Thursday, January 29, 2009

On Blast: Hill Rat's "On Blast"

A weak concept coupled with poor execution equals lameness.

As I stated at the outset, this idea for a weekly "column" was an experiment and one that I'm not sure I'm going to continue. Limiting myself to spewing bile only once a week hasn't worked out the way I thought it would. I'm not that great at jotting down an idea and saving it for later so, even though I've had some good ideas for this column, by the time I get around to sitting down to write those great ideas have often left my brain. I'm also not digging the idea that I need to sit down and find something to be pissed off about every Thursday. I spend enough of my life annoyed as it is, I don't need to dedicate a day to it every week.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

More on Ludlow-Taylor

After my last blog post on Ludlow-Taylor ES I had a commenter say: "You've been hood-winked at a dog-and-pony-show. The school was/is in a panic over this blog."

Aww, you're making me blush. I have to admit, the idea that I've got them scrambling over at Ludlow-Taylor is a huge boost to my ego but I'm not sure that's the case. I'm a skeptic and cynic by nature and, given the short time lag between the two events, I have a hard time believing that the open house last week was in any way related to my blog post about LTES. Maybe knowing that someone out there was paying attention made the folks at LTES up the level of spit & polish (handouts were on colored paper and snacks were served) on the evening, but I doubt they went out and compiled achievement stats just for my benefit.


Sporting Debut

It's Saturday morning, BabyRat is having her second piece of fruit, the Backyardigans are on the TV, WifeRat is making oatmeal, and in two and a half hours my daughter will participate in her first (kind of) organized sporting event.

Earlier this week I signed BabyRat up for soccer. After getting a new rugby ball and calendar of the U.S. Women's Rugby 7's team last week, BR was all hyped up to play rugby. I had to explain to her that there was no rugby for kids her age (6 is the cutoff) in this area and asked if she wanted to play soccer. I got a very enthusiastic positive response from BR and so the next day I signed her up online.

I think I'm just as excited as she is.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ludlow_Taylor Revisited

I have to say, I wasn't expecting much from this open house at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School last night. I'm already on record with a strong opinion of both the school and its principal. I got a link to that post from DCist that spiked my hits up to an all time high of 125 in one day! I found that out through the magic of Google Analytics.

I was definitely much less than complimentary in my post and I stand by what I wrote. However as I continue to write about my experiences with finding a public school for my child I find that I'm, thinking of myself and, acting as a citizen-journalist. Which leads me to wonder if claiming that title for myself obligates me in any way? I believe that it does, so here's what I owe you: the truth.

The truth is that I'm not a journalist, I've never taken a journalism class, or wrote for the school newspaper or anything like it. I have no idea what the basic tenets of journalism are supposed to be, I know there's some bullshit myth about objectivity but I can't even pretend I'm giving an unbiased view. Nevertheless, here I am gathering intel and disseminating it to all who care to look.

I'm a Dad who's trying to ensure that his child gets the best education possible, I want everything and then some for my kid. If I don't have to spend $25K every year on tuition for a three year old then our family is free do things like give more to charity, travel, and save for college . . . when I expected to have to pay for school.

But my stake in this is not just financial, it's about what kind of world do I want to leave for my child? Not to get too dramatic, but the decision to forgo public school for the time being was one that I made with great sadness. I always went to public schools (including both colleges, state schools) and I take some pride in the fact that I represent public schools well. MommaRat is a proud graduate of DCPS and I hoped that her namesake (BabyRat and MommaRat share a middle name) would be the same. I know far too many brilliant, educated, accomplished people who went to DCPS, and just as many stunningly average folks who went to "elite" private schools, to believe that there is no value to be found in a DCPS education.

I believe in public schools and want to do what I can to ensure that they remain a viable and venerated part of American life. I'm grateful that I have options, but it doesn't change the fact that I know I'm part of the problem with public education because rather than staying and fighting I'm just throwing money at the problem to make it go away for me and my family. It's not that I'm not willing to work towards better public schools, but for right now (the next 8-9 months) this isn't a fight worth having. I've decided that discretion is the better part of valor and retreated to a Montessori school while we continue to gather information, prepare for the school lotteries for the 2009-2010 school year, and reload for the next battle in the war to educate my child.

So with all that said, my prejudices and motivations laid bare for all to see, I continue my story.

Word 'round the campfire was that Principal Cobbs wasn't really into doing a, "dog and pony show" at this open house. Which makes what happened all the more surprising. I arrived at the evening open house about 15 minutes after it started due to hellacious crosstown traffic on my way home. There were only about a half dozen other parents there, the two men that were there introduced themselves and we started not too long after that. Some of the other people there seemed to know each other (I recognized several members of the group Friends of Ludlow-Tayor) and I sat down at a table by myself when the presentation began.

Principal Cobbs started by going around the room and having each person there introduce themselves. I was surprised that she remembered my daughter's name when my turn to speak came. Ms. Cobbs launched into a detailed introduction of herself, talking about her background in education, her family, and the fact that she recently lost her father.

As someone who also recently lost his own father, my heart immediately went out to her and I began to wonder if I had rushed to a hasty misjudgment. I've been lucky enough to be able to keep my bad days and grief-stricken moments out of public view, but the principal of an elementary school isn't necessarily that lucky. Perhaps when Swiss Family Rat bum rushed LTES the day Christmas vacation ended, she was at the beginning of a bad day.

When she first got up in front of the group Principal Cobbs was hesitant and used a lot of verbal pauses when she spoke. But as she continued to speak, Principal Cobbs got more comfortable and started speaking with more poise and taking command of the room as she spoke about the professional development room that we were sitting in.

The difference between the seemingly indifferent administrative drone I met three weeks ago and the enthusiastic, dynamic educator presenting an optimistic and challenging vision for LTES couldn't have been more stunning to me. Moving smoothly through a PowerPoint presentation Principal Cobbs was charming and friendly while she laid out her educational philosophy.

LTES is only at about 50% of the capacity of the building, so there is a constant drive to improve enrollment numbers. The previous principal of LTES, Dr. Presswood, had a Phd in Special Education so he had increased the number of special education students to keep numbers up. Now it seems that Chancellor Rhee and Principal Cobbs have decided to move their focus away from special education and are concentrating on attracting more families in the neighborhood. During this time Principal Cobbs spoke with a rarely heard candor about the demographic makeup of the school and the issue of diversity.

While all this was going on I started looking through the materials that were laid out around the room. There were teacher bios, feedback forms, daily schedule breakdowns, detailed information on the 3-4 classroom and after school program, and e-mail addresses for the principal and the 3-4 classroom teacher. This was exactly the information that we had been looking for a month ago before we got back to DC!!

Now I'm totally fucking confused. On one hand I'm pleased to see that LTES isn't the black hole of confusion and apathy that it appeared to be during our initial interactions. OTOH I'm annoyed that basically everything I was previously asking for was obviously available in electronic form and could have easily been sent to me via e-mail in, literally, one minute. I don't know who's fault that is, but it's easily fixed; put all these docs in a zip file and as soon as a parent calls up, get their e-mail address, send them the file, and follow up with them via e-mail a week later. If the person doesn't have e-mail access take their address and send them hard copies. Is that so hard?

By now Principal Cobbs has made it through her initial spiel telling us about the tour of the school that's to come and yields the floor to the after school care coordinator and dashes out of the room to go deal with a lost kid. I was pleased to learn that there is a dedicated after school care teacher who hasn't been teaching all day. Ms. Harte (after school care coordinator) was energetic and said all the right things about not wanting after school care to just be babysitting. It was right in the middle of her presentation that I had to leave to go get BabyRat from her after care program.

The strong showing by Principal Cobbs and her staff at the little slice of the open house that I attended has confused the issue of where should BabyRat go to school more than ever. The school lotteries and shit start in like another week, so check back and I'll keep you posted on what I'm doing and where you may be able to find information you may need.


Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK/Inaugural Excitement In My Hood

I spent large portions of Saturday and Sunday with my Mom, doing stuff that my late Father would have otherwise been doing. Assembling bed frames, driving her to the commissary, and hauling stuff to and from the storage area in their (her?) building. Saturday I took BabyRat with me to Mom's condo in Alexandria and gave WifeRat a much needed few hours at home alone and yesterday I went by myself. During all this driving around I was stunned to notice that traffic wasn't nearly as bad as usual. Even coming home over the 14th St. Bridge at about 1600hrs yesterday with the 14th St. and Maine Ave exits closed, the only reason there was a slight backup was the usual problem of idiots not knowing how to drive and getting into a fender bender. We have to go back to Mom's again today for dinner again tonight but, based on the last two days, I'm confident that we won't have any major problems driving in or out.

Because I've been busy with Mom, I haven't gone to any inauguration events. WifeRat somehow didn't know about the concert at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday and I had no interest in going. As it turns out the inauguration came to us this morning.

On our way to Sidamo this morning, we saw some cops blocking off a section of F St. NE between 10th and 11th streets. When we asked the DCPD officer what was up she told us that there was "a situation" and we should go about our business. I thought her answer was a little strange because there was a big ass satellite truck parked right behind the Sasha Bruce Center, but we went about our business. On our way home we found out what the "situation" was: President-elect Obama was doing some volunteer work at the SBY Shelter. We stood around for about five minutes before Obama came out and the crowd of about 200 people broke into chants of "Yes we can, yes we can."


Thursday, January 15, 2009

On Blast: Dog Owners Who Don't Clean Up

What kind of selfish, inconsiderate human being would leave their dog's shit around for you to step in? A big part of the reason I don't have a dog is that I don't want to deal with dog shit; cleaning it up, throwing it away, or even thinking about it.

As you may already suspect, this post is about one specific dog owner. It's a guy that lives in my building who owns a 130+ pound Rottweiler, this dog eats large amounts of food and takes large dumps all over the decent sized back yard of our building. This dog owner, along with his wife, swear that they clean up all of their dog's shit and that any dog shit I see in the yard must have been left by some other dog owner.

Now this claim of theirs isn't entirely without merit. We have a yard that's five yards deep and runs the length of the building (which is about thirty yards long) and is fenced in along the back side. Over the years I've definitely caught some people running their dogs in our yard and one morning a few years back some asshole's dog jumped up on me with muddy paws onto a clean white shirt when I was leaving for work one day. Which means that it's not entirely implausible that at least some of the errant dog shit in my yard comes from some other inconsiderate dickhead's dog. Problem is that a 130+ pound dog takes uniquely huge dumps and most of the "unclaimed freight" in our yard is of the large variety. So unless a half dozen different Rottweiler owners are letting their dogs poop in my yard, I feel pretty safe saying this sloppy moron (and his equally dopey old lady) is falling down on the job.

His sloth and immaturity comes at the expense of everyone else in our building who can't use their back yard because it's a dog shit mine field. Yeah sure sometimes this lazy douche will thoroughly clean the yard before a Summer holiday weekend, but only because he doesn't wanna step in his dog's crap either. We have a unique situation that, aside from individuals in the building constantly hassling this creep, renders us unable to effectively sanction this guy short of going thermonuclear and throwing him out of the building. That may well happen anyway, but not because of the dog shit but because this guys handles everything like he handles his dog: poorly.

Type rest of the post here


Ludlow-Taylor Open House, 1/21/2009, 9:00 am

Title: Ludlow-Taylor Open House

Date: Wednesday January 21, 2009

Time: 9:00 am - 11:00 am

Location: Ludlow-Taylor

Notes: Meet Ludlow-Taylor teachers and staff, see school facilities
(like the renovated library), visit classrooms, and learn more about Ludlow-Taylor's programs. Come hear about the good things already underway and the school's plans for the future.

The school will also be open for prospective parents from 4:30 - 6:00 on the 21st.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Well Dressed Burrito

All last week I was getting the royal treatment with WifeRat and BabyRat chauffeuring me back and forth to work each day. Today WifeRat is back at work, BabyRat started at a new school, and I went back to being one of those people who live and work in the city but drives anyway. It's not really my fault though, I had to drop off the palette of supplies (two changes of clothing, backpack, bedroll, etc.) you have to have for a three year-old starting at a new school and drop off time at this new place is later too.

Even with all of that, the real reason I drive is that I get reimbursed for my parking by Death Star, Inc. It's a very minor perq (really the only one that I get) but it does allow me to easily jet out to handle errands at lunch and indulge my passion for treating myself to great lunches. Lunch time during the work day is one of the few moments where I actually get to seriously consider what it is I want to do. Sometimes I "have to" go eat with my boss or co-workers but more often than not, I get do what I wanna do for lunch.

So today I took the opportunity to go to "The Well Dressed Burrito." A lot has been written about the place, but I had to go see for myself what the hub-bub was about.

Not having any meaningful connection to Mexican or Tex-Mex food past in-laws that live in Houston, I don't have any strong feelings about burritos (or tacos) or what they should or should not include. I have heard foodie types decry the blasphemy of Taco Bell tacos, calling them inauthentic and anglicized. I happen to love Taco Bell tacos, they're what I think of when some one says "taco"; hard shell, ground beef, cheese, and lettuce. So if you're some sort of burrito purist you should probably stop reading now. My requirements for Mexican or Tex-Mex are simple; flavorful ingredients and a bit of spice, a pretty low hurdle to clear.

Today's special burrito was Chicken Tenders with Cilantro Vinaigrette, Red Onions, Lettuce, Tomato, Cheese and Rice. The vinaigrette provided a nice bit of tang to the proceedings that was complimented by the sweetness of the red onions. The chicken tenders were large and properly cooked, you could easily bite through one without turning your burrito into a sloppy mess. Overall I would say that it was a tasty and unusually flavored burrito, pretty good but nothing that's going to inspire the kind of endless love that I have for places like Deli City or Mangialardo's.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

On Blast: Ludlow-Taylor ES

I'm experimenting with a new, regular column called "On Blast." This will be a weekly rant column published on Thursdays where I go off about some person, place, or thing that has angered me over the last week and put them on blast. Be warned, there will lots of profanity and wishes for the painful and complete annihilation of the object of my ire. The hope is that this will keep the invective out my regular blog posts.

As regular readers of this blog know, since about this time last year WifeRat and I have been trying to figure out where to send BabyRat to school. During this time I have attended various open houses, community meetings, and PTA Meetings in an attempt to find a scholastic home for our daughter.

Rather than apply to a school and potentially take a spot from a student who would be in school for the entire 2008-2009 school year, our search for a school was temporarily placed on hold while we were on our six month trip to the Fargo-Moorhead area. We were lucky enough to find a wonderful Montessori school in Moorhead that BabyRat attended for the six months we were out of town.

Ever mindful of the clusterfuck that is DCPS, rather than calling some sort of central administration office, we started calling Ludlow-Taylor ES (LTES) early in the month of December to get some more information about the 3 year-old program available at the school and to find out exactly what needed to be done to enroll BabyRat. A conservative estimate is that we called the principal of LTES a dozen times over the course of a few weeks and were unable to ever get her on the phone. We tried calling first thing in the morning, at lunch time, and after the school day was over to no avail. We left messages over and over again, we asked the people who did answer the phone when was the best time to call and followed their suggestions but couldn't ever get the elusive Principal Cobbs on the phone.

I have numerous friends who are or were public school teachers in a variety of locales around the country, so I understand that the very nature of an elementary school is that it is a hectic place with a never ending stream of small fires that have to be put out. Every teacher and administrator's focus should be on the students within the school walls, perhaps to the exclusion of all other concerns. But am I expecting too much to think that some time over the course of the month that a principal can find ten minutes to return one of a dozen messages left for them?

I honestly wasn't expecting much and would have been satisfied if Principal Cobbs (or one of her staff members) had simply called back to say that they would prefer that we came in and talked face to face. I could have lived with it if someone from the school directed us to a website or other resource where we could find all the necessary forms and information we needed to enroll BabyRat in DCPS. Instead we got a whole bunch of nothing except for one conversation I had with the Kindergarten Special Ed teacher who gave me a brief outline of what the 3-4 year old class does over the course of the day.

This past Friday we stopped by LTES to see if anyone was around and did find the school's business manager hard at work. When I introduced myself, the business manager immediately recognized my name and informed me that my messages had been getting passed on to Principal Cobbs. The business manager was very helpful and was able to track down and give us copies of all the forms we needed to enroll BabyRat in DCPS.

My first question is, given the enormous administrative overhead of DCPS as a system and the individual school at LTES, why isn't there a standardized enrollment packet for students entering DCPS? All of the forms are actually available online, but the enrollment checklist on the DCPS website makes no mention whatsoever of the School Health Requirement Packet!! The mind boggles at such a ludicrous and obvious oversight.

Now we have all the forms we need to get BabyRat into the potential destroying maw of DCPS. WifeRat diligently spends a couple of hours filling out the forms and pawing through boxes trying to find the necessary records over the weekend. We head to LTES on Monday morning before the school actually opens to students to see if we can finally get an audience with the oft spoken of, never heard from, Principal Cobbs.

Finally, at long last, we are granted an appearance with the Wizard of LTES. Even though I'm a large and loud guy, my basic nature is to avoid confrontation but I'm so incensed about the lack of communication that I immediately ask Principal Cobbs why she never called back. Rather than bothering to introduce herself or apologizing or accepting any kind of responsibility for a missed connection, Principal Cobbs gave me a pallid look and says that she's never heard my name. I know that I can't afford to piss off the Principal (in the first five minutes we meet) at a school my kid is attending, so I have to let the shit go. I move to the business at hand and quickly lay out our situation and ask if we can observe the 3-4 year old classroom.

Observing the 3-4 year old class was the highlight of our visit to LTES. The teacher, Ms. Johnson, was energetic, enthusiastic, and engaged with her students. The kids started off the day with "circle time" (something they also do at Montessori schools) and BabyRat was allowed to participate. Ms. Johnson displayed the kind of poise and kindness that you want to see in an early childhood educator; she was firm and warm, inviting but in control, all at the same time. While we were in the classroom, we had occasion to speak to the Mother of a new student who had pulled her kid out of a charter school in favor of LTES.

Eventually we decided that we had seen enough and left the classroom to talk to the school nurse about what, if any problems, there were with BabyRat's health records. We get the runaround from the nurse about exactly what we have to do before BabyRat can start school (there's s dental requirements that the school principal has some discretion on) and go back to the office to wait for Principal Cobbs to show up again.

Before I continue, allow me to recount Principal Cobbs' shameful performance in the school cafeteria in leading the Pledge of Allegiance. It was clear to me that the kids (and the teachers) at the school have little respect or affection for Principal Cobbs. Back in the day (yes, I'm old timing now) when we had our weekly assembly or whatever and the principal stepped in front of the assembled masses, we shut the fuck up without being told. If there ever was a need for the principal to do something to get our attention, not much more than a simple clearing of the throat was needed to render the room silent. Principal Cobbs seemed unable to command even a modicum of order in the cafeteria and simply relied on the PA system to overwhelm the noise in the room while she cajoled a couple of older kids into leading a, not even, half-hearted recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

While I was waiting around for Principal Cobbs, BabyRat was in the gym with the class we had just been observing. During that time she had to go to the bathroom and WifeRat reported that they were UNSAT. You would think that after the school had been closed for the last two weeks that the bathrooms would be, if not clean, at least not gross. Realizing that Principal Cobbs wasn't showing up any time soon, we finally left the school. As soon as we were out the door WifeRat told me that she didn't want to send BabyRat to LTES and I agreed.

It wasn't any one thing that was wrong that was a deal breaker, but it was a death by a thousand cuts kind of thing. The accumulation of minor issues demonstrated a lack of attention to detail and a failure of leadership that I attribute to Principal Cobbs. I could go on, but anything I say now would just be gratuitous 'cause you get the point.


Friday, January 02, 2009

We're Back

Ugh! 1500 miles pulling a trailer is no joke, and the real dagger is that it's sandwiched with loading and unloading said trailer. Still it was a pretty mellow trip back across the country. On the way out to Fargo we took four days to drive out and we did the drive back, along a slightly longer route so we could avoid Chicago and its traffic, in three days with your faithful narrator under the wheel the entire time. The only thing really noteworthy about the trip back was that both nights there was a problem at the hotel.

The first night we stayed at a newly renovated Marriott in Cedar Rapids. When I got to the hotel at 9pm I was pleased; the staff was nice and the pool was open until 11pm. The pool being open late is key because you have to do something to wear out a three year-old that's been sitting in the car and watching "The Bee Movie" all day. I was much less pleased when I turned down the bed to lotion up BabyRat after her bath and there were visible stains on the sheets. Blarrrgh!

Needless to say we changed rooms, but nasty sheets is a violation of the basic agreement between innkeeper and traveler. You expect that shit at an hourly motel off of Rt. 1 somewhere, but not at a Marriott in Iowa. Having seen BigDaddyRat issue verbal beatdowns to hotel desk staffs around the globe, I knew that I would get something if I went down and complained but I wasn't sure what. After consuming a large room service breakfast I went to the front desk and laid out the scenario, they gave many profuse apologies and offered to buy our breakfast. Not being a greedy skinflint, I didn't push my luck and accepted the offer but later regretted letting them off the hook too easily.

The next night we stayed in the thriving metropolis of Dayton, OH at a Holiday Inn that had allegedly won some sort of "qualitly" award according to the guy I talked to on the phone. When I made the reservation I was pretty clear that I wanted to stay at a nice hotel and I was assured that it was. Call me crazy, but when I say a "nice hotel" I think that implies that it's not located next door to a strip club like the one our reservation was at in Dayton. But by the time we get there it's already after 8pm and I don't feel like driving around Dayton looking for a better hotel so we stayed. After BR went to sleep we tried to watch TV but the it wouldn't turn on and they also totally fucked up our breakfast order.

After eating a throughly unsatifying meal, I strolled over to the front desk at check out time and registered my complaints. Fresh off of having punked myself the day before I was determined to cut a better deal for myself this go 'round. So this time I graciously accepted their offer to buy our breakfast, but I continued to press the issue and got 50% off of our room for the night.

Another day on the road and naturally we made it back to Metro DC just in time to get stuck on the fucking Beltway at rush hour trying to get over the Legion Bridge. I spent more time stuck in traffic trying to cross the Legion bridge that day than I did the entire time I was in Fargo, no joke.

Once we made it back to the safe confines of the Rat's Nest on Capitol Hill I soothed myself (and the family) with an application of ribs, chicken, and collards from Kenny's Smoke House. Deliciousness shoots and scores!!

Over the next few days I bamboozled a couple of my teammates into helping me unload our trailer (thanks again Skip and Coach) and mostly concentrated on stuffing myself with as much of DC's local flavor as my stomach could stand. I've been to Sova, Peregrine, and Sidamo for coffee and we've eaten at Sticky Rice, the new Matchbox, and Taylor (twice) since we've been back home.

I am in love with Taylor. There are precious few places to get good sandwiches (Deli City and Mangialardo's) in DC, but they tend to adhere to that weird DC phenomenon of closing at 3pm. Taylor doesn't do breakfast, but they do stay open until 9pm and they deliver. I doubt I will ever have them deliver because they're only about three blocks from the Rat's Nest, hardly seems worth the $2 charge.

Stay tuned for my next post on the EPIC FAIL of Ludlow-Taylor ES.