Friday, January 26, 2007

Standard School Attire

I attended the Parents Advisory Council meeting last evening in the MNPS Board room. Several of the regular attenders were participating in the Strategic Plan retreat. It was interesting. It was frustrating. The bulk of the meeting involved discussing the current standard school attire fact finding mission.

As did the Standard Schools Attire Committee Superintendent Garcia created I'll start by pointing out that the TCA allows every local school board the freedom to make this decision. The only legal parameters are that the clothing be 'simple, appropriate, readily available and inexpensive". Then we must understand that there is a difference between standard school attire and uniforms. The former being much more general and the later fairly rigid. MNPS is looking into the use of the more general, more easily available and less expensive route of standard school attire.

Also mentioned was that the standard school attire policy must have an accommodation for religious or 'strongly held' beliefs regarding dress. The Memphis policy was suggested as a model.

Co-chairs of this Standard Schools Attire Committee include Dr. Monica Dillard, Principal of Overton High School and Dr. Tonya Hutchinson, Principal of Isaac Litton Middle School in my Inglewood neighborhood. Litton has had great success with standard school attire where faculty and staff also conform to the clothing rules. In my visits this comes off very professional and business-like and I, in normal clothing, stand out as obviously a visitor.

There was great testimony from two parents at Litton one of whom was initially against the implementation of the attire. But she whole heartedly embraces it now and even has her other child, attending a different school, dressing the same because it's easier and less expensive. The second mother, of five children, also emphasized the ease and cost effectiveness of this clothing option. A couple of committee members seemed to be concerned about the other clothing the children had available to them in their non-school hours and if the child had fewer options than their siblings. This mom of five was very patient with those questions. Really, folks, that's family business and certainly not the concern of MNPS. There is no right to a full closet of current fashions.

The most frustrating part of the exchange between the PAC members and those testifying was their inability to believe that you could buy a pair of khaki shorts for $5.00 or that Dollar General had clothing that was worth buying. I had to wonder if any of them had ever been to a Dollar General*, K-Mart or second-hand store at all.

Several on this committee also got hung up on whether the local merchants would have time to bring in enough stock before the new school year. I was completely amazed in their lack of understanding of the capitalist system. I believe that if the school board voted tomorrow that standard school attire would be implemented in February (one week from today) their shelves and racks would be brimming with product by then. Some also seemed unable to hear the testimony that many stores already stock these very items all year round. They were told that Memphis gave retailers a four month lead time and there was no problem.

Probably most interesting was the presentation after the presentation. I was never really clear on what their connection to Dr. Garcia's committee was but two parents passed out their presentation called "Standard School Attire: Its Problems and Disadvantages". These parents, Randi Trochtenberg and Mark Schoenfeld, [photos at left] took a very aggressive tone and, as one PAC member correctly pointed out, created a very polarizing environment in that room.

They said their motivation was that presentations thus far had been very pro-standard school attire and that there was 'no empirical evidence' supporting their use and suggested that it was other factors such as 'engaged' learning, teacher methodology and training that also contributed to any decrease in crime and increase in learning. They threw out a lot of statistics, none of which were actually included in their handout. They kept hammering the point--no empirical evidence, no empirical evidence--to the point that one PAC member put up her hand and said "I got it. You two don't want uniforms." So strident was their testimony that I dare say people quit listening.

The City Paper reported it this way:

Parents at the meeting sensed a disconnect with Trochtenberga’s presentation and that of the standard attire committee’s, but Overton High School principal Monica Dillard assured them her committee members were not advocating for or against the change in school attire.

“In defense of the committee — saying it looks like we slanted our information… if somebody had told us we’ve done it and we hate it, we would report that,” Dillard said. “But nobody we had talked with has said that and we’ve not avoided systems that hate it.”
A couple of things that all seemed to agree on:

There needs to be parental involvement. Having community support was going to be essential to ensuring that there was compliance.

It's easier to implement in K-8 than in high school. One student, in what almost came off as a veiled threat, said that if they thought it was tough getting middle schoolers not to leave home in compliance and show up at school in non-compliance wait until you force it on high schoolers. He suggested phasing implementation in.

The Nashville School of the Arts representative (I didn't catch her name. Her photo's on the left) said that NAS students and parents would be against this. "My principal would be against this." She asserted that NAS students need to be able to wear leotards and would resent exceptions for athletes. Dr. Hutchinson had testified previously that on game days athletes were allowed to forgo the white collared shirt for their jerseys.

Mr. Shoenfeld's wife got to her husband's mike and wisely pointed out that this debate is worldwide and may never be settled so expect to revisit this topic in the future.

Dr. Dillard pointed out that they had yet to hear from a school system that had implemented standard school attire anything like "We've done it and hate it." Her committee has been presenting their facts to the BOE in installments. At the next BOE meeting they will cover the pros & cons. That presentation, I've no doubt, will adequately answer the assertions of Trochtenberg and Schoenfeld.

*Dollar General side note: I personally believe that Dollar General has been a lifeline to many urban areas. They do provide the basics of life for a reasonable price in places the big boxes fear to tread. AND they back that up with jobs programs and hefty financial investments in those same communities. If these PAC members don't know the value of a Dollar General--they should do themselves a favor and visit. Their budgets will thank them. It'll be a good reality check for them. Often we're buying the very same brands but at a better price. There is a world outside of Target and the mall.


Anonymous said...

Kay -- do the research school uniforms do NOT do anything for academics, attendance, safety (maybe for a while). It is the changes that go along with uniforms -- rigor, advisors, welcoming environments, etc. that make the difference. I speak from first hand knowledge it does does improve academics, attendance or safety.

The principals know more than they are reporting. It was clear from the way they could answer the questions. They are on a mission to force something on the district.

You as someone who values choice (i.e. homeschooling) should be horrified at the loss of any freedom.

Anonymous said...

To continue -- did you seek permission to publish the pictures of the parents?

The uniform "committee" is the most poorly conducted committee I have seen in MNPS's recent history. The PAC had to insist on parents and students being included in the committee. (We did this at our October meeting but did not get parents on the committee until sometime in December.) The parents have yet to be officially recognized (i.e. named on the presentations to the board). The student was just recognized (i.e. named on the presentation) at the February board meeting. The parents, student and principals have yet to fully engage in a dialouge. Thursday night was the closest this has come to happening.

The principals were scared to death that we were going to ask them questions. You did not see or hear the conversations that took place before the meeting.

This is the first committee I have seen at MNPS that did not involve parents or students when the decision impacts them directly. This is first committee I have seen report out its data in such a disjointed manner. The are not telling the history behind the formation of the committee, they are not sharing their own experiences, they are not reporting what is actually happening in systems where they uniforms, they are reporting the systems that have dropped uniforms, they are truly doing a poor job. I blame it on the charge of the "committee" which is unknown.

The balanced calendar committee had some of these same principals on it. We had good conversations -- strong disagreements on the benefits or lack thereof of the balanced calendar. We did a SWOT analysis. We did tons of research. The parents and community were actively engaged in the process. We did NOT report to the board until we had completed the report.

I hope this helps -- with your fact gathering and "reporting". In addition please seek permission of those whose pictures you took before posting them.

Kay Brooks said...

Regarding pictures: It's my understanding that this was a public meeting on public property and photographs taken in a public place (baring national security) do not require permission. No one came to me after the meeting and objected to my photographing. Richard Tenant did jokingly ask if I'd captured his good side. :-)

I have never been horrified at the loss of "ANY" freedom, especially for children who do need boundaries set by the adults in their lives. Loss of freedom should always be weighed by the benefits. I find there are a good number of benefits to limiting the freedom of children.

You're right, I wasn't privy to all the conversations that took place before the meeting. Why don't you testify to what you heard and enlighten the rest of us? What more do the principals know that they're not reporting? And why don't you report it? Tell us about the first hand knowledge you say you have.

I can see some wisdom in presenting these facts over several meetings. There is a lot to cover and the BOE meetings are long, especially when it's not unusual for the BOE to have had a committee meeting prior to the BOE meeting or a meeting afterward. Sometimes the best way to study a subject is to take it a bit at a time. You may call it disjointed but it could be practical.

SWOT= Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats

So what's the real downside to adopting a standard school attire? Even if clothing has no impact on learning and safety (and I sincerely doubt that)--what's the real damage done by adopting such?

I will grant you that if the Memphis City School is used as an example of how standard school attire can enhance learning--it fails.

BUT I have two schools in my backyard Isaac Litton and KIPP Academy that do use standard school attire and are doing well. Those two examples speak loudly.

Tom said...

Let each school decide.

mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mark said...

Hi, Kay,

Your understanding about the law regarding people's images is incorrect; please remove my picture. And I would prefer you spell my name correctly, though that's your own choice.

All the statistics that we cited are in the sources of the bibliography and are easily available on the web; I find it odd that actual information is seen to be polarizing, but that may be the reason that, as you know, Vincent L. Ferrandino, the executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) maintains that "Adopting uniforms should be a school-by-school decision... Schools should engage the whole school community in the discussion on whether or not to introduce uniforms. It should not be a top-down decision." After all, not all of us have the same views of freedoms as you do, and while I wouldn't want you to impose your vision on me, I certainly won't ask that mine be imposed on you.

thanks, Mark

Bill Hobbs said...

To: Anonymous,

News media covering a public meeting are not legally required to get permission before publishing pictures of (or audio, video or quotations from) people who attend the meeting even if all they do is sit in the audience.

Kay Brooks is a member of the media and covered a public meeting.

Bill Hobbs said...


You spoke at a public meeting - you have no legal right to demand the news media not print your picture.

Kay Brooks can publish your photo she took at a public meeting. She can not use it for commercial (i.e. money-making) purposes, but she can use it in a journalistic context, which she has done.

Kay Brooks said...

Two things Mark--

1. My apologies for spelling your name incorrectly. I'll be glad to correct the spelling if you'll provide me with the correct spelling.

2. You'll also need to provide me with a legal citation before I'll remove your photo. Just your saying I'm wrong isn't enough. Take a few minutes and show me.

This blog is mostly about education. Educators, and those that support the cause, ought to be ready to take advantage of teachable moments. Here's one for you.

Kay Brooks said...

Thank you for clarifying this, Bill. I appreciate you taking a moment of your valuable time and providing your expert opinion on the subject.

eric hudiburg said...

As a student of a mnps school i have first hand experience with the positive and negative effects of ssa.

the positive i see are as follows
*if idealistically enforced it would be harder to hide weapons at school

the negitives are as follows
* the time it takes teachers to enforce the ssa removes valuable time of TEACHING
*it has pitted teacher and faculty agenst students
*in school suspension (iss) rates are thruogh the roof(at least at my school)
*the ssa infringes on the peoples(students) rights
----we are individual people----
while i can name many more reasons why ssa is not good i have a fealing that i wont be payed attention to in the slightet
my appologies if you do read this and care

i assure you that i represent most if not all of my schools student voice

do not discredit us

eric hudiburg said...

also the bickering and law games that
is using is only a testament to her and the pro ssa peoples resilience and uncaring selfish nature.

address the issues not you ego