Archive for February, 2009

Civil Discourse

February 25, 2009

Anyone who is interested in public issues, be they education or anything else, this piece by Stephen L. Carter is worth reading.

I have been inspired by Carter for many years – in particular by his books, Civility and Integrity.  My copies are marked up, dog eared and referred to from time-to-time.

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Mead Boundary Decision

February 12, 2009

Last night, the school board set boundaries for Mead High School.  The Times-Call story is here.

I read this statement at the conclusion of our discussion.

I would like to thank everyone who spoke tonight but especially the students – that takes guts.

I had a bottom line when I arrived here tonight.  While these boundaries are not my first choice the proposal meets this bottom line.  Any student who lives in the Tri Towns and wants to attend Frederick High School will have that choice.

I am making this vote in an effort to show respect for the Tri Town communities, to give students and families options and to enable Mead High School to open successfully.

That’s the bottom line and it’s a good one.

I also want to thank staff and Long Range Planning committee for their work.  They followed the guidelines set out in board policy.  They did the work they were asked to do.

I do want to say a few words to the elected officials who are here tonight – my colleagues on the school board and the elected officials in the audience.  I appreciate everyone’s indulgence.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, it is important for us to acknowledge when we could have done better.  This is one of those times.

I will begin with myself.

I have been a part of the boundary setting process in the past.  I knew from experience that the process we have is backward.  We ask the Long Range Planning Committee to make recommendations first and then we ask the public for input, second.

This creates a very contentious atmosphere.  The committee feels beat up.  The community believes our process is just for show.

We end up scrambling for data at the 11th hour which we then try to discredit depending on our point of view.

I knew this from past experience but I did not speak up.  I let the process unfold without saying a word.

As my colleague Bob Smith reminded me, Steven Covey teaches that people who are affective are proactive.  I did not meet this standard.  As a board, we did not meet this standard.

Looking forward, I want to make clear we need to redesign this process.

We also have known for a while that the elected officials in the Tritowns – speaking on behalf of many of their constituents – had concerns with the proposed boundary areas.  The concerns were valid and worthy of discussion.

Yet again, I was not proactive in reaching out to officials in the Tritowns to say, “let’s figure this out.”

I could have done better.  As a board, we could have done better.

Having said this, the same applies to the elected officials from the Tritowns.  They could have been more proactive, too.  There was no meaningful effort to engage us in constructive dialogue.  I did not receive a single phone call from an elected official asking, "John, what do you think?"

The public hyperbole that we’ve witnessed, especially over the past week, is not helpful.  It’s effective in the sense that it gets a lot of people riled up.  It fills up board rooms.  And, it may create a sense camaraderie among those who got fired up.

But, this public hyperbole did not bring us together to figure out a solution. It just made people defensive and put people on edge.

People want to know that elected officials understand their concerns, that they will account for these concerns, and that they have the abilities to work and play well with other elected officials.

People understand that compromise is part of the process.  They will accept decisions that work reasonably well for everyone even if it’s not exactly what they want.

That is what I believe we have here tonight.  A compromise that works reasonably well for everyone because families get to choose where their child attends school.

So, I claim responsibility for my lack of action that led us to the place we are today.  I can and should do better.

I hope that all of the elected officials who are here tonight or watching on tv or who may read this on my blog will also consider ways to be more proactive in the future, too.

We have more issues to work on.  Let’s look forward.  Together, let’s do better.

The people in our communities as well as our municipal and district staff deserve it.

Thanks for your indulgence.

BOE Report – February 11, 2009

February 11, 2009

Early in each school board meeting, board members give an update of things that they’ve done over the past week.  Here is the update I plan to give later tonight.  I am anticipating a very long meeting so I am trying to keep my remarks brief.

Education Task Force

I attended an Education Task Force meeting today.  One of the topics we discussed is parents knowledge of and comfort level using technology.  There were several representatives from the parent education task force of which the school district is part.  This is a group of organizations that offer parent education classes.  They are trying to coordinate their efforts to increase their impact.

Given that we are adopting Infinite Campus next year, the parent education group plans to offer parents training so that parents can make effective use of this tool.

Intergovernmental Agreements

I am a member of two committees that has overlap between the city of Longmont and the school district.  Both of these committees have very small budgets – less than $10,000.

These committees are having trouble spending the money they’ve been allocated.  In some cases, because of the source of the funds, the school district is the source of the money but city staff are in charge of spending the money – and vice versa.

The intergovernmental agreement (IGA) process that’s required to spend the money is tedious and slow.  Tonight we have an IGA on our agenda, if I read correctly, for $21,000.  The groups I’m working with are trying to spend $450 and less than $5,000 respectively.

At some point in the near future, I think we need to discuss ways to simplify the IGA process.  When do we want an IGA to come to the board and when can the superintendent (or city manager) just approve it?  The city of Longmont needs to review its policy, too.

We can make more effective use of everyone’s time.

 St. Vrain Student Technology Tech Fair

See post below

Immigrant Dialogues

I was not able to attend but I want to make everyone aware that there have been Immigrant Dialogues this week at Skyline High School and Central Elementary.  I would like to thank everyone who made those possible.

Accreditation and Accountability Committee

The committee met this week and had another very productive meeting.  Thanks to everyone who is giving their Tuesday evenings to this work.

St. Vrain Student Technology Fair

February 11, 2009

My daughter Ada Grace and I had a great time at the St. Vrain Student Technology Fair this past weekend.  She had showing me the work that she and her classmates in the Central Elementary 1st Grade did for the fair. http://twitpic.com/1dltc

A significant number of people put in a significant number of hours to make this event possible.  Thank You!!  The Tech Fair was featured in a recent School Library Journal article. http://tinyurl.com/aqu7fs

Congratulations to Frederick High School for being named Grand Champion. 

United States Behind Other Nations in Teacher Professional Development

February 11, 2009

Below is an excerpt from the executive summary of a report done by the National Staff Development Council. 

 Copies of the report are available online at www.nsdc.org/stateproflearning.cfm. The report summarizes a more in-depth research report, the complete version of which can be found at www.nsdc.org/stateproflearning.cfm and at http://www.srnleads.org

Following are some examples of approaches to professional learning that provide lessons for states and the federal government.

•      In South Korea – much like Japan and Singapore – only about 35 percent of teachers’ working time is spent teaching pupils. Teachers work in a shared office space during out-of-class time, since the students stay in a fixed classroom while the teachers rotate to teach them different subjects. The shared office space facilitates sharing of instructional resources and ideas among teachers, which is especially helpful for new teachers.

 

Teachers in many of these countries engage in intensive lesson study in which they develop and fine-tune lessons together and evaluate their results.

• In Finland, teachers meet one afternoon each week to jointly plan and develop curriculum, and schools in the same municipality are encouraged to work together to share materials.

• More than 85 percent of schools in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland provide time for professional development in teachers’ work day or week, according to OECD.

In Singapore, the government pays for 100 hours of professional development each year for all teachers in addition to the 20 hours a week they have to work with other teachers and visit each others’ classrooms to study teaching. With the help of the National Institute of Education, teachers engage in collective action research projects to evaluate and improve their teaching strategies.

England has instituted a national training program in best-practice literacy methods, using videotapes of teaching, training materials, and coaches who are available to work in schools. This effort coincided with a subsequent rise in the percentage of students meeting the target literacy standards from 63 percent to 75 percent in just three years.

• Since 2000, Australia has been sponsoring the Quality Teacher Programme, which provide funding for curriculum and professional development materials used in a trainer of trainers model to update and improve teachers’ skills and understandings in priority areas and enhance the status of teaching in both government and non-government schools.

The experiences of these countries, the report says, “underscore the importance of on-the-job learning with colleagues as well as sustained learning from experts in content and pedagogy. The diversity of approaches indicates that schools can shape professional learning to best fit their circumstances and teacher and student learning needs.”

 

Micronotes – Finances & Engagement

February 5, 2009

Finances

The fiscal world is changing daily – not for good.  State budget recisions (cuts in original allocations) expected to be close to $900,000 this year (budget that ends June 30).  Last week est. $600,000.

Expected reductions from planned allocations for next budget year still around $2.2 million. Stay tuned.

District health care premiums expected to rise significantly.  Initial estimates approximately 17%

Good news: We're in better financial shape than many districts. Our current budget built on assumption of no mil levy override.  Community support of mill levy override helps a lot.

We will be able to move forward our strategic initiatives despite state reductions.  But, no escaping that the pie will be smaller than estimates just a few weeks earlier.

Engagement

I am not spending as much time in community and schools listening and learning as I would like.  My biggest barrier is managing the logistics.

Need to build systems to facilitate engagement process. Ad hoc system does not work well.

Compared notes with other board members. We will be working on creating a system to get all of us out in community and schools more.  Essential to stay grounded.