Education Association Questions

I am posting the questionnaire I submitted to the St. Vrain Valley Education Association.  It’s long.  Too long for a blog environment.  But, in my effort to be transparent, I wanted to post what I submitted.  I will repost parts of the questionnaire in a more blog friendly format over the next few days.

The context for the length:  I was not sure I would be able to have an interview with SVVEA representatives.  I was out of town when they did their original round of interviews.  They were gracious enough to schedule a second opportunity for me this past Monday.

St. Vrain Valley Education Association

School Board Candidate Questionnaire—Fall 2007

Your Name:  John Creighton; Director District E

To the members of the St. Vrain Valley Education Association:

I am sorry that I am out of town on the day you are doing candidate interviews.  I certainly hope that we have opportunities to sit down for a conversation in future.

I had the opportunity to get together with Jerri Modrall this summer.  One of the points she emphasized stuck with me:  A school board member must be honest and transparent.  I have written you a “book” and for that I apologize.  But, in event we don’t have the opportunity to sit down together, I wanted to lay out as much of my thinking as possible.  It is a down payment on transparency.

Another down payment on transparency is my weblog,  On this site, I post my answers to questions asked by other groups as well as observations, experiences and interesting ideas I come across.  This blog is a mechanism to help me be consistent and forthright with everyone.

Thank you for reading my submission – especially to those of you who make it to the end.  I certainly hope we do have a chance to talk together at some point in the future.

1.      Why are you a candidate for the St. Vrain School District?

I am bullish on the future of public education.  We have the opportunity to provide children with opportunities that our parents and grandparents could not have imagined.

I have invested a considerable amount of time trying to understand where education is moving.  I have talked with many educators, read the works of many leading education thinkers and I have had the opportunity, professionally, to do public opinion research on education issues for nearly 20 years.

I am a public school traditionalist.  My wife and I did not look beyond our neighborhood school when it was time to enroll our children in school.  But, I am learning that we can’t hold schools in time.

I am running for school board because I want to help preserve public schools as an essential American institution that provides opportunities to all children.  But, I also am learning that what people seek from schools is going to change.  For instance, in just a few years time (if not already) families will seek out schools that:

·        Tailor curriculum to students’ needs, interests and passions so students are eager to learn;

·         Cultivate creative skills, innovation and working collaboratively with a diverse group of peers;

·        Enable teachers to focus their energies on high-value instruction;

·        Integrate technology into all areas of learning;

·        Allow ample time for personal relationships between adults and students as well as peer-to-peer;

·        Provide learning experiences in and outside the classroom more like the “real world”;

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

·        Provide immediate, detailed feedback on assessments to students and their families so that students can take responsibility for their own learning.

I am also running for school board because I want to accelerate our ability to provide these types of opportunities to our children.

2.      From your point of view, what are our district’s most urgent needs?

We are asking something of our public schools today that has never been accomplished in history by any school system – public or private, foreign or domestic.  We expect our public schools to prepare every child for schooling after high school and, simultaneously, challenge every student to reach their potential.  Yet, we are only making marginal tweaks to the ways in which we do schooling.  That’s true here in St. Vrain and most school districts across the country.

We have needs in our school district that require reform at the federal, state and local levels if we are going to achieve this unprecedented goal.  For this questionnaire, I will focus on work that I believe we can do locally.  I see four critical needs we must address.

A.    A Sense of Urgency

Our approach to schooling must change if we are genuinely committed to helping all children prepare for schooling after high school.  Our approach to schooling will change when parents with political efficacy begin to demand with greater intensity the learning experiences similar to those I describe in question one.  The question is not whether our schools will change but who will change them.  I believe we should work together as a community to shape our own futures.

I fear that many of us are too busy, too complacent, or too fearful of the unknown to embrace the need to make changes to our approaches to schooling.  If we move too slowly, we will lose what we hold most dear: providing opportunity to all children; public schools will become education safety net providers.

I have seen complacency and fear of the unknown delay change twice in my lifetime.  I grew up in an agriculture community.  We used all of our political capital in the 1970s and 1980s to protect commodity farmers – an industry that could not be saved.  As a result, we are losing our communities.  I worked with several newspaper organizations in the 1990s as the commercial internet emerged.  Many news organizations sat on the sidelines and watched others innovate.  Now, their franchise is at stake.

We must not let this happen to public education and public schools.

School board members and district administrators must be more aggressive about framing and engaging the community in a conversation about what our public schools can and should be in the future.  We must become more articulate about what is really required to serve the needs of all children.  We must break free from the “culture of compliance” that causes us to obsess over federal and state mandates.

Indeed, we must reclaim our focus on our own needs.  We should ask: What’s important for our community, our children and our educators?  Only then should we ask: How do we comply?

We also need leadership from federal, state and local education associations regarding how schooling needs to change.  For instance, we need educators to take the lead in helping our community understand what’s required to prepare all students for schooling beyond high school.

B.     Time and Flexibility

Two things are becoming clear to me as I talk with and study the work of professional educators.  1) Educating students today takes more time now than it did in the past; and 2) we need to think about time in completely new ways.  Let me explain what I’m learning in reverse order.

Thinking of Time in New Ways

Here is an idea that has stuck with me:  We need to make learning the constant and time the variable rather than the other way around.  Yet, today, time is still our constant.  All children spend the same amount of time in school regardless of their needs.

You all know better than anyone that not all children learn at the same pace.  Some children need 150 days to master a year’s worth of material while others need twice that amount.  We must find ways to give children the time they need to master material and then let them move on.

I know we are making efforts to support students at both ends of the proverbial “bell curve.”  For instance, many schools have gifted and talented programs, honors classes and similar initiatives to support students who are ready for this work.  I also know many schools are providing extra time to students below grade level – for instance, before and after school programs and summer school.  And, as I’m sure you know, we allow students at Columbine an extra 20 days of schooling (or about 11.5% more time than students in other schools).

The problem with the extra time we provide students below grade level is that these efforts are insufficient.  In fact, they may be a disservice when it comes to building political will.  The casual observer in the community looks at these efforts but does not see gains in student performance.  They conclude that more time in school makes little or no difference.  You know the exact opposite is true.  Struggling students need even more time than these marginal efforts provide.

KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Programs) Schools is one organization that is showing signs of consistent success when it comes to support for low-income and other disadvantaged students.  They have designed a program that gives students 60% more schooling time than the traditional public or private school – more than four times the extra time we’ve been able to provide to St. Vrain students.

We must find ways to provide this type of time for our students who need extra support.  I understand that this will have significant implications for teacher pay and work schedules.  I also understand that the logistics involved with allowing students to move through course work at their own pace are challenging, to say the least.

But, we must agree that learning should be the constant and time the variable and then work together to figure out how to make it happen.  We also must proceed knowing that we will make missteps as we learn how to manage time differently.

In addition to providing students with variable amounts of time, we must rethink when students need access to schooling.  For instance, I agree with the strategy to create more opportunities for preschool and full-day kindergarten for families that want this option.

Education Takes More Time

It may be possible for some students to spend less time in the classroom in the future than they do today.  We may be able to find ways to accelerate how quickly students learn certain types of material.

But, we must expand the time that educators have to do their work.

My conversations with educators make clear to me that one of the important strategies we must pursue is differentiated learning.  We must provide classroom teachers with the time to discern their student’s unique needs, tailor their curriculum for each cohort of students and, as one local classroom teacher explained to me, develop the subject fluency to be able to modify material on the fly.

This local classroom teacher explained that one of the most important things he does is to meet with his team to figure out the specifics of supporting students who comes to his class.  He made the point, “I don’t need to sit in another seminar that explains the value of differentiated learning.  I get it.  What I need is time to figure out how to do it (differentiated learning) in my classroom, with my curriculum, with my students.”  This idea has been reinforced many times as I talk with educators in the district.

Another educator who I respect is my uncle.  He is a high school principal.  He worked ten years in Baltimore and is now in Ithaca, New York.  In Baltimore, the school where he was principal earned the National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award.

When he learned I was running for school board, he sent me a copy of Results Now by Mike Schmoker.  I am sure most of you are familiar with this work.  It is one of the texts that outline the value and methods for how professional learning communities can support the work of teachers.  My uncle made clear to me that from his experience a well executed professional learning community is one of the most important ways to support teachers and students.  Several local educators I’ve spoken with concur.

In my own work, I have seen the value of professional learning communities.  I have been managing analogous groups of peer-to-peer learners for the past eight years.  Currently, I am working with a group of 12 public broadcasting stations as they figure out how to work in a changing media environment.

Two days at the beginning of the school year are not sufficient time to plan for a new cohort of students.  Eight 90 minute sessions on late start days and a limited number of team meetings squeezed into regular school days over the course of a year are not sufficient time to make mid course adjustments.  I find the arguments that we should expand the time teachers have to do this work to be compelling.  The point has been made to me that adding more planning time to current work days would be of marginal value.  More days before and during the school year are needed.

Again, I understand this has implications for teacher compensation.  And, it has implications for the school calendar to which most of us are accustomed.  Making changes may create inconveniences to familiar routines.  None-the-less, these are topics I believe are important to put on the table.

Further, my research and conversations suggest that we need to do more with technology, well-trained paraprofessionals and trained volunteers to leverage teachers’ time so that they can focus on high value instruction and make space for facilitated, self-paced and self-directed learning on the part of students.

C.    Retain Students in St. Vrain Valley Schools

Families who live in the St. Vrain Valley choose to send their children to neighboring school districts, charter schools and private schools because we offer very few options in the way of schools.

We must create high demand schools for families to choose from.  Some families want dual-immersion language schools.  Others seek the Montessori approach.  Still others prefer science & technology or fine arts focus schools.  Some families prefer traditional public schools.

Neighboring school districts offer all of these options through public schools (not charter schools).  We don’t.  And, as a result families leave the St. Vrain Valley every day to attend other schools. 

The consequences are significant.  One estimate I’ve seen is that we lose up to $4 million in student revenues because families choose to leave St. Vrain.  I can imagine that the actual revenue loss is lower but very significant.  We also lose public support for our schools every time a family chooses to opt out.

It is not sufficient for the school board to send out a message “word-of-mouth” that schools interested in becoming a focus school just need to say so.  The board must plant a flag in the ground and say we need these types of schools in our school district in order to serve our community.

Here are the rubs with creating focus schools.  Right now, we are thinking about creating focus schools in terms of converting an existing school into a focus school.  I think that is unlikely to work.  We all know that in order to convert and existing school into a focus school takes about 70% support of the families and teachers who are currently part of the school.  That’s a tough threshold to cross.

Let’s take dual-immersion language schools as an example (this is an example!).  I can imagine that 30 to 40 percent of families at Northridge, Loma Linda, Rocky Mountain and Central Elementary schools are enthusiastic about the idea of their school becoming a dual-immersion language school.  Perhaps 30 to 40 percent of teachers in each school are equally enthusiastic.  That is not enough support to convert any of these schools.  So, we’ve reached stalemate.  And, the community as a whole suffers.

Imagine instead if we brought together families and teachers from all these schools who want to be part of a dual-immersion language school.  Then, add in the families that are driving to Lafayette and Boulder to provide their children this type of experience.  You have a school with a waiting list.

We must be creative to provide the options that people in our community seek.

The board can show leadership by making clear that these types of options are important for our community.  We also need the association’s leadership on this issue.  We need the association to help people in the community and educators understand how important it is to retain families in our public schools by providing options.

D.    Funding. (note: I will address the issue of teacher pay in question 4).

I believe we must invest taxpayer dollars like we’re serious about building 21st Century Schools.

Certainly, we must learn from past financial mistakes and demonstrate what we’ve learned.  I’ve seen progress as I become familiar with the accounting systems built since the financial crisis of 2002.

We also must make strides to maximize our current assets.  For instance, before we ask the community for another bond, we must demonstrate that we are doing all we can to make full use of existing schools.

We must be diligent about allocating resources in the most efficient way possible.  For instance, at the administrative level we should look for redundancies in staffing.  At the same time, some administrative positions may be stretched too thin.  We need to look at all these things.

And, we must be sure to direct our resources in ways that best support students and teachers.  For instance, some people consider the excessive costs of the bus barn in Weld County an icon of misspent funds.

And, we must continue to look for no cost and low cost ways to improve our efforts to support students.  As I tour schools, I see efforts to stretch funds being made every day.

I am certain we can do better in all these ways.  However, almost every person I’ve talked to from the education community, business sector and public sector who has thought seriously about what’s needed to provide a 21st Century education to all students agrees:  We need more resources and time.  Both take money.  We will have to ask our voters for a mil levy override.

I would like to support a mil levy override as soon as possible.  But, before we ask taxpayers for more money, I believe we must meet two tests.

First, as I noted before, we must demonstrate what we’ve learned from past mistakes and how we are maximizing current resources.  Second, we must demonstrate how new tax dollars will help us make a leap forward rather than simply making marginal improvements to what we’re already doing.

School board members, district administrators and teachers will need to work closely as we shape the request to the community.  We also will need to engage parents and community members.

Once we are ready to make the request, we will all need to work in concert to rally the community.  As you know, there will be groups and individuals who make a concerted effort to defeat any request for a mil levy override.  They have proven very effective in the past and I have no doubt they will be effective again.  We must build a solid case for the funds we need and then be ready to work our tails off.

In addition, we need to work at the state level on overall tax reform.  As a small business person I am keenly aware that the property tax code is onerous for those who own commercial property.   Businesses that should be a natural ally for public education are often opponents of mil levy’s because of the burdens they must carry relative to other types of property owners.  The work being done jointly by CASB, CASE and CEA is a good step in this direction.

3.      What specific changes would you like to see in our school district and why?

There are five ideas that I would like to learn about more and pursue as a member of the school board.  Three of these ideas I’ve already outlined in the previous question.

A.    Change How We Think about Time (see answer to question 2).

B.    Create High Demand Schools (see answer to question 2).

C.    Enable Students (and their families) to Take More Responsibility for Learning.

The way in which we use CSAP data publicly does not serve our interests (see answer to question 7).

The only way for students to reach their potential is to provide them with the tools they need to take responsibility for their own learning.  Currently, we place the entire burden of student success on the shoulders of teachers and schools.  That doesn’t make sense.

We could be making far better use of assessment data.  We need to find ways to provide students and their families with more immediate and more specific feedback from student assessments.  This is critical because an assessment is of little value to students unless they can apply it to their own development.

I understand that CSAPs, for instance, provide valuable data to support learning and instruction.  My frustration as a parent is I never see that data.  All I see is an aggregate score six months after it is relevant.  Parents and families will never take CSAPs or other types of assessments seriously unless they are of some personal value.  In contrast, the ACT, Planned Test and Explore exams taken by high school students, and in some cases middle school students, are of far more relevant – and taken more seriously.

Making assessment data available to students and families will require work at the state level.  But, we must also figure out what we can do on our own.

D.    Invest Money Like We’re Serious about Building 21st Century Schools (see answer to question 2).

E.    Reclaim Public School’s Role to Build Community.

As I’m sure you all know, one of the historic roles of public schools is to nurture our democracy; to build one nation.  I continue to believe passionately in this role for public schools.

We have very few public institutions left in society in which we can learn and practice democracy.  We have few places where we can come together with people of different backgrounds and learn from, about and with one another.  Indeed, we live in a divided nation.  We are becoming, what I call, a nation of “accidental extremists.”  We talk only to people whose views we share, we consume media that reinforces what we already believe and, more than any time in 60 years, we are likely to live in neighborhoods with people who share our views.

The dividing of America flies in the face of history’s lessons: Sustained divisions between groups of people who share geography leads to political stalemate, social decline and violence.

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 left to learn and practice democracy.

But we must be intentional if we are going to reclaim public school’s democratic role.  Building community with people of diverse backgrounds is typically people’s third, fourth of fifth priority so it easily slips through the cracks.

The first step is to get this issue back on the public agenda.  We seldom even talk about it.  Conversations about the inconveniences of late start days take up much more time in public conversations than the role of public schools to build community.

The school board can take the lead to foster community dialogue on this issue.  In the past, the board pursued goals to create diversity quietly – perhaps in hopes of minimizing public backlash.  Or, the challenges of diversity – because it is not easy to build community with diverse groups of people – have been placed on the backs of a few schools.  That’s not acceptable.  We must talk publicly and often about the need to reclaim public schools as engines of democratic communities.

Beyond talk, we must make concerted efforts to create community environments in our schools.  I had the opportunity to do focus groups with nearly 100 St. Vrain high school students.  They had many ideas about how schools can create a greater sense of community among the diverse students who attend schools.  We can do this.  It’s a matter of whether or not we’re willing to step up to the plate.

4.      What are the most pressing problems in our school district?

Questions two through four overlap.  In this question, I would like to address the issue of the teacher salary schedule.

I believe we need to rethink teacher compensation.  I am afraid we’re stuck looking at teacher pay through the lens of the 2002 budget crisis.  While I understand why hard feelings exist, I would like to look forward.  I think we need a new set of goals.  Here’s how I think about the teacher pay schedule.

A.    Pay a professional base wage that supports a family.

I believe a classroom teacher should earn enough money to support a family and their spouse should have the option to stay home with their children.  Right now, we don’t meet that standard.

The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that a family of four needs approximately $47,800 to reasonably make ends meet in Weld, County.  That number is approximately $64,500 in parts of Boulder county.  Imagine, a 32 year-old teacher with a spouse and two young children who has been teaching for 10 years.  His or her base pay would be $47,700.  This family would have a hard time making the choice to have the teacher’s spouse stay home.

The current pay scale limits the number of people who are able to make a long term commitment to teaching.

B.    Pay a base wage that will allow for a longer employment year.

As I have noted in my answers, I believe we need to consider a longer work year for educators so that they have time to plan and prepare.  A longer year will require higher pay.

I can imagine being a champion for a significant boost in teacher pay.  But, I also think we need to look at the amount time we expect teachers to work each year.

C.    Pay a base wage that is competitive in the local market place.

We must recognize that teacher’s have options outside of education.  A teacher who seeks more income for his or her family may choose to leave teaching.  Or, vice versa, a person who feels a call to teach may not feel that it is a possibility because he or she can make more in their current occupation.  I do not have enough information to evaluate how we stand in regard to this goal.

D.    Pay a base wage that is competitive with neighboring school districts.

On this score, things are mixed.  As you know, the St. Vrain teacher salary schedule lags considerably behind Boulder Valley.  However, the St. Vrain schedule is comparable to the Poudre district.  This is a factor that we must pay attention to.

At the risk of stepping on a third rail (if I haven’t already), there is another factor I believe we need to consider.  We must consider whether we need different pay for different types of teachers.  I have not drawn specific conclusions.  I do think we need to ask the questions: Are we having difficulties attracting certain types of teachers – for instance, math, science, or language teachers.  And, would higher compensation for these specific types of teachers help with recruitment and retention?  I think the board has an obligation to ask these types of questions on behalf of students and the community.

5.      What is your position on collective bargaining with employee representatives?

There is a legitimate reason that collective bargaining exists and I respect its use.

Historically, as I’m sure you know, collective bargaining is one of the tools that helped create a large American middle class.  A large and vibrant middle class is one of the most stabilizing forces for any free-market democracy.

I also have seen firsthand how the lack of collective bargaining power can lead to unsafe working conditions.  My wife is a registered nurse.  When we lived in metro Washington, DC she worked the night shift on a hospital floor.  During her tenure, patient loads increased from about nine to10 to 14 to 15.  She would return home in the early hours each morning feeling great anxiety.  She lived with fear that she might give a patient the wrong meds in her rush to keep up.

The night nurses – mostly younger, always working when key decision makers were in bed asleep – had little power and few forums to negotiate a more reasonable patient load.  This group of nurses would have benefited from an association to negotiate safer conditions for the nurses and the patients.  In an ideal world, managers would not have permitted such conditions.  We do not live in an ideal world.

Collective bargaining is a tool to hold management accountable.

I do have a couple of concerns about the often unintended consequences of collective bargaining.

Limits flexibility.  I subscribe to the theory of “just enough rules.”  When we create too many rules people may lack the flexibility to take common sense actions. People have two choices under these circumstances.  Break the rules, which undermines the entire agreement.  Or, stick to the agreement even though the best interests of the organization and individuals clearly dictates otherwise.

I am concerned that the agreement between the association and the district may have too many rules.

Let me give you an example.  I have worked with a wide range of organizations.  No two organizations have the same need for meetings in terms of frequency or length.  Sometimes organizations benefit from several meetings held close together to tackle a particular challenge.  At other times meetings are needed less frequently to keep things on track.

St. Vrain’s 40-plus schools can’t possibly all have the same meeting needs.  Yet, all our schools have essentially the same pattern, frequency and length of meetings.  I don’t see how that could make sense.

Slows innovation.  As I have noted, I believe that we need to create high demand focus schools as a strategy to retain St. Vrain Valley students in St. Vrain schools.  I also believe we need to create schools in which we can try out innovations.  Most large organizations learn that they have to create groups outside the normal set of rules to facilitate innovation.

I have listened to board and administrators discuss ideas for focus schools.  It is clear they struggle with how to make this possible and still uphold the agreement with the association.  I’m concerned that we don’t have the flexibility to try new things.  As I noted above, if we don’t find ways to change, I’m concerned we will lose what we love.


6.         Our district has several charter schools. What role should charter schools have in our district? Do you favor granting more charters?

This answer has three parts.

Part One: We live in an era in which people expect variety and options.  We are able to choose from a variety of options in almost every aspect of our lives. Families want choices in education, too.  As I noted in my answer to question three, we must create high demand schools and provide families with options.  If we do not, the demand for charter schools will only increase.

As I said in my answer to question three, I would encourage the association to take a leadership role to help create these types of options.  It will be far easier for SVVEA to advocate for educational standards that are important to the association if the school district provides a variety of schools to choose from.

Part Two: Charter schools will be among the portfolio of schools in the St. Vrain Valley.  Colorado Department of Education rulings make it clear that they will not allow charters to be denied.  Public opinion research is conclusive, too.  People strongly support a role for charter schools.  So, whether we support or oppose charter schools, they are here to stay.

In this context, I believe we have an obligation to create the best possible working relationship with charter schools.  We should tackle common challenges as allies.  We should find ways to learn from one another and share innovations.  We should work together to help families make good choices about the types of learning experiences they want for their children.

Adversarial relationships between traditional and charter schools do not well serve our families or communities.  The school board can set the tone in creating more cooperative relationships.  But, we need all stakeholders to make the commitment to work together.

If we do not believe more productive relationships with charter schools are possible, we should seriously consider the option of turning the charters over to the Colorado Department of Education.  Working with charter schools consumes a great deal of time and energy.  If the relationship is adversarial then it is a great distraction from the essential work of schooling.

Part Three:  One of the original ideas of charter schools is that they would be a place to incubate innovative approaches to education.  Noted educator Deborah Meier is among the veteran teachers who have helped create charter schools to find better ways to serve students, families and teachers.  I have read a good deal of her writing.

We do need to create an environment in which innovation is possible.  We can create schools of innovation without using charters.  But, we would need the association’s help to make that possible because I am certain that it would require modifications and, in some cases, waivers to the agreement between the district and the association.

As an aside, I do not support voucher programs that would allow students to attend private schools.  I am concerned that a voucher system would exacerbate an already emerging apartheid education system that is re-establishing itself in the United States.

7.      How do you view the use of CSAP scores in rating and comparing schools?

The ways in which CSAP scores are used publicly do not serve our interests.  They do not foster greater accountability as some people believe.  Instead, they brand schools as failing students – which may or may not be true; or as helping students succeed – which may or may not be true.

You all know this better than me.  What the public sees are aggregate scores comparing two completely different cohorts of students who happened to attend the same school.  People look in the newspaper and compare this year’s third grade class with last year’s.  Furthermore, the CSAP test changes each year and new benchmarks are set for proficient, etc.

A teacher may have his or her most successful year.  She or he may have helped students make unprecedented growth.  But, their aggregate scores may still be lower than a stellar class of the previous year.  All that the public sees is that scores are lower.  And, the year is deemed a failure.  That’s not helpful.  It creates a culture in which people seek to escape responsibility rather than claim it.

The good thing that CSAPs did for us is that they shined a spotlight on the fact that traditional schooling is not serving the interests of all students.  The push for CSAP success has opened up conversations among educators about what it will take to help all students succeed.  These are good things.

But, these good things are obscured by the misuse of CSAP information in public.  We will not harness the value of assessment data as a teaching tool until we make this information available to teachers, students and their families more quickly and with more specifics.

8.      Congress is currently reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  What provisions would you recommend changing in the reauthorization of NCLB?

My preference would be that NCLB is not reauthorized.  I believe that standards and assessments can play an important role in education.  And, I believe that we need mechanisms to hold schools, educators and students accountable.  But, NCLB has contributed to a culture more obsessed with compliance rather than accountability.  We are more concerned with not getting dinged for missing AYP rather figuring out what’s best for our students, our educators and our community.

As with the CSAPs, the value of NCLB is that it shines a spotlight on all students.  For instance, schools with a majority of predictably high achievers can no longer ignore students who struggle.  But, if that’s all it does, it’s of limited value.

As I have noted several times, we need to harness assessments as a valuable and relevant resource for teachers, students and their families.  Not just try to meet AYP or raise our scores so we look good in the newspapers.  We’ve got the cart in front of the horse.

9. In view of the state and federal emphasis on student assessments (in reading, writing, math), how important is it for St. Vrain students to get instruction in other academic areas (science, social studies, foreign language, and various elective classes); instruction in music, physical education, and art; and opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities in school?

I think that the way in which this question is framed sets up a false choice.  As a parent, I want my child to have a wide range of experiences.  Every parent I know shares a similar aspiration for their children.  Of course, it is important for students to have instruction in academic areas beyond reading, writing and math.  Reading, writing and math assessments should not limit these possibilities.

The question for me goes back to questions of time.  How do we use it?  How much of it do we have?

We may be able to figure out ways – or adopt methods others have already figured out – so that some students can move more quickly at mastering different types of material.  Math and reading strike me as two subjects in which differentiated learning shows great promise.  For these students, we should absolutely use the time we save in reading and math instruction to allow them to pursue other subjects.

Other students, as I’ve discussed, may need far more time to master certain types of material.  The way to preserve time for other subjects for these students is to give them more time.

As I mentioned before, we have to figure out ways to break free of the notion that all children go to school at the same time for the same amounts of time.  Otherwise, we will continue to hold back and/or frustrate our students.

10.  Please add any other specific comments you have at this time. In the interview we will give you the opportunity to make a statement about your candidacy. We will likely ask you a few follow-up questions and give you the chance to ask us some questions, too.

I can imagine you’re tired of reading.  If you have made it this far, thanks.


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