My School Board Calendar – Week of August 24, 2009

August 24, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 6 pm – Accountability Committee

Wednesday, August 26, 2:45 pm – Observe Spangler PLC Meeting

Wednesday, August 26, 6 pm – School Board Work Session (Financials) and Regular Meeting (Board meeting conflicts with daughters back to school night. Debating whether to duck out of board meeting for an hour to attend.)

Thursday, August 27, 3 pm – Longmont Education Task Force


Policy Governance

August 24, 2009

Over the summer, the school board invested considerable time in training on a model of governance called policy governance.  The goal of the policy governance method of board governance is to focus board time and attention more on big ticket items rather than getting involved in day-to-day management.  We will discuss how we plan to move forward with this model more at our meeting on Wednesday, August 26.

In the policy governance method, the board has three primary jobs.

1. Be voice of the community; explain the community to the school district in this case.  The policy governance literature calls this Owner Linkage.

2. Establish Ends (what needs to be accomplished) and Set Limits (things that should not be done).

3. Monitor and ensure performance.

Financial Goals for 2009-2010

August 24, 2009

As noted in the post above, the board is striving to focus more time and attention on ends (what needs to be accomplished) and less on management.  We are establishing ends in three areas: Student Achievement, Finances, and Relationships with Stakeholders.

At our board work session on Wednesday, August 19, we discussed what needs to be achieved this year in the area of district finances.  At our meeting on September 2, we will Student Achievement and Stakeholder Relations.

Here is a brief summary of the Financial “Ends” we discussed – as proposed by Superintendent Don Haddad and his leadership team.

1.  Maintain a General Fund balance to meet TABOR and Contingency reserves and meet all other statutory reserve requirements in the budget process.

             FY10 Tabor Reserve (3%)                               $5,209,000

             General Fund Contingency Reserve (2%)   $3,472,666

             FY10 TABOR and Contingency Reserve:    $8,681,999

My Notes:  These reserves do not include reserves from the MLO that are earmarked for specific initiatives such as technology, focus schools, or keeping class sizes small.

2.  Increase budget allocated to Direct Instruction from approximately 63% to 65% for FY11.

First year goal: Reach agreement with school board, administration, community budget advisory committee and employee groups on the definition of Direct Instruction (what exactly counts as money spent on instruction).  Perform an internal review of the FY10 budget to determine the current allocation to direct instruction.  Propose FY11 budget to reach either 65% goal or a 2% increase in direct instruction budget allocation, whichever is less.

MY Notes: Agreeing on definition is important so that the  merits of this goal can be better understood and analyzed.

We also discussed several initiatives that district staff will be working on in the coming year that are related to these “ends” and the district’s finances.

1.  Develop and implement a long range funding process for operating and capital needs to use for FY11 budget planning that meets the following criteria:

a. Involvement by every school and department with input from staff, parents and community members.

b.  Stakeholder prioritization process and feedback to participants.

c.   Opportunity for community budget advisory committee and school board to  examine district- wide budget priorities together in a timely planning cycle.

My Notes:  Discussed need to examine how we think about technology in the budgeting process.  Historically it has been thought of as a capital investment.  Role technology plays  in instructions suggests it should be thought as an operational expense.

2. Improve district-wide accountability for spending and resource allocation though the establishment and implementation of systemic guidelines and protocols in the following areas:

  1. District cell phones
  2. Food purchases
  3. Petty cash handling
  4. Procurement card usage and approvals
  5. Purchasing authority limits
  6. Gift and gift card purchases
  7. Consultant contracts

 3. Improve vendor access to SVVSD

  1. Post how to do business with St. Vrain on web
  2. Create a user-friendly vendor guide for distribution
  3. Post vendor applications
  4. Refine purchasing processes to maximize savings and expedite work using standing order contractors and cooperative bids

4. Improve Charter School Monitoring and Accountability

  1. Establish separation of charter schools within IFAS (the district’s financial accounting software)
  2. Begin quarterly meetings with charter school administrators
  3. Improve contract oversight and accountability (as evidenced in audit reports)
  4. Review application process, forms and contracts and revise as necessary to meet new state requirements


Blog technical note: Having trouble with formatting on this post.


June 1, 2009

I was given the honor of speaking to the most recent graduates from St. Vrain's Adult Education school on May 22.  Here is the text of my remarks.


It is a great privilege for me to be here with you tonight to witness this milestone in your life – to witness your accomplishment of reaching graduation.

I want to thank Mary Willoughby for inviting me to be here tonight.  I want to say congratulations, too, to all of the families who are here.  I know from personal experience that very few of us achieve a milestone like this on our own.  Teachers and family provide us with immeasurable support.

My wife and I supported each other as we completed our educations.  First, she worked while I finished school and then we traded roles.  I worked while she finished school. 

So, I would like to say thank you to the staff at Adult Ed and to the parents, spouses, significant others and friends who are here.

I want to talk for a very few minutes about a subject that is not often mentioned at graduation ceremonies.  I want to speak on the subject of Underdogs – people and groups who find a way to be successful even when the odds are against them.

Some, perhaps many of us on this stage have felt like an underdog at one time or another in our lives.  I know that I have had that feeling.

I never felt more like an underdog than when I graduated from high school and went off to college.

I grew up in a small town.  There were barely 1500 people in my town.  I had 40 in my graduating class from high school.  About the same size as your class.

When I went to college, there were more people living in my dormitory than lived in my entire town.  I went to my first class – a required class for freshman in a giant lecture hall.  There may have been more students in that one lecture hall than there were students in grades K – 12 where I had come from.

I didn’t know if I could do this.  I didn’t know if I could survive at a big University.

I became even more intimidated when I heard my college classmates talk about all the math and science classes they had taken in high school.

When I was a senior in high school, my science teacher took a new job the 2nd week of school.  My school wasn’t able to recruit a new teacher.  That was the end of science for me.

I wasn’t sure how I would be able to keep up in college.  I went to sleep feeling homesick most nights my first semester.

But, I had learned something growing up in my small town that would help get through college and succeed I had learned to work hard.  I’ve had jobs since I was 10 years old.  That was a gift my parents gave me.  It was a gift my wife’s parents gave her.  They made us work.

I learned that hard work can make up for a lot.  And the best thing is, we get to decide how hard we want to work.

I read a magazine article recently by a person named Malcolm Gladwell.  The whole article was about How Do Underdogs Win?  How does David beat Goliath?

Gladwell says that there are three reasons that Underdogs are successful.

1.       They work harder than most people are willing to work.

2.       They are willing to do things other people won’t do.  Successful underdogs don’t care if people say “you’re not cool.”

3.       Successful underdogs keep getting up on their feet when they get knocked down.  They don’t give up.

I want to tell you about the janitor at my high school.  Mr. Bray.

Mr. Bray had a big family.  He had five or six or seven children.  I don’t remember exactly how many.  Mr. Bray had a dream.  He wanted his family to have a house where every one of his kids could have their own bedroom.  Throw in a family room and a dining room – that’s a big house.

It’s hard to find a house like that on a janitor’s salary in a small town.  But, that was Mr. Bray’s dream.  He wasn’t going to be stopped by lack of money.

From the time I was about five or six, we would see Mr. Bray at different places around town – after school, on weekends and all through the summer.  Mr. Bray would tear down abandon buildings in town.  He would work out an arrangement with the property owner.  He would tear down their old building if he could keep the wood and bricks and pipes.

I remember people around town talking about Mr. Bray.  They would say things like, “I can’t believe he spends so much time tearing down buildings.”

I’m ashamed to say we kids weren’t so kind.  We said the things kids say before we know better. “There’s Mr. Bray tearing down another building.  What a dork.”

Mr. Bray didn’t care what people in town said about him.  He had a dream.  He was going to make it come true.

Mr. Bray carried himself with pride and dignity everywhere he went.  When he completed a demolition job.  The lot left behind was spic and span.  Mr. Bray did things right.

And, by the time I was a freshman in high school… Mr. Bray had built one of the biggest houses in town.

That’s what successful underdogs do.  They work hard.  They do things others won’t do.  They don’t worry whether or not people think they are cool.

I want to tell you one more story.  It’s from a book I’m reading with my daughter.  It’s called Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor.  It is a true story about Juan and Lupe Villasenor – two immigrants who were driven from their homes in Mexico by a revolution almost 100 years ago.  They built a successful life in the United States.  (Their son is a well known author – he wrote the book.)

Juan and Lupe did not have easy lives.  Their families were knocked down many, many times.  But, they kept getting back on their feet.

There is a scene in the book that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Juan and his family are camped outside of Ciudad Juarez.  They are hoping to cross the border into the United States.

They have nothing.  They have to pick corn out of manure to keep themselves from starving to death.  One night, after a terrible sandstorm, one of Juan’s sisters goes blind.  The family is discouraged.  They want to give up.

Juan’s mother, Dona Margarita, calls her family together.  This is a women whose lost several children; her daughter is blind; her grandchildren are crying with hunger; they have to sleep on the ground through dust storms.

With all these hardships, this is what Dona Margarita said to her family, “We must open our hearts so that we can see the possibilities in our predicament.  If we do not look for the possibilities, we have nothing.”

I can’t imagine the hardships the Villasenor family endured.  It is humbling to hear the words spoken by Dona Margarita; to hear someone who has endured so much declare We Must Find the Possibilities in our Predicament.

But, that is what successful underdogs do.  They work hard.  They do things other people say aren’t cool.  They keep getting back up on their feet when they are knocked down and they look for life’s possibilities.

That is how Dreams Come True.

You all have taken a less traditional path to graduation than people who will graduate tomorrow from traditional high schools.  Some people might consider you underdogs.

Here’s what I would say.  You already have an advantage in life that others don’t.  You know how to overcome adversity.  There’s no softness on this stage.  I’m sure of that.

You know how to work hard.  You know how to keep going when others say you aren’t cool.  And, you know how to pick yourself up when you get knocked down.

You can accomplish your dreams if you keep doing what you’ve done to reach this place tonight.


Thank you again for giving me the privilege of witnessing what you’ve accomplished.

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.

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.

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.

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 The report summarizes a more in-depth research report, the complete version of which can be found at and at

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


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.


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.