"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Saturday, April 12, 2014

April 9 Board Meeting Highlights: My last local issue blog entry

The April 9 board meeting was another SRO affair with a chock-full agenda. I hope to see better meeting management with the new board to be reorganized April 28. This many hot topic items should not come to the board at one time. 4K approval, Referendum discussion, Alternative Education program presentation, are each a large enough discussion to dedicate a full meeting to. Add to that staff continuing to present arguments for pay period choice and Senior project disgruntlement and you have the recipe for a 4 hour meeting.

Referendum: Lack of specific information and seating a new board on April 28 brings this back for discussion April 30 and decision in May. Information regarding precise plans and costs for each section was requested.

4K: The unfunded first few years of this program is to be taken out of the fund balance. State law allows up to 3K per kid in year 1 and 1.5K per kid in year 2 to get a district up the the fully funded year 3 without taking money out of the fund balance. Administration noted that there is a chance that there will be funds in this grant for the year 15-16 up to 1.5K per kid. They will be applying for these funds. It will significantly reduce the depletion of the fund balance. The board approved the implementation of 4K in ECSD in 2015-16.

Alternative Education: Much information was given but much remained in question. The board will bring it back for discussion next meeting on April 30.

Teacher contracts: Board approved all but Alt Ed folks, as they have not yet approved the Alt Ed. Program. Nobody loses a position as this is expected transfer of students and staff.  Seems admin. should know that the board won't approve a contract for a program that isn't approved yet. Hmm.

On top of all of this, there was a boatload of policies at third reading and handbook change requests to refer for second readings, the process of which was a bit murky as it was the first time they'd done this. Curiously, the Virtual School policy that was approved April 9 at its 3rd reading indicates that singleton students enrolled must pay HALF of the fee. So how come we have been paying the full fee? Hunh. Just another question for me to find an answer for.

This will be my last blog entry regarding the ECSD. I may yet blog about my take on national trends in education, but I'm going mum on local issues after this. Thank you all for following me through the years and most of all thank you for your support for me in the election. I promise I will bring my A game to every board meeting and endeavor to bring our kids excellence in education. It's been real. M

My Remarks to the BOE: Senior Projects Part 2

As promised, I am sharing my remarks to the BOE on March 12 about the newly minted Senior Projects, an additional graduation requirement for students beginning with the class of 2015. They are near and dear to me as our middle child is one of their guinea pigs. When these projects were first presented to the BOE in 2010, I believe, the board sent administration back to rework the proposal. They noted that it was too vague and without sufficient detail to be successful. By Fall of 2011, they had approval to add it as a requirement but still had to come back "by January of 2014" with a detailed plan. They told the class of 2015 at Freshman orientation that  this was a new graduation requirement with their class. Fast forward to November of 2013 and Scott Everson finally brought the Senior Graduation Project Handbook back to the board for approval, which was granted.  The projects gone through a number of iterations since they were first proposed as a former staff member who was on the original committee noted that the final product was "discouraging."  

In the process of working with other concerned parents on this mess, I came across my article in the August 17, 2011 edition of the Evansville Review. This was discussed in Senior Projects Part I. The communication on this new program has been abysmal and little if any guidance has been offered to the kids. The kids are expected to create a resume as part of the final product with no formal training. Any time they need help, they are supposed to get guidance from their advisor during the 22 minute advisory period when the teachers are supposed to be guiding their core course students. Teachers have declined to become advisors "because we don't know how much work is involved," parents have repeatedly asked for clarification and pointed out potentially dangerous situations that can result from poorly supervised experiential projects, etc., etc., etc. Questions were not answered at the "optional" parent meeting. The head-in-the-sand, Pollyanna approach to this FUBAR has been awful so I picked two of my most frustrating aspects of this boondoggle and spoke at the March 12 board meeting. I focused on what I thought would be the minimum number of hours to adequately support each student in an advisory capacity, with no additional compensation (1.2 Full Time Equivalents). I also spoke about how ridiculous it was that the Boy Scout Eagle Projects and the Girl Scout Golden projects were originally rejected out of hand by Scott Everson. Once he faced incensed scouting parents, he decided that they would count if and only if the work done for the projects commenced after Graduation Day the summer before their Senior year. This was never stated in the handbook or to me personally. Since I emailed Everson about this in November and he agreed they needed to reconsider how to include these projects, I would have expected him to contact me with the committee's decision. Here were the remarks I planned to make to the board, only about half of which I was able to get through because the meeting was SRO and they needed to keep the time manageable. I submitted a hard copy for Kelly Mosher to distribute to the board and administrator.

My remarks to the board March 12 regarding Senior Projects: 

QEO repealed: 2009

Act 10 implemented: 2011

ACA enacted: 2013

With each of these momentous decisions by our political leaders, more and more uncertainty has been introduced into the world of education. Those most affected by the consequences, both intended and otherwise, are our teachers. These are the people who shape the destiny of our children, so it could be argued that those who are really most affected are our kids. People who are constantly distracted by when the next shoe will drop cannot be present in the here and now, passionately guiding our children toward their potentials. Our district has added yet another burden to this group in the guise of the Senior Projects.  Let’s just suppose that the average time required to advise these students is one hour a month for twelve months and further presume advisors will be present at each student’s 10 minute presentation. For the 139 students in the class of 2015, this represents nearly 1700 hours of time required for Senior projects alone.  A teacher’s FTE is 1440 (8 x 180) hours, adding the equivalent of 1.2 FTEs to an already burdened staff.  If one limits the pool of advisory candidates to the HS teaching staff of 37, their work load increases by more than a week, or about 3%. Who here is surprised that several students were told by staff members that they weren’t agreeing to advise Senior projects until they know how much work is involved? I urge the board to carefully scrutinize the process by which the projects are unfolding.

In addition to the time burden on teachers, a particular concern I have regards the time restriction placed on these projects. Though it is not specifically prohibited anywhere in the handbook, students have been told that no work for the project can take place before graduation day prior to their senior year.  The reason given for this added time restriction was that the EHS Site Council felt strongly that this should be a “capstone project that is self-contained within the senior year.”  Think of all the other capstone classes in our school district and how the students’ successes in those programs are dependent on the cumulative success in their foundational classes.

When students were first informed about the project guidelines in November, they were informed that Boy Scout Eagle Projects and Girl Scout Community Service projects were immediately disqualified with no discussion within the community about their breadth and depth. When I questioned Mr. Everson about this, the reasoning was to avoid kids using a “two-fer-one” approach.  He noted, "The Scouts projects, however, appear to go way above and beyond my ‘two birds with one stone loophole’ as some of the projects are hundreds of hours of work as I understand it." He added that several parents had expressed concerns about this and that he would “be taking input I’ve received from parents (yourself included) to my committee and see what type of revised guidelines we can create when it comes to Scouts projects and similar extraordinary examples of service to our community."

Eagle Projects are often two years in duration from proposal to completion and must be finished by the boy’s 18th birthday in order for him to earn his rank. Therefore, especially for boys with early birthdays, they often begin this work in their Sophomore year. This unstated time restriction for the Senior Projects will disqualify most Eagle Scout Projects as they currently stand.  As I originally told Mr. Everson in November and again last night, Eagle projects are of a much larger scope and magnitude than any examples given in the handbook or at the parent meeting.  Last night he seemed to reverse his stance of revising the guidelines to make Eagle projects eligible for Senior Projects. He asked if these Eagle projects could somehow be planned to encompass a separate and distinct sub-project to be done in the time specified and I said I didn’t know. It’s a little late for the class of 2015 Eagle Candidates to be able to do this, and could even affect the class of 2016. I have emailed adult scout leaders to give them this idea with new Eagle Plans.

I ask the board to consider the Mission Statement of the projects (This culminating self-selected project will serve as the capstone demonstrating  students’ ability to seek knowledge through inquiry and experience, which in turn will allow them the opportunity to apply their knowledge and growth in all of their future endeavors, benefitting our local and global communities). Eagle Scout projects truly embody the stated mission of the Senior Projects.  I wonder why our administration would want to force an Eagle candidate to go through the motions of an additional lesser project with no community service component simply to get a Senior project done within some arbitrary, unstated time restriction. Some kids have been given dispensation on time, according to the meeting I attended last night. Why not the Scouts?

One parent noted at the meeting last night that, “We need to support this program and figure out how to make it work, not change it. If they fail spectacularly, so be it!” The bulk of those present were not eager for our children to be the failing guinea pigs.

I realize that the district is entering a new, untested program that will evolve over time. These could be life-changing experiences for some, but many of our kids already volunteer in our community and give back in significant ways. A better model for the Senior Projects would be to take advantage of the existing volunteer infrastructure to strengthen it rather than tear it down to reinvent the wheel. Thank you for your time.

Since I submitted my concerns to the board, I have thought long and hard about this issue. I believe what we have here is a case of unmet expectations combined with a moving target. The board approved the Senior project graduation requirement in August of 2011 in concept with "final criteria clarified and approved by the board by January 2014." I wrote an article about them and recent review of that article shows that they changed considerably in the two-plus years it took Scott to return with the final criteria. Clearly he failed to clarify and may have even muddled the waters. If you're interested, my article ran in the Review on August 17, 2011.  Every scout parent in the scouting community with a child of the applicable age to qualify were very happy that their kid might be encouraged to try for their Eagle or Gold ranks by this opportunity. Those of us who were pretty sure our kids were on track to earn an Eagle rank fully expected these amazing projects would count for their Senior Projects. Enter Scott with an arbitrary time restriction and you have completely invalidated every early birthday scout Eagle Candidate, who will have to do some bogus make-work Senior project in addition to their Eagle project, their other Scout obligations and apply for college.

My final concern for this is based on how the Senior Projects were approved by the board. There is no hard copy in the public board packets from either October 30, when it was presented or November 13, when it was approved. Scott referred the board to the school website for their information. This sets up the board to have approved an ever changing document, which is not what they are supposed to do. If nobody is willing to set clear standards and criteria for who and when they will advise, how it will play out and who is responsible for what, it's not ready for prime time.

I have told my child that this is her project, not mine. I refuse to be that parent at the science fair who builds their kid a nuclear reactor. My kids always sat next the them with the potential energy project made with a spool and a rubber band. But they did all their own work. I will support her and make sure she is safe, since the district seems to be unaware of their responsibility in this matter, but she is responsible to complete and document her project with the required criteria. She's a big girl and I am confident she is capable. I pray all the other 138 kids in the Junior class find the resources to support them in this new endeavor. If they don't, the district is directly responsible for their failure. I don't know why the board is so resistant to placing on the agenda potential liability for these projects, but burying their heads in the sand is not going to help the district if some kid gets hurt at a clinic offered in the guise of senior projects because there was insufficient infrastructure in place to avoid the injury.


Friday, April 11, 2014

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Senior Projects Part I

In the midst of all the Senior Project hoopla, I did what many scientists did. I stopped and thought about what I knew and how I knew it. The projects as they existed when the board approved the new graduation requirement in August of 2011 have morphed into something nearly unrecognizable as approved in November of 2013. Here's what I wrote in the August 17, 2011 edition of The Evansville Review:

Evansville School Board Approves New Graduation Requirement
Community Service Senior Projects Will Be Required beginning with Class of 2015
By Melissa Hammann

Nearly eighteen months have passed since EHS Principal Everson first proposed to the Evansville School Board a new graduation requirement. Each student in the Evansville School District would be responsible for designing, implementing and presenting to a committee a Community Service Project in their senior year. “Non-negotiable” components of the projects include 30 hours of service and a multimedia presentation to a committee comprised of a primary teacher and a community mentor. The board was concerned about a number of details and Mr. Everson agreed to run a pilot program in 2010-2011 to demonstrate the feasibility of such a program. Six students originally volunteered for the projects and three were chosen to present their projects. One student even changed her career aspirations to include a four year college degree in order to work with disabled students. More pilot programs will continue in 2011-2012.

This concept has been implemented in schools around the country in various forms. EHS would not grant credit for this requirement in the spirit of community service for the sake of itself, but completion of all the project requirements would be necessary for graduation. Board Member Sharon Skinner asked “What if a student refuses to complete a project?” Mr. Everson noted that students in danger of not graduating are routinely taken under the wing of a teacher mentor.  Most students wish to participate in the graduation ceremony, which would only be allowed upon timely completion of the Senior Project.

Board Member Tina Rossmiller expressed concern that parent involvement will be critical. Principal Everson noted that if the board approved the new graduation requirement, he could begin that process with the Freshman Orientation night in a few weeks. Regular communications could be built in throughout the high school career and reminders sent that are effective and include parents or guardians of students.

The new civics class “Project Citizen” program can be viewed as kick-starting the process. This may be the first time students think more globally to identify areas of need in their community, make a plan and implement it to effect improvements. Senior projects are a perfect bookend complement to this process.

It is not expected that this new requirement would necessitate more resources from the district. Social studies teachers at the school could share the advisory role for students during normally scheduled contact time. Any costs associated with the project itself would be client funded (for example, a kitchen remodel like one of this year’s students did). 

Final criteria will be clarified and approved by the Board by January 2014.  The vote was 5-0 in favor of the new graduation requirement, with board members Dennis Hatfield and Nancy Hurley absent.

Breaking News with Board Meetings: There will be a new feature of the Business Board Meetings effective with the September 12 meeting.  Each month, two board members will be available for “community comments” from 6:00-6:30 PM just prior to the start of the board meeting. It is thought that this less formal atmosphere would be more conducive to citizen input and allow dialogue to progress. Board Members scheduled to appear in September are John Rasmussen and Tina Rossmiller. Please come and chat with them if you have “questions, comments or concerns.”

Reviewing this article was such at surprise to me. I am sure that the article accurately portrayed the events of the project approval in 2011 as I used a recorder to capture quotes for my articles.  I was disappointed in myself for not remembering the details before we were already fully engaged in the questioning of the project. This should have been reviewed before the board even approved the process. I invite you all to review the Senior Project Handbook at the website link below to see for yourself the stark contrast between how it was envisioned above with the final approved document.


The only resemblance between the Senior Project Handbook approved by the board on November 13, 2013 and the proposal presented to the school board in 2011 I see is the title "Senior Project." The "non-negotiable 30 hours of service" has become 30 hours to complete, including documentation and presentation. What was originally envisioned as a strictly community service project has expanded and now kids can choose some lame "experiential based learning" project. You actually have to look on the school website and see example suggestions to fully grasp its lame-inosity. The 6 pilot programs became 2 and apparently never included any further pilots in 2011-12. I challenge you all to ask for the documentation of these pilot programs but already know the answer: "We threw it out." How in the world do you do that if you're running a pilot program to inform future decisions?

There has been essentially no communication to parents since we were told of the new requirement at freshman orientation in 2011. This contradicts Scott's reassurance that "Regular communications could be built in throughout the high school career and reminders sent that are effective and include parents or guardians of students."  Effective reminders could have been sent but were not.  The first I heard about this since Freshmen orientation in 2011 was when my kid came home and told us a week after the board approved the Handbook in November. "Mr. Everson told us that Girl Scout Gold projects and Boy Scout Eagle projects can't be used for the Senior projects."  I was stunned. I had a set of expectations of this project back in 2011 which were completely overturned when Everson initially disqualified Eagle Projects from the Senior Projects. My husband and I remember saying, "If Will goes for his Eagle, this is a slam dunk Senior Project for him!" I challenged Everson on this and was placated by lies and half-truths, answers to which he never bothered to communicate to me directly. At the "optional" parent information meeting he held last month, I was stressing the point and he noted that the committee insisted that the project be self-contained in the Senior year and couldn't an Eagle project be broken down to have some part of it done beginning the summer before Senior year? I said I didn't know and it likely depended on how early a scout's 18th birthday was. If it was in September, probably not (Eagle projects are typically 18 months or more start to finish and must be earned prior to the scout's 18th birthday). If it was in June, maybe. I told him that the handbook does not forbid beginning work early and wondered why this was suddenly being invoked.  I went on the website and read the nebulous, unclear document called Senior Project Handbook several times to see where the time restriction was indicated and never found it. There is a reference to "work can begin after graduation day the year previous to graduation," but there is no specific restriction noted. More importantly, I was appalled by the complete lack of clarity that embodied the document. Even at the parent meeting, the only date that had been decided was when the kids had to hand in their proposals. No checkpoints have been defined, the final presentations have not been scheduled, etc. etc. etc. Even worse was that it would seem that our board approved this FUBAR without a hard copy in hand. So they have approved a web-based document which is ever evolving and has morphed into an unrecognizable document as compared to the original proposal. The final criteria has been clarified. Scott Everson is the gatekeeper and what he says goes. "If I approve it, you can do it. If I don't, you can't. And even though the handbook doesn't specifically prohibit working on the project prior to the onset of your official Senior-ness, you can't. Unless I say you can, like if you have to train to do a marathon or something. If you're dedicating hundreds of hours to the betterment of your community, you cannot begin a minute prior to graduation day prior to your senior year. The Pubah has spoken!" When my daughter's project partner went to him to get his approval because Ms. Buttchen told her to, he said, "Why are you coming to me with this?" "Because Ms. Buttchen told us to." She reported to our daughter that he just rolled his eyes. Of course, that could be teen drama too. It's in the dang handbook for gosh sakes.

A critical issue was brought up by a concerned parent very well versed with liability issues as regards service groups. She and her family are singlehandedly responsible for many many service projects in our community and she knows the necessary systems for safe operation of programs with children. Is liability incurred with certain kinds of projects, like training camps and community betterment work involving ladders and other potentially hazardous conditions? How at risk is the district? The kid running the projects and the kids enrolling in the camps? Their parents? After being told repeatedly that the board could not discuss these projects at the board level without it being on the agenda and then refusing to put it on the agenda, the parent who raised this issue left the April 9 board meeting after making their remarks only to have the board engage in a discussion on the Senior Projects after they left. First Mason had to take a crack at the parents for spending so much energy questioning a project that "teaches kids good work habits." He slammed a person who arguably donates the most hours I have ever seen one family donate to community service ever. Then he had to commend Scott on "this awesome program. Since Scott broached the topic and I'm not on the board after this." This likely violated open records law. Another board member asked about the liability issue and she was told, by Scott, "This can be handled with a disclaimer form. If we all worried about liability so much we'd never get out of bed in the morning." No reference to a discussion with legal counsel and how a kid running a cheer camp in the summer and the lack of infrastructure compares with the built in infrastructure of a school in full session. Just snide, obnoxious remarks that simply indicate their defensiveness and do not protect the district. I hope nobody ever gets hurt at a summer camp run as a Senior Project. The lack of foresight on the part of the administration and the board could well make a small injury become a very serious issue for the district as a whole. Just because people sign a waiver does not mean the district should cavalierly approach implementing a strong infrastructure to minimize the injury in such incidents.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Soon I Have to Stop Blogging and Meeting April 9th at 6 PM

I have only a few weeks before I officially take my oath of office on the ECSD board of education. After that, I have to shut down my blog because it would be unseemly to try my case in the court of public opinion while a board member. Now it's time to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I have one more post I will make regarding the Senior Project FUBAR beginning with the class of 2015 and then School Scoop will go silent. If you're wondering about what's happening on the board after that, please come on down to a board meeting. They are held the second (business meeting) and fourth or last Wednesday (committee meetings) of the month. It's been a long four years, and I'm happy to be back on the board where I believe my talents can be put to good use. There will be heavy lifting to do, and I'm up to the task! Thank you for supporting me all these years.

Look for my post about Senior Graduation Projects after the April 9 meeting.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thank you to all my amazing supporters!

The unofficial results are in and I won the third seat on the school board. I have a very narrow margin over the 4th place candidate. If that remains after canvassing on April 8, I have a three year seat. If not, I have to run again next spring. If so, I hope all my peeps will be ready to do the same thing again next year. There's a lot of heavy lifting required and I'm up to the task. First up, a strategic plan! That will clarify all ensuing decisions. It won't make it easy, but it will certainly prioritize where to spend limited resources, human and otherwise. And now, to make up for all the sleep I have lost in the last few weeks! Goodnight all!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Election Coverage Today in Both the Gazette and The Evansville Review!

Please take the opportunity to read the Janesville Gazette and The Evansville Review comments from Spring Election candidates. There's only one contested seat on city council, which happens to be in my District 3, so there's info about that if you're so inclined. At least half of the School Board candidates emphasized the need for a Strategic Plan, so please read the articles to best inform your vote!