Archive for January, 2009

Segmenting of America

January 30, 2009

These are signs of our times:

Chicago Public Schools is developing a high school for gay and lesbian students to better serve these students needs.

New America Charter Schools operate in Colorado and New Mexico with a mission of empowering new immigrants and English language learners.

Kipp School leaders advocate for separate schools for the economically disadvantaged because their learning needs are very different than more affluent students.

The Denver Urban League operates neighborhood learning centers in partnership with Hope Online Learning Academy because their constituents are "lost" in traditional schools.

In the St. Vrain Valley charter schools open to satisfy stylistic differences.  Some families prefer structure and uniforms.  They choose core knowledge schools.  Others prefer more self-directed learning.  They choose a Montessori approach.

And, within traditional St. Vrain schools nearly a quarter of families exercise use of open enrollment, which leads to a tremendous sorting out of students by ethnic groups.

Choice is a part of our lives to stay.  Anyone who argues that we should end choice would be just as likely to succeed at arguing that women should not be in the workforce.

But, what are the unintended consequences of the segmenting of America and the segmenting of education.

One of the things that attracts me to public education and schools is the potential of this institution to build a civil society.  It is more difficult to build civil society in a segmented world.

The jury is out on whether homogeneous schools will better serve the academic needs of children.  Perhaps there is academic merit to this approach. 

Meantime, there is no doubt in my mind that we need to be more intentional about bringing together young people of different interests and backgrounds to learn from and with one another.  We need only look around the world to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and central Africa to see the consequences of balkanization.

We need new ideas and new methods to make this happen.  We're not going to do it by forcefully assigning students to schools.  Besides, just sharing space is of limited value.

The adults in America must show leadership.  We must embrace the value of diversity.  We must help our children to embrace it, too.

Diversity will not go away.  Understanding is the only way to make it valuable.  Surely we can find a place for that within our education system.


BOE Micro Blogging Notes – Miscellaneous

January 28, 2009

The Classified Staff Professional Development Team received the National Staff Development Council’s Shirley Havens Support and Classified Staff Development Award.
February 7 is the St. Vrain Valley 2009 Technology Fair at Trail Ridge Middle School.
Skyline High School hosted an information event regarding the school’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program and the VPA (Visual and Performing Arts) program.  More than 250 people attended.
St. Vrain Schools have received just over $194,000 in gifts in the second quarter of the 2008-2009 school year – $30,000 from parent groups in the second quarter.

BOE Micro Blogging Notes – District Finances

January 28, 2009

We are not immune to the overall decline in the state and national economy.
The Colorado state legislature is considering up to $600,000 in reductions of funding to our school district this budget year.  To be safe, we are adjusting the district budget as if we will lose this $600,000.
The legislature is considering a $2.2 million reduction next budget year in per pupil funding. They are making adjustments to at-risk student formula; portion of formula outside state constitution.
On the upside, district enrollment is up beyond projections resulting in an additional $2.2 million in funds – charter schools will receive $250,000 of this due to an increase in charter school enrollment.
We will spend $5.2 million of mill levy override dollars this budget year.  Charter schools will receive $1.2 million this budget year.  The remaining mill levy dollars collected this budget year will be put into reserves specifically earmarked for purposes outlined in the mill levy override ballot language.
We are planning to issue $104 million in new bonds in early February (roughly February 10).  Bond advisors estimate an interest rate between 5 and 5.4%.  The maximum rate per the bond question is 6%.

Board Comments – January 28, 2009

January 28, 2009

Each board meeting, board members take turns reporting on things they’ve done the past two weeks. Typical there is more to report than one wants to take the time to report.

I prepare talking points for myself before each meeting – as do other board members. I am going to try to make it a habit to post my talking points before the board meetings. I will make note of those things I say at the meeting and those, in the interest of time, I did not mention.

Lunch with Silver Creek Teachers

Last Wednesday I was able to have lunch with Silver Creek teachers. It was a great day of learning for me. I want to thank Kent Willmann for making arrangements. I also want to thank Sherri Schumann for making time for me that day.

Teachers indicated that they are very supportive of the district’s strategic initiatives. Specifically, to…

– Align curriculum and create common assessments

– Create focus schools

– Address the achievement gap and at-risk students and schools

The group did raise important questions for the board and management to keep in mind as we move forward. I know that management is thinking about these questions and we’ll have the opportunity to discuss them more at our retreat on February 13. The types of questions I took away from the discussion:

– How do we need to sequence the initiatives so that we ensure there is adequate time to implement these initiatives thoughtfully and with rigor?

– What type of communication material do we need on the website and in other places that people can refer back to so people can be clear on why we’re undertaking each initiative, the timelines, progress, etc.?

– How can we make use of resources and thinking that already exists – in particular on the standards and common assessments?

– A bit of a tangent… in an electronic world, how do we need to rethink the “textbook” adoption process? Is “textbook” even the right mindset to be in at this point?

There are other questions that came up but that’s enough for this forum.

John Irwin School of Excellence Award

I had the opportunity to attend an award ceremony for St. Vrain Valley schools that received the John Irwin School of Excellence award [there’s not a great website for this].

I am sure that the first and most important thing to point out about this award is that John Irwin was a Jayhawk.

In seriousness, the John Irwin Award goes to schools in the to 8% in the state based on the state accountability report card.

The event was hosted at Xilinx by Flagstaff Charter Academy one of the five St. Vrain schools that received the award. The other schools were:

– Niwot Elementary

– Altona Middle School

– Lyons Junior/Senior High School

– Niwot High School

Some of these schools have received the award on multiple occasions.

Congratulations to all the schools and thank you to Flagstaff for hosting the event.


Tuition Equity Bill

The board has been approached to support the

Tuition Equity Bill

expected to be introduced in the Colorado state legislature later this week. The bill would allow undocumented students who graduate from Colorado high schools to attend Colorado colleges and unvisited at in-state tuition rates.

My inclination is to support this bill though I certainly would need to learn more about it. While I believe there needs to be immigration reform, I am a pragmatist on this issue. Undocumented children are living and working in our communities. We should maximize the education possibilities of those students who are ready, willing and able to pursue college. We all benefit when those who share our communities are able to maximize their education.

I disagree with the logic of Colorado State Sen. Dave Schultheis who said:

“Many citizens have been productive members of society and have made considerable income with only a K-12 education. While some students become successes because of their college education, the notion that a college education is a requirement for a successful life is a myth that for years has been fostered by the higher education institutions.”

This type of logic suggests that since Bill Gates dropped out of college we should all drop out of college. It’s nonsensical.

I understand that illegal immigration is a sensitive issue and that there is a need to address it. I don’t think that penalizing children is the best approach.

Skyline Baseball Silent Auction

I was invited to attend a silent auction fund raiser for the Skyline High School baseball team at Scooter Hinge in Mead on February 7. Do to other commitments I will not be able to attend.

Mead High School Boundaries

Not a single person has contacted me directly regarding the Mead High School boundaries.

Mental Exercise

January 27, 2009

I had my blood drawn today. When I registered, I was asked to confirm my home telephone number.  I had to stop and think for a moment.  I couldn't quite remember.  I never dial that number.  The only time I call home I use my cell phone.  I click on favorites and then my wife's name.  The phone automatically dials the assigned number.

I can remember a dozen phone numbers of friends from my youth but not my own.

I often wonder how technology changes how we use our minds and what the consequences are for learning, education and schools.

When I was six, I started bowling with friends on Saturday mornings.  We all learned to keep score using pencil and paper.  That was my first practical application of addition.  There's no need to learn how to keep a bowling score now because a computer does it automatically.

When I was 10 or 12, I worked at my brother's concession stand at the local ball diamond.  We didn't have a cash register. We kept a pencil and paper at the check out stand to figure out charges and change when we couldn't do it in our head.  Modern, inexpensive cash registers make these calculations for you.

My friends and I had an APBA baseball league (a forerunner of fantasy leagues) for three or four years.  We created our own box scores and standings.  Countless websites now crunch all these numbers for the fantasy sports aficionado.

The list goes on and on.

We are exercising our minds when we use technology but different parts than when we do things manually.  For instance, a Silver Creek math teacher told me that a calculator stimulates the linguistic side of the brain not the mathematical portions.  I have not fact checked that claim but I can imagine it is true.

What parts of our brains are stimulated by technology? What parts of our brains are less stimulated now that we do less manually? What are the consequences for learning and development?

I know there is research that speaks to these questions.  I know that popular books such as Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind and Steven Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good for You have been written on this type of topic.

From a board and district perspective, there is one more question: What changes are needed to account for these new realities?

BOE Microblogging Notes – Miscellaneous

January 20, 2009

One more set of micro-blog style notes from last BOE meeting. As I mentioned in previous post, I am experimenting.  I'm still deciding if this is a useful exercise.

BOE Microblogging Notes – Miscellaneous
March 11 is the date for the district Job and Career Fair
May 8 is the date for the second annual Tribute to Teachers celebration.
January 22 will be the kick-off date for the new Frederick High School.  The first group to meet will be students.
The lead organization for the new Frederick High School design is Klipp Architecture 
Legislative update: Budget cuts expected. Full day kindergarten will not be expanded and possibly cut.  There will be no new construction money to support full day kindergarten.
Accreditation committee: ACT, Explore, Plan and PSAT tests are more relevant to students than CSAPs.  BOE should consider funding for all tests.
An article distributed at the board meeting – graduating students in need of remediation.
The school district is developing a system wide Response to Intervention program.  See documents from board packet.
I would like to attend a school presentation on Response to Intervention.  The nutshell report is difficult to gain a full appreciation for the program.
Gifted and talented programming is being extended to preschool age children who are ready to begin academic instruction early.  Board packet info if interested.

BOE Microblogging Notes – Longmont Committee for the Cultural and Performing Arts (LCCPA).

January 20, 2009

I am experimenting with micro-blogging. Capturing salient ideas in 140 characters or less.  I made an effort to take notes in micro-blog style at the last school board meeting. Not sure yet if I think this will be a useful exercise.  I may experiment a little bit more.  My hope is to capture and post relevant information on a more timely basis.  Here's a first installment of micro-blog notes.  We met with the Longmont Committee for the Culture and Performing Arts (LCCPA) in a work session prior to the regular school board meeting.

BOE Microblogging Notes – Longmont Committee for the Cultural and Performing Arts (LCCPA).

LCCPA is interested in creating a regional arts and education center that they will call the Longmont School for the Arts.
The school would serve people of all ages from youth to adults in programs ranging from culinary to theater.
LCCPA envisions a post secondary arts school.  A model for their vision is the Savannah College of Art and Design.
The group believes the Longmont School for the Arts will be complementary to, not in competition with, public school arts programs. I see these possibilities.
LCCPA would eventually like to build a performing arts center.  An example of their vision is Santa Fe’s Lensic.
The group is interested in leasing the building on 9th and Main Streets which currently houses Twin Peaks Charter Academy.
I am impressed with the group’s vision.  The BOE agreed to have staff pursue conversations about a potential lease option on the 9th and Main facility.
LCCPA was represented by Dr. Peter Schmid, Jim Marty, Julia Pirnack, Scott Pirnack and Scott Dunn.
Conversation points that stick with me…
Arts centers are evolving away from a place that hosts events for subscribers to observe. The trend is for arts centers to host participatory programs.
Young arts enthusiasts expect to participate in and socialize around their performing arts experiences.
Yet another industry/institution that must reinvent itself to be a platform for people to have co-created experiences.
From Daniel Pink’s Book, A Whole New Mind… The Master of Fine Arts is the new MBA.

Political Will, Social Rituals and Systems

January 13, 2009

As I read education articles, several themes recur.

  • Flexible learning time. Education should move at the student's pace not the school's. It may take some students 10 years to complete a k-12 education and others 14 years.
  • Extended instruction time. The 180 (174 in St. Vrain) day school calendar is inadequate. See National Center on Time and Learning. The United States is on the low end of instruction time compared to other nations.
  • Personalized instruction. Providing students with the specific learning experiences they need when they need them.

  • Emphasis on creativity as well as skills. Many, not all, jobs in the United States are going to gravitate toward design rather than production.

These are good ideas but are not necessarily easy to implement. The first hurdle is political will. For instance, there is not strong public demand – even among parents – for a longer school year. I attended one meeting in which the idea came up and parents were unenthusiastic.

Another hurdle is that to make many of these ideas work, we will have to give up or change some of our social rituals. High school graduation is analogous to a barmitzvah – an age based right of passage. It may or may not be indicative of a student's preparedness for what comes next. If we are going to implement flexible learning time this right of passage will become obsolete – or at least different than it is now.

I believe age based rights of passage play an important role in society and a person's life. But is high school graduation as we know it now important to retain? As Nel Nodding wrote in "Schooling for Democracy" (Phi Delta Kappan, Sept 2008), "There is nothing sacred about the custome of finishing high school in exactly four years."

Which leads to another hurdle – our education systems and policies. Take school funding for instance. School funding is still tied largely to head counts in specific schools for a specific amount of time. How would funding work if some students attend school for 210 days a year and others 190? How would it work if some students spent 14 years in "k-12" and others spent ten?

There are many other examples of hurdles to clear that have little to do with schools themselves. Education operates within the context of society. And, in many cases, society has not caught up with what we're learning about best education practices.

So, the question I would pose to us all, (rather than how do schools need to change, which is important and much discussed), how do we need to change to so that students and schools may succeed?

Education Articles

January 13, 2009

Several people have sent me education articles over the past six weeks. My stack is growing. I must confess I am not making it through the articles as rapidly as I would like.  Here's what's in the stack now:

Noddings, Nel. "Schooling for Democracy." Phi Delta Kappan. September 2008.

Hess, Diana. "Democratic Education to Reduce the Divide." Social Education. Nov/Dec 2008.

Wilensky, Rona. "High Schools Have Got It Bad for Higher Ed – and That Ain't Good." Phi Delta Kappan. December 2007.

Zhao, Yong. "Are We Fixing the Wrong Thing?" Educational Leadership. May 2006.

Kahlenberg, Richard. "Why Socioeconomic Integration Works." [may be incorrect title]. Educational Leadership. May 2006.

Kozol, Jonathan. "Confections of Apartheid." Phi Delta Kappan. December 2005.

Escamilla, Kathy et al. "Rithinking the 'Gap.'" Journal of Teacher Education. March/April 2005.

Paez, Doris. "Culturally Competent Assessment of English Language Learners." National Association of School Psychologists.

Barnett, Berry. "The Future of the Teaching Profession." EDge. Nov/Dec 2008.

Bollier, David. "When Push Comes to Pull." An Aspen Institute conference report. 2005.

Snell, Lisa. "Virtual Schools are the Future." citation unknown.

Mead High School Boundaries

January 6, 2009

I wrote this post on a plane bound for Washington, DC. I am posting it in my hotel room.

There are two public comment sessions on the Mead High School Boundaries which the school board will be asked to approve on February 11.

(I will discuss the process of developing boundary recommendations and public comment sessions in a future post. Short version, I think we have the process backward. We should hold comment sessions and then develop options. This is a critiqe of board policy not staff. Staff are following the process in board policy and and I have not raised my opinions about the process.)

The first public comment session was held last night at Skyline High School. The second session is at Frederick High School tomorrow (Wednesday). Due to my wife's bookclub and my business travel schedule I am not able to attend either session in person. I look forward to the report.

Setting school boundaries is often a challenge because there are competing interests to balance. In the case of Mead High School the competing interests are ensuring the new high school has a critical mass of students so there are the revenues to provide a rich set of program offerings and protecting the integrity of communities – especially the Tritowns. Eric Doering, Mayor of Frederick, expresses the latter interest in a Times-Call editorial today (1/6/09). Unfortunately the electronic version of the Times-Call does not have his piece. There are also concerns about how a new high school will impact Skyline High School. These opinions were expressed at last night's forum according to the Times-Call article.

High schools are built for the long term. In the short term, it will be difficult to balance all of these interests in a way that everyone finds satisfying.

I also took note from the Times-Call article the need to better publicize the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program being implemented at Skyline. Many people are unaware of the programs being developed at the school. Fine arts programs are being beefed up, too.

Students and families have an out if they don't like the board's decision about boundaries. Colorado's open enrollment laws make it easy for students to choose a public school outside their presribed boundaries. Thus, boundary decisions are becoming less and less relevant. I see this trend continuing. In  fact, we are moving quickly toward a time in which schooling is no longer entirely place based nor time fixed. Geography isn't what it used to be.

Meantime, I will strive to be thoughtful when trying to balance the competing interests when making my vote to set Mead High School boundaries. I am confident other board members will be thoughtful, too.