Saturday, January 22, 2011

Out with the new, in with the old.

Georgia's state school superintendent had a press conference late Thursday where he announced his opinion that school districts should have the option of going back to traditional math.  Now we wait to see if the state board concurs.


The clunky, spiraling, grazing new math program does NOT work. Students barely grasp a new concept before they spiral away to something else. They return to that concept in another year, by which time they've forgotten how, what, and why. We've had to resort to private tutoring for our daughter, who has been a strong math student. But the spiral has caught up to her this year.

For example, her teacher spent a scant two days on intersecting slope equations. Then spent a a few more days on parallel and perpendicular equations.That's it. Time to move on. If students don't understand, it's up to them to "figure it out for yourself."

We have seen a troubling trend of poor retention of basics such as figuring percentages, remembering how to simplify fractions in multiplication and division, complete lack of understanding of negative integers, and others.

Something ain't right.

Please, please, PLEASE DeKalb Schools. Why wait for the state? Other school systems have already figured out how to dump Kathy Cox's pet math project and get back to the basics colleges expect on that almighty high school transcript. Put traditional math back into the curriculum. Read your own scores, trending quickly downward just as they are across the state. Schedule our rising Freshmen for Algebra in 9th grade, not Math 1-2-3-4-Button-My-Shoe-Close-the-Door on mastery. Imagine the challenges facing next year's graduating class, the first in a long line of guinea pigs for this experiment, who will have to explain to out of state colleges what the heck Georgia's math program means. Understand that while you're shuffling students from one facility to another, your business is education in the classroom, a fact that I fear will get lost in that shuffle.

Do it now, while high schools are building schedules for next year, so the staff doesn't have to redo those schedules again over the summer because your timing isn't reasonable.

It's broken. Fix it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Back to school.

My kids are headed back to school.

I'm glad. And sad.

Glad they can be with their friends again.

Sad to get back into the constant bombardment of school news and needs.

Glad we came through the snow uninjured and with a surprisingly clean homestead.

Sad to face the less-than-wonderful school issues that are still waiting in the wings.

Glad that middle school is nearly behind us. Very, very, VERY glad.

Sad to face the ebbs and tides of homework and project deadlines once again.

Glad the Dunwoody High School renovations are on schedule and looking really, really good for my rising freshman.

There. I ended the Glad Game on the positive side.

Rise and shine!

Monday, January 17, 2011

We DID have to stay home.

A while back, I pondered "What if we had to stay home?" My thoughts elicited quite a few discussions, both virtually and personally. The recent snow storm that basically "closed" Dunwoody for a week reminded me once again how very much we are dependent upon mobility - across town/the country/the world via gas-hungry transportation, upwardly via financial American dream-weaving, and personally via I-hope-hope-hope-I-don't-slip-and-break-something.

Keeping power was a major blessing. Having unexpected time together as a family was, surprisingly, a treat. (Imagine that - my teens were quite pleasant and we enjoyed each other very much.)  And keeping work on schedule via the internet was pretty darned significant to the Knitternall family budget.
I want chickens. There. I said it again. (Hello, City Council?)

Farmers  feel a deep, abiding connection to land that is hard for city dwellers to  understand. My ancestors came to America from Ireland after their land let them down catastrophically, during the infamous potato famine of the late 1800's. Here, they couldn't afford to purchase new land, so sank their roots into shrimp fishing and subsistence vegetable gardens in small bungalows tucked into the outskirts of whatever city they could find work in.
I'm relocating my garden to the front yard ... maybe this year, it'll have enough sunlight to look this good.

That land memory calls to me constantly. It's why I want to dig in the dirt, raise food, have chickens, do things myself, and stay home.

I saw a photo in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine insert for some luxury property on the Hudson River "just 2 hours from New York City." That estate called to me, more because of its location on the river and beautiful grounds than for the rather ridiculous size of the house (8 bedrooms and 5 baths - yikes.)

We had to stay home last week.
What a rare gift.

North Georgia College sees its share of snow - yet another reason our son is glad he's heading "north" for college.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Change is good.

January 28 will be my last day at Dunwoody Nature Center.

Difficult decision. Right thing to do.

I have been blessed in so many ways during my five+-year tenure, manning the administration desk at this vibrant, essential environmental education centerpiece in Dunwoody.  The executive director and board gave me free reign to develop new systems and procedures and every day brought encounters with visitors and friends coming to Dunwoody Park for hiking, walking their dogs, bringing their children to classes and camps, and volunteering. What a great job! Where else can you go to work in shorts and jeans, take a walk in the woods while you work out a solution to something, play with young children eager to explore the great outdoors, and help preserve a precious bit of greenspace in our increasingly urban community?

As the organization finalizes its strategic plan and begins some dynamic new changes, I decided it was time to turn the reins to someone else, who can be a part of those changes and help Dunwoody Nature Center evolve into something even more wonderful.

In the short term, I'll focus on freelance writing (quite a full docket for the near future) and Preschool Phonics. I'll also watch for the next opportunity, whether more freelance clients or .... who knows?

Change is good.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Top Ten Ways to Spend the First (of Many) Snow Days At Home.

1. Compel son to complete scholarship applications, pleas for recommendation letters, and list of medical forms required for some of the scholarships.
2. Make daughter wear ski bibs to play in snow (glare), snow boots ("they're clunky!"), snow hat ("it's too big!"), and multiple layers underneath ("it's too hot!") everything before heading out to sled.
3. Collect wet coats, gloves, hats, undergarments and dry; repeat five times during day while teens play in snow.
4. Simmer pot of Sandy's Chowder all day and eat when hungry.
5. Prep for next five weeks of Preschool Phonics.
6. Take dog out half a dozen times to "do his business," which he  keeps holding because there has to be a spot of summer natural area SOMEWHERE in the snow-covered landscape and he ISN'T GOING until he finds that nice, crunchy, aromatic magic spot.
7. Watch the guy who spun his BMW's tires so hard he caught his car on fire .... on the local news AND national news. "I couldn't figure out why they kept spinnin'." Maybe the ICE?
8. Work on an organic cotton sweater for next year's Holiday Markets.
9. Compulsively wash small loads dishes and clothes because the power is bound to go off any moment now.
10. Make pancakes and bacon for supper because it's a SNOW DAY!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A moral dilemma.

You win. Someone else loses.

It's scholarship time in the Knitternall home, and each application has become a moral dilemma for our graduating senior.

"Why do you deserve this scholarship?" He looks at that question and thinks, "yeah, why do I?" Why is he more worthy than every other graduating senior who needs the money?

Our son does not have a competitive nature. He doesn't try to edge out everyone around him in pursuit of a shared objective. Instead, he worries that someone might want/need something more than he does.

In particular, the Crohn's scholarship has been a difficult one for him. "Everybody who has Crohn's deserves a scholarship," he said. "If I get it, that means someone else doesn't. And they may have worse symptoms, or their parents may not have health insurance, or they could be homeless."

We reminded him that scholarship committees see all of the applicants and their personal situations, then decide who gets how much. "It's a kind of gamesmanship - you're playing to the audience. The selection of the recipients is out of your hands." But that doesn't help. He worries, to the point that he doesn't want to apply at all. So I told him the scholarship is as much for us as him ... scholarship money is much needed in a family where medical expenses are overwhelming.

Our debate led to own moral dilemma. Why should our son be burdened by the financial cost of his disease in addition to the physical and emotional challenges he will take with him to college? Who is the beneficiary of these scholarships - our son or us? Do we ask him to be someone he isn't? And does that mean we're pushing him into ethical gray areas for our own financial benefit?

Well, yes we are.  Scholarships specifically benefit the individual paying for college, whether a self-funding student like I was or the family trying to squeeze tuition out of a carefully mapped budget that unexpectedly has to include medical expenditures.

After an evening of internal debate, I told our son to be true to himself. But that we would appreciate it if he would at least find a way to ask for the scholarship without crossing his moral standards.

Yesterday, our son wrote his personal essay for the Crohn's scholarship, in his own way. He wrote that he doesn't deserve the scholarship any more than any other graduating senior. He said good grades, a full plate of extracurricular and volunteer work, and good character don't differentiate him from most of the other applicants. And he wished all the families paying for Crohn's care could benefit because all of them, including his own parents, needed the help.

He didn't pontificate, exaggerate his accomplishments, brag about his honors, or try to make himself stand out in any way.

His essay likely won't result in winning the scholarship.

But he made me feel very humble ... and proud.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Redistricting inside the lines.

Consultants are everywhere. Before making a difficult (politically risky) decision, governing bodies bring in the objective expert, who researches and opines, then presents well supported recommendations that said governing bodies can then hold like a shield before constituents.

1. Consultants put together the smart-%$$ Dunwoody branding that it appears we'll have to live with until all parties feel they've gotten their money's worth.

2. Consultants have been guiding long-range planning for development of key city areas. Anyone who has been part of the sounding boards or surveys quickly figured out certain preferences by the consultants would make it into the recommendations, no matter what the survey responses might be. For example, residents said "no" to multi-storied multi-family residential development in the Dunwoody Village area. Behold, the mixed use concept advocated by the consultants in the concept stage looks like a done deal in the final recommendations. (My favorite argument: that residences should be part of the "city center." The city center is surrounded by residential neighborhoods.)

3. Consultants have told the DeKalb School Board that redistricting should include carving some neighborhoods within the city limits of Dunwoody and sending those children to schools in Chamblee. While the expected fire storm rages among elementary school parents who care much more about their children's K-5 experience than the high school that is FAR more important, this particular recommendation is just wrong. Hopefully, the Dunwoody Cluster Charter Schools effort will bring those neighborhoods back into the fold.

Strategic planning is an exhausting, somewhat surreal, and often ineffective process. Wading through everyone's opinions, trying to find consensus, putting a human face on statistics, denying facts because they don't fit someone's goals, trying to discern longrange implications of each decision, and often dismissing the resulting plan because a key decision maker decides it isn't the right direction: if you've ever been part of a strategic planning committee, you know how deeply frustrating the work can be. So I have a lot of empathy for the Dunwoody City Council, the DeKalb School Board, the Dunwoody Charter Cluster committee, and all the civic organizations I've served through the years.

There are so many strategic plans in the air right now it's hard to focus on the essentials, but focusing is imperative. Do we want multi-storied buildings looming over residential neighborhoods? Should parts of Dunwoody see their kids traveling to Chamblee for school? Will local schools actually use the freedoms and opportunities of a charter document or bow to the neverending pressure of the county administration to use its preferred curricula, textbooks, class structure, etc.? Can we get rid of Georgia's failing New Math curriculum like Fulton County and other school systems have already done? Which college (or this?) will my son choose and will he finish all of his scholarship applications in time? (Okay, that's a Knitternall family strategic plan.) How effective is a plan if there's no money to make it happen? And on and on and on.

I am grateful for people who tirelessly dig into the strategic planning process because it is an essential step in preparing for change of any kind. And I've worked with consultants who have been highly effective in guiding committees from free-for-all brainstorming to solid, well grounded goals and strategies.

Ten years from now, the political, commercial, residential, educational, and social landscape in Dunwoody will be dramatically different from what it is today.  All this strategic pain will be a memory, and new residents will have no clue how much work went into the quality of life we all enjoy.

At least, that's what I hope.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Knitting mistakes.

I love knitting. Really. Truly. By now, most people know I knit because I never stop knitting. In public. In the pew. In the car.

My craft has its share of knitwear that's truly visionary as well as stuff that looks like it exploded out of the acrylic yarn aisle at a long-ago-closed five-and-dime store.

And then there are the sublimely hilarious knitting projects. The ones that make me giggle. And remind me that knitting and insanity are indelibly intertwined.


That's just bull.
The knitter's response to "Mom, I have to make a diorama for school."

That isn't photoshopped. Is it?
Tanks a lot.
iDesperate to own an iPhone?
Actually, it's that round metal part at the end that's cold ... not the part that's wearing a sweater.
Honey, your grandmother knitted it just for you. We'll just get a quick picture, send it to her, then hide it.
The bride's mother is a knitter. And this is the wedding of her dreams.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Nature is calling.

Dunwoody Patch, a new online news source for our community, has a charming slide show in today's edition featuring Dunwoody Nature Center. (I think we need to do some refurbishing of the cap art.) It's a timely reminder that outdoor fun and learning isn't confined to warm weather. As a matter of fact, there's a new Lunch & Learn series starting this week, nature classes for little ones begin shortly, a great family event about maple trees and maple syrup weekend after next, two school groups are coming to the park this month for field trips, a brigade of volunteers will work on trail maintenance and invasives over the coming weeks, and summer camp registration begins February 1 for members. In other words, nature doesn't live by warm temperatures alone. It's alive and dynamic every month of the year. And it's free.

The best cure for cabin fever is getting outdoors, in rain gear or heavy coats if needed. I walked over to Dunwoody Park this weekend with Scooter the Wonder Dog, who found a splendid array of scents to puzzle over and a few free-ranging dogs to check out (leashes, please!). While I enjoy our urban ambles, the park is a much quieter place to exercise, so I try to include it in most of my loops. (And since I just typed the word "walk," and Scooter is somewhat psychic about the prospect of an outing, I need to go get the leash.)

Come on, Scooter. Walk!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Resolution, schmesolution

I resolve not to make resolutions.

They're somewhat pointless (I'm going to do what I'm going to do, despite good intentions.)

They smack of "I don't like what/where I've been, so I'm going to do better." (I embrace the good and the bad because ... well, who's perfect?)

The ones that aren't narcississtic are too global to hold on to day by day. (Get more exercise, get organized, live more simply, finish the NY Times crossword without Google, rely less on food grown far away, do my part to help the homeless/improve living conditions in Haiti/change the local-national political scene).

So I'm not going to do it.

Instead, I welcome another year of opportunities to explore, fail, change, browse, overreact, forget, make peace, make trouble, nurture, guide, learn, laugh, love, and live.

Life comes one day at a time.

Happy New Day.