Archive for the ‘Issues’ Category

Speaking of Amendment 59

October 15, 2008

I am in favor of Amendment 59 also known as Colorado Safe.  The school board passed a resolution of support for this Amendment at a recent school board meeting.  I believe 59 is good public policy.  It will give our legislators more discretion to set priorities and it will set aside money for schools in recession years.  It does eliminate automatic increases in school funding.

I saw an ad for Amendment 59 tonight and I was sorely disappointed.  I found the ad to be cynical and disengenuous.  The ad featured "politicians" shaking down students outside a school and robbing their lunch money.  You can watch the ad here.  The ad suggests that "politicians" will have less discretion over money.  In fact, it gives state legislators more discretion.  I think that's good public policy.  We elect our legislators to set priorities.  It may be in some years that schools should get less and transportation or health care should get more.  That's why we have a legislature.  But the notion of legislators setting priorities obviously must not "poll" well or test well in the focus groups.

I admire the people who crafted Amendment 59.  I've listened to their presentations.  I've had the chance to ask questions.  These are thoughtful people – they also happen to be politicians.

It is another sign of the sorry state of politics (and from my perspective not very creative political consultants) that we dress up good public policy in "wolf's clothing" to scare people to vote Yes.

I certainly hope that Amendment 59 passes.  I certainly don't think the ad helps.


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.

Colorado Savings Account for Education

July 9, 2008

I had the chance to attend a presentation on the Colorado Savings Account for Education.


Here is my understanding of what this initiative would accomplish:


       In essence, permanently “debruce” the state.  The state could keep all revenues that are collected rather than limiting collections to a 6% increase over the previous year.

       Tax rates would stay the same.  Voters would have to approve any increase in taxes.

       Statutory spending limits would stay the same.  State spending is not allowed to increase more than 6% in a single year.

       Revenues that are collected in excess of the spending limit would be placed in an account earmarked for Preschool – 12 grade education funding.  In economic slow times, this “savings account” can be used to fund public education without having to take the money from other types of services.

       Spending mandates to increase k-12 funding would be eliminated beginning in 2011.  The legislature would have the power to decide whether to increase or decrease education funding.  Put another way, our representatives would again have the ability to set priorities based on the state’s needs on a year to year basis.


For those who are interested, you can learn more at Andrew Romanoff’s blog.

Colorado Fiscal Policy

July 7, 2008

I recall a column written by noted conservative George Will in a previous decade in which he argued that taxes were too low.  This was back at a time when fiscally prudent people believed that you should only spend money you have.  It wasn’t yet in vogue to believe that it is possible to borrow yourself to prosperity.


The thesis of Will’s column was that the services people demand from government – roads, infrastructure, schools, prisons, retirement security, etc. – exceeded what we were paying in taxes.  He went on to argue that taxes should be in alignment with the public demand for services.


We face that problem in Colorado.  Our state constitution is plagued by conflicting commandments.  On the one hand, we have provisions that place caps on revenues.  State and local governments are not permitted to collect more in the good years – even though the tax rate stays the same; in effect the tax rate is cut during good years.  There also are provisions that place caps on property taxes.


There is nothing inherently wrong with placing caps on revenues – except that the constitution also includes requirements to increase spending.  And, public demand for services exceeds what the government is allowed to collect.


This is not sustainable.  And, Colorado is suffering the consequences of declining infrastructure and investments in the future.


Carol Hedges of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute gave a presentation to the school board  on June 25 on how we came to be in this situation.  I can’t begin to do justice to Carol’s presentation.  She is outstanding.  I can provide you links to two of her reports.


Looking Forward


Aiming for the Middle


Eagle Crest PTO Listening Session

February 15, 2008

I had the opportunity to visit with about 15 parents at Eagle Crest Elementary School on Monday, February 11 – I got home just in time to see KU blow its lead against Texas.  Alas.

The group of parents who I met with is thoughtful, enthusiastic and extraordinarily supportive of their children’s school.  The group is a role model PTO.  Every time I visit I get ideas to pass along to the Central Elementary PTO (where my children attend).  I want to thank the group for allowing me to attend.

I posed the following questions to the group of parents.  We had a non-linear discussion.

1.      What skills and experiences do you want to make sure your children are developing as they move through school in the district?

2.      What is needed to help St. Vrain on the path toward being an exemplary school district?

3.      What is the school and school district already doing well?

4.      What does school accountability look like to you?

Here are the themes from our conversation.

Creativity.  The group emphasized the need for creative thinking to be part of every subject.  There is concern that preparation for standardized tests undermines creativity.  A specific example mentioned by the group is they would like to see far more emphasis on the fine arts.

I asked the group about how U.S. students compare to other nations, for instance, in math.  The group suggested that creativity is our competitive advantage and we must not lose our focus on developing this attribute in our children.  One parent talked about working with people all over the globe.  Another shared an experience teaching in Japan.  Both said that they don’t want their children to be like the children from other countries.  They perceive that other countries do not support creativity the way we do/should here.

Critical thinking.  Eagle Crest parents would like their children to have more experiences dealing with ambiguous problems in which there are not clear right and wrong answers but in which judgment is required.

Experiential learning.  Parents would like their children to have more hands on learning experiences especially in the area of science.  They also would like to see their children learning outdoors from time to time.  For instance, parents said, learning about the environment from a book or screen is not the same as being in the environment.

Preserve recess.  As the need for instruction time grows, Eagle Crest parents say that it is essential to balance this with time to move and play.

Alternative methods of assessment.  Parents question the validity of a single test as the way to assess a student or a school.  Parents in this discussion would prefer that student’s have a portfolio of work evaluated over the course of a year.  These parents say they measure the success of a school based on the growth of individual students – are children making at least a year’s growth.

Second language instruction at an earlier age.  Parents in our discussion say that we are doing a disservice to children by not making language instruction part of an elementary education – especially in today’s global society.  They see educational value beyond just learning a language.

Math and writing.  Parents had good things to say about the math and writing programs at Eagle Crest.  The math approach does stimulate creative and critical thinking, parents said.  And, the writing program is helping students develop and organize detailed thoughts.

Technology.  Parents said that it is important for St. Vrain schools to beef up technology; and to make sure that technology is standard (equitable) across the district.  One parent cautioned not to become overly enamored with technology – it’s not a substitute for learning, she said.

School calendar.  Parents are open to some type of modified year round calendar with more frequent breaks between segments of the year.  Most of the parents in the group do want to preserve a significant chunk of time in the summer for families and to let kids be kids.

Neighborhood schools.  The group of parents who attended this session are concerned about preserving neighborhood schools.  They believe too many families leave their community in search of a “focus” school.  Some of the parents in the group don’t see the wisdom in developing focus schools within the district that might contribute to more fragmentation.

Equity concerns.  Many students who attend Eagle Crest will attend Blue Mountain elementary next year.  Blue Mountain is considered the sister school.  Blue Mountain is considering some form of a math, science and technology focus for the school.  That is an exciting prospect to parents.  But, parents whose children will continue to attend Eagle Crest are concerned about the equity between the two schools.  And, some parents expressed concern that they are learning about this focus after the open enrollment process.

Note: It is still possible for parents to open enroll their children in other schools but students who open enroll now will be lower on the priority list once the open enrollment slots are known and filled.

I am sending the link to this blog entry to the Eagle Crest PTO president so that he can send to others.  It would be great if parents who took part in the conversation added comments – in particular if there are items I missed or if members of the group heard different themes.

The Schools We Need that People Want

November 10, 2007

We expect our schools to do something that has never been done in history by any school system foreign or domestic, public or private.  We expect our schools to prepare every student for school beyond high school.  And, we expect our schools to be both more rigorous than ever before and ignite students’ passions for learning.

But, we are not matching our stated aspirations with a commitment to change.  In essence, we are asking our schools to increase productivity by 70%.  Yet, we have made few meaningful changes to the agricultural-industrial systems of education.  We cannot meet our lofty education goals without making adjustments to our school system.

What types of changes do we need?

In my many hours of conversations with community members, educators, parents and students, a clear picture of the kinds of schools we need and that people want is emerging.  For those of you who are regular visitors to this site or who have heard me speak, these are familiar ideas.

The schools people seek will (and in some cases already do)…

·         Tailor curriculum to EACH student’s unique needs, interests and passions so that students are eager to learn.  As we all know, love of learning is an essential attitude and an essential skill in our era.

·         Cultivate creative skills, risk taking, as well as working collaboratively with diverse groups.  Narrowing the curriculum to focus on a small set of core subjects is not sufficient.

·         Enable teachers to focus their energies on high-value instruction; integrate technology into all areas of learning; and provide learning experiences in and outside the classroom.

·         Base student promotion more on knowledge and less on classroom time.  We all know that every student learns at their own pace.  We need our schools to better reflect that reality.

·         Adopt early and aggressive intervention strategies for students who fall behind.  And, thoughtful strategies for students who are accelerating beyond grade level.

·         Enable students (and their families) to take more responsibility for their own learning.   Today, accountability rests disproportionately on the shoulders of schools and teachers.  That doesn’t make sense.  We must develop systems that support every student’s RIGHT to be responsible for themselves.

·         Are operated at a “human scale” and allow ample time for personal relationships between adults and students – as well as between peers.  We know healthy relationships are essential to a quality learning environment.  We must be intentional about creating time and space for relationships.

·         Make it a priority to build community and teach civility.  History teaches us we are at our best when we find ways to bridge our differences.  Public Schools are one of the places in which we can cross divides and learn from, with and about one another.

We are learning how to create these types of schools across the country and right here in the St. Vrain Valley.  What we need is a greater sense of urgency to build schools that embody these characteristics.  We can create these types of schools.  It is a matter of political will, community support and focused leadership.  It will be my priority to help the St. Vrain Valley move in these directions.

Questions & Answers – Some Audio

November 6, 2007

I am delinquent in posting responses to questions I’ve received over the course of the school board campaign.  My delay, in part, is due the time it takes me to write.  So, I thought I would take an audio approach.  It will accelerate my process and stretch my technology capacities, too.  Here are answers to many of the questions I’ve received.

Download 11607_questions_and_answers.WMA

I also am posting answers to many of the questions I received from Brad Jolly.

6.       (Originally question 5) Would you support a mill levy override in 2008?

I have invested considerable time talking to people throughout the district and state – educators, business people, public and community leaders.  There is near unanimity that we cannot accomplish our educational goals with the resources we have.

I would like to support a mill levy override as soon as possible.  Before we ask voters to increase people’s taxes, I believe we must pass three tests.

First, we must demonstrate what we’ve learned from past mistakes.  Second, we must demonstrate how we are maximizing current resources.  And, third, we must demonstrate how new tax dollars will help us make a leap forward rather than simply making marginal improvements to what we’re already doing.

In addition, we need to work at the state level on overall tax reform.  Some taxpayers must bear a disproportionate burden of property taxes.  For instance, I am keenly aware that the property tax code is onerous for those who own commercial property.  This places an undue burden on small business people.  Businesses should be a natural ally for public education but it is difficult due to the burdens they must carry relative to other types of property owners.

7.       Do you believe the district is standards-based in terms of student achievement?  Explain.

In practice, we do not have consistent education standards from one school to the next.  It is important that we establish, with clarity, what we expect students to know at various grade levels.  We should establish these standards for our district and not rely on outside legislators to do the work for us.

Once we have set clear standards we should allow principals and teachers to adopt building specific strategies to meet these standards in a way that meets the needs and interests of their students.  We should rely less on program driven curriculum.  While program driven curriculums have some advantages they can undermine efforts to provide differentiated learning.

8.       Outside of charter schools, what percentage of SVVSD teachers would you put in each of the following categories relative to their public school peers along the Front Range (answers should add up to 100%)?  Much Better than Average; Better than Average; Average; Worse than Average;          Much Worse than Average

I would question the wisdom of anyone who attempted to answer this question.  If someone provides an answer, it most assuredly is based on ignorance.  Let me explain by providing an example.

I serve on the board of directors of a small bank on the Eastern Plains.  I have regular, direct contact with the organizations six senior managers.  I have access to these managers’ annual reviews.  Based on this information, I can say with authority how well they are serving our organization.

I do not have direct contact with senior managers of other banks.  I do not have access to the performance reviews of senior managers from other banks.  Thus, I have no way to compare the performance of our senior managers to those who work for other organizations.

I have occasion to meet bank tellers who work for our bank and I interact with them as a customer.  I do not, however, participate in their performance reviews.  Nor do I have access to the performance reviews of tellers in other banks.  So, it would be pure speculation should I try to compare the performance of these people.

The same applies for teachers in our school district.

My personal experience with our children’s teachers:  we have been quite pleased with six, one was okay and one was unsatisfactory.  The latter two no longer teach in this district.

9.       Describe your position on the district’s current "Health Education Proposal."  Are there any areas that you would work to repeal?

I would like to congratulate the school board for passage of the new health education policy – specifically the portions regarding sexual education.  I know that sexual education can be an uncomfortable topic.  So kudos to the board for adopting this policy.

I agree with the opt out approach to the sexual education (meaning that children will receive the sexual education unless their parents make the explicit choice to opt them out).  I support this policy so long as there is very good communications with parents.

I would have supported an "opt in" option for a 3D training on how to use condoms.  This type of option would allow parents to choose for their children to receive a sexual education demonstration with mannequins.  The board chose not to allow this option.

When explaining oral contraceptives (birth control pills), I believe that students should be told which types of contraception destroy a fertilized egg.  People disagree about whether or not a fertilized egg constitutes life.  From a biological perspective, there is no ambiguity.  It is life.  I believe students should have this information, too.  I do not know what the new policy says about this, I would have to look it up.

I received a pamphlet from Friends First with 10 tips for parents.  Tip number 10 is: Talk openly and often about sexuality, choices, and that the best sex is within marriage.  My wife and I agree.  We have already begun that conversation with our oldest daughter.  I am glad the new sexual education policy continues the practice of informing students that abstinence is the only risk free approach to sex.

We will choose for our daughter (and son and 2nd daughter) to participate in the full sexual education instruction.  My wife and I believe two things.  Complete information is best when it comes to sexuality.  And, our children will take our point of view about sexuality seriously.

10.   What is your position on the way the district has dealt with Imagine?

I am not knowledgeable enough to comment on the specifics of the district’s management of Imagine.

Here are my general thoughts about Charter Schools:

Charter schools will be among the portfolio of schools in the St. Vrain Valley.  Colorado Department of Education rulings make it clear that they will not allow charters to be denied.  Public opinion research is conclusive, too.  People strongly support a role for charter schools.  So, whether we support or oppose charter schools, they are here to stay.

In this context, I believe we have an obligation to create the best possible working relationship with charter schools.  We should tackle common challenges as allies.  We should find ways to learn from one another and share innovations.  We should work together to help families make good choices about the types of learning experiences they want for their children.

Adversarial relationships between traditional and charter schools do not well serve our families or communities.  The school board can set the tone in creating more cooperative relationships.  But, we need all stakeholders to make the commitment to work together.

If we do not believe more productive relationships with charter schools are possible, we should seriously consider the option of turning the charters over to the Colorado Department of Education.  Working with charter schools consumes a great deal of time and energy.  If the relationship is adversarial then it is a great distraction from the essential work of schooling.

11.   What is your position on the way math is taught in the SVVSD?

I am not an expert on math instruction.  What I am learning, however, is that math is one of the subjects in which students would benefit most from differentiated and student directed learning.  The math classes I have observed and my conversations with math instructors reinforces this idea.

I believe it should be a priority to adopt as policy greater emphasis on differentiated learning for all subjects and, perhaps, in particular for math.

12.   Would you support a voucher system for students that would enable students to leave schools where more than 80% of the students flunk the CSAP?  By "voucher system," I mean a system wherein parents would be able to take their students’ per-pupil funding to a public, parochial or private school of the parents’ choosing.

No.  I do not support voucher programs that would allow students to attend private schools.  I am concerned that a voucher system would exacerbate an already emerging apartheid education system that is re-establishing itself in the United States.

See my post, “Why I Support Public Schools,” dated September 14 for a longer explanation.

13.   Would you support a similar voucher system for all students?

No.  See above.

14.   In a public editorial published in the Times-Call and on the district’s Web site, Dr. Zila wrote, "On standardized testing St. Vrain students outscore most of their peers around the state, including Cherry Creek and Boulder Valley."  Is this statement true?  What evidence is there for or against this?

I am aware of the statement.  I have not researched its validity. Certainly in terms of aggregate CSAP scores Cherry Creek and Boulder Valley have higher scores than St. Vrain.

15.   More than a decade ago, Dr. Zila’s predecessor talked about making the SVVSD a "world-class" district.  Are we there yet?  Are we close?

The St. Vrain Valley has the potential to be a world-class school district but we are not there yet.  The pace by which we reach this status will depend upon how urgently we embrace the need to create schools that…

Tailor curriculum to EACH students’ unique needs, interests and passions so that students are eager to learn.  A love of learning is an essential attitude and an essential skill in our era.

Cultivate creative skills, risk taking, as well as working collaboratively with diverse groups.  Narrowing the curriculum to focus on a small set of core subjects is not sufficient.

Enable teachers to focus their energies on high-value instruction; that integrate technology into all areas of learning; and that provide learning experiences in and outside the classroom.

Base student promotion more on knowledge and less on classroom time.  We all know that every student learns at their own pace.  We need our schools to better reflect that reality.

Enable their students to take more responsibility for their own learning.   Today, accountability rests disproportionately on the shoulders of schools and teachers.  That doesn’t make sense.  We must develop systems that support every student’s RIGHT to be responsible for themselves.

Are of a size and allow ample time for personal relationships between adults and students – as well as between peers.  We know healthy relationships are essential to a quality learning environment.  We must be intentional about creating time and space for relationships.

And, that make it a priority to build community.  History teaches us we are at our best when we find ways to bridge our differences.  Public Schools are one of the places in which we can cross divides and learn from, with and about one another.

Brad also asked the following questions which I will address on this blog but not in direct response to Brad’s questions.

1.    As a school board member, what specific, measurable goals would you make high priorities for the district achieve by June 30, 2008?

2.    Same question, but by June 30, 2009.

3.    What are the 3-5 important things that the SVVSD routinely does best?

4.    What are the 3-5 important things that the SVVSD routinely does worst?  Please list the same number of items in this response that you did for the question above.

5.    (Originally question 6)  Can the SVVSD improve student performance without spending more money than the increases already guaranteed by Amendment 23?  Name as many specific ideas as possible.

Head First Colorado

October 30, 2007

I would encourage anyone who is interested in education in Colorado to subscribe to Head First Colorado’s enewsletter.  It provides an interesting dialogue on education issues facing our state – albeit with an emphasis on Denver.  As Alan Gottleib, the editor, suggests it includes ideas that will reinforce and challenge what everyone thinks.  Here’s a link where you can subscribe:

More on School Choice

October 24, 2007

When we believe in something, it is human nature to say that our beliefs are the source of a wide range of virtues.  And, it is human nature to ignore evidence to the contrary.

For example, I like the idea of smaller high schools.  My preference is based on personal experience.  I went to a small high school and had a great experience and I have succeeded academically.  I would like to join the small school bandwagon – which is receiving millions of dollars of support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – and claim that small schools will lead to higher student achievement.  It is just that the evidence doesn’t necessarily support that claim.  I still believe in that small schools have merit and are an idea we should look at seriously in this district.  However, I can’t claim that small schools will guarantee higher student achievement.

I wrote yesterday that there is not clear evidence that school choice will lead to higher student achievement.

Advocates of choice will point to studies that “prove” that choice does lead to higher achievement.  Brad Jolly posted this link in the comment section yesterday.  Please see for data to the contrary.”

Opponents of choice can find evidence that “proves” choice does not lead to higher achievement, too.  For instance, see Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, page 158.

Paul T. Hill is an education researcher/expert who I respect.  He is an unabashed supporter of choice.  I find him authentic because he realizes that ideas such as choice can’t be pursued simplistically.  Choice does not guarantee good outcomes.  He wrote in Education Week:

The old arguments in support of school choice are still right:  Choice can make parents full partners in education and drive innovation.  Without it, public education is frozen in place by laws, contracts and adult entitlements.

But arguing for public school choice in the form of charter schools or voucher programs is not the same thing as claiming that any program offering choice will deliver all of the concept’s potential benefits.

[C]harter schools are getting mixed results, as are the few public voucher programs now in existence…

We could go back and forth on the debate of whether choice leads to increases in student achievement forever.  My point is that providing families with options of schools has merits irrespective of impact on student achievement.  And, boosting student achievement will not be solved simply by creating more choices.  That’s why I believe it is important to decouple these two issues.

I would like to make one more point on school choice.  I diverge from many choice advocates because of my interest in the civic health of our communities and nation.  Over the past couple of decades, the role that public schools play in nurturing and sustaining democratic life has been lost from the conversation.

We need some areas of our lives in which we are more than mere consumers.  We need institutions in our lives in which we are required to be democratic citizens – or our democracy will suffer greatly.

I believe we must strive to preserve public schools as an essential democratic institution.  That is why I support options and choices in the context of public schools but not vouchers.

Constituent Question

October 16, 2007

Jon Kanas sent this email query.

I have a question for each candidate for which I have not heard a response to date.  I would appreciate your assessment of my concerns and  response to my question at your convenience:

  • I believe that the recent confrontations between the school district and the newly "empowered" communities in Weld County represent a significant drain of scarce school district time and resources.  The two most recent squabbles concern development fees and establishing a charter school.  The demographics and interests of these communities in Weld County differ significantly enough from the rest of the district that these types of "local control" squabbles will persist for the indefinite future.  I would prefer that the resources currently addressing these squabbles be redirected to address the complexities (distribution of debt, allocation of assets) and propose the process for the establishment of a new school district for the Weld County communities.
  • As a parent of two public school students, and a resident of Longmont,  what is your position on splitting the St. Vrain Valley School district into two distinct and autonomous districts.

Here was my response to Mr. Kanas.

As I am learning more about the issue of splitting up school districts, there seems to be both a philosophical and a practical answer to your questions.  Let me start with the philosophical:
I believe that the communities that make up the St. Vrain Valley School district would be better served by smaller school districts.  For me, this is not a reflection of poor relations between communities.  Even under the best of circumstances, it is very difficult for 7 school board members and a handful of administrators to understand the needs and interests of 45+ schools and eight municipalities.  This will become more of a challenge as the area grows.  The economic efficiencies we gain by being one district may be offset by what we lose in terms of civic representation and how responsive we can be to the specific needs of various schools and communities.
From a practical standpoint, what I am learning is that it is extremely difficult to break up a school district.  When Broomfield community leaders chose to form their own county, they did not attempt the same with a school district.  I need to learn more to understand all that is involved.  Meantime, I believe we need to take a good hard look at what is the best management structure for a district this size.  I think we can develop a better approach than we have now.