On Hills and Mountains


l found myself repeating a phrase today. So much that I felt like I wore it out.


“ Is this the hill you want to die on?”


I don’t actually know where the phrase came from. However, I’m nostalgic and a nerd, so I imagine some wizened and weathered military higher-up types (either real or fantastical- I’m an English teacher after all) peering over maps and schematics in the dim candlelight saying to each other. “Yes, right there! This is where we rally. That is the place we take to end this war.”


I saw a lot of people dying on hills today.


A student was telling me how he was moving out of his house to Arizona, because he got in a fight with his mom over leaving his shoes in the hallway.

A teacher was complaining that the students put their heads down, because it was hot and the air conditioning wasn’t on.

A student was arguing with his teacher after she asked him politely, to move to another seat because he wouldn’t be able to see the board when she started teaching.


When you start thinking about it, this phrase is supremely applicable to education “reform”. We are all so busy dying on hills that we don’t see the mountains we need to take to win the war.

Did you know that there are approximately 6,000 employees in the Rochester City School District? That number includes teachers,support staff, administrators and substitutes. A very large amount of them are union employees. Six thousand people seems like an army to me. Not to mention the thousands of parents, grandparents and city residents invested in urban education.

What if we fought next to each other and not against each other?

What are the big mountains then? They’re no secret. They’re concentrated poverty and de facto segregation. They are lack of organization and trust at the base level of our communal existence. The biggest mountain- the idea that “I need to hold on and fight for what’s mine because no one else is fighting for me.”

What if we remembered that children are innocents that we all need to protect and fight for?

That they are born into circumstances that they can’t control?

That it is every adults obligation to make sure that they are safe, healthy, and educated?

What if we stopped dying hills and started rushing the mountains?



Copyright: ©Kelly LaLonde, and urbanesl, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



On East High

I’ve had such a positive reaction from everyone about this post – but my story is only one of so many that are out there. I started a tumbler page because I thought it would be nice to have a place where people could share their own stories of strength and tenacity in the classroom, at their schools, and through all aspects of life. Using the hashtag #grownintheconcrete and sure your story with us.

via On East High.




On East High

photo (11)I walked outside to sit in the sun during my lunch yesterday. I needed a break from giving the NYS test that measures the progress of non-English speaking students. There are no benches in front of the school, but that’s where the sun was, so I sat down on the concrete sidewalk. I noticed two things as I was sitting there; a dandelion growing in the crack in the path, and a dead rat.

I sat there thinking about that flower and that rat and how appropriately those two things seemed to reflect what was going on at East.

There are a lot of dead rats, literally and figuratively, in the RCSD.

I have worked for the district for the past five years. In those five years I have worked out of three different schools. The first was closed, the second was re-organized and finally I was placed at East. Who knows where I’ll be next year.

In those five years I was never paid the correct salary. Every year, come September, I spent a month fighting my way through multiple offices downtown to get my pay scale readjusted.

This year I had a baby, which you would think would be a fairly normal occurrence in the teaching profession. Somehow my paperwork didn’t get processed correctly at Central Office and I was not allowed to be out on “medical leave”, so my health insurance was terminated. I received thousands of dollars in bills from the hospital for simply having my daughter while I was employed with health insurance. In a weird twist of fate that I couldn’t make up, the RCSD also continued to pay me while I was out on whatever leave I was on. I had to tell them to stop paying me.

Those are just my personal issues. Multiply that by the 200+ teachers and staff at East.

Did you know that there are students who attend other schools in the district full time that are included in our New York State “report card”? Students who attend RIA (Jefferson), WEP (Edison), Young Mothers, and incarceration programs all are linked to East through NYS data. These students never step foot on East’s campus, are not taught by East’s teachers, yet are part of our state numbers to determine if we are failing or not? How can you measure the effectiveness of the administration or staff if we literally do not see these students?

Did you know that many of us in federally mandated positions – namely special education and English language teachers – are routinely laid off, then rehired, but placed at different schools? Look at the fact that East alone has almost 25% special needs students and another 25% ELL students. That means that almost 50% of the school is in need of specialty teachers – teachers who are routinely transient through no fault of East’s administration. How can you expect the district’s neediest populations to thrive when their teachers have no idea what or where they’ll be teaching from year to year? Or even if they will be teaching? How can we “fail” or “save” East if we can’t even figure out who works there?

Lots and lots of dead rats… although next to that rat was the dandelion.

Have you ever heard the story of the rose that grew from the crack in the concrete? The rose that struggled through the pavement to reach the sun?

There are dandelions and roses growing all through the cracks at East.

One sprouted up this morning when I got called “Mom” by two different kids in the same class, and another when East held its 5th annual Iron Chef competition in partnership with Wegmans last week.

A dandelion bloomed when I graded my classes’ practice ELA exams and 80% of them passed.

A rose grew when my student ran in to show me the MVP trophy he won pitching last night’s baseball game and when the boys’ basketball team competed in the NYSPHSAA Class A Finals in March.

More grew this afternoon when one of my students emailed me to ask when he could come in to take his NYS test; because even though he was home sick, he knew it was important.

You see, East isn’t failing, it’s doing the best it can in a system that is so broken, no one knows how to fix it. In all of this chaos, 80% of students are showing up to school on a regular basis. 43% of them are graduating. 100% of East’s Teaching and Learning Institute and Culinary graduates are going to college. We put on plays, staff clubs, and put in hour after hour making our classrooms safe places. We show up day after day believing that we can make a difference; even when they take away our insurance, don’t pay us correctly, or lay us off every year. We show up. We make a difference.

You see, you wouldn’t ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals – on the contrary, we would all celebrate its tenacity. We would all love its will to reach the sun.

Long live the dandelions and roses that grow in the cracks at East. #grownintheconcrete

Copyright: ©Kelly LaLonde, and urbanesl, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.