Monthly Archives: July 2015

5 Pieces of Advice for New Teachers

After 15 years of teaching, this is what I would tell myself prior to my first year. Nothing fancy, just five real scoops of teacher talk. And yes I messed up the numerical order. Let me help you “flush out your headgear, new guy” ~Mark Roy Long


Survival Strategies for New Teachers



Facilitating Learning for Speakers of Non-Standardized English

Facilitating Learning for Speakers of Non-Standardized English: This course prepares K-12 educators with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to understand the linguistic and cultural lbackground of academic English learners and promote their academic language proficiency and achievement. Educators will become fluent with strategies that increase students’ academic literacy and provide them with the context and strategies to access core content.


No-Nonsense Nurturer Classroom

In classrooms in traditionally underserved communities, building strong relationships with students is fundamental to establishing a classroom culture where students are motivated to stay on task and achieve to a high level.



A Task Force on New Americans

hero_middle_class_test_03 (1)President Obama (seen here) embracing New immigrants with enthusiasm. (Whitehouse Photo)
If you remember, sometimes late last year 2014 and early this year in the spring 2015, Prince George’s County chapter of NAACP objected strongly to two high schools being set aside for immigrants students in Prince George’s county – Maryland. We covered the story here ~> NAACP objects to high schools for immigrant students.

Since last year, the white house Taskforce on New Americans worked hard to come up with policy agenda to direct communities around the country and the world on how to integrate new immigrants and refugees as part of American family. As we move towards the future, we plan to partner and share ideas locally on how to assist others here in Prince George’s County and around Maryland.

The Obama administration is working hard for American society and sometimes in December 2015, the Task Force will submit to the American citizenry a status report, pursuant to the provisions of the Presidential Memorandum, to inform many of us the progress made toward the recommendations outlined in this report.

 Attached herein is the final report.
“The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life — it is in our DNA.  We believe our diversity, our differences, when joined together by a common set of ideals, makes us stronger, makes us more creative, makes us different.  From all these different strands, we make something new here in America.”
~ President Barack Obama, July 4, 2014

Maryland State Employees Plan Rallies to Protest Staff Cuts


State employees are expected to rally across Maryland Wednesday to protest staff layoffs.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees says it will ask Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to stop staff cuts to public services.

According to organizers, the Division of Corrections announced plans to lay off more than 60 human resource workers to save $3 million. The Board of Public Works delayed that decisiion until next month.

The rallies will be held in the following locations:

Baltimore – 5:30 p.m. Corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Baker Street and Pennsylvania Avenue and North Avenue

Hagerstown – 5:15 p.m.
Town Square – Corner of South Potomac Street and West Washington Street

Landover Hills – 6 p.m.
Ascension Lutheran Church and School
7515 Buchanan Street

Salisbury – 5:15PM
Riverwalk Park
300 South Salisbury Boulevard


PGCPS student Missing From Prince George’s County Found Dead

16-Year-Old Oludumare Ayodeji was last seen in District Heightsimage

A 16-year-old Prince George’s County Public schools (PGCPS) boy who was reported missing earlier this month has been found dead.

According to reports reaching Reform Sasscer Movement secretariat from NBC News, Investigators say Oludumare Ayodeji’s body was found in a river in Washington, D.C under the Benning Road Bridge. His family identified him Monday.

Ayodeji was reported missing on July 1, 2015. At the time, police were not sure how long he had been missing. He was last seen in the 1900 block of Altamonte Avenue in District Heights.

Investigators do not know how long Ayodeji’s body was in the water or the circumstances surrounding his death.

No further information has been released.

635715391347299736-Still0703-00019The section of the Anacostia River where the body was found in Washington DC.


Houston charter school leaders accused of embezzling $2.6 million meant for kids

920x920Five years ago, congratulatory letters poured in from politicians after the Varnett charter school in Houston won a federal “blue ribbon” award for its academic record. It was a standout among schools serving mostly poor, minority children.

Marian Annette Cluff was the school’s founding and longtime superintendent. Her husband, Alsie Cluff Jr., was the facilities and operations manager.

The once-heralded couple now faces potential prison sentences and fines after a 19-count indictment, announced Thursday by federal prosecutors, accused them of operating secret bank accounts and pocketing more than $1 million from parents for field trips and school fundraisers. The Cluffs are accused of embezzling more than $2.6 million intended to benefit the impoverished students they enrolled.

The couple and their son and daughter earned more than $626,000 combined from Varnett in the 2013-2014 school year, according to state records, and the Cluffs own a south Houston home appraised at $1.7 million.

“Those in positions of public trust must and will be held to higher standards,” FBI special agent-in-charge Perrye K. Turner said in a statement.

The Cluffs, who resigned from The Varnett Public School in August 2014, are expected to surrender and appear this week before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson, the statement said.

Dan Cogdell, a Houston attorney representing the Cluffs, said the couple was aware of the federal investigation and has repaid a “significant” amount of money to the school.

“There were certainly errors in judgment made,” Cogdell said. “They’ve acknowledged that, but at the end of the day they’re going to do everything they can to make the situation correct.”

According to a 2014 report Varnett submitted to the Texas Education Agency, $1.5 million had been recovered from the former superintendent as of Jan. 8. It remained in a trust account under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Varnett’s three campuses, which served about 1,600 elementary-aged children last year, are continuing to operate and receive taxpayer funds. The TEA proposed revoking Varnett’s accreditation in September 2013 after an agency investigation found millions of dollars in questionable spending, but the administrative process is ongoing, the agency said.

Federal authorities allege that the Cluffs schemed to personally profit, opening four “off-books accounts” kept secret from their office manager, external accountant and tax preparer, according to the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The indictment, returned late Wednesday, covered actions since 2007.

The couple hid money from vendors, insurance companies and federal agencies, authorities alleged, and evaded nearly $852,000 in federal income taxes.

In addition, authorities said, Annette Cluff deposited more than $115,000 into her personal bank account thanks largely to her orchestrating false invoices from the school’s maintenance and landscaping contractor. She then ordered the contractor to lie to the FBI and say the money was for a loan she repaid in cash, authorities said.

Facing up to 20 years

The Cluffs are charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, tax evasion and obstruction of justice. If convicted of mail fraud or obstruction of justice, each faces up to 20 years in person. The other charges carry a five-year federal prison sentence. The couple could face a $250,000 fine.

Varnett has operated as a state-funded charter school since 1998. The Cluffs started it as a private school in 1984 – inspired while seeking a good preschool for their son.

In 2007, Cluff was honored by the Texas House with a resolution sponsored by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, after she won the Audrey Lawson Impact Award for her service. She was featured on the cover of “Who’s Who in Black Houston” in 2011.

The Houston Chronicle reported in 2012 that the Cluffs had prospered while putting their relatives on the payroll and starting companies to run buses for and rent facilities to the school. Varnett’s 2011 audit said the school paid the two companies $2 million in one year.

Texas Education Agency investigation of Varnett

An investigation by the Texas Education Agency, released in August 2013, found that school funds were used to reimburse the Cluffs for numerous questionable charges.

They included more than $132,000 for hotels, cruises and travel packages; nearly $44,000 at restaurants; and more than $3,000 on tickets for Broadway, Las Vegas and Disney on Ice shows, the report said.

Cluff reported to the Texas Education Agency that her salary as superintendent and any bonuses totaled $264,600 for the 2013-14 school year. The state records listed Alsie Cluff Jr.’s salary as $182,172; their son earned $104,375 as assistant operations manager and their daughter earned $74,941 as a director.

Varnett’s new superintendent, Margaret Stroud, thanked parents for trusting the charter school with their children.

“We are disheartened to learn of the allegations; however, we are moving forward and will focus on the four principles of our core beliefs: high student achievement, safety, respect, and common decency,” she said in a statement.

“We are proud of our students’ and employees’ accomplishments over the past school year, and we are excited to continue our successes in the 2015-2016 school year.”

Stroud retired from the Houston Independent School District in 2005.

Exempt from some rules

Charter schools are funded by taxpayers, but unlike traditional school districts, they are not overseen by publicly elected boards and are exempt from various state regulations.

State lawmakers have tightened rules for charter schools over the years as financial scandals have surfaced, and in 2013 passed legislation intended to increase accountability.

“We are saddened by this latest allegation of financial misconduct by the charter’s founding leader and her family,” David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association said in a statement Thursday.

“If true, these indicted school officials abused their position, violated the trust of the students and families depending on them for quality education, and harmed the reputation of all other public charter schools.”

Indictment against the Cluffs




The case for closing charter schools

imageA first grader does his work while sitting on a bilingual rug at Enlace Academy, Tuesday, April 14, 2014. The charter school, with 70 percent English-language learners, uses a blended language learning approach. (Photo: Kelly Wilkinson/The Star)

Young and idealistic, Tim Ehrgott was zealous for education reform in the early years. Now he wants some charter schools to be shut down.

Ehrgott helped lay the groundwork for charter schools and school choice for low-income families in Indianapolis. Then he launched a charter in Irvington and ran it for several years.

But now he thinks that charter schools with low grades (D or F) should be closed. He also thinks education reformers need to tone down their rhetoric and promises.

Using a stock market analogy, he sees charter schools in an artificial bubble. Perceived value is higher than actual performance. When the bubble pops, the entire movement could be in jeopardy.

Ehrgott comes to these sobering conclusions as a friend of education reform.

He worked with the late businessman Pat Rooney in the 1980s, as Rooney and other business leaders sought school vouchers for low-income families. The General Assembly said no, and Rooney started CHOICE Charitable Trust, offering more than 2,000 private school scholarships a year. CHOICE revealed a pent-up demand for alternatives to public schools.

Then, after the state finally adopted a charter school law, Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson launched the charter movement in Indianapolis. Republicans in the Statehouse later added a voucher program, which has became one of the largest in the country.

Ehrgott says charters have promoted competition in public schools, as well as helped neighborhoods. “The Tindley school has changed the Meadows neighborhood for the better dramatically,” he said.

He also credits charters with providing alternatives for students who struggled in traditional public schools.

Yet, he doesn’t see the overall success that was promised. “Charters in the D-F range should be closed immediately. Those in the C range should not be automatically renewed,” he said. “Produce superior results or be closed.”

More than half the charters, he added, are getting D or F. “Even when you standardize the results for at risk factors, charters are failing at twice the rate of traditional public schools.”

He fears that a good reform could be defeated by lax administration.

“We had a save-the-world mentality in the early years,” he said. “Reality set in. Now, 13 years later, we need a conversation, an honest assessment about the good and bad. The only result that counts is whether students are benefiting from reform.”

Pulliam is associate editor of The Star. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter at



L.A. district continues to persecute one of the nation’s best teachers

Merlin_655829In this 2003 file photo, Rafe Esquith, a fifth-grade teacher at Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles, leads an innovative after-school group in his classroom. (Jonathan Alcorn/For The Washington Post)

Fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith’s worst nightmare began March 19, during a puzzling meeting in his principal’s office. Hobart Boulevard Elementary School’s principal indicated something had happened, but Esquith says that he was told he had nothing to worry about.

That was wrong. I consider Esquith to be America’s best classroom teacher. The Los Angeles educator’s annual Shakespeare productions, real-life economics lessons, advanced readings and imaginative field trips are phenomenal. Yet he has been removed from his classroom since April and told by his school district to say nothing about what is going on.

Fortunately, his attorneys have prepared a detailed account of the administrative incompetence and wrong-headedness that created this situation as Los Angeles Unified School District investigators continue to search for anything they can use against their most-celebrated teacher.

At that March meeting, according to their account, the principal told Esquith: “You have nothing to worry about. This is a bump in the road. I need to counsel you that you need to be careful what you say in front of students.” Esquith said fine, still not knowing was they were talking about. He went back to teaching and preparing for “The Winter’s Tale,” as acted, danced and musically accompanied by his students, mostly from ­low-income Hispanic and Korean families.

Three weeks later, Esquith learned that the district had forwarded a complaint to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, but the teacher still didn’t have details. Esquith said the principal told him he had nothing to worry about and that “this is about nothing.”

The next day, Esquith learned the truth: A school staffer had reported to administrators that Esquith made a joke about nudity that she thought might offend students and their parents. Esquith had read to his students a passage from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in which a character called the king comes “prancing out on all fours, naked.” Esquith reminded the students that the district did not fund the annual Shakespeare play, and if he could not raise enough money “we will all have to play the role of the king in Huckleberry Finn.”

Esquith was told that the district was pressuring him for an apology. Esquith wrote and signed one: “I am deeply and sincerely sorry that any comment someone heard, or thought they heard, has anyone uncomfortable.” Nonetheless, two days later, April 10, the district removed him from his classroom — giving no reason — and sent him to an office for disciplinary cases commonly known as the teacher jail. (He was later allowed to stay home, with pay.)

On May 27, the state credentialing commission rejected the district’s complaint. That same day, investigators met with Esquith and asked him bizarre questions, such as did he know any teachers who didn’t like him and which women he dated in college.

Investigators eventually said they found a man who said Esquith had abused him when he was 8 or 9, during a time when Esquith was a teenage counselor at a Jewish summer day camp. The alleged incidents happened 40 years ago. The man told the Los Angeles Times that he reported this to a Los Angeles school board member and the police in 2006, but nothing came of it. Esquith has denied wrongdoing.

Los Angeles Times reporter Howard Blume revealed recently that cases like Esquith’s had previously been left up to principals, but after a 2012 molestation scandal, the district began to suspend and investigate hundreds of teachers for even small alleged infractions.

Esquith is being treated like a Wall Street cheat. On July 8, the district’s investigators asked him for all of his tax returns, loan and bank records since 2000, giving no reason. Many other teachers being similarly targeted are asking Esquith’s lawyers for help.

This is an investigation gone rogue. If it continues, the Los Angeles school district — previously devoted to helping its students — is at risk of not only losing an exceptional teacher, but also its very soul.

via Washington Post 


Cameron Highlands – Malaysia.

Beautiful Mother earth! a cool escape from the heat of the lowlands, the Cameron Highlands in the Titiwangsa Mountains are one of Malaysia’s oldest tourist destinations. Developed with an English garden charm, this beautiful tableland offers lush scenery, colorful flower farms, tea plantations, forests, lakes, wildlife and outdoor recreation.

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