Don’t Get Mad, Ask Questions

September 26, 2009

Anger is a staple of modern public discourse.  Perhaps, some people will say, that’s always been so.  The fact that a mean spirited element has long existed makes it no less toxic.

Most of us have freshly burned in our memories people shouting down members of congress at August town hall meetings.  And, in some cases, members of congress shouting back down their constituents.  Fresher still are images of a member of congress shouting down the President during his address to a joint session of Congress.  Immediately after, there was a spike in campaign contributions to the offending member of congress as well as his opponent.

In the social media sphere it is not uncommon to see anger filled political comments sprinkled among the updates on newborn nieces, vacation photos and business updates.  Perhaps we share some of the anger we read in our respective news feeds.  Perhaps some posts make us angrier still because we disagree – especially if we have not carefully filtered out all those who think differently.

In my community, I see anger expressed on a daily basis in our local newspaper.  There is a section in the paper in which people can express anonymous sentiments about any subject of their choice.  Each morning I read people sniping back and forth at one another over everything ranging from the Apostle Paul, to whether the President should make a speech to school children, to health care, to who knows what else.  It’s like a car wreck.  So many people I know feel sad by what they read but look religiously.

So many of us feel sorrowful about the current state of public discourse and yet the toxicity persists even amplifies.  We listen to calls for civility with a cynical ear.  We implore political candidates for office to be more civil not believing that they will.  What we don’t often consider is that, perhaps or even probably, the conduct of political candidates is a reflection of their communities and that civility begins with each one of us.

Don Haddad, Superintendent of St. Vrain Valley Schools, suggested at a recent school board meeting that each of us can contribute to a more civil public realm.  Here is what I took away from his remarks:

 It has become a habit when we read, hear or see something which we don’t like to immediately express anger without thought or care for the consequences.  We don’t consider how we might be stirring the cauldron of toxic public discourse.

We need a new reflex; a new habit.  When we read, hear or see something which triggers an angry feeling inside, we must resist the temptation to express those emotions immediately, unfiltered.  Instead, the feelings of concern should trigger each of us to ask questions, to learn more, to channel our feelings of anger into a learning opportunity.  We may find where there is smoke there is no fire.  Or, perhaps we will find a situation with enough complication that shouting each other down will do nothing but fan the flames and impede progress further.  In either case knee jerk reactions of anger are not useful.

I appreciate Mr. Haddad’s remarks because I can act on his advice.  I don’t need to wait for anyone else to take action first.  And though I may find it hard on occasion it is a good standard to strive for.

*     *    *

Also published in


Calendar – Week of August 21

September 23, 2009

Monday – Multicultural Task Force

Tuesday – Accountability Committee (conflict, did not attend)

Wednesday – BOE Regular Business Meeting

Thursday – Feeder System Listening Session at Longmont High School

Questions of the Week – Charter School Governance

September 15, 2009

St. Vrain School District has received two charter school applications this year.  I am a board liaison to the Accountability committee which does the initial review of the charter school applications and makes a recommendation to the Board of Education.  I also have done an initial review of each of the applying charter school’s proposed governance model.

In both cases, the governance model allows the founders of the charter school to retain permanent control.  In one case, the proposed charter for Longmont would be one of three along the front range.  A single board would govern all three schools.  The board would include one parent from the Longmont charter school.  No other board members would necessarily be from the community.

In the other case, a proposed charter school for Erie is being organized from three educators who live outside the school district.  These three educators are the current and only members of the board of directors.  The governance section of their charter application indicates that the current three board members will appoint two others.  In future years, the standing board will elect three board members and the parent community of the charter school will elect two board members.  The way the proposal reads the founding board members could elect themselves for as long as they want.

I am of the mind that when a school asks to be chartered by a local school district it is requesting to be a community-based, public institution.  As such, the school should be accountable to and governed by members of the community.  The five charter schools currently operating in St. Vrain meet this test.

Here are my questions: Is it okay for a school chartered by the St. Vrain Valley School District to be governed by a board with a majority of members living outside the school district?  And, is it okay for the founding members of a charter school to write the bylaws in such as way as to guarantee that they can retain control of the governing board for as long as they are interested?

I’m interested in what you think.

Calendar – Week of August 7 and Week of August 14

September 15, 2009

Tuesday, August 8 – Accountability Committee

Wednesday, August 9 – Lincoln School Open House

Wednesday, August 9 – BOE Regular Business Meeting

Thursday, August 10 – Reaching A Multicultural Audience; City of Longmont/County of Boulder

Monday, August 14 – Altona PTO

Tuesday, August 15 – Rocky Mountain PTO

Wednesday, August 16 – Latino Education Committee

Wednesday, August 16 – BOE Worksession

Thursday, August 17 – Montessori Charter School Grand Opening

A Wave of Change – And No Change

September 1, 2009

Here are additions I have made to the blog this week.  My hope is to gradually establish this as a space where I can discuss the experience of serving on the school board as well school board activities and education ideas.  The post listed below, “Balancing Act,” is an example.

Calendar – Week of August 31, 2009

Highlights – Week of August 24, 2009

Balancing Act

A Wave of Change – And No Change

Calendar – Week of August 31, 2009

September 1, 2009

Monday, August 31 – 6 to 8:30 – Dialogue on Immigrant Integration

(This meeting was a powerful experience for me.  I look forward to writing more next week.)

Wednesday, September 2 – 6:30 to 8:00 – Board Work Session – Frederick HS Design & Superintended Goals

Thursday, September 3 – 5:30 – Central Elementary Back to School Night (personal more than school board)

Highlights – Week of August 24, 2009

September 1, 2009

Accountability Committee

One of the charges of the district accountability committee is to review charter school applications and make recommendations about the proposals to the board.  This week, committee members received an application from Aspen Ridge Preparatory School which would like to locate in Erie, Colorado.

Representatives of Aspen Ridge Preparatory School did not schedule any meetings with district staff prior to submitting their application so at this point I don’t yet know a lot about it.  Pre-meetings with district staff are not required but are certainly useful.  The group who chartered St. Vrain Montessori School put together an exemplary charter school application and had several meetings prior to submitting their application.

The Aspen Ridge group used a template developed by the Colorado Department of Education to organize their application rather than the St. Vrain template.  In order to expedite the process, the committee agreed to use the state template for the review.

Spangler PLC Days

I had the opportunity to observe the Spangler staff develop SMART goals for reading instruction for the upcoming school year.  It was a great opportunity for me to hear teachers discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of the district’s reading curriculum.

Spangler is one of the schools where we have more work to do to equip teachers with technology to support their instruction.  It was exciting to hear of all the instructional opportunities they will be able to pursue once they have a few more tools.  That does not mean they are waiting until they have technology to provide reading instruction – far from it.  They are working hard with the tools they have.  But, there are many additional opportunities that will become possible with a few basic tech tools.

School Board Meeting

This week’s school board was mostly routine business.  One of the highlights is that it is now possible to watch board meetings at your convenience.  Video recordings of the board meetings are now being posted on the districted web site.  Thanks to DTS and Longmont Channel 3 for making this possible.  Here is the link to the August 26 meeting.

Information about Salary Negotiations

As those who read this blog may be aware, I was interviewed last week regarding salary negotiations with the St. Vrain Valley Education Association.  It would always be nice if newspaper stories allowed more space for context and nuance but it is a medium with many constraints.

There is much to discuss and lessons to share.  I am eager to do that at the appropriate time.  Meantime, here are links to the stories and the press release issued by the school district.

Times Call article

Daily Camera article

School District Press Release

Balancing Act

September 1, 2009

I am having to re-learn, to an extent, the balancing act of school board, work and family with the school year back in full swing.  I have a tendency to become over enthusiastic about all that is going on the school district and community related to education and I sometimes over commit.

I have found that the activity that suffers most from a busy schedule is time with my kids.  In particular, I read less to my kids before bed than I would like.  It takes us far longer to finish books than it did before I was on school board.  My kids notice, too.  My son and I are halfway through the final book in the series Percy Jackson and The Olympians.  We have a great time reading them together.  My son remarked last night, “Remember how we thought we’d be done with this book by now.”

The busy schedule comes with the territory.  I signed up for school board and I am responsible for striking the appropriate balance.  I am working on establishing some personal parameters or rules of thumb to help me balance the time I spend on school board activities.  For instance, I am going to try to limit my meetings to three per week and my hours to 15 per week.  It won’t be possible to stay within these bounds every week but I think it’s a reasonable starting point.

Last week, I spent 17 hours on school board activities.  I also missed a meeting of the Longmont Education Task Force so that I could be available to talk to a client and I was not able to attend the grand opening of Flagstaff Academy’s new school due to a family trip over the weekend.

The new parameters are having an effect, too.  I had to reschedule attending a meeting of Spangler Elementary’s new calendar committee until October.  I hate to miss that meeting because I believe this group is doing important work that I want to learn about.  But, it is part of my effort to find the right balance.  We’ll see how it goes.

A Wave of Change – And No Change

September 1, 2009

I am among those who believe a wave of change is about to sweep across and transform the education landscape.  When I read books such as The World Is Open by Curtis J. Bonk and The New Global Student by Maya Frost it is easy to imagine that school a few years from now will look much different than that which we are accustomed.   For instance, five or ten years down the line, I can imagine that the idea of a student going to one place for a fixed amount of time for uniform time period classes will largely be an obsolete model of schooling.  There are many signs here in the St. Vrain Valley School District that are evidence of an emerging, more flexible and personalized model of schooling.

But, as our methods of school evolve and adapt, it also is important to keep in mind some aspects of education that should not change – and I believe won’t change.  Three characteristics of education come to mind that I believe will endure.

  1.  Young people need adult mentors who are not their parents.  Teachers, a synonym for mentor, will also play an essential role in the learning process.


  1. Young people need to spend significant and meaningful time with their peers.  It is an important part of the developmental process to work, play and learn with a cohort of one’s peers.


  1. Young people need safe places to be when their parents and guardians are doing something else (like working).  Schools often fulfill this essential family need.

These enduring needs suggest that schools will never go away.  We need institutions that bring together mentors and students, cohorts of young people and provide a safe place.

But, the school day and locations will look much different much sooner than we may think.

Monday Updates

August 24, 2009

As we begin the first full week of the new school year, I am making an attempt to bring back to life my dormant blog.  My plan is to spend 45 minutes give or take each Monday to capture experiences I am having on the school board.  I plan to list the calendar for the coming week, highlights from the past week and other items that strike my fancy.

I am sequencing the posts so that people who come to the blog can read from top to bottom on the day I add the posts.  If you are coming to the blog via an RSS feed, the sequencing may seem out of whack.  I don’t know for sure.

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for returning to a neglected site.