Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Short Reign

This is Pwincess.

When I was a kid, her name was Princess Toadstool.  She was on the "Super Mario Brothers Super Show," which was, undoubtedly, my favorite cartoon as a child.  I was literally distraught when it went off the air.  (That -coupled with my mean fifth grade teacher  - made for a pretty traumatic ten year-old experience.)

Today, Pwincess is on "Mario Kart Wii."  She drives all sorts of shiny pink racing vehicles and squeaks in a  happy voice.  She goes by the name Peach.  I'm not sure why her name changed - maybe her last name is Toadstool.  If so, Peach Toadstool is an unfortunate name.

Amelia and her Daddy love to play "Race Cars" (Wace Cars?) together.  This really consists of Jeremy driving Peach around the racetrack in her car while Amelia pretends to drive beside him.  Amelia thinks she is driving.  I'm not sure who Amelia thinks her Daddy is supposed to be...maybe Mario?  I'm confused by this logic, but it works for a three year-old girl who is content to pretend to be a princess in a roadster.

During a date night at the beginning of the summer, we bought Amelia a Princess Peach car.  Amelia loves cars (she's around boys all day), and she loves playing "Race Cars" with her Daddy, so we thought this would be a perfect gift.

Amelia had to sleep with her new car the first night we brought it home.  Peach traveled with us often.  Sometimes, we'd be ready to go in the car and hear, "Where my Pwincess!?"  We'd turn around, get Peach, and all would be well with the world.

Peach was well loved....maybe a little too well.  Apparently, the makers of the Peach cars did not make them very durable.  A few weeks into our ownership of her, poor Peach began to suffer.

First, Peach's ponytail fell off.  I tried to glue it back, but to no avail.

Next, the back of Peach's car spoiler literally snapped off, making the back end of the car jagged and a little pointy. We put Peach's car away to keep Amelia from getting hurt.

Finally, a couple of days ago, Jeremy handed me something he placed on the mantle.  It was Peach's head.

"I think Princess finally ate it," he said.  "She's done."

I looked at the car and and at the sad, disfigured Princess Peach.  Then, I did what most practical mothers would do at this point - I said good-bye to Peach.  Peach's car went into the trashcan.

I found her head today and snapped the picture above to remind myself of Amelia's sheer lack of regard for toys.  One day, I will relish the chance to tell future boyfriends about how she ate books, ripped dolls to shreds, and beheaded her princess in the race car.

Peach was a good princess. Her reign was very brief, but meaningful.  A new princess may come into our home for Amelia's birthday...and if she does, I'm sure Peach the Second will have a very profound impact on Amelia too.

Here's hoping Amelia won't Anne Boleyn the next princess...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Checklist

Here's a checklist to ensure that you have a great weekend in Atlanta:

Got your girls?

Check. (Minus one - I don't have a picture of April...I was too busy taking pictures of food.  Boo.)

Got a great hotel?


This is the InterContinental.  It was fabulous. It had valet parking, comfy beds, a swanky-swank pool, and a velvety swoosh of air-conditioning to welcome you inside for a respite from the Georgia humidity.  It was a brief walk away from Lenox Mall, where we looked at lots of things we couldn't afford (as well as those we could - helllooooo Macy's shoe clearance!).

Got Relaxation?

Our view...ahhhh...

Check! We did!  We rested by the pool side.  We read lots of magazines and scoured books at Barnes and Noble (one of my favorite forms of relaxation). We shopped around.  Kathi got a massage.  April spent two hours in the lobby one morning drinking coffee, reading InStyle and people watching in solace.  She claimed it was one of the best mornings she's ever had! 

Got good food?

Of course!


This is Rathbun's, where we ate Friday night.  It's super urban and posh, but it has a menu that isn't overly pretentious.  The restaurant was dark and slick - so dark, I couldn't really see if Reese Witherspoon or Colin Firth (who are supposed to be in Atlanta) were there.  It was downright yummy, too - we enjoyed everything from eggplant fries to country ham grits to a amazing tray of desserts.

Check again!

This is Fox Bros. BBQ.  The best...barbeque...EVER!  I just don't think I can say enough about it.  The dark ends on my pulled pork were super smoky, the mac and cheese was creamy and rich, and my baked beans had the perfect mixture of sweet and punch.   I want to buy stock  in this place.

And...check again!

This is Mary Mac's tearoom, where we spent our Saturday night dinner.  It's an Atlanta institution.  We had the most gorgeous waitress (seriously - she probably models in her spare time) who introduced us to the Mary Mac's tradition, potlicker (which we politely declined) and then we had a down-home meal filled with fried chicken, grits, mac and cheese, creamed corn, and sweet potatoes.  The bread is to die for!  Only in Atlanta could you get a cinnamon roll before your meal.

For the final food check...

Each of us girls got a pick for a place to eat.  Kim picked Rathbun's, April picked Fox Bros, Kathi picked Mary Mac's...and me?

Sorry the picture is blurry...I guess I was too excited!

I just wanted a doughnut.

Just a little one.

Okay, I got a dozen.


If you've never had a Sublime Doughnut, go get one.  Seriously. And ask for the Strawberries and Cream one.

Overall, our weekend was a total success!  We laughed, talked, rested, and just enjoyed each other.  I haven't had a weekend away since I went to go meet the Pioneer Woman a couple of years ago, so I was thankful and happy I got to have this quick little getaway. 

If you're wanting a getaway soon, don't forget to check my list for all the things you truly need.  They may not be true "necessities," but you don't want to go without good food, a good place to relax, and some good friends.

Oh, and doughnuts.  All trips need doughnuts.

I feel like Dean is really speaking to me in this picture.  I'm not sure why...

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Importance of Being Authentic: Bales of Truth

"He's a deacon, he's gotta be.  A Southern Baptist deacon."

Those were the first words that crossed my brain the minute I met the new principal of my school, Kevin C. Bales, on the last day of post-planning.  (As a member of a Southern Baptist Church, I instantly recognized one of my own.)

Mr. Bales walked in with a loud voice, with his chest slightly puffed out, and with a tone of assurance.  He told us we would fix the problems at our school, help us rise out of our status of "Needs Improvement," and develop into one of the top schools in the county.

I looked at my friend Jennifer and raised an eyebrow.  I'm sure she thought the same things I did.

"Is this guy a preacher? Is this guy nuts?"

Our principal before Mr. Bales came in at at time of instability.  When he left us left us to be closer to his family at a nearby school, we were very upset about losing him.

The day Mr. Bales showed up at that faculty meeting in the library, teachers were weak, vulnerable, and distraught.  We were considered the worst middle school in the county, if not one of the worst middle schools in the state of Georgia.  We were told, over and over, that we were not good enough and that we could not perform to expectations.

So, imagine our disbelief when this new man sauntered into the library - like he owned the place - and told us how things were going to change.

The summer before my first year with Mr. Bales was one filled with questioning, with doubt.  I wasn't quite sure what to think of the man, to be honest.  But I knew, like many others did, that our options were limited.  We could go with this man, and trust his vision - or we could fail again. 

Mr. Bales showed up on the first day of pre-planning with a smile on his face.  While the rest of us were grumbling, griping, and dreading returning to work, he said, "I'm glad we're here.  I'm worried about our kids not getting to eat over the summer.  I want them here where I know we can take care of them."

I knew then that this man wasn't a regular principal.

He started during that pre-planning by showing us "headlines," his version of a powerpoint that told the story of East Hall Middle School - these headlines were "dream" headlines.  Some of them were funny, some of them were poiginant, and some of them were downright inspirational.  Some of us looked very doubtful at the headline that said, "East Hall Middle School Makes AYP!" but we smiled at him and nodded our heads as he walked around the faculty meeting, giving his pep talk.

And change, somehow, began to seep into our classrooms, into our students, and into our very bones.

The clean-up happened so fast my head reels to remember it.  Mr. Bales reasoned
(wisely) that 1+1=2, so teachers and students alike needed to know what it would take for EHMS to make AYP and show improvement. He attacked problems at the very root.  Shady pedogogical practices were questioned and thrown out, and new methods were adopted.  Trainings commenced.  Though I was a social studies teacher and not truly valid under the old No Child Left Behind Act, expectations were raised for all teachers.

If we needed to do better, he told us.  If we were doing well, he told us.  If someone was the best teacher at the school, he told us who they were and why we needed to pick up their practices.  If the economic picture looked bleak, he told us, no matter how much it hurt him to share.  He told us what needed fixing and what worked well - and he did so unabashedly and with a heart full of passion.

He cried with us when members of our staff faced sickness or death.  He was always honest with the kids  and showed them his own brand of tough love.  He laughed with us when people told funny stories or jokes.  He played along with every single practical joke I pulled on him (and yes, there were quite a few - I'm the George Clooney of EHMS). 

Mr. Bales had the most open-door policy of any boss (or person, for that matter) I've ever encountered.  He constantly met our fears and questioning with sheer logic.  

"Why should the kids not know the standards?  Isn't that what's on the test?  Why wouldn't we give them access to anything we can give them?"

"At the end of the day, it's all about the kids!  We're here to do right by kids.  They're our first priority."

Throughout the years, Mr. Bales came up with various "themes." Some of the more memorable ones included an army theme, a "Why Not?" theme, and a sports-related theme.  Mr. Bales loved to speak in allegory, and some of his toughest sermons (that's what they were, sorry) came through those themes.  I remember feeling downright upset after the "Keep Your Eye on the Ball" speech, which was a bit of tough, if not well-needed, truth. 

Truth. Hard truth.  Unabashed honesty.  Always -  always -  kids first.

Sense a theme here?

In 2008, East Hall Middle School made AYP for the first time.  In 2011, we became a gold-certified school.  When the records are released, I have a sneaky suspicion we'll have every right to be proud of our accomplishments in 2012.  Sometimes our progress was steady, other times it was fought for with all of our might - but progress was made nonetheless.

We made progress.  We made a difference in the lives of kids.  We went from being the bane of the state's educational existence to one of the hallmarks of the county - and dare I say it? - the state. 

When several schools in Atlanta looked at their poverty-stricken kids, they looked to themselves.  They asked what they were going to do - how they were going to fix things.  They were afraid.  They turned to cheating, to dishonesty.

When someone asks me about the secret to the success of East Hall Middle School, I turn to them and say, "It was Kevin Bales."  I know, in reality, it was the kids filling in those answers (as opposed to some coward).  I know, in reality, the teachers were busting their butts with their kids in those classrooms day after day after day to make authentic gains.  I know, in reality, it took all of us together to make that machine grind out our success.

But I know the catalyst.  Good leaders make things happen.  Good leaders use truth, integrity, and doggone hard work to make a difference.  Good educational leaders always put the children first in their mantras.  Good educational leaders don't say, "Woe is me!" They say, "Why not?"  Good leaders are real - and through that reality, they inspire those around them to simply be better workers - heck, better people.

The day he told us he was moving to a new position within the county, I cried.  He cried.  Several of us cried.  He told us he wanted to spend more time with his family and to help all kids in the county - these were admirable things.  Again, he told us the truth, even though it pained some of us to hear it.

There are not many like Kevin Bales in this world.  A need for self-promotion and our sense of true reality can distort our image of how to achieve success. I was wonderfully blessed for the brief glimmer of time I had him as my boss.

That deacon of a man preached a sermon straight to my heart. 

Last week I watched as Mr. Bales fulfilled his new duties in the county office at a conference at Flowery Branch High School.  Several teachers from the county (myself included) met to discuss the new national standards.  Mr. Bales acted like he was in the library at EHMS - doing his old gig - which made me realize (once again) how much I'd miss him.  As he walked around and spoke, and I read some of the faces in the audience.

"Is this guy a preacher? Is this guy nuts?"

I wanted to laugh, to tell them not to be worried.  I wanted to tell them that this man knows.  This man understands.  This man is real.

I can't wait to see what his brand of leadership creates for this county.  Through his Bales of truth, he reorganizes the game, creates reality, and instigates change.

His authenticity created a true reality for us at East Hall Middle School - one we could have never envisioned. For that, I will forever be grateful.