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

Friday, January 28, 2011

To AP or not to AP, That is the Question.

Click on the post for Wisconsin State Journal Columnist Chris Rickert's take on AP programming. Anybody who knows me will tell you I am passionate about this topic. So much so that I wrote a ten page report for the Board in 2009 on funding for Gifted and Talented staff resources in our district as compared to that for Special Education. My premise was that GT students were special needs students and deserved equal consideration even if there wasn't a law with no funding to protect them.

The level of dedicated funding for Gifted and Talented (GT) programming in our district is abysmal. GT students comprise approximately 15% of the student body on average and, coincidentally, in our district as well. Our district serves about the same percentage of special needs students as well. At the time of my report there was only two full-time equivalent (FTE) positions dedicated to GT education in our district serving 266 students. To contrast, there were 52.3 FTE staff dedicated to special education serving 300 students.

The educational buzzword these days to solve this problem is Differentiated Instruction (DI). The comments on Chris Rickert's column indicate to me that the general public has not experienced successful differentiated instruction at this time. It's a mystery to me how teachers are supposed to successfully teach students whose skills can realistically span 3 or 4 or more grade levels. More power to them if they can, but this is expecting an awful lot from a bunch of teachers who are already stretched taut or past the breaking point.

But Chris Rickert struck one note that hit home with me. What's wrong with having high expectations OF EVERYONE? Once my oldest was in high school, she was on the AP English track. But some of her friends took the "regular" English classes. These are bright kids who weren't necessarily as passionate about language arts as my daughter. But the books they read could hardly be considered literature. I would even classify some of it as tripe. After I learned this, I informed my poor younger kid that they will be taking AP English in high school and don't even consider otherwise. Every kid should have the priviledge of reading "the classics." They help form a cultural norm and, especially living in white bread Evansville, can broaden horizons and give world views that kids might not otherwise have the opportunity to have. Classics are thought provoking and fabulous. That's why they're called classics. So Rickert is right in the sense that every child deserves exposure to AP curriculum if the standard curriculum is tripe. Perhaps the expectation of the teacher would change based on the incoming level of student, which again would rely heavily on a teacher skilled in DI.

What do you think? Can teachers successfully navigate teaching students of such a wide variety of skills in one classroom? Does taking AP classes diminish a student's opportunity to socialize with a diverse population? Doesn't gym, art, health and all those other graduation requirements count in the socialization spectrum? I'd be curious to see what Evanston Illinois student achievement looks like in a few years and whether students there believe they are prepared for college under the new curriculum.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Any Suggestions?

I'm asking my readers to submit ideas for questions which they would like posed to the school board candidates. I'm planning a "Meet the Candidates" article the month prior to the April election. I know the kinds of questions I'd like to see the answers to, the questions I've answered for past articles and candidate forums, etc. But I'm curious as to whether the questions I'd like to ask coincide with the ones you, the community members, want to see asked as well. So here's your chance. Submit one question each by February 1. Please keep it serious. I really am curious about this and would like to make sure the article meets the needs of the public.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 24, 2011 Committee Meetings Agenda

Click on the post to view the agenda for the January 24th 2011 Committee Meetings of the Whole at 5:30 pm in the District Board and Training Center. I hope to stay for the budget discussion before scooting off the the financial aid program at the High School. Our oldest "baby" goes to college in 2012 and I want to get an early view of our options beyond praying for a really big scholarship. 4K is on the docket for further discussion and recommendation for or against further study. Stay tuned. It's important for everyone to remember that the current 4K discussion was driven by the community not the district. Everyone knows the difficult budget situation government agencies have faced over the last 3 years. I predict the Finance Committee will recommend that the board form an ad-hoc committee to revisit the question and nothing further at this time.

There are a number of other interesting topics for discussion in the Finance committee including an update on the building and trades house with the Realtor Lori Allen, program based budgeting update, a staff resignation, a Chamber presentation and future land purchase. The last will probably include an update on cost and timing of a new population study to better project enrollment figures for the next five years. This is a good approach to this sticky question. I know it gets everyones knickers in a knot when the district even mentions land purchase, like they're going to try to build another school right away or something. But bear in mind that the land the HS was built on in 2002 was purchased in 1960 at bargain prices, especially compared to 2000 land values. This enabled a huge cost savings to the district when the HS was built and allowed a more centralized school arrangement. This may or may not be important to residents in some future building phase, but was considered a critical factor when the HS was built, I believe. The close proximity of all of the schools allows a synergy of facility sharing amongst buildings that would otherwise be challenging if the campuses were far flung from one another. Athletes, scholars, mentors, sharing of the PAC all is facilitated by the centralized design.

If Evansville ever grows to where more than one set of schools is needed, there will be numerous philosophical questions to be addressed. My little hometown of Adrian, MI had only one MS and one HS when I was a kid. Shortly after I graduated, another MS was opened in the more well to do section of town. This automatically set up a "Haves and Have nots" mentality. This was moderated by repurposing one school to grades 5-6 and the other to grades 7-8. All the kids now went to the same schools. At MS ages, this is probably a very good way to expose previously sheltered students to a more diverse population. It helps with the cliques, but does not eliminate them, of course. Just one of many approaches to a prickly problem.

Evansville was on the verge of huge growth just prior to the economic implosion. It's within the realm of possibilities that growth could return. How the government entities manage this growth will be important. Thinking about it now for that eventuality is a good exercise. Whether or not Evansville remains attractive to new families with an enormous tax burden also needs to be evaluated by the board and given some serious soul searching by the district administration.

Friday, January 7, 2011

My Son, the Palindrome

My baby turned eleven years old yesterday. He is such a third kid. He has always been easy going, a go-with-the-flow, happy and good natured kid. I felt like he was wired that way being born into a pretty high energy family that was on the go constantly from the day he was born. His sister brought home chicken pox to the family three days before he was born. He got two pox. He's always been that kind of child. Some call it "low maintenance." I call it a blessing.

Anyway, we sang him the birthday song and in the second verse, every time we sang "how old are you?", he would extend his arms overhead like a number 11, shouting "Eleven!" After the song concluded and the hard to extinguish sparkler candles blown out, he added "I'm a Palindrome!" His teachers will be delighted to know that he's listening to them. I know I was thrilled by his working knowledge of this word. Thank you Mrs. Ojeda.

He is only 2 inches shorter than me now. Not that I break any height records or anything, but looking him in the eye and working really hard to put my arm up, over, THEN around his shoulder is a humbling experience. By next year, he'll be looking down on me as if from Mount Olympus in his favorite Percy Jackson Series. I'm sure he'd tell me he's Zeus. I am holding onto these sweet moments as he enters manhood but still has boyish dreams and ways. I am so very blessed to have him and his sisters lead me through the maze that is motherhood. They are great kids and fill me with pride every day. They have their challenges, but don't we all? The secret is to maximize the "awesomesauceness" (currently my son's favorite word via our neighbor Mindy) and minimize the challenges. Soon, they will learn to automatically do this themselves. Then we should get to be grandparents if everything goes according to plan. And begin all over again, only we get to be in the "permanently spoiling" mode.

My oldest brought her little New Year's Eve babysitting charges over to have dinner and watch a movie with us. Apparently I thought I was going to be feeding an army of teenagers instead of two little boys age 5 and 6. There was enough soda to float a battleship. The boys indulged copiously. My daughter said, "Oh God mom, I just had this premonition of my kids visiting you, being hyped up on sugar by Gramma Hammann and sent home to me in this state with an evil laugh emanating from you. I'm seeing my future here." I told her that the secret was to just keep ahead of them and there would be no worries. She laughed but kept her eye on the boys just the same...

Hug your baby today and read him or her a book for old times sake, even if that child is 40 years old. Gather up a few generations and go for it. I recommend anything by Dr. Seuss. My personal favorite is "Oh the Places You'll Go!" but any Seuss with that unique cadence of his will do. It makes it so much fun to read aloud.


January 10 at 3:15: Special Separate 4K Discussion at Levi Leonard Elementary in Room 105

Click on the post to see the agenda describing a separate 4K discussion on Monday January 10 at 3:15 pm in Room 105 at Levi Leonard Elementary School. I'm pretty sure this was a very recent addition to the school website. I don't remember seeing it Wednesday or the wee hours of this am. Hmm. Kelly gave me a heads up on this since the school has to notify the paper. I'll be there and will report on it next week or the week after in the Review. I'm guessing that the board decided that a separate time would be needed for the 4K discussion to keep the duration of the board meeting to a reasonable semblance of normal. I need to call the district for background after I read the 105 page packet I printed out today. I am not a digital child. I need to scribble and take notes on my copies of things in order to fully digest the information. Our kids are full on digital natives, but I am clearly a stranger in a strange land when it comes to the digital revolution. Hopefully, they will not ask for our heads on a silver platter for killing all those trees.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

January 10, 2010 Board Meeting Agenda Available

Click on the post to view the agenda for the January 10 (this Monday!) Evansville School Board Meeting at 5:30 in the District Board and Training Center. The Packet isn't active yet, but beginning with last month, the district is posting the entire board packet for the public to see. It's interesting and very eye opening when you check out the budget stuff especially. To check it out on the school website, click on school board then Board Meetings. Active agendas and packets will be highlighted in blue. I expect the January Packet to be available by Friday this week.

The hot topic this month will probably be 4K, which is up for a public discussion after Heidi updates everyone on the financial ramifications of setting up a 4K program. I think the program based budgeting process discussion may ironically vie with 4K for the top hot topic pick. It depends on how contentious the board members are feeling Monday evening. If business goes per the new "usual" for ECSD School Board, it could be a long night. Yippee.

Monday, we'll get an update on who's running for school board this year as well. I'm not clued in on that yet. I have Christmas inertia and haven't called for an update. We'll all know soon... The looming budget crisis does not help attract civil servants to School Board or City Council seats for that matter. Being a civil servant is hard enough. Getting paid about a penny an hour is even worse. But in this economy, it's like running on a platform of "abuse me and abuse me some more! After that, don't reelect me." All in all, a pretty dreary job with Scott Walker at the helm. He's going to ^&(&()slap schools so much they're going to pine for the days of Tommy Thompson, architect of the dread revenue caps which educators universally curse in Wisconsin. He's already threatening to expand the "successful" Milwaukee school voucher program across the state. I can't help but wonder what criteria he has used to deem it "successful." I was under the impression the program was a hotbed of financial chicanery and nobody has improved their test scores to boot. Apparently his definition of success is "reduction in the number of children enrolled in the Milwaukee Public Schools." Mission Accomplished, Scott! Let's see how many other Wisconsin School districts you can disembowel in the same way while you're in office. Great Idea!

But I digress. Please join us Monday at 5:30 if any of the agenda items appeal to you. Let your voice be heard or the assumption is acquiescence.