Questions & Answers – Some Audio

I am delinquent in posting responses to questions I’ve received over the course of the school board campaign.  My delay, in part, is due the time it takes me to write.  So, I thought I would take an audio approach.  It will accelerate my process and stretch my technology capacities, too.  Here are answers to many of the questions I’ve received.

Download 11607_questions_and_answers.WMA

I also am posting answers to many of the questions I received from Brad Jolly.

6.       (Originally question 5) Would you support a mill levy override in 2008?

I have invested considerable time talking to people throughout the district and state – educators, business people, public and community leaders.  There is near unanimity that we cannot accomplish our educational goals with the resources we have.

I would like to support a mill levy override as soon as possible.  Before we ask voters to increase people’s taxes, I believe we must pass three tests.

First, we must demonstrate what we’ve learned from past mistakes.  Second, we must demonstrate how we are maximizing current resources.  And, third, 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.

In addition, we need to work at the state level on overall tax reform.  Some taxpayers must bear a disproportionate burden of property taxes.  For instance, I am keenly aware that the property tax code is onerous for those who own commercial property.  This places an undue burden on small business people.  Businesses should be a natural ally for public education but it is difficult due to the burdens they must carry relative to other types of property owners.

7.       Do you believe the district is standards-based in terms of student achievement?  Explain.

In practice, we do not have consistent education standards from one school to the next.  It is important that we establish, with clarity, what we expect students to know at various grade levels.  We should establish these standards for our district and not rely on outside legislators to do the work for us.

Once we have set clear standards we should allow principals and teachers to adopt building specific strategies to meet these standards in a way that meets the needs and interests of their students.  We should rely less on program driven curriculum.  While program driven curriculums have some advantages they can undermine efforts to provide differentiated learning.

8.       Outside of charter schools, what percentage of SVVSD teachers would you put in each of the following categories relative to their public school peers along the Front Range (answers should add up to 100%)?  Much Better than Average; Better than Average; Average; Worse than Average;          Much Worse than Average

I would question the wisdom of anyone who attempted to answer this question.  If someone provides an answer, it most assuredly is based on ignorance.  Let me explain by providing an example.

I serve on the board of directors of a small bank on the Eastern Plains.  I have regular, direct contact with the organizations six senior managers.  I have access to these managers’ annual reviews.  Based on this information, I can say with authority how well they are serving our organization.

I do not have direct contact with senior managers of other banks.  I do not have access to the performance reviews of senior managers from other banks.  Thus, I have no way to compare the performance of our senior managers to those who work for other organizations.

I have occasion to meet bank tellers who work for our bank and I interact with them as a customer.  I do not, however, participate in their performance reviews.  Nor do I have access to the performance reviews of tellers in other banks.  So, it would be pure speculation should I try to compare the performance of these people.

The same applies for teachers in our school district.

My personal experience with our children’s teachers:  we have been quite pleased with six, one was okay and one was unsatisfactory.  The latter two no longer teach in this district.

9.       Describe your position on the district’s current "Health Education Proposal."  Are there any areas that you would work to repeal?

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 to the board 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.

10.   What is your position on the way the district has dealt with Imagine?

I am not knowledgeable enough to comment on the specifics of the district’s management of Imagine.

Here are my general thoughts about Charter Schools:

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.

11.   What is your position on the way math is taught in the SVVSD?

I am not an expert on math instruction.  What I am learning, however, is that math is one of the subjects in which students would benefit most from differentiated and student directed learning.  The math classes I have observed and my conversations with math instructors reinforces this idea.

I believe it should be a priority to adopt as policy greater emphasis on differentiated learning for all subjects and, perhaps, in particular for math.

12.   Would you support a voucher system for students that would enable students to leave schools where more than 80% of the students flunk the CSAP?  By "voucher system," I mean a system wherein parents would be able to take their students’ per-pupil funding to a public, parochial or private school of the parents’ choosing.

No.  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.

See my post, “Why I Support Public Schools,” dated September 14 for a longer explanation.

13.   Would you support a similar voucher system for all students?

No.  See above.

14.   In a public editorial published in the Times-Call and on the district’s Web site, Dr. Zila wrote, "On standardized testing St. Vrain students outscore most of their peers around the state, including Cherry Creek and Boulder Valley."  Is this statement true?  What evidence is there for or against this?

I am aware of the statement.  I have not researched its validity. Certainly in terms of aggregate CSAP scores Cherry Creek and Boulder Valley have higher scores than St. Vrain.

15.   More than a decade ago, Dr. Zila’s predecessor talked about making the SVVSD a "world-class" district.  Are we there yet?  Are we close?

The St. Vrain Valley has the potential to be a world-class school district but we are not there yet.  The pace by which we reach this status will depend upon how urgently we embrace the need to create schools that…

Tailor curriculum to EACH students’ unique needs, interests and passions so that students are eager to learn.  A 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; that integrate technology into all areas of learning; and that 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.

Enable their students 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 of a size 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.

And, that make it a priority to build community.  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.

Brad also asked the following questions which I will address on this blog but not in direct response to Brad’s questions.

1.    As a school board member, what specific, measurable goals would you make high priorities for the district achieve by June 30, 2008?

2.    Same question, but by June 30, 2009.

3.    What are the 3-5 important things that the SVVSD routinely does best?

4.    What are the 3-5 important things that the SVVSD routinely does worst?  Please list the same number of items in this response that you did for the question above.

5.    (Originally question 6)  Can the SVVSD improve student performance without spending more money than the increases already guaranteed by Amendment 23?  Name as many specific ideas as possible.

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