Sunday, December 6, 2009

Laptops for Learning-- Please Donate!

Please consider donating to my current Donorschoose project. It is my most ambitious proposal yet, and if it doesn't get funded I will have risked 4 of my hard-won points (earned by completing other successful projects) for nothing.

Laptops for Learning

The idea is to get some laptops for use in my classroom at Tucson High Magnet School, to support the writing process as well as our online learning community (a Ning site.)

This proposal will get us 10 mini Dells with wireless internet capability. Sweet.

Our local TUSD override election, props. 401 and 402 failed in November, which, paired with crippling budget cuts at the state level, means that there will likely be few to no computer upgrades and inadequate maintenance for years to come. However, the techs at our school know that I created this proposal and they have offered tech support for any computers I get for my classroom.

Please help if you can, or at least spread the word!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

NWP Annual Meeting Session: 21st Century Literacy and the Graphic Novel

I attended this session November 19, led by Belinda Foster and Anastasia Betts. They offered insightful rationales for incorporating graphic novels into the curriculum as well as multiple useful resources and a current list of graphic novels currently being used effectively in middle school and high school classrooms. Some information below may be incomplete since I am just blogging using my notes from the session. I will try to come back here and correct/fill in gaps later! GREAT SESSION!

Graphic Novels:
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Secret Identity
Same Difference and Other Stories by Derek Kirk Kim
Pride of Baghdad
Baghdad Burning

Resources for Teachers:
101 Best Graphic Novels
Going Graphic by Stephen Cary

Powerpoint of the Presentation:

New Copyright and Fair Use Information for Teachers

I have seen the light. Renee Hobbs, a media literacy professor at Temple University, and a member of the Philadelphia Writing Project, presented eye-opening and potentially liberating information regarding educational fair use of copyrighted materials at the NWP Annual Meeting in Philadelphia on November 20.

Apparently the Educational Use Guidelines that most of us have received and that we have seen scotch-taped to the walls above our school copiers are pretty much bunk. Most of us have been led to believe these guidelines are the law, but in fact they are not the law, but a set of overly-restrictive and somewhat arbitrary guidelines developed by publishers and educational leaders who believed that teachers would not be capable of or interested in interpreting the law for themselves. Apparently these people never met Writing Project teachers.

Those of you interested in using copyrighted works in your lessons or in having students create with digital media will be thrilled to know about the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education developed by a coalition of media literacy educators. This code expresses the norms for using copyrighted materials in media literacy education, and provides clear and flexible criteria that go beyond the simplistic (such as 30 seconds of a song.) You can access the Code of Best Practices at http:\\ Click on "Copyright and Fair Use" for the code and a variety of other great resources.

In addition, a group of media literacy educators has petitioned Congress to offer media educators and their students exemption from the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 2001. This would mean major changes in our ability to use clips from encrypted DVDs, MP3 files of digital music and a variety of other media with our students in our work.

I am considering developing an inservice on this topic to spread the true gospel, so let me know if you are interested (

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I used to enjoy the Broadway Village Farmers' Market, when I was on summer vacation!

This was an e-mail I sent to the Broadway Village Farmer's Market folks, who must have recently moved their start time to 9:00 on Friday mornings. RRRRgh. Why do these things bother me so much?

I am so disappointed to see that the start time has moved even farther out of the reach of folks who work regular day jobs. Tomorrow, I was planning on getting to work an hour late so that I could actually go to the farmers’ market, something that is only possible because I am a teacher and we have a grading day tomorrow. I had actually hoped you would consider moving the start time to 7:00 instead of 8:00 so that working people can stop by on their way to work instead of totally missing out. Oh, well. Not to be too bitter, but it kind of fits in with the experience I had trying to attend the CSA meeting with my children. It was totally impossible in a setting such as Elle. We tried, and it was obvious we were only a distraction. It’s clear to whom your marketing efforts are aimed, and it is definitely not at working families hoping to shop a few blocks from home for fresh local produce. There are many families with children in the Broadmoor neighborhood, and I wish more of an effort would be made so that it was possible for people like us to partake. Luckily, Safeway and Food City are also on my way to work and my way home.

Monday, September 28, 2009

CSA: It's still just for rich, old or single people, apparently.

I just had a parenting moment.

But first, some context:
CSA stands for community supported agriculture. Basically you kind of "subscribe" to a small local farm and eat seasonally. I am really interested in trying this, especially because we have kids and why not teach them what actually grows each season in SoAz? Not to mention the environmental payoff, etc.

We went to an informational meeting on CSA at Elle tonight. I had to take the kids because Rich is busy. We walked in and they were holding the meeting in this long room with a long table set up. Wine bottles were in racks up and down every wall. Napkins were still neatly folded, and there was a pristine stack of polenta cubes way down the table. The all-adult and mostly middle-aged female group blinked at me. Waitstaff was bringing out bread, olive oil, other snacks. I had prepared the kids that it was a grown up meeting, but we had rushed out without toys, books, etc. because the meeting was at 6:00 and we had just scarfed dinner. Nobody (and I mean nobody) (No, wait, one person helped us get a chair for G.) made a move to pass any bread down, engage the kids, or even make sure we had enough chairs.

Immediately (and I mean immediately) G. asked what he could do that was fun. Olivia was quiet at first but then got down off my lap. G. tried teaching her to count wine bottles, but that was too loud (and had my nerves on edge). They talked and wandered into the lobby area and started jumping around the bottles of wine on the walls. The guy from Agua Linda farms was talking about the whole CSA idea and how popular it was getting and basically it's function for farms and for consumers. Nobody made a move toward eating the food, so I felt embarrassed to reach halfway down the table for bread for the kids or to ask for someone to pass some. Eventually, I couldn't focus on what the man was saying anymore and I walked out in tears. G. then decided to sit in the seat at the table instead of come with me. I had to actually go back for him because he let us leave-- all the way out to the parking lot. I chewed out the kids all the way down the block & sent them to their rooms. I was totally embarrassed and frustrated.

But here's the rub. Whose idea was it to have this meeting in an elegant restaurant with absolutely no effort made to accommodate kids? Yes, it was elegant and we got to feel very special with gourmet hors d'ouvres and wine on the walls. But here's a question: Shouldn't CSA be marketed to FOLKS WITH FAMILIES WHO CONSUME A LOT OF GROCERIES & HAVE GROWING KIDS? WHY HOLD A MEETING IN A ROOM FULL OF WINE BOTTLES? And then the farmers' market on Fridays doesn't start until 8:00, when most of us family folks are well on our way to work.

I am half mortified with embarrassment for even trying to take my kids to that meeting and half outraged. So much for learning about how we can participate in CSA. That's okay, though. Apparently we aren't their target market, anyway. We're supposed to shop at big box stores and buy cereal and fruit snacks that are half mercury tainted corn syrup. We buy tomatoes from Mexico in large amounts at Costco. We buy apple juice from China when it's on sale from Target. Maybe one day, when I can pay for a babysitter for 45 minutes on a weeknight or when I am old and my kids play video games in their rooms and ignore me, then I can enjoy the luxury of locally grown, healthy produce.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Diving into Podcasting with my Students

Well, I just signed up for my podbean account. And now I'm swimming in that timeless vacuum that is the learning curve of new technology. New for me, anyway.

If anyone has any tips or experiences using podcasting with their students, please let me know.

For now, you can see my podbean podcast at There are no entries on there, yet, but I plan to put a sample podcast on there soon.

My students' first assignment will be to create a video podcast using Windows Movie Maker (easily available at school). I'm a little worried about producsing .wmv files-- not sure those will work the best for podbean or iTunes. But the time involved to switch file types? Makes me pause. If anyone knows how to export different file types from Windows Movie Maker, please let me know.

My students will be studying an era in American Literature and producing a script that explains the era to an audience of high school students. I hope they will use the sense of audience to make their reports engaging.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Did you know that Arizona has no budget, yet?

I just posted this and shared it with my Facebook friends...

Did you know that the AZ legislature has passed basically the same budget that was vetoed in early July, and that it has been sitting on Jan Brewer's desk for (I think) close to two weeks, now? Public opinion may make a difference. It only takes a minute to call her office. In my opinion, she needs to be encouraged to consider other revenue sources besides an additional sales tax, which is a slam to the middle / low income folks out there. I'm sharing this with many of my Facebook friends; I'm not sure that all of your political views are the same as mine, but I think it is really important that we all consider what is in the long-term best interest of our state. Feel free to share with anyone who cares.

The following is excerpted from Steve Farley, AZ representative for district 28, in his Farley Report:

"There are two clear ways out of this [budget impasse]:

1) Republican leaders must stop playing games and enter serious negotiations with Democrats that include adequate funding for education, public safety, and services for the most vulnerable of our citizens, along with revenue sources that will help stabilize our revenue structure long-term so we are never faced with such a crisis again.

2) While she is right in demanding increased revenues, the Governor must drop her obsessive insistence on a temporary sales tax increase as the only revenue option she will sign.

There are many options for increasing revenues that are fair, stable, and position our state to grow our way our of this recession. Democratic budget proposals throughout the past year have highlighted many of them.

Arizona is more dependent on sales taxes than any other state. During a recession, people buy fewer things, so sales tax revenues decrease dramatically. And people with lower incomes are hurt proportionately more by sales taxes than by any other form of tax. Raising our already high sales taxes will only dig us in deeper and keep us financially vulnerable into the foreseeable future.

If Governor Brewer were to approach the negotiating table by recognizing she and Dems both agree that we need an additional one or two billion in revenues, and then invite us to discuss options, we could get an agreement fairly quickly that would get all Democrats on board. Paired with some carefully chosen business tax cuts, we could develop a package that would attract enough Republican votes to get ourselves a budget.

Right now, this scenario is not developing, but I can't see any other scenario that will work. And we need a budget NOW.

Unfortunately, there are a number of influential Republican legislators who are gleefully embracing the imminent destruction of state government on ideological principles. They are emblematic of the national problem with the Republican Party that has exploded forth in the Republican-inspired sabotage of the healthcare debate using outright lies and fearmongering."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Please consider Donating to my Students

Hello--- Below is a link to a project I have posted on Donorschoose is a nonprofit who help teachers fund projects for their classrooms.

My project is simple: I am trying to get a set of 30 flash drives to have for students who can't afford to get one. I will temporarily check out a flash drive to a student in need so that he/she can complete required digital projects in my class.

Because my project helps prepare students for college, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will match any donations my project receives. Whoopee!

share (click to see my project)


Posted using ShareThis

Thursday, August 13, 2009

So Glad to Be Back

I am so relieved and happy to be beginning the school year at Tucson High once again, and too busy to say anything eloquent about it.

It was heartening to have so many people greet me with warm smiles and the recognition that I had been through this precarious "summer of the pink slip" only to be called back to the same school where I taught last year.

I feel extremely lucky as well, because others were not so fortunate as me. I was called back over three weeks ago, and I knew exactly where I was going and what I would be teaching. I was able to take advantage of some professional development opportunities and hit the ground running. I will not have my own classroom, but I have the dignity and opportunity to build on and improve upon my work from last year.

Right now, I feel relieved and energized, and I am remembering what it feels like to really be tired at the end of the day.

I am absolutely grateful for my many well-wishers. One positive about an experience like this has been to realize how much support and love I have out there, and I do not take it for granted.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Questions About Desert Composting

I am enjoying the therapeutic qualities in turning the compost pile these days. However, I have no clue if I am a good, responsible composter. At least it doesn't stink, so that's something!

Questions Specific to Composting in the Desert/ Tucson:
1. Has anyone figured out if this is really worthwhile, considering that I am having to water my compost pile with precious ground water every other day or so?
2. How do I know if I am keeping the pile moist enough? In general, how do I know if I am tending my compost pile correctly for maximum results?
3. Any tricks for keeping the pile moist enough?
4. What kinds of bugs and critters are normal to expect around a compost pile? I know I should be on the lookout for neighborhood cats, but is there anything else I should worry about? I've got lots of ants and other miscellaneous little bugs. I also noticed some weird chrysalises (sp?) They were about 1 1/2" in diameter, white with a red tip on one end, curled into a circle and looked nasty-- some kind of beetle or something? Hopefully not cockroaches? Ew.

I'll try to add photos to this post soon.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

No Trip to the Store One Bowl Pumpkin Chocolate Cake

Okay, so my husband and son are out of town, and life is a lot simpler this weekend. It's just me and the 3 1/2 year old, who still takes naps. Today, we had no external agenda. I got to decide what to do with my day. After having coffee and a little orange juice for breakfast, doing yard work, and having a super-healthy lunch, I decided it was time for chocolate. But by that time, O was yawning for a nap, and a trip to the store would have ended up being punishment for me. So I started to consider what I already had in the house that was made out of chocolate. There had to be something! Was there anything hidden in the back of the freezer? No. Behind the spices? No. Sugar-free Jello Pudding, yes, but that wasn't going to cut it today. I should have known right away I wouldn't have any chocolate. If I keep chocolate too handy, I just eat all of it anyway, so there is never any around.

But I did have cocoa powder. I thought about making those brownies that my old college roomie used to make us. Those used cocoa, and those were good. Very good, and definitely chocolate. But then I realized how gross I would feel eating all of that, because I very well know I will eat at least 1/4 of the recipe as soon as they cool enough. At this point I realized I still had about six frozen bags of cooked pumpkin in the freezer. And pumpkin is healthy. What could I make with pumpkin and chocolate? A cake? I scoured the internet for cake recipes, and found one that looked good. I printed it, salivating already. I went to make it, though, and found that I only had two eggs, and the recipe called for five eggs. Rgh.

Once I made chocolate pumpkin muffins, which only needed one egg... so I went to get my old buddy, the red and white checked cookbook. To find the muffin recipe that I bastardize every time I use it. The muffin recipe that only uses one egg. I have pushed the limits of that recipe for years, adding extra blueberries, oat bran, dried apricots, cutting the fat out. I flipped the book open to a page marked by an index card which bears a handwritten copy of my Grandma Hinton's boiled custard recipe, and assumed it was stuck into the "Bread" section, because that's where the pancake and muffin recipes are, and that's what I'm usually making for me and the kids. So I started flipping page by page, but as luck would have it, I was in the "Cake" section, and came across an "Easy" One Layer Chocolate Cake recipe. Which would probably work, but as I was figuring out how I would have to adjust the moisture to include the pumpkin, I noticed the Banana Cake recipe. Now we were in business... I had a recipe to mangle. And it only took two eggs.

So here is how I made my chocolate-craving inspired cake, complete with fudge sauce since I didn't make brownies and I didn't have any chocolate chips to add to the cake. I guess it would have been easier in the end to just make the brownies. But then I wouldn't have used up any pumpkin.

No Trip to the Store One Bowl Pumpkin Chocolate Cake
With Thanks to Deva Chan, who Taught Me How to Cook and Freeze Pumpkin.
And Thanks to Mrs. Wilson, who Sent Us Home With Seven Pumpkins Last October From Her Garden in Willcox!

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. cocoa, sifted
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. pureed cooked pumpkin w/ juice (I used a hand-blender to puree it nice & smooth)
1-2 tsp. honey (totally optional-- I threw it in b/c I thought I might need to make up for the fact that bananas are sweet and pumpkin is not.)
1/2 c. lowfat plain yogurt (because I didn't have buttermilk and the red and white checked cookbook said I could substitute-- it tasted great!)
1/2 c. butter, soft (original called for shortening)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a bowl, combine flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add pumpkin, yogurt, butter, eggs and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed till combined. Beat on medium speed for three minutes.
Pour batter into a greased and floured 9x13 pan and spread evenly. Lick the beaters and the bowl. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes or till a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on rack as long as you can stand it while you make the fudge sauce, then dig in even though the piece you cut will fall apart if the cake is still warm.

Stupid Fudge Sauce
So, once you figured out you were making something out of chocolate, even though the cake might have been a smarter choice than making brownies, you lost your mind and wanted something richer. You can make this sauce to serve with your cake:

1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1-2 tsp. dark or regular corn syrup
pinch salt
1/4-1/3 c. of cocoa powder (I didn't really measure, but that's what it looked like)
2 T. of butter
1 tsp. of vanilla (eyeball)

Put everything except the butter and the vanilla in a small saucepan and whisk to get the cocoa incorporated. Heat to a slow boil and boil for two minutes. Remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla, stirring to incorporate. Way too easy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Fallout-- A Ramble

Well, there are four weeks of summer left; the end of summer is a point of reference claimed by students, parents and educators. The rest of the world continues on through its perpetual twelve month cycle. They are oblivious to the cycle that teachers sometimes take for granted, the cycle of reading & long-term planning over the summer, envisioning who our students might be, what the challenges might be this year, literally and figuratively plotting our courses; envisioning our classroom, ordering posters, shopping for professional attire; plunging in, discovering the realities that our visions lacked, furiously memorizing names, faces, bell schedules, details that will help us connect with our students; assigning, collecting, assessing, providing feedback, re-envisioning constantly; making thousands of decisions a day until sometime around February we sort of cave in, assign long-term projects and hand the responsibility for our students' success back to them, to often thrilling results. They have grown. We continue to push until we are exhausted. And by then, it is May, and we're just trying to keep everyone hooked until summer, when we pile the extra stacks of papers into a cardboard box marked "To File," wipe down the cabinetry, and surrender to summer.

Except that this summer was different. This summer, I had a pink slip, a RIF slip. This summer, I collected unemployment and prayed, hoped, affirmed, envisioned, clung to the notion that I might get rehired by my old district (TUSD). My husband had lost his job in November, and we had to short-sell our home because of it. We had not anticipated that, and never did we anticipate that my teaching jobs would be so unsure, either. This summer, we moved into a family-friendly rental. I spent the first few weeks unpacking, organizing, arranging. It would have gone a lot faster without actual daily life continuing on. Oh, that, and the full schedule of parks and recreation classes I had scheduled for the kids. (Side note: Tucson Parks and Rec. has an amazing variety of offerings. Check it out! We qualified for a discount!)

By the time I came up for air and went back to my job search in earnest, almost half of summer had passed. And by then I was in the middle of real estate school. My husband has been a Realtor for 6 years, and we figured, why not? It might be the key to our financial recovery. And I really think we are going to enjoy working together.

So I was in the middle of real estate school, in the middle of a fervent job search, and the state legislature had passed the budget, a budget which doesn't completely eliminate public education in Arizona. But it was/is really difficult to know what that budget really means for those teachers who have lost their jobs, or for those of us with first graders thinking about the first days of school.

So, tomorrow I finish my real estate salesperson's class at Hogan, and I am beginning to reflect on this whole experience. I'm still awaiting word from TUSD (what word we get is often fairly vague and unhelpful. I guess "word" will either be a callback or the public notice that they are finished calling back RIFfed teachers.) I'm still sending out sincere applications for other positions; maybe I will find something better, something that opens new professional doors. I am really trying to remain open, although it is difficult to give up the idea of that cycle of the school year in which summer is normally a delicious limbo, a time for professional development and personal recharging.

I'm not exactly sure what kinds of reflections will be coming here in this blog, but I thought I should transition away from the pleading rhetoric from the pre-budget weeks, and forward to what will come next, for our family, for my son, for my career, and for all of Arizona, especially those families with school age children. We will see!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Teachers, Students, We Have a Problem. Act Now!

Arizonans, do you want your children's schools to be stable and not have a transitory collection of teachers moving through each year? Do you want teachers to have an opportunity to build their craft and become expert instructors? Do you want educators to continue to be able to advocate for educational issues about which they are passionate?

Below I have pasted the summary of the current Arizona budget proposal that will most likely end up on Governor Brewer's desk today. Even more shocking than the slashes to state revenue are the ridiculous controls the bill puts on teachers and school districts. Why are these seeming punishments in the budget bill? Ask your legislators, especially if they are Republicans.

This summary was published on the AEA Website. Make sure you scroll down to see the new regulations on the teaching profession:

FY2010 Governor - Republican Leaders Budget Printer Friendly Page

(Fiscal Year 2010: July 1, 2009 � June 30, 2010)

This is a summary of the major budget and policy items in the negotiated FY10 deal between Governor Brewer and Senate President Burns and House Speaker Adams.


Sales Tax (HCR2037)

-Ballot proposition to voters at the November 3, 2009 election for one percent sales tax increase to be in effect for three years starting on January 1, 2010 . The tax money generated will be used with two-thirds going to K-12 and higher education and one-third going towards health and human services and public safety. Any revenues collected during FY10 (January 1, 2010 � June 30, 2010), must first be used to decrease the reductions in state spending for education. (Estimated revenue derived from this sales tax: $450 million available for FY10 with a total three-year impact of approximately $3 billion).

Flat Tax (HB2653)

-Replaces the current graduated individual income tax with a flat tax rate of 2.8% beginning in FY12. This is a loss of revenue to the state of approximately $450 million per year.

Single/Married Filing Separate income brackets

Married Filing Joint/Head of Household income brackets

Current Individual Income Tax Rates

New Rate with the Flat Tax

$0 - $10,000

$0 - $20,000



$10,001 - $25,000

$20,001 - $50,000



$25,001 - $50,000

$50,001 - $100,000



$50,001 - $150,000

$100,001 - $300,000



$150,001 and over

$300,001 and over



-Establishes a Task Force to determine the final individual income tax rate to be in effect in 2012 (the charge of the Task Force would prevent the rate from exceeding 3%).

Permanent Repeal of the State Equalization Property Tax�aka the school tax (HB2644)

-Permanently repeals the state equalization property tax. This is a loss of revenue to the state of approximately $250 million per year.

Reduction of Assessment Ratio for Business� Secondary Property Tax (HB2644)

-Phases down the assessment ratio for secondary property tax purposes on business property from 20% to 15% beginning in tax year 2012.

o Tax year 2012 = 19%

o Tax year 2013 = 18%

o Tax year 2014 = 17%

o Tax year 2015 = 16%

o Tax year 2016 = 15%

There is no estimate for the loss of this revenue stream at the local level. As business� taxes decrease, homeowner�s taxes must increase to generate the equivalent amount of money for school district bonds and overrides.

Vehicle License Tax (VLT) used to offset basic state aid (HB2644)

-Sweeps $22 million in VLT from cities and towns in FY10 to pay a portion of basic state aid for education.

-Note: This amount is reduced from the $95 million VLT sweep found in the budget that passed on June 4. The $53 million VLT sweep from the counties is completely out. The $42 million VLT sweep from the cities has been reduced to $22 million.


Fails to actually fund the 2% inflation to school districts (HB2648)

-Section 9 in HB2648 sets the base level for FY10 at $3,267.72 which gives school districts the full 2% inflation factor. However, in section 25, there is a notwithstanding clause which then removes the 2% inflation to the base and instead sets the base level at $3,201.89 for FY10.

From a historical standpoint, here are the base funding levels for the past two fiscal years:

-2007-08 school year (FY08): $3,226.88

-2008-2009 school year (FY09): $3,291.42

-2009-2010 school year (FY10): $3,201.89 (this is the actual base level amount per student that a school district will receive)

The $3,201.89 amount for FY10 results in an amount that includes the reduction of the $121 million in education funding cuts that were part of the FY09 budget fix passed on January 31, 2009.

Soft Capital Reduction

-Delays the $175 million additional cut to soft capital until January 1, 2010. The general appropriation trailer bill (HB2643) restores this funding if sufficient excess revenues are available by December 2009.

-School districts with fewer than 600 students will be impacted with only half of this reduction.

-Of the remaining statewide allocation of soft capital funds (approximately $23 million total), a district may use their local share for any operating expenses.

No Funding for Utility Costs

-Fails to provide any funding for the new utility formula that was passed last session for �excess utilities� (this is an $80 million cut to school districts that previously levied for �excess utilities�).

Teacher Performance Pay

-Reduces the Career Ladder program funding by 0.5% for FY10 (from 5.5% to 5%) and limits this program only to teachers who participated in FY09 (the 2008-09 school year).

-Reinstates the new but unfunded teacher performance pay program that was established last session (the �Gilbert School District� proposal to provide the additional Career Ladder funding to all school districts).

Overrides and Bonds

-Repeals the single ratio assessment for all voter-approved overrides and bond elections found in the budget that passed on June 4.

-Extends the timeframe during which a school district can issue a bond from six years to ten years after obtaining voter approval (this is only for future bonds to be approved by voters).

-Permits a school board to cancel an override election scheduled for November 2009 up to 10 days before the election.

-Raises the maximum budget increase a school district may request for a Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Override from 10% of the Revenue Control Limit (RCL) to 15% of the RCL.

-Establishes a Special Program Override by expanding the scope of the K-3 Override to allow for a program to be designed for any or all of the K-12 students. Specifies that the maximum amount a school district may request for an M&O Override is 10% of the RCL if the school district also requests a Special Program Override.

-Authorizes a school district, for FY10, to conduct an election in March 2010 and submit one of the following proposals to the voters of the district:

- A 15% M&O override that, if approved, replaces any previously authorized M&O and K-3 overrides.

- An additional 5% M&O or Special Program override if the voters of the school district authorize a 10% M&O override at the November 2009 election.

- A 17% M&O override for a common school district if an M&O and K-3 override are still in effect on this bill�s effective date. The 17% override, if approved, replaces any previously approved M&O and K-3 overrides and continues for the number of years of the previously approved K-3 override.

-Permits a school district to issue Class B bonds for furniture, equipment, and technology provided that the bonds mature within five fiscal years after the bonds are issued.

Policy Changes Targeted Against Teachers & Association Members

-Prohibits school district employment contracts from including compensated days for professional association activities.

-Prohibits a school district from adopting policies that provide employment retention priority for teachers based on tenure or seniority.

-Removes the current prohibition against school districts reducing the salary of a tenured teacher except under a general salary reduction applied equitably to all tenured teachers.

-Removes the contract dates (between March 15 and May 15) in which districts are required to offer teaching contracts for tenured teachers. Thus, there will be no date in statute set for contracts and school districts will each set their own contract notification deadline.

-Eliminates the May 15 statutory deadline for notice of salary reduction. Instead allows each school district to set its own salary reduction deadline for teachers.

-Removes current statute that requires a school board to notify a provisional teacher of nonrenewal by April 15; thus, there will be no date in statute set for this notification.

-Removes the current statutory requirement for a school district to give a preferred right of reappointment to a job for a teacher who has lost his/her job through the reduction in force (RIF) process if a job becomes available within three years of the RIF process.

-Reduces the time frame for requesting a hearing on dismissal or long-term suspension from 30 days to 10 days.

-Reduces the amount of a time a school district must allow a teacher to correct inadequate classroom performance from 85 instructional days to 60 instructional days.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sweetness is not Dead

Saturday was the big end-of-camp Tennis Bonanza at Randolph Tennis Center (soon to be named the Jim Refkin Tennis Center).

G., my wandering boy who likes to pretend his racquet is a machine gun when he is in a certain mood, did really well with the 7 a.m., 5-week camp. Well, for him. He participated in warm-ups, tried hard on most games, and socialized pretty well with the other children (minus the machine guns.) For him, this was big. He spent most of last spring in Little League counting how many players were on the field. When his team returned to the dugout, he would keep running through the dugout, out the gate, and into the stands to check in with us. He couldn't remember his teammates names, for the most part. He spent many music classes this year, when the students were supposed to sing or do movements in unison, rolling on the floor and refusing to participate. It was good to see him, for the most part, checked in. The biggest issue was that he wanted more stars for the star chart, but still wasn't a completely focused team player, not a top star-earner.

When, during the second half of the Tennis Bonanza, Coach Megan announced that each site would be awarding three trophies (one for stars, one for improvement, and one for sportsmanship), G. immediately started crying. He knew none of those were for him, and boy, did he want a trophy. I scootched him close to me and whispered in his ear that he would get a t-shirt, whispered how well he had done and how much fun he had had, how most of these kiddos would not be headed home with a trophy, and how what was really important was that he knew for himself that he was learning a lot about tennis and getting better. I reminded him that I worked really hard as a teacher, and hadn't gotten one trophy, but that what was important was what we knew we could do, and what we decided to do better next time. He tried so hard to be a good sport, but he couldn't manage to clap and be happy for the others who had won.

He cried all the way to the Parents' Lounge where we stood in line to pick up his T-shirt, pointing out along the way all the bouncy children holding trophies, unable to see the other dozens of children without trophies.

As we stood in line, a mom came up behind me, surreptitiously holding a star trophy: "Would he like to have this?" I said, "Are you sure?" She said that her son was big, and didn't care at all about the trophy. I turned to find him and make eye contact, and found the friendly face of a 15 year-old who clearly loved tennis, and had learned that the little 4-inch trophy was not what it was all about. He waved off the trophy, and I mouthed a thank you and hid it behind my back while G. got his T-shirt. He turned back around, and I held the trophy up.
"What's that?" he asked, still teary-eyed.
"It's for you." I handed him the trophy and the tears dried up. A look spread across G.'s face: happiness, relief, accomplishment. Two thoughts swirled in my head: "Miracle" and "Cry and get what you want." I had decided to allow him his moment and get what he wanted.
He commenced with a long list of questions designed to tell him exactly how this trophy came into his hands.
I asked him, "Do you think that you deserve it?"
He said yes.
I said, "Then it's for you!"

We passed another 7-year-old perched on a wall, wearing his new NJTL shirt over his other clothes. "Lucky!" he called out to G. That boy would go home with no trophy.

What stays with me is the sweetness of the teen boy and/or his mother who had the thought of making G.'s day, without even knowing if he deserved it. They may not realize that they helped to recognize the growth he made this summer. I do hope that G. will learn that it is not all about the trophy, and that he can't always expect trophies when it is a competition, and that he needs to focus on himself, what he can do, and what he can do better, but for the moment, he feels acknowledged and validated in a way that apparently ice cream and t-shirts can't do.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Boisterous education rally briefly shuts state House doors

Boisterous education rally briefly shuts state House doors

Click above and check out what happened in Phoenix today! I wish I could have been there...

Now if only we could keep the equalization tax and get rid of the sales tax increase, I think that would be real progress. There are a lot of bad compromises in this budget, but I am relieved to see "only" a 5% cut to education vs. the worst-case scenario 18% we heard about earlier this year. Right now I am not sure if that 5% is k-12 or K-university.

To all the Republican legislators out there who are using the budget crisis as an opportunity to continue to chip away at the entire public education system: Public Education definitely needs reform, but what alternative is there ready and waiting in the wings, people? Even vouchers, charters, etc. are publicly funded. Hello! Look at the corporate-sponsored charter schools. Sure, some are excellent, but the vast majority are mediocre, a factory approach from the school end, and a product chosen by consumers looking for a way to "get credits" for graduation. In the public schools in which I have taught, the vast majority of the teachers and administrators I have known have worked to get much more out of their students, and to provide more for them. I just don't see a business model working well in an area that requires mostly altruism, idealism, hard work in good faith, and the belief in the democratizing power of education.

We need to work toward a long-term, stable commitment to funding a successful public education system in Arizona, including the charter school system. And the funding needs to come not just from sales taxes, which are fickle, and which burden the already-stressed working class. Businesses need to shoulder more of the tax burden, and the state equalization property tax wouldn't hurt, either.

One more comment: The idea that teachers and those in education "feed from the trough" of state funding is f-ing sickening. So do the legislators! So does the Governor! So do Highway Patrol officers! So do Child Care Protective Services workers. Why do legislators beat up on school teachers and not land developers, payday loan sharks, etc., etc.? That is a load of crap. Forgive my little trip to the gutter of the English language. It will get worse if I go on, so I will stop now.

Just my two-cents based on the information I have.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Urgent Budget Letter to State Legislators

Please write your state legislator (whom you can find at in support of funding public education without a sales tax increase. Republican leadership refuses to hand over the budget they passed June 4 to Governor Brewer because she said she would veto it. They have totally stalled out budget negotiations. Here's what I sent today.

Message sent to the following recipients:
Representative Bradley
Representative Farley
Senator Aboud
Message text follows:

Amethyst Hinton Sainz
3xx xxxxxx
Tucson, AZ 85XXX

June 25, 2009

[recipient address was inserted here]

Dear [recipient name was inserted here],

Thank you for your ongoing support of public education. Through my
experience of moving to TUSD after 13 years of teaching, becoming RIFfed,
having the opportunity to lobby, and keeping more up to date on the budget
process at the state level, I have learned SO much, and have finally
learned a little bit about who represents me at the state level.

I am proud to be able to say that you are my representative. So often
throughout these battles, we are hearing about the ideology of many
senators and representatives who do not believe in public education and
truly do not care to fund it. In the face of this complete ignorance of
the role of public education in this state, I applaud you for holding true
to this most democratic and equalizing of ideals: an educated citizenry.

I am beginning to despair, but please do everything you can to fund
education without relying on an additional sales tax. To me, this is
allowing businesses to continue to retain unfair tax advantages while the
strapped middle class is being asked to shoulder more and more of the
burden of educating the future employees and customers of these
businesses. It is just too much.

Please do whatever you can over the next week.


Amethyst Hinton Sainz

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

21st Century Writing Skills and Job Searches

I want to share a recent NPR story about how employers expect applicants to have moved beyond the paper resume. The interesting thing is that I don't think this is true in the teaching field. When I go to school district websites to look for job openings, most of what we must submit is in hard-copy, such as a six page common application for Pima County schools which is distributed as a downloadable .pdf file. Without a full version of Adobe Acrobat, an applicant must print the form and then either type it on a typewriter (and, seriously, who has one of those anymore?) or hand write it. And I don't know about any of you out there, but my handwriting just gets worse and worse as I become more dependent on typing.

At any rate, this story confirmed to me as an English teacher that I do need to have students publish online and become part of online communities. We need to have conversations about internet legacies and the rules of engagement online. Students need to create online profiles and learn to market themselves. There are definitely risks with this type of online activity, but it seems to me that we need to find creative ways to deal with these risks and to create classroom communities where students learn to support each other in these endeavors.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Wish List for Moving

These are things we could use/need during and after our move. If you have any used that you would like to sell or donate, please let me know! Thanks, as always, to our ever-supportive group of family and friends!

- twin bed (for Olivia) & mattress set.
- hedge clippers/tree trimmers and other yard tools (rakes, pitchfork, shovel, weedeater, etc.)
- salvage materials to build compost setup (lumber, wood pallets, chicken wire, etc.)
- area rugs
- shelf paper/contact paper
- faucet water filter (such a s Pur or something)
- outdoor furniture
- outdoor playset/swingset (or something like that)
- shelving/ bookshelves
- extra table (like a folding card table or craft table, or even a decent wood table)
- extra chairs (a couple of folding chairs, that kind of thing)
- (this is definitely a want and not a need): one of those trailers for a bicycle where it adds a kids bike on the back so they can help pedal. Can't remember what they're called. Schwinn makes them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Note to Jan Brewer which I sent this morning:

As a riffed teacher, I will become a burden to our systems of state and federal aid tomorrow as I apply for unemployment as well as other programs such as Kidcare and DES child care aid.

Next year, my son will begin first grade, and in a couple of years, my daughter will begin school.

It is imperative that you work to fully fund education now. I understand you are pushing for a temporary sales tax increase. I suppose I would support this, but I think that it is time Republicans give up the idea the the individual taxpayers can possibly carry this burden alone. It is time for businesses to step up and be willing to give up some of the tax breaks they have enjoyed in Arizona at the cost of our state's ability to educate its children. Please consider some of the measures proposed in the past such as the bill Rep. Steve Farley told me about that rewards companies that produce green energy while taxing companies that don't. According to his analysis, much of that tax burden would not even be paid by Arizonans because we ship out so much of our energy.

At any rate, there are creative solutions out there that don't put the entire burden of this budget crisis on the backs of families who are already struggling. My husband is also unemployed (with a Masters degree and additional certifications) XXXXXXXXXX[to protect the innocent] And yet you suggest we shoulder an extra 1% sales tax. I will do it to fund education, but shouldn't businesses be sharing the load? They will reap the benefits of a generation of skilled, reflective and creative adults who come out of a healthy educational system. I shudder to think about the consequences for our communities and for my own children if we do not uphold this responsibility.

Amethyst Hinton Sainz

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Wastefulness of the AZ Budget Battle

I'm not sure I have time for as thoughtful a post as I would like, but it's looking like if I waited for that, I'd never post anything.

Lately, I've started relaxing a tiny bit about the fact that I've been RIF'ed from my district (or "riffed"). Not because I'm confident about being called back, but because my Linkedin profile is somewhat complete, my resume is updated and tuned, I have several versions of it and cover letters, and I have some pretty wonderful letters of recommendation which humble me and boost me with the confidence I will need to get through this. So I'm poised to apply for jobs, and now I have begun to seriously think: of the seven jobs for which I have applied, which would I really accept without knowing whether I will be called back to Tucson High? Only one or two really make the cut. Before I would consider becoming a pharmaceutical rep or a technical writer, I would want to know whether I would be offered my old job back. I am starting to be choosy about what I apply for, although I am not at all sure that I can afford the luxury.

I estimate that I have spent at least 20-25 hours on job searching activities so far. Some of these were hours when my children talked to me about their day and then slowly climbed me like a wall of impenetrability while I typed at the computer and asked them to go play on the patio. Some of these were hours I should have spent giving feedback to my students on their research papers and planning a more engaging Huck Finn unit for the end of the year, or calling parents of students who were struggling. These were important hours I was giving up in a fog of panic and heartache.

So, how many others in Arizona are in my exact position? How many resumes and careerbuilder applications are they sending out?

How many of those jobs are they serious about?

How much time are the HR folks at those companies spending on e-mail and with manila folders trying to keep all of this straight? How many little white postcards are being sent out informing these applicants that, due to the extreme volume of applications, they will be contacted if their experience and qualifications meet the needs of the employer? How many needless interviews will be held while the clients, customers and students of those interviewers wait their turn?

Come May 22, how many of us will be in line (or online) to apply for unemployment? Food stamps? WIC? AHCCCS? How many of us will end up being double-dippers for a time, living off of our summer paychecks and collecting unemployment all summer, only to find ourselves employed in August? But we can't exactly not apply, because what will happen if we are not employed come August? How many of us will end up in foreclosure or in a short sale, and who absorbs the impact of that lost debt? Who is paying for all of this? The Republicans as much as the Democrats, I can tell you.

There is an entire, frightening economy developing out of Arizona's budget crisis alone. On top of the already frightening economy. And yet it is all sold to us as something unavoidable, inevitable, part of the process, the result of a bad economy. But there are solutions; it's just that those in power want to write the script of these last few months of the fiscal year so that in the grand finale, they can seem to be flexible, compassionate, problem solvers. It makes me sick.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Eating Vs. Drinking Calories

This is excerpted from an e-mail I sent to a friend. We're trying to get healthier... just thought I'd share for anyone who likes to drink pomegranate/ blueberry/ acai juice for health:

From everything I've always read/heard, it is always better to eat whole fruit than to drink the juice (whether pomegranate, blueberry, acai berry or whatever). It's more satisfying because you get the bulk (fiber) of the fruit to keep you feeling full versus just the sugar rush of the juice.

Also, it seems like I've read that pasteurization and whatever other processing juices go through can destroy some of the vitamins & antioxidants of the original fruit.

I love buying frozen blueberries and making a smoothie with a banana (or 1/2), a lot of blueberries, ice, yogurt, splenda, vanilla Silk and a splash of extra vanilla. Very light-- you can measure everything and make it as big or small as you want. You can even add extra fiber, wheat germ, flax seed oil or other supplements you are taking. A friend of mine who is a runner is seeing a nutritionist, and she gave my friend the advice to eat your calories vs. drinking your calories, but I still like to make smoothies from time to time because they feel like a treat (and the kids love them, too.)

Still, the eating vs. drinking calories is good advice, especially when it comes to fruit vs. juice. OJ has tons of calories, but a whole orange doesn't.

Food for thought. Costco has a good deal on a huge bag of frozen blueberries-- Trader Joes has very good prices on organic frozen blueberries (and other frozen fruit).

Here's to gettin' skinny! (Or more importantly, developing better habits!)

Friday, January 30, 2009

ACT TODAY TO SAVE AZ PUBLIC EDUCATION NOW!!!!! Contact your legislators.

TODAY the AZ state legislature could potentially pass a resolution that would cut K-12 spending for the CURRENT YEAR by $133 MILLION.

I know I have waited too long to post this, but it is EXTREMELY easy to e-mail or phone your representative and senator and tell them to save public education.

From the perspective of TEA/AEA (from what I gather) this is an ideological battle-- many of our state representatives don't truly believe in public education and will take every opportunity to chip away at what is an essential part of the American Dream. We are already a national embarrassment in educational spending. It HAS to stop.

To find your AZ legislators, go to:
Hyperlink to How to Contact Your Legislator

I have received an e-mail from our new TUSD superintendent stating that AZ was, in effect, also about to "tear up" a check for $500 million from the U.S. government.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Need Book Recommendations for My English 11 Students

Hello-- My students are working on big, huge essential question projects. I have a few students who are having trouble finding an independent reading book (fiction or nonfiction) that will help them explore their EQ's Please e-mail me (or FB me, or comment on this blog entry) and send ideas!

  • What is more important when looking at people's reading habits: quantity or quality?
  • Does Karma exist?
  • What is love/ true love? (I have given some suggestions here, but there are MANY students asking the question and I'd like some more ideas)
  • Can you ever have too much money?
  • Why are there so many similarities among stories?
  • Does the past determine the future?
I may add more...

Thanks, folks! Boy, I really need to blog more. Lots to think about these days. I think when I'm short on time, I don't feel like I can do justice to the big topics (can you say "inauguration"?)