Archive for the ‘District’ 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.

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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. 

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.

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.

Investment to Action

November 13, 2008

The investment the community made in public schools on November 4 is leading to immediate action.  Specifically, action is being taken to reduce unreasonably large classes; restore lost courses; move forward on focus schools; implement pre-AP programs at Longs Peak and Erie Middle Schools, and begin the process of implementing capital improvement projects.

We will see the effects of these actions when school begins again in January.

For more details, here is the Times-Call article.  And, the source documents distributed at last nights school board meeting are here.  Download sb_class_size_reductions.pdf

Board Priorities

November 9, 2008

With the election results all but official, the work continues to honor the investment the community has made in the school district.  First and foremost we must be vigilent to remember that the dollars voters approved are indeed a community investment and not an entitlement.

Now that we know the election results, the school board will be able to continue its focus on a set of strategic priorities established in the spring and fall.  These priorities include:

Continue to strenghten district fianances.  Passage of the mill levy override is a big step forward.  We are responsible to ensure that these dollars are used as intended.  In addition, as we all know, effectively managing finances is always a top priority.  The board's role is to ensure that we are maximizing the value of the resources we have and ensuring that there is a clear, transparent and accurate accounting of how funds are being uses.

Continue to strengthen leadership, management, teachers and staff.  Again, the mill levy override will make it easier to compete with surrounding school districts to recruit and retain high quality educators.  At the board level, we also must ensure that the conditions exist to enable people to succeed at their jobs and that we have systems in place to manage situations in which people underperform.

Align standards, curriculum and assessments.  This is the number one recommendation of the Comprehensive Appraisal for District Improvement (CADI) a study done in the spring.  We have district standards for each of our instructional areas now.  The problem is that they are too vague, schools interpret these differently and there are not consistent assessments to guage student learning.  The process is already underway to develop clarity and consistency.  The board's role will be to ensure that there is timely progress on this work; that the work on standards and assessments includes policies to support students that either exceed or fall short of standards and that schools are developing effective quality improvement programs.  A strategic question we must sort through is how to balance standarization between schools with the need and demand for customization for students.

Develop a portfolio of high demand focus schools, course offerings and learning environments.  We must offer our students a learning experience that they value.  And, we must make sure that we have the program offerings that will enable students to successfully advance beyond high school.  Again, the mill levy and bond provide a big boost in this effort.  The board role will be to, again, ensure timely progress on the initiatives to create focus schools, reduce class sizes and ensure that we have a robust set of course offerings for all our students.  The board also has a responsibility to stay current on the needs and interests of the stakeholder groups so that the district keep pace with these needs.

One area of work that needs particular attention is extended instruction for students at our low income schools.  I will write more about this in the future but extending the time of quality instruction time is the only formula that has proven consistently successful in serving low income communities.  That is a lesson being learned all across the country and one we need to act on.

Align organizational structure with growing size of the district.  Over the years, the school district has outgrown our management structure.  As a result, communications with, collaboration and responsiveness to studenst, teachers, building administrators is not as effective as it could or should be.  District leaders are working on ways to more effectively organize.  I will be able to say more about the board role when we hear their report.

Improve communications and collaboration.  The strategic priorities we are taking on are big not small.  The importance of effective communications and collaboration is at a premium when an organization takes on big initiatives.  It also is a challenge for a time starved enterprise.  But, we must not let the challenges of time impeded our efforts.  We have established good intentions.  Now, we must improve our execution of efforts to effectively communicate and collaborate with various stakeholder groups.  And, the district will need a mutual effort on the part of the stakeholder groups – e.g. teachers, parents, community members.  The board's first responsibility is to strive to be a role model for good communications and collaboration.  We'll make mistakes from time to time but we must keep striving to do better in this regard.  The board's second responsibility is to help ensure that effective communication and collaboration becomes an organization habit.

Improve board effectiveness.  I have great appreciation for each of the board members who serve their communities and the school district.  I now know from first hand experience that service on the board is a time intensive undertaking.  I believe we have good board members.  Our priority must be to continue to improve our effectiveness as a group and our effectiveness to support district leaders, managers and staff.  We need to do better at staying focused on strategic issues and strategic questions.  We must resist the temptation to drop down into organization operations.  The strategic priorities outlined here is a good step forward in staying focused.

Thank You

November 5, 2008

I want to thank the St. Vrain voters for their support of ballot measures 3A and 3B.  As a board member, I will do all I can to honor the additional investment of tax dollars – using this dollars as promised and with prudence.

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

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.