Thursday, November 7, 2013

Now What? Townhalls, Constitutions, Rebirth

This is a long post.  You can read it all in one piece here.  Or you can read it in parts.

Hall of History; Hall of Mystery

Last week - the week of Halloween, Dia de los Muertos and what I like the call the start of the Holiday Slide, there were four Townhalls about the new Regional Consortia system.

I attended the Bay Area Townhall, held in Oakland, on the day before Halloween, from 1 to 3 in the afternoon, at McClymonds High School.   It is a large building, partly in use as a high school and partly in use by what bravely remains of Oakland Adult & Career Education (and may it rebuild!), a program which once served over 20,000 people (who still need Adult Ed programs!) and now serves I am guessing less than 1,000 students.   The entry halls are decorated by a panel of beautiful murals painted by a McClymonds High School student years ago. 

There was a very quiet feel to the campus - and to the Townhall.  The large auditorium was mostly empty.

As Townhalls go, it struck me as not so much an opportunity for the public to share their needs and opinions, as a chance for administrators to have some input on what the applications for the new Regional Consortia will be like.  Adminstrative input is important.  So is public input.   We still need more of the second.

Click the "read more" link to get some.

Four Question Event
The Townhall was essentially an opportunity slash request to respond to four specific questions:

How do you envision the makeup of your consortium in this area?
What are some of the specific challenges with collaborating for the development of a regional consortium?
This is a non-competitive grant process. What are your suggestions on how these planning funds could be distributed?
AB86 provides an opportunity to re-envision, rethink, and reshape the service delivery model for adult education. How do you believe adult learners can be better served as a result of the development of local consortia?

The big screen for the 4 questions
When folks went "off-topic," the panel would remind folks before the next person spoke... that they needed answers to the four questions... that these four questions were what they needed.  I understand this is what they needed.  They made that very clear via a display of the questions on a very large screen and the copies of the questions they handed to everyone.  And they made that very clear before the meeting on the AB86 website, as well.  They did a very, very good job of making sure everyone knew the questions they needed answers to.
What I'm wondering about is why they titled the event "Townhall" when really, a more accurate title would have been something like, "Four Questions We Need Answers To."
Answers to those questions will help them in their work as organizers of the new Regional Consortia system.  And in that sense, those answers will help us, too - since we'll be in the new system together.
But whenever you create a new system that serves the public, the public needs and deserves and really has the responsibility to participate in forums where they can share ideas, concerns, needs, etc - of their choosing.
And this needs to be in a way where we - the public - can hear each other... where there can be a natural fermentation of ideas, concerns, and perspectives.  
This was not the purpose of the Townhall.  A forum that meets such a purpose has yet to be held - and needs to be.
K12 & CC 4 EVR
And while we can email AB86 our questions and concerns, which might or might not get us a personal answer and might or might not show up on their FAQ page in a more condensed version, that is not a substitute for meeting with and hearing from people we'll live the future with, a future being shaped now, a future that will last a very, very long time.

And by people, I don't just mean K12 Adult Schools and Community Colleges - in spite of that picture over there.

I mean everyone.  The whole state of California.  We're the people the system is intended to serve and will be working with.  Schools don't exist in isolation.  They are cells in a larger organism.   Health of the cell depends on health of the whole.  To foster health in both, we need to step back and clearly see - and hear - one and all. 

Even the idea that individuals operate in just one or another reality - school or community - is a false one.  We all arise from and live in numerous communities, including schools.  I doubt anyone reading this didn't go to school.  And I doubt anyone who attends or teaches or runs a school doesn't also belong to numerous communities - all of which affect how they view and experience both school and community... not to mention life, itself.

To really understand something, you need mirrors - because we all have blind spots. 

The eyes of others are those mirrors.

Which is exactly why we need to hear from everyone.

Members of the Wedding

The eyes in attendance seemed mostly K11 Adult School administrators', along some teachers',  some community members' and a few students'.  I do not recall hearing from any folks from the Community College side of things.  Which says something.  K12 Adult Schools must be in a Consortia in order to fulfill their mission and receive funds to do so.  Community Colleges don't.

A variety of folks spoke -from Oakland Mayor Jean Quan to Zev Kvitky of CFT to administrators from all over the Bay Area to teachers of ESL, Older Adults and Family Literacy to representatives of various community concerns (not many) to let me think... maybe just one student spoke of the few students who came.  And people came from all over - the North Bay, San Francisco, the Peninsula, the East Bay, the Central Valley.  Bay Area, be proud.  We are a rich and diverse region indeed.
The San Mateo Adult School, where I teach, sent a fair-sized contingent:  Director Larry Teshara, Assistant Director, Tim Doyle, ESL Teacher and CFT Union Local President Patricia Brown, ESL Teacher and CFT Union Local VP Bruce Neuberger, Fifty Plus (Older Adults) Coordinator, Jeri McGovern, 3 ESL students -  ESL Morning Student Council President Marco, former ESL Morning ESL Student Council President Hitomi, and ESL Student Advocate Marina, and myself, Cynthia Eagleton, ESL teacher, former Older Adults and Parent Ed teacher, blogger & Facebooker.

In preparation for the Townhall, Hitomi and Marina had worked with other ESL students to create a student survey to find out what SMAS ESL students want from an Adult School.  You can read about the survey here and you can see the results of it here in numbers and here in percentages.  My own take-away on the results was that students look for and find community in Adult Education.  This is the secret ingredient that boosts students to success, no matter which Adult Education program they're in.  I urge you to look at the survey and its results.

Hitomi, Marco, Marina
Just a handful of students came, and Hitomi, Marco, and Marina were the only ESL students among them.
This brought on a lot of thinking and Hitomi, Marco, and Marina have all written or are writing their reflections from that day.  You can read Marco's thoughts here.  Hitomi's and Marina's are in process and will be posted as soon as they are provided.  I am very grateful that all three made the effort to attend and then to take the time to write up their thoughts afterwards.

There were four people on the panel representing the AB86 Workgroup:
*  Erica LeBlanc, a Dean at Santa Monica City College (CC side)
Carmen Martinez-Calderon, Education Programs Consultant at CDE  (K12 Adult Ed side)
Debra Jones, Dean of Careen Education Practices at CCCCO (CC side - Do we have enough C's?)
*  Joanne Durkee, the Leg Chair for CCAE and the Director of Mt Diablo Adult Ed  (K12 side )
Bob Harper, who is also a member of the AB86 Workgroup (and Director of Campbell Adult School), was present in the audience but was not on the panel.  Bob knows Adult Education backwards and forwards and used to hold Tim Doyle's position at San Mateo Adult School.
The Townhall was warmly hosted by Oakland Adult School.  Chris Nelson and Sue Pon kept things running smoothly.  Overall and across the board, everyone involved in providing and/or hosting the Townhall, including the folks on the panel, was courteous and congenial.

I think unspoken in all of us who have survived the carnage of the past five years, is the knowledge that there was and still is a lot of pain, sadness, and grief.  Some mistrust, too.  You don't lose that much and to such consequence, without feeling deep sorrow.  In the face of this, courtesy is helpful and important.

So is the truth.

Blog Author Cynthia
 in 7th grade
Calexico, CA

It is in the interest of the truth that I share my take-aways from the day, be they shaped as all perspectives are, by my own life experience, membership in many communities, and blind spots. 
Reflections from My Own Four Eyes
It was eerie to walk in there and remember attending workshops on Adult Ed in that location, back when Oakland Adult School was large and thriving, before the cuts but not before the need for Adult Ed ran out.  There was and is a huge need for Adult Ed in Oakland.  I used to live in Oakland, too, before I got into teaching.  On both sides of the Lake.  I cleaned houses, took care of kids, and attended art and TV production classes at Laney College.

It was sad to remember that Adult Ed was once a source of vital support for so many communities but now, in so many places, it's gone or hanging on by a thread.
It was inspiring to hear the thoughts and feelings of people who know and care about Adult Ed. 
I was impressed by the insight, experience, wisdom, astuteness, vision, and heart in all that I heard.
Some of what I heard, as best I can recall from my notes, and any mistakes in the recollection mine:

(You can now listen to all four Townhalls here.)
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan - wow - she knows a lot about Adult Ed, understands its value and what its devastation means to the people of Oakland and across the state, and seems willing to work to secure stable funding for it in the future.  She talked about the value of having Adult Ed programs in the K12 schools so that families were drawn into the school community...  the obstacles working immigrant parents face..  the Adult Ed needs of people getting out of prison... and the need to get Adult Ed and Basic Ed back into prisons...  about young people getting out of the Youth Authority system and their need for Adult Ed...  about senior centers...  she said the replacement stuff is not the same quality as Adult Ed Older Adults programming.... she need we need to convince the Governor and the Legislature to protect funds.  Yes, Yes, Yes, Mayor Quan - I agree!

Antonio Medrano voiced concerns about how undocumented immigrants will be identified in the new RC system...  will they be penalized later for being identified as undocumented now?

Kristen Pursley of COSAS and the Save Your Adult School blog said that the RC offers the chance to work together with jails... she voiced concern about the size of regions...  connections that might look good on paper might not work in reality.  Plans should starts with students and teachers.  Older Adults can be an asset - their volunteer work in schools could be formalized, for example.  She dared to acknowledge there have been turf wars between K12 Adult Schools and Community Colleges.  There are trust issues.  Ambiguity leads to fighting over territory.  There is a power imbalance now in the RC because of funding differences. K12 Adult Schools lack secure funding. 

Jumoke Hinton Hodge - District Three Director and Vice President of Oakland Unified School Governing Board - spoke powerfully about Adult Ed as the system which addresses the many inequities in our education system.  The system has inequity.  Adult Ed addresses needs created by that inequity.  Great point and not one mentioned often enough.

Zev Kvitkey - Staff Liason to the CFT Adult Education Commission - said that teachers need to be represented in the planning and decision making processes.

Peggy Raun-Linde, Principal of Sunnyvale Cupertino Adult School, gave a home-run speech rooted in her life and professional knowledge, experience, and wisdom.  She began with her Richmond roots, stating the truth that race matters.  Then she talked about the Adult School she runs now in a community where 12% of the population is over 65... and about her Parent Ed program of 700 students, over half of whom are immigrants.  She talked about the value of Older Adult and Parent Ed programs - two programs that are not included in AB86.  And she shared her own story of a father lost to Alzheimer's and a mother who needed what Older Adults programs offer. 

Katie McDonald of Berkeley Adult School and Jeri McGovern of San Mateo Adult School and others talked about the need to serve the whole community, including seniors.  Katie talked about teaching students coping with mental illness - a disability rarely mentioned in discussions about Adult Ed but increasingly present in our culture.  She noted that over half the seniors in her class are people of color.  In other words, it is not a matter of there being two distinct populations - aging white people and young brown immigrants - that we have to choose between... but that in our community are differences and commonalities including age, ethnicity, immigrant status, gender, income, education, and disability...  that intersect and overlap.

Marilyn Noble, a Family Literacy teacher out of Oakland Adult Ed (one of the few remaining!), former member of the CFT Adult Ed Commission and experienced advocate for people coping with poverty and oppression, talked about the need to have a means in place for students, especially women, to grow a new vision for themselves.  Many of us in Adult Ed know that often times students enter Adult Ed "for their kids" but stay as their dreams shift and enlarge.

Larry Teshara, San Mateo Adult School Director, said it well and to the point:  These deadlines are not realistic.  They need to be extended.

Carol of Palo Alto noted that collaboration is time consuming... we need people with the knowledge and power to plan and implement or things will take too long.

Someone from Petaluma said most likely teachers will end up moving back and forth between systems in the new RC...  so how will that work?  Community Colleges are simply not as flexible.  

A number of people voiced concerns about Family Literacy, immigrant mothers, and seniors.

Sharon Rose said that a top down bureaucracy can be a problem. Teachers and students should be part of the process now.

Susan Lopez of CCSF and a member of the CFT Adult Ed Commission, wondered how funds would be allotted and noted the huge numbers of people in San Francisco who need ESL and Adult Ed.  She said that many students are not engaged in Adult Education because they have not been reached by effective outreach.  100,000 people in San Francisco live under the poverty line.  Address social problems by getting those who aren't in school into school.

Bruce Neuberger, CFT Local VP, CFT Adult Ed Commission Member, ESL teacher at both San Mateo Adult School and City College of San Francisco, and author of Lettuce Wars, brought up two very important issues:  Rural Adult Ed and the war on public education.  He said if we are going to win this battle on public education, we must include students because we need their strength.

Tom Lawson of Salinas Adult School and a member of the CFT Adult Ed Commission, went into the challenges rural areas face... talked about the inevitability of a need for credential reciprocity..  sharing records... the need for privacy, in particular for undocumented students.  In my opinion, not enough has been said about the challenges rural areas face and the devastation they have suffered where Adult Ed is concerned.  I am very grateful that Tom and others talked about this.  We need more attention to what is happening in rural California - from the press, the public, and the government (both state and local).

Kaye of Fairfield Suisun Adult School - said that schools, employers, and social services can and should work together to get people employed and that if they do, the communities schools served would be happier and adult schools would be more respected.

A man from Turlock said he asked his students how his school can better serve them..  he's a doer, not a thinker, he said.. he talked vocational training... he wants to get started!

Inocencia Dacumas of West Contra Costa and COSAS said not only does she want it all, she thinks we can afford it all.  She advised keeping programs on the menu so that when they are needed, they are available.  In other words, don't eliminate Parent Education, Older Adults, and the other programs excluded from AB86.  She is concerned about equal partnership between Adult Schools and Community Colleges.  She's not sure if her program and job will be respected and advocated for in the new consortia system.  She's sure there's enough money to fund Adult Education.  In fact, she thinks it should be expanded.

George Porter, Older Adults instructor at Berkeley Adult School and member of the Berkeley Commission on Aging - voiced his concern that Adult Ed could become Adult Ed without Adults... a way to provide remedial work for the Community Colleges... and a trade school option for High Schools... a kind of last year for high schools or pre-year for Community Colleges...  he said this sounds like institutionalizing a thirteenth year of high school vs real Adult Education.... this is a serious transition for California Public Education and the public is unaware of this.

Jeri McGovern, Coordinator of the Fifty Plus (Older Adults) program at San Mateo Adult School, talked about the necessity for assessment of existing Adult Ed programs... will that really happen?  She talked about the need for some form of representation for the programs not included in AB86..  have them in the RC...  have models of ways to keep these programs serving the community.

Marina, ESL Student Advocate at San Mateo Adult School presented the survey she and Hitomi and other students created for the morning ESL students at our school.  Read about the survey and results here.

Finally... COSAS' wonderful list of questions and concerns about the new Regional Consortia system which they had printed out and made available to all (it's on their website, too).

My Concerns
But... I was troubled that the Townhall was clearly not set up to hear all that. 
And I was troubled that there was no press in attendance nor has there been any press coverage that I can find about this new Regional Consortia system, the planning going into it, and what it might - or might not - mean for the future of California.
I was troubled that what should have been an Open Forum was instead a very Controlled Forum.  Yes, democracy is messy.  And hard.  And frustrating.  But the best systems that serve the people include and call for the voice of people.  If they don't, that voice will still be heard but from outside the system - in anger, frustration, and resentment, in ways that sometimes lead to the demise of the system, and almost always to suffering. 

It doesn't have to be that way.

Constitutional:  The Restoration of Health
This is why one of the suggestions I made at the Townhall was that applicants to the new Regional Consortia system be required to include student, staff, and community in their planning.   How they do that could be determined by each applicant but in their application they must include specified ways they plan to do so.
I suggested that in creating this new system, the AB86 is, in fact, creating a kind of Constitution for Adult Education, one that will last decades into the future.

I said that when one is creating such a system... a structure we'll have to live within...  rules by which we'll all have to live by... it is good to remember the very best and very worst humans are capable of.
This is what a good Constitution does.  It considers the full nature of humanity - our capacity for greatness, stupidity, generosity, miscommunication, creativity, greed, courage, fear and love.  And then it creates a structure and rules that motivate people to act as well as they can and avoid acting as badly as they can.
With the new Regional Consortia, we already have a situation in which there is an imbalance of power.  The Community Colleges don't have be Consortia members in order to provide Adult Education or get funding.  But K12 Adult Schools do.  Adult Schools are not protected categoricals anymore. There is no more Designated Funding.  There is just the MOE - Maintenance of Effort - clause which lasts until 2015-16 and that's been violated in some districts, already. 
That's one situation where the human capacity to take advantage of a power imbalance could cause problems.  Big problems.  Rifts, conflict, disagreement, divorce.  And as with all troubled unions, it's the kids - in this case, the Adult Learners for whom the Consortia exists, who will suffer the most.
Another is the top-down way many schools, districts, and now it appears this planning process, is being run.
I am a mom.  I am a mom of a teen-ager and the daughter of older parents.  It is easier to do things "my way," the mom way, the adult daughter way.  But is that always fair to my daughter and my parents?  No, of course not.  Especially, in the case of my daughter, there's a big power imbalance.  I can insist things are done the way I want them when I want them.  I can refuse to give her choices.  I can decide the way things will be run and set the rules and then say, "There!  That's your wonderful system!  Now enjoy!"  And to paraphrase Dr. Phil, how do you think that will work out for us?  Yeah, exactly like that.  Sometimes doing things the harder way is the better way.  It just takes work.  Awareness, intention, commitment, effort.  In the case of my family, there is no legislation insisting I give my daughter choices in some areas and show fairness to my parents.  Only my character - and patience - determine that.  And if I'm low on patience that day?  If my character is weak in that area?   Then chances are my parenting or support for my parents is not as good and my family suffers on account of that.

That's family life, which most of us don't want legislated - beyond rules which say you can't beat family members and need to feed, clothe, and house them.  I guess, then, we have legislated family life.  If we didn't, perhaps there would be even more abuse than there sometimes is in families, and abuse victims would have no recourse.  As it stands now, if a family member breaks the rules, they or their family members can be removed from the situation.  Some sticks are at work.  I guess the carrot is the satisfaction that comes from a happy family - a satisfaction we're hard-wired to need, being a group species and all.

In the case of something as broad and long-lasting as the new Regional Consortia system, we'd be wise to build in guarantees that everyone is treated well and has some voice.  If we don't, I guar-an-tee you, we'll regret it.
Checks and balances.  That tried and true civics stuff you memorized in high school and perhaps are quite aware of if you are a Citizenship teacher or student... it really works.  And we need some.  We need ways to manage power within the Consortia and within the schools and communities where it's operating.  Carrot and stick structures that motivate good and deter bad.
Do I know exactly how to do all that?  No.  But I know it's needed.  And I know we have many wonderful, smart, wise, experienced people - on that panel, in that audience, and across this state, who can.
I trust them.
I trust us.
That is something I have learned in my fifty three years on planet earth...

if you are attempting to serve something... and you don't see its power ...  if you don't respect its power and value and mystery and beauty...  and serve it from a place of humility.... you're aren't serving it... you're trying to control it... because in fact you do, on some level, see its power...          but you fear it.

So instead of providing choices... you withhold choices... not because you think it can't do a good job of things but because you fear losing control of the situation...  you don't trust the mystery of life, group process, other people, things that are different from you, letting go. 

Yes, I know.  We all struggle with this.  I don't claim not to.

I'm just telling you a truth I've become of aware of after fifty three years of my own struggle.  I don't claim to have mastered it living with it.

Why I'm Cautiously Hopeful

When I voiced my dismay that the Townhalls were Halloween week, I saw a look of surprise on the panel members' faces.

Why should Halloween matter?

Well, the thing is, to a parent, it does.  And I am a parent - as I've mentioned above.

And so are many Adult Education students.  Adult learners, as they're called in AB86 lingo and maybe I should start using that term..

That takes us back to the issue of whether or not the many perspectives in the community - parents, seniors, young adults getting out of YA, adults of all ages getting out of prison, seniors, the disabled - including those coping with mental illness, parents - native-born or immigrant, etc. etc. etc.  - are being looked to in this planning process.

But that's not where I'm going here. 

I'm going back to walking into that hall of history and mystery on the eve of Halloween and Dia de los Muertos.

Halloween - that strange amalgam of Samhain - the ancient Celtic holiday which honors harvest, the anceastors, and the shifiting over into the darkness in which gestates the new...  and fear... a cultural obsession with horror and pain and scary things...  and fun...  Happy Jack O' Lanterns and little kids in fairy costumes and candy... lots and lots of candy to remind us that even in the darkest of times there is something sweet to be gained.

Dia de los Muertos - a pre-Columbian holiday moving North - a celebration of those who came before... in which the dead are understood not as frights but as friends...  and skeletons are reminders that good lives on... protecting us... supporting us...  the present built on a frame of the past...  and death not something to be feared... but danced with... a part of life.

Change doesn't always mean catastrophe.

This awkward arranged marriage between K12 Adult Schools and Community Colleges... a union which we can't undo...

The horrific losses we've endured...

If we can find in ourselves the strength and willingness to look at both...  the good and the bad in the present and the past...

and open our hearts and minds to listening and working with each other...  all of us! 

not just those of us seen to be the head of things... but all of the us... the full body of the people...

we can create something new...  which can serve and support our people... for generations to come. 

Thanks for reading through all this - if ineeed you did!  ;-) 

The mistakes and perspectives are all mine - as they always are.

We can't look away from the lens through which we view the world.

We can only ask that others share theirs with us.

To that end, I always recommend...
Helpful Resources:

AB86 Website - these are the folks in charge of revving up for the new Regional Consortia system

Contact AB86 with a question, comment, or idea - they might answer you personally or question might show up in some way on their FAQ page

AB86 FAQ page questions and answers about AB86

The magic green button - the crowdsourcing feature where you could submit ideas to AB86 and read and vote on other people's ideas - was pulled. Too bad.  I hope AB86 will reinstate it or something like it.  Maybe they can have a new survey every week.  It's so easy with Survey Monkey.  And publish the survey results week by week, topic by topic.  That's an easy way to get some input from the public and where we can see and learn from that input, for ourselves.

Alliance for California Adult Schools - grassroots power!  connecting everyone - students, staff, community, admin to learn from and work together in order to save and rebuild Adult Schools

COSAS - more grassroots power! and an amazing blog!

United Adult Students - and more!  the biggest, strongest, most impressive student-powered movement to save Adult Education

CCAE California Council for Adult Education - still the best friend an Adult School has in their... I hate to say it but I have to admit it is true... fight for survival.  (I hate using the word "fight" and if you will notice, I mostly avoid it.  I try to use words that are positive and reflect the heart of what is happening.  So okay..  their effort to survive!)

The MOE Clause - this protects or is supposed to protect Adult Schools during this whole transition process.  K12 Districts, if they funded an Adult School in 2011-12, are supposed to continue to fund that that school - and at the same level of funding.  It's not always protecting them - but it's supposed to.  If you know of a school which is violating it, contact CCAE and the CDE.

The CDE Office of Adult Education - they are nice people who answer the phone.   Yes, go ahead.  Call or email them.

CFT - California Federation of Teachers - Adult Ed Commission

Edsource Helpful Guide on LCFF - the new Local Control Funding Formula - the new rulebook for K12 Districts and K12 Adult Schools are part of those districts.

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