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.

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14 thoughts on “On East High

  1. Absolutely beautiful! You should consider sending this to the D&C or The City Newspaper! I hope to collaborate with you further as the future unfolds. And I sure hope you’ll be back with us teaching at East High.

    Best regards,
    Laura Delehanty
    Teaching and Learning Institute – East High

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  2. Great post Kelly! As long as our organization, assessment and evaluation systems are hopelessly dysfunctional these “closings” and “displacements” will remain routine. What we do to touch the lives of the children we teach keep me coming back, not some inconsequential “rating.”

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  3. From Vermont, wishing you many more dandelions and roses, and a rapid decline in dead rats. Deepest appreciation for the work that you are doing, and the love and compassion with which you do it. It matters. To all of us.

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  4. Wonderful thoughts on a school I hold dear. Daughter of graduate, graduate, mother and grandmother of graduates. Former employee and retiree from East. My wish is that this school will continue to service students with the quality and professional education which is their right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Dorothy! Thanks for the comments! I would love to feature you on our facebook page and tumblr blog. Please like our page on FB and we’ll get your story out there! Go East!

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  5. Thank you for this thoughtful and inspiring post…. I am finishing my graduate degree requirements at Nazareth in a matter of weeks and am slowly starting the job search. People have asked me why I chose to become a teacher at this late (mid) stage in my life. THIS is why!

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  6. If you piled up all the dead rats from the RCSD over the years maybe they could fertilize more dandelions. Here’s to a big supply of rat poison and and even bigger supply of plant grower. Great essay. Keep on pushing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. 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, post your own stories for the world to see!

    http://grownintheconcrete.tumblr.com/

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  8. Pingback: On East High | urbanesl

  9. Reblogged this on and commented:
    “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.”

    And there it is. The system is broken.
    Maybe it is not bad to confront that. Time to replace it with one that is built by us. Teachers. Parents. Kids. And anyone else who cares…..

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  10. Kelly, this was a beautifully and eloquently written. I, too, know the pain of the incorrect pay and the cancelling of the family’s health insurance. I guess I am not the only one. You should definitely send this to the D&C.

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  11. In my years at East (1992-2006) as a school counselor, I had many wonderful experience there. I was in charge of the HYLI ( Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute) for many years. I was fortunate to work with another colleague(Mr. Bello) and take about 10 to15 students to Albany for a mock Legislature experience. Many of those are now successful individuals. My best years were in 94 to 96. Ms. Lopez, Ms. Dee and I did the the junior/senior class. I still keep in contact with many of these students especially the 25 that went to Disney as our Senior Trip. I have gone to many of my former students college graduations, their weddings, their children’s baptisms and unfortunately some funerals. Even after my retirement, I continue to follow what is happening at East. It has many dedicated teachers and administrators. But, the District In my opinion the District is always setting the school up for failure. There are many dandelions and roses growing and will continue to grow.

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