“[He’s] a saint, even though you can’t see his halo.” – Marina Pilcher, former chief of Hillsborough’s juvenile probation program.
My next door neighbor and friend, Wali Shabazz, has been advocating on behalf of the African American community–and young males in particular–here in Tampa for over 30 years. Though he readily admits that he has no control over the color of his own skin, he has “all the control over my excellence as a human being, and that needs to be more of our focus in the 21st century.” During this wide-ranging conversation about his advocacy work, we discuss the cultural changes that have shaped the African-American community since the 1960’s; how his program scaled up with a $1.2 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation; as well as the work he has done here in Hillsborough County Public Schools.
If you’d like to learn more about Wali and his work, below is list of articles that have profiled him and his work over the years. Wali specializes in Cultural Integrity Training for teens and adults, Group Sensitivity Training for educators, as well as individual coaching. He can be reached directly by email at email@example.com or calling him on his cell phone (he also provides this in the podcast) at 813-363-6385.
Thanks for listening, everyone. Please be sure to share with others who may be interested!
For the last several years I have thought about this quote on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is fitting for two reasons: 1) most would profess this to be education’s chief aim; 2) a free, high quality public education seems to be the civil rights issue of our day and age. Rather than offer a solution on either of these two challenges–and make no mistake, solutions are desperately needed for both issues–this brief entry is more of a meditation on the first reason and the vexing problems presented by the Florida Education Model.
Much of what Florida education–and this is perhaps true in most states across the U.S.–focuses on is “teaching to the test” in the sense that almost everything revolves around some standardized test outcome, whether for the individuals involved (student or classroom teacher) or the institutions themselves (schools and districts). Though not explicitly taught to do so, by the time students are in middle school they realize the skills they are receiving, perhaps even implicitly, are that of “memorization and regurgitation.” They cram their heads full of facts that they often have no connection to or context for, dump out the ones they remember on the all-too-important state assessment, only to move on to a new subject the following semester or year having learned little to nothing of value.
Many high school students themselves find this incredibly frustrating and want something better, something more.
Imagine if our education system really were about teaching “one to think intensively and to think critically.” What would that look like? While some traffic in conspiratorial plans about reformers intentionally dumbing down our children, the current model is simply the cheapest to implement for the state while simultaneously padding the profits of the Education Industrial Complex, most especially the standardized testing giants. None of this benefits our students, especially as we get further into the 21st century. Now more than ever we need to radically reconfigure our education system so that the outcomes are focused on students who can think intensively and critically.
As a Theory of Knowledge teacher, much of the class is oriented toward producing these skills, albeit they are focused on knowledge itself. But learning how to think intensively and critically needs to be modeled aloud, discovered through dialogue, and practiced often by oneself and among peers–something we have little time for in most traditional classrooms. Moreover, we often get into discussions about the value in knowing random facts about the world if they will have little use or relation to one’s future professional path, regardless of what path that may be. Whether a student becomes a plumber, a pilot, or a plastic surgeon, any adult person living on the planet will need good thinking.
But even beyond the college and career readiness aspects of focusing on teaching students how to think intensively and critically, the second part of the MLK quote is equally essential: “Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.” Obviously thinking hones intelligence, regardless of the type, but character is an interesting word choice. The root is the ancient Greek word for sharpening, as if our character is something to be worked upon, whittling away that which does not benefit our personal moral code and leaving behind what is most essential. Does our education system explicitly promote that? How might our students benefit from this type of education? Would it not truly leave them better prepared to face any challenge life might throw their way in the future? All of us face a future full of uncertainty due to technological innovation and disruption, and being able to think clearly and lucidly about events as they arise, in conjunction with the strength of character, would be the best skills and traits we could impart to our students.
We need to make this seismic shift in our educational approach much sooner than most think. The regressive model of education we currently use is antiquated and built upon ideas that were important 200 years ago, but couldn’t be more irrelevant today. The future of education must be more human and more humane. We must focus on what makes us unique as a species (art, play, creativity, communication, etc) and leverage those skills over and above those tasks that can be done by machines. Education must become focused on thinking for its own sake and to instill a love of learning that is lifelong and directs each student to further investigate his or her passions, none of which can be found by filling in letter B on the bubble sheet.
In preparing for the #RallyInTally today, I reached out to Polk County School Board Member, fellow advocate, and friend, Billy Townsend. We both planned to be here and knew we should record the first Teacher Voice podcast of 2020 as a discussion about today’s events and whatever else came up organically in our discussion. I will warn everyone that this is a hot take, recorded shortly after the rally wound down, and we pull no punches about what’s to come if we are to turn this thing around to benefit every child in Florida. Please be sure to give it a listen and share with others!
For roughly two weeks I have taken a social media sabbatical. The swirling madness that is constant (and quite often, negative) interactions via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc can be so toxic and draining, and I needed to just shut it all down and retreat into reading and reflection.
What I really pondered the most is how much effort I expended during 2019, with the latter half of the year feeling like a whirlwind that brought few moments of peace. Only when I truly slowed down and took the time to review my advocacy efforts did it really hit me that I am not my best when I stray too far from center. I was constantly overextending myself. The closing months of 2019 saw me sleeping little, people constantly asking me “Are you okay?”, and generally feeling like I was behind in all that I was trying to accomplish with each day. I did my best, but by the time the winter break arrived I was ready to just pull the plug on my public education advocacy altogether.
Everything in life has a cost, and I now realize that I must take a significant step back in my advocacy efforts moving forward. I need to do this to better balance my time among my students in the classroom, my own learning, and my home life, all of which were diminished in some sense by my seemingly overzealous defense of our students and profession.
The focus in 2020 will be “The Year of the Advocate.” In an effort to lighten my load, I am hoping that this is the year that Teacher Voice, as originally envisioned, will become a platform for other voices and not simply my own. There were some wonderful guest contributions in 2019, and I hope to get those more regularly moving forward. Although I may write posts occasionally, I will probably save what little I will have to say in 2020 for the Florida newspapers that are willing to publish my pieces as op-eds. When it comes to podcasts, however, they will resume monthly in a couple of weeks, and they will alternate between public education advocates who already hold and/or are seeking elected office, whether at the local or statewide level, and parent advocates in the broader community who represent groups or issues involving public education here in the Sunshine State.
Thank you to all who have supported me since I started this project two and half years ago. Although this is not the end of Teacher Voice, the prolific posting on the blog will no longer be the norm unless many guest posts start rolling in (ideally, I would like to publish pieces bi-weekly–any takers?). Podcasts will be published roughly in the middle of each month, and I can be contacted through this website or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to submit an article. Hopefully, the better balance between my personal and professional lives and activities will allow me to be the best advocate possible for all of Florida’s children and my fellow educators.
P.S. – FLFIRE will continue in 2020. Although it never took off the way I had envisioned it would (failing = learning), we are hoping to re-launch officially on 1/14/20 and use the momentum of the new legislative session to continue to build our grassroots network for future actions.
Friend and fellow educator Michelle Hamlyn returns with another timely guest post about what it is like to silently sit in a room with over-tested teens who are anxious and stressed about earning a certain number / grade on their semester exams. If you didn’t catch any of Michelle’s previous guest pieces, Why We’re Hereand I’m Angryare highly suggested. For now, please read and share her latest reflection on what education has become…
As I sit here for the third day in a row, watching my twelve- and thirteen-year olds take their sixth semester exam, I am once again reminded how far public education has gone off course. Some of them sit and stare like zombies. Some of them have at least one body part perpetually in motion – a foot tapping, fingers drumming, a leg bouncing up and down. Some of them just sit with the most resigned, discouraged looks on their faces. And we expect them to be able to sit and be quiet for almost two solid hours. I know successful adults who can’t manage that.
It didn’t used to be like this. Learning used to be enjoyable and interesting. Students used to be able to feel wonder and curiosity and success. But now, it’s just about finding the “best right answer.” Although I’d like to claim that phrase, I can’t. It’s been used in more than one professional development course I’ve taken.
How exactly is a twelve-year old, who can’t remember to bring their PE uniform home to be washed and back again, supposed to pick the “best right answer?” These are the people whose interests change more often than the latest technology. The people who today are “going out with” Bubba, but tomorrow find Earl more attractive. The people who think armpit “fart” noises are hysterical. (All of which is developmentally appropriate for this age group, unlike a two-hour semester exam in seven subjects over three and a half days.)
What does it do to your spirit when over the course of four days, you take seven nearly two-hour exams in which you have to find the “best right answer?” How does any of that feel rewarding? How does it show your intelligence?
More importantly, what has happened to teaching children to think for themselves? To know that there is more than one way to do things and that sometimes there is more than one answer?
With all the posturing over test scores and a push for creativity, you’d think that someone in charge would understand that the more rigid the answers become, the less children ask questions. The less they enjoy learning. The less they are, in fact, learning.
I hear all the reformers and legislators talking about kids being college and career ready. Those terms didn’t even exist back when they were children. And they shouldn’t exist now. That’s a fine goal for high school students. But it has no place in our dialogue about kindergarten through eighth grade.
I wonder how many of the reformers and legislators were college and career ready in elementary school or middle school. Those are places where you are supposed to learn, not just your numbers and letters, but also who you are and how to manage learning. They are not places where you only learn one thing or the “best right answer.” They are places where you explore, you make mistakes, and you learn from those mistakes.
But today’s students don’t want to make mistakes. They can’t afford to. Because their scores depend on it. Sadly, they’ve been taught to believe these scores actually define them.
And parents have bought into this narrative. Your child MUST take this standardized test to prove they’ve learned. To prove their value. To show that they can handle the next level. That they are college and career ready.
Even if they are just twelve- and thirteen-year olds. Taking seven two-hour exams where they have to find the “best right answer.”
Honorable Hillsborough County Public Schools Board Members:
I am the most unique candidate for Superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools. Unlike the rest of the applicants who undoubtedly have the conventional credentials, I offer a set of unrivaled intangibles that few can match. For instance, none of the candidates could possibly possess an empathetic understanding of what our students face on a daily basis in 2019; they have been out of the classroom for far too long, and it is the ability to listen and relate to our students that will best serve our next Superintendent. Though I may be seen simply as a classroom teacher of 16 years, my desire and capability to perform the job of Superintendent should not be underestimated.
Beyond the various subject areas I have taught, the work I performed as a new teacher mentor, or the public education advocacy in which I have engaged over the last four years, at the heart of my endeavors is the well-being and future success of the next generation. The children of Florida—and Hillsborough County, in particular—deserve a tireless champion who will always put them at the heart of his or her work, and I believe the board should look no further to find that champion. I want this job because I know I can make a positive difference in the lives of all children, regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnic background. Every day, I will wake ready to dedicate my effort and classroom-cultivated wisdom to fight for the education that our students deserve and should rightfully receive to truly prepare them for life.
Although I lack administrative experience in education, I spent five years in the business world, served on several boards and managed large budgets, and have been in leadership positions over the past 25 years in varying capacities. These attributes, along with my daily drive to relentlessly improve myself and others, allow me to perform at the highest levels while always being mindful of the big picture and long view. Moreover, as a lifelong learner who strives to give his best to any challenge, the deficit of experience can be overcome through constant, clear communication among our collaboration.
In the end, it would be in the best interest of the board to offer me an opportunity to interview based on the unique, informed, insightful firsthand educational perspective I possess. Between my public education advocacy work over the last several years and the outpouring of public support evident on the Letter of Confidence, I believe I can provide all of you with an educational vision for the future of the county I have come to love and call my home. So I will close with the question that was posed by Chair Shamburger during the Superintendent search board workshop this past October: “How can I help?”
I sincerely hope that when we meet next January we can have a robust conversation revolving around this question to provide a solution. Together.
While some may question my ability to become a superintendent of schools with only 16 years in the classroom, I believe I have an incredibly compelling argument for why I would make an excellent instructional servant-leader. Granted, this will only happen if I were provided the opportunity to interview before the HCPS School Board. Even if not chosen, the interview would still be worthwhile because I could share my vision for what needs to be prioritized among the challenges facing our school district, with the literacy of our youngest and most vulnerable students being at the pinnacle of that list.
Below is a “letter of confidence” written by my friends and colleagues in the Language Arts department at Strawberry Crest High School. In years past, this was a way for an entire staff to stand behind one of the assistant/vice principals whom the faculty believed should become the next principal of the school. This letter, however, is for any HCPS employee, parent or student to sign, and it will be included in my application package.
Thank you in advance for your support!
The instructional staff, ESP, students, families, and stakeholders of Hillsborough County Public Schools, with a high level of confidence, recommend Ryan Haczynski for an interview for the position of Superintendent. We believe Mr. Haczynski is well-known to the School Board.
Mr. Haczynski is an award-winning teacher who has taught students in almost every content area, trained his colleagues and mentored new teachers, as well as been a staunch advocate for public education. He served on the Hillsborough Classroom Teacher Association’s Executive Board and as a senior building representative. We are aware Mr. Haczynski does not fit the conventional applicant profile for this position; however, he represents the voice of this district’s workforce, students, and families. What he offers is something no other traditional applicant can bring to the table: real-time, relevant, on the ground viewpoint and experiences concerning every facet of education from people, to finances, to human resources. He embodies the heart and purpose of school: teaching and learning, two essential key understandings that are necessary for leadership in education.
Please review the level of support behind Mr. Haczynski and bring him to the table for an interview.
Instructional staff, ESP, students, families, and stakeholders of Hillsborough County Public Schools
Education should not be political. But for the last two decades in Florida, it has been.
As a democratic society and the collective stewards of the generations that follow in our wake, we realize that a balanced, high quality education that prepares a student for life is what we all desire. Tallahassee, however, has made this next to impossible for a variety of reasons, from the chronic underfunding of the last decade to the overtesting of our children. Parents and educators alike feel helpless in the face of a constant legislative onslaught that breeds bad ideas, foists unfunded mandates upon local districts, and routinely ignores the concerns or expertise of either group that works with our students each and every day.
Even worse, our students are suffering. Whether the chronic stress of being constantly assessed or the demeaning way in which they are reduced to a single metric, our children are being dehumanized for the purpose of data collection. Furthermore, they are terrorized by all-too-frequent shooter drills that keep them anxious and on high alert, even when not crouching in the complete dark trying to remain motionless and breathe silently. Most students openly share these frustrations with caring adults in schools who also feel powerless. Ultimately, we are trapped in a system that has become inhumane. Is this what education has become in the 21st century?
Our children deserve much better than this. Now is the time to take a stand.
You are receiving this letter today because we are asking all of you to make a basic choice: Will you stand with teachers or Tallahassee? Will you side with parents or privatizers? Will you choose students or suffering?
To have a $1 trillion dollar economy yet rank 45th in public education spending is deeply shameful. The destabilization these draconian budgets have brought must be decried by us all. The lack of resources is felt at every turn, from providing wraparound services to our most vulnerable children and their communities, to paying all educators a wage that allows them to fully support their families without additional stress or jobs. But how do we accomplish this?
FLFIRE is a grassroots coalition comprised of concerned stakeholders seeking to send a message to the Florida Legislature that puts people over politics, educators over entrenchment. We need to radically reshape our education system to make it more inclusive and humane for every person involved, beginning with the student and buttressed by every caring adult who works alongside the child. By issuing this resolution your school district can demonstrate solidarity with citizens all across the Sunshine State who currently support this growing movement. Our students and their future require a robust and on-going investment to provide the necessary resources for an education that truly befits the whole child and allows her or him to flourish as a lifelong learner.
Take a moment and close your eyes. Can you visualize it? This is what Tallahassee–or any place in Florida–could look like with a massive grassroots uprising. The pictures above are of Phoenix when the Arizona Educators United #RedForEd movement stormed the capital, and this could be what Tallahassee looks like on the first day of the legislative session.
But how did we get here? And why the heck has it taken so long? Here’s a brief timeline:
Spring of 2018, numerous states begin to rebel against the status quo: ridiculously paltry funding, especially in southern states, has negatively impacted everything in education, from the resources available to provide supports and services to students, to the decline in meaningful raises due to little flexible funding being eaten up by rising costs for healthcare or categoricals.
During the midst of this uprising (and many, many times before), I started to publicly question why yet again the FEA was content to sit back and do nothing in the wake of unprecedented activism exploding all over the country: West Virginia began in late February and ran through March, and Arizona started organizing around that time and erupted in late April / early May. Although controversial when written, there were numerous comments by non-union members and frustrated rank and file members who believed back then that the time was upon Florida.
Seeing how effective these movements were (others happened in numerous other states, often popping up one after the other in OK, KY, CO, etc), the next post about the topic came about a month later. It outlined two possibilities for huge days of action that could be coordinated by FEA: 9/17/18, U.S. Constitution Day, which was proposed by retired teacher advocate extraordinaire, Donna Yates Mace, and 1/21/19, which was MLK Day this year and would have made for a powerful statement bringing everyone together to benefit all students and educators.
After these two posts, I finally had the opportunity to ask the former president of the FEA, Joanne McCall, about the organization’s strategy to organize all educators across the state during her first podcast appearance. Was a rally in Tally in order? Nope. Just more hashtags and a “Me Plus Three” campaign to bring family and friends to the polls. Listen here if so inclined:
Considering nothing ever came of these posts or discussions, I was encouraged by the fact that it was an election year for the FEA as well. Fed, Andrew, and Carole won convincingly, and I was hopeful that the FEA would take a new direction. Shortly after their win, I approached Fed and Andrew on the final morning of the Delegate Assembly and shared the idea of a massive rally in Tally, expressing my dismay that nothing had happened under the previous leadership team. I sent them my post via a group text and assumed this was something that could easily be accomplished in 3 months; after all, the students of the MSD/Parkland tragedy organized a massive movement in about 6 weeks.
Obviously, nothing happened…
2/4/19 – Reconstruct-ED: A Message to Governor DeSantis, a wildly successful non-partisan, parent-led Facebook group quickly gathers thousands of members and solicits input from said members. Five key demands are agreed upon by an incredibly diverse group including educators, parents, former students, and retirees, demonstrating the need for a massive overhaul to public education. These five points are ones no one would disagree with: 1) better funding/educator pay; 2) less testing for our students; 3) a return to true local control so school boards can do what is best for their constituents; 4) legislators who actually listen to constituent concerns; 5) no more train bills.
Part of this grassroots push was to also have a coordinated day of action on 1/14/20, the first day of the new legislative session. Marches were being set up in some counties, and in May of 2019 the Reconstruct-ED leadership even staged a small march with several hundred people in Martin County.
As momentum started to build within this network (now 9100+ strong), more and more people began talking about 1/14/20 as the day of action, including FEA leadership. Clearly a grassroots movement that included all stakeholders regardless of political leanings was just what the Sunshine State needed to raise the awareness of the issues we still face, but until we dominated the media and rose from the bottom of the polls we would get no real traction.
July 2019 – After attending the FLBOE meeting with a few education advocates at Polk State (7/17), I was upset by the fact that the FEA continued to do nothing to mobilize or organize its members. Stephanie Yocum, a brand new president of her local in Polk, was there in addition to a few more members, but it seemed as if a huge opportunity had been squandered, which then prompted this email to FEA leadership (7/25).
August 2019 – At my penultimate executive board meeting for HCTA, our president informs us that the FEA day of action has been planned for 1/13/20, which prompted me to whip my head to the left and blurt out “WHAT?!”, to which he replied with, “yeah, they said you might not be too happy about it.” I was floored. Not only had I personally been told 1/14/20, it had been the original grassroots date for many months and it seemed as if they were trying to usurp the burgeoning movement.
I also continued to post things like this on Facebook (8/3/19):
10/15/19 – The week of the FEA DA I decided to write this open letter to FEA leadership as well as the presidents of all locals across the state. Some presidents from small or medium locals wrote back to me, also dismayed by the change in the date. All I asked is that the process be democratic and to let the gathered body actually vote on the day, but my letter may have precluded them doing just that, as a new business item was quickly introduced and its sole purpose was to confirm the date of 1/13/20.
And here we are! In the midst of the confusion surrounding two dates, people keep asking which date. My answer? Why not both? Plans have already been laid for my wife and I to be in Tallahassee both days along with some friends, but I will still continue to advocate for 1/14/20 because there is so much more symbolism surrounding that day. The ceremony and pageantry of the State of the State and everything else that goes along with it is exactly needs to be disrupted, but that only happens on 1/14/20. Hopefully the FEA-led event on 1/13/20 will be a smashing success that helps build momentum, but considering how it will be seen as partisan (just ask Governor DeSantis who already made now infamous remarks) my fears from the second open letter are already starting to be realized…
Now the choice is yours. Even if you cannot make it to Tallahassee or other demonstrations that will hopefully be organized for 1/14/20, if enough of us take a personal day on 1/14/20 districts may have no other choice than to shut down due to a lack of subs or personnel needed to run the schools for the day. Now THAT would be a powerful message sent to Governor DeSantis, Commissioner Corcoran, and the Florida Legislature.
But make no mistake…it will take nearly “everyone” for this to work.
Now in its third year, the November/Veterans Day podcast welcomes two former Army members who, after more than 20 years of service to our country, continue to serve the public as educators working for our JROTC program at Strawberry Crest High School. First Sergeant Lawshawn Lyas and Lieutenant Colonel John Ingraham have had a huge hand in the success of our program, but as they will tell you during this episode, it really is all about the kids, from who runs the program to why they choose to fill this unique role in our school, district, state and nation.
If you are a veteran of the U.S. military, thank you for your service to all of us. You are appreciated not only today, but each and every day. More importantly, if you live in the Tampa area, be sure to stop by the Golden Corral on 56th and Fowler to not only have a free meal, but to meet these two wonderful people and many of our cadets from SCHS.
Thank you for listening and enjoy the Veterans Day weekend, everyone!
P.S. – Like what you heard and want to hear more from our veterans who became educators? Be sure to check out the previous two episodes!
Teacher Voice is seeking guests to either write short posts (500 word limit) about current education issues or to discuss them in person for the biweekly podcast. Interested? Fill in the form on the Contact page or email directly at email@example.com