Archive for September, 2007

Away from the Computer

September 23, 2007

I will be away from the computer for a few days.  When I return, I will post more question responses including what I submitted to SVVEA.

I also hope to share themes from the "campaign trail."  In the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to talk with parents and community members from central, southwest and southeast Longmont, Mead and Niwot.  I have met with community and business leaders from Dacono, Erie, Frederick, Longmont and Mead.  I have had the chance to tour schools, talk with principals and/or teachers from Longmont, Silver Creek and Niwot high schools; Heritage, Coal Ridge, Sunset and Altona middle schools; and Columbine, Northridge, Eagle Crest and Central elementary schools; Twin Peaks Charter Academy; the 18-21 Transition Program for students with disabilities and I attended a math night at St. John’s Catholic Church earlier this summer.  I have visited one-on-one with several sitting school board members, administrators, district department staff and education advocates in the community. I have read the SVVEA agreement and I am plowing my way through the district budget and CDE information. 

As we know, St. Vrain is a large district – 400 square miles; more than 40 schools.  I still have many more places to visit and people from whom I need to learn.  I have much more on my calendar for October.

I want to thank everyone who has made time for me to help me learn as a prepare to represent our community members on the school board.  I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned so far and engaging in an ongoing conversation about how to support St. Vrain public schools.

See you in a few days.


More Questions – Daily Camera

September 23, 2007

Here’s what I submitted to the Daily Camera.  Check out their website or newspaper to read what other candidates say.

Your name:  John Creighton

Age: 43 (on Election Day)

Address:  328 Pratt Street; Longmont

Family (include names and ages):

Wife – Joni, married 18 years

Emma – 10 years old

Joe – 8 years old

Grace – 5 years old

How long have you lived in St. Vrain Valley?:

6.5 years (moved to Longmont MLK weekend 2001)

Education (name of college, major, year graduated):

K-12, Atwood Public Schools, Atwood, KS

BA – Economics and BS – Business Administration, University of Kansas 1988

MPP (Masters of Public Policy) – Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government 1990

Background (include current occupation, committees, etc.):

Founder, Conocer, public leadership consulting firm (public opinion research and professional development)

Executive committee, High Plains Banking Group

Co-chair, Central Elementary PTO

Member, Central Elementary Accountability Committee

Past president, St. Vrain Rotary Club

Member, Longmont Multiculturalism Task Force

Teacher (with wife), Intercambio

Political experience:

Chair, St. Vrain Valley 2004 mil levy override committee (defeated by less than 200 votes)

Staff, Speaker of the House Jim Braden (Kansas) 1988

Staff, Mike Hayden for Governor (Kansas) 1986 and 1990

Web site:



Who is your hero?

The people of Atwood, Kansas, my hometown.  Atwood has a population of less than 2,000.  It’s here that I learned what it takes for a community to succeed.  You have to participate.  You can’t ride on other people’s coattails.  Everywhere I have lived I meet people who share this ethic.  They’re my heroes, too.

Tell us something unusual about yourself that few people know.

I once was an usher for the Texas Rangers Baseball Club.  It was a great way for a college kid to spend (muggy) summer evenings and make a few bucks.

What is your favorite song?

Crimson and the Blue (University of Kansas Alma Mater song)

I get goose bumps every time I sing it with 14,000 Jayhawks fans in Allen Field House.

Your favorite book?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A great tale of the daily struggles to do the right thing

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you want with you?

1.     My family.

2.     A good set of tools.

3.     Plenty of reading and writing materials.

We’d figure out the rest from there.

Do St. Vrain Valley schools receive adequate resources to educate students?

No.  We are asking our public schools to do something that’s never been done before: Prepare every student for schooling after high school and help every child reach their academic potential.  I have spent hours and hours talking to educators, business people and community leaders of all political opinions.  Essentially everyone who has thought seriously about what it takes to meet this unprecedented challenge agrees that we lack the resources in Colorado as well as St. Vrain.

Do you think CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) tests are a fair way to evaluate students and schools?

Yes for students.  No for schools.  CSAP tests can provide excellent information that can support teaching and learning.  Yet, students and parents have no access to relevant information.  The public use of CSAP data is irresponsible.  It is possible for a school’s teacher to have their most successful year ever in terms of helping students make academic growth.  But, it’s still possible for the school’s aggregate scores to go down.  All the public sees is the lower aggregate score, which is deemed a failed year.  This creates a culture in which people are tempted to avoid responsibility not claim it.

Do St. Vrain Valley teachers receive fair compensation for their jobs?

A teacher should earn a base wage that is sufficient to support a family and their spouse should have the option to stay home.  The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that a family of four requires $47,800 in Weld County and $64,500 in Boulder County to make ends meet.  A St. Vrain teacher with a master’s degree who has been in the classroom for 10 years makes less.  We must do better.  I would support a raise for teachers sufficient to meet the family wage test and expand the number of days they work each year.

Should St. Vrain Valley ask voters to improve a tax increase to provide more operating money?

We do lack the resources to meet the goals for public schools.  I would like to support a mil levy as soon as possible.  Before we ask taxpayers for more money, we must past two tests.  First, we must demonstrate what we’ve learned from past financial mistakes and how we are maximizing current resources.  Second, we must be clear about how new tax dollars will help us make a leap forward rather than simply make marginal improvements to what we’re currently doing.

If elected, what’s one goal you want to accomplish?

I will be disappointed if we can accomplish only one goal over the next four years.  I would like to expand time for teachers to do their work so that schools can develop common assessments, learn best practices for instruction and work in professional learning teams; create systems to support self-paced learning (what educators call differentiated learning) and enable students to take more responsibility for their own learning; open high demand schools that already exist in neighboring districts such as dual language immersion schools, and reclaim public school’s role to build community.

Results Now

September 22, 2007

My Uncle, Joe Wilson, is a high school principal – at City College in Baltimore for 10 years and now in Ithaca, New York.  While at City College, the school earned the National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award.

When he learned I was running for school board, he immediately sent me a copy of Results Now by Mike Schmoker.  The book outlines strategies to improve teaching and learning through team-based learning communities, common curriculum and assessments.

My uncle said to me, "If you support nothing else, support this."  The Professional Learning Community days established by St. Vrain a a first step toward the ideas outlined by Schmoker.  I have had the opportunity to talk about PLC days with several St. Vrain principals and teachers.  Making the best use of this time is a learning process, too.  But almost everyone I talk to – principals and teachers – agree the time to work in team-based learning communities is powerful.

I have some experience with this myself.  I have managed what we call learning teams for the past eight years.  I developed and led learning teams (before I had ever heard of Professional Learning Communities) for about 40 state primary health care associations beginning in 1999.  They continue today.  I am currently part of a team working with 12 public broadcasting stations.

I’ve seen first hand the power that learning teams can have to focus and enhance people’s work.  When well managed, learning teams produce results.

Important, But Not for Me

September 20, 2007

The Public Agenda Foundation – a New York based research company – shows that there is sometimes a disconnect between education and business leaders and parents and students.  The group surveyed approximately 2,600 parents and students in Kansas and Missouri.  The gist of this report is that most parents survey in beleive that science and math curriculum is about right as it is.

Specifically, the survey found that only 25 percent of parents think their children should be studying more math and science, and 70 percent think things “are fine as they are now.”

I had the opportunity to do a series of focus groups last winter with parents in places such as Ft. Collins, Greeley and Douglas County.  Parents in all three focus groups expressed views similar to those found in the Public Agenda survey.  The quote I remember came from a Ft. Collins woman who said, "I’d be happy to give up a few points on the CSAPs so my child can be well rounded."

How should education leaders respond when parents’ and students’ aspirations for schools are different than those who have spent time studying the educational needs of our country?

Here is some information on the Public Agenda report.

Important, But Not for Me:

Kansas and Missouri Students and Parents Talk About Math, Science and Technology Education

Alison Kadlec and Will Friedman with Amber Ott

There is growing consensus among the nation’s business, government and higher education leaders that unless schools do more to train and nurture a whole new generation of young Americans with strong skills in math, science and technology, U.S. leadership in the world economy is at risk. But our new report concludes that Kansas and Missouri parents and students didn’t get the memo.

Here is a link to the full report and commentary:

More Kudos to the School Board – Health Education Policy

September 19, 2007

I would like to congratulate the school board for passage of the new health education policy – specifically the portions regarding sexual education.  I know that sexual education can be an uncomfortable topic.  So kudos for adopting this policy.

I agree with the opt out approach to the sexual education (meaning that children will receive the sexual education unless their parents make the explicit choice to opt them out).  I support this policy so long as there is very good communications with parents.

I would have supported an "opt in" option for a 3D training on how to use condoms.  This type of option would allow parents to choose for their children to receive a sexual education demonstration with mannequins.  The board chose not to allow this option.

When explaining oral contraceptives (birth control pills), I believe that students should be told which types of contraception destroy a fertilized egg.  People disagree about whether or not a fertilized egg constitutes life.  From a biological perspective, there is no ambiguity.  It is life.  I believe students should have this information, too.  I do not know what the new policy says about this, I would have to look it up.

I received a pamphlet from Friends First with 10 tips for parents.  Tip number 10 is: Talk openly and often about sexuality, choices, and that the best sex is within marriage.  My wife and I agree.  We have already begun that conversation with our oldest daughter.  I am glad the new sexual education policy continues the practice of informing students that abstinence is the only risk free approach to sex.

We will choose for our daughter (and son and 2nd daughter) to participate in the full sexual education instruction.  My wife and I believe two things.  Complete information is best when it comes to sexuality.  And, our children will take our point of view about sexuality seriously.

Board member Robert Auman made a great comment at the meeting (I can only paraphrase).  Children do listen to their parents.  So parents should provide guidance on sexuality.

My wife and I agree.

P.S. New York Times Columnist David Brooks wrote an interesting piece that suggests that, perhaps, all of us – those who support and oppose the new health policy – have more to learn.

I’m still learning how to make permalink work so I’ve put the Brooks Column here for now.

When Preaching Flops

A little while ago, a national study authorized by Congress found that abstinence education programs don’t work. That gave liberals a chance to feel superior because it turns out that preaching traditional morality to students doesn’t change behavior.

But in this realm, nobody has the right to feel smug. American schools are awash in moral instruction — on sex, multiculturalism, environmental awareness and so on — and basically none of it works. Sex ed doesn’t change behavior. Birth control education doesn’t produce measurable results. The fact is, schools are ineffectual when it comes to values education. You can put an adult in front of a classroom or an assembly, and that adult can emit words, but don’t expect much impact.

That’s because all this is based on a false model of human nature. It’s based on the idea that human beings are primarily deciders. If you pour them full of moral maxims, they will be more likely to decide properly when temptation arises. If you pour them full of information about the consequences of risky behavior, they will decide to exercise prudence and forswear unwise decisions.

That’s the way we’d like to think we are, but that’s not the way we really are, and it’s certainly not the way teenagers are. There is no central executive zone in the brain where all information is gathered and decisions are made. There is no little homunculus up there watching reality on a screen and then deciding how to proceed. In fact, the mind is a series of parallel processes and loops, bidding for urgency.

We’re not primarily deciders. We’re primarily perceivers. The body receives huge amounts of information from the world, and what we primarily do is turn that data into a series of generalizations, stereotypes and theories that we can use to navigate our way through life. Once we’ve perceived a situation and construed it so that it fits one of the patterns we carry in our memory, we’ve pretty much rigged how we’re going to react, even though we haven’t consciously sat down to make a decision.

Construing is deciding.

A boy who grew up in a home where he was emotionally rejected is going to perceive his girlfriend differently than one who grew up in a happier home, even though he might not be able to tell you why or how. Women who grow up in fatherless homes menstruate at an earlier age than those who don’t, and surely perceive their love affairs differently as well.

Women who live in neighborhoods with a shortage of men wear more revealing clothing and are in general more promiscuous than women in other neighborhoods. They probably are not conscious of how their behavior has changed, but they’ve accurately construed their situation (tougher competition for mates) and altered their behavior accordingly.

When a teenage couple is in the backseat of a car about to have sex or not, or unprotected sex or not, they are not autonomous creatures making decisions based on classroom maxims or health risk reports. Their behavior is shaped by the subconscious landscapes of reality that have been implanted since birth.

Did they grow up in homes where they felt emotionally secure? Do they often feel socially excluded? Did they grow up in a neighborhood where promiscuity is considered repulsive? Did they grow up in a sex-drenched environment or an environment in which children are buffered from it? (According to a New Zealand study, firstborns are twice as likely to be virgins at 21 than later-born children.)

In other words, the teenagers in that car won’t really be alone. They’ll be in there with a whole web of attitudes from friends, family and the world at large. Some teenagers will derive from those shared patterns a sense of subconscious no-go zones. They’ll regard activities in that no-go zone the way vegetarians regard meat — as a taboo, beyond immediate possibility.

Deciding is conscious and individual, but perceiving is subconscious and communal. The teen sex programs that actually work don’t focus on the sex. They focus on the environment teens live in. They work on the substratum of perceptions students use to orient themselves in the world. They don’t try to lay down universal rules, but apply the particular codes that have power in distinct communities. They understand that changing behavior changes attitudes, not the other way around.

They understand that whether it’s in middle school or the Middle East, getting human nature right is really important. We’re perceivers first, not deciders.

Kudos to the School Board & Administrators – Facilities Audit Report

September 18, 2007

I attended a school board work session on Wednesday, September 12.  At this session, Steve Burt, Director of Operations and Maintenance and Rick Ring, Executive Director of Services and Support presented the board with a first draft of a facilities audit report.  There was a story in the Times-Call about this on September 11.

The idea behind the facilities audit report is to shift from a "react to problems" to "maintain things before they get real bad – and real expensive."  Currently only about 21% of maintenance is of the preventive variety.  Non-scheduled maintenance constitutes 56% ofthe work.  The rest of the work is construction.  The goal is to increase the percentage of preventive work to 60 or 70 percent.  Non-scheduled maintenance would drop accordingly.

The next step in this process is to train building staff to do preventative assessments.  This will accelerate our ability to spot issues before they’re severe.

The preventative approach makes a lot of sense.  Think of it similar to preventive medicince – if you exercise, eat well and get regular physicals, you can spot troubles before they’re too serious.

This approach has the potential to save the district thousands if not millions of dollars over time.  We’ll never know how much it saves.  When you go for physicals and detect cancer in the earliest stages, you can’t quantify how much pain, suffering and medical expense you’ve saved.  But it’s potentially a great sum.  This approach to maintenance is analogous.

Steve Burt’s and Rick Ring’s presentation gave me confidence that they’re on the right track.  Administrators and board members should receive high praise for shifting our district’s approach toward preventative maintenance rather than reactive.

Now some people might ask why the district is just doing this now.  Well, that’s a no win game.  Any problem or inadequate system that the district corrects could be questioned with the cynical view of, "why haven’t you done that already."

When we meet someone who has lost weight and looks more fit, we typically say "congratulations."  We don’t typically say, "Why didn’t you quit eating junk food five years ago and take the weight off then."

That’s why I say Kudos for getting us on the path of preventive maintenance.

Shifting Public Opinions

September 17, 2007

One of the things I do professionally is public opinion research.  I have been doing research on education for over 15 years.  In the past three to four years, I have noticed a tremendous shift in people’s views of and expectations for schools.  I spoke about these shifts in public opinion at the Colorado Association of School Board’s winter conference in February.  Here is a link to the executive summary of my remarks.

Times-Call Questions

September 16, 2007

The deadline has come and gone to return the Times-Call Questionnaire. (I did not know how to spell questionnaire until this week.  I tend to use one "n" and two "r"s.  If you see that in my blogs its because I forgot to run spell check.)

Again, please remember that these answers have a strict word limit.  Please let me know if there are points you would like me to clarify or additional questions you would like me to answer.

I also encourage you to read the Times-Call on a regular basis so that you can see how other candidates answer these questions.  (There are other elections to consider, too.)

Name:  John Creighton

Age:  43 on Election Day

Education: K-12 Atwood, KS Public Schools; BA – Economics, BS – Business Administration University of Kansas; MPP – Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government

Occupation:  Public opinion research and professional development (Independent Consultant)

Civic experience:  Past president St. Vrain Rotary; Longmont Multicultural Task Force; Intercambio Teacher; past co-chair Central Elementary PTO; past chair Yes on St. Vrain Valley Schools (2004 mil levy override campaign); past member Longmont Long Range Planning Commission.

Personal: Wife – Joni (18 years); 3 Children – Emma (10), Joe (8), Grace (5) 

1. Why are you running for school board?

I’m bullish on public education.  We can provide opportunities to our children that our parents could not have imagined.  I want to help St. Vrain reach its potential by working urgently to:

·         Create high demand schools, including focus schools such as dual-immersion language and science schools.

·         Support practices that enable all students to have enriching experiences at their own pace.

·         Make sure all students are ready to learn and intervene aggressively when they’re not.

·         Set high standards, provide rigorous oversight and then let principals and teachers do their job.

·         Reclaim public schools’ historic role of building communities.

2. What is your vision of the American educational system in 10 years?

In 10 years time, families will seek out schools that:

·         Allow students to take responsibility for their own learning;

·         Tailor curriculum to students’ needs, interests and passions;

·         Emphasize working in teams so students can learn with a diverse group of peers;

·         Enable teachers to focus energy on high-value instruction;

·         Integrate technology into all areas of learning;

·         Allow ample time for personal relationships and play;

·         Provide learning experiences in and outside the classroom;

·         Base student promotion more on knowledge and less on classroom time;

·         Provide immediate, detailed feedback on assessments to students and their families.

3. How can the SVVSD improve its graduation rate and better prepare students for life after high school?

Here’s what I’ve learned from people with far more experience than mine:

·         Don’t let students struggle at the start.  Aggressively intervene in early grades when students fall below grade level.

·         Make sure students make steady progress through the middle years.  Sustained frustration is unbearable for anyone.

·         Make sure students are in a learning environment where they feel safe, welcome and cared for.  Healthy mentor and peer relationships are key.

·         Create opportunities for students to give back to peers and their communities.  Everyone aspires to contribute.

All this requires vigilance on the part of us adults.

4. How should the SVVSD accommodate current and future growth in the district?

The key is to maximize use of all schools.  Too many schools are under capacity.  First, we must create a portfolio of high demand schools that students are eager to attend, where teachers love to work and give parents confidence.  This will take pressure off popular schools and retain students who leave our district.  Second, we must review boundaries for the entire district not just one section at a time.  Third, we must consider new ways to organize schools – e.g. house two schools in one building or combine online, at-home learning with on-site learning.  Last, we must accept that growth is sometimes clumsy.

Why I Support Public Schools

September 14, 2007

In the early 1990s I was part of a research team looking at the affects of what’s called social capital (other people call it the civic health of communities) on long term community health.

We did a comparison of two Mississippi communities – Tupelo and Greenwood.  In the 1950s, Tupelo and Greenwood were quite similar economically.  In 2000, Tupelo had a median household income of $38,000, the state of Mississippi had a median household income of $33,000 and Greenwood had a median household income of $22,000.  Tupelo is internationally recognized for its economic development.

In the 1990s, the social capital of the two communities was equally stark.  Greenwood was a balkanized community.  Greenwood still had separate proms for black and white students.  Tupelo was a community with a culture of rich public discourse.  Tupelo certainly had its share of racial tensions but black and white community leaders agreed that they had healthy conversations that enabled the community to work together.

We interviewed nearly 100 people in the two communities.  When we asked people in Tupelo what made a difference for them they all pointed back to the 1950s when Brown v. Board of Education ruling outlawed segregated schools.  Tupelo residents said their community leaders (with the support of residents) made the explicit choice to move forward with integration.  Most people, white and black, stayed in the public schools.  Tupelo residents said this helped add to the community’s culture of working through disagreements and finding common ground that has helped spur the community’s economic success.

Greenwood chose a different path.  White families largely chose to leave the public school system after the Brown ruling.  The devastating effects of balkanization and apartheid education still linger today.

Public schools are one of the last institutions in our society in which we can come together with people of different backgrounds to learn from, about and with one another.  In essence, our public schools are one of the only places we have to learn and practice democracy.  Practicing democracy is more essential than just learning about it.

We live in a divided nation.  In America, we are becoming what I call "Accidental Extremists."  Yet history teaches us that prolonged division leads to one place: social decline and violence.  We see the results as our nation is unable to find common ground to deal with critical issues such as the unsustainable costs of Social Security, health care, and immigration (both legal and illegal immigration) to name a few.

Our public schools can be one remedy to our nation’s divisions.  This includes both traditional public schools and charter schools.

Now critiques of public schools will argue that government run schools limit personal freedom – the most basic of American values.  That’s true.  Public schools do limit personal freedoms.  Our nation’s history is full of limits on personal freedoms in the interest of democracy.  There has, is and always will be tensions between freedoms and democracy.

The magic of the United States is that we’ve been diligent about trying to find the right balance between freedoms and creating unity.  That’s been a key element of our nation’s and of communities like Tupelo’s success.  Sometimes we are better at finding balance than at other times.  The pendulum swings.  But, at the end of the day, we always keep trying.

Another criticism that is made by people who would like to see an end to public schools is that Government Monopoly Schools impose government values on children.  Well, the truth is that local schools and local government are a reflection of our community – it’s not the other way around.  If we feel that values are being imposed upon us, that suggests to me that we’ve given up trying to find common ground.

The essence of democracy is finding our shared values no matter how extraordinarily difficult that can be at times.  Sometimes we must endure extreme power struggles, which is never fun.  But, if we give up trying to find common values, then we give up our democracy.  Public schools are one of the places we can practices these skills.

Now, let me be very clear, I am not making the case that the status quo for public schools is ideal.  I believe we have a tremendous amount of work to do to bring our schools into the 21st Century.

Also, I do believe we need more competition within the public school system.  Competition can be a very healthy thing.  Charters schools and open enrollment are two ways to create competition.  We should be open for more ways to achieve healthy competition.

But, competition must be balanced (there’s that balance thing again) with access and equity.  Students and families need to have fair access to all schools.  Private schools, by definition, can’t pass this test.  Private schools – like private clubs – are designed to be exclusionary.  In our pluralistic society, there is room for private schools but these are not places you can practice democracy – you can only learn about it.

One more caution.  Reclaiming public schools’ role to build community and to build democracy is typically people’s third, fourth or fifth priority.  That makes sense.  Academic and personal growth should be at the top of the list.  It’s okay for public school’s community building role to be a secondary priority but it must be a priority.  If we are not intentional about maintaining public schools’ role as engines of democracy, it will slip through the cracks.

And, if we neglect this role for schools too long, our community is diminished.  Let’s learn the lesson from Tupelo.

Longmont Chamber Questions

September 14, 2007

Here are answers I submitted to the Longmont Chamber to be published in the Business Advocate.  I encourage you to read a copy of the next Advocate so you can read what other school board candidates said, too.

One thing I learned in answering this questionnairre is that you can say much in 50 words.  That’s tough when you’re answer broad questions such as these.  When you’re limited to 50 words, you have to cut out all context, there’s no room for nuance and, in some cases, you must leave out critical details.

So, please consider these answers as conversation starters.  Please ask questions.  What would you like me to expand on or clarify.  What questions do my answers lead you to think about?

Please don’t assume context, motives or hidden agendas.  Let’s talk.

1.     Do you feel that business should play a role in public education?  If no, why not?  If yes, how?

Business is in a unique position to rally the community around meaningful goals (Madison, WI business helped boost 3rd grade reading by 33%); launch special initiatives such as bringing science & technology schools to the district, and break down walls between school and community to create real world learning opportunities for students.

2.     Do you feel that the business community’s interests impact public education?  If no, why not?  If yes, why?

Public schools are a recruiting tool for business.  Families want options.  Business can’t stand idle.  Businesses must lead the charge to help St. Vrain create a portfolio of high demand schools that already exist in neighboring districts.  We need dual-emersion language, Montessori and science focus schools to name a few options.

3.     Do you feel that the educational community’s interests impact the business community?  If no, why not? If yes, why?

We must make the transition from our 50+ year-old system and step into the 21st century.  Schools must offer tailored instruction, enable teachers to focus on high-value instruction and give students more responsibility for their own learning.  Transitions take up front investments for long term pay-offs.  Business must help chart these investments.

4.     Are you satisfied with the pay scale for the first year teachers?  If you are, why?  If you are not, what are your suggestions to increase the pay?

I need to learn more to answer this question.  The pay scale must be tied to specific goals.  Is our highest need to recruit new teachers or retain veterans?  Are we able to recruit math and science teachers?  As a board member I will ask these types of questions to reach judgments.