Thursday, February 25, 2016

(Working Women) - Alyce, L.A. High School Principal

Alyce is yet another amazing woman I am proud to have grown up with. What can I say, West Linn knows how to breed 'em! She and I have rarely crossed actual paths in our adult lives, but keep an eye on each other through friends, social media, and the occasional email. I was always envious of Alyce for her full-meal-deal package - very intelligent and highly driven, beautiful, naturally thin (so yeah, I'm vain, or at least my teenaged self was very vain), close-knit brothers and sisters, popular with multiple crowds, talented singer, hard-working horse owner and rider. You get the picture. She attended UO Honors College, and then went in to Teach for America, which was something several of my UPS peers did, too. Alyce now works as a principal, and somehow that makes me feel simultaneously too old and like a child.

In her own words, Alyce shares details of her life as a "Working Woman":

Bio info - who are you? how old are you? where are you from? where do you live? what's your living/family situation? what are your hobbies? what's your story?

I currently live in Los Angeles with my husband, but tell anyone who will listen that I am NOT from L.A. I grew up in West Linn, Oregon, miss the trees and the rain like crazy and will always be an Oregonian.  L.A. is a far cry from the Pacific Northwest and I never intended to stay here!  I came in 2005 for Teach for America (a program that places recent college graduates in high-needs schools) and slept on a futon because I was so sure I’d be moving back home after my two-year commitment was over.  But I love my work and my community here and there are incredible things happening in the education reform movement in L.A.  I also really, really love this awesome guy I married, and he happens to live here.  We just bought a house in mid-city (basically halfway between Downtown L.A. and the Westside) and visit my family in Oregon a lot.  What else?  I go to the same yoga class in Santa Monica every Saturday of my life and am pathological about my spinning classes at Soul CycleSeriously, they are so good.  Before I started the doctoral program, I took creative non-fiction classes at UCLA extension, but if I have a hobby now it’s taking advantage of the ridiculous fitness scene here in L.A.  Is reading a hobby?  I read a ton and love memoirs.

What is your current job/profession? What path did you take to get there? Any required schooling or training?

I’m a 33-year old principal of an urban charter high school and a third-year doctoral student.  This is my third year as the principal of my small, charter high school in Inglewood.  I didn’t intend to start the principal job and doctoral program at the same time; that was a tough year.  In terms of my career path, I started teaching 7th graders in South Central Los Angeles as a Teach for America corps member in 2005.  Before that, I knew about the achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers but I had no idea that there were kids in Watts who arrived in 7th grade reading on a 3rd grade level and trying to learn in termite-infested schools surrounded by prison-looking barbed wire fences.  That first year of teaching really woke me up to my privilege and the gross educational inequalities in our country.  Most days, I think I’ll work in urban education for the rest of my life.

Through Teach for America, I attended a five-week summer “Institute” which is basically boot camp for new teachers.  You attend seminars and teach in an inner-city school part of the day and more of less get your ass handed to you so that you toughen up enough to be ready to teach your own class in the fall.  Once I started my first year teaching in WattsI took graduate school classes at night and completed my teaching credential and Masters in Education at Loyola Marymount University (TFA offers sweet tuition reduction and grants – although we sometimes joke that it’s not worth the years your first year of teaching takes off your life).  

After two years, I moved to teaching high school English at a high school that is part of the Charter Management Organization where I currently work, Green Dot Public Schools.  (Note: charter schools are not private schools; they are public schools that are not beholden to a school district so are able to be more innovative in meeting students’ needs).  I attended the Principal Leadership Institute at UCLA and got my Administrative Credential and a Masters in Urban Educational Leadership while teaching.  Honestly, way too many Masters degrees.  After five years of teaching, I did a semester of a sort of “residency” where I got to shadow effective principals in my organization and then was hired as an assistant principal at my current school.  I’m finishing up my educational doctorate now but the only required training for my job is a teaching and administrative credential. 

What are the pros and cons of your current position?

I love being a part of a school community and I love, as a leader, being able to shape the culture of that community.  Our school has become an incredible place to work and learn.  It means a lot to know that what we do has a profound impact on the life trajectories of our students.  Most of our kids are first generation high school graduates and the first in their families to go on to college.  Their families all live at or below the poverty line.  Graduation day is exhilarating, it is the best day of the year.  Last year, 80% of our students were admitted to U.C.’s and over 90% of our students were admitted to four-year colleges.  Our school has a higher admittance rate to U.C.L.A. than Harvard Westlake (a very prestigious, very expensive private school in L.A.).  This work is deeply meaningful and deeply gratifying.  

Also, I am passionate about facilitating adult learning and good, solid professional collaboration – so getting to shape the professional development for teachers at our school is rewarding.  Through my organization I am offered a lot of leeway and trust to lead my school as well as a lot of support and professional development experiences.  

There are a lot of positive aspects to my job but the work we do is tough.  We work long hours on a pretty stringent schedule.  Near the end of each semester, my Outlook calendar will get to the point where I don’t have twenty free minutes to schedule a phone call.  I grind my teeth so badly at night that I’ve had to have two crowns (not because of cavities, because I literally ground my teeth down). Issues at school keep me up at night.  Working in an urban school means working against a dysfunctional education system.  Some days it feels like an uphill battle.  Other days, one of your students comes back to visit after nailing his first semester at U. C. Berkley and you feel great!  

My job can be emotionally draining.  When a student or parent or staff member is angry, I am usually the one they end up yelling at.  And after they yell, I need to help find a solution and then get up and keep doing my job.   I do a lot of listening and problem solving.  Things that are going wrong are quickly brought to my attention – I have to have the discipline to revisit and celebrate all of the things that are going right. 

Walk us through a typical day, week, or month ...

Although every day is different (some days you find marijuana in a backpack, somedays you evacuate the school and send everyone home because of a bomb threat), I am always interacting with people.  This usually energizes me now but it used to exhaust me.  It took me some time to realize how important it is that I have face time with everyone at school.  

I supervise student arrival and dismissal and lunch, I meet with parents and teachers, I lead meetings during and after school and I am observing classes and having instructional coaching conversations with teachers every single day.  I usually work at least 50 hours a week but I don’t work the same number of hours every day.  It’s common for me to work a 12+-hour day because of an evening parent meeting or because I am supervising dances or athletic events.  I schedule “early days” with my assistant principals so that we each have at least one day each week where we only work eight hours.
Over the summer, there are times when I’ll work some days from home, but we certainly don’t have summers off.  We have summer school, and a bridge program for incoming 9thgraders and a lot of strategic planning for the school year. That said, I think our vacation is pretty great.  Unless there is something out of the ordinary happening at school, I get two weeks off at Christmas vacation, two weeks at Spring Break and two weeks off during the summer (not counting the PTO and sick time we accrue).

What is something about your job that other people might not know or expect?

As a principal, it is important to have a variety of different skills.  You need a solid understanding of finance and budgets, of teaching practice and pedagogy, of the politics of education reform, of compliance requirements, you need to understand people management, strategic planning and what it means to support diverse learners…I actually think it is unrealistic for any one person to possess all of the nuanced skills you need to successfully lead a school – especially when you first take on a principalship.  And so I think the most important thing is to know yourself, know your strengths and your weaknesses and then just be honest about what you are learning.  Sometimes I feel like people expect me to know/be/do everything.  And I used to drive myself crazy with unrealistic expectations.  The trick is to just commit to continually improving and chill out about not knowing everything right away.  

What other jobs could you work with your education/training/experience?

With experience leading an urban school, I could work for an education reform agency.  And with my educational doctorate (Ed.D) I could work in district leadership (for example, as a superintendent) or teach at the college level.  I’d want/need more years of experience under my belt for that, though. 

How much do you make?

An assistant principal at a charter high school in L.A. might make between $75,000 and $90,000 while a principal could make between $90,000 and $120,000.  That might sound like a lot but the cost of living in L.A. is so high that many of my principal friends can’t afford to buy a house unless they live far away and sign up for a super long commute.  To put it in perspective: a glass of not fancy wine at a restaurant in L.A. could easily be $14 – it adds up!

Do you anticipate making any career changes in the next 5 to 10 years?

I want to stay at my school for the time being.  I’ve worked hard to hire the right people and foster the right culture and I want to see that work through.  Eventually, I’d be interested in district leadership and/or working in higher education.

If you could have any other job in the world, what would it be?

I minored in creative writing, wrote a collection of poems for my honors thesis for undergrad and even considered an MFA program so I’ve always loved to write but never in a practical sense.  I wasn’t attracted to studying journalism and, although I’ve enjoyed writing personal essays in the creative writing classes I’ve taken at UCLA, I struggled to decide on one, big project.  So I suppose I would like to write but I’m not sure what exactly, maybe I’ll start a blog or write a memoir someday…I do think that it was a good move for me to come to L.A. and start teaching in the inner-city instead of starting an MFA program – it sounds cliché but I needed to experience more of the world.  Maybe I’ll write about that some day! 

If someone else was interested in your job, what piece of advice would you give them?

I would tell them to shadow a principal for multiple days and make sure they’re interested in the day-to-day work that the job entails.  It’s meaningful but it’s not glamorous.  And I would tell them not to take things personally.  Leading a school exposes you to criticism no matter who you are or how great you are at your job.  As a principal you’re almost another entity besides yourself since you represent the school – you have to expect to field people’s anger and criticism and help people to feel listened to and valued.  I imagine that aspects of this work are similar to motherhood as you tend to the needs of others and do work that seems thankless but, in the end, isn’t thankless at all.

How do you balance work life and personal life?

I spend way too much money on spin classes!  Yoga and spin keep me sane and are probably more important to my mental health than my physical health.  Tending to my health in this way helps me feel strong and grounded.  I get a massage when I’m stressed (not at a fancy spa, there are inexpensive places in the city)use to get my nails done on most Fridays.  My mentor teacher told me that, if you don’t have time to rest then you should invest some money in feeling more rested. And I find that a massage and a cold-pressed juice can make a big difference in how balanced and energized I feel.  I also schedule trips out of this crazy city (usually to Oregon to visit my fam) about every two months.  When I feel like I’m investing in my own well-being, I have more to give to my work and my loved ones.

Thanks for sharing, Alyce! And for more "Working Women" interviews, check out this link. And if any other 20-50-something women want to share their path to profession, PLEASE email me at

Friday, February 19, 2016

( 47 Months) - 3 Years + 11 Months

Her last month as a 3 year old. Then again, when the cashier at GAP yesterday asked her how old she was, Francie replied "almost 4, so, like, 3 and 3/4."

She typically dresses herself in the mornings. She still needs help with some parts of her attire, and some days she feels lazy or wants me to choose her clothes. Some days she likes to dress just like her mama, wearing a dress and boots if I do, or jeans and a sweater, or stretchy pants and running shoes. She definitely likes to accessorize, including one of her plastic necklaces (an amulet like Princess Sofia the First) and plastic clip-on earrings. She asks every weekend if she can "wear lipstick."

 Exactly like her daddy, she obsessively picks her fingernails. And then if I pick my nails she tells me not to. I ask her why, and she informs me "you'll pick too far and it will hurt, like me." Behaviorally she was all over the map this month - some evenings are difficult, when she is the most tired, and we haven't seen her all day and just want to hang out as a happy family. The other week we got a report from her teacher that she has been a bit more feisty and territorial at school - one days she got in trouble multiple times for pushing her friends, and then having attitude with the teacher about it.

She is mostly sleeping in her own bed by herself, and continues to earn  three marbles on the nights she doesn't bug us. She still gets up in the mornings to each breakfast with her daddy, and even tries to on the days he rides his bike. She is interested in helping more around the house; she's mostly taken on the task of setting the table. We started going to church, and she seems to love it. She most loves sitting in the very front pew, and going up on the stage during the "family" portion of the service.

She is in a Disney craze, mostly related to a music station we now listen to on Pandora. She talks like she knows everything about every Disney princess ever, despite having seen few movies, simply because she's seen the music album cover and is learning their names and songs. We continue to have TV/movies as a part of our regular weekly repertoire, for better or worse, but we have been enjoying watching family movies. For TV she watches Daniel Tiger, Caillou, or Sofia the First. For movies we have watched Happy Feet, Jungle Book, part of Frozen, and Monsters Inc. She listens to the Frozen CD on her player every single day, both in the mornings and during Quiet Time, and speaks of Anna and Elsa as though they were her real friends. We check out music CDs, kid movies, and children's books with audio CDs from the library. She loves to chew gum, and I seem to allow it almost daily. Of note, she is SO responsible and always spits it in the "wrap" and throws it in the garbage, and then tells me she did so. She asked for an ambulance cake for her 4th birthday party, and wants to invite ALL her friends from school. She still seems to have a natural propensity for all things health and medicine, and still wants to be a "baby or a kid or a grown-up doctor" when she is big. I love the way she is interested in learning new words, what they mean, and how to say them correctly. She occasionally has dreams, both good ones and bad ones. The other week she told us that she dreamed that Daddy put her in a jar to protect her from the monsters.

I keep trying to write down some of the sweet, funny, or memorable things that she says ...

"Did I say squirrel right?"

"Ali Baba is Spanish for see you after my poop!"

"Mama, did you know that in china and Africa they cook bagels?"

She blasts get music during Quiet Time (the Frozen soundtrack), I ask her to please turn it down. "No!" She shouts, rudely. "No! I like it loud! I'll just shut the door." Slam. 

Me: "What did you do during Quiet Time?"
Her: "When Kiki and Big Baby were sleeping I listened to music and just rested in my bed with my eyes open like this."

Driving home from visiting Daddy for lunch: "Mama when I was doing Quiet Time and you were doing Quiet Time my brain told me that I didn't want surgery."
I laugh and tell her that, fortunately, she's not in need of any surgery.
And she replied, "Only if I don't do any drugs!"

Asking her about her Wednesday with me dad:
Me: "Beebee took two naps?!?"
Her: "Yeah."
Me: "How come you never let me nap?"
Her: "I don't know."
Me: "Is it because you love me too much?"
Her: "Yeah, and cuz I always want you to play with me."

"I did two kind things today - I hanged out with him and I dried things for him."

Alex: "Mila will be a good friend to have in HS. She'll be able to drive for almost a whole school year before you. So she can come pick you up and you guys can go causing for boys and drink beer and ..."
Franice: "And doin' somersaults."

"Can elephants even run?"

"Look, I'm putting in a tampon" she says as she pretends to insert the bath toy dolphin.

"Mommy? What's the password for our house." She meant address.

"I like god. God wishes. He wishes for me and you and daddy and uncle B. Right?

And a heartbreaking and manipulative maneuver that she executed to perfection: "I feel like no one loves me right now."

And, as always, a series of too many photos from the last month of the Bean's life ...

Napping with Big Baby. "He still needs me to lay with him while he falls asleep cuz he's a baby." 
So do you, sweetpea, so do you.

New dino skirt made by Mimi

She went bouldering!

A sunbrella.

We both could spend HOURS at the bookstore.

And somehow she convinced me to buy her this book. Which has real info about sex and how babies are made and born.

Scottish party time at the Robert Burns dinner.

Cat on the swings.

Another new skirt made by Mimi.

"I'm just doin' work." At Maplewood Coffee.

Carrying Big Baby to the park.

Park bound. Stopping for more books. Snacks and Wonder Woman lunchbox in hand.

Dr. Seuss character?

Bath time with Peter and Evan.

Story time by flashlight with Peter and Evan and Mama.

Guitar lessons with Peter and Daddy.

Daddy-Daughter Western shirts.

"Francie" in mirror image writing?

Key lime pie to celebrate Grandma Nancy (and Mimi's) birthday.

Roller-skating on a Beebee Day at Oaks Park - fun with Alan.

"Mama let's take a selfie."

West Linn High School senior English class. Kids today look so young.

Mary S. Young.

Visiting Grandma Nancy's rock/bench.

That smile!

Three generations of Ferguson/Hartman/Close.

Planting callalillies with Beebee.

High 60s and shirtless in February!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

My Valentines

In the words of Katie's dad, Happy VD!

Or in the words of Francie, "it's a perfect day to wear hearts!"

I sincerely- like, for reals - could care less about these kinds of Hallmark holidays. But I do appreciate an excuse to have some tradition in our family life, especially if treats, gifts, cards, money, or love is involved. This was the Bean's first time exchanging Valentines with her friends at school, so I justified a trip to Paper Source and together we made superheroes. I got Alex a calendar on sale for 50% off (some of those "someecards" crack me UP). I hoarded a bunch of the Bean's Christmas presents and put one out this morning. 

The rest of the day was a normal Sunday - lazy morning, Alex slept in, the Bean and I went to church (because apparently I do that now), Alex played soccer, we had a flamily Disney dance party, and watched Jungle Book over a series of short viewings. It's basically a Saturday, because as public servants we have tomorrow off. Which is the holiday part of the weekend we all actually care about. 

Last night we had a fancy grown up catered dinner with three other couples at the Hubbards. They hired the strangely mature 5th grade boy next door to watch the kiddos, quarantined to the basement, while we drank, ate, and played a few rounds of The Newlywed Game. Thanks to that, I ended my evening annoyed at the Hubs for sincerely claiming he does 70% of the housework. That's right folks, he is that brave. Or dumb. Lucky for him he answered some other questions that cracked me the fuck up.
"Where was your first date?"

"Craziest place you ever had sex?"
He said conference table (at the newspaper), I said airplane or ferry boat. 

"What's your favorite part of your lady's body?"
"Abs." Abs?!? Seriously? Abs? I'm not sure I can even claim that I have any abs. A stomach, yes, but no real abs to speak of. 

Needless to say, my valentines message to him was as true as true can be - there is NO ONE I'd rather ask to clean the kitchen. 

Elephant juice (mouthed it looks like "I love you") to my favorite Valentine. 

The Bean thinks her daddy is a superheroe, and im just impressed she wrote that whole "daddy I love you" all by herself!

My dad has always been so good about acknowledging all holidays and traditions, big or small. 

For both us and the Bean. 

Thanks to aunt Barbara Doherty for the Xmas craft gift that I just pulled from the archives today. It was fun to build the tree. 

Especially since the Bean and I just discovered the joys of crafting together. 

Now THIS is a true love Valentine message. 

Daddy-daughter Valentine's tea party. Disney princess plates courtesy of Beebee. 

The sexiest V-Day gift? A man who fixes my things. Like my printer. And tells me so by typing and printing a love note. Or makes me no-soliciting signs to protect me from giving out his phone number to every Tom, Dick and Earl selling bathroom remodels or window insulation or Comcast cable packages.

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