"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

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.
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.

Friday, June 11, 2010

3. Math, math, math!

Just mention "Investigations Math" and you will get a reaction. Oftentimes, not a positive one. With a math degree background, you can guess math is a very big issue for me. The adoption and promotion of Investigations Math was another example of the district and the board not being responsive to parents.

Math is one of those things that every parent wants their child to be able to do. We're not talking calculus, just the times tables and long division. There are programs out there that have substantial research and results to support them. The country of Singapore scores heads and tails above the US on every international math test. Singapore math is being used with great success in schools in the US. I have done Saxon and Singapore Math with my kids. And I would highly recommend both over the program currently being used at my kids' school.

Singapore gives a greater depth and understanding of the topic and uses physical and pictoral representations of the concepts. When we discuss balanced math (Investigations Lite) vs. traditional math, oftentimes the proponents of balanced math talk in terms of just rote memorization and drill. While I am in favor of memorization (it frees the brain up for higher computation and advanced thinking skills), memorization and drill are not the only components of traditional math. As in all things, an ability to be comfortable with numbers and their basic use, allows you to see patterns and concepts that would be hidden without that familiarity. A representative of Singapore Math stated, "We are not teaching math, we are teaching thinking through the medium of math." Math teaches logic and problem solving techniques which are applicable in all aspects of life. That is why it is critical we teach it well.

When I started following the discussion on Investigations Math, my husband attended a board meeting. He didn't have an opinion one way or the other, and has always avoided math whenever possible. What he came away with from that board meeting was the board was very defensive of the parents' disagreement on Investigations. Again, either Investigations was a phenomenal program that the board and the district failed to properly communicate with the families, or it was a bad program that the families had concrete opposition to. Either way, the proper reaction was not to ignore or minimize the parents' discontent. The board should have addressed the issue either by convincing parents with the superior results of the math program the district chose or by admitting the district's own failure in adopting an inferior program.

If we had had more local control at each school during the Investigations years, there would have been many schools and parents willing to try Saxon and Singapore Math. Instead, what we saw was a rise in charter schools, many of them created by parents to escape Investigations Math. When I was on a founding board for a local charter school, every parent I met stated Investigations Math was either their first or second reason for looking into a charter school. With greater local control, those parents who wanted Saxon/Singapore would have been able to send their kids to a school that offered that program.

Overall, I am pleased that Investigations isn't an approved curricula. However, I know we can do much better by teaching a tried and true math program with experience and data to back it up.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

2. Academic Excellence

We have all heard the phrase, The Three R's: Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. I think this phrase was coined for a reason. If you were able to send your kid to school and all they learned was the ability to read, write, and do math, they would be able to apply that knowledge to get whatever additional knowledge they desired.

I have talked with many parents, and some of the principals, who recognize the desire parents have for their children to excel academically. I have yet to meet the parent that says, "I don't really care if my kid can't read, as long as, he can ______." The same is true with basic math, and writing skills. Once the basics have been mastered, then we want to push them a little harder to pursue greater academic excellence. Each child should reach their highest potential in those three areas. If we have children who can't read or do basic math, that is a major problem.

I'm also a fan of things like science and history, art and music. But again, a child who can read, if nothing else, can learn about all these things.

When we focus on something other than academic excellence, we lose our focus of why we are sending our kids to school in the first place. Every decision I would make as a school board member would be with the idea in mind that it should improve academics in the classroom. If it doesn't, we shouldn't be doing it.

Debate: June 2, 2010

On Wednesday, we had a debate at the Cedar Hills Golf Course. The incumbent, Chrissy Hanneman, Zonda Perry, and myself were there. It was nice to meet people and hear their thoughts.

I will put the formal debate questions here, along with my summary answers. There were other questions provided to the moderator during the debate that I won't be able to include at this time.

1. Property Taxes: need to go up, down or stay the same? Why?
--Stay the same. Times are hard. It isn't right to make people who are struggling pay more. In a situation like this, everyone needs to do more with less.

2. What is one thing ASD is doing well? What is one thing they need to improve the most?
--The teachers and families in ASD are very dedicated to education. Improve communication with and involvement from the parents.

3. Charter Schools: good or bad? Why?
--Good. I support parents having options.

4. To what extent should homeschoolers participate in public schools, including extracuricular activities?
--As much as they want. Their parents pay taxes too. They need to meet the requirements the same as everyone else.

5. What experiences prepared you to serve on ASD Board?
--I have a math degree, own my own business, have been involved in evaluating curricula for both a Charter School and for Home Schooling. I am able to find efficiencies, and, most importantly, listen to and represent the voice of the families.

6. Why are you running? What do you stand for?
--I want to take our district from good to better. I think we can do this with greater involvement from parents and more local control in the schools. I also want to focus on academics.

7. Investigations Math: is it still being taught in ASD? Is it good or bad?
--It's not supposed to be taught in ASD anymore, but there are many reports that it is still sneaking into the classroom. I, frankly, hate it. I'm a proponent of Singapore Math (also like Saxon). But, I would like to see the local schools decide, as long as there is support for the curriculum by the parents of those in that school.

8. Should ASD be spending more or less per student? Can ASD do more with less, or do they need more?
--ASD can absolutely do more with less. We all can and do. If the families who support the district have to do more with less, then the district does too.

9. Should teacher tenure be eliminated? Is tenure good or bad?
--Bad teachers have to go. Tenure, too often, stands in the way of schools being able to get rid of teachers who don't try anymore. Of course, training, support and a fair overview of a teacher is required. But, if they cannot meet the expectations of the principal, they should be given their retirement and released.

10. Should we try to measure who are the best teachers and pay them more? How?
--Yes. There should be a tangible reward for being excellent. Peer reviews could be used to determine some form of merit pay, taking in to account the difficulty of the class(es) involved, etc.

11. Is ASD doing a good job at teaching math? If so, why are so many ASD students not prepared for college work?
--No. This is a critical area in which ASD is failing. I think that Investigations wasn't a good decision. The NCTM--National Council of Teachers of Mathematics--recently revised their standards stating something to the effect that kids need to have quick recall of basic math facts. This is a dramatic departure from where they were a few years ago. This is a rejection of investigations and "investigations light" (balanced math).

12. Do Community Councils have enough automony?
--I don't think so. If you put them in charge of the Trust Funds, then they should get input from the schools, but it should be up to the SCC's to make the final decision. Otherwise, why have a Community Council make that decision?

13. Should charter schools be overseen by ASD?

14. Does ASD need a bond for new schools? Why?
--No. We can't afford it, and I'm opposed to debt, both personally, and publicly.

15. Did you vote for or against the school choice (voucher) initiative in 2007? Why?
--I voted for it. The funds were coming from the General Fund, not the Education Fund, and it provided greater choice for parents. I like parental choice.

16. What do you think of the mission statement that includes "enculturating democracy"?
--I think it's a poor motto for a school. Not only is it factually incorrect, it misplaces the proper focus of the district. I'd like to see one that focuses on academics. I'm not comfortable with the word "enculturating" as it implies to me indoctrination. Also, this country was established to be a 'republic', not a 'democracy'. We don't teach 2+2=5 and say it's close enough. Why not state 'republic'?

Thanks to Joel Wright for organizing this one and only debate. I wish there had been more debates. It is important for these concepts to be debated in public and for individuals to have input to those who seek to represent them.