Saturday, April 30, 2011

Showing their stuff . . .

Today was the first day of the competition, though for many of us competition might not be the word we used to describe the process.  Each of the six units shares their specific responses with a team of three judges with only the other students, chaperones, and family in the room.  There is a different set of judges for each unit.  At no time are you able to view any of the other teams so you have no way of knowing how well you did in comparison to others, only the judges know that. 

In my very limited experience, I would say that our kids did a wonderful job.  I continue to be impressed by their knowledge, commitment, and ability to engage with the judges in response to spontaneous questions.  One of the goals is to make top ten so that you can continue in the competition through Monday.  We don't have any idea from today where we stand, but it would take an exceptional performance by ten other teams to keep us out of it. 

I have heard some conversations since I have been here about this top ten thing and how there are a number of teams that seem to make it each year with the others chasing one to two spots to get into the top ten.  There are some that are unhappy about this, but haven't been able to influence the process to change this norm.  I believe that our friend mental models and the lack of inter-rater reliability among the 72 judges has something to do with this.  I'll share more about this after the competition.

In the evening we attended a comedy at the Kennedy Center followed by dinner and back to the hotel for more practice.  As I write this it is 10:50 p.m. and the teams are doing run throughs with Gretchen and Darcie.  These two teachers are doing a wonderful job of preparing the units for questions.  I'm the time keeper and gopher and this evening I'm not even doing either of those.  I think everyone has figured out I don't know much about the constitution.

I've had the opportunity to watch and listen to these kids for three days now and they continue to do things that impress me.  These young men and women are simply good people, the kind that you want to be around and know that when you are in need they will be there for you.  There is a sense of team and mutual support that I rarely experience.  They talk about their teachers and their positive experiences in our school system so all of us need to take pride in their accomplishment and thank them for making us proud to be from Tahoma.

Tomorrow starts early with breakfast at 5:45 a.m. followed by more study time before departing for round 2 of the competition at 7:00 a.m.

Friday, April 29, 2011

More of the capital, but . . .

We started out bright and early with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery.  This was my first opportunity to visit this tribute to those that have sacrificed so much for us.  Once again, I was awed by the site and history.  It is truly a tribute to our country and to our beliefs.

Next, we had the opportunity to tour the capital building where aides from Senator Murray's office took us through the multiple buildings.  Because we were escorted by the aides, we didn't have to wait in lines and had a more comprehensive tour, including a ride on the train from the Russell Bbuilding to the capital.  Once again, I was in awe of the history, the architecture, the art, and the work that has taken place here that has shaped our lives.

While we were on the capital tour it became clear that some of the kids wanted time for study and practice.  We followed lunch with this opportunity to practice before the evening tours and dinner.  They were very appreciative of this opportunity and the feedback that was given to them as they fine tune their essays and delivery.

The evening consisted of visits to the Korean War Memorial, Lincoln's Memorial, the Viet Nam Memorial, and dinner.  As I write this, the kids are preparing for another run through.  We will be listening to their essays, asking questions, and giving feedback for at least another hour to hour and a half.  After this they will probably continue studying and be up and ready for another run through by 8:30 in the morning before departing for tomorrow's competition.  We finished the run throughs about 11.

The picture below is of our entire team, 28 people, in the capital elevator at the same time.  On the return trip, we even had two additional people with us.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Great day . . .

The red eye to Washington DC was followed immediately with a bus ride to the heart of our nation's government.  We visited so many places today, that sitting here I can't recall them all.  So, what stands out so far.
  • The size and beauty of the buildings.  Everywhere you turn, there is beauty.
  • The opportunity to hear from the Supreme Court's chief clerk who has held this position for 19 years and, after the judges, may have the most important job in the system.  He shared his knowledge and experience with us.  It was a learning experience for me.
  • The National Archives with the opportunity to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
  • The Library of Congress including the Thomas Jefferson building and parts of his remaining book collection.
Perhaps the thing that stands out for me thus far is the great appreciation that these young people have for these documents and for our country's history.  It was rewarding to hear them talk about them, to ask each other questions, and to see them buying souvenirs related to their unit of study. 

I'm looking forward to tomorrow where we start at Arlington National Cemetery, just the first of many stops for the day.  Oh, I would be remiss if I didn't share how impressed I am with the leadership that Gretchen Wulfing brings to this program.  Her experience, knowledge, and relationship with her students is very evident.  She is in charge and focused on the outcome, the competition while providing these wonderful learning experiences.  Her partner, Darcie Muller, brings additional expertise to support these young people as they prepare for Saturday's competition.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A celebration . . .

Today we had the opportunity to attend the ceremony honoring this year's 186 state schools of distinction.  Two of those schools are Tahoma Middle School and Glacier Park Elementary, Glacier Park for the third time and TMS for the second.  It was good to be at Lincoln High School to see the many schools being honored and to be with colleagues feeling good about the work that we are doing.  This is especially the case following the disappointment with the bond.

I am currently at the airport getting ready to fly to Washington D.C. with our state champion We the People team.  I am excited about this opportunity to share this experience with these talented young women and men and will share it with you over the coming days. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Waiting for the results . . .

I'm anxiously waiting with many others for that first release. Now that there are no polling places I wish we didn't need to wait until 8:15, but no such luck.  It is now 7:50 and the board meeting has ended, so a half hour of waiting.  At least I am in good company with more on the way.

Not good! More voters, but only a 51% yes vote.  The optimism we were feeling was obviously misplaced.  This hurts, there are so many people that put in hundreds of hours, so it feels like a kick to the gut.  It's not good to dwell on it now, I'll need time to reflect and support the board in making decisions on moving forward.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The last leg . . .

Well, not much left to do but keep our fingers crossed and wait for Tuesday.  I’ll be at the board meeting with my computer in front of me.  I am sure that at 8:00 p.m. it will be difficult not to peek at that first count.  Anyone want to make a guess on the outcome?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Oh no, another update . . .

Are you getting tired of the focus on the bond? Perhaps the following information will create some comfort and energy or, on the other hand, it might just increase your anxiety. The latest update is as follows.

Spring 2010 Count                    Spring 2011 Count
       6079                                            8157

We have over 2000 more returned ballots for this election then we received at the same time for last spring’s levy election. I see this as a very good sign, but I can’t celebrate because of the anxiety and unknowns. Are these people who support schools, but didn’t bother to vote last year? Are they people who want to make sure they vote this time because of concern with increased taxes in these difficult economic times? Is it some of each and how many of each? I can answer yes to each question which only increases the anxiety. The one thing that we do know is that there is greater interest in this election. I choose to see this as positive and want to see the gap increase.

Only five more days and I can turn my attention to other issues such as following the journey of our state champion We the People Team and our Robotics team as they compete at the national level.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ballot update . . .

The trend I shared last week about the number of returned ballots is continuing. On the fourth count for last spring’s levy election there were 5298 returned ballots. For the current election the same number of days has resulted in 6278 returned ballots. The difference is a little less than we saw for day one, but still is higher.

For those like me that believe we need a very high turnout to have any chance of passage, this is an encouraging sign. I believe, however, that we need somewhere between 1500 and 2000 more ballots than last spring to have a chance, so I am hoping for an additional increase in the remaining days.

Running these elections is like a roller coaster. Some days you hear and read things that are encouraging and on others things that are just as discouraging. Most days, you get some of each. I can see why those knowledgeable about campaigns want a fairly tight window; it is so difficult to maintain energy and enthusiasm. The anxiety reaches a point where you just want it to be over so that you can move forward with whatever options are available.

I want to extend a great deal of thanks to the hundreds who are assisting in getting out the word through various activities. It is important that people have as much accurate information as possible as they make the difficult choice they face.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hopeful legislation . . .

With the reduction in K-4 staffing that we experienced this year and the certainty of it continuing in the next biennium, the introduction of HB 2078 by Representative Jinkins and others makes good sense. As I learned in this LEV post, the intent is to restore full funding of K-3 staffing. The language below is from the proposed legislation.

(1) The legislature finds that Washington's best opportunity for long-term success rests with the further development of our public educational system. The legislature further finds that smaller classes in the early grades can significantly increase the amount of learning that takes place in the classroom.

(2) It is the intent of the legislature to fully fund critical K-3 class size reductions by significantly narrowing a tax deduction for banks and other financial institutions, and repealing a sales tax exemption for nonresidents.

The blog post says that the tax deduction for banks was originally to support a failing Washington Mutual. With Chase purchasing Washington Mutual there are no state banks that this exemption supports. It makes sense to me to repeal these tax breaks to support staffing in K-3.

If it were that easy I am assuming that this would have been done already. There must be reasons that I don’t know about and that LEV chose not to share since they support the proposal. This is another piece of legislation that we need to let our legislators know is important to us. It works as we saw with the removal of the average day attendance from the proposed Senate budget.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

LIFO lives in Olympia . . .

Almost lost in the budget information coming out of the legislature was passage by the Senate of HB 1443 that keeps alive the LIFO (last in/first out) debate.  If enacted, it would require districts in a layoff situation to lay off teachers with the lowest evaluations first.  You can see the League of Education Voters favorable response to the Senate passage and other components of the bill here

Once again, it will be interesting to follow this bill as it is not aligned with the provisions of our negotiated agreement or most others.  Does the requirement mean we can ignore negotiated agreements?  How is "lowest evaluation" defined?  There are obviously many questions that this bill raises - is it another step toward value added?

Counting ballots . . .

The first count of returned bond ballots was made today. The results are promising because many believe that to be successful there must be a significantly greater return than we experienced in last spring’s levy election. Last year the number of returned ballots about two weeks before the election date was 3,065. Today’s count is 4,102 which is almost 50% of the total turnout last year of 8,259. Obviously, I don’t know the number of yes or no, but for me this is promising as I am one that believes success is only possible with more voters than normal for school elections. Hopefully, the trend will continue.

So, as of today The DREAM is still alive and the anxiety grows as we wait for that first count of yes and no ballots.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Another budget, more issues . . .

The state senate released their budget yesterday summarized in this Seattle Times article. It takes a bigger chunk out of K-12 funding than the house version with some disturbing differences. Most of us understand the need for cuts, even though we may not want to live with them and fall back on the state constitution and successful NEWS lawsuit to warn legislators about further reductions. Well, they did it with the 2010-11 supplemental budget and now with the 2011-13 proposals.

I do not like the across the board cut of 3% to all staff salaries that the legislators know they cannot mandate. It is easy for them to identify the savings with this cut, but the problem has been transferred to the local level. They know that we must reach agreement with our local bargaining units to achieve these savings. Yes, they take away the revenue through the apportionment formula and now we must find how to save that money. I would prefer that they make the cuts they are able to enforce and/or change statutes to allow them to control the cuts that they suggest. Transferring the burden is not what we need. They don’t seem to realize the importance of relationship in our work and the impact on a system’s culture when they make these decisions a local problem.

Though the house budget froze teachers on the salary schedule for the two years of the biennium it may be something that is easier to process than an across the board cut to all salaries. It certainly narrows the scope of the problem for us. Another issue with this budget is the inclusion of an average daily attendance formula that reduces revenue when students are absent for unexcused reasons. Our costs don’t go down when students are not present, but this cut would result in lower revenue. The rationale is that this will force districts to pay closer attention to the truancy issue and increase graduation rates. Once again, we pay close attention to this issue and do not need the threat of revenue loss to monitor and implement strategies to keep kids in school. Unfortunately with this as with many other issues, we do not control all the variables such as families choosing to take vacations on school days.

Now we wait to see how the senate, house, and governor find some common ground for agreement. With only two weeks left it will be difficult to find this point of agreement. I want them to stay and discuss the issues and impact as opposed to deciding that getting out on time is the priority. These are difficult choices they are making and they deserve the kind of attention necessary to understand the short and long term consequences. This may only be possible by extending the session.

With all the changes, there is still little guidance on the impacts to individual districts of these proposed changes. I will share when we better understand how the individual cuts impact us and when we are more confident in the guidance we are being given.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The importance of voting . . .

Ballots for our bond measure were mailed last week, I know I received mine. Now that people have received their ballots and are making decisions, what thoughts do you have on the potential for success of this measure? Given the current economic conditions and the large request, will it receive the 60% necessary for success?

It has been for me a much different experience preparing for and participating in the meetings to share our need and the recommended short and long term housing solutions. Many more people have engaged in the conversations and presentations than I have experienced historically, asking good questions and sharing their thoughts with others in the community. The need for additional space is not debatable. The answer to how we solve it will be determined by those that choose to vote and return their ballots. It is an important time in our community to decide what the future of our schools will be.

I’m both hopeful and skeptical at the same time. Hopeful, because of the tremendous support we have seen from so many in the community. Hopeful, because of the success we are experiencing and the accepted importance of the school system to the success of the greater community. Skeptical, because of the large dollar amount and accompanying tax burden that many will face given the difficult economic conditions. Skeptical, because of the district’s poor history with passing bond measures on the first try. Mostly, however, I am feeling good that we put forth a proposal to continue our work by placing students in quality learning environments with the flexibility to provide delivery models based on research and our learning, not driven simply by how we can house students.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Is it possible . . .

Will the new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind, not require annual testing?  As I referenced in the prior post and in this article, President Obama has stated that he is concerned with the focus on standardized tests and wants to see the rewrite of the act include additional measures of success with less reliance on tests.

Obama, who is pushing a rewrite of the nation's education law that would ease some of its rigid measurement tools, said policymakers should find a test that "everybody agrees makes sense" and administer it in less pressure-packed atmospheres, potentially every few years instead of annually.

Do you believe that the new law will have less focus on standardized tests even though the government is spending $350 million on two testing consortia, PARCC and SBAC, that are developing assessments aligned with the new common core?  Or, do you believe that statements such as these may be designed to bring teachers back into the fold as the campaigning for president begins?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Could our way be the right way . . .

I just can't keep up with the changing education scene at the federal level.  In this short Forbe's article Secretary Duncan takes on Wisconsin Governor Walker for the recent legislative changes to collective bargaining.  This follows the President's recent remarks criticizing standardized tests as boring and punitive.  And, these are the same guys pushing charters and the need to be number one in the world in math and science international competitions.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan pointed out that the Wisconsin Education Association Council had proposed reforms such as performance pay and evaluation reforms, which Walker praised just days before introducing a bill to sharply restrict their bargaining.

“What was stunning to me is where folks are showing vision and courage and being forward-minded, we support those efforts,” Duncan said at the Education Writers Association conference in New Orleans. “For him to go in that direction after the leadership that the union had shown simply made no sense to me. It was nonsensical.”
Later in the article he refers to the need for management-union collaboration focused on student performance and tying student growth to teacher and principal evaluation.  Could it be that our focus on consensus and collaboration just might be the right way to move forward?  Certainly consensus is not a word often seen in the current education debate.  It is one of the attributes that sets our system apart from most others and I believe one that will be necessary to create and sustain the changes necessary to prepare young people for future success.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

House budget released . . .

The feedback on Facebook was cautionary - it can become a time killer.  This is something I don't need more of, but I am still going to have Walt give me a lesson on it next week. 

Something of greater concern is the release this week of the budget by the state house.  The majority democrats unveiled it today showing how they would make up the $5 billion deficit.  A WASA summary can be found here.

No surprises include the following:
  • Suspension of both I-728 and I-732, the class size and cost of living measures.  This was expected as they were cut in the supplemental budget passed this year.
  • Reducing K-4 funding, again a repeat of the supplemental.
Some surprises at least for me include the following:
  • Fully funding local effort assistance (LEA), something that we fully expected to see reduced.  Lobbying by smaller districts that rely on this funding was a factor in this decision.
  • Funding highly capable, a small amount of money that has a big lobby behind it.
  • Reducing instead of cutting funding for the national board certification program.
  • Funding the revised pupil transportation formula without changing the depreciation schedule.
The budget also freezes teachers on the state teacher salary schedule for the biennium. Teachers will not receive experience or education credits for the next two years, meaning they stay in the same cell on the salary schedule.  Given the current economic situation and the national discussion on teacher quality, the legislators are seeing this as something that will be accepted  and perhaps expected by many.

Some of this hurts and some helps our situation.  There is still much to learn as the Senate version is still to come and the House version is very different than the Governor's budget.  I'll let you know when the Senate version is released including a comparison of the three budgets and the negotiations that must follow.  Time is running short if they are to conclude their work within the allotted time for the regular session.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Birthday wishes prompt learning . . .

I had a birthday on Saturday and woke up to multiple birthday messages from people who have friended me on Facebook.  As I have shared before, I signed up long ago for an account, but have done nothing with it and couldn't remember my password or sign in.  Well, the birthday messages embarrassed me into some sort of action.  I actually reset my password so now I can at least access my page.  Have not yet done anything, but I am going to start.

My concern is getting caught up in yet another time consumer.  This morning I had about 140 blog posts on my RSS feeds and about 45 e-mails.  What will Facebook add?  I guess its time to find out.  Look out Walt, here I come.  We can add this to the support I need getting the hang of the ipad and actually setting up an account at the Apple store.  World, here I come.  See, even at my advanced age it is not too late to learn.  Oh, in case you want to know I am now 63.