Thursday, September 11, 2014

Let's have a merry rest of the day!

I have some relevant content to post.  But for now, I need real cheering up, and I'm not the only one.  This is Sammy Davis Jr.'s cover of Talk To The Animals.  Don't just smile indulgently and move on - turn up your volume to loud as polite and listen to it.  Trust me, I'm a doctor.  I mean it.  Listen.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Some Answers (IV)

(Disclaimer: The following is my own take on things, and I am not speaking for anyone else. I'm posting as a person, not as a member of the school board. This blog is for my feelings about the school board, not necessarily representing them. This is me, not CFSD. Got it?

The official word on all things bond related is here: .)

What happens if the bond doesn't pass?

Time will go on.  Interest rates aren't going to get any lower.  They will probably get higher.  Construction costs will go up.  Right now, we are going to get a good deal on the property - hopefully that won't change, but it might.  And population will go up, the students freezing in "portables" this winter will have another year of it.  And the issue will go on the ballot again, because the need will still be there.  Only it will cost us all more money.  And it will give people the opportunity to complain about lack of long-term planning, when the crisis hits.

We did this right.  We actively pursued feedback from the community, not only so everybody could comment on this plan, but shape it as well.  This included community meetings, surveys, a polling firm, visits to every building and surveys to district staff, and a lot of informal open conversations.  During our open meetings, we discussed it, brought up ideas that various people came up with, and they were all investigated.  And people who know me know that I don't back away from an argument.  And people who were at the meetings know that the discussions were fact based and data based.

This is a necessary, long-term plan. The current Wall Street Journal Prime Rate is: 3.25%  Our children are in trailers and we are refusing pre-school money from the state because we have no room.  If you went on one of the high-school tours, you know exactly what we are talking about on that front.  It's time to act.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Guest Post! Jim Kenyon!

I've known James Kenyon since the first week I moved to Cedar Falls, fifteen years ago.  He was our precious cat's veterinarian, and Laurel and I were impressed by his knowledge, wisdom, and kindness.  (That's not his picture above - it's a picture of Tristam from All Creatures Great and Small.  But feel free to picture Tristam - they are a lot alike).  We have much in common.  We are both on the school board.  And we both consider ourselves politically moderate, and we both consider the other one less so.  

Dr. Kenyon has been on the school board for two decades.  He is a fiscal conservative, and was endorsed by Terry Branstad when he ran for congress recently.  There is no reasonable person alive who would accuse him of not knowing what he's talking about, or wasting a dime of tax-money.  Many of the people currently putting "Vote NO" signs on their lawn probably voted for him when he ran, because they believed in his knowledge and fiscal responsibility.  Let's hear what he has to say:

For the future of our whole community, I encourage support for the upcoming bond referendum.  It is the most important choice that our community has had to make in the last 60 years regarding investment in our schools, infrastructure, and future growth and prosperity.

My fellow board member has commented that he is a liberal Democrat who thinks an opinion from the slightly more moderate viewpoint may influence others who could be on the anti-tax side of the equation (math analogy for the esteemed professor).  The sum of the facts adds up to the need for the bonding.

This is the first bond request from our property owners since 1972 when slightly less than $600,000 was bonded to build the swimming pools at Holmes and Peet. 

The high school was a great building in 1953. However the three additions over the years have not kept up with the needs of teachers, staff, and most importantly the students we now educate.  “It was good enough for me and my kids” is  frustrating feedback from those who have not been in the building or who have not kept up with the ever-changing needs in education.  The science labs are antiquated and are the originals from 64 years ago.  This does not serve and will not serve future sciences.  The technology, industrial arts, and automotive departments are beyond renovation.  The flow and navigation of the building halls are impossible to renovate.  There are 19 doors and entries into the building.  In this day of safety and vigilance against intrusion, this is a huge concern.
The large expansion of special education and advanced placement class rooms, dual enrollment classes and courses offered with Hawkeye Community College and UNI have caused a space and room challenge.  These are a few of the reasons that this antiquated facility is paramount in the bond referendum.

Even more urgent are the elementary needs.  There are 5 sections of kindergarten at Southdale for a total of 97 students.  An additional 96 preschoolers started there this week.  Orchard Hill has 450 students in a structure built for 300.  There are 6 outside portables in use (also a definite safety concern).  Elementary schools of this size are not conducive to meeting the individual needs of each student.

North Cedar is certainly in need of this bond income to invest into the new cafeteria/gymnasium and classrooms.   We need to provide the technology and educational opportunities at North Cedar that we have invested into Hansen, Lincoln, Cedar Heights, and Southdale.

It is time to pay forward to ensure young people now and in the future will have the opportunities that were provided to us.  After our 3 children graduated, I never thought I would have more children in the school system.  Now we have 2 grandchildren plus a toddler in our schools.  It is time to provide for the future in Cedar Falls.

Tour these schools and the needs will be glaring.  Vote and help others to also support and pay forward on Sept. 9.
Jim Kenyon

These were my two important takeaways from this post.  
(1) Dr. Kenyon called me "esteemed"
(2) This is not a Republican / Democrat issue.  This is not a Liberal / Conservative issue.  Despite out-of-town consultants' cookie-cutter divisive advice, this is about Cedar Falls, and how best to prepare our children to succeed in what looks to be a tight, competitive, future economy.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Some Answers (III)

(Disclaimer: The following is my own take on things, and I am not speaking for anyone else. I'm posting as a person, not as a member of the school board. This blog is for my feelings about the school board, not necessarily representing them. This is me, not CFSD. Got it?

The official word on all things bond related is here: .)

Let's answer the question that, for some people, is the only one.

How much will my property taxes go up if the bond passes?

Straightforward question. Straightforward answer:

If the bond passes, your property taxes will not automatically rise to the maximum amount approved by the voters. The $118 million the Cedar Falls School District is asking for is an upper limit. Let’s say your home is worth $300,000. You’ll be adding no more than $55 a month to your property tax bill. Most years it will be less. If your house is worth $100,000, you’ll be adding no more than $18 per month, and again, most years, less. The school board FAQ answers this question in more detail - that FAQ is the official word.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Some answers (II)

I was having a drink with a friend who often disagrees with me on things political.  We like each other a lot, and respect each other a lot, and so that's fine.  I know that sometimes I am right, and sometimes he is wrong, and it's all good.  If he could be persuaded to run for office, I'd vote for him.

Anyway, he brought up a really good point when we were having that drink, and I'm making it the subject of today's post.

(Disclaimer: The following is my own take on things, and I am not speaking for anyone else. I'm posting as a person, not as a member of the school board. This blog is for my feelings about the school board, not necessarily representing them. This is me, not CFSD. Got it?

The official word on all things bond related is here: .)

The current High School used to have 1500 students. Why do we need more room now than we did 40 years ago? 

Things aren’t the same as they were back in the day.  For example, Special Education wasn’t “a thing” 40 years ago. Since then Special Education has been become mandatory and that added staff and, of course, space needs.  If you are in the high school, ask to see visit the rooms in the basement.  There are also more classes offered, including over twenty Hawkeye Community College classes taught at the high school. There are computer labs, AP courses, vocational courses which take up extra space but give students direct career training.  The days when "school" meant a bunch of rooms with over 30 kids in each room seated in rows are over.  The economy is different. The world is different.  And we need to prepare our students to compete in the new economy, and to win.  

So, because both education has changed, and legal requirements have changed, space is used differently now.  One of the greatest things about the new location is that it will enable the high school to grow and change if it has to - it is not landlocked like the old location.  Believe me, this question, and many others, were asked and discussed before the recommendation was made!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Some answers (I)

While there already is a disclaimer on this page, I feel compelled to point out that the following is my own take on things, and I am not speaking for anyone else. I'm posting as a person, not as a member of the school board. This blog is for my feelings about the school board, not necessarily representing them. This is me, not CFSD. Got it?

The official word on all things bond related is here: . In the words of Board Director Leeper: "There's an extensive FAQ section (being updated frequently) that addresses questions about the bond, as well as a 'Your Voice' section where you can send comments/questions to our superintendent and communications director. Our facilities committee and district leadership have worked hard over the past several years to assure the facility recommendation came from a very deliberate, studied and inclusive process. Please don't allow misinformation and rumor to impact your decision. If you have questions or concerns, be proactive and reach out to a school board member or our superintendent (Dr. Andy Pattee). "

Why not just remodel the current High School?

Over the past year we have been talking to the people of Cedar Falls, in conversation, at community meetings, and through surveys, about what they believe we need in a high school. We’ve talked amongst ourselves and spoken with teachers, educators, administrators, and parents about the issues with the current building and potentials for renovation and remodeling vs. building new. It’s true, we have list of things we need to have in a high school to offer the children of Cedar Falls the best opportunities and chances for success available in our world today. The list includes things such as a safe environment, enough room to learn using both traditional and new learning tools, room for staff and students to comfortably move about the building without too much pressure to hurry, spaces for extra-curricular activities and outdoor learning experiences, and room to grow (again!) in the future if need be. 

Let’s talk about the current building.

The current building is about 60 years old. It’s been renovated and added onto multiple times already. Because of these previous renovations the current high school is a maze, difficult to get from Point A to Point B, and has many security issues with open access to doorways throughout the campus allowing people to come and go freely without notice. Two stories tall, the current high school sits on 17.5 acres of land, surrounded by private homes, with limited parking and inadequate facilities for extra-curricular and outdoor activities. There is, simply put, no room to grow. 

Now let’s talk a bit about a new building.

With 50 acres of land there will not only be plenty of room for future growth, but also room for parking for both students and staff, and outdoor space for on-site facilities for those extra-curricular and outdoor activities mentioned earlier. A new building would have planned space for not only enough classrooms, but also hallway passing space, facilities made for new technologies (such as the 3D printer the high school currently has, laboratories, all sorts of things needed for today's work environment), the additional power and wiring needed for a secure and reliable computer-friendly environment for all students (they all have laptops now!), and other on-site facilities that help provide a well-rounded, safe, and varied educational experience.

All options were seriously considered and costed out.  Input from experts and the community at large was sought after and used in making the plan.  This recommendation was not made lightly.

More tomorrow.


Credit where it's due: Laurel is my favorite writer in the world to work with, and she contributed to this post.
If she had also contributed to this footnote, it would be more direct, better worded, or eliminated entirely.

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.