"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, July 25, 2013

Policies: How did we change the district last week?

On July 16, we approved four policies for the district. I ended up voting against two of them, and I think I need to explain why.  To view the four policies go here and click on the 'Meeting Documents' link to download the file. The page numbers are listed below.  The Meeting Documents show the additional words in either red or underlined, with the exception of policy 4056, which has the new policy listed first, and the following page contains the previous policy.

The two I supported were the Fund raising (5148) (pg. 519 of Meeting Documents, see above) and Bullying (5181) (pg. 521 Meeting Documents) policy. Fund-raising simply added a stipulation that if a high school was going to have more than two fund-raisers, it would require written permission from the principal. I think it's fine for the Board to set a district policy limiting the number of fund-raisers but then allow some latitude for individual circumstances in a given school. Also, the Bullying Policy just added parental notification procedures as required by a change in state law. These two, for me, were pretty basic. 

The first policy I opposed was a change to the Wellness Policy (5520) (pg. 523). So, lest anyone says, "You don't like wellness," here's what I really think. I do support wellness.  I want our schools to support parents by not contradicting healthy habits.  I'm glad we strive to have balanced meals served in our cafeterias.  However, I'm not a fan of referencing Federal Law in local policy unless absolutely necessary. 

In 2010, the US Congress passed the "Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act". This is the law that requires schools to limit calories, based on age, and have every student take a fruit or vegetable, regardless of whether they want it or not. Of all the complaints we heard when school started last Fall, every one had to do with the new school lunch menus, all required by this new Federal law. Some of the consequences of this law have been an increase in cost for food, as well as disposal of all the food the kids aren't eating.   Additionally, kids complain about being hungry.  (Funny YouTube video: We Are Hungry.)  One of the concerns was that, for example, in Middle School, the 7th and 8th graders have a lower calorie allotment than the 9th graders. To handle this, you are given a particular tray color based on your grade. If you are in 9th grade, you can have a cookie. If you are in 7th or 8th grade, you cannot.  The idea that, in Middle School, caloric requirements can be determined by age is wrong.   At any rate, long-story-short, our proposed change to the Wellness Policy modified a few words and then referenced our compliance with the Federal Act. The question was raised whether the Act required us to change our policy or if we could just go along to get the Federal lunch subsidies without specifying the compliance in district policy. It was agreed that we were going to follow Federal Law because we are still taking the lunch subsidies. However, there is no reason why we need to enshrine Federal Law that comes with a large compliance price tag into district policy. For that reason, I voted against the changes to the Wellness Policy. Additionally, I requested that we see if there would be an easy way for parents to opt to pay full-price for their student's lunches should they so choose. Every student lunch is subsidized by both state and federal monies. I would be perfectly happy having my kids eat lunch at school from time to time, if I knew I was paying their way without any subsidy from any of my neighbors. I think this option should be allowed for those parents who feel the same.  I will follow up on this request and let you know. 

The second Policy was the Personnel Certified (Teachers) Goals and Objectives (pg. 527 Meeting Documents). The previous version of this policy was horrible (pg. 528), so the new version is a great improvement. However, there were two substitute motions to change a few of the words. The first was to state that updating the student grading system (currently Skyward) would be done regularly instead of weekly. This allows individual teachers and principals to manage large projects and individual circumstances with greater local control than at a large district level. I supported this change. I also supported a change to state that our educators accept, not support, the district Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals. Since there has been public concern with the Mission Statement that has not been addressed, I felt it would be inappropriate to ask our teachers to support something that a decent segment of our public doesn't support.   (I, personally, think we could find a Mission Statement with a much wider appeal to our constituents than our current one. I do not support our Mission Statement as it now stands. So, I don't feel comfortable having this 'support' as a basis for employment.) Board Member Paula Hill explained it this way. When visiting a country where head-scarves are appropriate/required for women, Mrs. Hill said she would graciously accept their custom and wear a head-scarf. However, she would not be willing to support the tradition. I agreed with this change, as well. However, because of the way the votes and the substitute motions came about, I ended up voting no on the final vote in order to state my support for the change from weekly updated to regularly updated. Even though, I would have liked the two changes, I find the new policy a great improvement over the old one and am okay with the compromise. But I still do not support the Mission Statement.

Finally, there will be a public hearing on the proposed tax increase on Aug. 6, 2013 at 6pm at the District Office (575 N. 100 E. AF). I hope you will come and express your opinion. Please see my previous blog as to why your opinion makes a difference, even if the outcome may not go your way.

Audio: Every board meeting is recorded.  The audio can be found at the bottom of the agenda under the + sign.  As I write, the Study Session audio is available.  The Board Meeting audio should be available shortly.  You can find it here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

What Did They Used to Say About Common Core? Just Listen!

This video contains actual audio from the beginning of the Common Core standards discussion in Utah. Having listened to these meetings, I wanted to make sure some key points were readily accessible and available to everyone.

As human beings, sometimes it's helpful to go back to original sources instead of listening to talking points.  This information on the Common Core process is invaluable in providing insight from those who were there at the time. What was their perspective, and what was their focus?

Please take a few minutes to watch and to understand what was being said about Common Core from the very beginning, not the least of which was the Utah State Board Agenda Item: "National Common Standards".  Contrast this to the Utah State Office of Ed flyer which states: "Fiction: Utah adopted nationalized education standards that come with federal strings attached."  Then ask these questions:
What was the overriding reason for Utah joining in with a group that was developing national, common standards?
Was there any federal involvement, real or implied, that motivated the jump into Common Core?
With all the public involvement, who do you know who was involved in vetting the Common Core standards?
The answers you get may be different from what you are being told.

Links to audio files featured in the video:
May 1, 2009 Utah School Board Meeting, Agenda Item: National Common Standards
June 17, 2009 Legislative Interim Education Committee Meeting
Quoted audio starts about 27:30
July 18, 2011 Alpine School Board Training, select the first audio file, quoted starts about 27:14