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.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

More Cedar Falls Elementary Excellence

Great schoolitude?  Check.
Great use of social media? Check.
Ultimate life-long educational experience for Cedar Falls students? Check!

Read and perhaps like!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Meeting, Reading, and Eating

Hey, gang!  Some news on upcoming stuff!

So, we meet on 11/25, and here are the things I think will be the most interesting:

1) 10 year master plan discussion!  Fielding-McNair gave us their recommendations at our last meeting, and so now we move on to the next step, which is determining a process for obtaining public input.   The plan is a ten-year plan, but the result should be with us for many decades!  We are not only affecting our students, and our future students, but the whole community.  Smarter people than I have written about how a top-notch school system positively impacts an entire city. Therefore, it is important that you, every CF resident who is reading these words, be part of this process in a real way, so all of us feel comfortable getting behind the plan when it is finished.  And so besides me running around with a "What do you think?" T-shirt on (hey, I was kidding, but you know...) we need to decide on how best to get your thoughts.

2) Second reading of public comment policy!  The above deals with getting public opinion about a specific issue, the ten-year plan.  What about... the rest of what we do?  The board is going to include time in every meeting to hear the public.  The relevant policy changes may very well be approved after this meeting.  I know that this issue was vital to many first-time voters in this last election, and so if you were one of them, I hope you see that sometimes the cynics are wrong, and the changes you want do happen.  Notice that I didn't say "final policy changes."  This is our start.  if the policies need further revising, this absolutely can occur.

3) Information report - Mathematics!  You may have noticed the recent changes in our mathematics curricula.  This presentation will give us an organized report on how things are going.  The powerpoint slides are available under the "meeting documents" tab above.  (As are the proposed changes to public comment policy, and the master plan proposal.  Click!)

We are all going to be reading and discussing a book in the coming months: Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLCs at Work by Richard Dufour & Michael Fullan. I'd include a link, but then my new Special Friend would Call the Courier implying that Barnes and Noble campaigned for me.  Anyway, we're going to all be reading it, and if you did, too, then we could talk about it when we run into each other around town.  One of the many positive experiences I had in teaching in UNI's Cornerstone program was discovering the wonderful effect a "common read" can have on a team, and hope we do this every year.  (And the book is short)

I knew my life would change if I wound up serving on the school board - I knew the culture would be different than the culture I'm used to - but I didn't anticipate it being like this:

Thanks for listening!  Things are looking good!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cedar Falls High School - HECK YES!

Here it is - Iowa Association of School Board meeting. Here they are, the State Board of Education.

Each year, the The Breaking Barriers to Teaching and Learning Award recognizes successful efforts to eliminate achievement gaps among students who face challenges. This year’s award-winners were recognized for having the highest proficiency rates statewide in math and reading among a specific subgroup of students, such as students who do not speak English as their native language and students from low-income backgrounds. Data from three years were examined to confirm a positive trend for each school.

 Only six winners, among all the schools in Iowa. And one of those honored? Our own Cedar Falls High School. Or as we "insiders" call it: CFHS. 84.7 percent proficiency rate in reading and mathematics among African American students. (Statewide average for this subgroup is 46.3 percent.) CFHS doesn't just talk about closing the achievement gap - they care and they work to make it happen. If you know anyone who works for CFHS - buy them a drink, pay them a compliment, hug them a hug, shovel their driveway. For they are Good.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A World Class Education

Tomorrow and Thursday, I will be with the other board members at the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) annual gathering. The keynote speaker on Thursday is Yong Zhao. He is quated in this article I think it is a good sign that he is speaking. The thing is, a world class education seems like it will cost money, and involve respecting teachers... is society ready to do that again? I'd be interested in what you think of his article. Anyway - this is going to be a pretty intense two days! Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

November 11 - the ten year plan

Our next school board meeting is 7 PM on Monday, November 11, at the Holmes Junior High School Cafeteria. The big highlight, besides seeing me since I switched brands of razor blades of course, will be the presentation by Fielding Nair on their recommendation for the 10 year facility plan. There won't be public input at this meeting, but we will be discussing how that will take place. Take a look at the plan, get your thoughts together, and let's all work together to take our next step into our childrens' future.

There is a tab on this page that will send you to where meeting documents are posted online. See you on Monday!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Mister Creosote Problem

This is something I've been thinking about for years, and now that I'm on the school board, it has become particularly relevant to me.

If you are reading this blog, we probably have something in common. We value education.  We believe knowledge is good.  As adults, we wish we knew more.  When I get to talk to historians, I get sad that I don't know more history.  When Laurel is talking home repair with people, I'm embarrassed that I don't know enough about home repair.  When my friend Josh and I are talking music, and the conversation dips into music theory, I wish I knew more about music.   Not to be pretentious, not to be competitive, not to "be smart" but just because I believe, as you probably do, that it is good to know things.

So an issue comes up: “Schools should teach our children how to keyboard starting at a young age.” Of course, I will be angry that “keyboard” is now a verb, and I will feel bad that my preference for the term “touch-typing’ makes me Grandpa-level old.  But seriously, I will think, “That’s a good idea.” Because it is.

When I went to high-school, “home-economics” became mandatory for all students, and it was great.  I learned the basics of cooking and sewing, and have used those skills.  I resented it at the time, but I now understand it was a good idea.  Because it was.

One reason, I believe, that many U.S. citizens (myself included) make important political choices with an overly simplistic view of the issues is that we don’t understand economics and history to the degree we should.  If you showed me a curriculum that would incorporate a better understanding of these subjects, I would be impressed, and think that it would be a good idea to adopt something like it for our students.  Because it is.

It is good to know things.

On the other hand, if you tell me we should take long-division out of my child’s education, I will argue with you.  If you tell me we should take cursive writing out, I will be angry at you.  If you threaten to take music out, I will cut you.  These are not little bits of trivia; I can make an argument for every one of those things being important for people to learn.

And here is the problem which I’ve termed the Creosote Problem.  When you propose putting something into the curriculum, you will find it very easy to persuade me you are right.  I’m halfway to agreeing with you as soon as you start.  But then the question arises - what am I willing to take out? And the answer is “nothing.”  (Well, actually, I have an answer here - and I can tell you.  But not only is my answer different than yours - that’s just kicking the problem down the road… even if I got my way, it wouldn’t be long before there was nothing else I was willing to take out.)

When you and I are talking like this, honestly and asynchrnously, we see the Creosote Problem and it's pretty obvious.  But in most education discussions I’ve witnessed and taken part in, the Creosote problem is there but never stated.  So the debate is always “Is X worthwhile?” and the answer from people like me winds up being “yes” and then… what the hell do we cut?

So what exactly am I advocating?  I’m asking both of us to keep this in our minds when we have our conversations.  When I tell you something we need to add, I should also be thinking about what we need to cut, and vice versa.  Or we should both be thinking of ways we can decrease repetition, so there is more room to do more things well, while still serving the needs of all our students.