After 34 years of teaching math and science at Farragut Community High School in Fremont County, Iowa, Harold Dinsmore officially retired in 1992. Nine years later, he “retired” again, after he was called back to finish out the 2001 school year while administrators found a permanent chemistry teacher. In 2015, he went back again to close out the school’s last semester. This time, there would be no going back to the town’s only high school.
Last summer the school—a fixture in the community, since its creation in the 1920s—was “involuntarily dissolved.”
“It tears me up. It shouldn’t have happened,” says Dinsmore. “I was fortunate to have all my children go to that high school, and I’m very proud of [it].”
Dinsmore says his colleagues were proud of the school, too, and their pride made them active in the school’s life. “We all worked together and all of our school programs were strong,” he says, noting that when there was a game, Farragut’s bleachers were usually filled to capacity. “The school gave everyone a great foundation to succeed in life,” he adds.
Farragut is a small farming town established in 1870, and named after Admiral David Farragut—the nation’s first vice admiral to the U.S. Navy. He is remembered for making the cry, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” (paraphrased) during the victorious 1864 Battle of Mobile.
Dinsmore’s daughter, Marcia Johnson, lives and works in Shenandoah—a neighboring school district—where she teaches third grade and serves as the local president for the Shenandoah Education Association.
We all worked together and all of our school programs were strong. The school gave everyone a great foundation to succeed in life” – Harold Dinsmore
Johnson attended Farragut in the 1980s, and her high school memories are fond. “I loved being in a small school. We were involved in everything,” she says, firing off a laundry list of activities from music to sports, and “all” of the school clubs. She knew everyone, too: classmates and their siblings, teachers and their children.
During Johnson’s era, the school was known for the girls’ basketball team, which traveled to state championship games every year. “That was our claim to fame,” she proudly says.
The classes that followed Johnson’s won state competitions in speech, volleyball, and softball. Trophies filled display cases. And graduates’ academic efforts led them to impressive professions in different countries.
“The kids who graduated from Farragut are all over the world, even though they came from a tiny place,” says Pat Shipley, a former Farragut teacher who has been UniServ director for the Iowa Education Association since 1994. “One of my prior students lives in Taiwan and is an engineer for a major petroleum company.”
The school was part of the Farragut district within Fremont County, which houses multiple school districts. In recent years, some of them operated in the red, and struggled to comply with state regulations. Steady enrollment declines made matters worse.
Farragut’s budget was overspent, and the district was noncompliant with the state’s accessibility regulations. To address these issues, the Iowa Education Department advised that the district merge with the nearby Hamburg school district, which was also struggling financially. In Iowa, the practice is called “whole sharing,” and is intended to help keep costs low and schools open.
The districts agreed. In 2010, they merged sports teams—a big point of contention for the respective communities, which were used to being athletic rivals.
Patty Bredensteiner, a former art teacher, remembers the angst. “Community members didn’t like this change. In their minds Hamburg symbolized Wildcats and Farragut represented Admirals [the schools’ mascots].”
The two districts soon shared programs and students, and there were transfers of entire grades between the two schools. By 2015, seventh through twelfth graders from both districts became part of a new school, Nishnabotna, with a new mascot, new athletic name, and a new identity.
“There was a period of adjustment as the two former rival school districts learned to function as one entity,” says Shipley, who taught at Farragut for five years. “The students made the transition; the communities did not.”
The longstanding pride of the two communities was jeopardized as the two districts worked toward a new identity. The shuffle of students to and from the districts created another dilemma: a dramatic increase in transportation costs. The districts were nearly 20 miles apart.
“It became an issue of travel time and money for gas,” says Shipley.
Not Without a Fight
Despite the additional issues, educators were hopeful that their high school would be saved, and many rolled up their sleeves to join the fight for its survival. They distributed petitions, attended community meetings, wrote letters, and called state legislators.
“Our folks worked really hard,” says Shipley. “They did everything within their power to tell their story to get people to think differently. But you can have the best organizing plan possible, and sometimes the weight of the issues doesn’t allow you to get what you want.”
Farragut’s school district had made some improvements, but it wasn’t enough. In December, 2015, officials at the state education department made the decision to shutter the high school at the end of the school year.
Jane Wilson, a former French and Spanish teacher, remembers the day the announcement was made.
“It was like losing a family member,” she says. “We all gathered at an assembly. When they told us, jaws dropped—and then there was silence.”
“This was a heartbreaking experience,” Shipley says.
Ball games, band concerts, dances, and graduation ceremonies were gone. For alumni, there would be no more trips to the school for class reunions that had spanned three generations and occurred every five years.
Educators were understandably concerned about employment and health care coverage.
“My husband and I were on Farragut’s health insurance plan,” says Wilson, who taught for 35 years. “Once the school dissolved, we lost our insurance and had to go into the market place. We now spend a third of our income on insurance.”
The dissolution caused some teachers to retire early while others were hired by neighboring school districts. “There was widespread sensitivity from other districts,” says Shipley, “and those who wanted to teach found new places without making huge moves.”
The town itself also suffered. Farragut saw a decline in businesses and a reduction of car and foot traffic. At the local bank and the post office, operating hours were cut in half. Only the gas station maintains regular business hours.
“If you go up Main Street, you’re lucky if you see a car,” says Dinsmore, the thrice-retired Farragut teacher. Today, he is a Hamburg bus driver. “There’s nothing here,” he says.
Typically, when small, rural schools or districts shutter it’s a hard blow to the area. “It usually turns the area to ruins,” says Marcia Johnson.
In Farragut, community members worked to prevent that kind of fate.
Although Farragut Community High School sits empty today, when the district dissolved, ownership of the building transferred to the Shenandoah Community School District, which immediately sought a new owner to take over the property.
An initial attempt to sell the building to an Iowa manufacturing company failed when city council members rejected a rezoning. In December, 2016, success arrived when local business owners Trent and Donna Tiemeyer bought the building for $6,000, and began making plans to convert it into apartments.
People are positive with the new plans. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box to save yourself” – Jane Wilson
For Trent Tiemeyer, the work is personal. He graduated from Farragut in 1987. His grandparents, parents, and aunts and uncles are Farragut graduates, too.
“When my aunts and uncles were here for their last alumni celebration—when they knew the school was closing for good—my aunts were crying, saying, ‘This is the last time we’re going to be able to see the school.’”
Tiemeyer, who recently lost his mother, remembers thinking, “I’m going to do this for my mom. I’m going to keep the building, and not let it go to an industrial building or become vacant and get torn down.”
The Tiemeyers have a few ideas in mind for turning the building into an apartment complex that could draw families back into the community.
“There’s a wide area that was used for the lunch room. It has a kitchen. We’re considering a restaurant. People here drive for food, and if it’s good food, they’ll drive 40-plus miles,” says Tiemeyer.
The family also hopes to open the gymnasium to the community. “Kids could play basketball and tenants and residents could lift weights,” he says.
Local residents are excited about the apartment complex.
“People are positive with the new plans,” says Jane Wilson. “Sometimes you have to think outside of the box to save yourself.”
By creating more of a bedroom community, Wilson is hopeful younger families will move into the area and jumpstart a community that is fighting to stay alive.
Too often, students with mental health problems suffer alone. Their struggle with eating disorders, substance abuse, disruptive behavior, anxiety, or depression is in many cases cloaked in silence.
“Because of a stigma attached to mental illness, people are afraid to even discuss it much less ask for help,” says Shannon Fuller, president of the Keene Paraprofessionals Association (KPA) in New Hampshire. This was not something KPA members were willing to allow in their school district or community.
“Our students don’t choose to have mental health problems,” says Fuller, who has been a paraeducator for 18 years, the last four at Symonds Elementary School. “We had to do something.”
Last November, after only eight months since voting to unionize and begin contract negotiations with Keene School District, KPA members won an NEA grant to provide training for 20 members in mental health first aid.
“It’s our first big project as a union,” Fuller says. Union members settled their first contract March 14 with the support of not only the school board but also local voters. In New Hampshire, K-12 public education employee collective bargaining agreements must be approved by union members, board trustees, and citizens. Voters approved the KPA bargaining agreement 254 to 57.
“Paraprofessionals work one on one and in small groups with students,” says Fuller. “We are in a unique position to detect the warning signs and possibly intervene when students are experiencing mental health challenges.”
Fuller and 19 other KPA members recently graduated from the Mental Health First Aid USA public education program coordinated by the Office of Student Wellness Bureau of Special Education, New Hampshire Department of Education.
While participants do not provide therapy or diagnosis involving mental health issues, they learn to listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage professional help and self-help, and assess for the risk of suicide. The curriculum primarily focuses on support strategies that participants can use to help adolescents and transition youth, ages 12 to 18.
“By expanding the number of adults who are certified in mental health first aid, the district will be able to support students and in the long term improve academic outcomes,” says Kelly Untiet, communications coordinator of the wellness bureau. “By broadening knowledge beyond school counselors and nurses, we are able to use a common language amongst all adults who come into contact with students.”
Untiet says there are tremendous short- and long-term benefits to students, teachers, and parents when schools focus on students’ mental and behavioral health.
“We have seen consistent reductions in office discipline referrals, increased time in the classroom, improved school culture and climate, stronger relationships between families and schools … the list could go on and on,” she says. “By being deliberate and strategic in their approach, schools and their communities produce better results for students, and when that happens we all benefit.”
Connecting with Keene
KPA, which represents approximately 85 paraprofessionals, recently sponsored a community event for the benefit of all Keene residents. After months of planning and coordination with the Keene State Initiative American Democracy Project, KPA members in March sponsored a speech by Judge John Broderick at Keene State College. The judge addressed his personal and family experience with mental illness. Members also invited a dozen mental health care providers and other vendors to set up information booths at the college’s student center.
“We had a variety of Keene community members in attendance,” says KPA Secretary Tammy Judd, a paraprofessional at Fuller Elementary School. “They wanted to find out about services in our area and, I think, feel like they are not alone.”
Almost 150 students, parents, educators, business and government workers turned out for the event. It was billed as the first of several “family nights” that KPA members have planned for the year.
“We sent out flyers across town and talked it up on TV and Facebook,” says Judd. “Based on some of the conversations I had, there were people from support groups who have a child or loved one who’s coping with addiction problems. They learned where to find help.”
Symonds school tutor Tammy Kuraner said vendors were sensitive to the stigma of mental health problems and offered pamphlets, bookmarks, and other literature attendees could discreetly slide into their purses and pockets.
“Some of the handouts had a suicide line and address printed on them,” Kuraner says. “There is such a stigma to suicide and mental illness parents might not want anyone assuming their child suffers from it.”
The vendors, she says, “respected your privacy and made you feel safe. They weren’t judging you or pushing themselves on you. There’s never been an event like this in our community that I’m aware of.”
People “Get Who We Are” Now
Before Keene paraprofessionals voted to join NEA-New Hampshire and settled their three-year contract, Judd says she sometimes felt like a “glorified babysitter.” Not anymore.
“We now have a sense of unity and recognition for the job we do,” she says. “We are finally being acknowledged for our contributions to the overall education team.”
Judd says administrators now seem to listen more intently to paras and to support their need for professional development.
“There was money available for us for this purpose before the contract was signed, but nothing seemed to happen with it,” she says. “A line of communication and respect has been established.”
In addition to increased opportunities for training, the para contract stipulates that their 11 holidays are now considered flextime and can be spread out over the school year beyond the traditional Christmas and spring break periods. While members will now pay more in health care co-payments and medication costs, they retained the same overall percentage cost of 17 percent for care over the next three years.
“Our first contact shows how much the public support us,” says Fuller. “People now seem to get who we are and what we do.”
Alyssa Zalaski has a daughter and son in the third and first grades, respectively. She says she is relieved that the paras now have a contract that provides benefits and job security.
“They truly care about students and the work they do,” she says. “I take great comfort knowing that people like this are interacting with my children and others on a daily basis.”
If students of color don’t believe that school officials treat them fairly, a “trust gap” emerges that could impact college enrollment, even if they receive good grades, according to a new study.
What causes the “trust gap”? Extreme disparities in discipline and low expectations from teachers. Many students, particularly Black and Hispanic youths, develop a growing mistrust for authority once they perceive and experience these biases, says David Yeager, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author of the new report, published in the journal Child Development.
“When students have lost trust, they may be deprived of the benefits of engaging with an institution, such as positive relationships and access to resources and opportunities for advancement,” explains Yeager.
In an eight-year study, Yeager and his colleagues conducted twice-yearly surveys with white and African American students in the northeast and white and Hispanic students in rural Colorado, tracking them from middle school through the end of high school. The survey measured students’ trust level by their responses to statements such as ” I am treated fairly by my teachers and other adults at my school” and “If a black or a white [school name] student is alone in the hallway during class time, which one would a teacher ask for a hall pass?”
The researchers found that trust decreased for all students during seventh grade – a time when a student is most likely to first detect unjust policies – but the declines were much faster for Black and Latino students. Furthermore, these students were more likely to be cited for behavior infractions the following year, even if they had never been in trouble before and received good grades. School records revealed that the racial disparity reported by many students did in fact exist.
“Perceived bias and mistrust reinforce each other. And like a stone rolling down a hill that triggers an avalanche, the loss of trust could accumulate behavioral consequences over time” – David Yeager, University of Texas at Austin
African American students who lost trust in seventh grade were also less likely to make it to a four-year college six years later.
The perception that a wide racial gap exists in school disciplinary actions is grounded in a growing body of evidence. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than are White students.
“Perceived bias and mistrust reinforce each other,” says Yeager. “And like a stone rolling down a hill that triggers an avalanche, the loss of trust could accumulate behavioral consequences over time. Seeing and expecting injustice and disrespect, negatively stereotyped ethnic minority adolescents may disengage, defy authorities, underperform and act out.”
And yet, Yeager and his colleagues discovered that this “feedback loop” can at least be disrupted by actions taken by individual educators.
Using a small subset of their sample, the researchers tested a “wise feedback” intervention designed to improve student trust. Using drafts of an essay written by the students, the researchers attached one of two notes from their teacher.
Some students received a note that stated, “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.” The note given to the other students stated, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations, and I know that you can reach them.”
While this encouraging “wise feedback” note did appear to have any discernible impact on White students, the influence it had on Black students may have been significant. Not only were their essay revisions greatly improved, but the students also had fewer disciplinary incidents the following year and were 30 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in college six years later.
The researchers caution that no intervention – especially a one-time note from a teacher – can fully dispel concerns about fairness and discrimination. Reducing bias is first and foremost an institution-wide imperative. Still, even a “minor interruption” can create a classroom climate that can begin to restore student trust.
“Of course truly ‘wise’ educators do not simply append notes to essays and end their interventions there,” the report states. “Instead they continually send the message that their students are capable, valued, and respected, weaving it into the culture of the classroom.”
Photo (left to right): Host Victoria Rowell; Special Guest Maya Faison; Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, Chair of the NEA Foundation Board of Directors; Evie Hantzopoulos, Executive Director of Global Kids; Jerry O’Flanagan, Executive Vice President, Consumer Banking, First National Bank of Omaha
The NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala, which honors the men and women who work in America’s public schools, was hosted Friday, February 10, by Victoria Lynn Rowell, an actress, writer, producer and dancer, and long-term advocate for foster children. She founded the Rowell Foster Children Positive Plan that supported services for foster children in fine arts, higher education, healthcare, financial literacy, and reunification programs. Today she is actively involved in the oldest home for U.S. foster children in the nation, The Carrie Steele Pitts Home in Atlanta, Georgia, which closely collaborates with the Atlanta Public School system.
In her memoir, The Women Who Raised Me, which is dedicated to the many women who served as role models in her life, she chronicles her rise out of the foster care system to attain success in the American ballet, theater and television. She writes of the series of women – from Agatha Armstead, a black Bostonian who was Victoria’s longest-term foster mother and first noticed her spark of creativity and talent, to Esther Brooks, a Paris-trained prima ballerina who would become her first mentor at the Cambridge School of Ballet — who lifted, motivated, and inspired her along the way.
Rowell has received 12 NAACP Image Awards and been honored with the United Nations Association Award for her commitment to education, human rights, world peace, and her support of foster children.
NEA Today talked to Rowell about her life and what she hopes for children today.
What was one of the most important messages you hoped to convey to the educators gathered at the NEA Foundation Gala?
That we need to celebrate the excellence of our public school educators who bring education to life for our nation’s children. My teachers taught me to burn brightly no matter what hardship I was facing. I wouldn’t be here without my teachers and mentors. The best educators have a lasting impact on a student, and the best way for students to honor their teachers is to make their own impact on the community and the world. Pass that inheritance of knowledge forward and make positive change.
Who were some of the most influential educators in your life?
In grew up in the state of Maine in the small farming community of West Lebanon and I remember my first and third grade teachers very vividly. I think in part because I stood out in my classroom so obviously. Maine does not have a big black population, certainly in the 1960s when I was going to school in rural Maine. But those two teachers were so inclusionary, so kind, and loving and sensitive. As I got older I was fortunate to have many excellent educators, like my ballet teachers in Boston and women from the community who served as my educators and mentors.
How did being a foster child shape you as a person?
l was born in Portland, Maine, and when I was 16 days old, I was surrendered to child services by my biological mother who suffered from mental illness. The experience I had in the foster care system opened my eyes as I was witness to the sacrifice of people who were foster parents and extended family members of my foster family helping care for me and others. I saw the sacrifice involved and raising an orphan of the living – other people’s children. And they did this for many children besides me. I had teachers showing up at my elderly foster mother’s house with a Thanksgiving food basket. In Boston, our home was attached to burnout boarded up building, and the staff of the Boston Globe came to our house at Christmastime with new or gently used toys. They still do this for foster families. When I went to New York City to study ballet, a Ukranian ballet teacher gave out of her own pocket to make sure I had what I needed. The sacrifice of others spared me from living an impoverished life. It made me a fighter who stands up and speaks out. My experience as a foster youth has been a brilliant inheritance – intellectually, spiritually, socially. My experience through the women who primarily educated me taught me about social equality and effecting change.
When did you decide to become an advocate for other foster children?
Today there are approximately 500,000 foster brothers and sisters in America. I advocate for them because not everyone can withstand the heartbreak. Not everyone can survive the shame. Not everyone can withstand the extraordinary loss. People don’t think about the amount of loss foster kids endure. Some relationships are bad for the children, but that is still a loss. But some relationships are beautiful and they are still removed for a variety of reasons, and that is a tremendous loss. Not everyone can endure that. We have incidents of suicide and addiction and homelessness and prostitution, among the boys and the girls. This is the underbelly if the system that I’ve witnessed and endured and I can’t imagine ever extracting myself from this reality. For me, not being an active part of my legacy, of my lot in life, would leave me rendered half a person. I wouldn’t be living authentically. Historically children have been abused in slavery, in sex slavery, for millennium. Children will always be in need. Right now the lead story is the children caught up in the immigration debate. They’re not going away. Their numbers are going to continue to increase as people seek refuge. And our classrooms are going to get bigger. The child welfare system will expand because it has to. People are looking to save their lives and looking for a better one. We have a lot of work ahead of us.
Why are mentors so critical to a child’s success, particularly to at-risk children?
Mentoring is tantamount to the success of any child, let alone foster child. The mentor offers continuity, a one-on-one experience with a child who might not have that anchor. Whether or not a mentor wants or expects that responsibility, sometimes the mentor is the only person that the child may grow a trusting relationship with. The mentor maybe be the only one that a child feels safe disclosing how they’re really feeling. It’s a very, very important relationship with a lasting trajectory that casts the net really wide for a child. It offers opportunities for excursions and experiential learning that might not otherwise be introduced. A good mentor relationship can be for life in some cases. A mentor gives the child something to aim for. A mentor inspires.
What messages can we convey to kids about race and tolerance?
We need to teach acceptance. To be tolerant, is to me, not sufficient. We have to accept people for who they are. We have to accept a child in transition, who is transgendered and in the LGBTQ community. We have to accept that children are people and don’t have a voting voice, but they do have a voice and they have opinions and feelings and they need to be loved and cared for. I think they are powerful change agents. When I was in Maine as a child I really felt accepted by the children I was in the classroom with. Maybe it was the tone the teachers set, I don’t know. But when I got to Boston, it was a different story. It was during busing. The school I was to attend and was about to have black students like me bused to it was burned down in Cambridge — right outside Harvard Square. We ended up in a church basement for our classes. Now that church basement houses homeless people and I go back often to walk around and to remember how beautiful people can be and how cruel. We have a responsibility to accept and include all children, all people. We must not cast aspersions because someone looks different and sounds different. You may not be able to see your face in their face, but they count as much as you do. There is no good end to what I see happening now to banning people who risk their lives to cross an ocean or a border. We can do better.
Where can children find strong role models?
In each other. On the cover of Time magazine was a girl who was born a boy. What a powerful role model. Malala Yousafzai, an 11-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner who stood up for girls’ education, is an incredible role model. We have young role models on rafts and boats and sitting in detention camps. We have children coming unaccompanied into unknown and unfamiliar countries here and around the world bravely looking for a better life. Some of these kids are orphaned due to war. Those children and their courage and resilience are role models for all of us.
Build a wall to stop illegal immigration. Ban Muslims from entering the country. Make college education free for everyone.
There’s been no shortage of bold—and sometimes controversial—policy proposals in this year’s presidential campaign. Yet there’s been little said so far about K-12 education.
In a bid to change that, the National School Boards Action Center (NASBC) helped sponsor a forum Thursday to give presidential candidates and their campaigns an opportunity to highlight their education policy agendas.
NSBAC is a nonprofit organization founded by NSBA to mobilize public support for public education.
One of the most significant messages to come out of the two-hour policy discussion was that last year’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a major legislative achievement in federal education policy, appears to be influencing the agendas of the Democratic presidential candidates.
With lawmakers ready to turn their attention to other issues, “higher education is a priority,” said Donni Turner, a policy analyst for the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator has made free college tuition for all a major initiative of his campaign.
The importance of expanding early childhood education—as well as making it affordable for low-income families—also is a major policy interest of both Democratic candidates.
“No family should have to pay more than 10 percent of their income for child care,” said Ann O’Leary, senior policy analyst for the campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
No representative appeared on behalf of presumptive Republican Party nominee Donald Trump, despite repeated invitations.
The forum, hosted by the Center for Education Funding, was one of a series of initiatives supported by NSBAC’s campaign, Building America’s Future in Public Schools. The campaign is working with advocates of public education to put K-12 policy issues on the political radar in this year’s presidential election.
The Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice – Policy Briefs, Research Reviews
Its mission is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices. Its published work is done by independent researchers associated with major universities across the country; is empirically sound and meets recognized requirements of academic and social science scholarship; and, is subject to a rigorous peer review process. http://greatlakescenter.org/
National Education Policy Center – Policy Briefs, Research Reviews
The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. http://nepc.colorado.edu/
Media Matters for America Example: Stossel’s Attacks On Public Education Feature Misleading, Out-Of Context…
Background on Attacks on Public Education The global assault on teaching, teachers, and their unions: stories for resistance
Cited by 26.
Kathleen Malu review: “This edited volume should be required reading for everyone interested in public education. In a series of powerfully written chapters, the editors make an irrefutable case for their argument that teachers’ unions have a critically important role to play in shaping the future of public education. Moreover, they show how this future is currently under attack across the globe from big business and conservative politicians including neoliberals and social conservatives.” http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/radical_teacher/v084/84.malu.html