"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dec. 14, 2010 Work Session, Part I: Common Core, Gov. Education Committee

There was so much information presented at this Work Session, that I will be breaking the blog entry up into pieces.  I want to give you the information on what occurred, but also give you my perspective on these important items.

In this blog, I will address the first two items of the work session: Common Core standards and the Governor's Education Committee.

Work Session, 4pm

Common Core

The Utah State Office of Education has opted, along with many other states, to adopt the Common Core Standards.  The Common Core standards were initiated by the National Governors' Association and their Chief State Education Officers.  In Utah, this was Gov. Huntsman and Patti Harrington.  The Common Core only addresses Language Arts and Math.  Barry Graff presented this information.  Here are my notes on the Common Core.

What is the difference between our current core and the common core?

Lang. Arts: The reading difficulty level will increase. There is also a higher expectation of writing and the use of analysis, including a set of standards relating to informational texts. (Informational texts according to one article "is a type of nonfiction that conveys information about the natural or social world.") This common core has much, much, much more emphasis on writing, especially reading and writing informational texts. I think I heard that the Common Core would encourage Kindergarten students to do research work. Published writings will include digital formats.  There will not be as much emphasis on literature; although there will still be some.

Math: There are two big differences. 1) Common Core will do away with the concept of spiraling. (Spiraling is defined as teaching a particular concept at multiple grade levels.) With Common Core, we have a given concept taught at a particular grade level and that's it.  2) Common Core will cut back on the number of concepts taught. It is the idea of more depth instead of breadth.  At the Secondary level, instead of having pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, algerbra 2, etc., the international model is being used that integrates algebra, geometry, etc. into each course.  There will also be an Honors' track that will put additional preparation in for an AP Calculus course.  Also, ASD is looking at creating a 3rd 'Accelerated' track.  Honors would be deeper information and Accelerated would be a faster track.  The hope is that this integrated approach will solve the 'algebra 2 wall' that kids hit after taking a year off of algebra to tackle geometry.  There will have to be in-the-year remediation as there is no 'slow' track. 

Mr. Graff said that it is a good core, and that they don't have any concerns with it.  ASD is going to take a slightly slower time frame for implementation.  The State was hoping to get districts to implement the Common Core this coming year, and ASD will implement in some instances in the 2012-13 school year.  Depending on where students are in their studies, they may or may not be included in Common Core.  For example, a current 7th grade student taking Algebra will continue with the current system through their high school career.  However, a current 7th grade student taking pre-Algebra will switch to Common Core when it is implemented. 

Superintendent Henshaw said that change is good as long as it makes us better.  We will be taking the 2011-12 school year to train our teachers in Common Core.  The Superintendent said that we can't hold teachers accountable if they are not sufficiently trained.

Some concerns raised by the board members were that we currently are more lenient on High School students with partial grading and making things up than are colleges.  It was stated that this is an individual teacher thing, and not a district-wide situation.  It wouldn't apply one way or the other to Common Core.  Another concern was that we would be adopting a European model where kids are tested at a certain point, placed on a track, and that's the end of it.  It is a concern that in a given track, kids may be pushed too fast and end up failing, giving them short shrift. 

Common Core is just being developed and hasn't been tested in its entirety in any area of the US yet.  The question was asked about who would be developing the tests, and the assumption is that the testing will be outsourced to some 'testing' company.  Adopting Common Core and the tests that will become associated with it will probably take the place of current testing standards to accommodate Federal Education mandates. 

My Take on Common Core
Common Core, Math:
First, I agree with the idea of greater depth instead of breadth with math.  One of the reasons I support using Singapore Math is due to their in depth treatment of each basic concept.  For example, my son, when in 5th grade, spent about 5 lessons on decimals and place value (unrelated to fractions).  During the summer, we had spent time doing Singapore, and he had a very good foundation in fractions.  It was then transitioned through 15 lessons to teach decimals.  The 15 lessons were not just boring repetition either.  They were just good, in depth, exercises and discussions so that at the end of 15 lessons, he had a solid foundation in decimals and how they related to fractions. My experience is that we tend to push kids into greater mathematical concepts before they have mastered the basics.  So, I am definitely in favor of this idea.

However, I am concerned with the lack of 'spiraling'.  As I mentioned above, pushing kids to greater math concepts without basic mastery is dooming them to failure.  Math is very much a subject that requires a "line upon line" concept.  If you can't add, you can't learn to subtract, and you can't do algebra.  Repetition and review is very important in math as you continue through the process.  Not having a remedial track or allowing kids to retake things like algebra, is a very big concern for me.  If someone is struggling with algebra, I would certainly like to see them spend whatever time is necessary to master basic, algebraic concepts before moving on.  My personal experience and my assumption is that 'the algebra 2 wall' is not so much that kids aren't using algebra but that they can comprehend geometry without algebra.  They didn't properly master algebra 1, so algebra 2 doesn't make any sense either.  The fact that they've taken a year off of 'algebra' just exacerbates the situation.

Common Core, Language Arts:
While I think informational texts are important, my kids don't sit around reading a lot of informational texts.  They enjoy fiction, literature, and classics.  Reading Narnia or A Christmas Carol is often more fun than reading about volcanoes, especially if you aren't very interested in volcanoes.  Informational texts are very helpful for kids who have an interest in the subject discussed.  Without that interest, I'm afraid we are going to turn kids off to reading.  I applaud the idea of greater writing skills.  However, doing research work, while important, shouldn't be given greater importance than creative writing.  Writing skills can be applied from one to the other.  Like math, good writing requires good understanding of grammar and spelling.  As long as we are developing the ability to write, I don't want to limit the experience to mostly informational texts.

Common Core, In General:
While I need to get more specific information on Common Core, I have a few additional concerns. 

First, where this core is untried and untested, we are turning our children into guinea pigs for the State Office of Education (and the textbook publishers who stand to benefit).  I would prefer to see the results before jumping on the bandwagon. 

Second, the idea of national testing and national comparisions will, inevitably, yield national standards.  From national standards, it is very easy, using testing and teaching to the test, to implement a national curriculum, leaving local control of curriculum out in the cold.  If Utah adopts Common Core, and Common Core, at some point, starts to teach things that Utah doesn't want to include, what are the "opt out" procedures?  How fast will we be able to switch to something we want to teach, once Common Core and the major textbook publishers have incorporated those changes we think unimportant, or, maybe, incorrect.

Governor's Education Committee

Board Member, JoDee Sundburg, has been a member of the Governor's Education Committee.  The main goal from this committee is: by 2020, 66% of Utahns ages 20 - 64 will have a post-secondary degree or certificate.  The reason for this figure is that it is assumed that by 2020, businesses will need that level of expertise to compete.  So, this is what Utah feels it needs to be economically strong at that point in the future. 

There are 5 main items:
  1. Bolster Early Childhood Education
  2. Improve instructional Quality and Curricular Alighments
  3. Strengthen Postsecondary Education
  4. Aligh Educational Attainment and vocational Training with Economic Development
  5. Utilize Technology to Effectively and Efficiently Accomplish Strategic Imperatives
The steps to pursue in 2011, based on cost effectiveness and value that do not impact current per-pupil funding are listed here, near the end of the article. 

My Take on Gov. Education Committee:
I would like to know what percentage of Utahns have a post-secondary degree or certificate currently.  What is the change that needs to take place?  Also, when we have so many people taking college courses, etc., the law of supply and demand will indicate that the value of those degrees will probably decrease. 

While I think it is fine that the Committee has made its recommendations, I do have a concern that the state should be involved at all in incentivizing personal behavior to this level.  Often, on-the-job training is more beneficial than a degree or certificate.  As someone who has hired people in the past, I see education as an indicator of someone's ability, but I would much prefer someone who either has the knowledge/experience already, or who has shown that they can be a self-starter and someone who learns on-the-job.  These things are not always the result of a higher education degree or certificate.

Up Next:
A Proposal for Grading Schools
Report on the Mission Statement from the School Community Councils
Additional Information on the Proposed Bond

Monday, December 27, 2010

Oath of Office

On Tuesday, Jan.4, 2011, I will be taking the oath of office.  I invite everyone who is interested to come.  It is at 6:00 pm at the District Office (575 N. 100 E.) in American Fork and shouldn't be very long. 

The Oath is stipulated in the Utah State Constitution, Article IV, Section 10.  It reads:

I do solomnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this State, and that I will discharge the duties of my office with fidelity.

In preparation for this oath, I have re-read the US Constitution (including the amendements), and am in the process of reading, for the first time, the Utah State Constitution.  The most interesting thing I have found, so far, is the repetition of the phrase no citizen shall be "deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law" (US Constitution: Amendments 5 and 14, Utah Constitution, Article 1, Section 7).  Combined with the oath to "discharge the duties of my office with fidelity", I think that places a very large burden on myself and my fellow board members for the fiduciary oversight of the district.  It then follows that without an elected board, our constituents would be taxed without representation, being deprived of "property without due process of law".  Part of the reason for this blog is to give you insight into my thinking, but also to give you a forum for communicating with me.  I am sworn to uphold both the US and the Utah Constitutions.  I plan to consult them frequently in determining how to faithfully discharge my duties as a school board member, in your behalf.  I hope that you, too, will take some time to read through these documents, and judge my performance based on this oath. 

In addition to the oath of office on Jan. 4, we will be voting on the President and Vice-President of the Board.  These officers have no more authority but more responsibility.  The President attends more of the committee meetings, conducts board meetings, and gives the offcial direction from the Board to the Superintendent.  The President is also the only one who is to communicate concerns from the district (i.e. the superintendent) to individual board members.  It is inappropriate for district personnel, including the superintendent, to correct or otherwise instruct a board member.  The Vice-President is there to take over when the president is absent.  Under Utah Law, these elections for board officers must take place in an open meeting, and cannot be done by secret ballot.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Proposed Legislation: Superintendent Retention Election

On Monday, Dec. 13, the Daily Herald reported that a Salt Lake legistlator is proposing to create retention elections for local school superintendents.  At first, I thought it wasn't such a bad idea, since it would require people to be more involved.  (I'm big on that parental involvement stuff).  But then, I thought about our retention elections for judges, and started to dig a bit deeper into all the ramifications.  I would like to give you my input on this, as a newly-elected school board member.

Currently, the locally-elected school board is responsible for interviewing, hiring, reviewing, disciplining and firing the district superintendent.  The superintendent works directly for the school board, and takes his/her direction from them.  The school board, being elected, are to take their marching orders from their constituents.  If you don't like the superintendent, you don't re-elect the board members who made the hire. 

This is an important difference between a republic and a democracy. 

In our republic, everyone does have a voice in choosing their representatives.  This is an important part of the process.  However, we delegate our power of decision-making, in specific areas, to those elected representatives.  In a republic, these representatives become informed, study the issues, and make decisions in the way that best represents their constitutents (and their inalienable rights).  If our representatives are not doing this, we do not need to appeal to higher government to make them do it.  We the People have the power to remove them and replace them with someone who will.  We delegate our power to our representatives because we want to have decisions made thoughtfully and with all the facts.  We think it unreasonable to assume that most voters would want to spend time on the important minutia in order to make an informed decision.    And if the decision is uniformed, then it is unfair. 

The voters, even in a group, have much less power to direct the superintendent once every six years, than 5 or 7 members of a school board that are observing, directing, and evaluating the superintendent on matters great and small nearly every week.  Retention elections might get rid of an unpopular superintendent, but it does nothing for day-to-day management.  The problem isn't the system of boards managing superintendents.  The problem is boards not being accountable to the people who elected them.

In addition to the major structural change in our republican system of government, I offer a few items for your consideration should this proposed legislation become law.

First, the board would become irrelevent at certain times. Currently, the board is "the boss".  However, in light of a retention election, once a board appointed a superintendent, the superintendent would need to balance the direction of the board against popular opinion.  Every major decision would become a political one and might require a focus group.  In essence, the superintendent would have two masters: the board and the public.  Depending on how close it might be to the retention election, the board's direction would be superceded. 

Additionally, if the superintendent took direction from the board, and the board was wrong, would it be fair to punish the superintendent?  Would it not more properly be the board's responsibility?  Should the board not face the people and be accountable to them?

What about confidential matters of personnel or litigation?  Since these, by law, are closed to the public, would those records be opened in order to properly inform voters prior to an election?  And if not, this is a huge area of responsibility for which the superintendent would not be held to account.

With all due respect, the problem with a superintendent is not the superintendent; it is the board.  If you are not pleased with your superintendent, I would argue that you are more accurately not pleased with your board representation.  How much have you been involved and been communicating with your board members?  What input has the board received from you?  What accountability do you have from your board member?  Do they have a website or a blog where they can be held to account by their constitutents?  How closely do your concerns and issues match with your board member?  Do you think they will accurately represent you vis-a-vis the district and the superintendent?

By the same token, if you were asked to vote to retain your superintendent, have you attended board meetings?  Have you reviewed the financials?  (If so, I'd like to enlist your aid.) Does the superintendent accurately follow the board's direction?  If the board has given the superintendent direction that you disagree with, will you vote against retention?

If it were your job on the line, would you rather be judged by someone who sees your work up close and personal, who sets your job description and evaluation points, or by the stockholders of your company, based on reputation alone?

In all fairness, I am just starting to understand the job of the superintendent.  I would not yet find myself qualified to accurately determine the fitness of the superintendent.  In two years (when our superintendent's contract is up), I will have a much better understanding of the responsibilities and qualifications for the job.  In two years, if you continue to read this blog, you, too, will understand the issues in the district, my perspective on them, and the roles the superintendent and the board play in those issues. 

Also, in two years, another set of board members will be up for reelection.  Times have changed.  People are more involved in overseeing their representatives.  I expect, in two years, you will see a lot more websites, cottage meetings, and YouTube videos from those wishing to represent you.  Lawn signs and an endorsement from a friend of a friend of your neighbor's will no longer be enough to win an election. 

But most importantly, I expect, in two years, you will find me accountable to you for the direction the superintendent has taken.  You will then know where I stand, and can properly lay the responsibility on me and my fellow board members.  You have delegated to us the responsibility of making those important decisions, with all the information available.

The system isn't broken, it just isn't being used properly.  We are a constitutional republic.  We elect representatives to buffer the sometimes-transient opinion of the majority.  We are seeing changes at the local level to make board members more accountable.  Hold our feet to the fire.  Make us answer the difficult questions.  And see the beneficial results of a constitutional republic over that of a democracy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Board Member Training

On Saturday, Dec. 4, I attended the New Board Member Training workshop provided by the Utah School Boards Association (USBA) at the Provo Marriott Hotel. 

Until I started running for school board, I was unaware of the USBA, its role or its goals.  For your information, here is what I have learned about USBA.  USBA is an organization recognized by the State as an agency that is representative of the school boards in Utah.  Local school boards are authorized by the state to pay dues and fees for training to USBA.  USBA is also an advocacy group.  ASD is a member of USBA and one of our board members, JoDee Sundberg is the 1st Vice President of the USBA.  In addition to the New Board Member Training, our board will be participating in the USBA Convention January 6-8, the Legislative Day on the Hill (meeting with legislators) on Jan. 28, and a spring and fall training that is provided in regional groups.  We also have 3 delegates that will be assigned to USBA, in addition to a Regional Delegate from our region.  (ASD comprises its own region; whereas other regions comprise multiple school districts.)  And in April, there is a Nation School Board Convention in San Francisco.

Our first workshop was on the legalities of being a board member.  (Another, more in depth, training will be held at the convention in January.)   Education is not a right guaranteed by the US Consitution.  However, the 14th amendment and the Utah Constitution require education for "all children of the state".  Also, the jobs of permanent employees of the district are considered to be property rights, and so, this right cannot be denied without proper due process.  Board Members are protected against personal liability if they are acting as a member of a board with a few exceptions.  Individual board members do not have any ability to make policy or affect change.  It is only as a member of the board, acting according to the board's vote, that any action can be taken.  (This theme was repeated often throughout the day.)

There were 3 work sessions dealing with 1) committees 2) relationship between superintendents and board members 3) managing board meetings.  There was some concern about committees where a board member had run on a particular issue. Would this board member be allowed to vote on that issue without being considered 'prejudicial'?  The advice was if she didn't serve on the advisory committee, she would be fine to vote on the issue.  Committees are to function simply as an advisory body to the board.  They have no authority other than this.  I was told board members can 'make or break' the functioning of the district.  It was emphasized that once a decision is made, board members must be supportive of that decision, even if they disagreed before-hand. The superintendent, also, must follow the decisions of the board, regardless of his/her thoughts on the subject.  Finally, board meetings are for the benefit of the board, but they are held in a public setting.  It was discussed how to manage public comments to provide this opportunity without allowing it to overtake the entire board meeting.

Closed session information was discussed.  These are items about personnel, student discipline, and litigation.  All discussions in closed session are private.  However, any action that is to be taken on a closed session issue must be taken in the open portion of a board meeting. 

We also had a role-playing session. 
1. Board Member disagrees with the cell phone policy, votes against it, and the board approves it.  There was a bit of disagreement as to whether the board member should allow her friends and associates to know that she disagreed with the policy.  The preferred response was to support the policy, saying that it was a pilot program that she was going to follow and see how it goes.

2. Teacher is arrested and a board member is contacted by the press.  The preferred answer is to refer the reporter to the designated district media specialist.

3. Board member wanders around a school without notifying the principal.  It is preferable to ALWAYS call the principal to let him/her know you are coming to the school, even if for something non-board related, e.g. assisting in your child's classroom.

I was left with the follow mantra for board meetings: "Know Before You Go".  In other words, no surprises at board meetings.  If you have questions, call the Superintendent prior to the meeting and get all your questions answered.

On Thursday, Dec. 7, I spent the morning at the district office, getting more specifics on how ASD operates.

Our Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals (MVVG) drive what happens in the schools and filter the decisions that are made onto our Areas of Focus (goals).  This means that the community can trust us with their children/grandchildren and their taxes because we are founded on principles not processes.

ASD also uses a cutting-edge governance model called collaboration.  Most traditional models do not involve board members in district-specific decisions until much later in the process.  With the collaborative model, we are involved much sooner in the process and have the opportunity to contribute and see the overall process.  This process involves no separation between the Superintendent and the Board.  We work together.  It also gets the public more involved in the process, often via the District Community Council (DCC).  The DCC is representative of the ideas and opinions in the public.  We were told of 2 experiences where public hearings were held and there wasn't a single idea that was presented at those public hearings that had not already been reflected in prior DCC meetings.  (Board Members rotate attendance at the DCC meetings that occur every 2 months.) 

The main theme was one of trust--we need to trust each other as board members, as well as the district administration.  A big concern is making private conversations public via blogs, etc. 

We also discussed how communications to the board occur, what our current policies and procedures are. Board Members and the district must follow approved policies until such time as the board changes those policies.

It was pointed out that a lot of people think the board rubber-stamps the district administation.  However, due to the collaborative governance model, the board has been involved in multiple meetings, and has had input from the get-go.  At the point an action is taken in board meeting, it has already been discussed, dissected, reviewed, etc. 

Finally, we spent some time with the Business Administrator, getting an overview of the finances of the district.  The Utah Taxpayers Association (2008 data) shows ASD spends the most per student on teachers and in-classroom expenses compared to other districts in Utah, and the least in administrative overhead.  Our revenue comes from the following sources:
72.4% from the State in the form of Income Taxes
18.25% in the form of property taxes
7.84% from the Feds
1.54% from interest, fees, etc.

An interesting chart shows how much per student we have in assessed property value compared to other districts.  The greater the assessed value per student, the less the property tax rates need to be.  Park City has a very high assessment ($2M/student), whereas ASD has $282,184/student.  The state average is $410,151/student.

I have to say these training have been well-prepared, and helpful for showing current practices.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Agenda for Dec. 14, 2010 Work Session and Board Meeting

Board Meeting/Work Session
Dec. 14, 2010--District Office

More information on the documents to be presented and discussed can be downloaded here.  Verify that the meeting information listed is for Dec. 14.

STUDY SESSION

4:00 P.M.

The purpose of the study session will be to share information and updates on current issues; i.e.,

Common Core State Standards, Governor’s Education Excellence Commission, Grading

Schools, MVVG (Mission, Vision, Values, Goals) Feedback, and Growth Needs.

REGULAR BOARD MEETING

6:00 P.M.

AGENDA ITEMS Introduced by

PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE Debbie Taylor, Board President

REVERENCE “

RECOGNITIONS “

COMMUNITY COMMENTS* “

MINUTES “

CLAIMS NOVEMBER Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent

ROUTINE BUSINESS

1. Budget Report Vernon Henshaw, Superintendent

2. Personnel Reports “

3. Alpine Foundation Report “

4. Student Releases – MA, TA, AB, SB, SB

BB, BB, RB, SC, RD, TD, DD, BF, LF, SG

KH, WH, JH, AH, AJ, BL, JL, GM CM, JO

DO, DP, AP, SR, KR, NR, JS, SS, JS, KW, AW “

5. Student Expulsions – CH, SS “

6. Student Reinstatement – CH “

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nov. 30, 2010 Board Meeting

I attended the Work Session, Dedication, Board Meeting and Closed Session on Tuesday (Nov. 30).  Everything took place at Orem High School. 

Work Session 
The process behind the bond and the enrollment projections were discussed.  Some of the considerations for the bond were the Tax Rate Increase, the New Building costs, and the 5-year Capital Improvement costs. 

The 5-year Capital Improvements deal with updating older schools to meet, for example, seismic codes, repair roofing, etc.  The 4 schools proposed in the 5-year Capital Improvement suggestions were all constructed in 1959.  No details on what the improvements would be at this point.  Many of these things will be discussed with maintenance and principals before being approved.  At this time, it is hoped that the bond will provide $100 million for upgrading these 4 schools.

Currently, ASD has 66,100 students.  By 2015, it is projected that we will have in the neighborhood of 78,000 students.  Superintendent Henshaw pointed out a handful of elementary schools (page 23).  He showed that Cedar Ridge currently has 131 Kindergarten students and 157 6th graders.  Since there are less Kindergarten students than 6th graders, it is assumed that the school will be able to continue to adequately acommodate those students coming in through the 6th grade.  However, Pony Express has 248 Kindergartners and only 196 6th-graders, implying that in the next 6 years, the school will need to accommodate many more students than it does currently.  (We discussed the following schools specifically: Cedar Ridge, Eaglecrest, Fox Hollow, Freedom, Harvest, Hidden Hollow, Meadow, Mountain Trails, Pony Express, Ridgeline, Sage Hills, Saratoga Shores, Snow Springs, and Traverse Mountain.) Also, in looking at schools in close proximity with similar numbers, it is assumed that more elementary and maybe junior high schools will need to be built. From a very non-committed perspective, it was discussed that 4 more elementary schools and 1 junior high should be built using the proposed bond money in the subsequent 5 years.  Those schools showing the most growth are mostly in the Lehi/Eagle Mountain/Saratoga Springs area.  It is hoped that the bond would provide $110 million for this new construction.  It was stated that the new construction figure was pretty solid, so any amount the bond was reduced would need to come out of the capital improvement monies.

Also, in looking at the tax rate, it was stated that for the average home ($230,000), a bond in the neighborhood of $200 million would be a tax increase of about $15/year.  The state legislature has set ASD's debt limit at one billion dollars.  Currently, we have about $400 million in debt, and are paying it off at the rate of $30 million/year. Most of the ASD bonds are 15-year bonds, and it is assumed that about every 5 or 6 years, we will retire a portion of that debt and be able to bond for additional capital additions or improvements.  Directly after the meeting, I learned the board could set aside monies for future projects, instead of bonding.  They had looked at this in the past (paying for new construction on a cash-basis).  The assessment is this method would work for elementary schools, but the costs of building secondary schools were too high to be able to do this.  I asked about building schools without as many amenities to accommodate the funding, and was told we could also do that, but the district had surveyed people in the past, and the people wanted secondary schools with all the amenities.

Dedication
Orem High School was dedicated.  It was fun to receive a copy of the original program from 1956 when the school was first dedicated.  The story is that when they were moving things from the old building to the new one, they found a box of these old programs.

Student Body President, Corin Byers conducted.   There were performances from the Jazz Band and the A Capella Choir, speeches from the Principal, the Governor, Administrator Sam Jarman, and Board Member Terry Peterson.  Board President, Debbie Taylor, offered the dedicatory prayer.  I found it a very nice dedication.

Board Meeting
Orem HS teacher, Neil Johnson was recognized for being the 2010 Utah English Teacher of the Year.  He has been teaching for 42 years. 
There were a few committee reports. 

Board Members JoDee Sundberg and Terry Petersen, along with Superintendent Henshaw, met with newly elected Utah Speaker-of-the-House Becky Lockhart.  JoDee mentioned their desire to keep programs like the current, optional extended-day kindergarten funded, as well as putting 'teacher pensions back above the line'.  JoDee also mentioned that they had met with the Orem City Council who had expressed approval for a letter published in the Daily Herald by Rhonda Bromley, spokesperson for ASD. 

Board Member Chrissy Hanneman had met with the District Community Council.  She expressed a feeling of enthusiasm from the council toward the upcoming bond and a desire from them to do more to help.  They, too, expressed support for Mrs. Bromley's letter.

Board Member Guy Fugal discussed the high school 3A and 4A ratings. 

The meeting was adjourned into a closed session.  The new board members, John Burton, Paula Hill, and myself, were invited to attend, as the matters discussed would, most certainly, not be resolved within the next month before we are to be sworn in.  Closed session items are those of a confidential nature.  I found the information interesting and helpful.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Code of Conduct

The ASD Board of Education has a Code of Conduct.  I was told that the most important thing for me to do right now is to read and learn the Code of Conduct.  Please take a minute to review the Code of Conduct page, and give me your feedback here.  We will be discussing this Code in January.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Initial Meeting

Last Monday, I met with the Superintendent and the Board President. It was mostly a get-to-know-you meeting and then an overview of some of the responsibilities of a school board member.

Some of these are:
Twice monthly work sessions (4pm) and board meetings (6pm)

Tuesday morning tour and meetings: These are rotated among board members so there are only 2 or 3 board members present. Awards are given to a high performing team at the school, and then information is presented to the board members by the district officials. Minutes are taken at that meeting and passed around to the rest of the board members. In general, each board member will visit a school and participate in these meetings once each month.

Committee Meetings: There are about 18 committees and each board member will be on 3 or 4 of these. These assignments are made by the board president, but individual board members can express preferences for certain committees. I'm still trying to figure out what all of them are.  See the list of committees here.

Training session for new board members: The Utah School Boards Association hosts a training session (that will take place this year on Dec. 4).

Participation in a closed session of board meeting (Dec. 14): The board sometimes has closed sessions to discuss private matters, such as compensation, complaints, student issues, liabilities, etc. The new board members will be invited to attend this closed session to learn about the proceedings, but not take an active part, I assume.

Additional trainings and retreats were mentioned.

There was discussion about unity, keeping confidences, and the board's Code of Conduct. I was told that the most important thing I could do between now and January was to review and understand the Code of Conduct. I would appreciate your comments about this. Read the Code here.

Board members also receive some benefits. These are:
Internet Service, if requested
Laptop, if requested
Retirement benefits, if requested
Health Insurance, if requested
Compensation of $500/month that must be accepted. I will donate this amount.

In short, it was a nice meeting. Everyone was very positive and welcoming. That is very much appreciated.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Where Do We Go from Here?

I want to thank all of the volunteers who helped me win the election. I could not have done it without you. I also appreciate all the comments and questions from everyone who was interested in becoming an informed voter.

On Nov. 3, a group of interested parents met at my home to discuss ways to get parents more involved. Here are some of the ideas.

1. Create a rotating list of people to attend school board meetings and work sessions, video tape where possible, and summarize in an email to the group and on a blog. (This is in process. If you want to participate, stay tuned for more information.)

2. More parent expertise in the classrooms. One mom, a former English teacher, would like to volunteer in some of the English classes and help focus on writing skills: critiquing, encouraging, coaching, etc. If those parents with skills in a particular area were willing to work with specific teachers at different schools, there would be much greater ability and support for our teachers and the curriculum from the community at large. I encourage each of you to look at what your skills and talents are and volunteer them to your local school.

3. PTA and PTO organizations. A parent pointed out that some schools might want to consider forming a PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) instead of going through the PTA, as all the money raised would stay completely with that school, and there would be no outside pressure to conform to state or national requirements. It would truly be a local organization. A few parents have decided to look in to this idea.

4. Public Training. It was suggested that teacher training sessions be open to the public, perhaps on a rotating basis.

5. Communications from the district to the teachers, schools, etc. should be posted on the ASD website and available for public viewing.

6. Professional Learning Communities. The early-out Monday meetings at each school are open to the public. It was suggested that parents may want to rotate to attend some of these meetings at their individual schools.

7. School Community Councils and PTA. The School Community Councils (SCC) are a very important piece of the school organization. Until I started this campaign, I was pretty uninformed on the role and potential of the SCC's. In the Spring, each school will ask for volunteers to run for election to their own SCC. If you want to influence the direction of your school, SCC is the place to be. Currently, only those parents with children in that particular school can be on the SCC. The SCC is charged with determining the use of the school trust lands monies (about 1/2% of the local school's budget each year). The SCC and PTA organizations are also one of the most often used methods for communicating information from the community to the district. It is important for the SCC's to be as representative of the people as possible. I encourage you, if you have kids at the local district school, to get involved in the SCC. All meetings are open to the public.

Please comment either here or on Facebook with any additional suggestions you might have. Sometimes, all it take is one person's idea, to make a big difference.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 3: What now?

Remember what we said about November 3rd? Win or lose the task is the same for both you and me. Today we roll up our sleeves and get to work. This is our day. Yesterday was about who represents us. Today is about getting the job done regardless of who represents us. It’s time to get to work.

Before we start, I need to thank Chrissy Hannemann for her example and service for the past eight years. I never saw myself running against Chrissy. I always saw our campaign as simply saying to the Alpine School District “open up and encourage more participation and accountability”.

Anyone who knows Chrissy knows she has been one of the most consistent, hard-working members of the school board. Our real differences were few. We differed on how we would prioritize the goals, but not much about the goals themselves. Our approaches to achieving the goals are as individual as we are, but the end goal is the same. I have enjoyed getting to know Chrissy better through this process and I hope to continue an association with her as we go forward.

But as we have said through the campaign, this really is not about who is sitting on the school board. I am not na├»ve in thinking this. I understand the importance the school board plays in affecting education across the district. But I have more faith in the individual families that make up the district than I have in the district government itself. We get the level of government we deserve. Our being informed and involved sets the level of government we receive. Let’s not complain about “them”. Let’s stay involved and informed. It will improve the system.

The real work is done by the students, the families, teachers and principals. They are only supported by the district, school community councils, and PTA. I need to support you. It is your job to actually do the hard work. You can count on my support. Let’s start today.

The fact you are reading this, tells me you appreciate the importance of being involved in the process. I want us both to remember the greatest good comes from people like you being involved in their local schools. That means you need to participate on your local school community council and find ways to volunteer for your local school. Send me an email (wendy@wendyhart2010.com) and let me put you on our email list for participating in attending one or two (more if you like) school board meetings every year and giving the rest of the volunteers a synopsis.

I will continue this blog, the Facebook page and continue to share this conversation. I invite you to join me on this journey. Hold my feet to the fire. Support me when you think I am correct and challenge me when you do not agree. You will notice both the blog and Facebook offer the option of giving comments. I encourage you to take advantage of this feature. I hate lectures, but enjoy conversations and debates. Right now, this is a lecture and only you can make it a conversation.

One more thing to ask…we need more people like you. Get at least one other person involved in school community council, volunteering, and participating in being informed on the issues. More of you and your involvement is what will make this good district the best it can be.

We have a meeting tonight at my house at 7pm. I would love for you to be there. Ensuring we have the best district possible will require work. Many hands make light work. I only ask for one hour. It is November 3rd. It is our day to not just make our voices heard, but our presence felt.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Today, I won't ask for your vote

The day before an election it is wise and customary for a candidate to make a final push for votes. All the expenses and countless hours of meeting people, developing campaign material, finding volunteers comes down to whether voters show up in significant numbers and vote to put the candidate in office.

That’s why today I am not going to ask for your vote on November 2nd. I am asking you to do something for me on November 3rd.

Today I want you to understand that this election is not about me, it is about you. The result of the election is important but not as important as what is possible with your involvement. “Of the people, by the people and for the people” is never more true than when referring to local government. The involvement of the people must be at a level sufficient to counterbalance the inherent weaknesses of government.

That brings me to my final point (of six): site based management (promote more local control at each school). It is number six on my list but the concept behind it makes it the most important issue of all. The idea is that each school should be run with the guidance of local families with the goal of fulfilling the expectations and needs of those families.

How is that done? It is accomplished by having a proactive group of people who will be involved and then get more people involved. School community councils can have a large influence in setting individual school curricula and policies. There are opportunities to volunteer in the school and with the PTA. By being involved, your voice is not only heard, but you have the opportunity to actually make a difference with your investment of time.

Once you are involved, you are in a much better position to help others get involved. If enough people get involved with their local schools, the positive changes start to work upward to the district level. As a people, we believe that bottom up governance is better than top down. But it only works if enough people are involved. Otherwise, government gets top heavy and heavy handed.

The most important good that can come from this election isn’t who is going to serve on the school board next. The greatest good would be a large number of families in each school getting more involved...serving on community councils, volunteering in classrooms, and getting to know the teachers and principals.

Sure, there are important decisions that pass through the school board which affect all the schools in the district. It is important to have people we can trust to represent our views to the district and not the district’s views to us. But more importantly, we must all accept the responsibility to personally be involved in making the necessary commitment to ensure good schools.

Whether I win or lose, our local schools will succeed or fail based on what you and your neighbors do…not me.

With that in mind, I will be hosting a get together at my home on November 3rd for anyone who is willing to accept the challenge of being involved. We need volunteers. We will rotate attending school board/school council meetings (and reporting to the group). We will organize people to run for school community councils. We will encourage you to volunteer at your local schools. We also want to hear your ideas of what we can be doing to make a difference. If you cannot attend (get more information on our Facebook page), make sure we have your email so you can be on our list to get updates.

So join with me in a commitment this day to see November 3rd as being more important than November 2nd. November 2nd is about choosing who represents us. November 3rd is about doing our part, regardless of who wins the election. What we do is more important than what they do. Let’s not just make our voices heard, but our presence felt. Your vote is important to me, but not as important as your involvement.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Media...Again

Several days ago, I was contacted by a reporter from the Salt Lake Tribune. I was asked to outline why I was running and my top three issues. A few days later, as an after-thought, I was contacted again to get my take on the district's mission statement. The article, instead, is about the mission statement and yet again, turns this issue into a semantics game. I had hoped that the article would be about the candidates and their positions, and would not misrepresent the 'democracy' issue. It seems that the media can't get enough of this idea, and everything else must pale in comparison. That's too bad.

For those of you reading this blog, you already are familiar with my priorities and issues, so I won't go into them here other than to point out that 'associations' is number five of six. The mission statement debate falls into my fifth issue because the statement has connections to ASD's association with John Goodlad and his organizations. I believe all our education associations should be made with organizations that are academics-centered and void of political agendas. Despite email responses, a website, and a blog, the only information presented about me in the Tribune article is that I am endorsed by a particular group. No information about me or my views was communicated. That is why I have this blog, to clarify who I am and allow you to decide if I accurately represent you.

Let me start by asking, why do you educate your children? I have a list of reasons why I think education is important for my kids and for myself. But, how about you? You want your children educated because.....? Before you continue on, take a minute and come up with a reason or two. Okay, got your list? If not, stop and give it some real thought.

My guess is that my reasons are not the same as yours. Sure, we will find some commonalities. But what really drives me is not the same thing as what motivates your family. I think we do our families a disservice when government (in this case the district) tries to imply WHY kids are being sent to school. Each family is going to have different goals and reasons for their children's education. We want to help children reach their highest potential in all areas of their lives. School is there to provide educational opportunities that meet a baseline. What they do with that education is their own business. Certainly society has a vested interest in a well-educated, productive, freedom-loving populace. But we step into dangerous territory when we allow the government to say that what motivates me...should motivate you. Like all motivation, it is an individual thing. Setting a one-size-fits-all policy doesn't motivate people very well. There is no single 'end goal' to education.

In the early days of our country, one of the main reasons for education was to enable children to read the Bible. Today, that goal is deemed unconstitutional. "Educating all students to ensure Bible Literacy." OOPS! That wouldn't be a good mission statement. For some, a formal education is sought to attain a particular skill, trade or income level. "Educating all students to ensure a lucrative income or a professional career." Some people would like that statement, but many would think that was the wrong approach. Sometimes, education is to fulfill a personal goal. "Educating all students to ensure their future college attendance." Sounds nice, but not everyone may want or need to go to college. None of these reasons is The Reason for education. It is entirely individual. What most agree on is the "what"...that everyone should be given the opportunity for a certain level of education. The "why" will be difficult to find consensus on. The "why" should be left to families and individuals and not the government.

The district states the goal of education is democracy, and since they claim the majority are okay with the mission statement, we should probably keep it or tweak it slightly. I think it is presumptive for the district to put "to ensure _______" into the mission statement, no matter what fills in that blank. To know what individual families' goals are for educating their kids requires a crystal ball. To tell them what that motivation should be is government at its worst. We, as the people, need to make sure that our government is steadfast in precisely executing the tasks we set for it. In this case, it is public education. Would you expect everyone else to have the same reasons for educating their kids as you have for yours? I don't think you're that heavy-handed. Neither should the district be. In a public education system, I think the mission statement should be something all parents can agree on. Would you have a problem with a mission statement that said, "Assisting students to achieve an excellent education"? The point is the district needs to leave the WHY off, and let families fill in the blank.

UDOT doesn't need a "Building roads to ensure the future of our democracy" statement. Just build the roads with our tax dollars and we will decide how to use them. Likewise, focus on getting children educated and let the families and individuals work out what to do with that education.

The role of the School Board is to represent the families in this community to the School District. It is not to be the outreach arm of the district. If there is a group of people in the district who are concerned by the mission statement, and there is another mission statement that is acceptable to all, why wouldn't we change it? We need more input from the community to the district. We need to focus on the things that are most important. On one hand, we are told continuing in this debate takes away from the more important educational issues. I agree. So, let's change the mission statement and leave the 'why' off.

While I think it's wrong to determine the 'end goal' for the mission statement, let me address the 'semantics' issue from the article. The parents concerned by the word 'democracy' are okay with 'republic'. Do you have a complaint against 'republic'? What the reporters fail to realize about this debate is that words mean things. Democracy means majority rule. On that we all agree. In addition, it has become watered-down over the years, but it is used, sometimes incorrectly, in many different contexts. Both Lenin and Reagan used 'democracy' and I doubt their end goals were the same. Democracy has been described as two wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner. In our republic, laws are designed to protect the inalienable rights of the minority from the majority. In our republic, the sheep would be constitutionally protected by law. This is an important distinction. Again, words mean things. Educators should be involved in teaching facts and maintaining word meanings. Variations on meanings should be a concern for all involved in this process. The district's premise that we need to educate children to ensure the future of our democracy is incorrect. It is factually incorrect; we are a constitutional republic and not a democracy. Further, the people expect the government to simply perform the tasks we tell them to do and leave the motivation up to us. We need to educate children. The Why is up to the individuals and their families.

I am disappointed that the information I gave to the reporter wasn't reflected in the article. The ASD mission statement has become a bigger issue than it deserves to be. The media and other groups have pushed the mission statement issue to the forefront. The school district's handling of the issue has contributed in a major way. What we need more of is an infusion of you and your neighbor into the district, not more of the district explaining what they meant or the media telling people they are being silly. More of you...that is number one on my list of six issues. More of your voice to the district would resolve the vast majority of these issues. The first step in doing this takes place on November 2. But what's more important is that you and your neighbors get involved and remain involved on November 3 and everyday thereafter.

Monday, October 18, 2010

5. Developing Democratic Character in the Young?

My fifth issue is to make sure that associations and advisers are focused on academics, not politics.

I was asked today, by a reporter, about my opinion of the mission statement Educating all students to ensure the future of our democracy. As you know from reading this blog, I think there are much better mission statements. But, let me go into a little more detail about my concerns, and my suggestion.

First, this mission statement has nothing to do with academics. Have you ever tried to take a picture and then moved the 'auto-focus square' to something other than what you wanted? The result means that the forearm might be in focus, but the face is blurry. Schools exist to teach kids how to read, write, and do math (and history, science and art, as well). When we shift our focus from the basics, we lose our clarity of purpose. Of necessity, we will also lose some of the achievements in those areas, as well. Anytime our focus isn't on basic academics, the academics will not have the emphasis and the subsequent results that they should.

Second, assuming we want a somewhat political statement, shouldn't it at least be factual? Our Founding Fathers were pretty clear about the Constitution establishing a republic and not a democracy. Benjamin Franklin was asked by a woman at the close of the Constitutional Convention, "What kind of government have you given us?" He replied, "A Republic...if you can keep it." You are welcome to explore the Founders' views on democracy and republic, but, suffice it to say, the Constitution establishes a Republic to preserve those natural "unalienable rights" Jefferson referred to in the Declaration of Independence. To me, having a mission statement that refers to our system of government as a democracy, rather than a republic, is a bit like teaching a kid 2+2 = 5. It's close, but still wrong. We should be in the business of accurately representing all facts to our students. Their conclusions are their own, but the answer to 2+2 should always be 4.

Next, I am concerned with the way the parent complaints about the mission statement were handled. Anytime you have a customer complaint, you have failed either in setting appropriate expectations or delivering on your promises. In either case, there is work for you to do. It is always best to acknowledge the customer's concerns as valid, and work toward resolving those concerns. None of that was done in this case. There seemed to be an emotional tie to the mission statement from the board that didn't make sense. I've worked for several organizations, and I can say I never had an emotional tie to a mission statement. Why was this the case with the school board?

Perhaps it was because, as I read, it took over 40 meetings to come up with the mission statement. At first blush, you have to wonder how inefficient it must be to spend that amount of time and come up with something so non-academic. However, just a few weeks ago, it was clarified (in a meeting I attended) that the Areas of Focus took 40 meetings. The mission statement (and motto: Enculturating the Young into a Social and Political Democracy) came almost verbatim from the writings of Dr. John I. Goodlad.

This leads me to my final point. If we are taking cues from one individual (or an organization), should we not discover what that individual/organization has to say about those issues? I would like to share with you two quotes taken from Developing Democratic Character in the Young (Goodlad, et. al.) "Parents do not own their children. They have no 'natural right' to control their education fully." And, "Public education has served as a check on the power of the parents, and this is another powerful reason for maintaining it." Having enjoyed reading this tome over the past few weeks, I can say the most distressing part of Dr. Goodlad's emphasis is the devaluation of the parents and their values. This is integral in developing good "democratic" character because parents may be steeped in religion and values that do not agree with what Dr. Goodlad emphasizes as the purpose of his idea of 'democracy'. In short, if we are teaching morals in school, whose morals are they? Dr. Goodlad's or yours?

The bottom line is that parents want to send their kids to a school that teaches core academics. Our schools should reflect that desire. Ultimately, the students and their families are primarily responsible for their learning. The teachers, schools, and district are there to assist families by providing additional educational opportunities. I am very grateful to my kids' teachers who have assisted us with this rewarding task. I would like the district to maintain the focus on those issues that are most important to public education--reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reading, Writing, and the Arts

Today, I was graciously invited to attend a school community council meeting with my opponent. It was a great learning opportunity because one question that was asked caught me by surprise. The question was, in essence, "Have you read the studies that talk about the benefits of the arts to math and reading, etc.? So, where do the arts fit in to Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic?" I have to admit I floundered. What I did respond with and do know is that math and music are very directly linked. Improvement in math skills has a strong correlation with musical involvement. (In fact, my senior year in High School, I had to write a research paper for my math class, and I chose to do it on this very topic--the relationship of math and music.) I am a musician and a mathematician. I believe that music has enhanced my ability with math, and vice versa. I have a great appreciation for the beauty and intricacies of each discipline. Having said that, let me attempt to answer the question in more detail.

Art fits into the three R's as a complement, but also as an elective. All our students are expected to emerge from school well-versed in a foundation of the three R's. This is the focus as it applies to every student. For example, we don't have parents who send their kids to school and opt out of reading. The basic academic disciplines are the universal requirements. The basic knowledge in these disciplines is the primary reason for school. Along with the three R's, every child is going to be taught science and history, as well as introductions to the humanities. But not every child will be in the band, or play sports, or study sculpture. Because of the universal emphasis for basic academics it necessitates greater focus.

As I have spoken with parents, I have received feedback that they would like more focus on academics. It is not to devalue the arts or sports, but simply the idea of "more basics". I support a classic liberal arts education. Appreciation of art, architecture, literature, and music are things that all students should be exposed to. We acknowledge the Renaissance and the advancements in, not just art, but science as well, as a true 'rebirth' in history. We want students to understand and appreciate all these beauties and wonders around them. I, personally, have great memories of my school-days' associations in our Madrigal choir. But, when all was said and done, I was still expected to have that academic foundation.

A school board member has a responsibility to represent the ideas, issues, and concerns of the community to the district. You need to know that as I am presented with information and decisions, I will be doing so through the prism of "more focus on the basics". Does this mean I have a specific action plan? No. Do I wish to defund the arts or cut back on these programs? No. It is my desire to communicate to you, what principles I will fall back on as I take on these responsibilities. "A focus on more basics" will be part of that process.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

If Only There Were More Hours in the Day

In the past few weeks, the idea of extending school days and the school year has been proffered by both the President and the Secretary of Education. The reasoning goes like this. The US does not do very well on international math and science tests. A lot of countries do better and many of their kids go to school longer or for more hours a day. Therefore, if we extend the hours in school, math and science proficiency will increase. I just have one question. Will throwing more time at the problem result in higher test scores?

Here's the problem as I see it.

First, every so many years, a new "New Math" program comes out. Most, like the latest get-rich-quick or diet fads, promise to teach kids greater understanding of math without any of the difficulties we commonly associate with math. No times tables. No long division. Instead, we have: What color is the number 10? Kids like it because it's easy and fun. Some teachers like it. And parents like it until they realize their kid doesn't know basic arithmetic.

And science? Science is dependent on math skills to quantify its ideas and implementations. To be good in science, you have to have fluency with math. It's that simple.

In ASD, we spent several years, and the mathematical foundation of thousands of students, on Investigations Math. This, and other related programs, are ubiquitous in this country. (My sister, a teacher in New Jersey, had to deal with "Fuzzy Math".) If we had increased classroom time during "Investigations", would our kids have a firmer grasp of math? No. Would more time on a diet that doesn't work result in weight loss? More time spent does not equate to a better result.

Even teaching traditional math, more class time doesn't equal more proficiency. Like budgeting, dieting, sports, or most anything else, you learn a principle, and then you have to put that principle into practice. Michael Jordan didn't become a great basketball player by just studying dribbling and three-point-shooting. He had to spend a lot of time practicing. The same is true for math and science. Math is about seeing relationships between numbers. Science is finding relationships in nature by way of math. If you do not have the basic facts as an automatic part of your problem solving, you can't free up higher brain functions to find those higher-level relationships. We need to ensure we are teaching a good foundation of the basics and encouraging practice. And then, we will see improvement.

Next, I am reminded of a phrase that says, "Sometimes less is more". Sometimes putting more of something into a problem doesn't yield good enough results to justify the effort you put into it. I read the account of a woman who decided to cut back her work day by one or two hours each day. She was amazed to find that she accomplished the same amount of work in less time. We tend to fill the time we have. There is a point at which the time is properly managed and a point when it is wasted (or even counter-productive). Let's not turn math instruction into "too much of a good thing".

Finally, whether it is intentional or not, increased school hours result in fewer family hours. The days are already filled with school, homework, and various activities. How many days each week do you have where you are not running kids from one thing to the next? How many days are you actively involved with your family, as a family? The most important of all relationships are those within our own families. We need to be able to properly balance school, activities and home life. Parental involvement is what is needed, not more school time.

There are so many days I have wished for more hours in the day. But the answer isn't more hours. The answer is in optimizing the hours that we have.

Friday, September 17, 2010

4. Financial Accountability

The role of school board member for Alpine School District (ASD) comes with an amazing fiscal responsibility. 100% of our state income tax goes to education. Approximately 67% of our property tax goes to education, and in this area, with a very small amount excepted, that property tax goes directly to ASD. None of this is a bad thing, but it underscores the great responsibility that comes with so great a trust. Since, by law, the school board approves the district budget and appoints the superintendent, the school board is the final decision-maker on those large percentages of your state and local tax dollars.

At a recent board meeting, it was outlined how well, fiscally, the district does. We spend more than other districts in Utah on teacher salaries and compensation, but less overall, per pupil. This indicates a good "bang for the buck".

At the same time, the district is going to request a new bond in 2011. The discussions have centered on population growth, and whether or not to bond a little bit at a time and ask for bonding more frequently or to bond for a lot of money less frequently. The board has decided that more money, less often is the approach they want to take.

The bond appears to be a foregone conclusion. In all the discussions, there hasn't been any specifics as to why the bond is needed. There are implications (with the growth) that there will be new schools built and older ones refurbished, but what the bond will actually provide has been sketchy.

Because of the fiscal soundness of the district, it is easy to just accept things with complacency. However, we are in a recession, and tax revenues have plummeted, as has the employment rate. The idea that people will be able to accommodate the additional burden associated with a bond isn't a foregone conclusion. This brings us back to why we have a school board. At all levels of government, we have a check and balance. The board is there to represent and advocate for the interests of the community at large. They are not there to agree and support the district's initiatives. The board members are to weigh the pros and cons of these fiscal decisions, not just on the district, but also on the individuals that make up this community. I would suggest that the board should present voters with a Plan A and a Plan B. Plan A is with the bond, Plan B is without. Give the voters a clear choice, not just a plea for more money.

Since tax money, by definition, comes from the labors of others, it is a solemn duty that the school board undertakes as it approves and votes on these fiscal matters. It is important that every aspect of this be open to public scrutiny. I have seen recently that part of the benefit of public comment is that school boards, and city councils cannot possess enough knowledge and wisdom to cover all the possibilities and aspects of the major issues impacting the population they represent. Giving the public information and allowing them to do the research for you, benefits everyone. Those who are interested use their expertise to advise the governing body. In effect, the research arm of the school board is made up of the residents. Ideas and options unimagined by the board can be presented and, possibly, used when the people are given the opportunity to help find our solutions. Public comment is invaluable, not to lead the public where you want them to go, but to obtain the necessary information from those with the additional knowledge that 7 members of a school board cannot possibly have on their own.

Finally, it is important to understand the impact of our fiscal decisions on both the children in our schools as well as the people who pay for those schools. It has been and always will be a balancing act. No one thinks that 100% of one's income should go to public schools. At the same time, there is always the opportunity of what could be done with more funding. In short, there is no "perfect" balance. This is why board members are just people in the community--there to represent the interests of all: balancing the needs of our schools with the needs of the people. George Washington said of government, "It is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." The fiscal responsibility of a school board member is to keep the balance between what the schools need to operate and the burden imposed, by force, on our community.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Meeting with Alpine Education Association

Today I met with the Alpine Education Association (AEA) as they decide which candidates they will be endorsing for the upcoming election.

Prior to being contacted by the AEA, I didn't know much about them. I looked on their website, but didn't get a whole lot of information. I talked to a few neighbors, teachers and my state legislator. All were very positive about the AEA. I did find out that they are in charge of negotiating the teachers' contracts with the district.

The interview started out with my describing my background and my interest in education. They asked what I had heard about the AEA, and I told them what I outlined above. Their Vice-President wanted to assure me that their association wasn't there to keep bad teachers around. She said their goal is to help teachers who need remediation and to make sure that they get their due process. They hear stories all the time about teachers' associations being there to enable bad teachers to keep their jobs. They wanted to make sure that I understood that this wasn't their position at all. I certainly appreciated that they wanted to make this position clear. I assume that it would make good teachers' jobs more difficult to have "bad apples" in the bunch. I also appreciate that you want to make sure you're being fair with people.

We discussed Investigations Math, and my "lack of enthusiasm" for it. However, this isn't the reason I'm running, per se, as Investigations isn't supposed to be used in ASD anymore. One of the teachers wondered if it wouldn't have been better if they had introduced Investigations, starting in Kindergarten and First Grade, and following it through, rather than switching wholesale as was done. I agreed that it would have been better, but that I felt kids needed more of a basic foundation in arithmetic that Investigations doesn't provide. As I've said, math is about knowing the relationships between numbers and seeing the patterns. If you have a firm grasp of that, you free your mind up for higher computations and associations with those numbers.

Another question was about my desire for greater parental involvement. I told them about the district using technology like emails and more "front page" website posts to "push" information out to parents. I didn't go into too much more detail, but you're welcome to read the post about that here.

I was also asked about the latest talk of increasing the high school requirement to four years of math and science. I am opposed to this. I think we want kids to have the basics: basic knowledge of arithmetic, and whenever possible, basic algebra. With algebra, you can go to most other disciplines successfully. Other than that, we don't need to force people to spend time on math, if they aren't interested in it. It doesn't benefit anyone. I was required to take only 2 years of math in high school. However, because I was interested in it, and I thought it would benefit me in college, I did take four years of math. This is what we want. Those who are interested, spend the additional time studying it. And those that aren't, get to study something else that would be of benefit to them.

Finally, I was asked if I was a "jump into things with both feet" kind of person, or a "sit and watch" kind of person. I think that I'm more of a "jump in" person, but I am very aware that you don't want to take what's working and start all over from scratch. I want to make sure that any changes that I advocate are actually beneficial and not just throwing the baby out with the bath water, as it were.

I really appreciated their taking the time to meet with me. It was a good opportunity for me to spend a bit of time with people that are on the "front lines" of educating our children. I appreciate their dedication and their commitment to that end.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Mission Statement Proposal

Alpine School District's Current Mission Statement:
Educating All Students to Ensure the Future of Our Democracy


Last Tuesday, as I was entering the regularly scheduled Board Meeting, there was a very beautiful, full-color document about the Board. One-fourth of the document discusses "Education In a Democracy... What we [sic] Value". I noticed three things in this section I would like to bring to your attention.

First, the word "citisens [sic]" is misspelled. It's a shame, really, because the misspelling detracts from the message of the brochure. It is indicative of the problem of focusing on unimportant things and shying away from what is truly necessary.

Second, there are four basic principles the Board says anchor their actions. These principles approximate those listed on the district's mission statement page. They are:

1) Schools have a responsibility to teach citizenship to all students.
2) All students have equal access to educational programs.
3) School personnel have a responsibility to nuture the children entrusted to their care.
4) Everyone has a stewardship for the schools in their individual educational communities.

Since these principles are highlighted by the Board, I'd like to take a moment to go through each one.

1. Teaching citizenship. Yes, we want to teach citizenship. But, would we find it odd to say one of our principles that anchors all action is: Schools have a responsibility to teach physical education? There is a definite focus on citizenship to the exclusion of all other subjects. Why? As we get in to citizenship it begs the question of what manner of citizen? The Board was very defensive that their mission statement was questioned by parents, but when your primary focus is on a particular item, does it not necessitate scrutiny? What are those principles of citizenship? Who determines them? And do they take precedence over reading, writing, and math?

2. Equal access to educational programs. I am glad to know that ASD follows federal and state law granting equal access. Has this been a problem in the past? Do we have to work to not discriminate against certain groups of children?

3. Nurturing teachers. While we want children to have good teachers who are nurturing, I would be surprised to find that our teachers, in general, wouldn't be nurturing and inspiring without this statement. If we find that a teacher is not nurturing, is there a policy in place to remove them? Most people who go into the teaching profession do so because they are, by nature, nurturing and inspiring. They want to dedicate their lives to educating children because of the types of people they are to begin with. Goals or values or mission statements will not have a very big effect on innate personalities.

4. Stewardship. People support public education because they believe that an educated populace is a benefit to society. How does this concept impact the specific decisions of the board? This seems to be a principle for the community at large. The Board should already be focused on their stewardship for the schools.

While I agree that the Board should have basic principles in mind as each decision comes before them, I would argue that most of these items are self-evident or handled by law. The one that is not, citizenship, is the one that has come under the microscope of late. If you place your principles out there for the public, then you shouldn't be surprised when people start paying attention to them. Since we believe in local control of our schools, this is precisely what should happen. I would recommend that the Board not be defensive, but be open and welcoming of the scrutiny.

Now back to the brochure.

Third, the brochure says "Public education is the place where children have similar experiences. These similar experiences allow each to understand the democratic principle of common good vs. individual need." Does this mean common good should trump individual need or vice versa? Which would you choose? A truly democratic principle would require common good to be determined by the majority to the detriment of individual need. So, if the common good required the sacrifice of your child's individual need, this is what we are advocating by touting the word democracy in this context. Would you send your child to school to have their individual needs forfeited for the common good?

From reading this brochure, the board's (and by extension the district's) focus isn't on academics at all.

In addition, during the board's work session on July 13, there were some board members that were, reportedly, very emotional about the mission statement. It has also been stated that more than 40 meetings were necessary to come up with our current mission statement. I am perplexed that it would take that long to create a mission statement that was so emotional and yet so distant from academic education. While I don't disagree with the idea that we need morals and good citizenship, I wonder if this is truly the best use of our time and our focus as a school district and a school board?

Under the section of the brochure entitled, "Board Responsibilities", we have a much better mission statement. "We want to deliver the best possible education for the greatest number of students for the fewest possible dollars." I would add the word 'academic' or specify core classes (reading, writing, and arithmetic). But either way, this a fine mission statement. It is absent any controversy, and it conveys the actual goal that most, if not all, of our families have for their children's public education. I would be curious to know why this, or something like it, wasn't the proposed mission statement to begin with.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Transparency and Parental Involvement

As you may know, the school board had a work session on Tuesday, July 13. What is interesting is how difficult it was to find this out. Incidentally, one of the issues discussed was the controversial mission statement.

How does one find out about upcoming meetings? I went to the website. I was able to find a downloadable pdf of 2010 meetings. The only meeting in July is the regular board meeting on July 20. Someone mentioned, after the fact, that the Work Session was announced in the paper, but there wasn't anything obvious on the 'meeting' tab of the website. The school board calendar lists all of the previous events, but, as of yesterday, had nothing going forward. Today, Friday, July 16, the July 20 meeting is listed. There is nothing listed yet for August.

The next question I had was whether or not the July 13 meeting replaced the July 20 meeting. My understanding is that it did not.

In trying to figure out how to attend some of these meetings, I was told that the best way to find out would be to call the district and ask.

With all due respect, board meetings, and other public district events, should be, at least, noted on the home page of the website. The note could link to more information in other pages, but this should be one of the most important purposes of the website--communication with the public.

I am committed to making sure the district website is used as a primary communication portal. Let's make it easy for families to get involved.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Primary Thoughts

Thank YOU for your support. We will proceed to the general election. I have benefitted from your ideas and energy. The win is a result of what I would like to see for the Alpine School District: greater family involvement, transparency and communication.

The last week was a lot of fun and I wanted to share it with you. We had a great group of volunteers taking lawn signs out. We had people emailing us questions and many who just wanted to share their words of support.

The Daily Herald had an article on Sunday which mischaracterized who I am. They described me as a "home-schooling mother." While it is factually true that I have home schooled my children (and am proud of that fact), the article failed to mention I have two children enrolled in local district schools. The article left the false impression that my kids have only been home-schooled.

The reporter emailed us Friday afternoon, and we responded as soon as we saw the email Saturday. The article had already been written and the reporter reports he simply used the information available on our website. Of course, the first page of our website contains all the information about my experience in the PTA, founding a charter school, kids enrolled in district schools and yes...home schooling. Somehow only the charter school and home schooling experience got ink.

We designed our campaign as something of an example of how we would like to see the Alpine School District/Board communicate. You can usually tell a lot about a candidate by how they campaign.

We use a website to give quick access to the most important questions people might have about me. It quickly answers who I am, what I believe needs to be changed, and how do people contact me. It also gives people access to the blog and Facebook page.

This blog gives me the opportunity to go into detail about different things. It is an invaluable tool to get into greater depth on the most important issues.

Facebook is used as a dialogue with anyone who wants to join the conversation. Everyone is welcome to comment and read our responses.

Our marketing pieces (lawnsigns, direct mail, etc.) all point people to our website and welcome them to join the conversation. We are sharing our learning experiences, and asking for your help by participating in the process. I represent you. You are needed to make the district a better district.

That is exactly what the Alpine School District needs to do. Welcome the input of families, staff, and even people who may not agree with them. Participation makes an organization stronger. But it has to actually be encouraged. Currently, the school board does not operate with an open and welcoming attitude. Families do not have open access to the ideas and thinking of the board. Communication is carefully filtered through community councils and limited to a few minutes in board meetings. That's a shame. Our district would benefit from the great assets of the families, teachers and district employees.

But first, it must admit it is not as good as it could be. This election is a competition of ideas. The incumbent represents the status quo. We admit, the way things have been working is pretty good. Our point is that given the families, teachers and principles we have, there is no reason the Alpine School District shouldn't be great. To get to "great" requires full involvement from everyone. To actually get that involvement requires the administration to change the culture from being closed and defensive to being open and welcoming.

My opponent did not have a website during the campaign. My guess is within weeks you will see her launch her first website. That will be a positive change. I hope other board members who aren't running for re-election will also embrace open communication and transparency. Your voice was heard and your vote will have the attention of the board.

Going forward I will need your continued support. Your ideas really are the cornerstone of my campaign. Unseating an incumbent is never easy. In this case, she has the full support of the powers that have a vested interest in the status quo. Returning to core academics, opening up the board to the light of day, greater local site control are not popular ideas on the district level. They are popular ideas with families and teachers within the district. With your help, we will change the district so your ideas are as important as the administration's ideas.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Daily Herald article doesn't accurately reflect my experience

The Daily Herald printed an article about the school board races. The statement from the article was: "Wendy Hart is both the founder of a charter school and a home-schooling mother..." (Read the story here.) While that is technically true, it leaves out the fact that since my oldest started Kindergarten, there has been only one year that we haven't had at least one child in our local district school. When people hear the term "home-schooling mother", it gives the impression that my children have never attended public school. In fact, my children have spent the vast majority of their educational experience from the age of 5 in our local district school.

In addition, I have been the Legislative VP for our local PTA, as well as volunteering in my kids' classrooms.

For more information, please go to my website: www.wendyhart2010.com.

I look forward to your vote, this Tuesday, June 22!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Questionnaire for Alpine Education Association

I received the following questionnaire from the Alpine Education Association. Here are the questions and my answers.
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1. Please write a little about yourself and why you have filed to run for the Alpine School District Board of Education.
a. I am a mother of 3 kids. I have a B.S. in Mathematics from BYU, and I own my own data migration and programming business. I have experience as the Legislative VP for my local school’s PTA, as a volunteer at our local school, being a co-founder of a charter school, and 2 years home schooling. I think that our greatest assets in the district are our teachers and our families. I would like to encourage greater involvement from the families in the school district and to utilize technology to assist in that effort.

2. What kinds of experiences have you had with the schools in the Alpine School District?
a. My kids have attended our local elementary school for a total of 7 years between them. During that time, I have greatly appreciated our teachers and our principal. I have been involved with the PTA, and have volunteered in the classrooms. I am not a fan of the Investigations Math program and I am glad it was changed. However, I would prefer a more traditional math program along the lines of Singapore Math. I have appreciated the Take-Home reading program. I like all the associations that we have developed at our school.

3. What, in your opinion, is the main mission of public education?
a. Assisting families to teach their children the basics: reading, writing, arithmetic, along with history, science, art/music.

4. Do you believe that public schools are adequately funded? If you do not believe they are adequately funded, what changes should be made to provide appropriate financial support for quality public schools?
a. I think that ‘adequate’ is a very subjective word. So this makes it difficult to answer. I believe the Alpine School District does quite well with the budget it has. It looks to be quite fiscally responsible. However, in looking around the country, improvement in education isn’t directly linked to funding. Washington DC has a very high per pupil funding rate and one of the worst school systems. There is a point at which money doesn’t solve problems. More involvement from families and business entities can help find solutions to specific problems in the district, whether financial or otherwise. The difficulty is balancing out the need for a solid education with the funds people have available. In a declining economy, it’s unreasonable to ask people who are struggling for an even greater percentage of their income. We have to make more with less individually. Likewise, we need to be equally as creative with our school district budget.

5. What do you see as the three most critical need/issues facing the Alpine School District in the next five years? How would you begin to address these issues?
a. 1) Greater parental involvement. We have so much available in the way of technology to assist us in communicating. We need to not just make things available but to actively invite and push the information and requests out to the families. A district and the board can only do so much. We need to facilitate the communication between our teachers, families, and principals. This will take us from good to better to best. 2) Reading, writing, and arithmetic. Since this is the focus of education, this is always a critical need. If we fail in this endeavor, even for one year, we fail. Every decision I make as a board member will be in terms of improving learning in the classroom. If it doesn’t improve learning, we need to do something else. 3) Creating a culture of more local site control. The principals should be given plenty of autonomy in hiring/firing decisions as well as curricula. Using parental input, the individual schools are there to meet the educational needs of those children who are attending there, and by extension their parents. Each school is comprised of different students with different needs. The greater the ability and flexibility of the principals and faculties at the individual schools to deal with those differences, the more optimal the education for all of their students.

6. What would you do to retain quality educators in the Alpine District?
a. Job satisfaction is directly proportional to ownership and input. The more local control that a school has, the more control individual teachers have. Being appreciated, not necessarily with external rewards, but by being listened to and being able to control the circumstances of their job, allows for greater satisfaction. People who have high job satisfaction, usually stick around. As for money, I would like a perfect world where teachers, cops, soldiers, and fireman all made tons of money. Not living in a perfect world, we do what we can with what we have. If we could pay excellent teachers more, and remove non-performing teachers, that would be ideal.

7. What would you do to attract new teachers in the Alpine District?
a. I think the way you attract new teachers is the same way that you retain quality ones. If you can create an environment where they are free to use and succeed with the skills and experience that they have, they will want to stay. If you can reward the best teachers with more pay, and good teachers with good pay, they will want to come to our district.

8. If another voucher or tuition tax credit bill is introduced in the legislature, would you support another such effort, or would you oppose it and why?
a. I would support it. I believe that parents are in charge of their children’s education. The voucher bill did not take funds from the education budget. If the people of Utah want to allow general funds to be used for vouchers, I see no reason why they can’t do that. If, instead, they wanted to specify that more general funds be used on roads or jails, the people have the right to do that as well. Since the education funds are specified directly from state income tax and property taxes, there isn’t a reason why public education should be concerned.