A Culinary Audit and Philadelphia Style Cinnamon Roll Candles

“It’s not an audit,” insisted Barbara Wright (not her real name). The district’s Career and Technical Education advisor peered at me through her computer screen. The comfortable furnishings in her background suggested that she was working from home.

“That’s not what the title says.” I held up a hard copy print out of the forms that had been provided by the Nevada Department of Education for an upcoming audit of my Culinary Arts program. The title page said, “Nevada Comprehensive Curriculum Audit.” It included a 28 page self assessment that included a requirement to provide documentation to prove that I was in compliance with roughly 50 different areas of assessment.

“It’s something of a misnomer, It’s not an audit, it’s a program review that takes place once every five years. The purpose of this review is to demonstrate what you’re doing right and what areas need to be improved. It’s not punitive and has nothing to do with your professional evaluation.” The woman waved at her monitor. “Lucy, could you clarify the purpose of this aud … review?”

As a program compliance monitor from the Nevada Department of Education, Lucy Bennett (not her real name) was the third person who was attending our virtual meeting that was held last Wednesday. “Barbara’s right. It’s not an audit. It’s a performance review. The NDE is here to help.”

I mentally sighed. If the NDE really wanted to help, they’d leave me alone so that I could teach Culinary Arts and not burden me with 28 page self assessments. The need to finish this paperwork, to solicit supporting documentation from our principal and guidance counselor, and to provide evidence from my own files was going to take a long time to complete.

As President Ronald Regan once observed, “The scariest words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the Government and I’m here to help.'”

It didn’t help that the NDE initially wanted me to pull evidence from the 2020-2021 school year when most of the year was spent in virtual education due the on-going Covid pandemic. Since Culinary Arts is a hands-on production class it does not lend itself well to a virtual environment. Even though I produced hands-on production demonstration films and provided recipes for the students to use, most students didn’t watch the recipes and didn’t do any of the production assignments. Although a handful opted to do alternative written assignments, the vast majority ditched my virtual class and did nothing. This is one reason why last year’s classes had such a high failure rate. It’s also the reason that the assistant principal (who has since resigned) used to justify in his on-going efforts to bully me. To be fair, he never admitted to having bullied me. He told the principal that he had engaged in “constructive criticism” and alleged that my “oversensitive nature” made me argumentative and insubordinate.

Under NRS 388.122, my district defines bullying as, “written, verbal, or electronic expressions, or physical acts or gestures, or any combination thereof; that are directed to a person or group of persons.” Section b.1 states that it’s against district policy to create a hostile work environment as a result of bullying. Section c.1 further states that that acts based upon, “age, race, national origin, gender identity, sexual expression, disability, or any distinguishing background characteristic of a person,” are prohibited.

Since the assistant principal had sent me a series of increasingly hostile emails over the period of a week and concluded in his last email that I needed a personality makeover because my students allegedly did not like me; I responded by filing a formal complaint with the union and the area superintendent’s office. Since I am also autistic, I filed an additional complaint with the director of the district’s office of accommodations and compliance to further allege a violation of my rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As part of my complaint, I submitted copies of all of the emails that had been received. I also submitted a an electronic copy of my most recent evaluation. This professional review had been issued one week before this incident by the very administrator who was alleging that I couldn’t do my job. In contrast to anything he had said in his emails, the evaluation was filled with glowing comments. It said nothing of my supposed lack of professionalism, dedication, or unwillingness to accept his “guidance” because of my “insubordinate and argumentative” nature.

While I do not know what happened behind closed doors, I do know that he resigned the day before the start of the new school year when teachers were supposed to report back to work. Since I was one of several teachers and staff members who had filed formal complaints about this administrator, I do not know what part (if any) my complaints had regarding his continued employment with our district.

Getting back to the issue of this audit, another problem with basing the program review over what we did last year was that I was on extended medical leave for six months. My non-Covid condition initially required an ambulance, a visit to a hospital’s emergency room, hospitalization, and a series of lab tests, X-rays, MRI and CAT-scans. In time my treatment required surgery and convalescence. Given the number of Covid patients who were being hospitalized, my surgery was postponed for several months because all of the beds were needed for the overflow from the ICU (intensive care units).

The good news is that I eventually had my surgery and have made a full recovery. The bad news is that my teacher’s insurance isn’t very good and I’ve been stuck with thousands of dollars worth of medical bills. During my extended absence from work, I used up all of my sick leave and was on unpaid medical leave for two months.

In terms of professional accountability, I am not suggesting that I shouldn’t be held responsible for anything that I teach or neglect to teach in my Culinary Arts program. My lessons are literally an open book for anyone who has the appropriate user authorization and pass codes. My on-line gradebook includes formative grades for daily production and written assignments. There are also end of unit summative grades via hands-on production tests, written tests, and semester exams. Students who complete my three year culinary program must also take two state mandated on-line tests. One is a workplace readiness test. Over the fourteen years that I have now taught Culinary Arts, I have never had a student fail this assessment. The other test covers in-depth culinary knowledge. At this point, students who graduate from my culinary program only have a passing rate of 75%. The students who have passed this test have taken notes over a three year period and have used these notes as a study guide for the state exam. The students who have failed have either had chronic attendance issues, have not taken notes, or have not managed to keep their notes from one year to the next.

“Since you were on extended medical leave throughout most of last year, we’re going to allow you to submit documentation from the current 2021-2022 school year,” announced Lucy. “Would that help?”

I nodded. Allowing me to provide current evidence was better than making me provide information about a class that had been largely taught by a long term substitute who didn’t have a background in Culinary Arts.

Scrap’s “If you really love me, you’d feed me” look.

Since I am project oriented and have obsessive compulsive tendencies, in between working on various candle projects, I worked on my self assessment from the time I got home at 3 PM last Friday to 2 AM on the following morning. I took a short break on Friday at 5 PM after one of my fur babies reminded me that it was time to feed the cats. Since I belatedly realized that my stomach was rumbling, after feeding the cats, I enjoyed a bowl of Sopa de Repollo, Spanish cabbage soup before returning to work on the assessment.

I took time for myself on Saturday to work on my candles and to do household chores. I made a batch of cinnamon roll candles and subsequently blogged about it.

This afternoon I decided to make a candle version of Philadelphia style cinnamon rolls. In real life, this product is baked in a casserole dish that has been coated with brown sugar, butter, and pecans. The cinnamon rolls (often stuffed with nuts and chopped raisins) are placed in the casserole dish prior to baking. In addition to baking these pastries, the oven’s heat toasts the nuts, melts the butter, and caramelizes the brown sugar to create a thick and sticky glaze.

After being removed from the oven and allowed to cool, the cinnamon rolls are served upside down so that the glazed and toasted nuts are on top.

I scented these candles with cinnamon roll, cinnamon-sugar, and buttered pecan aromas. The chopped nuts were simulated with crumbled wax pecans.

On Sunday I will resume working on my self assessment paperwork. I can already see that I won’t be able to finish this task over the weekend because I need hard copy print outs from work so that I may scan and upload them to the google drive shared folder for this review. I also need to take pictures of the kitchen and to inventory all small wares, tools, and equipment. This inventory alone will take several hours to complete. But not to worry. I’ve been assured that the NDE is “here to help.” (Eye roll.)

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