Thursday, November 26, 2015

Amy Louise Parrish Jett: My Grandmother, the Change Agent, and My Constant

She died in the same way she lived, with a lot of grace and on her terms, in her time, and in her space.  She died at home, 90 seconds after we stopped singing to her in 3 part harmony, and 98.666667 (decimals, then rounding.....really, who besides me calculates that but you know, when I am approaching 99, I want the credit for every day I could get for hanging around this planet for so long!) years after being born at home. Of the myriad of lessons her life taught me, this lesson has become part of the fabric of my being; the lesson that birth and death, can and when medically possible, should happen at home, making sacred space even more sacred.

There is so much I could write about my amazing Grandmother.  It is odd to me now that I think about it, that the eulogy that I wrote for her is her first substantial "appearance" in my blog.  But that is the way it always is, right?  We never truly honor other individuals of such substance during their lifetimes as we should. So it is after their death, when they ostensibly can't hear us, that we speak of them the most. 

Although I have to say...I was constantly mindful of the time falling through the hour glass as she advanced in years, so I chose to be in her physical presence as much as possible, knowing how intensely I would miss her when she was gone.  There are really no words to describe how it feels, now that the sand has run out. But that is a blog post for another time.

We had her Celebration of Life ceremony on November 15th. Although she died on October 27th in Richmond, Kentucky, she donated her body to medical research at the University of Kentucky,in Lexington, Kentucky, so we weren't pressed for time.  She lived in Richmond her entire life & I have lived in Lexington for over 20 years now, making it feel more like home to me than my own hometown.  Honestly, it is strangely comforting to have her in Lexington with me. I never said I was normal. 

Interestingly, although she has 3 living children, & 7 living grandchildren, of which I am the youngest at 40, I wrote and delivered her eulogy. I was given 5 minutes.  Her service resembled more of a music concert, than a funeral.  It was 65 minutes of music and 10 minutes of homily and eulogy. I was given 5 minutes because we are not Catholic, nor Episcopal, we are Presbyterians. Presbyterians get a bit antsy when we breach the 60 minute mark for any service. Always mindful that we are charged to be the hands and feet of Christ, that there is pain and suffering to be tended to, and good works to be done outside of that building, long after the last notes of the music have faded. But we just couldn't get it all in under an hour.  

At the end a friend of mine overheard a comment from another congregant saying, "You would have to pay $1000 to hear this music performed in New York City!" Only the musical repertoire of Amy Jett would include handbells,  2 choir anthems with a flute accompaniment, 3 hymns beautifully sung in 4 part harmony, Amazing Grace sung a capella by a close friend, a spiritual, Precious Lord, Take My Hand,  Faure's In Paradisium, Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze, and conclude with Widor's Toccata from the Fifth Organ Symphony in F, Op 42 #1

It was only fitting that we requested that everyone remain seated to experience the Toccata. If you have never experienced it, do yourself a favor and click on this link and watch and listen as it is played in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. : Widor's Toccata.  It is over 6 minutes long, so pull up a chair, get your ear buds, pour a cup of coffee, & commit to the Toccata. It is life changing. My kids made it through the entire service, including sitting quietly and contentedly through the Toccata, so you can too.  But, if you must fast forward, go to the 3:30 minute mark and listen to the end.  (And if you must fast forward...perhaps slow down a bit, the truest beauty of this life is happening around you, become a part of it. If you have the time to watch the SNL Thanksgiving skit rendition of Adele's Hello, you have time for the Toccata.  Speaking of Adele's Hello, if I were Lionel Ritchie, I would be saying the same thing...Hello?!

Everyone said it was perfect. It didn't feel like it.  I paused to find my voice time and again, as it cracked under emotion and I struggled to finish.  They said it didn't seem like that, but public speaking is a bit surreal by nature and when you are speaking about a recently deceased loved one, it is a surreal factor of 10.  Once I was seated again, after singing in the second choir anthem, Abide with Me, I found my zen place. But when the Tocatta filled the acoustics of her church (and mine) I lost it, sobbing into my hands, as the reality hit me that her favorite instrument was so masterfully played in her honor.   Does is surprise you that it was played by her favorite organist who gladly traveled 100 miles to be there and play in her honor?

It was the most fitting tribute to her that was imaginable.  She lived and left this life as masterfully as the Tocatta was played on "her" organ that day. The symbolism quite honesty, broke me.  It is now 11 days after I delivered this eulogy and while I am no longer broken, I am honestly not fixed either.  But that is how it is with grief, you are never really fixed, just eternally different.

So here it eulogy to Amy Louise Parrish Jett.

Welcome to Amy Jett's Sacred Place.  She would be so pleased to share this amazing instrument behind me, that will be expertly played by a good friend.  There was no greater protector of this Tracker Organ, than she. She would tell you that it is one of the finest pipe organs of it's size east of the Mississippi River.

A little over a month after Amy Louise Parrish was born on a day so snowy that the doctor was required to ride on horseback to deliver her, the Unites States sent combat troops into France and declared war on Germany during World War I.  This was the first of 2 world wars that would take place during her lifetime. 

War was not the only source of death and casualties that year as a flu pandemic also struck in 1917, claiming the lives of 500,000 Americans, including the life of my husband's great grandfather only 100 miles north of Richmond, Kentucky. How frightening it must have been for my great grandmother Lucy, whom I am named for, to realize that a flu pandemic was yet one more medical threat to the life of her newborn born on Mule Shed Lane in Madison County, Kentucky.

She was 3 when women were given the right to vote 55 years prior to the day of my own birthday, August 18, 1920. The first motion picture with sound was released, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was created, the first transatlantic flight took place, and the Stock Market crashed which instigated the Great Depression....all before she turned 12.

She would tell me stories of her childhood, growing up on the farm in Kirksville, Kentucky, when an orange would be her only Christmas gift, and for that one orange, she was abundantly thankful.  I am sure that this attitude of abundance served her well as she faced the rations that all Americans endured during the 
second World War of her lifetime.

She was the greatest of the Greatest Generation and came of age in the era of the New Deal. Franklin D. Roosevelt would serve an unprecedented 4 terms of office, being inaugurated when she was 15 and serving until she was 28. And it was during this time that she started her family, giving birth to her own version of the Silent Generation.  If you know my father and his sisters, you will recognize the irony, as these three are rarely silent about anything.  They learned from their mother that using your voice, whether for advocacy or for soul soothing activities such as a vocal performance, is important.

Her mother & father realized that she had a brilliant mind, that never stopped, and made the monetary and considerable logistical sacrifice to make sure their daughter received an education.  She graduated from high school at the age of 16 and proceeded to fall in love with a man many years her senior.  Paul Jett also recognized her intellectual ability and always encouraged her to be herself, allowing her to live her passions for music, gardening, Cecilian Club, National Federation of Music Clubs, church, Project Read, the list goes on and on, but most importantly her family, during almost 6 decades of marriage.

When my Grandfather was no longer able to do so, she went to work at Jett & Hall (what my family refers to as "the stores") assisting my mother and father in continuing the Jett & Hall legacy.  She stayed mostly in the clothing store, with my Dad, making custom alterations to suits, pants and sport coats.  What she didn't finish while in the store, she would often carry home to finish after dinner and bring back the next day. If asked, she could have quoted the measurements of many in this room today as she performed your alterations over the years.  I have fond memories of spending Saturdays with her in the stores as she taught me how to match a men's tie to a latent thread color in a suit, how to rectify my cash drawer, build displays of accessories, credit and debit charge account statements, make night drops, and wrap gift boxes.  

She taught me how to interact with customers and close a sale because that was ultimately put food on our table, but she also taught me compassion and kindness for the "characters" who sometimes wandered in off Main Street. 

Included in the inventions that revolutionized the world during her later years, were the personal computer, satellite television, e-mail, and the internet.  She embraced all of them.  In her 80s, she bought a new computer & paid a tutor to teach her how to use the computer. She was over 90 when she began using facebook, years before some of her own grandchildren did, and she used e-mail to communicate with her network of friends and family that stretched throughout the country and other countries.

And in all of this change that occurred during her lifetime, in my lifetime, she was simply my constant.  After the deaths of my mother and brother, she was my constant source of strength.  She was my constant and incessant cheerleader.  During my teenage years, many of which were spent living with her and my grandfather, she was my constant source of guidance and governance.

One salient memory I have is the loving care she provided when I came down with mononucleosis.  As part of my treatment, I had to have round the clock oral antibiotics. In the weeks of my treatment, she would set an alarm in the middle of the night, and bring me my medicine, along with something to eat as this medicine could not be taken on an empty stomach. To give you some perspective, she was 72 years old at this time, raising a 4th teenager. 

She was my sage, in the 40 years I was blessed to have her, she was a constant mentor to me drawing on her experience as a talented musician, master gardener, skilled cook, concerned citizen, caring mother, loving grandmother, & compassionate friend.

Based on the outpouring of condolences that I have received since her passing, it is obvious how many lives she touched and the difference that she made in the lives of so many.  The overwhelming message from all of them was that their lives were made better, just by knowing her.  

But her greatest gift to me was teaching me to live an authentic life. She taught me to never take a day for granted and live each one like it might be my last. She taught me to use my voice, both musically and intellectually, but she also taught me to say what I mean and to mean what I say. She taught me to live fully, love deeply, care passionately and trust my instincts.  She taught me that you are never to old to learn and you are never too old to change.

Thank you, Amy Louise Parrish Jett, for being a change agent 
for so many but for being my constant.  

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Memo to our next FCPS Superintendent....It's about a lot of things, but it's not the kids

Source: Fayette County Public Schools

Legal Disclaimer:
This is not an official FCPS memo, this is my personal blog.
This is not letterhead, you are reading a computer screen.
If you are confused by this, you are not the intended user.

Stop reading now.


Date: Saturday, June 27th, 2015

To: Our Next Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent
From: Lucy Jett Waterbury, Member, Parent Interview Panel

Let me start by thanking you for spending 45 minutes with me and the panel of 37 incredibly passionate, intelligent, well spoken and diverse parents. We were chosen to represent an exceptionally diverse population of kids, with needs that vary dramatically. The parent selection part of this process was done brilliantly, as this group of parents was phenomenal! But I would like to state that I, and most of the parents serving on our panel, found the interviewing process protocol to be unbelievably maddening.   If you think that Lexington is full of passive parents that gladly sit there silently, and not engage with you in follow up discussion, this is an incorrect picture that was painted before you.  But alas, we didn't get to make the rules, we just had to "tow the line" or resign from the panel.  Getting to hear your responses to the "cleansed & newly improved" questions was worth it to us, so we stayed. 

The 11 questions you were asked, of the 65 questions that were submitted, were not ours.  Okay, well they started out as ours but then they were run through a sterilization system of hiring consultants, human resource professionals, legal counsel & district staff before they were spit out on the other end, barely recognizable.  They needlessly made sausage out of our filet mignon questions, to use an analogy. I considered "going rogue" and actually asking you my question, as it was written, but figured that I might get removed by security. (After this blog, they may not even let me back in the FCPS headquarters!) If you want to know how my original question you go:

 "Given a lack of Federal funding and minimal state funding of Gifted & Talented programs, as a transformational educator/leader of a district with higher than national average percentages of gifted & talented students, how would you meet the unique needs of all gifted and talented students, in every school, remedy the inequities that currently exist regarding the under served, yet identified gifted/talented students, generally, and more specifically in high poverty, under identified and lower achieving G/T student populations and schools?"  (Shout out to my education guru, first grade teacher, 6th grade English teacher, assistant principal @ Model Lab & Sunday School teacher, and grandparent of FCPS kids and stakeholder Jackie Vance for helping me formulate this question!)
So you say you don't recognize my question, that was supposedly chosen as one of the 11 that were actually asked, from the one above? Yep, I don't recognize it either.

While we wanted to be able to engage in a dialogue with you, you know, like a real interview, we were told that all we could do was listen, take notes, and then when you left the room, talk amongst ourselves.

Regardless of which candidate actually receives this memo, there were elements of the parent interview process that I believe put each of you at a disadvantage, and for that let me apologize on their behalf.  That sucked and hopefully we have learned something this time around.  We were told that the board didn't have to let us interview you at all, as this is their decision, not ours, which is true, so we should just be happy. I don't sound happy, do I?  I will work on that. But once you read the rest of this memo, you will begin to understand.

A bit about me....

For better or worse, and richer or poorer (just ask my husband!), I am a change agent. Call it a disease, call it a form of madness, call it what you will, but it is not a quality that I have chosen, it is just in the fabric of my being. Fundamentally, I just can't keep my mouth shut when my voice is needed. (You could blame my mom for this, but she is no longer of this planet, but watching from heaven and laughing her ass off)

I believe in public schools.  Let me continue by saying I am not the product of the Fayette County public school system (or any public school, I attended Model Laboratory School in Richmond, KY, which explains a lot), but my 2 children will be.  

You only know me as the head nodding blonde sitting in the second seat down on your right side, but I am not a kick 'em while they are down kind of gal, preferring to see the best intentions in people and I try to be part of the solution, not a thorn in their side, but if taken that way, so be it.  

After having had a child in the Fayette County School system for the last 3 years, I have received my own public school education in what it seems to be about in this district,and at the district level, it's not about kids. 

I would like to share just a few of my observations from being a parent in the system, a PTA member, a newly elected PTA board member, a newly elected Site Based Decision Making Council (SBDM) member, a school board meeting survivor (watch for the alliances to be able to Outwit, Outplay and Outlast these folks!), & finally a member of the 2015 superintendent screening parent interview panel.  Here are my observations:

  • It's about keeping up appearances, not keeping up best practices
  • It's about investing in buildings, not in brains
  • It's about covering collective asses, not covering the bases
  • It's about the dog and pony show, not the talent show
  • It's about the bond rating, not the school rating
  • It's about cleansing the message, not sending the right one
  • It's about hiring the familiar, not the fantastic
  • It's about who is in charge, not who are the leaders
  • It's about resting on laurels, not fighting for Laurels
  • It's about budget gaps, not achievement gaps
  • It's about saving gas, not saving lives
  • It's about passing the buck, not multiplying the dollar
  • It's about speaking in hushed tones, not speaking up
  • It's about saving money, not saving children
  • It's about making excuses, not making gains
  • It's about regressing to the mean, not reaching for the stars

    Here's the thing, in the Fayette County Public School system, we do well in spite of ourselves.  As your research would indicate, we have some of the highest achieving schools in the state but we also have some of the worst.  Lexington, KY is a community full of highly dedicated, educated, and passionate people, who care deeply about kids, many of whom they don't even know. In case you missed it in your research, if you would like an example, you can read about yours truly in last Saturday's Lexington Herald-Leader article:Parents Raise Concerns about Fayette County Schools' Handling of Gifted and Talented Students

    Here is what I know after hearing your responses to our diluted questions, in a bastardized process. Both of you care deeply about kids.  Both of you are qualified to lead this district.  Both of you are capable of being change agents.

    I wish you the best of luck in your Skype interview this morning.  You have to be thinking WTH?!, why are they doing this interview via Skype when I was just in town!  It's like they didn't know you were coming or something! Don't ask me how a school board fails to call a school board meeting to interview you in person.  While you were being received with light refreshments, paraded around town, being "interviewed" in a sterile environment for hours by students, staff and parents, somebody let the dog and pony show get in the way.  (From what I am hearing it had something to do with an unread e-mail sitting in a staff inbox.  People make mistakes, I get it, but we have emergency board meeting protocols for a reason but I digress...) Instead of admitting the mistake, and calling the emergency meeting to remedy the oversight, they decided eh, let's just Skype 'em and make it look like it was supposed to happen like this all along.  It's like Keystone Cops around here but perhaps the bullets above are helping distill in your mind why we need you so badly.

    Should you and my best friends on the board (ha!) decide that Lexington, KY is your next home (speaking of homes, I know a great Realtor, as I don't get paid for this change agent gig!), don't say I didn't warn ya. 

    You heard it here first.  Don't let the logo fool ya.  

      Saturday, April 4, 2015

      Begging for Polio in a Modern World

      I don't remember a time when I didn't know brain cancer.  In the same way that most people cannot remember a time when they didn't know there ABC's or when they couldn't read, I cannot remember a world that didn't include glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) brain cancer.  

      My mother, Genie, was diagnosed at 38 in 1981, when I was 6 years old. She had two brain surgery resections, she endured enough radiation and chemo to take down two elephants and she fought valiantly for 3 years, when the average life expectancy remains stuck at 18 months, even 30 years later.  She fought because a. she was a fighter by nature (guess you are seeing now that this apple didn't fall far from that tree) b. she had three children that she simply couldn't bear to leave behind in this world. But she was forced to leave us behind three days after Christmas in 1984.

      My brother, Stephen, was also diagnosed with the "beast" in February of 2009 at 38, when I was 33 years old.  He did not have any children but he did have one amazing, life sustaining, wife Carin.  While Stephen endured two complete surgical resections, radiation, chemo, and a new drug called Avastin, he unfortunately left this world in August of 2011, 8 days before I turned 36. If the brain cancer world has gained anything between 1981 and 2009, it is that for many, the treatments are not as horrifically difficult to endure.  Stephen led, as reasonably as one can with a terminal cancer diagnosis, a relatively "normal" life until the last few months of his battle.  I like to believe that it was through my mother's generosity of donating her body to the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center for research, that her youngest son was given the gift of a high quality of life, that she did not enjoy during her own battle.

      So while the medical community attempted to tell my family that we were simply struck by lightening twice, I called shenanigans on that preposterous notion.  Some crazy shit has gone down in my family, make no mistake, but two brain cancer diagnoses in the same immediate family, at the same age, is not a lightening strike, it is called a familial glioma. Good Lord, do I wish I was blissfully unaware of this reality, but I digress.

      To make a long story short, my family has been participating in the International Gliogene Study out of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas since Stephen's first tumor was diagnosed.  Were we notified about the study by his team of doctors in Louisville? Nope. Stephen's little sister, yours truly, that can't turn her brain off, decided that someone must be studying this type of thing. In the billions of people in this world, my family couldn't possibly be the only one facing this nightmare in the modern medical era.  

      And his little sister was right.  Turns out that there were over 14 study sites throughout the world, studying these "lightening strikes" for families just like ours. So my poor brother endured extra blood draws and my mother's medical records were resurrected from a limestone cave in Central Kentucky (I am not kidding folks!  Baptist Health, aka Central Baptist Hospital, was able to find my mother's hospital records from the 1980s to send to Texas!).  My Dad, my older brother Neal, and I all had our blood drawn and sent to MD Anderson to see if we could be part of the solution.  And I have to say that I believe that we were as they are getting very close to mapping the familial glioma gene, in the same way that other cancer genes have been mapped for years (think Breast Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, etc.)  

      (This whole being part of the solution thing is Genie's legacy in me.  I swear it is like it's own disease, a good one I suppose, that I keep trying to pass on to my kids.)

      They are most likely years away from providing definitive testing for folks to tell them if they have the gene and would you really want to know?!  Speaking from experience, I wouldn't. Until brain cancer is no longer a death sentence, knowing just makes you a ticking time bomb.  

      I have well meaning, caring, folks ask me all the time if I have routine MRIs to see if I have a brain tumor like Mom and Stephen.  I try to be gracious and explain that even if I had an MRI this morning, showing no tumor, a tumor of the worst cancer known to mankind, could begin growing tonight  (after my University of Kentucky Wildcats take the Wisconsin Badgers out of this March Madness which is really April Madness, as an astute friend of mine pointed out to me this week).  And I could be dead in 6 months, before the next "preventative" MRI even happened.  And just think, in August I will turn 40 so I made it past 38, so that's something (or so I tell myself).

      For the record, if I have brain tumor right now, I don't want to know.  It will rear its ugly head very quickly, as the size of the "beast" doubles every 2 weeks, so I will take 2-6 weeks of being blissfully unaware as I promise that small amount of time of not knowing I had cancer will be the best gift I could have been given as when you know, it changes EVERYTHING yet ironically, nothing changes at all. 

      And check it out, even if I knew I had the familial glioma gene, it's not like I could pull an Angelina Jolie, and have my brain removed (obviously a brain transplant might have remedied stupid mistakes for her like Billy Bob Thorton, but apparently the brain started working when Brad Pitt came calling!) And do not think I am making light of what Jolie has done in mitigating the risk in losing her own life and educating others about familial breast and ovarian cancer genes.  

      If I had her genes, you better believe I would have my breasts and ovaries removed, like yesterday.  I don't care what the doctors or research says, breasts and ovaries may be required to bring life and sustain the life of a new human, but to the current owner, they are let's say, inconvenient on their best day. If having them is risking my long term survival, and I had her money to buy me a new fabulous pair of breasts, where do I sign?! Until you have walked a mile in these "cancer pervades my immediate family" shoes, don't even talk to me.  You don't get it...and this "it", you don't want.

      And you are thinking, Lucy, what in the world does any of this have to do with polio?!

      Well, glad you asked.  As you see, just last Sunday, the TV news program "60 Minutes" aired a segment regarding an experimental treatment study for glioblastoma multiforme that is being conducted at Duke University, the nation's leading research center in brain cancer.  Apparently the researchers at Duke are injecting brain tumors with, you guessed it...the polio virus.  Okay, it is a form of the virus that has been rendered harmless to the rest of the body but apparently eviscerates brain tumors when injected straight into the brain.  Craziness, right?!  

      (If you would like to watch the 60 Minutes segment you may watch it here: 60 Minutes: Killing Cancer Part 2)

      Does the premise of this treatment completely blow your mind?! The hypothesis here is astounding and unbelievable.  But for me, the mere timing of it had me in tears and very conflicted.  Stephen died in 2011 and this study began in 2012 and as those tears were brimming in my eyes as I processed what this trial could have meant for our family, I remembered a cruel reality of this life.  Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Close doesn't deliver my brilliant, witty, kind, caring, and loving brother, one of the only human beings on this planet that shared my history, back to me.

      Does it tell you how determined some folks are to stick around this planet that they willingly sign up to have their brain injected with Polio? And would it blow your mind to know that while there are two long term "survivors", at 3-4 years post treatment, and that half the participants died anyway.  So these people are leaving their homes, risking what little time they have left, driving and flying from all over the country, heading to Duke, and having their brain injected with polio when there is a 50% chance they will die anyway.  But, 50% beats the 100% chance of death that comes with a "beast", so who could blame them?  

      So while this die hard University of Kentucky Wildcats fan will adamantly cheer against the Duke Blue Devils tonight in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.  And will do the same, if given the chance, on Monday in the National Championship, I am a huge fan of one Duke team.  The team that is saving lives with a virus that for decades, we tried to eradicate, and has ironically plagued the lives of so many others with immense pain and suffering.  If the definition of desperation is begging for polio to be injected into your brain then using the polio virus to eradicate brain cancer is the definition of making lemonade when life hands you lemons.

      This life is so strange. We are guaranteed no tomorrows.  Embrace the fact that today you are not begging for one horrific virus to be injected into your brain, to save your life.  

      And then do what Genie would do, go be part of the solution.

      (If you missed my blog post remembering my mom, just click here-------> Remembering Genie Jett)

      Sunday, February 15, 2015

      Love is....

      Yesterday was Valentine's Day.  It is a day that is intended to recognize expressions of love between people, but like most "holidays" has turned into another commercialized, Hallmark-laden, economic engine.  Just like has happened with Christmas, the expectations, guilt, and stress that are associated with perfect gift giving, have replaced the true meaning of the day, which is love.  But if your expressions of love are defined only as chocolate, jewelry, flowers (only on a holiday, not an average day), expensive dinners out, or the like, you are missing it.

      I spent my Valentine's Day cleaning up vomit and cleaning my house, for the 15th time this week. Of course having two children hit by a stomach virus in one week will incentive a parent to deploy all disinfecting means to make this shit go away, literally, without claiming the large humans.  Because as any parent knows, the only thing worse than taking care of a sick child is doing it while you yourself are sick.  

      I also had the privilege of spending my Valentine's Day assisting a wonderful couple in finding their new dream home on a day whose weather quickly dissolved into hazardous road conditions.  

      But to me, that is what love is.  It is cleaning up vomit and scheduling tours of homes to make sure everyone is home before the dangerous weather your clients weren't even aware of...hits.  It is making a relatively healthy dinner for your kids when feeding them a bag of Oreos would be so much easier and make everyone happier, but not healthier.  

      So my dear readers, I will take a stab at how I define love and I invite you to return this kind of love to those who need it so desperately in this life, whether they are those closest to you or those who currently are the most foreign. And let's not wait for Valentine's Day to show others that we love them as we all need it, year round.  

      Love is....
      • installing a whole house humidifier on a 10 year old furnace, after years of filling a portable one from the tub faucet
      • changing and laundering vomit covered sheets at 2:30, 3:45, & 5:07am
      • caging tomato plants to protect tomatoes you will never eat
      • wiping noses, tears, bottoms, etc.
      • holding vigil at a hospital bed for hours and days at a time
      • changing diapers, infant and adult
      • brushing the teeth of tantruming children
      • spending your own money on needed classroom supplies
      • donating organs
      • finding a new pair of my favorite 5 year old Levi jeans on ebay
      • stopping to help change a stranger's flat tire
      • helping a laboring mother breathe through natural childbirth, giving her the time and terms she needs
      • baking decorated cakes for needy kids whose parents are unable to afford them
      • donating a warm winter coat 
      • serving in a soup kitchen & serving the homeless wherever they are
      • reading that last bedtime story when you desperately want your own bed 
      • shopping for tylenol, humidifiers, cough syrup, milk, bananas, or goldfish at 3am
      • playing one more game of Uno
      • saying "yes", when everything in you is saying "no"
      • saying "no", when it would be so easy to say "yes"
      • building the 8th sandcastle
      • applying the sunscreen for the 5th time
      • holding the hand/leg/arm of a child for a vaccine while staring in their eyes that show disbelief & betrayal
      • running behind the bike without training wheels with your hand on the seat
      • keeping the epi-pen at the ready, always
      • sharing the organic green beans that you raised from seed & canned yourself
      • using your powerful voice, when it needs to be heard, when there is nothing in it for you, and you would rather stay silent
      • starting and scraping your spouse's car on a cold & snowy winter morning
      • programming the coffee pot the night before
      • buying my organic half & half because you notice I'm running low
      • plugging my phone into the charger when you notice it needs it
      • unclogging a slow drain 
      • cleaning the cat litter, for the 20th time in a row, when it's everybody's cat
      • insisting on the extra layer of clothing when the complaining ensues
      • providing complimentary child care to weary and worn out parents
      • making and taking homemade chicken noodle soup to a sick friend
      • replacing the burned out bulb in the left turn signal
      • shoveling your neighbor's walk
      • serving on the school accreditation committee
      • being a shoulder to cry on
      • going back for "blankie" when you are already running late
      • handing down your children's clothes to little ones not far behind
      • putting yourself "out there" when the risk is real and palatable
      • ignoring your own discomfort to lessen the discomfort of another
      If you find yourself living a life without love expressed in ways similar to the above, but instead only filled with boxes of chocolate and with Kisses that only "begin with Kay", life is going on around you and you should become a part of it.  

      In my mind Valentine's Day should be renamed, Sacrificial Love Day, but then that wouldn't sell much stuff would it?  But then again, as they say, the best things in life are free.

      Thursday, February 5, 2015

      Dear Alan Stein & are blurring the lines, quite badly.

      Well, Tuesday was the day.  I enrolled my daughter, the last of the Waterburys, in Kindergarten to begin her education journey in public school, more specifically Lansdowne Elementary.  On that cold February morning when parents of the "have" schools lined up out the door on the first morning of Kindergarten registration, to make sure that Thurston Howell the 4th is enrolled at a public school where 9%-13% of the population receives free or reduced lunch, I experienced no lines at Lansdowne where our free lunch population trends around 56%.

      There should have been lines, hell people should have been camping out to register their children in this amazing school.   But in this town, people camp out for basketball tickets, not Kindergarten. (And #BBN, don't be hatin', for those who know me, I love me some UK basketball, and because I am a glutton for punishment, football as well). 

      Because if you look close enough, you will see that this amazing school is simply getting it done for those that show up, often unregistered on the first day of school, speaking one of many different languages.  Although violations of the over capacity policy and "Out of Area" policy are common in some schools, using it to cherry pick some students while conveniently deploying the policy to keep the less desirables at bay, at Lansdowne they simply follow the rules.  They are achieving amazing things with the kids that show up to be loved as much as they show up to learn. They don't break the rules, they don't spend precious school or PTA resources on branding their own drinking water (yep, this is happening!), but when asked, they ask the United Way for new underwear and socks for our kids.

      I can't say that I blame these well intention-ed parents for wanting what they perceive to be the "best" elementary experience that Fayette County has to offer, in their own neighborhoods. But we have a capacity problem and an achievement problem here in Fayette County. They don't know that there are other many wonderful schools in this county, because it is all they know.  They "know" it is because it is what they have been told by their Realtors (don't even get me started on how this shouldn't be happening!), by their new neighbors, and if they grew up in Lexington, what they just "know" about the "have not" schools. They don't realize that if you actually look at the data, that these "have" schools, although distinguished, should be absolutely killing it in achievement as the deck is stacked completely for them.  They should have amazing scores and they should be held to a different standard.  How do you truly normalize achievement between schools with high percentages of children of affluence against those with high percentages of ESL, hunger, abuse, & neglect?  You simply can't.  But when you do, don't even begin to act like it is the same. 

      But I digress...and just like with anything in life, when the exception to the rule becomes the rule, the whole system balloons with inequity, favoring the "haves" even more. It is the few bad apples, spoil the entire public school barrel analogy. And if no one is truly watching or policing, it just continues.  They can say that policies are being followed but I have a real estate client that has been repeatedly lied to about the over capacity &  "out of area" policy by two different "have" schools and a district representative that misrepresented the continuation policy that you were yourselves were "schooled" on in the grandfathering meeting this week.  What is supposed to happen with these policies and what truly happens depends on, well, who you know.  Not that this is unlike real life either. But when it is tax dollars that are supporting these endeavors, is being held accountable to policies wrong?

      I realize that most of you don't know me, and you don't know my daughter.  You don't know my son, and from your poorly considered and hastily crafted, proposed attendance boundary change to the Lansdowne/Southern Elementary southern Wilson Downing boundary and grandfathering suggestions, you don't understand what is truly going on in your school district or how the approach to elementary redistricting and grandfathering should be considered differently than that of middle and high.  But who can blame you? After all, your committee elementary representation has been shamefully absent with the exception of one parent representative from a "have" school. 

      And on an afternoon when I considered not attending your committee meeting since it was high school free lunch percentages that were the "soup du jour", I knew better and went anyway.  Our buddy Scott in California was otherwise occupied so understandably, grandfathering was the topic of the day.   I knew that there was a certainty that 2 of the 3 elementary voices on your committee would not show up and sadly the 3rd, the ONLY elementary school principal on the committee, didn't show up either.  So I got to watch as one educator at the high school level proclaim that she wasn't even sure her child even realized he was attending Kindergarten at the time (Yes, she actually said that!) and another member use her own personal experiences dominate the policy suggestions for grandfathering at the elementary level.  And in your infinite non-elementary wisdom, you decided that only 5th graders and one trailing sibling that are the recipients of your boundary changes will be allowed to remain in the building. 

      Just so we are all on the same page...our small humans spend twice the number of years in elementary as they do in middle school and 1.5 times as high school. In these first 6 years of public school, Parent/Teacher Relationships are built, habits for success are formed, trust is established, routines become sacred and achievement is assessed and tweaked.  Why is it that I keep hearing "kids are resilient" when little kids are discussed but when middle school and high school kids are discussed well, they need to be protected above all? 

      Do any of you have a child with an IEP?!  Do you know what IEP stands for? or why these children and families will be disproportionately damaged by school boundary changes?  If you answered no to two of these questions, please refrain from making grandfathering decisions for small humans until you understand the ramifications of your decisions. Will you not consider grandfathering back to 3rd or 4th grade?!

      So here is my suggestion, to bring to life a great line from a movie... "help me, help you" Because you see, I know Lansdowne Elementary and from where I sit, it is the perfect example,  of how you are in fact violating your guiding principles in this bastardized process, instead of understanding why you should be protecting it.  

      I have watched almost all of your elementary committee meetings in person and if you think that what you are doing is hard work, you have no idea. These Lansdowne educators are doing the hard work of transforming a child who showed up at school without supplies, in some cases may not speak English nor write it, NOT Kindergarten ready, hungry, and many times needing love and compassion.  

      Let me break it down for you very simply, here is what I know that you evidently do not:

      • Taking two schools with roughly the same socio-economic balance currently but now raising Lansdowne's free/reduced lunch 20 percentile points to 76% and lowering Southern Elementary's to 42% is a clear violation of your socio-economic balance guiding principle. You are purposefully creating more INEQUITY!
      • The neighborhoods of Southpoint and Pickway are not close to either Southern or Lansdowne.  NO ONE CAN WALK, NO ONE IS WITHIN A MILE TO EITHER SCHOOL. Their children MUST be bused somewhere and the schools are less than 1 minute drive time away from each other.  Lansdowne has been the "neighborhood" school to these neighborhoods for 20 years and there is a huge sense of pride and love for this school in these neighborhoods, yet you are destroying a powerful school culture to make a map look "pretty".  
      • It has been brought to my attention that unbelievably, the school board did not ask your committee to consider achievement levels in your redistricting.  I don't even know where to start about how stupid it is to ignore achievement when crafting school boundaries.  But in any case, you didn't write the guiding principles, you are just charged with following them.  But, your newly proposed, only 5th grade is a protected class grandfathering policy ignores the incredibly unfair reality you are creating in achievement measurements in 2016.  3rd grade scores are the first measure we have of "official" school achievement and as such the ramifications to Lansdowne Elementary of losing these Southpoint and Pickway 3rd graders in 2016 that they have educated since Kindergarten, and against which they should be measured, will create a disparity in achievement scores for this school which will be counter productive and unfair and will take many years to remedy, if it ever rebounds. 

      Being held accountable for the scores of large numbers of children, they have had no role in educating, and disproportionately more disadvantaged in demographic, is just adding insult to a potentially life threatening injury for this particular school. Will you not consider grandfathering back to 3rd grade?!

      I realize that life is simply not fair.  I share this reality with my children quite often, but when the policies of a committee charged to create a more equitable school system, while protecting neighborhood schools are flagrantly violated, is goes beyond unfair, it begins to appear incompetent at best, and intentional at worst.

      If you won't fight and use your guiding principles to protect, and not endanger Lansdowne Elementary and others such as Julius Marks, Dixie, Picadome, & Harrison Elementary, you should be asking yourself why you are serving.  If the reasons you are serving are truly altruistic then carry on with your bad self but if you can't bother to show up to meetings, advocate for kids when you are qualified to do so, and use your voice when you have something educated to say, and more importantly realize when you should keep your mouth shut when you aren't qualified to speak, do us all a favor and stay home.

      One thing is for certain, I will be at the public forum on 2/16 at Tates Creek High School. Hopefully, there will be a line. 

      Friday, January 23, 2015

      Remembering Genie Jett....

      Well, it's 5:00am and here I am again.  Can't sleep and even worse, I can't turn off my brain. And hey look, it isn't even a holiday, maybe I can get these blogs off the virtual press more frequently from now on.

      As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have been advocating for my son's school in the redistricting planning that has been going on in Fayette County.  I had a meeting with my son's school principal yesterday.  She had been to another school for a meeting and came back with a water bottle branded with the name of the school across the front. So you are aware, some schools are branding their own drinking water and our school is asking the United Way for underwear and socks. Did I mention that these two schools are just 2 miles apart in my community? So yesterday these kids needed my tenacity and data junkie talents to politically navigate an attendance boundary debate, but today they need my willingness to wrangle coats.  

      You see, our school has been having a coat drive since November because many of our kids don't have warm enough coats to endure Kentucky winters.  While we have had a pretty mild January, February and March may have different plans for us.  So anyway, we have been collecting coats from our kids whose families are financially faring better in this world and we will have those coats laundered and then bring them back to school and make sure that each of our less fortunate kids has a coat that they need to protect them against the elements as most of them walk to school. It's a pretty cool recycle, reuse effort if you ask me.  Fayette County does NOT provide bus service if you live within a mile of the school.  Most of our financially struggling families live within that one mile boundary, so to add insult to injury, these kids don't have sufficient protection against 10 degree windchills. And my job today is to wrangle the donated coats at school, call around to try and find a dry cleaner or laundry mat who might be willing to donate the laundering services.  If I don't find one, I will be blocking off a few hours in my schedule next week to wash them at a laundry mat myself.  Most likely some of of my phenomenal Lansdowne parent counterparts will join me to lend a hand at the Loads of Suds.

      And when these coats are handed out to these very needy & very deserving kids, my Mom will be smiling.  I'm not unconvinced she wasn't responsible for my 5:00am wake up call this morning. My constant self-assessment of how much I am giving back to my community stems from my parents. Instead of being a nature vs. nurture consideration, I am convinced it is a nature & nurture argument.  I mentioned my Dad's school board service in my last blog post.  And that was merely one board of the dozens that he and my mother served on throughout my life.  

      My entire childhood was spent watching my parents serve on various community boards, give of their time and talents to the less fortunate, serve as Scout leaders, and make a difference in the lives of those who needed it, while holding public officials accountable. 

      While my Dad is highly intelligent, he is a relatively quiet analytic observer who uses his voice selectively. My mother was quite different in her approach.  She was a politically savvy, brilliant & witty, sharp tongued firecracker who never backed down from a fight. Did I mention she was raised by a US Army Colonel?  

      Before she had children, and even a few times after that, she and one of her best friends would listen to the police scanners and show up in areas of town less fortunate than ours, and they would witness how the police handled the situation. Who does that?  Genie did. And this was soon after the civil rights era and if I am anything like her, I know what was going through her head.  The thought process was probably something like this: Well, just because they have achieved more rights under the law, it doesn't mean that anyone is policing the police to make sure these rights are being protected. So...she did something. 

       She was a huge advocate for public libraries and when garbage collection was not happening in the less fortunate part of town, well, she fixed that.  She was politically liberal and was a force in the League of Women Voter's.  Yet...she was also a member of the garden club, the homemaker's club, foreign foods group, and she was my brownie troop leader as long as she could physically manage it. And did I mention that she was self-employed & worked full time, along side my dad, managing Jett & Hall Shoes in downtown Richmond?

      Unfortunately my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1981, when I was only 6 years old.  So I have had to rely on others to tell me about most of these civic heroics that she performed.  And to say that I miss her and grieve the tremendous impact she would have had on my life over the last 30 years, and the loss of the grandmother my children will never know, doesn't begin to explain it.  She passed away on December 28th 1984, at the age of 41, so this last holiday season marked 30 years that she has also been missing from her community, my hometown of Richmond, KY.  

      Soon after my mother passed away, the President of the Richmond League of Women Voters wrote an editorial to the Richmond Register entitled "Remembering Genie Jett", recognizing the great sense of loss in the community that was felt after the death of my mother.  It is an amazing tribute to her.  I hope you will read it.  My favorite excerpt is "It is remarkable what "ordinary people" can do when they work with heart and commitment.  Then again, with such commitment, "ordinary people" are no longer ordinary, they become special.  Genie has left us with a challenge.  With her commitments as a mother, a wife and her business, she still had time to get involved. That's special."

      Mom, I am answering your challenge as best I can. When I am not, I trust you will continue with the 5:00am wake up calls.  So as I quickly approach 40, I have to hope that my ordinary advocacy attempts honor someone so desperately missed and so special.

      I miss you Mom.

      Now, I need to go wrangle those coats.

      Wednesday, January 21, 2015

      Dear Fayette County Schools Redistricting Committee....When the going gets tough, I stick around

      Holidays seems to trigger blogs in my brain. Can't say why, they just do.  I am sure that for those who enjoy my rants and musings, the wait between holidays is longer than you would like but I am raising small humans, selling real estate to feed my family, nurturing my marriage of 18 years and trying to live the life that I believe I was meant to live.  In other words, my dance card is full but for reasons that I don't fully understand it seems to be holidays that force me to reconcile where I am in my life and whether the ways I choose to spend the limited time I have on this planet is being spent judiciously.

      As such, for those that are friends of mine on facebook, you may have noticed that I have been "checking in" at the Fayette County Public School Headquarters,  attending redistricting meetings, sometimes twice a week, since early December.  Please make no mistake, I am not a member of this committee, merely an innocent bystander seated in the public seating area, closest to the TV monitor displaying the raw data.  

      Beyond being an Economist by training with a strange hankering for data analysis, for reasons I can't completely explain, I continue to make myself endure this torture.  Attending these meetings is pushing my sanity to its brink while I witness my son's elementary school's diversity and socio-economic balance become decimated for no good reason. So evidently I must be a glutton for repeated punishment.  I have this obviously misguided sense that by being there, I am somehow impacting their decision making. But since the videos of these meetings are posted on a very, very delayed basis, that I am not unconvinced happens intentionally, the only way you can keep up with the madness (in real time to affect change) is by being there. And being there is something that I am really good at.  When the going gets tough, I stick around, even to my own detriment.

      I often leave these meetings wishing that the Men In Black will jump out of the corner office and zap my memory to put me out of my misery.  But if you follow me on facebook you also know how often I am at my son's school, trying my best to make a difference in the lives of children (from over 30 different countries) many of whom come from homes and families that look nothing like my own but deserve everything in this life that a good education, in a democratic country, has to offer.  And it is for these kids, that I am fighting the good fight, but most days it doesn't feel like a good fight at all.

      This is me in my fabulous Academic Challenge Coaching T-Shirt

      Below you will find my submission to the Fayette County Redistricting Committee that I submitted on Monday morning (yes, the morning I was supposed to be just laying around in pajamas with my kids, eating waffles, before we left for a play date with a wonderful friend who is also giving of her time and talents for this wonderful school.)  If I were a mystic, I would swear that Martin Luther King Jr. woke me at 5am with my Let's Talk response on the tip of my brain. (For my Lansdowne Elementary friends, you may follow this link to voice your own concerns about the changes in Lansdowne Elementary school boundaries:

      These new boundaries are very, very bad for Lansdowne Elementary!

      I can't say that I am winning in this particular battle, as Lansdowne Elementary's new 76% free/reduced lunch metric was not mentioned even once this evening, although many of the questions that I raised about what they are not considering in this whole process were vaguely voiced this evening.  So maybe I am winning just a little, but not for my own kids or their school specifically.   But it makes me feel better that I am using my God given talents to try and affect change for all of these kids.  Public schools are worth fighting for and I am beginning to see that my path may one day include serving Fayette County on the school board, as my father served for many years in Madison County, Kentucky back in the early 80s.  Evidently he had a hard time sitting back and watching others make these decisions like I am now.  

      He won in 1982 and served many years! 

      This is my Dad in 1982

      So here it is...consider yourself warned, it's a pretty long. And at the end, I'll be honest, I lied.  I don't really look forward to seeing them at the next meeting on Thursday.  But when the going gets tough, I stick around.

      Dear Fayette County Redistricting Committee,

      I have been in attendance at all elementary redistricting meetings, with the exception of the meeting on 1/8.  What I have witnessed is startling and I truly believe that while your hearts are in the right place and your intentions are great, you are missing some key considerations in the elementary redistricting process.

      We shouldn't approach elementary redistricting in the same fashion as middle and high schools.  As the first 6 years of education investment, elementary schooling is critical to either establishing habits of success and high expectations for achievement or losing the trust and excitement for learning in children and families.  This is where it starts.  Why are Kindergarten readiness percentages not being considered? Some schools are seeing less than 50% Kindergarten readiness for in-bound students. We have data that could tell us historical transient rates in particular schools, or in other words we should be looking at metrics which tell us if particular schools see higher or lower rates of student "churning" which is disruptive to all parties involved but when concentrated in certain schools is devastating.  You might be surprised what you find.   If we are not paying attention to these metrics, which Lisa and Bob could provide for you, and current achievement levels (i.e. are some schools somehow overcoming these disparities over time?), you could be unknowingly and unfairly placing a burden on some schools that become insurmountable. Perpetuating that is not only detrimental to achievement but it lacks compassion for not only these children and families but our dedicated teachers and administrators.  

      It seems that while building capacities, free lunch percentages, walkability, and neighborhood cohesiveness is rightfully being considered, current achievement levels seem to be IGNORED?!  Is this simply an exercise in logistics with no consideration of the end goal, which should be a quality education for all children.  We have 35 existing schools which can provide value achievement and demographic metrics that can give us clues about what is working and what is not working and how we can better serve ALL kids in this county. We have UK College of Education Professors that I am sure would be happy to attend a meeting and answer questions the committee may have. 

       It seems that understandably loud voices of some neighborhoods are protecting high achieving/low free lunch schools and that understandably loud voices of those advocates for poorly performing schools are being considered but the schools where we are doing a good job of balancing relatively high achievement with diverse populations are being ignored and even harmed by this focus on the opposite ends of the achievement spectrum.  

      Why is the committee not first looking at the schools and talking to the administrators of these schools that are expertly striking the balance with more socio- economic diverse populations and achievement to see what percentages they feel work in their schools instead of throwing around arbitrary numbers such as 80/20?  Why not send an anonymous survey to the teachers and administrators of these schools to find out their true thoughts and opinions on transient rates (or level of student churning), Kindergarten readiness percentages, English as Second Language Percentages, free/reduced lunch percentages, and what they think is working in their school?  Some of these educators bring their own children to work with them and some leave them in the schools where they are district-ed, creating its own burden that they are willing at accept for their own kids.  What could we learn from this? These are the educators that can be so helpful in giving guidance on what is working and what doesn't work!  Schools like Lansdowne, Picadome, Julius Marks, Glendover, Sandersville, Dixie, & Harrison should be studied to see if they can be demographically re-created in other areas but they should also be protected so that the positive momentum and quality educations they are providing to all of those kids is protected!  

      For example, at the 1/8 meeting, the attendance boundaries of Southern and Lansdowne were completely redrawn.  Years ago, these attendance boundaries were crafted the way they are for a reason.  Instead of redrawing these boundaries, what should be evaluated is why there is currently such a disparity in achievement between these two schools with very similar demographics, not just moving people to just appear to be fixing something that is perceived to be broken but IS NOT.  The latest re-alignment of the Lansdowne/Southern attendance boundaries is unnecessary, disruptive, and makes no sense as neither schools are walkable nor neighborhood schools to any neighborhood south of Wilson Downing.  Contiguous areas are not a magic bullet and in this case they will cause more disparity.  This is a unique area of town where we can actually try and keep a balance!   And although under the latest proposal you are reducing the free lunch population at Southern, you are increasing it at Lansdowne.  But because you have not truly investigated why Lansdowne is performing as they are, you are willing to roll the dice and put their achievement momentum at risk without any guarantee that Southern's achievement will rise in any statistically significant way.  And sadly, given the seemingly unavoidable higher free lunch percentages in other parts of the county, the new free/reduced lunch percentage of 76% at Lansdowne will most likely be well within the "tolerance" levels of most vocal committee members.  This is a very, very bad change that is unfair to educators, families, and students that have been working so hard at this school to become a proficient/progressing school under challenging circumstances.

      Making the same assumptions that affluent neighborhoods with very low concentrations of free lunch and high performing schools, or conversely the preferences of the extremely poor have about neighborhood schools, is a very dangerous and unfair slippery slope when applied to more socio-economically balanced areas of town with good performing schools that require unavoidable busing. 

      Home ownership is powerful. Having  "skin in the game", over the long run is critical to parent engagement.  Parent engagement is critical to success.  Similarly, one key metric that needs to be considered in Scott's GIS overlays is the concentration of multi-family housing in any one school. The populations in multi-family housing units is understandably transient in nature.  To ignore the concentration of multi-family housing and Section 8 housing, as a percentage of households, in any given school is unwise and shortsighted.  Similarly there are typically large numbers of children in many of these developments, some have more children located in them than entire neighborhoods send to public school.  You should be treating large multi-family housing developments as neighborhoods, within themselves.  What you are looking for is a student density metric to be added as an overlay.

      Sadly, the elementary changes that have been made so far will simply cause more "educational poverty" concentration, as opposed to solving it.  Elementary redistricting done incorrectly will yield greater achievement gaps and inequity of opportunity in the future. However, when done correctly will pay dividends that will enhance and enrich the lives of children and families and improve Lexington for a lifetime.  Take the time to do this with great consideration and care.  Dedicate the energy and attention it deserves.  You are changing our corner of the world!

      Thank you for your service to the committee and your consideration.  I look forward to seeing you at the next meeting!