Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

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.

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.

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 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. http://www.scad.edu/.
 
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.  http://www.lensic.com/.
 
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.

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.

Why I’m for the MLO and Bond

August 25, 2008

On Wednesday, I will vote to put a Mill Levy Override (MLO) and Bond on the November 4 ballot.  I think it is a good thing that voters decide whether or not to raise taxes.  It is an opportunity for a community to decide how to invest its money.  Here is why I believe the MLO and the Bond are critical investments.

 

For me, the MLO and Bond come down to a very basic question.  Will we, as a St. Vrain community, keep out the Welcome Mat for young families or will we slam the door in their face?

 

When my wife and I moved our family to Longmont in early 2001, we were struck by the community’s family friendly nature.  We found it to be a great place to raise young children.

 

The family friendly focus in St. Vrain communities is at risk.

 

We do not have the resources in the St. Vrain School District to provide educational basics that are taken for granted in most other school districts in the state and nation.  It is not hyperbole.  It is a fact that St. Vrain is one of the lowest funded school districts in the nation.

 

In most school districts in our state and nation, people take it for granted that class sizes in the elementary grades should be in the low 20s, at most.  We have many elementary classrooms in the high 20s and low 30s.

 

People take it for granted that we should be expanding course offerings in math, science, language and the arts to meet the needs of 21st Century students.  We are cutting our course offerings.

 

People take it for granted that school infrastructure must include ready access to high speed internet and modern classroom technology.  We’re falling behind.

 

People take it for granted that early targeted intervention for students who need extra help and need opportunities to stretch themselves is of critical importance.  We’re rolling back programs we know work.

 

These are the consequences of being one of the lowest funded school districts in the nation.

 

All of this sends a strong message to young families.  Look somewhere else to raise your children.

 

Young families will not put up with large class sizes, limited course offerings and a lack of education basics that people take for granted in most other school districts.  At least, not for long.

 

I do not want to slam the proverbial door in the face of young families.  Young families are the cornerstone of any vibrant community; the lifeblood of sustained well-being.

 

I want to hang big banners across the entrances of our communities that say, “Young families welcome here.”

 

I can think of no better way to raise those banners than voting yes on the MLO and Bond.

Schools with Poverty

July 18, 2008

All evidence suggests that it is bad policy to concentrate children in schools with high rates of poverty.  It’s not good for the students.  It’s not good for educators.  And, it’s not good for the community.


The only schools with high rates of poverty that consistently outperform peer schools require students to attend school 50% more a year – long days, weeks and years.  That takes resources.


This is something that our school district – like most school districts across the country – must confront.  But a school district cannot face up to the issues of poverty on its own.  A community must get behind and support school district leaders and managers.


Here are a handful of reports/books on the topic.  I have not yet had the opportunity to look at the Pew report in depth.


Pew Hispanic Center, The Role of Schools in the ELL Achievement Gap.


Piton Foundation, The Case for Economic Integration.


Piton Foundation, Mixed Income Schools Gaining Favor.


Richard D. Kahlenberg, All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice

Trojan Alumni Club

July 11, 2008

I want to share some information I received about the new Trojan Alumni Club.


The Trojan Alumni Club has been started to help increase the support for Longmont High classrooms and class projects as well as unite alumni in common causes and fun. Other schools in the area have 20 times the support from alumni that Longmont High has and Longmont High has 104 years of graduates and more than 20,000 living alums. The reason – we believe it is because no one asked for the assistance and made it easy to participate in the Trojan Alumni Club. Now it is easy.


 


If you are an LHS Alumni, please take a few minutes to go to www.trojanalumni.com  and hopefully add your name and $20 annually to the list of members.  Just use the Pay Pal button on the donate page or follow directions on that page – please be sure to include your graduation year.  If we can get 500 alums to contribute annually we can quadruple what we have been able to provide for LHS classrooms. Imagine the possibilities if each of the alums found one other to support their alma mater in this easy and inexpensive way. We are offering incentives for you to find other alums to join… find 20 and get a Trojan sweatshirt, find 25 and get an activity pass to LHS, get 50 to sign up and we’ll give you a family activity pass!


 


The committee who is working on this will be made up of alumni only and you are also invited to join. The possibilities and fun are whatever the alums choose.

What’s Fair

June 6, 2008

We have friends with three young children.  The youngest of the three has a number of medical problems which require trips to see specialists, surgeries, long recovery periods and rehab.

 

This special medical treatment requires considerable sums of money and time.  The mom and her youngest child are away from home, sometimes for long stretches.  The medical bills exceed what insurance will pay not to mention the costs of travel and meals away from home.  It adds up.

 

The two older children, fortunately, are completely healthy.  There medical bills are minimal to non-existent.  Our friends are spending far more money and time to support their youngest child’s health than they do to provide for their older children’s health.

 

I remember once their oldest daughter – she must have been eight at the time – standing on our porch saying, “I don’t like how much my mom has to be gone with my brother.  It’s not fair.”  She knew her mom was doing the right thing but she also was keenly aware of her own sacrifice.  The money diverted to health care probably cost her in ways she did not know – for instance, the family had less disposable income for their older children.

 

Our friends’ experience is, perhaps, acute but not uncommon.  Most families with multiple children face situations in which they must make judgments about how best to support their children.  Often, the considered choice leads parents to spend more time and money on one child than on another.  We all learn – heck it’s common sense that even an eight year old understands – that doing the right thing does not always mean being equal in the strictest sense.

 

Now here’s the thing about our friends.  There youngest child’s health will probably never be as good as the health of the older two children.  All three of their children should have good enough health to lead good lives.  But, bottom line, their youngest child will always have some issues.  Even though they have and will spend exponentially more on the youngest child the “results” won’t be as good.

 

Every family I know would do the same thing for their children.

 

I find the experience of our friends useful when thinking about how education dollars are spent.  The reality is that it takes more money to educate some children than it takes to educate other children.  We would like to think that all children are exactly the same – and thus require the same level of support.  But, we all know that is not the real world.

 

Some children have obvious learning disabilities.  Other children’s learning needs are less obvious.  For instance, some children come from homes in which “habits of learning” are passed on intuitively from parent to child.  Other children don’t develop these “habits of learning” at home and have to play catch up at school.  This takes time and, in some instances, personal attention, which often costs money.

 

(At the other end of the spectrum, some children need special programming so they won’t be bored at school – but that will be a topic for another time.  It just occurred to me, perhaps we should criticize parents whose children are exceptionally bright because of the extra burden they place on our schools – but of course I’m just being sarcastic, which isn’t terribly helpful. )

 

Administrators at the private and parochial schools in our community are fully aware that some students require more money to educate than other students.  That is why some private school administrators discourage or prohibit students with extra learning needs from enrolling at their school.  That is why, for instance, some parochial students travel to neighboring public schools for literacy instruction.

 

I am okay with that.  If a private school isn’t up to the task of educating a child, they should be up front about it.  If a parochial school does not have the resources needed to support a child’s instructional needs, I think it is okay for the community to help out.  Some people may say, “That’s not fair.  We shouldn’t subsidize parochial school students.”  But, I think we do what is best for the children of our community – we can’t let rivalries take our eye off of the children.

 

Here’s another reality.  We will invest more money in some students than we do in others and yet their academic performance will never match that of many of their classmates.  Just like our friends and their three children.  They spend more money on one child’s health even though his health will never be as good as his siblings.

 

But, I believe we have an obligation to prepare as many students as possible to be self-sufficient and contributing members to our communities – even if they never make it to the right side of the bell curve.  And, the reality is that there will always, by definition, be a right and left side of the bell curve.  Or, put another way, we have an obligation to help children reach their potential no matter what that potential is.

 

These are the types of choices we face as a community and as a school district.  We must make choices about what’s fair.  It would be nice if these types of choices were as simplistic as “everyone gets exactly the same.”  But, that isn’t the real world.  Children’s educational needs are no different than their health needs.  They vary.  And, sometimes, some kids need extra time, attention and resources.

 

Making judgments about how to distribute resources to meet the needs of 24,000 students can be clumsy at times.  We should always investigate ways to improve the system.  For instance, the Poudre (Ft. Collins) school district uses a formula for student needs.  Whatever system we use, common sense dictates that a fair distribution of resources is unlikely to be exactly equal.

Go St. Vrain Discussion Forum

June 4, 2008

 Most of you are probably awared of the web site Go St. Vrain Discussion Forum.  It is a site developed by a grassroots group of parents working to support St. Vrain public schools.  Check it out.  Participate.