Monthly Archives: November 2011

Brown University Fund

This article highlights the wonderful relationship that Paul Cuffee School has with Brown University

The Brown Daily Herald

Local schools fund struggles for money
Morgan Johnson
Senior Staff Writer
Published: Monday, November 28, 2011

Two years after becoming the first black president of an Ivy League university, President Ruth Simmons appointed a committee to investigate the University’s formative ties to the Atlantic slave trade. In 2007, responding to the report submitted by the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, which singled out the University’s need to address enduring inequalities in public education due to racial segregation, Brown committed to raising “a permanent endowment in the amount of $10 million to establish a Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence.”
As Simmons prepares to step down this June, efforts to raise money for the fund that bears her unmistakable imprint have stalled, sidelined by other development projects in a difficult fundraising climate. The fund’s current value of $1.26 million has not grown since 2009 and lags far behind its original $10 million goal.
The fund’s largest grant payout of $118,000 — more than half of the $222,320 awarded in total — was used to purchase Texas Instruments calculators for public school math classrooms in 2009. Members of the committee that oversees the fund said the company’s relationship with Simmons, who currently sits on its board, allowed the fund to take advantage of a steep discount on the calculators.
The steering committee designated providing financial support for local schools particularly important given the troubled state of the Providence public school system, where 48 of the district’s 49 public schools failed to meet minimum federal achievement standards at the time of the committee’s final report.
Since the fund began accepting applications from charter schools in 2011, its increasingly large and more competitive applicant pool has added more fundraising pressure.
The fund awarded two grants to the Paul Cuffee School, the state’s largest charter school. Paul Cuffee is the only school to receive this distinction since the fund’s inception.
The fund’s most recent grant totaled $24,320 and was used to purchase document cameras and LCD projectors for Paul Cuffee’s elementary school classrooms in August.
“The temptation is to give (funds) to the charter schools because they really perform,” said Artemis Joukowsky ’55 P’87, chancellor emeritus and chair of the fund, which is run by a four-person committee chosen by the Corporation. He said committee members were particularly impressed by the quality and effort of the schools’ applications.
The fund has paid out successively smaller grants since awarding its first in 2009. If its endowment reaches $10 million, the fund committee will be able to give out up to $500,000, or 5 percent of its endowment, in grants per year.
“We still have a long way to go,” Joukowsky said. He is uncertain if the fund will be able to reach its original financial goals and is currently in talks with the University’s advancement office to solicit more donors. Current donations are also accepted directly through the fund’s website.
School administrators applying for grant money fault hte fund’s application for a lack of detail. Jennifer Steinfeld, grant writer for the Providence Public School District’s planning and development department, said she appreciates past support from the fund but wishes its application forms were less open-ended.
“I’d like to see more clarity from them about what they’re looking for,” she said.
“They ask very few questions but want a level of detail that they’re not actually specifying,” said Julia Karahalis, director of institutional advancement at Paul Cuffee. She added that she appreciates the creative freedom the application allows grant writers.
Joukowsky said the fund committee does not select grant recipients based on specific school subjects or age groups. Instead, it favors grant proposals that provide the most direct benefit to students.
“Our mission is to help the kids and not the bureaucracy behind the public school system,” Joukowsky said.
The fund committee hopes to maintain support for a wide variety of school activities, including the arts.
Karahalis would like to see more grants in the future to support electronic resources like Kindles for the school.
After the fund’s grants are awarded, committee members ask schools to follow up with the fund once the money is spent. The fund committee asks schools for information on how the money has been allocated, Joukowsky said. In his opinion, some schools have not adequately acknowledged the University or the fund committee for the grants.
But the Paul Cuffee School invited fund committee members to observe students using the equipment purchased with grant money.
“Seeing their investment is one of the most delightful parts of this,” Karahalis said of the visit.
Some of the committee members hope to invite a wider range of Providence schools to apply for grants in the future. Joan Sorensen ’72 P’06 P’06, a Corporation member and member of the fund committee, said limited funding has prevented the fund from accepting applications from inner-city Providence private schools, where many students cannot pay full tuition.
Sorensen hopes the fund’s close ties to the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, an important part of Simmons’ legacy at Brown, will aid fundraising efforts.
“This committee was her baby,” Sorensen said. She suggested at the last Corporation meeting that the University donate to the fund on Simmons’ behalf as a way to acknowledge her dedication to it.
“We haven’t done that with some of our other presidents,” Sorensen said. “Ruth is a different story.”
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Pine Cobble Address

Recently found speech from Pine Cobble School in Williamstown, Ma.  Enjoy

Valuing Teachers

A good friend, a fellow educator, shared this article with me, and I thought that its sentiment was worth sharing as well.  I agree with the position of this article, but want to aver that I am no Luddite; rather, I firmly believe (and practice) that technology in the hands of bright, talented, well-trained, creative educators can transform learning.  The key is to have that technology in hands that can make the difference.  Just as a new paint job on a car with an awful engine won’t help the ailing car go, neither will putting iPads in the hands of a failing teaching change his or her ability to inspire the next generation.  Support our teachers with good professional development, and give them the space to grow.

Technology can never replace inspiring teachers





Over past decades we’ve seen a whole parade of educational “bandwagon” panaceas come and go. Among them: “Progressive Education,” “Back to Basics,” “No Child Left Behind” and, more lately, “Race to the Top.” Most all of those efforts were intended to mend an increasingly tattered American public education system, but for one reason or another they simply never proved totally successful, and in some cases they were even detrimental — although the verdict is not yet in on the last of those mentioned.

The newest magic elixir is the idea of minimizing the role of living teachers by replacing them with technology-based education, in the form of laptop computers and other technological devices. However, according to a major article appearing in one of the nation’s leading newspapers, a school district in Arizona serving 18,000 students invested roughly $33 million in technology-centric education (while, at the same time, laying off a number of teachers due to budgetary cutbacks!) only to see their very large investment produce no improvement in student performance. That’s most worrying — and expensive.

Realistically, it simply cannot be denied that, indeed, certain aspects of a child’s education can be enhanced by the use of automation and technology — but with special emphasis on the word “enhanced.” Recognition must also be given to the fact that in any worthy educational system there exist many less obvious, nebulous or subtle spheres which can only be instilled and imparted by means of the actual, living presence of talented, inspired (and inspiring) teachers.

Included among those spheres are many which fall in the realm of character development: reasoning ability, decision-making strategies, crisis management, self-control, self-awareness, tenacity, honesty, dedication and many others. Granted, not too long ago some of those areas were more the responsibility of the home, but over the years responsibility for inculcating those things has gradually shifted to the public schools. Whatever the case, their importance cannot be ignored or dismissed. It also needs saying that impressing those positive qualities on our kids is very often more easily accomplished by courses in the fine arts (music, drawing and painting, drama, literature, physical education, foreign language) and other subject areas which all too often are lopped off by the budget-cutter’s ax. But all the technology in the world simply can’t replace the living teacher — the very necessary “human element” which enables those character-heightening elements of any truly authentic educational program.

Here’s a practical example of the need for that human element: A certain amount of the dreaded, but like-it-or-not activity called “repetitive drill” is an essential and integral part of education. For instance: in grammar and English courses, students need to be taught proper punctuation usage, spelling, sentence and paragraph structure, and vocabulary. In social studies and history courses, knowledge of historical dates, events and the positive or negative influences of historical figures must be implanted and understood in the context of how they relate to contemporary society. In music, students learning to play a musical instrument must learn proper rudiments and techniques, and singers need to learn necessary breathing and muscle-usage techniques. All those areas of study and others require drill, and to teach and encourage students to do that drill we most certainly need talented, living teachers.

Another questionable thing about computer-centric education is that it can unintentionally encourage laziness. This is because accessibility to information is overly convenient. While in some ways easy accessibility is a good thing, it also denies students the very satisfying experience of finding answers on their own — via reading, use of encyclopedias, dictionaries and other means of hands-on, enriching, personal research.

A related manifestation of the negative influence which computers can have: College and university professors teaching courses requiring freshman students to write essays report that all too many of those frosh can’t construct an intelligent paragraph, and in some cases, not even a simple sentence without the tools afforded by computers: “Spelling and Grammar,” “Language,” “Auto-Summarize,” “Speech” and other easy-to-access writing aids.

All right: If computerized education isn’t the magic elixir to heal and mend the ills of our badly faltering education system, what, then, is? The answer: high-quality, living teachers, who have the opportunity to personally interact with their students. That answer, of course, leads to another question: How can we be assured of having such teachers in our classrooms?

One of the most logical answers is, we’d be well-advised to follow the example of nations that are outshining us educationally: nations where only top-of-the-class college graduates are recruited to become teachers; where teachers are paid salaries commensurate with doctors, lawyers and other careers bearing the label of professions; where teachers are considered to be on a civic and social prestige level equal to or exceeding that of other professionals.

Yes, traditional public school education most certainly needs upgrading, modernizing and improvement, and computerized education might have a partial role in achievement of that. But replacing talented teachers with computers simply isn’t the road to go down in doing so.

So then, sort the grain from the chaff. Give our education system a good bath; feed, nourish and improve it. But in the process, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Mr. Vervaet is a retired public school music teacher and a former adjunct professor at the SUNY Potsdam Crane School of Music. He lives inHannawaFalls.

Goodnight iPad

This delightful send up of Margaret Wise Brown’s classic, Goodnight Moon, will stir a smile from anyone who has read that wonderful book and has navigated the dozens of gadgets that now call our home port!

Patrick Witt, Yale Football, Rhodes Scholarship

I read with interest this article below, and I am aware that I don’t have all the facts, but a quick read leaves me lamenting the Rhodes Scholarship Committee’s decision.  Mr. Elliot F. Gerson is quite articulate and persuasive in each one of his arguments concerning why Mr. Witt, a finalist for the award and the quarterback for Yale University’s Football team, cannot be accommodated, but in a cultural climate of gross athletic excess, seeing a young man climb out of that and qualify for an interview for a Rhodes Scholarship  inspires.  I can only imagine the complexities around scheduling these interviews, but let’s hope that the Committee will find a way to encourage and to accommodate scholars, who also happen to be athletes; ones who are contributing richly and deeply to their communities.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Yale quarterback Patrick Witt has decided to give up the opportunity to compete for a Rhodes Scholarship in order to play against archrival Harvard.

The school announced Sunday that Witt has withdrawn his Rhodes application, despite being a finalist for the prestigious scholarship. The scholarship interview had been scheduled for Saturday, the same day as what is simply called “The Game.”

Elliot F. Gerson, American Secretary for the Rhodes Trust, told that Witt did ask if anything could be done to accommodate his schedule, but it was not possible.

“We have candidates every year miss games for the interview,” Gerson said.

All Rhodes committees meet the same day around the country, and while the interview time may be moved within the time allotted for all interviews that day, all applicants must be available until around 3 p.m. for re-interviews and, then, the final decision announcement.

“(The) Rhodes Scholarship is an academic award, and is not an award for “scholar-athletes,” despite some popular perception of it in that explicit light,” Gerson said. Although he noted that “(athletic) success is, famously, a factor in our criteria,” Gerson said their selectors look primarily at academic ability and then at factors relating to leadership, character and commitment to serving the public good.

Witt, a senior transfer from Nebraska, said he decided to withdraw the application because “my focus this week is solely on preparing for The Game alongside my teammates and coaches.”

Saturday’s game will be the 128th between the two schools. Harvard has won the last four and nine of the last 10.

Gerson pointed out that Witt can reapply for a Rhodes Scholarship at any time before his 24th birthday. In recent years, as many as 10 of the 32 winners have applied after graduation, he said.

Red Sox Fans Should be Grateful for Five Months, Anyway

Michael C. Obel-Omia: Red Sox fans should be grateful for five months, anyway

01:00 AM EDTonFriday, October 7, 2011

By Michael C. Obel-Omia

Last week was difficult. As an inveterate, dyed-in-the-wool Red Sox fan, I have suffered. What has occurred can be described as catastrophic, disastrous, calamitous, and even cataclysmic, if you are a Red Sox fan. No team in baseball history has entered the month of September with such a secure hold on the playoffs and let that grip slip. The Atlanta Braves also lost a huge lead and fell from playoff contention this week, but somehow the Sox failure seems more apocalyptic.

The baseball gods’ decision to smite us makes it seem that Armageddon is nigh.

Part of the reason that this loss seems so awful is our perspective. If you are a Tampa Bay Rays fan (or a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, who caught the Braves from 10½ games back in late August), then the events of the past 30 days seem phenomenal, extraordinary, miraculous.

Imagine the excitement you might feel were you living in Tampa when the Rays, down 7-0 in the eighth inning to a playoff-bound team, rally to score six runs in the eighth and then have a .108 batting pinch-hitter smack a two-out, two-strike home run in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game and send it into extra-innings, and then have your star player deliver a game-winning home run to send you into the playoffs. You’d be on Cloud 9.

But I don’t live inTampa, and I don’t share that joy.

Listening to fans lament the Red Sox debacle, however, I have been embarrassed. Sure, the loss hurts, but I sense that the reason people are so angry, so frustrated, has less to do with the disappointment naturally associated with a team’s failure and more to do with a sense of entitlement that New England fans now have.

Over the past decade,Bostonprofessional teams have won three Super Bowls and played for a fourth; won two World Series and were a hit away from playing in a third; won an NBA title and were six minutes away from a second one; and won a Stanley Cup. Peter Keating, in an article in ESPN the Magazine, suggests arrogantly that the reason Boston has better sports teams is that we in New England are smarter than everyone else. I shuddered when I read that, because it is that kind of arrogance that made this recent failure hurt so much.

We expect championships yearly and believe that we deserve to win always. That’s a dangerous and unhealthy way to live life. We are owed nothing in this world, so we should be happy with what we have.

Martha Washington, wife of our nation’s first president, said, “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”

Instead of spending time being angry and upset, spend your time being grateful for all that you have. Each day we have 86,400 seconds: Have you used even one of them to say “thank you”?

Remember to be grateful for all that you have. I’m grateful that the Sox gave me five months of pleasure. Look for the good in life and be grateful for it.

Thank you, Red Sox, for a fun, suspense-filled season.

Michael C. Obel-Omia is head of school at thePaulCuffeeSchool, inProvidence.



Lost Childhood

Lost Childhood

An essay published on WRNI’s “This I Believe” on 2 November 2011