I moderated an AJC panel tonight on education with terrific panelists; Fulton school chief Robert Avossa, City Schools of Decatur associate superintendent Thomas Van Soelen, Milken Educators Greg Ott of Fulton, Kelly Stopp of Gwinnett and Rachel Willis of APS and the Georgia Teacher of the Year Jadun McCarthy of Bibb, who is working with the state Department of Education during his reign.
Thanks to all of them for coming out on this rainy night, and thanks, too, to the audience members, including some Get Schooled readers and posters. Special thanks to the area school board members who attended.
I admired the candor of the teachers and the school administrators. This was my first exposure to Avossa, and I found him honest and sincere. I also thought that he reacted well to Fulton teacher Ott’s comments that he feared teachers were no longer being told just what to teach but how to teach, and that the drive for sameness in every classroom was leading to mediocrity. Avossa was not defensive, but attentive, and I was delighted to see the two men talking after the panel.
Kelly Stopp is a dedicated teacher who clearly is at the top of her game, and she handled one of the night’s toughest questions. After I noted her achievements with her English Language Learners — remarkably high scores — I asked whether those achievements should be honored with higher pay. She answered that her achievements with her students were not hers alone, and all their teachers contributed. She also asked whether it was fair to determine achievement by a single test score, noting that she has had times when students scored far higher than their abilities on the CRCT, and that these outliers spoke to the problems with basing teacher pay on student scores.
Rachel Willis of APS spoke about Teach for America, which is how she entered education. Yes, some teachers only stayed two years, but if they gave students a great two years and worked hard, why was that a problem? She was also illuminating on the use of data to drive instruction in her class.
Van Soelen made me think with his answer to my question about what to tell parents who feel like their child is stuck with the lesser of two teachers. He noted that a fifth grade classroom can appear to a lively place where kids are having a great time, but the material actually being taught in the festive atmosphere may be at a third grade level. It may be that the less lively class next door is where deeper, grade-appropriate learning is occurring, he said.
Jadun McCarthy, Georgia Teacher of the Year, may have been the most forthright of the night, a fact that led me to kid him later that DOE communication director Matt Cardoza will never let him travel without him again.
AJC ed writer Jaime Sarrio was tweeting comments from the panel. You ought to check all of them out @ http://twitter.com/#!/ajcschoolsK12
Among her tweets about McCarthy:
McCarthy: Said he’s seen people who shouldn’t be running car washes running schools.
McCarthy: I have worked for horrible principals. When they screwed up our building, they got another building. They can destroy a building in two years.
McCarthy: The overall issue isn’t how you became a teacher. It is what you’re doing as a teacher. Who cares if you came through TAPP or UGA?
McCarthy: I’ve never had a child ask me, “Did you go to teaching school?”
Again, thanks to all who turned out and to the panelists. Regular Get Schooler Ernest Brown of DeKalb was there and suggested another education panel focusing on classroom discipline. (If you get the AJC, check out Brown’s piece tomorrow on why you should support SPLOST. It is part of a pro-con on the issue.)
– Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog