Happy Fiscal Cliff …. OR Happy New Year – 2013!!

Happy 2013Happy Monday, All!

If you are anything like me, you might have a few things swirling through your heart and heads this morning. From the wonderment surrounding the Fiscal Cliff to that of which New Year’s resolutions you will adopt, if any!

Today is the sixth day of Kwanzaa and the principle celebrated is “kuumba” which means creativity. Tomorrow, the 1st day of New Year 2013, the final principle is “imani”, which means faith. I am serious about beginning 2013 with a passion as I line up priorities including getting a plaque/headstone placed on my mother’s grave up in Valhalla, NY’s Kensico Cemetery where my dad, older sister and my grandmother are buried in a family plot. I also want to keep my gym membership going and using it as well. The third book is a “work in progress”, which got side-lined a bit after my motorcycle spill and organizing finances including back taxes from 1989 in New York.

Yet, there is enough ahead for me to move forward without procrastination this year. How about you?

Whatever you do, bring the New Year in right and keep me in mind if you encounter any circumstances, events or activities that you think Educational Excellence would be a great fit!

Happy New Year 2013!


John I. Cook, Director

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

“Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow . . .”

kwanzaaHappy Friday, All!

Yes, again, it gives me much pleasure to simply say: “Thank God It’s Friday”! … and by the way, thank YOU ALL for reading!

As another year comes to a close, I am noticing changes all around – in the weather, natural catastrophes, human errors and yes, in people’s hearts … When we look back on the year 2012, each of us may have “stories” to top each other regarding what we thought were the year’s “top stories” – so, take your pick. For me, my heart aches most for the mass attacks that took place … from the movie theatre in Colorado to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Of course, my heart continues to pain for the parents of Trayvon Martin who are fighting their son’s execution by a lone neighborhood vigilante, and, for the parents of Jordan Davis, another black teen, whose life was taken by “a traveling/fleeing assassin” who didn’t like loud “rap” music but parked next to the car at a convenience store anyway!

Have you ever wished for something … then got it … then realized that it wasn’t exactly what you “wanted” or “needed”? “Ha!”, as my friend Armond Hill of the Boston Celtics coaching staff might say. When we were kids and I was growing up in New York, Westchester County to be exact, we always wished for a “White Christmas”. Sometimes we got it … sometimes we didn’t! Do you think there were any kids wishing for snow this past Christmas?! Well, the nation has been being hit hard with probably one of the most devastating snowstorms seen here in a while. I mean, wasn’t it enough to have Hurricane Sandy put a damper on things rather recently, and, now many people are dealing with shoveling out, losses of energy/power, and just staying put in many cases to wait for it all to subside and hopefully get help in time?!

Have you found yourself complaining excessively lately, as if nothing in your OWN life pleases you? Are you being critical of everything and everyone except yourself lately? I know that this syndrome is like an abyss of sorts and can keep one there if one does not know how to get oneself out of such a mental mix. This is what we at Educational Excellence suggest: “Know Thyself”. It may take some time; yet, it is a worthy segment of this journey we share.

“Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


John I. Cook, Director

Happy Kwanzaa – Season’s Greetings!

kwa 2013Happy Hump Day, All!

Well, I don’t know about you but I certainly had a wonderful Christmas Day Celebration, y’all! It is something I like to do each year, just to get ready for the coming year and to set my spiritual bearings straight. My plans were to visit my good friend, Peter Zachary, and his family as I have done for the past 10 years or so … especially since my mother passed away. Then, after the NBA Christmas Day Schedule was nearly over with the game between the Miami HEAT and the Oklahoma Thunder, I was planning to drive to Port St. Lucie, FL to visit my sister … Hmmmm …

As it turned out, I had so much to eat at Peter’s house while we watched the Lakers beat the New York Knicks; then, the Celtics showed the Brooklyn Nets that they aren’t too old to play on Christmas Day … and win; and finally for me, to watch the HEAT quiet down the Thunder in a very close and physical game; I was so stuffed and content that I decided to skip the nearly 2 hour drive to my sister’s house. So, I text her to let her know what my change in plans were and that I was going home to rest. She was cool, and told me to drive safely! I have taken one of my last vacation days today so I will tie up lose ends, lounge a bit and celebrate the first day of Kwanzaa!

Over the past ten years or so, Kwanzaa has become part of the African American experience to acknowledge several principles of community building and perseverance that has been desperately needed in general in the African American communities here in this country. The candles used to symbolize each day which highlights a particular value like “Umoja”, are red, black and green and are set up on a similar structure as the “menorah” for Chanukah. Each day a candle is lit and the family members engage in arts & crafts to celebrate that particular value, foods and fruits are consumed, and there usually is an elder who takes responsibility for reading a “passage” to emphasize that particular value. Kwanzaa begins on December 26th and ends on January 1st.

May you continue to enjoy these Holidays, embrace the diversity set forth in them, and be at peace with one another!


John I. Cook, Director

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

merry christmasHappy Monday Morning of Christmas Eve, Y’all!

Here’s to hoping your weekends went well, because … there is more to come! What a wonder-filled time of year! Now, I know everybody doesn’t celebrate Christmas … but … I do … and I was raised like that as well. So, hopefully, I am not offending anyone with my Christmas wishes. I give my parents a lot of credit, plus, growing up in the Projects, we knew no fat white man with a beard and red suit on a sleigh full of toys drawn by reindeer was going to come down our chimney and drop gifts into each individual apartment on all 9 floors from one chimney! They never told us to believe that either!

But we did go to church on Christmas, usually as a family, and we listened to Christmas carols on the stereo at home sung by Nat King Cole, Mahalia Jackson and even one or two tunes popular by Dean Martin or one of the other “Rat Pack” members like Sammy Davis, Jr. What I got most from the Christmas message has become a source of spirituality. I mean, being a writer … more of facts and inspiration, myself … I do know there are and must have been before, some great “story-tellers”. The messages of these Christmas stories are important as sources of human understanding of good and evil, love and hope, peace and inspiration. So whatever you get out of Christmas other than expensive … or simple home-made gifts … be grateful!

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of going to a grand opening of a new company of young folks here in Fort Lauderdale, FL called “PLUSH ILLUSIONS, LLC”. One of the young men involved was in a program some years back with the Urban League of Broward County, who, in turn, befriended me and introduced me to people like Ms. Patricia Lesesne, Director of the Program known here at the Public Schools as “Mentoring Tomorrow’s Leaders” … you may remember me participating in some of their programs upon invitation from Ms. Lesesne. The young man is Francois Luis, who now works in the Financial Aid department with Broward College, and, is the Executive Marketing Director for “PLUSH”. Their grand opening was Saturday on State Road 7 at the GOA Lounge/Plantation Inn there near Broward Blvd. The introductory presentation was well organized, power pointed and extremely informative. I had the pleasure of meeting the CEO, another young man full time employed with Broward County, Mr. Christopher J. Jean. If you would like to visit their website, go to: http://www.plushillusions.com.

Well, here’s to wishing you all a very Merry Christmas. I will wait for the New Year’s 2013 wishes because I have learned to take “one day at a time”!

Peace on Earth!

John I. Cook, Director

“Cross My Heart And I Hope To Die!”

Cross My HeartHappy Friday, All!

In the midst of all the madness, I must say “Thank God It’s Friday”!

So much going on everywhere . . . from a mass stabbing of people in China to overcoming, slowly and as painfully as it is, the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT exactly one week ago. Peace be still …

We have got to look for the good in this life. It is so easy to look for the bad rather than give a helping hand or look for good in folks. Now, obviously, there is a balance to all of this “looking” for stuff that I am proposing. I remember when we were kids growing up and we wanted to convince someone that we were telling the truth, the thing we used to say most is, “cross my heart and I hope to die!” Another one that we used to say, though I don’t think that it was fair to my mother was, “I swear on my mother’s grave!” Yet, as young as we were, we wanted people to believe in us and trust us … and that is as children, y’all!

Do you think that any of the teachers at Sandy Hook ever contemplated putting their lives on the line to protect their students? Now as a former teacher and still “doing my do” in education, we get so involved in our work, which is really a labor of love, that we rise to each occasion as if it were the last. That is, the serious minded teachers are like that. I don’t mean to sugar coat teaching, but I do want to make it clear that it – teaching – is something that most teachers do from the heart.

Well the world didn’t come to an end yet, and, there are as many articles out now about the “other” Mayan calendar that has been found, which indicates that we may be here on Earth for another 5,000 years, as there were before 12-21-2012 was predicted as “the end of this world order”. I am grateful! Yesterday, I picked up a box at the Post Office sent to me by Mrs. Diane Martin Keck, one of my former students, who lives in Trumbull, CT with her three lovely kids as well as her husband, James Keck! It is a home-baked vanilla rum cake and some home-made cookies. Now, I mention this just so that you may understand the depths of the bonds that can be created between two people – teacher and student – that can last a lifetime. So, today, and everyday, may we count our blessings and value the little things in life too, just as the little girl from Florida City, FL whose home burned down with all the Christmas presents inside. A complete stranger, as well as others, who heard the story broadcast on the news, went Christmas shopping for two families who lost everything in a fire caused by a stove that was accidentally left on. When the little girl saw the acts of kindness shown to she and her family by a stranger, she fell to the floor on her back, covering her face, and cried tears of joy! Merry Christmas!

Peace Out, y’all!

John I. Cook, Director

“Neither Here … Nor There …”

neither here norIt’s Hump Day again, All!

I pretty much am still feeling the “reeling” of last week’s event in Newtown, CT. I promise I will make this as short, sweet and to the point as I can. Just yesterday, a long time friend of mine, married with kids who live close to Newtown mentioned that she was going off of the social network because, like it was during the election campaign, the many many tasteless and self-serving remarks made about the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre had turned her off. It is interesting to me because I agree. We suddenly had a rash of posts on this popular social network about gun laws – the pros and cons; about journalism and how the writers had sensationalized “school massacres” and caused the attacker to do his insanity; as well as comments defending Asperger’s and those who may have autism and similar disorders. While there were many comments on the television and magazine news, as well as talk show – both day and late night, expressing sadness, support and “endless love”, it seemed that there were still a handful of folks who missed the mark … and … in my opinion, came out ” … neither here, nor there …”.

Have you ever seen the television show “Fringe”? It is very interesting as it presents the notion of alternate realities. Have you ever considered that idea? How does it sit with you, so to speak? Can you imagine that a person sitting right next to you may be having an experience that is very different from yours … or anyone else in the vicinity thereof, for that matter? Now, I don’t know what Adam Lanza was experiencing throughout his short life but whatever it was caused him to think that he could make those elementary school kids lives even shorter!!!! Whatever he was experiencing made him think that he could shoot his mother … in the head four times with the gun that she had taught him to use!!!! So whether an Asperger disorder sufferer should be allowed to learn how to shoot an assault rifle is neither here nor there. Oh, yeah … he could shoot it alright! He shot one defenseless 7 year old 11 times!!!!

It seems that now, after the massacre, more people are buying the SAME ASSAULT RIFLE in like a frenzy so that they can have one for … You can finish the statement. My heart is broken. There is nothing I would like to see more than that somehow, those innocent lives – educators and students – be held in high esteem by The Creator. Us humans are way off the mark and some of us still are not learning the lesson. We humans should help each other in times of need, and, in general. Television personality Anne Curry suggested that to combat the evil looming in the corners of some folks minds that each of us should try at least ONE act of kindness today to bestow upon our fellow human beings! Do you want to try that? I will … probably more than one … which is part of my life approach anyway. Join me, if you will!

Namaste and Peace,

John I. Cook, Director

From Hurricane Sandy to Sandy Hook Elementary School

sandy hook victimsGood Morning, All …

Okay, so I can’t quite get the words “Happy Monday” out just yet. I’ve been up for a few hours now contemplating the rigors of life . . . so to speak. The story of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut has the whole world watching. What will we do? How will our nation handle this? The President has asked for “change” once again. Is there any quick fix for this type of occurrence? So many questions and such a variety of answers. Is Asperger’s the type of disorder that a single mother can handle all on her own? Does it make sense to teach a young man who is suffering from such a disease how to shoot automatic assault weapons? We could go on and on with questions and answers but nothing … not one little thing … will bring the 20 children and 7 adults (all women) including Adam Lanza’s mother back to life. Peace be still.

One of the things that is addressed in the platform of Educational Excellence is “ask for help when you need it”! It is just one of the items of importance in surviving, and, perhaps successfully living in this modern day world. This notion of “I don’t need any help” or “I am too embarrassed to let people know what I am going through” is often one that is detrimental to overcoming any obstacles, disorders or diseases. We all need help … we came into this world needing help, and, if we are fortunate enough, we will depart from this world needing “help”. What is this “life” we have been gifted (or cursed) with? Is it as mysterious as it seems . . . it comes and goes in the blink of an eye! Do you believe in a Creator? Do you choose to call “it” God, Allah, Buddha, “The Big Bang” or is the force that generated life on Earth worthy of any name, let alone worthy of “respect” from us?

I could go on and on with my philosophical “rant” of sorts. Yet, it seems that the name of “Sandy” has come up quite a bit recently in our nation’s circumstances … believe it … or not!! What is your take on this? Keep in mind, readers, that if you want to comment on the Educational Excellence blog, you can click on the link in blue below, and, once I have approved your comment, it will be seen by those reading the blog as well. Some of you have simply sent me e-mails, which is fine. A handful of folks have asked to be removed from the e-mail list, which is also fine. My goal is to keep my writing skills sharpened, share a message of peace, love and hope with my writing, and hopefully touch something in someone’s life that they can use to make their life better. May we consider ourselves a part of the big picture though we are very small in comparison to most natural phenomena. Yet, we must live, learn and change and NOT repeat the same mistakes over and over again . . . expect different results . . . and challenge the notion that we are indeed . . . an insane society!

John I. Cook, Director

Peace On Earth . . .

peace christmasHappy Friday, All!

Yes, ladies and gentleman, you guessed it . . . T.G.I.F.! Having been raised by a baptist family, I still cling to my roots of acknowledging Christmas. We always had so much fun and so many activities. I can still see my father putting angel hair and tinsel on the tree until my mother would say, “Isaac, I think that is enough!” There were Christmas cards taped to the walls in various locations and multiple strings of lights around the windows in the living room, my parents bedroom windows as the Christmas tree sat majestically decorated in front of the living room window in our apartment on the 5th floor of the Winbrook Projects. The smells of fresh evergreen, the candy canes on the tree and placed in between the Christmas cards that my parents had received, and, in the evenings were intermingled with my mother’s baking. One of my former students from White Plains, Mrs. Diane Keck, who is now a wife and a mother is sending me some of her baked goods for Christmas and I look forward to them!

My sister is traveling to Tampa this weekend for a family reunion of relatives from that area where my mother grew up. My nephew and I were talking about going up for Saturday afternoon but we both have things going on that make it a bit difficult and we decided not to travel there. Shouts out to the cousins in Tampa from me and Kyle Shine, my nephew. Tomorrow is also the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Resort sponsored Winterfest Boat Parade here in Fort Lauderdale. Many families go out and hang out on the canals and bridges of the waterways that are heavily populated with a variety of sizes and decorations of water vessels. It is always a treat if you are able to get close enough to see the festivities.

One of the reasons I have become much more spiritual is that during celebrations like these – Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, etc. – it helps me maintain a balance between all of the material things – gifts and displays of Christmas lights adorning homes everywhere – and the spiritual meaning of these Holy Days. It is nice to see people still reaching out to those with greater needs including Broward’s own “Big Mamma” who collects toys and gifts for those in need and the motorcyclists who had their “Run In The Sun” last weekend and multiple examples of “Secret Santa’s” who pay off lay away accounts for people who are struggling to give their children a “Merry Christmas”!

May there continue to be Peace on Earth … if only in our hearts!


John I. CookRed roseRed rose, Director

Stand Your Ground …. Again!???

No RightHappy Hump Day, All!

Some of the stuff going on recently could easily take the “happy” out of Hump Day, if we let them …. Yes, I have been feeling the ebb and lull of inconsistent emotions lately, too. What about you? After yesterday afternoon’s shooting at a mall near Portland, OR, it is apparent that people are turning to more and more violence in their behavior, and often, a gun is involved. I mean, we had a shooting in Miami a few days ago of an innocent pregnant young lady leaving a local store that is being called an accident though the shooter has not come forward and has not been apprehended as of yet. The baby was delivered with a bullet in it and the young mother is in critical condition with a bullet in her head and her chest.

Meanwhile, yesterday eve here in the State Prison in Stark, FL, the state executed a former honor’s student, military man (Marines, I believe), former police officer named Manuel Pardo who sat on death row awaiting the execution he asked for 20 years ago. He, too, had gone on a vigilante style serial murder spree as he sought to rid the streets of purported drug users and dealers and had even confessed and bragged about these murders. Nine people were killed before the spree ended. Can I say may he rest in peace?

Well, it seems that Tuesday afternoon, the latest racially charged “stand your ground” defense has been announced by the attorney for the 45 year old white male, Michael D. Dunn, who after attending his son’s wedding in Jacksonville, FL shot nine times into an SUV of African American males. This occurred at a convenience store where Dunn had stopped AFTER the wedding to buy a bottle of wine for his girlfriend. He said that the teen aged black youth were playing their music loud, which the survivors affirmed, and an argument ensued. While there were NO WEAPONS found in the SUV occupied by several black teens, Dunn is claiming that he shot into the SUV because a shotgun was pointed at him from the other vehicle that he parked next to at the convenience store. After the shooting, the white couple fled and went back to their hotel and while watching the news, learned that one of the boys in the vehicle had been killed. So, they mounted up their vehicle, hand gun and all, and fled the county. The ONLY way they were apprehended is because someone took down his license plate information and he was found in the neighboring county in Florida the next day ….

I am literally speechless … imagine that … and to learn that Dunn is planning to use the “stand your ground” law in his defense makes me even more without words. Studies have shown that there is actually an increase in violence and deaths related to the environment created by this law, especially in Florida. There is more violence, more deaths and a reportedly higher number of racial differences associated with these incidents. Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott had recently just offered up some minor changes to the law, which I feel, will contribute to more deaths like Trayvon Martin and the most recent victim, 17 year old Jordan Russell Davis. Can’t we wake up from this and it all be a dream?! Or … would it be better if the purported Mayan calendar were right in speculating a “change” in the world order in the next week or so?


John I. CookRed rose, Director

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