Monday, July 14, 2014

Thinking ahead

Okay - so this is going to be what we are working on until September 9:

Shall the Board of Directors of the Cedar Falls Community School District in the County of Black Hawk, State of Iowa, be authorized to contract indebtedness and issue General Obligation Bonds in an amount not to exceed $118,000,000 to provide funds to construct, build, furnish and equip a new High School building and to improve the site; to construct, build, furnish and equip a new elementary building and to improve the site; to construct, build, furnish and equip additions to North Cedar and Orchard Hill elementary buildings, and to remodel, repair, improve, furnish and equip those buildings and improve those sites; and to remodel, repair, improve, furnish and equip the old high school building for re-use as an educational building and improve the site? 

I am urging people to vote "yes," and we can talk about why - email me and I'd love to get together with you. As far as I'm concerned, this is more important than anything I can help get done while I'm on the board. But we (you and I) also need to talk about what happens after September.

When the board has an official goal, it doesn't go away. When they adopted integration of technology as a goal, for example, it eventually resulted in computers being in our students' hands, both in school and out, and teachers being trained (and this is still going gangbusters) on how best to use these resources to increase student learning, which is bottom line "that's what it's all about *clap* *clap*". There has been one main issue parents have been talking to me about, and another that has become a concern of mine in my time on the board. I'm not going to say what they are right now, because I don't want to bias you. I want to hear from you first.

What's going on? What are you concerned about? What do you think we should be working on in the
2014-2015 academic year?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

School Board Meeting - March 24 2014

Wow, gang, this is a big meeting coming up!  Please come on 3/24 at 7 PM!  If you can't make it, there will be an audio recording available on the school board website (there is one up there for our last meeting).  Agendas and supporting docs are all available online - here are the highlights (in my opinion):

1) Public Hearing: 2014-2015 School Hours Calendar and Early Start Date.

Lots of people have been sharing their opinions with me - this is the official conversation.

2) Update/Discussion on 10-Year Master Plan
     Discussion of Architect and Design Team Recommendations Pattee/Nefzger/Estes

This is a big deal.  As you are sick of hearing me say - very soon we will not have enough seats for the butts we want to put in them.  We are currently turning DOWN state funding for preschool because we don't have enough seats for butts.

And we want to do this right.  This project belongs to all of us.  Everyone will have a chance to provide input.  And everyone who believes in the importance of education in Cedar Falls is part of the process. There's a link to the first draft on this page, and we will see where we are at after this update.

3) Discussion of Built to Last

We are reading a book about PLC's (professional learning communities) called Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLCs at Work.  You can get it here.  Read along with us - last week an educator described how the PLCs process is allowing us to provide an IEP (individualized education plan) for every student.  Including yours.  I've gotten to watch this happen on a tour, and it is amazing hearing teachers talk about each student as an individual, and how he or she can best be served.


If you haven't checked out our facebook page lately, you should! It's gotten REALLY good.

I hope to see you all soon.  If you have good stories to tell about your students' school, these are a good few months to share with as many people as possible.  Everyone knows "Cedar Falls has good schools" but most people are short on details.  We have a lot to be proud of - let's share!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I am not going to rip on anti-bullying programs.  I'm glad they are there.  My K-12 education (actually, my 2-10 education) would have been a lot better had they been in place decades ago.  And they are doing good.  So please don't read this as "Board Member Disses Anti-Bullying Efforts."  Because I'm not.

And we all know the next word.  So take a breath and say it with me.


I've noticed that the anti-bullying culture seems to divide students into three groups.  Bullies, Targets (what we used to call "victims") and Bystanders.  And we talk about what to do if you are a Target, what to do if you are a Bystander, and if you are a Bully - stop being one.  (Which would mean logically, "become a Bystander or a Target")

In my 2-10 education... I was all three, at various times.  Some more than others.  And when I was a Bystander, sometimes I was a Good Bystander, a brave bystander, and sometimes I was a coward.  And of all the roles I've played, the one I regret most was the coward-bystander.  I didn't play them all equally often, but I have been each.  And here's the thing, so have many of you.  No nice adult wants to think s/he was a Bully.  Most adults don't want to dwell on times they were a Target.  So we rationalize and forget.  But think back...  all three.  Even You.

In my opinion, "bully" should be thought of as a verb more than as a noun.  A person can bully others.  Some people bully others a lot.  But when you make them into a different species - Bullies - homo salaco, you are not only sending the message they cannot change (my dog can't become a cat), you are also... well... telling a dangerous lie.

Here's the big lesson about bullies that many people never learn, but those of us who have done our time as victims (no, I won't use the word "target" for what happened to me) understand, a lesson so valuable that you can argue it is part of God's plan...  Someone can bully some people savagely, but also be a kind, caring, charismatic friend to other people.  This is a key piece of information to being an adult, and it is obscured by the Bully, Target, Bystander trichotomy.

It leads to thoughts like, "John can't beat his wife!  He came out in the rain to help me change my tire, and still got up at 6 AM to flip pancakes at the fundraiser!"  "You must have done something really bad for Dana to treat you that way; she is the sweetest, kindest, manager I know."  Politics is lousy with people who are friendly and charismatic on camera, and then you hear tales of savage bullying that are hard to swallow... they seem so nice!   

When you are an adult, you have to deal with issues beyond the Good Bystander/Cowardly Bystander dilemma.  What do you do when your best friend is a real homo salaco to people he is not friends with?  What do you do when your ally in an argument gives your opponent a look of contempt that makes them feel like total garbage? What do you do when, on the third date, the person you are falling in love with threatens and berates the waitress because she forgot to put the salad dressing on the side?

What do you do if you are a nice, wonderful, person, but the project is going to go down the tubes if your employee Jason doesn't step up his game, and being nice just isn't working, and if you don't make him a little more frightened, things are going to be bad?

I don't have the answer to these questions.  But in my life they haven't been hypothetical.  But at least I am prepared to deal with them, because in school, I've seen how nice, gentle, considerate, and loving a savage Bully can be.  And, as I have never admitted in any forum before, I've been one of those people.  Not a lot.  Not often.  But yeah, if we are labeling people, save one for me.  Take one yourself, maybe.  And now what do we tell the children?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Hey, CFSD fans, there is a very important new link on this page!

That, my friends, is the latest stage of the 10-year plan.  It was developed with feedback from Cedar Falls citizenry, CFSD faculty, staff, and administration (including the school board) and used data analysis and recommendations from Fielding Nair.  This version was the one we agreed upon during our 12/9 open meeting - those present saw a candid, frank discussion.  My New Year's Resolution is to help get these meetings televised, so more people can see this important process.

Right now it is being looked at by our facilities committee, and our schools' staff, and then it needs to be discussed by you.  Everyone reading these words.  Everyone in town who cares about Cedar Falls education.  I hate the term "stakeholders" in this context, because everyone who lives here is a stakeholder.  "This is a competitive world" is already a cliche, and here we are in a world that is getting more competitive than it was.  Our cities' future is tied into the future of our children's schools.  I also hate the term "10 year plan."  While it is an outline for what we are should do for the next ten years, Jim Brown pointed out to me that the effect of what we do will last for 50 years or more. We have to do this right.  And that means pooling all our expertise.

Soon we will be asking the public to weigh in - and I'm hoping you do so.  Our children need you to. And the first step is clicking that link, and seeing where we are so far.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I just had to share

From a David Welter email:

"On Saturday December 14th, approximately 60 Holmes students who are enrolled in orchestra, band, and choir volunteered to participate in a flash mob that occurred at Von Maur in the College Square Mall. They learned the song "Carol of the Bells" and
surprised shoppers as well as employees by performing the piece in the aisles of the store. Students utilized the intervention and enrichment time at Holmes called "Tiger Time" to practice together and to work out the logistics of how to enter, where to enter, and when to enter. Ms. Unertl initially came up with the idea while playing piano at Von Maur, thinking that it would be a wonderful way for students to build on collaboration and comradery. She would like to thank Mrs. Engelhardt, Mr. Hall, and Mrs. Koltookian for getting the music together, teaching the kids, and for being onboard and excited about the idea. You can see pictures from the event at this link under Newsflash:
We will be posting a video of the event later in the week."

I love this for so many reasons!  Not only is it fun for the students; it is educational on several levels, and motivating, and merry for the community.  Also, it strengthens the bond between our schools and our larger community which is so important for both to thrive!

...and who doesn't love a good flash mob, making everyone's life more surreal in a positive way.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Special Meeting! Monday, 12/16 at 5 PM!

Hey, gang!

Oh the weather outside is frightful!/ 
But the fire is so delightful! 
What shall we do? I know!
Meeting ho! Meeting ho!  Meeting ho!

We are meeting Monday at 5 PM, to do some more work on the ten year plan, and take care of some other biz. The first part of the meeting deals with an individual student, and in compliance with Iowa Law, that will be a closed-session.  So if you aren't actually on the board, there isn't much of a point to showing up at 5.  We will then discuss and most likely approve a contract, which shouldn't take long.  And then we are going to further discuss the ten year plan.

We normally wouldn't have a meeting at this date, but since a 12/22 meeting isn't on the docket, we wanted to get this discussion in before we adjourn.  At our last meeting, we had a real discussion at the board table, the likes of which I've rarely seen, and it really makes me feel optimistic for this process of meeting our students' needs in the future.

(Notice I didn't say "21st century."  That phrase, referring to a century that is 1/7 over, that is the only century our graduating seniors remember, grates on me like fingernails on a chalkboard.)

Several people have shared their frustrations with me about decisions and processes that took place in the past. I understand those frustrations, and share some of them, not all of them.  But we all have to move beyond that. You can't change the past, but you can learn from it - and I think it is clear that the culture of the board has changed, and I get the sense that this change is being welcomed.  Thanks to general demographics and a heroic city council, Cedar Falls is experiencing phenomenal population growth. All those new homes going up are going to have people moving in, and their children are going to be going to school here.  Our emphasis has to be on what do we need to do now for our children, and on how to do it right, so we don't have to do this again for a very long time.

I'm asking you to do two things.

First - whenever you have an opportunity to give us feedback (and there will be plenty) - give it!  Until the bond referendum, if you see me; I'm fair game.  I've stressed this since the beginning of my campaign - good dialogue is crucial.  Apathy is not a luxury our schools can afford right now.  If you think "things are just fine" - that's cool.  But make sure to tell us you think that!  Speak up.

Second - I don't have to talk to you much about how vital a top-notch K-12 system is for Cedar Falls' long term future; the types of people who would read a geek's school board blog are the types of people who understand how a renowned public school system will help us to thrive in the next 50 years more than almost anything else we can do today.  And since I am an academic, most of the people I interact with are coming things with the same idea.  But I've learned that not everyone sees things that way; that some people think of superior K-12 education as a luxury. We all need to engage these people, Tell them how people considering the move always ask us "How are the schools?"  If you are an employer who appreciates how important it is to have well-educated people to hire, you have to let them know.  

Exciting times!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cedar Falls Schools: Amazingly Amazing

This would be a picture of Zaphod Beeblebrox - former president of the galaxy.

Okay, gang, let's talk about the National AP District Honor roll.  This year, only 477 districts made it.  Five of them were in Iowa.  And so the question is... well, you know the question.  And the answer is, "HECK YES!"  More kudos go to Cedar Falls High School.  If you know a staff member, or a teacher, or an administrator of said place, you give 'em a big ol' high five!  This is great news!  

Our beloved Superintendent, Dr. Andy Pattee, provides the following link for more information:

Keep your high-fivin' hand up in the air, because Lincoln Elementary just got written up in the WCF Courier for their innovative "Farm to School" program.  Students get to try mega-fresh locally grown foods that they may never have had the peer-pressure to try before. And you know, there are vegetables I've always hated until I moved to Iowa and had them fresh from farmer's markets; it can make a difference.  This initiative was created and is run and paid for by parent volunteers (extra high-fives to Jodie Huegerich), and is a great example of the power of a good relationship between parents and school staff, teachers, and administrators.  

Here's the link: www.MackElmerRox


P.S. School board meeting starts at 6 PM with a one hour work session next week - I'll tell you more later.