Friday, September 28, 2012

Teachers on fire

Talking to Rob Leichner and Joanna Schimizzi after they returned from the NBC Education Nation summit this week was like gulping a 5-Hour Energy drink with a chaser of espresso.  The two Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school teachers were so jazzed from spending a few days with some of the nation's top educators that they practically crackled.

Leichner, 30,  teaches math at West Meck.  Schimizzi, 28,  teaches science at Butler.  Both were chosen by America Achieves,  a New York-based group that works to tap the expertise of front-line educators,  to join about 60 teachers and 40 principals for a televised town hall and a series of discussions and workshops.

Their big takeaway:  Teachers need to push to get their voices into policy decisions and to share their energy and ideas.  Elected officials who attended the sessions said they'd love to be invited into classrooms, but acknowledged their time is tight.  The solution?  Make videos illustrating important classroom work and share them with officials.

Schimizzi would like Mecklenburg County commissioners to see how she's using her CMS-purchased iPad to create  "blended lessons"  that combine videos with personal instruction.  She followed the controversy when CMS spent county money to buy the tablets.

"The public perception was that the iPad money was a waste,"  she said.  "We're not using it to look up things on YouTube."

Before she left for the summit,  she used her iPad to create five video lessons for her substitute to use.  "A good instructional teacher is not going to leave Bambi for them to watch,"  she said.

Leichner would like officials and the public to see West Meck's math department leading high-level problem-solving discussions with their students,  using the Paideia method to lead groups in solving advanced mathematical challenges.  He knows the stereotypes people hold about students and teachers in high-poverty schools like West, and he wants to explode them.

The two batted ideas back and forth:  What if there was a teacher exchange day,  where all the Butler teachers went to West and vice versa?  What if CMS held professional development sessions where successful teachers talked about what they were doing, rather than listening to experts talk about what they ought to do?  What if North Carolina or CMS created their own versions of Education Nation to bring dynamic teachers and interested community members together to solve problems?

At the summit,  Schimizzi said,  the president of the National Education Association talked about turning campfires of excellence into wildfires of excellence. She and Leichner came back ready to fan the flames.


Christine Mast said...

AMEN to the idea of allowing successful teachers within CMS to share their ideas with their colleagues across the County, instead of bringing outside "experts" in!

For instance, I attended my child's curriculum night last evening, and I was so impressed with the 2nd grade teaching team's presentation. They were professional, energetic, excited, knowledgeable and organized. I am proud and excited to be able to be part of their "team" this year.

Other schools could learn a lot from this group of dedicated educators.

Anonymous said...

Are we sure that CMS does not already use successful teachers to lead or participate in professional development? Might want to check that out.

Anonymous said...

It is a shame we elect people like Ericka E-S who stifles the creativity teachers need to better prepare students.

Anonymous said...

Question in 3-4 years will these TFA teachers still be with CMS? The lift of a TFA is some where short of 4 years max. Our County leaders know what goes on in the schools. Your looking at the wrong issue with this. The state controls 70% of the CMS budget. The board has 0 idea of how to budget they admitted this. The BOE folks are idiots we all know this. To reccomend any idea of your article is absurd. Go after 20% of the 100% pie? Please go after the real meat the State level and LIFT is already ahead off you with their lobbyist in Raleigh.

Anonymous said...

Professional Development sessions for CMS teachers are normally led by staff from uptown who have little experience in the classroom. Most of them couldn't hack the rigors of the classroom for more than 2 or 3 years before they followed the path of George Jefferson and started "moving on up"

Anonymous said...

Former elementary math curriculum specialist, Barbara Lindstedt, who led many workshops for many years was a very experienced and successful classroom teacher first. And Cindy Moss (who also recently left CMS) was an extremely talented long term science teacher before moving to central office as head of STEM. So I doubt that all workshops were or are led by folks who don't have a clue. It's not really necessary to paint with such a broad brush.

BolynMcClung said...


At the last school board policy committee meeting, I asked a staffer how often the public is at the monthly meetings. Reply: maybe 10 people in last 6 or 8 years.

Folks, CMS gives members of the public three minutes once a month to speak "on any issue they wish." I got to tell you. By that time it's probably too late for public speaking to have an impact. Being at one of the committee meetings (Intergovernmental, Policy, Audit) will open your eyes to a whole new side of CMS - one that you can turn into a wedge to affect change.


1. Know your four board members (3 at-large - 1 district)

2. Find out the policies up for review.

3. Attend the committee meetings. You will hear the unvarnished pros and cons.

4. Use the information from the meetings to shape clear points of view. Beats the heck of out trying to distort a rumor to fit a cause.

5. Use your new strong position to campaign for whatever shakes your tree.

What is the benefit in this?

Now when you speak with your elected representatives, you gain the members attention with knowledge that corresponds with theirs. Your suggestions will have weight.

Very little of what I hear or read has to do with the future of education in the district. It’s all about the past and how that is holding schools back. Or worse, a laundry list of who did what to whom. Everything in policy is forward looking.

CMS has a $1.2 billion budget, 18,000 employees. If you understand policy you’re much closer to controlling all of that.

Bolyn McClung

Wiley Coyote said...


Present day and the future can be predicted by looking at past trends.

Currently, the BOE uses the same failed "driving principles" it has for decades and where has that gotten us?

When you continue to use poverty (especially bogus, unsubstantiated school lunch numbers), diversity, race and geography as you reasons for shaping ANY policy, there will be no real change.

Anonymous said...

Bolyn, Perhaps you could tell us some of the policy issues the policy committee is considering. It's difficult for many, actually most, to get to these meetings. In fact I think it is a shame that our system (and unfortunately most of public education) is so large and so cumbersome that keeping track of it all requires attendance at multiple meetings. I appreciate your dedication to the understanding of CMS, but very few parents have the time to be "professional" advocates.

BolynMcClung said...


GEE, you need to re-read my comment and your reply.

My comments were directed toward a public I want to be better informed about the policy process so their strong opinions are well received, have more impact... and are course changing.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Bolyn, Do you really believe that "everything in policy is forward looking", at least in the context of the CMS board? Equity Committee was part of policy--if there was ever a group tied to the past this was it. And I believe there are those who want to resurrect it.

Anonymous said...

8:36 have you been to CMS PD? Not the best and brightest for most of the pd offered.

Anonymous said...

Here's a suggestion for a policy change. Why can't a school that is challenged with procuring its own high end math teacher (just an example I am using), just do a video classroom with a room monitor with a high performing math class teacher at another school? This does require a policy change. Much like how the state of NC law requires a principal in every school whether there are 200 students in the school 2400 students.

Anonymous said...

Bolyn , sucking up to a board member gets a teacher no place. Most of the teachers wont talk too you thats why 6 is your data point. Its ridiculous at best to think the board does not have outside influence just look at their decisions. You go to the meetings and still have no clue what their decisions are based on my point in kind. You have no kids in the system so take up another hobby as the state may take this one away.

Wiley Coyote said...


I don't need to read your post again. I am the public, just like you.

BOE policy is the same it has always been and will continue to be due to failed policies driven by the same criteria I mentioned in my first post.

Ann Doss Helms said...

For what it's worth, I think Bolyn's right that knowing board members and spending time learning the issues are great ways to build clout. And committee meetings are a fine way to do that. But I also agree that it's very tough for most people to make that kind of time. I don't even attend most committee meetings, lest I end up being the school board reporter instead of the education reporter. But for those who are interested, you can check the October schedule. These meetings are open to the public:

Anonymous said...

Ann, What happen when a board member wont return a call from a parent or concerned teacher? What do they do then track them down in a parking lot. Listen dont forget they work for the citizens of this town its about time they start to work like that. We trust them with decisions that affect our children that serious business. I cannot beleive your standing in for Bolyn he is so far removed form what actually happens its sick. You lose credibility much like him when you make a statement like that.

Wiley Coyote said...


Seriously, what real clout will make a difference?

With the State and Federal Government dictating most guidelines and the Board of Education pretty much divided along party lines, what clout?

What would having clout do for the top 3 problems facing public education and CMS today (whatever people think they are)?

Where has that clout been over the past decades?

Clout didn't stop the failed busing and school assignment fiasco in CMS in 1997. The school system wanted to continue busing. It took several parents to take the BOE/CMS to court to end it, just like the BOE was sued to start busing in 1971.

The Board of Education can't even agree to get the USDA to allow them to fully audit the school lunch program. So how many people do I have to get to have the clout to change policy?

10?, 100? 1,000?

Anonymous said...

These kids just had some Kool Aide and your article proves it. I wonder how the other 18,000 employees feel about 2 TFA's talking about a razed up vacation? Should do wonders for morale. Your articles become less interesting every week.

Anonymous said...

I believe Leichner came in via TFA and has been in the district for about 8 years.

Anonymous said...

We have a few people in Charlotte who study education issues incessantly and consider themselves experts (just ask them--they'll tell you they are). I guess it's their hobby. However, it seems to me it is unfair to give them more "clout" than the ordinary parent or citizen who is too busy to research policy and/or attend policy meetings. For all their research the incessant ones never really change their tune--they are going to find evidence that supports their narrow point of view and that's what they're going to push. Parents on the other hand may have more relevant experience about certain issues or maybe more common sense than these amateur "experts". They just don't have more time to picket, wave big pencils around, and speak at every board meeting that comes along.

System's too big if it requires that one be an amateur policy "expert" to have clout with those making decisions affecting your kids. And really, parents shouldn't have to attend every board meeting to feel confident that their concerns are being fairly considered.

Anonymous said...

What is Leichners average class size? 10-17

Come on Man!

Anonymous said...

Please don't tell me these two baby faced teachers are TFA/TNTP recruits. They'll be history in no time.

Feel free to do a follow-up on these two 2-yrs. from now.

Do their children attend the schools they teach at? Do their children attend the feeder schools they teach at? If these two teachers don't have children, would they send their future children to the schools they teach at?

My unscientific observation is there is a direct correlation between the quality of a school and the number of students who have parents who are educators in the system. Why doesn't anyone ever do a study about this? Where do the majority of CMS educators send their children? West Charlotte?

Anonymous said...

When I was 26, I worked at an urban high school outside of Washington, D.C. I NEVER would have sent my own children too even after receiving a district-wide teaching award (shiny plaque to prove it).

I do love the energy, enthusiasm, and optimism of young teachers though who still believe they can change the system. God bless them.

I'd be curious to see where these two are working in about 5 years.

Anonymous said...

We critique where politicians send their children to school. Where do educators (teachers, administrators, school superintendents, etc.) send their children? I think this is a fair question that could shed some light on a few of the issues facing urban education. Again, even though it was over two decades ago, I worked at a school I KNEW I'd never send my future children to. I couldn't imagine sending my children to the school I worked for. The thing is, I loved teaching there because I was passionate about my subject area and I beleived I could make a difference. I was also only 26-years-old. However, I left this teaching position in a relatively short period of time to work in a less stressful and more supportive environment.

I agree with Christine. AMEN to these two teachers. I just have to wonder how long they'll be around in an actual classroom? Or, maybe longevity in teaching doesn't matter? I don't know the answer to this question.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:59, 3:48, 4:53, 5:02,

Rob Leichner came in via TFA. He has been in CMS for 8 years.

Anonymous said...

If I only had to teach 15 students per class I would be able to teach at least 8 years.

Anonymous said...

Schimizzi and Liechner will not be around in two more years to really care about anything educational related. TFA has an 80 percent turnover rate after 3 - 4 years in the classroom and almost a complete turnover after 5 years. TFA is the equivalent of the Peace Corps, they receive generous benefits, prove no more effective than existing teachers and have their loans taken care of. In five years people will begin to see the truth about TFA and other programs, it is sticking your finger in the dike and trying to hold back a tidal wave. If many of you who comment on this board truly think that education is such a disaster then sign up to be teachers! Such talent can surely be found no where else!

Anonymous said...

These teachers teach 1/3 of the students that a suburban teacher teaches and their students receive 3x's the per pupil spending by CMS.Why wouldnt they be excited. Talk to the over 40 student suburban classroom teachers. They will tell you a different story

Taxation without Education

Anonymous said...

Your analogy between the Peace Corps and TFA is right on the money. It often seems as though we've reduced teaching in urban schools to nothing more than a feel good philanthropic project for young white people. It's wonderful a TFA recruit is still in CMS after 8 years. However, as you've pointed out, this young person is the exception to the rule. I have to wonder if this teacher has a wife, a mortgage, a dog, and a couple of kids. We know he doesn't have student loans so perhaps he might still be in the classroom 2 years from now?

The average urban school superintendent lasts 2-3 years. The Gormanator hung in there for 5. Any bets on Heath? District 6 has had 5 BOE reps. since 2005. What an effective impact they've collectively had.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of District 6. I'd be willing to bet the farm the latest BOE member won't be around 2 years from now.

Anonymous said...

I've been teaching the same subject for 27 years. I occasionally have to pinch myself because I still love my subject. I've never had two classes that were the same and find teaching as exciting and rewarding as I did when I first started. At age 50, I've decided to re-certify myself in a different area (time to mix things up!). Going back to school is scary as heck but also thrilling. I feel blessed and invigorated everytime I'm around a 20 year old who is working towards a career in teaching. At the same time, I often wonder how many of these young people will stick with this career. Does longevity in education matter? Is longevity in the classroom relevant? Is teaching even considered a profession? Does long-term commitment to anything matter anymore? Is a 2-year Peace Corp stint with TFA a long-term solution? Or, is it possible TFA might be contributing to the very problems it is trying to solve?

Anonymous said...

How many 22-year-olds become doctors through boot-camp training before deciding at age 32 to become teachers?

Anonymous said...

Bolyn, Although your push for citizen involvement sounds sexy and is logically correct, the fact is in America we elect representatives to set public policy on our behalf. Working people do not have time to Occupy CMS.

At CMS the elected representatives overwhelmingly defer intellectual thought on any given issue to executive staff. Staff then often use creative language to support the direction they want to go and even more creativity to show how that direction was established by the Board. Then when CMS get's flack or popular discontent on direction... staff and the Board both default to the position the public/state/county is not providing adequate funding to satisfy all.

Remember when the CMS calendar was not popular. The Board/staff were fast to point out the public did not take advantage of public opportunities to participate in development of the calendar....if the calendar was messed up it was because of the public! This is illustrative of the problem with CMS as community member.

CMS is itself confused about it's role, purpose and place in the community. CMS leaders should take ownership of their duty to lead. CMS should focus on day to day education and stop trying to be something it is not, a research based education university.

When did the public ask for corporate subsidized classroom experiments or for CMS to look to the Broad Foundation and others to tell CMS how to educate our children. We the people have already hired high priced educrats for this sole purpose and funded with many billions of public dollars? If CMS needs to hire outsiders and to take corporate giveaways to learn how to educate... why do we need to pay the big bucks for highly educated educrats? Isn't that what they are paid to do in the first place? Why don't they now how then?

I love the spirit of the two teachers featured. We need CMS educrats to learn about energy and spirit and get off the let somebody else tell us how to teach foolishness.

Heath, use the resources you have and make your staff do what they are hired to do. Get CMS out of the research business and leave that to research universities. Focus CMS on the CMS mandate of educating our community's children and you will see credibility earned. Your public information office will never be able to buy credibility in this community. (Rant 101)

Anonymous said...

I can answer your question of how many will leave teaching.


Half of all teachers leave the profession within 5 years. It costs CMS and states millions.The question you should ask is why wouldnt they leave?

Wiley Coyote said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wiley Coyote said...


Excellent post.

I would add hiring moderators, consultants and commissioning studies so they don't have to make the hard decisions, especially the BOE.

Bright Beginnings is a perfect example. The BOE did everything it could to keep from having to make the hard decision to cut the program as Gorman requested, so they postponed the vote and threw it over to the BOCC - twice.

The BOE was scared to death to do its job by eliminating a program that had no data to support keeping it and is not mandated.

Anonymous said...

I don't think me getting to know E E-S would change her agenda one iota (it's all greek to me).

Anonymous said...


Leave the THUGS alone. They are part of the problem not the solution. Go find something else to feel good about yourself.

Anonymous said...

Dang it! I thought there were actually going to be Teachers ON fire... boo to false advertising and misleading headlines...

Anonymous said...

Heath- Sorry nobody was home for your publicty stunt. Latarzan should have planned that one betterby having a drop out at home. Or go across the street to thejal dude thats were they are.

Anonymous said...

How in the hell am I still watching Pete Gorman speak on channel 3. What a complete waste of my taxpayer money. Please dont let me have to look at and hear Heath years after he is gone (which wont be long).

Anonymous said...

LaTarza was way to busy planning the BROAD Party. Where is my invitation!

Anonymous said...

Forget the BOE. When educators/parents need something accomplished they appeal directly to the Legislature.

Remember HB 546? Parked my arse. It got killed.

You are welcome. NEXT!

Anonymous said...


The Lab Rat 101 rant. Great post.

Thoughts, predictions for Project LIFT?

Anonymous said...


OMG. The thought of resurrecting the Equity Committee. CMS is like a non-stop rerun of the movie Groundhog's Day.

Anonymous said...

There are no great acts, only small acts of great love.
-Mother Tereasa.

I'm not going to throw Heath under the bus for his door-to-door efforts in hopes of getting a few kids back in school who still might have a chance at making it off the public pay role. However, CMS thinks it's a good idea to send Garinger drop-outs back to Garinger? Really?

BolynMcClung said...

TO: ANON 7:53AM Saturday

You’re correct. I’m do wish to draw more folks into the earlier stages of designing whatever happens at CMS.

After seven years of watching mostly wasted community reactions to decisions, I’m hoping that energy could be better used up front. But the flaw in that hope is that too many people feel things are set in concrete that was poured many years in the past.

I believe the discussion about who has the better perception of CMS; those outside the state or those in the district, relates to the locals just sitting on the sideline waiting to react. They should be much, much earlier in the process.

If Dr. Morrison is going to change those local perceptions, he’s going to have to get the people looking sooner. In my simplistic world, that means understanding policy can be influenced before it is written.

If the Superintendent is hoping that better results will change perception, he’s probably not going to have enough time to succeed.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Project LIFT bought influence AND A SENIOR PUBLIC EDUCATION EXECUTIVE POSITION with hard cash and a lot of it. This cash is funneled directly into at risk schools. When CMS is done manipulating the LIFT numbers there is a good chance LIFT will prove to be a model test case for privatizing public education. The national claims of success will be fanciful. Remember the national BS stories of Cochrane Middle School success recently planted by CMS?

The Broad Foundation also has serious influence at CMS with tens of millions of dollars less invested in the effort. Broad plants a couple 1/2 pay washed up business hacks, gives a tiny number of students scholarships and among other things has their name publicly bullied by CMS Public Information to be placed on CMS staff email signatures. CMS was sending strongly worded notices out to staff to include Broad on email signatures while at the same time telling the Observer there was no mandate to include it. CMS strong armed staff while claiming innocence when called on it. Typical example of why the community does not accept CMS as good neighbor.

The deceptive nature of CMS that comes to light time to time is a problem Heath can rein in but he needs to look at his direct reports first. Executive BSers are known internally and in some cases externally. Thinking they only BS for good cause is an executive management error. BSing should not be tolerated let alone encouraged.

CMS should be a trusted neighbor with the public's bond and operating funds as well as our children. It is pretty clear CMS is not.

By the way...what was the cost of the CMS realignment if all costs are included, not just the comfortable numbers Hugh reported to the Board would be necessary? Just reporting school buildings closed without reporting the costs of updating those co called "closed" facilities for CMS staff who now occupy them omits serious dollars from the equation. It also avoids Board and public discussion on the decision by CMS brass to invest millions of dollars in "closed" school buildings that CMS would not invest in while students and teachers occupied them. This is very clearly illustrative of the nature of those CMS executives responsible for managing publicly owned school facilities. Bringing these matters to light would be a good sign to those of us who question the integrity of CMS as member of the community. (Rant 102)

Anonymous said...

Ms. Schimizzi is not a TFA. She attended college to actually be a teacher. She is a traditional educator with a passion for teaching and faces the same struggles that other teachers face, budget cuts and large class size. Class sizes range from 32-38
My daughter was fortunate enough to be in her class and not only enjoyed the class, but she found a passion for science that was not previously there.

Anonymous said...

Teachers should be on fire. They were slapped in the face by the market adjustment farse and have lost $6,000 in salary, benefits and retirement over the last few years.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked and saddened by how much the state of North Carolina hates public education! Instead of addressing problems and fixing them, this state and its citizens attack the very people who seek to make a better tomorrow. No wonder NC consistently ranks at the bottom of every public education poll in America.

Anonymous said...

I hate the administrators who do nothing but make the problems worse and sit back and milk the paychecks. They retire on the backs of many with a million dollar retirement.

Anonymous said...

11:05 you ain't seen nothin' yet. Wait until the next session of the Legislature opens in January. The real assault begins then.

Anonymous said...

Read between every line.

Anonymous said...

11:05 PM

A few things to consider:

1. UNC- Chapel Hill consistently ranks one of the BEST/TOP public universities in America (in an ongoing battle with the Univ. of Va.) Admission into this public state Univ. is one of the toughest in the nation. If you're white, suburban, college educated, and live in Charlotte or Raleigh, your kid better have a stellar academic, sports, arts, and/or leadership achievements to get in here plus a KILLER college essay (see: CO's consultant, Lee Bierer). Having your name plastered on the side of a building might help, but don't count on it.

2. In the "Bang for the Buck" category, the entire UNC system (Chapel Hill, Wilmington, Asheville, etc.) is the envy of most states. Just ask someone paying $24,000 a year (in-state tuition, room and board) at flagship UMass/Amherst - the state Mitt is from. Although, I'm not sure the average Belmont MA resident named Skip is struggling to fork up in-state tuition. (Courtesy: UMAss/Amherst, Class of '85).

3. Private schools: NC is home to Duke, Wake Forest and Davidson which are considered elite private Universities with very high admissions standards. Most recently, Elon Univ. has ranked one of the best deals going with a rising reputation on the national stage which may explain all the license plates from MA, NY, NJ and VA I saw this past Parent's Weekend. Do I really need to pay $45,000 a year for my kid to go to Washington via Smith College? At some point, CPCC was ranked one of the best community colleges in the nation.

4. As "urban" school systems go, CMS is viewed as being a lot more desirable than, say, the average public school in Detroit, Michigan. Hartford CT, which recently made Charlotte headlines for doing everything right the way they do up North, had the state take over the local school board in an effort to improve their public schools. Next time you're visiting "The Constitution State", feel free to swing by the Mark Twain house. Mark Twain had a few things to say about local school boards.

5. Michelle Rhee, who recently lamented in USA Today that U.S. education isn't en par with our Olympic teams, failed to mention that U.S. students consistently win international math competitions.

So, as far as I'm concerned, let today's CMS rants continue for the benefit of "Every Child, Every Day for a Better Tomorrow".


Anonymous said...

Hunt / Clinton proclamed that every classroom would have a "highly qualified" teacher in the classroom. It is a damn shame that they dont want to pay for our state to achieve that.

Wiley Coyote said...


Define "highly qualified teacher".

In 2011 there were 94,879 teachers in NC (NEA), so how many of those teachers are not highly qualified? 10? 1,000? 10,000? 25,000?

What is your definition of a highly qualified teacher?

Anonymous said...

11:05, 9:45

Re: "Assaults" on NC public education.

Issues: (legislatively simplified)

1. High-stakes/excessive standardized testing - National issue.

2. Pay-for-Performance - National issue.

3. Teacher unions (or Associations) - National issue.

4. Charter schools - National issue.

5. Achievement gap - National issue.

6. Privatization of public schools - National issue (that, BTW, Hartford CT MISERABLY failed).

7. Teach for America - National issue.

8. Alternative licensure - National issue.

9. Teacher longevity - National issue.

10. Course curriculum - National and state issue.

11. Busing for racial integration - Past national and state issue.

12. Student Assignment Zones - Local issue.

13. Per-pupil spending - State and local issue.

14. Cost of higher education - National and state issue.

15. Composition of state school districts - State issue.

and so on...


Anonymous said...


The Bush administration is responsible for NCLB. Clinton and Obama's definition of a highly effective school with highly effective teachers is a small private school in a leafy section of Washington DC. Sending your children to a "diverse" school means making sure your kids get to sit next to other children with parents who work on Ambassador Row.

Anonymous said...


Embassy Row.

StephaniePumphrey said...

Some think , technology have changed the way of teaching negatively.I respect that.But if we think more logcically,we can see that we don't live in 1950s. We are in a technological era, now that we have a treasure like "internet" why don't we use it to broaden learners' understanding.

differentiated instruction strategies