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What Boston teachers want for their classrooms: From augmentive communication devices for autistic students to pencils and mops

DonorsChoose.org is a Web site that lets teachers seek donations for classroom or project supplies. The site made news last week when Stephen Colbert announced he would help fund all 1,000 requests from his native South Carolina - about $800,000 in all.

Boston teachers currently have 103 requests in the system.

A special-needs teacher at the Curley School in Jamaica Plain is seeking $876 to purchase devices to help her autistic first-time students learn to communicate:

The student's in my classroom have difficulties with communication. They are considered to be nonverbal and are working on increasing their communication skills. We are already using picture exchange communication systems through out their educational day. I would like to start adding voice output devices to assist in my students' development of language. Using these devices allows my students to become active members of the educational environment. The devices I have selected are all part of the Go Talk series. It pairs a visual with a vocal. This will help my students to build their vocabulary. Using a device with an auditory output provides another form of sensory feedback for my students. The device will help develop both receptive and expressive language skills. Using the Go Talk deices allows my students to “talk” and experience the reciprocal relationship of communication.

Several teachers are seeking help to buy challenging books for their students to read. Several are seeking Chromebooks - in a system that announced last year it was buying thousands of the devices.

One teacher at the Martin Luther King Jr. School in Dorchester got some Chromebooks through an earlier campaign on DonorsChoose.org, but is now seeking help to buy computer mice and earphones for them:

We are in an urban district where technology is hard to come by. My students love learning, and now that we are using computers everyday, the participation has increased. We spend about 75% of the day on the computers researching, typing papers, and even doing our math problems. When my students need a synonym, they google it. When we are reading about an animal they have never heard of, they google it. One student is even making a PowerPoint presentation on the John Hancock building just because he was interested in it! ...

Since the students are new to technology, the mouse on the computer is difficult for them to use. I would like them to have the experience of using a mouse and learning all of the functions of right clicking! We are also in need of headphones because the PARCC end of year test requires students to learn from videos. Having the headphones would also allow students to listen to peaceful music while they are doing their work. Having a calm classroom environment helps learning so much!

Some of the requests seem surprising - like the one for help obtaining papers, pencils, crayons and glue from a fourth-grade teacher at the Ellis Mendel School in Roxbury:

We have minimal resources for supplies but our teachers work extremely hard to give our students everything we can. Our school has a warm and welcoming community and strives to cultivate a positive and safe learning environment for all students. ...

My students will use the pencils, crayons and glue everyday to complete work and projects.

A music teacher at the Quincy Upper School would love some help obtaining a Swiffer WetJet and a Dirt Devil vacuum:

We play instruments in our room and with that comes numerous students entering and exiting and the dreaded emptying of spit valves. Our room is rarely swept and mopped, and the salt and sand (thank you New England Winter), mud, and spit from instruments is beginning to take a toll on our floor. It definitely isn't sanitary and makes it difficult for children with asthma to breathe.

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Comments

While I'm sorry funding for resources for our Boston public schools students and teachers must be raised outside of the way we fund our schools, I'm glad there's a way for people with the means to help meet the needs.

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Fire 50% of the bloated BPS administrative staff. Cap the ratio of administrators to educators. Put the savings into physical infrastructure/maintenance and classroom materials.

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But no money for pencils and mops.

Seriously?

A few years ago the district had several million dollars burning a hole in their pocket - so they decided to hire about 50 extra custodians. Financial crisis comes - they all get laid off costing millions in severance, etc.

This is what they call planning and budgeting at BPS and the reason we have no pencils mops and a host of other things.

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Deleted

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My friend retired in the early '90s and tells me how broke they were then. I do believe the system was hurting then - there were 64,000 students (and no Pre-K which put much less strain on the system). The budget has continued to compound at about twice the rate of inflation since. The student population has dropped by10,000 students. Yet the system is still impoverished and everyone is massively overworked (I don't have a head count from 1993 - online only goes back to 2003 - but staffing has been relatively stable).

Maybe it's all the new "mandates" - but somehow the numbers don't work

(looked up the numbers on custodians - 369 in 2003 peaked at 460 on 2009 and 365 (?) in this year's budget). Again - the system just seems to find things to spend it on. This isn't the only example. They just get money to pay the teachers and administrators and find something to do with the rest. This becomes a cushion for when the budget does become tight - then they fire the lower level workers and use it to maintain benefits and salaries for the teachers and administrators until they can jawbone/shame the administration for more money.

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If you look at the FY03 budget vs. the proposed FY16 budget (general fund only), I'm not sure the "maintain benefits and salaries for the teachers and administrators" bit really holds up that well:

Regular ed teachers: 2440 -> 1933 (down ~21%)
Bilingual teachers: 482 -> 645 (up ~34%)
All teachers: 4779 -> 4578 (down ~4%)

None of this looks unreasonable given that student enrollment is declining and at the same time ELL enrollment has gone up a LOT. Unfortunately, we've also lost a lot of external funding for teachers, too. In FY03 we had 333 externally-funded teachers, and in FY16 we're planning for just 32. There are a lot less teachers in the buildings now than there used to be.

Central admin: 30 -> 31 (up ~3%)
Elementary school admin: 133 -> 120 (down ~10%)
Middle school admin: 73 -> 35 (down ~52%)
High school admin: 149 -> 96 (down ~36%)

Meanwhile (just cherry picking some of the biggest increases here):

Professional support: 126 -> 261 (up ~107%)
Program support: 91 -> 244 (up ~168%)
Tech support: 96 -> 221 (up ~130%)

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I am a teacher in BPS and have used DonorsChoose myself. Thanks so much for posting about it. Hopefully this will bring in more donations for our well-deserving students!

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As a parochial school parent, the teachers used a wish list instead of getting Christmas gifts from students.
The teachers asked for no gifts for themselves, instead created a wish list of things they wanted for their classroom, such as: bookcases, vcr stand, certain books the teach would like to have on hand, furniture for kids to sit and read (think bean bags, etc..). This worked rather well. Many of the fathers who happened to be electricians, plumbers and the like would donate their time.

This was wonderful for parents like me who knew buying Ms. Teacher another lame candle or the like for Christmas was just another addition to her other gifts. It's a win win for the teacher, kids and the school.
Is it possible to something similar in a public school?

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I've been donating to them for a decade and I have teacher friends who've successfully gotten projects funded. They do really good work. I funded what I thought was a boring request for paper, toner, pens & other classroom supplies and got a letter in return from a girl saying she was able to apply for college & financial aid because the teacher I'd funded let her use his computer, printer & envelopes.

Some of the Boston requests are heartbreaking. There was a school in Dorchester that was asking for a bookshelf and a rug so the kids could have a reading area. What is going on at BPS that they can't find a bookshelf for a kindergarten classroom?

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In my building the teachers hoard bookshelves meaning relatively new folks like myself have no shelves while the vets have eight. Newbies also get the wobbly desks, mismatched chairs, and worst technology. It's silly, but that's how things are in most buildings.

Oh and whoever wants a rug in their room should rethink that on account of the asthma triggers, not to mention the fact that our union janitors won't even so much as look at a rug. Get a mat you can shake out.

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Rugs that are purchased by the school are supposed to be vacuumed according to a schedule (sometimes daily or a couple days a week, depends how big the building is). If you choose to bring your own in from home then that's your responsibility.

And yeah, new teachers definitely get the worst furniture in the building, but try to strike up a friendly relationship with the custodian. We can try to fix them or find you some better furniture nobody's using. We know the buildings better than anybody.

Local 1952

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Again, can parents donate time and or money?

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A parent is always welcome to volunteer in the BPS with some major caveats:

You have to pass a CORI / SORI to be a chaperon, library volunteer etc. I can't imagine any scenario where they would allow a dad to do electric work or really much of anything beyond a schoolyard spruce-up. An unfamiliar adult in the classroom may be more of a headache than it's worth for some teachers.

Think liability, that's what most of it comes down to.

Money is usually raised through the Parent Council, and in a good school they have no end of roles for parents - things like grant writing, talent shows, fund raiser galas, book sales and such. The best parents are the ones who help set-up partnerships with outside resources like corporations, universities or cultural institutions, those can make a real impact on a school.

Sadly, 99% of parental involvement occurs in K-6, after that you can't get em in for an IEP meeting let alone to volunteer.

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I can't imagine any scenario where they would allow a dad to do electric work or really much of anything beyond a schoolyard spruce-up.

Moms, on the other hand, are permitted to do limited HVAC and refrigeration work?

Or is it that they don't allow parents to volunteer to do work which needs to be done on time and to code?

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A friend of mine has a kid in a charter school in the 'burbs. The parents of this school donate quite a bit of money and materials as well as time in the classroom and watching kids at recess. Parents are also expected to organize teacher appreciation parties as well as give the teachers gift cards with money contributed from all parents. I kid you not. I was prettty shocked to hear about gifts and parties for charter school teachers! BPS teachers are simply asking for basic school supplies kids need in order to learn.

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Most non public schools require parents to volunteer time. I've done lunches, fundraisers, recess,etc. It's a win for the school and the biggest win is for the kids.

Parent involvement makes all the difference. I used vacation days to do stuff at the school and loved every minute of it. And the kids will admit to like having their mom and/or dad familiar with the school. Many a late afternoon spent at the school with other parents planning events, etc. while our kids could play. The kids appreciate it more than they're given credit for.

It sounds like the public schools can't ask parents for involvement. Is that an issue? I really don't know the answer and no one else seems to know, as my previous post has not been answered either.

What would prohibit parents getting involved? Teachers? Administration?

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You can't have access to the school. Rules are tight about who is allowed on grounds and when (unless the principal is in bed with them). You have to follow sign-in rules and may need a background check and an escort. You can't give money to a public school teacher because it's illegal to give more than fifty bucks to a city employee. You can't have access after school hours for events or meetings because it increases janitorial costs.

Parent involvement in BPS is mostly parents meeting together in private homes to come up with plans for events that are not held at the school that result in money being given to a fund not controlled by teachers. That, and the endless homework starting in kindergarten.

It's no wonder parents get sick of it by the end of elementary school when the roulette wheel starts up again.

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I meant to ask which Charter?

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