• Published 24th May 2015
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Learning Curve - Jack of a Few Trades



Cheerilee's new teaching career tests her passion for education when she must teach a student who is unable to learn.

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Chapter Ten: Board Meeting

Nine plus ten does not equal twenty-one, Scootaloo. Cheerilee drew a red line through the problem’s number, citing that the correct answer was nineteen directly beneath the problem.

The scent from her marker was starting to become so strong that she could taste the ink on her breath. She wrinkled her nose and dropped the pen from her teeth, grimacing. It was definitely time to switch to a less odorous writing utensil. At least there shouldn't have been much left in her stack of papers to grade. That last mark concluded her look at Scootaloo’s paper, and so she placed it in the completed pile. She reached for the next one, and only then did she allow herself to look at how much she had left to do.

Oh, sweet Celestia. There was still an inch-thick stack of papers left before she could call it a day. That’s what I get for taking the night off last night.

She looked down at the red marker with trepidation. That thing is going to make me pass out. She pulled open the center drawer on her desk, rifling through the jumbled mess of pencils, chalk, erasers, and whatever other sort of utensils she had dropped in there over the last couple of months. Though the drawer was nearly full of the jumbled mess, there was little that would work for grading papers, except for a broken red crayon jammed in the back.

It would have to do. She picked out the crayon and took it up in her teeth, making sure to not touch it with her tongue. There was a bit of a faint odor from the crayon, but it was much more bearable than the marker. Ready to begin again, she pulled the next page from the stack.

Alright, this’ll be a piece of cake. The next paper was from Twist, who promised to have one mistake in it at the most.

And it did not disappoint. The paper was about as flawless as a seven-year-old filly could make it, and she had breezed through nearly half of it in under a minute when there was a knock at the door.

“Come in!” Cheerilee called. The door opened slowly with a quiet creak, and in stepped a silvery-white mare with her jet-black mane done up in a tight bun.

“Hi, Cheerilee,” Single File said as she entered.

“Oh! Hi File! This is a surprise,” Cheerilee said, greeting the mare with a warm smile.

“Trust me, I wasn't making a plan out of this. I figured you’d have come by the office already.”

“Why would I— Oh! Is it that late already?” Cheerilee’s gaze locked onto the saddlebags File was wearing. “I wasn't expecting those for another couple of days.”

“With the way Vanhoover’s school district runs things, I’d say you were probably giving them too much credit,” said File. She tugged the flap of her bags open and floated a yellow envelope out in her magical grasp. “But hey, I guess they didn't do too bad.”

The envelope settled on the desk in front of Cheerilee, who picked it up carefully. There in the center of the letter was the stamp of the Vanhoover school district, and she felt a small pang of nerves as she picked her letter opener from the drawer and sliced down the top of the envelope.

There was only one page in the letter, folded over into a standard size mailer. “Shouldn’t there be more than just one sheet?”

“There usually is, but like I said, it’s Vanhoover,” said File. “Oh, when you’re done, I’m gonna need that back. I still need to put that in the records.”

“Right. I’ll only be a couple of minutes.” Cheerilee slipped the record sheet out of the envelope and folded it open. She took out a piece of scratch paper and a pencil, ready to write down the important bits of information.

Vanhoover Office of Academic Records.

745 Hill Street

Vanhoover, EQ. 39856

Academic History File

Student: Aura (Pusher Family)
Age: 9
Grade: 3
Calculated Retention GPA: 1.01

There wasn’t a lot else to the sheet, just numerous other little details that didn’t matter much for her purposes. She skimmed further, not finding much else worth remembering until she reached the lower half of the page.

Instructor: Fresh Gale

Instructor Comments: Had student in class for a total of two school years. Problematic, showed difficulty in understanding material despite repeated instruction. Some mild behavioral issues, including arguing back when disciplined. Did not engage in class most of the time. Penponyship notably poor. Uninterested in learning.

Cheerilee didn’t take look away from the page for a long time after reading the comments. She had been expecting some sort of validation of her concerns to come from Aura’s teacher, and she had some of the backup she needed from their comments, but something about the teacher’s comments felt off. She skimmed back through the page, and it only confirmed her suspicions.

Aura’s old teacher didn’t care about her. Her GPA was just a smidge over the passing line, and she had no doubt that this Fresh Gale character was just giving her enough credit to get her out of her hair.

“You about done?” asked File. “I’m kinda in a hurry. My husband needed me to run by the store before I head home.”

“Oh, yes. Thank you for bringing it by, File.” The paper levitated off the table and was stuffed back into its envelope, and then returned to File’s saddlebag.

“So, did you get what you needed?”

Cheerilee sighed. “It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but yes.”

“So, the next board meeting is in two weeks. You said that this filly might be having some serious problems, so do you think it can wait that long?”

“It’s a long time to wait,” said Cheerilee.

“It’ll take some doing, but I can work on setting up a meeting with the board members for you tomorrow.”

“Really? You can do that?”

“We’re in a tiny district, Cheerilee. Most of us do a lot of jobs outside of what we’re hired on for,” said File. “Look at me. I’m officially the record keeper, but I also do our financial work and work a lot of administrative jobs when they’re needed.”

“I always thought the school offices looked pretty small,” said Cheerilee.

“That they are. Now then, what times this week work for you?” asked File.

“Anytime is fine, really. I don’t have a lot going on this week.”

File smiled. “Great! I’ll get it set up and let you know the time tomorrow after you’re done teaching. Sound good?”

Cheerilee returned the smile. “That works for me! I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“See ya!” File walked to the door, shutting it with a resounding click.

Cheerilee looked back at the stack of papers, and pulled the next one off the top. She picked up the crayon in her teeth, and checked the name at the top of the page.

Aura.

“Well that’s convenient,” Cheerilee muttered. The assignment was mostly unfinished, and what little work there was on the page, the writing was so sloppy that it was hardly legible.

It all makes sense now, Cheerilee thought. With how little Aura’s old teacher seemed to care about her student getting a proper education, it was no wonder that her condition had gone unchecked for so long. Fresh Wind, or whatever her name was, was just passing students through grades to get them past her class. Aura shouldn’t even be past kindergarten!

The crayon snapped in half as Cheerilee neared the halfway point of effectively coloring the entire page in red. She groaned and spat out the stub end still in her teeth.

“That’s enough for tonight.”



Cheerilee tapped her hooves to the beat of a little tune she’d come up with off the top of her head, staring straight ahead with grim determination. Town Hall’s wooden floorboards worked to amplify her tapping, giving it a bit of presence in the otherwise quiet room.

She was alone in one of the secondary rooms of the hall, sitting in the first of the room’s three rows of chairs. Her saddlebags were leaned against the legs of the chair next to hers. She stared straight ahead, counting the seconds as they ticked slowly by.

Stay focused, Cheerilee. Though she had managed to keep herself composed, she could feel her heart racing in her chest. She was surely in for an uphill battle to convince these ponies that there was a problem worth addressing. After all, calling an emergency meeting on a weekend was probably going to make the board members quite testy. Unfortunately, it was the only day that File could set up a meeting that included the entire board at once because of scheduling conflicts, but it would have to work.

I’ll just have to pour on the charm. I can do this.

Behind her, the door creaked. Cheerilee whirled around, startled. Breathe. Calm down. She watched as the school board ponies filed in, led by a purple mare with a decidedly pointed snout. She looked at least vaguely familiar, and was obviously of the affluent crowd. Behind her was a pony she recognized, as did just about everypony in Ponyville. Shuffling along just fast enough to keep up with the harsh mare in front of her was Granny Smith. Behind her, a tan stallion with a slicked mane and a business suit, whom she didn’t recognize. The last pony in was the most unassuming of the three, a face Cheerilee knew but couldn’t name. She was a warm shade of purple with a cutie mark of three gemstones on her flank.

“Good afternoon,” said the lead mare. Her voice fit her well, just about as haughty as she looked. “You are Cheerilee, I presume?”

“Yes,” Cheerilee said, swallowing the lump in her throat. This pony was going to a challenge to win over.

“I am Spoiled Rich, president of the school board.”

Wow, even the name fits perfectly.

Spoiled Rich gestured to the stallion. “This is Davenport, our Vice-President.”

Davenport stepped forward, offering his hoof. “Pleased to finally meet you, Cheerilee.”

Spoiled didn’t wait for Davenport to finish greeting Cheerilee before moving on. “Next is our Reporter, Granny Smith.”

“Howdy, Cheerilee!” said Granny, shuffling forward. Cheerilee met her halfway.

“And finally, our Secretary—”

“Amethyst Star,” the purple mare said, cutting off Spoiled Rich, who didn’t make any effort to hide her annoyance. “Nice to meet you.”

“Now say, don’t I know you from someplace?” Granny said, scratching the side of her head.

“I grew up here in Ponyville,” said Cheerilee. “I think you remember my father, Chisel Point. He’s done some business with you before.”

“Oh, I remember! He’s that woodworker who buys wood from us when one of our trees goes kaput. He made the kitchen cabinets in the farmhouse for me, cut me a good deal on ‘em too!”

“Yes, that’s him,” said Cheerilee, smiling.

“Now then,” Spoiled Rich butted in. “Since we’ve gotten greetings out of the way, let’s get this over with as quickly as possible.” The other board members took their seats, forming a semicircle around Cheerilee.

Not quite as formal as I would have expected.

“File told us that there was a pretty serious problem regarding one of the students. Could you fill us in?” asked Amethyst.

“Of course." Cheerilee reached down and pulled out a few papers from her bag, among them a particularly worn piece of construction paper. She passed it to Amethyst, the closest pony to herself.

Amethyst raised her eyebrows. “Wow, that's really well-done. But I need to ask, what does it have to do with why we’re here? Wasn't it a disciplinary issue?”

“Yes, I was under that impression as well,” added Spoiled Rich.

“Oh, no! There haven’t been any discipline issues with the filly we’re meeting about,” Cheerilee said. She felt the butterflies in her stomach stretch their wings.

“Hot diggity, that filly can draw!” shouted Granny Smith.

“So, why are you showing us this filly’s art work? We haven’t even heard her name yet,” said Davenport.

“Well, I guess I sort of wanted to start on a positive note. The little filly who drew that’s name is Aura. She’s the new transfer student from Vanhoover.”

“Oh right, I remembered seeing something about a transfer student in some documents from our summer meeting,” said Davenport.

“Yes, that’s her. She’s a real sweetheart,” said Cheerilee.

“Mmm. Talented, too.” said Davenport as he received the drawing from Granny Smith. He immediately passed the paper off to Spoiled Rich.

She looked at the drawing with an intense glare, and then she looked up at Cheerilee. “I believe I see what you’re doing. You’re trying to impress us with all of these nice things to say about this filly, but—”

“What she’s trying to say is—” Amethyst Star butted in “—that you don’t have to try and paint this filly in a good light. We’re all here to help the children, so tell us, what’s the problem?”

Cheerilee noticed the glare that Spoiled was shooting at Amethyst. They probably don’t get along too well outside of the meetings. She took a deep breath, feeling some of the anxiety fade. “I guess there’s no point in beating around the bush here. So, here goes.” She took a deep breath, forcing herself to forget about the unease in her stomach. It was the moment of truth.

“I believe that Aura is suffering from a learning disability, and I want to request that we allocate funding for her to receive special education.”

The room was silent for a few moments before Cheerilee noticed that the board members were all exchanging glances back and forth. They kept it up just long enough for Cheerilee to feel the full return of the nerves from before.

After the awkwardly long silence, it was Davenport who spoke up. “Cheerilee, are you aware of just exactly how small our district is?”

“Yes, it’s just the one single school,” said Cheerilee.

“One school, and frankly, a tiny one at that. Our entire district is comprised of just twelve students, one teacher which is you, a record-keeper, a janitor, and us four board members,” said Davenport. “With such a tiny school district, we hardly get any funding. We get enough to pay for three salaries, that being yours, File’s, and the janitor’s. We only get paid minimum wage for what little time we contribute to working for the board. After that, there’s the necessary expenses to keep the school running smoothly, and after that, there’s hardly any money left from the annual stipend.”

Cheerilee cocked an eyebrow. “What are you getting at?”

“There simply isn’t enough money in the budget to pay for the costs of getting special education set up,” said Spoiled Rich.

“But that don’t mean we can go and let this filly suffer now, can we?” Granny Smith earned the attention of everyone in the room with her addition to the conversation. “Do her parents know anything about this?”

“No, I haven’t notified them of any issues yet,” Cheerilee answered.

“Well, that might be the best course of action here,” said Amethyst Star. “We’ve run into this sort of thing before, and so far as I can remember, we usually have just two options.”

“What are those options?” Cheerilee asked.

“We can either advise her parents to send her to another district with a special education program, or they pay out of pocket for the specialized curriculum.”

“And then there’s always the option that we just leave her to fend for herself,” added Spoiled.

“Which is no option at all,” said Cheerilee. “I just showed you a perfect example of what this filly is capable of, and if we leave the problem alone and hope for the best, all of that potential will go down the drain.”

“So, that leaves options one and two,” said Davenport. “I would advise that you schedule a conference with Aura’s parents, and you break the news to them. What type of disability was it that you think she has again?”

“Dyslexia seems to be the most likely one,” said Cheerilee.

“Well, tell her parents and be sure to lay out their options. None of us here want to see this kid fail, but it’s really something that’s almost out of our hooves,” said Amethyst Star. “That’s about all there is to it. Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?”

“No, that just about covers it.” Cheerilee rose from her seat, offering her hoof to Amethyst. “It was nice to meet you all.”

“Likewise,” said Davenport. “And Cheerilee, I just want to say that I really appreciate what you’re doing here. In my eyes, the mark of a good teacher is giving a flip about the kids.”

“Thank you so much,” said Cheerilee. “Thank you all for coming out today to talk about this.”

And so, the meeting adjourned. The board members walked out of the room with Cheerilee and dispersed. Cheerilee began the short walk back towards home with a bit of spring in her step.

It’s all gonna work out. It has to.

Author's Note:

The long awaited board meeting has happened. Up next, the even longer awaited meeting with Aura's parents!

Thanks to LComm for his efforts, and thank you for reading!