But at a staff meeting, Besserian learns of the proposed academic improvement plan for Fillmore High that may fundamentally alter the school-and not for the best. Simply named the Reform Plan, it calls for community involvement on such a large scale that it will virtually turn the school into its own independent city, as well as impose corporate values on the students themselves. Besserian isn't at all sure this is such a wise idea and decides to unearth the truth behind the project by assigning his history class to research it.
Besserian and his students start digging into the plan and uncover disturbing and dangerous information that underscores the precarious level of academic instruction in the school. The more they uncover, the more Besserian realizes that greed and corruption are the backbone of the supposed "Reform Plan."
But can a lone teacher and a group of students possibly stop the juggernaut of Fillmore High's reform before it destroys the school's very foundation?
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The Reform Plan
By Bill Blanchet
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2010 Bill Blanchet
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Meeting
"Excuse me." She was exasperated. Her words were slow, distinct ... patronizing. Manicured nails of long, slender fingers tapped the edge of the rostrum. The demanded silence, however, was not forthcoming. Chin pinched with left middle finger and thumb, pinky extended, the marquise diamond on the fourth finger flashed dutifully. "If our agenda is not resolved this afternoon ...", she waited imperiously, "... then, ladies and gentlemen," ... pause, eyes rounded, ... "then, it will simply have to be resolved: subsequently. At a later meeting!"
That notwithstanding: continuing, blatant, non-compliance! The faded blue eyes narrowed combatively. Thin lips pursed, jaw set, the third entreaty was strident. Piqued, she enunciated distinctly, voice rising several semi-tones, warbling at the edges, "Ex-cu-use me: pl-e-a-es-e? May-we-have-your-attention!"
No result. If anything, the private conversations became even more earnestly self-centered. The scurrying between seats progressed to an erratic kind of darting, accompanied by dramatically intense stage commands: theatrical mouthing of incomprehensible words, pantomime pointing, and semaphore gesticulations with pencils, roll books, purses, textbooks, a large plastic right-angle triangle, disorganized wads of semi-corrected papers. The communication efforts were augmented by facial contortions registering incredulity, exasperation, confusion, and exaggerated agreement. The apparently random movements were underscored, moreover, by haphazard efforts to stifle loud giggles and grating laughter as a number of individuals, in their eagerness to find their seats, backing or climbing, stumbled and clutched, for steadying support, the most proximate shoulder, arm, or what evoked the loudest guffaws and squeals ... leg.
Now overtly bellicose, Dr. Allsbury gripped the microphone as if it were the throat of a particularly vexing member of her audience. "Ladies and gentlemen!" The appeal was shrill. Lips compressed to a thin line, eyes dilated, she personified indignation: the stymied teacher—outrage ineffectively masking impotence. "It is now-ow [she separated the syllables] af-ter th-ree-e [she rolled the "r"'s ] ... and if we cannot get started by three-e ... we will simply have to continue after fo-o-o-r!"
"Wanna bet," came from a baritone voice in a confused area towards the back. The irascibility of the comment was obvious because, immediately, occurred one of those momentary, open silences, which often punctuate interpersonal resentment. No longer thoughtlessly immature, the scenario was now combative. The cacophony recommenced with renewed vigor.
Allsbury's expensive, high-heeled, mauve cocktail sandal was turned compulsively on its side, a gesture at odds with the immaculate presentation of silk violets, whispering among multiple tiers of organdy and chiffon, which floated above thin and superbly shaped legs. Décolletage revealed the alabaster complexion. Lavender ribbons fluttered from auburn hair, twisted precisely into a chignon.
She looked over her shoulder. The tiers rising behind were designed for the Gospel Choir. Now, the administrative group were congregated at the top around a scarred upright piano.
The unpleasantness of the audience subsiding somewhat, she seized the opportunity, and plunged into the parañá-infested waters. The voice quavered. The elegant ankle bone was glued to the floor. "The first topic on our agenda—if you pl-e-e-a-se, ladies and gentlemen—will be a presentation that will elucidate the anticipated legislation and differentiate the critical role substantiated by our school in a proposed Reform Plan: how it will ameliorate the education of youngsters in our community ... our students at Fillmore High. Now, I-am-sur-ure," she paused for emphasis, "that all of us realize how very important this topic will be to each and every one of us!"
She nodded solemnly having convinced at least one person of the gravity of the situation. "Moreover, I am absolutely confident we will all give our complete," significant pause, "and total attention? In that way we can be totally apprised of its connotations." There were smirks in the audience.
"Also ... may I add," she was condescending, "that it is not frequent that a leading citizen from the business community is willing to depart from an already demanding schedule to visit with us and inform on issues. And I am sure we all appreciate that."
She rotated inquisitively toward the command post, mouth turned down at the corners, jaw lifted, head tilted back. The plucked eyebrows, arched in expectation, however, fell immediately, and the thin lips constricted into a skeletal line. Impossible! The anticipated guest was not there!
Indifferent to the sycophant grins of his colleagues, one of the administrative group stirred his bloated appearance: large hips and expanding waist evidencing lack of exercise and acquiescence to the junk food culture. The flopping, well-worn camel hair jacket did little to conceal the burgeoning pear shape.
"Hi everybody. I was just telling the Superintendent earlier? How you guys are just the greatest? Bunch of teachers? Absolutely! Numero Uno! And I know you're zonked from just a super hard day! Slugging it out in the trenches! Wow!"
Exhaling noisily, the Principal moved his head wearily to underscore the veracity of his observation. And his empathy. "Now, as most of you already probably have heard, Mr. Pritchard is in a delay mode. But when he gets here he's gonna fill us in about possible new kind of reform plan? Reshuffles that will impact us here at Fillmore. And our Cathedral Heights community? Stuff that's going to help us to continue your just super dedication to helping Fillmore kids. So, obviously, his words will impact on each and every one of us. Big time! And I believe," he was coy, "that he might even have some information about a salary increase?" The Cheshire smile was Number Seven on his List of Facial Responses.
"Hey! Right on!" Female twittering reinforced the remark.
"And hey! After School Board's been using the salary increase plan for their seat cushions now for how many umpteen months! Go for it."
"How about a new school? Got any new skinny on that consideration, Joe? As of yet?"
Speaking quietly and slowly, a device intended to mask insecurity as well as barrio accent, the speaker, grasping at the perceived approbation, allowed his smile to persist, motioning with a thrust of his jaw. "All good questions. Let's let our guest to resolute them." He nodded crisply to Allsbury. "They'll be waiting to continue with you until Mr. Pritchard gets here."
Allsbury overlooked the rudeness. "While we're waiting," she stressed the verb; "we have some updates about CAHSEE. Word has come down that State might revise it."
A few derisive cheers broke the hostility. "Yeah! Say it!"
"It'd be a cold day in hell when they revise something that's not working anyway. Marginalized on the dark side as per usual. That's us!"
"Of course none of us wants more tests that's unfair to minorities."
Deaf to the comments, Allsbury looked to the command post for support; and receiving none, continued, "I know we all agree on fairness." She smiled emptily. "However, it does seem that we will administer the test again this year. I know that's a big concern for all of us: testing possibly six to seven hundred youngsters, with CAHSEE alone?" Allsbury's next statement—clipped, spoken through her teeth—seemed ironic. "But I think we all know how important Assessment is!"
"Even though tests don't measure what kids could know?"
"What's the point? Our kids can't do the questions anyhow."
"Waste of everybody's time!"
"What you talkin' about? Cay-see?"
"The point," she stressed the word, "ladies and gentlemen, is, that it appears that we're going to have to test again this year for CAHSEE: as well as the other mandated tests. Both NRT's and CRT's. CAHSEE is mandatory. I know it entails additional work and is stressful for us but if State wants it, well, we have to be in compliance. Not a site-level decision."
"Is there a testing schedule yet? I mean for all the tests we'll have to be doing this year?"
"At this early date? I imagine we'll follow last year's path? EXIT probably in October, February, and April. GATE in March; Golden State in May; AP's in Calculus, Spanish, U.S. History, Social Studies, Biology, Chemistry, Foreign Languages, I believe in May; ASVAB probably in April. Of course CELDT and language placement tests will continue in the usual way on an 'as needed' basis, and there will be the regular PSAT and SAT's as well as the special scholarship tests from SAT. SDC and RSP placement testing will continue in the usual norm."
"Is that all? And when kids supposed to learn for testes in the subject matter? I mean teacher-made testes? For stuff we're teaching? Stuff they're supposed to be learning? Day after day? In the classroom?"
"What about re-testing?"
"Will the Christmas break be the same as last year? I heard it might be longer? Teacher in Santa Obesso told me might could be? There?"
"One point? If I might, Dr. Allsbury? We lose three days a month on federal and state mandated tests. Already. We never know what's going to be on most of them. Neither teachers nor students get the results. I wonder about the purpose? Of losing fifteen percent of instructional time? Demoralizing to teachers and kids."
"Assessment is a challenge: assuredly. For everyone. Then, again, we've been through all this before."
"Business as per usual! Muddle through!"
"What about ...?"
She interrupted her interlocutors. "GATE testing as well as language placement will be handled in the regular way as will Reading and Math for proper in-grade adjustments: on an 'As Needed' basis. Also, for your information, as we progress in Standards Based Instructional strategies—and we do need more improvement in that area?" She paused, tongue caressing the inner part of her upper lip, looking askance at blank faces. "We will have norm referenced assessment in curriculum content as well. And be apprised that OCR will be including their requirements, plus Title I and Title IX compliance issues."
Ever prescient, she tossed her head indignantly, ribbons bobbing, a gesture intended to communicate social and intellectual hauteur. She stood in the conductor's place, the vertex of a three-dimensional parabola, with the choir—teachers—arranged in tiers in front and the orchestra—administrators—arranged at the top of the tiers behind. The entire ensemble was struggling, competing really, to establish individual tempi, heedless either of the score—the Agenda—or the conductor—Maistra Allsbury.
A paw-like fist at the end of a massive, hairy, sweaty forearm shot up. Immediately, murmuring recommenced. It was accompanied by shuffling of chairs and somewhat muffled epithets suggesting that finally, the choir's discordant interpretation of the composition would prevail over the struggle of the conductor. "Union contract says Agenda issues has to be told to us. So? Why wasn't Agenda put out before meeting? Contract says it's gotta be in our boxes! At least twenty-four hours before faculty meeting. Max! So! What gives? For today?"
The speaker was Bruce Warfles, Teachers' Union representative. With back to Dr. Allsbury, his glance, upward and to the periphery, swept a one hundred and fifty degree angle: triumphant indignation mingled with inherent belligerence. "And, all this other kinds of testing makes it pretty darn hard for classroom teachers to be teaching the stuff kids is supposed to be tested on. No wonder they do so bad on testes. And on CAHSEE! And don't let somebody say it's teacher fault! For sure! Not! Everybody knows our kids are miles behind already, when we get 'em and we got to spend all our time playing 'catch up' for the next four years. Administration shoots an overload on us with testes. We should spend more time teaching the kids what they should know then in finding out what they don't know." The audience broke into an irascible fortissimo of solidarity.
Allsbury turned to the Principal, who, moving with unexpected agility, again descended and took the microphone without acknowledgment. "Thanks, just a whole lot Bruce? For that 'head's up'. Input has it that Agenda was attended to, but Marvella tells us the copier's been down? Service people said we're maxed out on our usage. But, we should have a copy for you in your mailboxes by tomorrow, hopefully, morning? 'Way of the Hill', folks. Always."
A hollow groan was the resentful response:
"Come on Joe. Give us a break!"
"Who does he think he's kidding? Anyhow?"
"No matter, they'd follow their own Agenda anyway."
Basking in this approbation, Bruce seized his advantage. "Yeah. And there's something other. I don't see why the union rep is always left to last? On the Agenda? Never enough time left over at the end and we get cut off. Have to go into our own time? How about it Joe? How about giving us our turn up to bat? I mean before the tenth inning?"
Intermittent laughter accompanied chairs re-dragged into position, changing seats, inquiries for the 'place' in their hymnals.
The principal stood his ground. Smiling vacantly like one of his orchestral cronies at the piano group, he parried the attack skillfully, exuding Response Number Three—Bemused Indifference—that also failed to inspire confidence. "We'll take care of that too. Next time, Bruce, g'buddy." He gave a thumbs-up sign, chuckling, "You'll be Numero Uno on the Agenda."
A sardonic, "Sure, you will!" came from one side of the room and "When hell freezes over," from another.
Joe Baques—he eschewed the traditional José—was the Principal of Fillmore High, one of the largest in the state: over 5000 students. 'Joe' connoted the 'pal' image he craved but was denied. Also, there was lingering confusion regarding pronunciation of his name. And Mr. 'B' was too intimate.
Without looking at Allsbury, he returned to the command post: the managerial inner sanctum: Assistant Principals; Marvella, the school secretary, still absorbed in ticking off absent teachers from her three-page roster; four Resource Teachers; three Mentor Teachers and five Counselors. None of these dignitaries deigned to take seats among regular teachers. They authenticated separateness by their posture, females aping males, lounging together, in comradely fashion around the piano, and by the intensity of private exchanges—whispering, rolled eyes, palms cuffed over mouths, shrugged shoulders—about confidential issues, erudite, transcending teacher blather.
With a toss of her head, setting off another lavender flurry, Allsbury again confronted her opponents. "We need to skip then to Item Number Four on the Agenda and hear from our Assistant Principal, Mr. Brampton Falange." She looked up myopically. "Sir! If you would?" She nodded effusively to the agitated individual already at her side.
"Bomb threats! Mucho serioso, folks! Now! Here's the deal! Last call that happened answered by one of our counselors, Mrs. Brauphman? So, let's us have her to tell us all about it. And folks, this is serious. So, let's give it all our attention!" His nodding did not indicate confidence in their collaboration. "OK?"
Falange turned, looked up to the administrative group and motioned to the lady waddling down the steps. Hair frizzed, an over dyed blonde, she projected subterfuge coyness. A 'large' woman who had capitulated in the struggle to maintain a figure, she had a tiny, rounded nose with miniscule, shining eyes. Her words, a whining rendition of baby talk, aped a 'southern' accent.
"Now, how's ever-thang? Now that my daughter [she pronounced it daater] has her AP class early—these GATE kids are so darn smart, now—I come right from her school to here, so I guess I'm usually the, well, first one here? In the morning? To arrive?" Giggling to reassure herself, she smacked her lips. "Anyhow, as I'm sayin', this here call comes in? I try to keep this jerk on the phone so as to better trace him? Then what happens? Ms. Donner? Blonnel? Now, she comes waltzing in, pretty as a picture, not thanking anythang's wrong, just all ready to start her ... whatever? Typing? As per usual? So, quick like a bunny, I signals her to get into the other phone! Call police?" Her voice was excitedly conspiratorial and, mouth hanging, she made the telephone sign with thumb and little finger, head cocked to the side, eyes rolling.
Excerpted from The Reform Plan by Bill Blanchet Copyright © 2010 by Bill Blanchet. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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