Gustine Unified: What Empty Buildings Teach


Alright, really quick. I'm hoping to get something up about script frenzy that's been mulling around in my head but it keeps getting bullied and knocked over by all the photography, family, and economy concerns. As such, I decided that I needed to start taking these things on rather than allow them to have their way with me. Yes, I even mean the economy.

Today, I sat down and started a letter to the Editor that I'm hoping to send off to several nearby papers. It's an important issue that is impacting my family but even some of you that follow the blog. While the letter is targeted at the Gustine Unified School District, the same symptoms are being reported across the country. On NPR this afternoon they even profiled the Kansas City school district that is closing half of their public schools. This school district has received over $2 billion and has state of the art everything, complete with olympic sized pool. Now they're going to try and sell the school sites in hopes to avoid bankruptcy.

What follows is the first draft of what I will be sending off to the papers. I'm possibly considering printing out a huge stack of them and taking my son on one of our walks through the town so we can leave them in all the mailboxes. This is that important. Feel free to post this elsewhere and pass it along if you think it might help your own ailing school district. If by chance you happen to fall within the reaches of Gustine Unified, please write your own letters to the editor and flood the papers with cries of dissent. And remember, board meetings are the second Wednesday of each month. I think it's time they start hearing from the people their decisions impact.

What Empty Buildings Teach

I have a unique perspective with regards to the education funding crisis in California. No, I’m not a politician, and while I am college-educated I am not a current student or teacher. However, I do come from family of teachers. That in itself is not all that unique even though it may soon be the way layoffs are going. What is unique is that up until about a year ago I worked as a journeyman carpenter for a company that only does government work. My job was to travel up and down the State installing learning aids - whiteboards, projector screens, tack board. Day in, day out, I visited school after school, rarely spending two consecutive days at the same job site.

I saw mighty old buildings fighting the good fight against the rigors of time, the kind we used to see in after school specials with grand halls lined with lockers. I saw schools like those I attended in the Valley, all spread out with portables scattered here and there. Then there were the great wonders of new construction springing up all over the state, brand new campuses that rivaled even the best of colleges in both size and scope.

These new buildings were filled with skylights, lofted ceilings, SMART boards that transfer the teacher’s writing from the board to the computer, marker boards that covered complete walls from the floor to a foot above my head, and amenities that most of us can only dream of having in our own homes. I’ve installed screens that should have been in movie theatres, put in mounts for projectors that by themselves cost more than the car I drive, and during all of this I was paid the same if not better wages than the college-educated teachers that would end up inheriting those classrooms. Or will they?

It seems we have the money to put up $5,000 SMART boards across the State but no money to show the teachers how to use them. We build multi-million dollar schools but can’t afford to keep on teachers to work in them. In Gustine Unified alone, next year, the class sizes are going to balloon to nearly 40 students per class. A quarter of the high school staff has been given pink slips this year, on top of the cuts made the year before.

And where do we place the blame? On the teachers who went to college for six plus years just so that they could be paid the same as an entry level carpenter putting up white boards? Perhaps it’s their fault for not figuring out how to get a $10,000 projector to teach the extra ten to twenty kids in their class for them.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a misallocation of funds by unelected officials who try to strong arm teachers into furlough days without providing budgetary information to them… people who push to build new schools but can’t find the money to fill them with teachers.

With these unelected officials running amuck, how do we stop them? Do we go to the Federal Government and look for change there? Maybe we try the State with its inability to pass a budget? Or perhaps we look to the people who appoint district superintendants, those five elected officials on the school board.

We have a choice: we can either choose to side with those men and women struggling to teach our children without the support of the district, or we can side with those who take our money to put up buildings in honor of their own egos, so that they can say, “Look at what I built when I was there.” In truth, those empty school buildings can teach us something but the question we have to ask ourselves is: is this a lesson we can afford to learn?

Cathartic Writing


I'm easing into writing tonight. It's writing group night and I'm actually at writing group and eating my chicken ceaser salad avec French bagget. While I've made it to a few over the last couple months, I don't think I've actually written at one, unless it was marketing stuff for the photography business. Getting back to writing after long gaps is always difficult but I'm finding it a bit easier this time around.

I think that's because I eased myself into it with fluff pieces. Well, they weren't really fluff per se, rather they had no purpose other than relieving stress. You see, my perception of part of my world, the real world, has been flipped on it's head. Actually, it has sort of been dropped on its head. That has left me . . . cranky.

I found myself wishing I could do whatever I wanted. If only I had demi-god status and could manipulate the whole of the space time continuum. Then I realized that I could. All I had to do was sit down and write.

Because what I was writing was for me and me alone, I could not only do whatever I wanted but I could write however I wanted. Typos, stumbles, bumbles, not setting things up, jumping around to whatever I wanted to write rather than trying to keep things contiguous. It was great. I even found myself thinking silly things like, “If I go to bed early I can get up before the little one and do some writing.”

If you find yourself in the same spot, if you've been hibernating all winter like I have, then you might want to give the cathartic writing a shot. Have a character who just so happens to be built just like you, with the same hair color, same mannerisms, same . . . everything, walk into work and give the boss what for. Have them orchestrate the demise of that annoying cheerleader in the next row over. I wouldn't suggest keeping names the same, and I definitely wouldn't do anything way over the edge just in case something does happen to your characters FOIL and the cops find your little story. But definitely have fun with it. I think that if you do, you'll realize why you were writing in the first place and get back on the path you were on before all the rules knocked you off of it.

Now, I have to try and steer that forward momentum towards one of my WIPs. So, here I go. I'm going to find a picture to put up with this post and then navigate away.