've been burning through 'em on a regular basis. But Heath Morrison may be the one who stays as long as he says he's going to.

For what it is worth said...

Wiley, I wonder though with the NC legislature being Republican controlled, this might be the best and only time for a while, if the CO editors and Rev Barber gets his way, to step in and take the public educaiton machine away from the feds, you know, one srote at a time.

But the NC legislators do have the dark cloud og ever increasing Medicaid to fund and pay back the unemploymnet loan Gov Bev took out on our backs.

Wiley Coyote said...


...Because of the new health care law, the federal government assumes that more low-income people will be covered by insurance. As a result, it will begin reducing payments next year to hospitals that treat high numbers of poor patients...

Obama and his administration have assumed a lot over the years, especially with Obamacare. We all know how that's working out.

Out of one side of Obama's mouth he says low income families will now be able to afford healthcare through subsidies yet demands states expand Medicaid to "fill in the gaps, all the while knowing in 3 years the Feds are going to cut what they give to the states.

It's only going to get worse

Anonymous said...

North Carolina is a place for teaches to get experience, get better and leave.. My school has already lost 3 teachers this year before the break. Every teacher under 50 I talk to has applications out. The over 50 crowd talks about retirement.

Anonymous said...

My son had a "new to charlotte teachers" all though elementary school.. I do not see it getting better. There is no reason for them to stay.. You can not have a family and stay in charlotte and teach..

For what it is worth said...

Wiley, I guess what disgusts me the most is that if any of these folks who are posing as teachers talking about getting people up against this legislature are actually teachers that they have been hoodwinked into thinking ousting the Republicans is going to improve their plight. The democrats started this. The democratic controlled feds are manipulating educrats and politicians with dangling money with a whole lot of strings attached.

Let me explain 2 actions by the state legislature. One, they directed a certain amount of money to be spent for vocational/career type teachers in high schools. This was to direct schools to create and support learning for students so they could graduate high school and go into the job workforce. They did it that way because past attempts simply allowed the school systems to absorb the money and not create these programs. Second, they, the same way, directed this 3rd grade reading camp in the same manner. They know students are being promoted who can not read. They had to get heavy handed to keep from having more and more students promoted who cannot perform, keep costing the taxpayers money, and stop the rise in dropouts and non high school graduates.

SO let's be perfectly clear here. The NC Republican legislature is our best chance to un-wrench the tentacle of the federal government from the schools. We have go to retake the schools and remake them back to the educational institutions they were first meant to be.

Our form of government can not continue and our society can not continue even as bad as it is now, it can still get much, much worse, ala Detroit, chicago.

Wiley Coyote said...


You're right, but your points have been going on for decades across the country and not just in NC.

I recall my ex-wife going through the same thing, where some educrat comes up with a new mousetrap that is going to revolutionize education, only to have the program two or three years down the road mysteriously disappear and a new one take its place.

It's long past time for all of us to get serious and tough on public education. The past 45 years has shown that is what is needed.

It isn't rocket science, but every attempt to make needed changes is met with resistance because someone isn't getting paid enough, or it's too much testing, or one group cries racism, etc.

I read the other day some parents were complaining about having to take their kids to summer reading camps under the new Read To Achieve Program. It will mess up their daycare and work schedules.

CMS estimates nearly 5,000 students are at risk and will have to participate to move on to a higher grade.

Parents in Mecklenburg County sure can find a way to get their kids - and themselves - to any number of places CMS serves FREE meals during the summer, but they can't find their way to get needed academic programs for some of these same kids?

Testing for testing sake or using tests to determine a teachers pay or their abilities is useless, but if it takes testing throughout the year to ensure kids are where they are supposed to be academically, then what's the harm?

Nothing else has worked over the past 45 years. We've proven that.

Anonymous said...

Test in the begging, middle and end.. Make sure the test, curriculum and state objectives match.. Use the first 2 test as diagnostic test for teachers to use as tools. Get rid of Feds and common core... Get rid of the rest of the BS test.. Stop the ridiculous formulas for comparing 7th grade scores to 9th or 10th to check for growth... Or comparing one group of students scores to another. Get Raleigh out of local school business. stop paying good money to these dam testing companies and move forward.. Kids who miss x amount of days of school or have severe disabilities do not count.. Especially suspended students... One bad Apple can spoil a bunch.

Shamash said...

Wiley and FWIW,

According to this CMS presentation, the "Read To Achieve" program is full of loopholes:

The "good cause" exemptions will still allow kids who cannot read go to the next grade.

And we will still have people on sports scholarships who are semi-literate.

Wiley Coyote said...


I wonder how many of the 5-6,000 at risk 3rd graders over the past three years came from pre-K.

Would be an interesting stat to see how many can't read on a 3rd grade level.

But then again, we haven't had any pre-K data since 2000.

Shamash said...

Yeah, I really don't understand the parents of these kids.

How could they be behind for at least three years without something being done?

Seriously, we get concerned when our third grade son starts scoring below the fifth grade on the MAP tests.

Because we think fifth grade in the US is probably about where a normal third grader should be.

And WOULD be if they studied.

Anonymous said...

I agree it can get worst.. I agree with most of the new legislation, but to take away masters pay and their rights after seven years in limbo without a raise is BS... Talk about kicking a dog while it is down. To me it was spite. Pure politics... This is not how NC treats its teachers. This is not New York. To me this says to many of our politicians are Yankees with an ax to grind. I am not surprised teachers got up and protested... What else can they do? They have no other choice. I think most the moral Monday is bs but I do not blame teachers.. If they are not going to help them, leave them alone.. Poor management ... Piss poor leadership. I usually just vote Republican.. Just push the button..Not anymore.. This has made me an Independent.

Anonymous said...

5 years ago teachers had a 2% raise.... What a slap in the face.. We all took it on the chin when the crash came. Teachers do not have a voice in this state except the vote of the people.. I am a right leaning independent who's needle is moving. I agree we need to change Raleigh and things need to change but kicking teachers around is crap.. I was raised to respect the lord, elders and teachers.. Looks like the people in Raleigh need to learn some manners.

Anonymous said...

The person who needs to be fired is the Republican strategists that decided to go after teachers.. Don't they poll these things??? I am a diehard Republican and all my independent friends who voted for Mcory are saying they regret it.. The same way they regret voting for Obama. They could have came in like nights in shining armor and given teachers there pay back... They could have gained a whole new group of supporters and kept independent on their side. Instead, they "kick a dog while its down".. and give credit to Moron Mondays.. If Moral Mondays was just the usual suspects.. No one would care!!! But when little Tommy's teachers is being arrested people listen.. Dumb Dumb Dumb.. If you where the PR person in the private sector and this happened, YOU would be FIRED. This shows me Mcory is not a CEO. Tillis and the rest of the party looks bad and it is only getting worst. If we want to stay in power we better wake up. Where's Ronald Reagan.. He was supported by the average teacher.. Now theirs a CEO

Anonymous said...

Mcory is no Regan

Shamash said...

"If you where the PR person in the private sector and this happened, YOU would be FIRED."

The private sector has to earn their money, the government just takes it.

Makes a big difference.

Anonymous said...

THE PRIVATE SECTOR EARNS THEIR MONEY????? This is the biggest fallacy in the United States. The private sector suckles up to the government for handout after handout after handout. You people in the private sector are most certainly the most overpaid, underworked group in the U.S. You were entirely responsible for destroying the economy in 2007, but somehow managed to shift the blame to public education.

Anonymous said...

Here's a pay for performance fact for you. The average CEO, who does a miserable job in the U.S. leaves with over 2 million dollars in executive compensation and retirement packages. Go private sector, way to show the public sector how to hold people accountable.

Anonymous said...

Did you know that most state college presidents are multi-millionairs too.

Wiley Coyote said...


History deficient much?

Also, you evidently haven't worked in the private sector.

You wouldn't last one week doing my job, with my company doing what I do.

The difference between you and I is that I do not begrudge anyone who makes millions of dollars...

This is America. If you don't like what you're doing, change it.

By the way. Where do you think all the education money comes from? Three of those government pigs with endless suckling tits; local, state and federal government hogs.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Coyote, you are a prime example of how people in the private sector are overpaid and underworked. You post thousands of posts on the internet, if you were sooooo busy with private industry how do you have this much time. POINT PROVEN, CASE CLOSED!!! P.S. "Stop using the "You can't do my job argument, anyone can stand by a water cooler, make a phone call and fill out a piece of paper to make themselves look important, so you're not very special.

Anonymous said...

I think what is more fascinating than anything on this site is the fact that people who rail against teachers so much and paying them are the same ones who have no problem paying head coaches of Division I sports millions in tax payer money. The same groups complain about public schools but don't mind millions of their tax dollars being wasted on Charter school who simply don't get better result, which has been proven again and again. Charter school in North Carolina are nothing more than money pits and high school recruiting services for colleges. "See Charlotte Observer Commentary on Charter Schools"

Wiley Coyote said...


And thank you for proving my point you shouldn't be teaching with that much anger.

I spent nearly 70 nights out of town away from my family last year, took less than two weeks off during that time.

How many nights were you away from your family?

How many days off from work did you have last year?

As I said, you couldn't cut it in the private sector...

As far as my postings, I'm just that damn good and have the availabilty to do it.


Anonymous said...

Once again Mr. Coyote, your arrogance is apparent and once again I have to remind you that "A" I am not a teacher and actually work in the private sector "Hotels actually" and "B" anyone trained monkey can do your job or mine for that matter. Your job probably requires at minimum a 2 year degree, mine requires the same at minimum. You're just that "damn" good? That's rich and yet at the same time comical. Any, and I do mean ANY college graduate from a 2 year program can and would do your job for half the pay and do it better 365 a year. Oh, and stop whining, many people spend nights away from their family doing their job. Long haul truckers do it far more than you and allow you to do your job, they don't whine 1 percent as much as you. Stick to keeping your big bottom in the leather chair, the self-righteous name tag or I.D. badge on the collar and that irreverent sense of self-importance because all of those fit you like a glove.

For what it is worth said...

Could it be the leadership makeup at this school is very different from the leadership makeup of other high poverty schools?

Maybe a more informative article would be to look at the "sista" network and other such related memberships in the community.

Such similar "associations" eventually took down a number of of folks in DSS.

Wiley Coyote said...


So I guess you're angry Paris Hilton didn't give you a raise so the "private sector" has treated you badly...


By the way. Since you have no clue as to what I do and what my job entails, I am the President of the United States.

Anonymous said...

I have taught and now work in the private sector.. No comparison.. I wouldn't go back to teaching for 7 figures a car and tickets to the super bowl.. It is a nightmare.. I have seen ivy league TFA get eaten alive... Run out of school crying... IDK about other government jobs but teaching is tuff. My dad told me not to do it.. He said it is a thankless job.. Dam was he right.. The average career of a teacher nation wide is 5 years.. I didn't last 3 and I got paid way more then an NC teacher..

Anonymous said...

Wiley.. U wouldn't last
1 day in an urban hs.. Hide behind your computer bud.. U can be tough here...

Wiley Coyote said...


You're right because I would never put myself into a position I have no control over...

I lived it going through high school in the early 70's. I sure as hell wouldn't do it for a living.