GUSD Should Copy BUSD Calendar

January will be a busy time for Glendale Unified school board members as they tackle two of the most significant issues left over from 2015: the search for a new superintendent and a new starting date for school.

While the public has a minor say in choosing a superintendent, parents can have a major impact voicing their views on when schools should open their doors by attending one of the upcoming meetings: Jan. 11 at Glendale High, Jan. 13 at Hoover High, and Jan. 14 at Crescenta Valley High.

As reported before in this space, opening schools in early August makes no sense. The desire to finish the fall semester before winter break pertains only to 7-12th graders who have final exams.

And the idea that high school students need more time to prepare for Advanced Placement tests before the May testing period is just that—an idea. There is no proof that students have performed better on AP tests ever since school was moved up several weeks to early August.

In fact, AP test results have suffered in recent years ever since pre-requisites to taking AP classes were eliminated. Plus, this affects only a small portion of high school students. The majority of the K-12 student population does not need to follow a college calendar.

Thumbs up to parent Sarah Rush for spearheading an online petition to start school later that garnered 2,000 plus signatures. It definitely got the attention of GUSD more than this writer’s musings.

Thumbs down to GUSD for shelving this discussion even though parents expressed themselves back in August allowing plenty of time to alter next year’s calendar.   One school board member rationalized that they could not change the calendar because people already have made plans based on the Aug. 8th start date. Really?

Number one, how many parents cement August 2016 vacation plans in August 2015. And, number two, if they did, so what. School would not be starting earlier, it would be starting later.

Unfortunately, GUSD was not interested in renegotiating the already approved 2016-2017 calendar. Understandably Glendale’s school board members had their hands full with myriad issues this year including labor negotiations with employee groups, a proposed charter school (recently denied), future realignment of the district, as well as the continuing Sagebrush saga.

On the plus side, GUSD finally followed what Burbank Unified has done for years by posting an online survey for parents between Jan. 8 and 22 on this issue. And the district has formed a 27-member Superintendent’s Committee on Calendar Development that will meet five times (do we really need 27 people to devise calendar options?).

I find Burbank’s school calendar the most efficient. School opens Aug. 15 and ends on May 25. The 11-week summer allows more time not just for travel but for kids to enroll in enrichment classes or to get jobs. Conversely, Glendale schools start Aug. 8 and end June 1 with a 9-week summer.

I’m not sure why GUSD’s 27-member committee needs five meetings to devise a new calendar when their municipal neighbor already has one that they can adopt. Not having the Friday off before Labor Day, limiting the Thanksgiving holidays to three, and keeping Winter Break to two full weeks is how they do it, fitting the state-mandated 180 days of school within 284 calendar days instead of 298.

There, you can cancel four of the meetings right there.

Both cities share similar demographics and the same delicious bakery, Porto’s. So, to start the New Year right, hold a joint meeting of BUSD and GUSD and come to a consensus on the same school calendar. Potato balls, anyone?


Johnny Doesn’t Read Even When He Can

For years I required my advanced 10th graders to read 2,000 pages a semester, averaging 100 pages a week, based on books that they chose. That way if a book we studied in class didn’t catch their fancy, they had the freedom to find books that appealed to them as long as the selections were appropriate for their grade level and school use.

However, after struggling how to ensure that the reading logs students turned in each month documenting this task were completely honest, I decided to decrease the amount to 1,500 pages this year, 70 pages a week, hoping that would diminish falsifying the logs.

So what happened? The strategy did not work.

When asked if they honestly did the 70 pages of reading each week on their own, an average of 10 pages a day, 66% said that they had done all of the reading while 34% said they had not.

Here are some of their responses.

“I honestly have no excuse other than the fact that I have no time to read every day.”

“In this day of competition and cheating in school, it’s difficult to be completely honest because it can be damaging to yourself, sometimes even more than being dishonest.”

The biggest reason given for not reading was a lack of time. Yet teens find the time to watch nine hours of entertainment media a day according to Common Sense Media’s study released last month.

They can’t seem to find 10 minutes a day to read 10 pages in a book that they personally chose for themselves.

While many students did write that “reading is absolutely essential” to their academic and career success, some did not see it that way.

“I don’t think it is essential to get through high school and college.”

“We are used to visuals; one would rather have it read to us than read ourselves.”

“Reading books is pointless, they are just really dumb.”

“If I felt like it, I could be at least mildly successful without reading another written word in my life.” Remember, this student volunteered to enroll in an honors English class.

By the way, one of the requirements of the reading log is for the student and his parent to sign off on the paper as a way of securing the veracity of the work.   Evidently, students do not take signing one’s name to a piece of paper as meaningful.

I tell my students the best way to improve their writing and speaking skills is to read material at or slightly above their reading level. Just by seeing words in print will expand their vocabulary database.

Renaissance Learning, an education analytic company, discovered that students who read 30 minutes a day were exposed to 13.7 million words by the time they graduated high school, while those who read fewer than 15 minutes viewed only 1.5 million words.   Unfortunately, the former group represented 18% of kids while the latter 54%.

And the problem gets exponentially worse in college where there are textbooks not as watered down as the ones kids read in high school, another factor why so many college students struggle finishing a degree.

We are living at a time when reading books is not a viable option for kids in their spare time. Perhaps if they observed more of their parents reading a book it would interest them.

Think about this: how many teenagers will be receiving books as presents this Christmas compared to video games?   Books have become the new “underwear” present that evidently few people want under the tree.



Sinatra’s Centennial Matters

New Year’s Day. 1994. Las Vegas. Frank Sinatra.

A moment when my life changed for the better.

That was the only time I saw Sinatra perform live.   And because of it, I have learned why Frank Sinatra is considered by so many as the greatest popular singer of all time.

What amazed me about the show was that at age 78, a time when he could have just sat on a stool and read off the teleprompter, he moved gracefully about the stage singing the songs as if it were the first time he sang them.

I went from buying the first “Duets” album that came out in 1993 (which was the number two album in the country on Billboard’s 200 right behind Pearl Jam’s “Vs.”) to now owning 70 CDs, 14 LPs, 7 box sets, 24 books, and 18 DVDs and videotapes.

As a teacher, you want to share your passions with your students, so I have infused lessons on connotation and tone with Frank Sinatra’s work.

When I teach Shakespeare, I use Sinatra’s rendering of the Gershwin classic “Someone to Watch Over Me” to show the importance of the proper reading of a line.   Just as some actors struggle making sense of the Bard’s iambic pentameter, others can make even the most novice viewer understand what the character is saying, retaining the musicality of the words.

In “Someone to Watch Over Me” the lyric goes “even though I may not be the man some girls think of as handsome.” Sinatra purposely links the words “man” and “some” to create the non-existent word “mansome” so that it rhymes with “handsome” the way George and Ira intended when writing the song. When other singers pause after “man,” the rhyme is lost.

To demonstrate how the same words can have different meanings depending on how they are said, I play two versions of Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When,” one recorded in 1958, the other performed live in Las Vegas in 1966.

In the earlier Capitol Records session arranged by Nelson Riddle, Sinatra narrates a wistful tale of love emitting a melancholy tone accompanied only by longtime pianist Bill Miller until an orchestra comes in during the final forty seconds.   And when it does, Sinatra, who was practically whispering the words with the solo piano, expands to full voice louder than the instruments. The effect emphasizes how the speaker cannot remember when this chance encounter will happen again.

While only eight years apart, the two versions vary so much in approach that they almost sound like different songs. With the tempo tripled, the 1966 translation arranged by Billy Byers is swinging, upbeat, sung by a narrator without a care in the world.

Horns not strings are prominently heard along with a driving percussion with the signature Count Basie sound beneath Sinatra’s carefree tone.

Playing one of the lovers, Sinatra interprets the lyric that if they were to meet again, okay; if not, that’s okay, too. No hard feelings. Move on.

He halts before uttering each “before” in “it seems that we have met . . . before and laughed . . . before, and loved . . . before” emphasizing the deju vu element of the couple’s feelings. Sinatra’s interest is more in the playing with the words rather than exuding the emotions in them. He then holds the final “where or when” as long as he can, emphasizing more of an end than an open-ended question as in the 1958 take.

This interpretation was the one that Sinatra continued singing in live performances the rest of his life.

And while that life ended in 1998, next week marks the centennial of his birth, an apt moment to reflect on why Sinatra matters in the history of American popular music.