Archive for November, 2007

Thanks to Karl & Lisa Spiecker

November 30, 2007

Karl & Lisa have been gracious enough to let me stay at their house while I attend the Colorado Association of School Boards convention this weekend in Colorado Springs.  The district will save a little money, too.  Karl is a budget guy by profession so he’ll appreciate the chance to save money.



November 30, 2007

Like many people, I travel for work from time to time.  I have had an uptick in my travel this month.  I have been to Battle Creek, MI; Bethesda, MD; and Las Vegas, NV in the past three weeks.  Plus a Thanksgiving trip to central New York to visit family.  Today I am off to Colorado Springs for the Colorado Association of School Board convention.  I intend to post blog observations next week.

My business travel this month caused me to miss a meeting of the district accountability committee, which I am on now.  I am looking forward to the first quarter of next year when my travel schedule is more limited.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 17, 2007

I hope that everyone enjoys a wonderful Thanksgiving week.  Students, teachers, administrators, staff… enjoy the break.

Committee Assignments

November 16, 2007

I will be serving on the following committees:

District Accountability and Accreditation Committee – meets 2nd and 4th Tuesdays

Channel 3 Cable Trust Committee – meets quarterly

Latino Education Committee – meets 8:30 a.m. 2nd Wednesday each month

Special Education Advisory Committee – meets monthly at various times

I also will serve as a Liaison to the Longmont City Council and the Mead Town Board.

Five Quick Thank Yous

November 15, 2007

Last night I took a seat on the St. Vrain Valley School Board.  I imagined that each of the board members would be asked to say a few words but, probably appropriately, that was not the case.  If I would have had the chance, here’s what I would have said.

I would like to say five quick thank yous.

First, I want to say thanks and hello to my family watching at home on television.  I have the opportunity to serve on the board.  But, as we all know, it takes an entire family to serve.  I want to thank Joni, Emma, Joe and Grace for their support.  Now, it’s time for books and bed.

Second, I would like to thank the classroom teachers who are here.  I appreciate their support and encouragement.  I would like to make particular mention of the Central Elementary teachers who are here – Sally Beckner and Jeanne Dennison.  Sally has been my daughter Emma’s teacher… twice.  My daughter Emma and Sally are emblematic of why I am here. Why we all are here. Because at the end of the day that’s what this is all about, children and teachers in the classrooms.

Third, I would like to thank John Caldwell for not seeking re-election.  John is one of my role models for public service.  I appreciate his friendship and the wisdom he shares with me.

Fourth, I would like to thank the many, many people who offered me support throughout the campaign or took the time to meet with me.  They are too numerous to name.  I will be relying on these folks a lot over the next four years.

Finally, I would like to thank the voters of the St. Vrain Valley.  I know you didn’t have much of a choice on your ballots.  Over the next four years, I will do my best to earn the votes you’ve already given me.

Prepare Children for Their Future…

November 15, 2007

Fellow school board member Rick Hammans heard David Warlick speak recently.  David Warlick is a person who thinks a lot about the future of education.  I recently watched Warlick’s keynote speech to the K12 Online Conference.  Rick cited one of David’s maxims that will stick with me.

We must help children prepare for their future not for our past.

K12 Online

November 14, 2007

Bud Hunt is an early adopter.  He’s figuring out how to integrate new technologies into life and work before most of us have even heard of them.

Bud is also a teacher.  This year he has taken on the role of teacher for teachers.  I am impressed by Bud the Teacher as he is known to his blog and podcast fans.

I am "auditing" a professional development course he is leading call K12 Online – Playing with Boundaries.  A group of 17 St. Vrain teachers are learning ways to leverage online tools when creating educational experiences for their students.

The St. Vrain course builds on an international, virtual conference cleverly titled K12 online conference.  Last night we gathered for a face-to-face session and listened in on the conference’s key note speech given from the Carolinas at a date and time I don’t know.  We joined participants from the UK, China and Wyoming – also on their own schedules.  Bud had asked for input for our course from colleagues around the globe using a tool know as Twitter.

We interacted directly and indirectly with people in unknown geographic locations.  The best part is we still got to go home and have dinner with our own families.

My take aways from last night (including ideas reaffirmed), in no particular order…

– We have barely scratched the surface of what’s possible when it comes to tapping technology to enhance learning.

– There are good and bad online protocal, "good ethical practices," as Bud described them.  I’m still learning which of these practices I might be violating – and doing well.

– Geography means a lot less than it used to.  The very notion of school "buildings" is going to be challenged far sooner than many of us imagine.

– Students will choose their own pace and hours for learning no matter what schedules we try to impose.

– The role of teacher will be far different in just a few years.  Teachers will shift from instructors to guides helping students direct their own learning.

– We still need face-to-face time to strenghten relationships.

– We still need quiet time, uninterrupted by technology, to reflect on what we’re learning and imagine what we might learn next.

We should be furious… at whom?

November 13, 2007

We must be more candid and talk more honestly about students who are below grade level.  We are turning our backs on these students if we don’t.

We have multiple schools in which more than half of all fifth graders are below grade level in math.  Do we have any reason to believe that they are prepared to succeed in middle school?  How long until these students drop out of school altogether.

It makes some people furious when a majority of students in a school are below grade level but the message is “everything’s fine” or “we’re making progress.”

Others of us choose to look the other way.  It is more comfortable to focus on students who are doing well rather than get exercised about students who are below grade level.

I agree with those who are furious.  We should be furious.  But that begs at least two questions: furious at whom?  And, how should we respond?

Should we be furious at principals and teachers who can’t seem to inspire or cajole students at their school to perform better?  Some people would like to publicly brand schools such as Spangler (the school where fifth grade CSAP math scores are lowest) as failures.

Let me ask, if all the teachers from Longmont Estates (where fifth grade CSAP math scores are highest) went to Spangler and vice versa, do you think student test scores at Spangler would go through the roof and scores at Longmont Estates would fall through the floor?  No one I know believes this.  Most people believe the scores at both schools would stay about the same.

I understand people’s frustrations that there is public silence about student performance at Spangler.  I wish that principals and teachers would be clamoring for significant changes to the system.  But, I’m not certain how a “scarlet letter” makes things better if there’s not public support for action.

Should we be furious with parents who don’t value education and who don’t show their children enough support?  I can understand some of this frustration.  It makes me mad.  But, I think we must be more honest about differences in family capacities.  It is ridiculous to think that a parent who had a bad educational experience themselves – or immigrant parents with multiple jobs as is common at Spangler – can provide the same level of support as well educated and “stay at home” parents.

We have to decide are we going to take a get tough approach with “slacker” parents or should we offer parents more help to support their children.  It should probably be a combination of the two.  There are some initiatives to boost parent capacities, but I can’t discern whether we have a system wide strategy.

Should we be furious with lazy and disrespectful students who don’t appreciate the opportunities they’re being given?  Again, I can understand this type of frustration.  It bothers me when students show disrespect.

We need to take a look at our retention policies.  We need to empower principals to be more directive about when a student is ready to advance to the next level.  We don’t do a child any favors by just letting them move to the next grade level.  We can’t be so deferential to parents who ignore advice.

But, I also know that a “do better or else” strategy will have limited impact.  And, in some cases, the get tough approach alone will simply drive up student dropout rates.

Here’s the thing.  The only strategies that consistently help low income students (and let’s be honest, that is who we are talking about) make academic gains are schools such as KIPP.  These schools extend the school day, week and year.  It is common for KIPP students to receive 60% more schooling than students at traditional schools.  If we were serious about supporting St. Vrain’s low income students, we would be clamoring for this type of school model.

Is there the political will to provide Spangler students – and other low income students – with more instruction time?  I hear more complaints than compliments when low income students receive a fraction of extra support let alone 60% more.

So, should we be furious with community critiques that complain about student performance but refuse to get behind strategies that are known to work?  I can understand frustrations toward the critics, too.

But, quite frankly, I think we all can look in the mirror and find fault.  As Martin Luther King often noted, he was less concerned about those who actively opposed civil rights and more concerned with those who knew civil rights were important but said nothing.

We aren’t going to make progress in supporting our children as long as we keep calling each other failures, liars, bigots, hypocrites and Pollyannas.   But, we’re also not going to make progress as long as we in the community sit silent and hope “those schools” will take care of the problems.

Name calling and silence breed unhealthy conditions.  Under these conditions people are prone to be deceitful, to make things seem better than they are or to ignore problems altogether.  There is a strong human drive to avoid conflict.

We must be more candid about what’s going on and what’s need to create change.  We’ve got to starting by toning down the rhetoric and breaking the silence. 

Our children need us to act like adults.

The Schools We Need that People Want

November 10, 2007

We expect our schools to do something that has never been done in history by any school system foreign or domestic, public or private.  We expect our schools to prepare every student for school beyond high school.  And, we expect our schools to be both more rigorous than ever before and ignite students’ passions for learning.

But, we are not matching our stated aspirations with a commitment to change.  In essence, we are asking our schools to increase productivity by 70%.  Yet, we have made few meaningful changes to the agricultural-industrial systems of education.  We cannot meet our lofty education goals without making adjustments to our school system.

What types of changes do we need?

In my many hours of conversations with community members, educators, parents and students, a clear picture of the kinds of schools we need and that people want is emerging.  For those of you who are regular visitors to this site or who have heard me speak, these are familiar ideas.

The schools people seek will (and in some cases already do)…

·         Tailor curriculum to EACH student’s unique needs, interests and passions so that students are eager to learn.  As we all know, love of learning is an essential attitude and an essential skill in our era.

·         Cultivate creative skills, risk taking, as well as working collaboratively with diverse groups.  Narrowing the curriculum to focus on a small set of core subjects is not sufficient.

·         Enable teachers to focus their energies on high-value instruction; integrate technology into all areas of learning; and provide learning experiences in and outside the classroom.

·         Base student promotion more on knowledge and less on classroom time.  We all know that every student learns at their own pace.  We need our schools to better reflect that reality.

·         Adopt early and aggressive intervention strategies for students who fall behind.  And, thoughtful strategies for students who are accelerating beyond grade level.

·         Enable students (and their families) to take more responsibility for their own learning.   Today, accountability rests disproportionately on the shoulders of schools and teachers.  That doesn’t make sense.  We must develop systems that support every student’s RIGHT to be responsible for themselves.

·         Are operated at a “human scale” and allow ample time for personal relationships between adults and students – as well as between peers.  We know healthy relationships are essential to a quality learning environment.  We must be intentional about creating time and space for relationships.

·         Make it a priority to build community and teach civility.  History teaches us we are at our best when we find ways to bridge our differences.  Public Schools are one of the places in which we can cross divides and learn from, with and about one another.

We are learning how to create these types of schools across the country and right here in the St. Vrain Valley.  What we need is a greater sense of urgency to build schools that embody these characteristics.  We can create these types of schools.  It is a matter of political will, community support and focused leadership.  It will be my priority to help the St. Vrain Valley move in these directions.

Their World Has Changed

November 10, 2007

Video food for thought.  The world has changed.  How must our schools change?  Thanks to Rick Hammans for sending the link.