Archive for April, 2008

Discover Colorado

April 27, 2008

Discover Colorado: It’s People, Places, and Times is a text book written by Mathew Downey and Ty Bliss.  Ty is a teacher at Prairie Ridge Elementary School.  I am reading the book with my children.   The book is designed to do two things:  Help students learn about Colorado and improve their literacy skills.  This integrated approach to literacy and social studies is essential in our modern education system.

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Committees – Value Added

April 26, 2008

As the final month of this school year begins, the various school committees are holding their last meetings of the school year, too.

I’ve served on committees for five months.  The question on my mind at this time of year for each of the committees is:  What is our value added?  In particular, how do we help leverage and support the work of principals and classroom teachers?

I am hopeful that we have an evaluative process as we begin to wrap up our work for this academic year.

Abbondanza Pizzeria

April 25, 2008

Bob Goff is a remarkable business person.  I like the pizza he serves and his calzones.  My admiration for Bob goes beyond his food.  He goes to remarkable lengths to serve our community and our schools.

I see Bob at Rotary most Wednesday mornings.  He gets up extremely early each week to serve us breakfast.  He certainly doesn’t charge us enough to make it worth his while.  But, Bob’s support of the club is in line with the Rotary motto: Service above Self.

Bob provides untold amounts of support to our schools, too.  He says yes, probably way too often, without hesitation when asked for support by local schools, soccer teams, and many other grops.  He provides discounted food for numerous school events.  Bob also supports a mill levy override – even though commercial property owners like Bob will be hit hardest by an increase in property taxes.  Bob understands the importance of good schools.  Good schools are good business.

Bob holds no official positions in our community.  He is a typical small business owner, tending to his business most hours of the day.  Bob also is a true public servant.

I encourage you to visit Abbondanza Pizzeria.

Blue Mountain Elementary School

April 24, 2008

I am excited for the students, teachers and families who will be part of Blue Mountain Elementary School next school year.  I have had the opportunity to be part of two start-up businesses.  There is nothing quite as exhilarating or exhausting as starting a new organization – a new community.

I had the chance to meet with principal Kristie Venrick and the Blue Mountain planning team a couple of weeks ago.  They had the glint in their eyes of a group beginning with a fresh canvas as they chart their course to serve “every student, every day.”

You can check out Blue Mountain’s start up progress on their website. 

St. Vrain Valley Latino Coalition-Advocacy Committee

April 24, 2008

I had the opportunity to meet with the Latino advocacy committee for a short time last week.  As a school district, we are not adequately meeting the needs of our Latino students.  The appallingly low graduation rates of Latino students are the most obvious measure of our lack of success in serving these students.  Certainly, students and families must take responsibility for their education.  The school district must make a more concerted effort, too.

The Latino Coalition-Advocacy Committee wants to work with the school district around four issues:

1.       Dropout prevention and intervention.

2.       Parent involvement and communication.

3.       Equity and representation for a multicultural community.

4.       White flight.

There is general support within our school district to address these issues.  There are some specific efforts being made.  We need to be even more specific.  General support will not lead to the concerted effort needed to make a difference.  We need to adopt specific efforts that have been tried and tested.  One such example is the Latino Education Achievement to Graduate (LEAG) program used in Grand Junction schools.  It is an area I plan to give more attention as we move toward the next school year.

Another Glimpse Into the Future… Present

April 23, 2008

I have been corresponding with a friend recently regarding online education.  There are a growing number of online education options in the state of Colorado.

Perhaps the best known in Colorado is the Colorado Virtual Academy.  Douglas County School District has an online option.  In the St. Vrain Valley School District, Carbon Valley Charter Academy has the CVA Online Program.  The St. Vrain School District also allows students to take a small number of classes online – Mandarin Chinese is one example.

There are many more examples of online programs in Colorado and across the country.

I have had many, many hours of conversations with parents and teachers about education here in the St. Vrain Valley.  People are not clamoring for online programs.  It is only a small fraction of people who raise this topic.  People do think it is important to integrate technology into instruction but people are not anxious for more online instruction programs at the k-12 level.

Having said this, I am convinced that online instruction is going to transform education as we know it today.  It holds tremendous potential to help students accelerate their learning and to leverage teacher time.  It holds the potential to reduce costs for capital infrastructure (i.e. building school buildings) because students will be able to learn anywhere.

People are not clamoring for online instruction now but they will.  People did not did people clamor for laptop computers or in-car GPS systems, either.

How quickly will demand for online instruction grow?  How quickly will it transform education as we know it?  When I think about questions like this, I’m reminded of a Bill Gates quote regarding the internet.  He remarked about a decade ago to the effect of, “All the predictions about how the internet will change the world in 5 years are overblown and all the predictions about how the internet will change the world in 10 to 15 years are understated.”

I am equally convinced that there will always be demand for physical places – school buildings – that bring together students and teachers for face-to-face interaction.  I do a good deal of professional development.  More and more of it via web and phone.  But, there is just no way to replace face-to-face interactions.

What’s more, young people need opportunities to come together with peers as part of their development process.  Young people need opportunities to escape the controlling influence of their parents so they can stretch and grow.  It is an essential part of growing up.  And, parents need time away from their kids.  I’ll let parents tell you why.

Too often we allow ourselves to get bogged down by the tyranny of the “or.”  We think the world has to be this way OR that; rather than this way AND that.

Education in the future will be “online” much of the time.

Education in the future also will continue to be a physical place.

Other school districts are ahead of St. Vrain when it comes to offering online programs.  We need to become more diligent in investigating and implementing possibilities.  The good news is that many teachers already are experimenting with the possibilities.  The time for a bold step forward is ripening.

I’m not overly concerned that we’re not doing more yet with online instruction.  But we can’t be tentative for too much longer.

We won’t move quickly enough for some people within our school district and they will go elsewhere.  Many other people we will have to cajole to move forward each step of the way.  That is a normal part of the process of change.

I am excited and uncertain about what the future holds for education.  I imagine the possibilities our children have to learn anywhere, anytime to be enthralling.  At the same time, as Joe Mehsling said to me recently, “We have no idea what we’re doing to our kids.”  That’s because we’ve never done this before.

Not every generation must deal with the transformational change that we are experiencing today.  It’s unsettling.  But isn’t that the fun of it?

A Glimpse of the Future… Present

April 23, 2008

Earlier this month, the school district adopted new math curriculums and text books for middle and high school.  The teachers who were part of the process are enthusiastic about the new materials.  Part of the conversation with the school board revolved around the use of electronic resources.

I was struck when the math teachers described having “electronic lectures” on various subjects that students can use when they need more support on a particular topic and/or when they miss class due to an absence.  This is a glimpse at the future, which already is here.

Long term, we need to achieve productivity gains in education.  That is difficult in a people driven enterprise.  Electronic lectures is one way to leverage teachers’ time.  In effect, increasing the number of students a teacher can reach so their time is freed up to provide one-on-one or small group support to those students who need it.

I am scheduling meetings with people who know a lot more about how to use technology to leverage teacher time than I do.  This is part of my summer learning agenda.

More Sandra Day O’Connor

April 22, 2008

In our cynical world, many of us assume that people seek public office for personal gain.  One of Justice O’Connor’s answers to a question was a refreshing reminder that this is not necessarily – or often – the case.

The question was posed by a high school government teacher.  He asked (paraphrased), When I ask my students to discuss Supreme Court cases they have a hard time separating their personal views from the law.  How would you advise me to help them do this?

Without hesitation, Justice O’Connor responded (also paraphrased), Have them raise their right hands and say these words:  I do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.

She went on to explain that when you commit yourself to this oath it is easy to separate your own views from the judgments you must make.  “It’s not about you,” she concluded emphatically.  “It’s about the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

“Next…”

Sandra Day O’Connor

April 22, 2008

Last Thursday, I experienced one of the perks of serving on the school board.  I was invited to attend a conversation with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

I have had the privilege to meet a few people who hold (or have held) high office.  My experience is that people in these positions operate on a different plane than the rest of us – certainly I on higher plane than I operate.  That is certainly true of Justice O’Connor.  The confidence, optimism and get it done attitude are palpable.  She, and others I’ve met at this level, radiate a different type of energy.

It was a real treat to be able to meet her.

Justice O’Connor was in Boulder to speak about her efforts to renew a commitment to civic education in our classrooms.  Part of this effort includes an initiative known as Our Courts.  Justice O’Connor also is working with the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools.

Larger Class Sizes

April 21, 2008

I’ve had hundreds of hours of conversation with parents and teachers regarding education and schools.  One theme is consistent.  Parents and teachers want smaller class sizes.  We’re headed the opposite direction here in St. Vrain.  It’s a matter of economics not good pedagogy. 

We can debate at length about whether or not class size has an impact on student achievement.  If we take the time to look, we can find a study that reinforces our point of view – no matter what that point of view might be.  Here is a good summary of a range of studies.

Whether or not one can prove that class size impacts performances on tests, it does change the learning experience for students and the teaching experience for teachers – both for the worse.  Here are a few examples of the impact of larger class sizes based on my conversations with teachers over the past few weeks:

          Less differentiated instruction.  As numbers of students go up a teachers abilities to assess, discern and design tailored instruction goes down

          Easier for kids to hide.  Middle and high school students, teachers say, become increasingly proficient at hiding their weaknesses.  In larger classes, it takes longer for teachers to find the students that are making a concerted effort to hide.

          Less and less timely feedback.  As the number of students increase the time that a teacher has to provide feedback is diminished.  A teacher must grade more work in the same amount of time.  This is of particular important on written work.  I know from experience that rigorous feedback is essential to the process of becoming a better writer.  Feedback keeps students motivated, too.  In large classes, that’s less likely to happen.

          Diminished relationships.  Education gurus tend to agree that strong student-teacher (student-adult) relationships are an essential element of a quality learning experience.  There is research that suggests as human beings, we’re able to manage about 150 relationships at any given time.  We have high school teachers who are likely to have 180 students each semester.  As my personal development blog suggests, I would have a hard time remembering that many names.  How can teachers and students have a quality relationship if the teachers can’t even remember all their students’ names?

          Less rigorous parent-teacher partnerships.  A quality parent-teacher relationship takes time.  Often these relationships turn on the ability of teachers to prepare quality information about each student for parents.  As class sizes go up, the time to provide parents with quality information

I can go on but, test scores aside, I think you get the picture.