Monday, July 16, 2012

Beware the Wrath of the Fire Breathing Dragon!

"Ummmm, the Keys sorta runs on booze and drugs. The schools pretty much run the same. When we were living there we stuck with the home schooling routine we were already on."

I happened across this comment from someone responding to a parent inquiring about raising children in the Keys.  How utterly, rudely, despicably obnoxious to make such a presumption!  Who is this ignoramus and how dare he or she offer such fact-devoid advice to a parent seeking responsible information?!  I was so ready to viciously pounce back on my keyboard when I realized the comment had been written nearly four years ago.  Needless to say, I felt a small hiccup of air fizzle out of my balloon, and a much-delayed response would likely fall flat. 

However, this girl needs to vent. 

Here's what I'd like to blast back to that idiot: 

County FCAT Results Best State Average
Saturday, May 19, 2012

Monroe County (which covers all schools from Key West to Key Largo) 9th- and 10th-graders bested the statewide average in the reading component of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which was made harder to pass this year.  While half of Florida's sophomore class failed to reach grade level for FCAT 2.0 reading, 59 percent of Monroe County 10th-graders did earn the required passing score in order to graduate, according to results released Friday.

Fifty-two percent of the state's ninth-graders passed the reading exam, while in Monroe County, 56 percent of freshmen hit passing levels of 3 on the five-level test.  Florida students are headed in the right direction when it comes to getting closer to reaching national academic standards, the state's top education official said Friday.  

"We are asking more from our students and teachers than we ever have, and I am proud of their hard work," state Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said. "Florida's higher standards help ensure students are learning what they are expected to know so that they are prepared for college, career, and life.  As Florida transitions to higher standards and higher expectations, we can expect our assessment results to reflect those changes."

Or this...

Monroe County is an "A" Rated District

For the seventh year in a row, the Monroe County School District has been recognized as an "A" rated school district with outstanding achievement throughout the Florida Keys. Monroe County is ranked 9th out of 67 counties in the state.

Or here are a couple of fact-based data charts :
(Yes, I'm still fuming over the pure poison infused in that poster's words!) 

FCAT Results from the 2011-12 School Year 
I also take this as a deeply personal offense (from this complete moron of a stranger, mind you).  My own 5th grade classes achieved the highest Reading FCAT scores in all of Monroe County's public schools while every other public school dropped significantly with this year's raised scoring standards.  The highest!  Yes, I'm very proud of my students, even the ones that spent good portions of their energies driving me mad.  And yes, I want to pat myself on the back a little too. Of course!  My 4th grade teammate, a incredibly talented, educated, and experienced teacher scored the second highest in the county for Reading.  And yet even one more fabulous teammate (yes, I am this lucky!), an experienced marine biology teacher, scored highest for the 5th grade Science FCAT.  So well-deserved!  The catch?  We don't even teach to the test in our school.  We teach to the differentiated needs of our students.

Booze and drugs ... really?? 

Lest one accuses me of making my judgements based "simply" on public records or the personal experiences within one school, I'd like to shove more face in the dirt add a gracious shout out to my son's school, The Montessori Children's School of Key West.  This toddler-through-kindergarten level school is my son's home away from home, a school that his three-year-old heart adores as much as I do.  Keeping him in attendance during Chop's absence has been a challenge-and-a-half because of scheduling, but with the help of some dear friends and good island folks, Conch boy has been able to (and will!) continue without interruption.  This year he moves up to a Primary level classroom with a teacher that I'm already thrilled to see assigned as his Directress.  You know, now that I think about it ... I'd better check her credentials, though.  What if ... OMG ... 

... what if she's really a rum runner in disguise?!

Take that coconut and choke nibble on it for a while.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Welcome to Island Time!

"Island Time" definition: 

Taking one's sweet time in posting an entry to commemorate our one year anniversary in Key West!

Lol .. a year!  Can you believe it?  Sure enough, just last week Chop and I celebrated "our" first year in Key West over a romantic Skype session via this amazing thing we call technology.  He has been gone for nine months now, squirreled away in a blackout zone somewhere deep in the wilds of Afghanistan.  Our hero is doing well.  Our little family is doing well.  But I miss him terribly, and I want him back home with me here on our beautiful island. I have five more months to wait, and we are "toughing" it out one day at a time.   


So why a year?  Three simple reasons (ha!):

1.  Deployment.  Chop deployed three months earlier than anticipated, and the single parent life gets particularly hectic in the business of toddler-rearing (as I've psychotically discovered).  All my preliminary nicey-nice "no problem, I can handle this, sweetheart" bravado remarkably spiraled right out the window the minute our dearest darling turned 2-1/2 and gained some smarty pants gusto.  Would you like some Prozac with your coffee this morning, Mommy?  Seriously, he's a good kid (and funny as all hell!), but he's a boy with a definite mind of his own.  This will serve him well later in life I'm sure ... if I survive long enough to see it.

2.  Did I mention that boy child was 2-1/2 when Chop left and just turned three a couple of months ago?  Anyone out there remember those days??  'Nuf said.  Looking back, I'm now convinced that Chop carefully and thoughtfully designed a perfect deployment that would involve total absence in the one, single-most hair-ripping, mind-boggling, are-you-kidding-me-I-now-have-to-potty-train-said-boy-child-all-by-myself year in all of childhood.  Thankfully I had tools to help me.


3.  Work.  Yup.  That sums up the rest right there.  No, seriously.  First year teaching a new-to-me grade level, first year with an unfamiliar faculty, first year teaching in a school that is not only new itself but also a cutting-edge charter school working out its own growing pains.  Educational "firsts" of many this year.  The midnight oil's been a-burnin', to say the least!  It's been an incredible challenge, but the rewards have been worthwhile and the friendships made have warmed my heart and soul to no end.  I have to confess, I still have no idea how to use half of the technology in my classroom.  Ssssshh.  I'm working on it, though!

                                                          Teacher Celebration!

All in all, I can sincerely say that I don't have a moment of doubt that Chop and I made the right decision by moving here to Key West.  Not a second goes by that I don't feel grateful in so many ways.  People often ask why people move here and decide to stay.  The answer is often the infamous cliche:  "the people".  You know what?  That's exactly why people stay.  The people.  The heart of this island is so big and full of love and crazy zest, that's it really is a privilege - at least in my mind - to call this blip in the seas our home.  For every moment I felt lost or frustrated in this past year, I found multiple hands reaching out to pick me back up.  Now that's worth it's weight in pirate's treasure, and I'll take it!     

I'd like to end with this wise man's diddy:  

Our journey from Virginia to Key West began just over one year ago.  That journey was exactly 1,612 miles door-to-door, our "thousand miles" of steps.  We did it!  If you are pondering your own journey, consider that first step.  Remember:

Happy Anniversary, my sweet Chop!


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Roosters & Magic Wands

I've spent the past few days mulling over how to categorically describe my new surroundings.  After a long productive nap, brain cells peacefully recharging as I succumbed to the charms of the tropical breezes, the realization finally came to me.  I can't.  The kaleidoscope of color, vibrancy, and diversity that greets me at every corner continues to surprise me.  And as an island rookie, I suspect it will for a long while ahead.    

When I finally opened my eyes this afternoon, two thoughts demanded my full attention.  First, I'm actually on my sofa inside my air conditioned house because it's too sizzling hot to contemplate a catnap in the hammock.  Second, the hammock is still tightly rolled up in its original plastic and neatly propped against the new sail shade ... also still in its original packaging.  Yes, even paradise comes wrapped in plastic! 

Roosters.  Seems that these island natives have stories of their own, and I suspect I'll be hard-pressed to find a day when their cocky souls (har har ... couldn't resist that one!) don't impact our lives in one way or another.  Here's a little diddy the other morning.  I'm naming him Charley. 

Make yourself at home, Charley!  Note:  I think he was posing just for me.  Now, common rooster folklore is steeped in symbolic meanings that deal with watchful vigilance against evil (think folksy weathervanes on top of pristine white church steeples), many other cultures embrace the rooster as a solar symbol - a sign of illumination.  With that in mind, I'm fairy certain - positive, in fact - that this is the feathery rascal that wakes us each morning at 5:30 am.  And just a side thought as I ponder some more ... there certainly is a superabundance of roosters hangin' among the dead folk in the Key West Cemetary (sic) at any given time.  Brrrr, that's actually kind of spooky.

Speaking of spooky.  Two of our new friends here in town, Donna and Magic Tim, own and operate two very interesting businesses.  First they are the proprietors of Key West Ghost & Mysteries Tour - one that Chop and I intend to check out as soon as we find the opportunity.  Though one of several in town, rumor has it that Ghost & Mysteries is geared toward a more personal, intimate experience.  Keep your minds out of the gutter, people!  What I'm sayin' is that there is nothing commercial or scripted about their storytelling.  To each his own, but I like this couple and will unabashedly promote them at any opportunity.  Booooooooooo!  If chills and thrills aren't your cup of tea, check out their Trails and Tales of Key West instead, a casual 2-hour stroll through the republic's more colorful and entertaining bits of island lore.  This tour likely will be one of our next explorations, as high-energy conch boy will be well-rested for the 4pm meet-up.  Not to mention that the tour conveniently wraps it up at Margaritaville just in time for a pre-dinner refreshment.

Magic Tim is a .... drumroll please ... MAGICIAN!  Did ya think?  Tim Glancey is the president and director of operations for Magical Arts & Design and has been a master magician for more than 30 years.  I've witnesses his illusions.  I'm tellin' you ... he performs the impossible.  Impossible!  We have had the pleasure of his company and magic on several occasions, but his Parlour Magic Show at the beautiful Victorian-styled Porter Mansion (decorated in detail by Donna herself) is supposed to be quite spectacular.

P.S.  For all of you Parrotheads out there, be jealous.  Tim traveled with Jimmy Buffet for 14 years as his opening act.  And ...

...that's all I know (wink, wink).

So, with all that said and done, what's up with the magic wand?

Here's my classroom in it's current state.  I can assure you, it's going to take more than a little island magic to pretty up this room over the next two weeks! Seriously ... doncha wish you were me right now??  ;)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Helloooo Key West!

We are here!  We made it!  And believe it or not, this week is the first chance I've really had to catch my breath in a manner that feels more comfortably like my 'old self' again.  My old pleasant, cheerful, relaxed self.  Let's just say that this particular move was by far the most challenging, stressful, and exhausting move Chop and I have made together as a couple, but we managed to survive without either begging for divorce or jumping off the 7-mile bridge that separates the Lower Keys from the Middle.  It was tempting, though. 

So, really?  We're in Key West, get over ourselves... right??

Let me entertain you with a quick recap:

Day One:

1.  Despite our addiction to yard sales, we still rolled on the island with too ... much ... crap.  Already feeling overwhelmed.
2.  Chop chased by crazy land crab first night in town.  He swears it was after his blood.

3.  Attempted late dinner on rooftop overlooking-the-marina Thai Island with cranky and tired 2-year old.  Grandma entertained him by wearing cloth napkin and sunglasses on her head.  Desperate times equals desperate measures.  Brought fabulous feast back to Navy Lodging in to-go boxes. 

Day Two Plus:

4.  Picked up key to house.  Completed walk through.  Promptly discovered that shower ran either scalding hot or freezing cold, dishwasher flooded kitchen floor, back door lock was jimmy-rigged, and cable wires had been severed in our hard-to-reach neighbor's attic.  Took one week to get a reasonable shower.  On the flip side, we now know all the maintenance staff on premises.
5.  Filled up house with all our worldly possessions; found out our free base storage option is no longer available.  Sh*t.  Do we really need Christmas decorations this year?
6.  Decided to keep pooch in kennel through the weekend.  Suspected UTI from four days of traveling.  Staff at Pampered Pet rocks.  Wonderfully attentive and helpful until we could bring said pooch home.

Day Three:

7.  Interviewed for job at Sigsbee Charter first thing in the morning.  Good thing I found fantastic new supersonic strength deodorant that smelled pretty.  No shower again.
8.  Babysitter arrives at 6pm to utter chaos.  She had fair warning.  We loved her for being so daring. 
9.  Met Key West friends at our first official "Conch Tale Hour" at the Galleon Tiki Bar.  I love these people.  Love them.  They loved Chop.  They loved his mom.  I can't even explain the feeling of being met with wide open hugs, kisses, and "welcome homes".  I think we will live here until we're old and gray.

Day Four:

10.  Found poisonous fang-toothed Bufo toad snooping around our front door.  Maybe dramatic to reference sharp teeth, but they are poisonous beasts.  And ugly.  Prodded it for reaction.  Nothing.  What a bore.

11.  Meandered over to Alonzo's Oyster Bar for half-priced appetizers, cold la-la drinks, and dinner.  Little conch boy behaved beautifully.  Stuffed our faces and rolled back to the house. 

Day Five:

12.  Offered a teaching job!  Accepted!  I wanted to cry.  The maintenance man celebrated with us. 

Day Six - Eighteen:

11.  An unpacking blur!  But ... there was a lunchtime key lime martini at the White Tarpon somewhere in the middle that took the edge off.  Not to mention the company of two fabulous ladies.  Oh, and brand new neighbor Ashley had brand new baby boy named Fynn. 

Seriously, it truly has been one heck of a flurry these past couple of weeks.  I think I'm only now beginning to catch up on emails and voice messages, and I've already chastised myself for missing a birthday.  J, I love you!  However, despite early spikes in blood pressure, we've made an incredible amount of progress since day one.  Chop is already on his second trip back up to Virginia since we've moved, and the Navy is keeping him busy.  To say I am grateful to be employed by the school I've been following so closely for a year is a stark understatement, and our house finally looks and feels like a home again.   

Over the next couple of weeks, we plan to start enjoying and exploring more of this beautiful island we now call home.  Seeing the sunsets.  Getting on the water.  Strolling about some of the quiet back streets that connect this paradise into a singularly unique community.  One Human Family.  That's the motto here.  However, I think they forgot to include the roosters.

"Rooster Republic" courtesy of John Hartung

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

History Lesson: The Conch Republic

The Conch Republic ~ We Seceded Where Others Failed

Because I should be packing, and because I should be working on ... oh, you know ... important stuff ... I've decided instead that it would be much more fun to share this little snippet of Keys history.  Besides, if you're reading this because you are planning your own relo to Key West, it might be helpful to understand what the fuss is all about.  It's one of those peculiar "really, no shitting me?" pieces of American history that you'll rarely find in your more refined history texts.  My favorite! 

So what exactly is the Conch Republic?

"Way" back on April 23, 1982, the residents of the Florida Keys (all of the Keys, mind you) seceded from the United States of America in response to a U.S. border patrol blockade that was set up on highway US-1 at Florida City, the gateway to the Florida Keys.  The government, in effort to coral an influx of drug operations and illegal immigrants, completely alienated the Keys from the U.S. mainland while infuriating the residents who felt they were treated as outlaws in their own country.  Insults set aside, the armed road blocks subsequently hindered tourism, and the resentful Keys residents had had enough.

Key West mayor Dennis Wardlow, along with several other prominent Conchs, went to Federal court in Miami to seek an injunction to stop the federal blockade, but to no avail.  As the angry mayor left the Federal Courthouse, he paused on the steps, looked straight into the eyes of the TV crews and reporters, and proclaimed, "Tomorrow at noon the Florida Keys will secede from the Union!".  The next day, in the public arena of Key West's Mallory Square, Mayor Wardlow officially read the proclamation of secession stating that the newly formed Conch Republic was hence forward an independent nation separate from the United States.  Now referred to as Prime Minister Wardlow, he then symbolically rallied the Conch Republic's Civil Rebellion (and ensuing war against the United States!) by breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a U.S. Navy uniform. 

One minute later, the Prime Minister turned to the Admiral in charge of the Navy base at Key West, surrendered the Union Forces, and demanded one billion dollars in foreign aid and war relief monies to rebuild the long-suffering nation.  The U.S. government promptly removed the roadblock.

To this day, the Conch Republic still celebrates its independence with annual festivities, and official Conch Republic Passports can be ordered through the Office of the Secretary General of the Conch Republic.  Your newly acquired "dual citizenship" may not get you too far in your travels but, for a mere $100, you too can become a part of Keys history.  Really, and you thought "history" was boring!  

By the way, the Conch Republic is still waiting for its foreign aid .. but don't hold your breath!  

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Sweet Surprise

In the jam-packed pace of my world these days, I'm afraid this is 'old news'.  I actually swore I wouldn't blog about this latest for fear of jinxing the possibilities ... but ...

... I have an interview with Sigsbee!   

Yes, I know ... you know already!  But I've kept Key West secrets for so long it's simply impossible not to divulge all at this point ... so I won't mind if you click off and skip me over this go-around.  Really, please.  But the fact of the matter is that I am thrilled to be given the chance to personally interview (and fight!) for a teaching position in the school I've admired for so long now.  Allow me a glowing moment to document this, if you would.  Perhaps it's nothing more my desire to annotate a small glimmer of success after the tortuous wait of January, February, etc, etc., and the first 16 days of June, but my toes are still a-twinkle none-the-less.

How?  I don't really know.  Could my out-of-town address really have hindered me that much regardless of my qualifications?  Did I misread the staffing updates altogether or ... maybe I'm an alternate candidate?  No matter, as my self-proclaimed pity party neared its cranky-pants end the other day, I returned home to find a late-night email from the principal ... and a subsequent appointment set for July.  Sweeeeeet.  Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

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