Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Dancing a little jig today...

Its over... its really, finally, actually over.

Per the results on the Post Dispatch web site, with 98% of precincts reporting, Darla Baker, Kim McGuiness, and Rao Kaza are all elected or re-elected to the Rockwood Board of Education! Congratulations to each and every one of them. They fought hard, but always fought fairly and positively. They worked hard, always portraying a positive message. And they won, showing that a positive message and a passionate, dedicated group of volunteers can accomplish whatever they put their minds to.

Congratulations also to the volunteers, their fantastic campaign committee. These ladies and gentlemen worked unbelievably hard to elect these three, working together over the last few months, collaborating in crafting the finely tuned campaign you saw unfold, and getting the word out about these three wonderful BOE members. A job unbelievably well done.

I'd also like to offer my congratulations to Chuck Spohr, Matt Fitzgerald, and Sam Maraldo on their campaigns as well on a race well fought.

I encourage each and every one of my readers to attend the first Board meeting with the new directors this Thursday night. I am so sad that I'm out of town this week, as I really wanted to be there, especially so given the election results. Go and see for yourself the new tone and direction of this Board. I'm sure you'll be pleased.

-- happy as can be,

Friday, March 28, 2008

My vote is in...

I'm going to be out of town on April 8th, so I voted absentee yesterday. I am most proud to announce my votes:

Rockwood School Board Directors:

  • Darla Baker
  • Kim McGuiness
  • Rao Kaza
I have written extensively my reasons for supporting these three candidates, and that support is complete and unwavering. I know each of them personally, and I can think of no one better than any of them to entrust the direction of our school district to. They are far and away the three best qualified and best suited candidates running for this position, and I was thrilled to be able to vote for them.

Proposition 3 (Rockwood School Bond Issue)
  • YES
Our schools need this badly. With the changing high school schedule, with needed maintenance improvements, with safety improvements, and more, we need this. Vote for Proposition 3, please. Let's pass this thing by the same landslide that we're voting in the above three candidates!

-- bab

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My take on West New Magazine's "Meet the Candidates"

I found the Meet the Candidates article very telling in the March 19th, 2008 edition of West News Magazine. There were 5 short campaign pieces, each written by potential BOE members. I think you can learn a lot about each of the candidates by reading what they wrote, and also by reading between the lines of what they wrote.

Let's start with what Darla Baker wrote. I love her first sentence. "My No. 1 priority is putting children first." I can't imagine anything more important for a BOE member to consider first and foremost. That's why they're there, after all. Then she goes on to discuss how important open and honest communication and collaboration are in dealing with parents, community, staff, teachers, and the rest of the Board. The words she uses throughout her few paragraphs are each full of openness, warmth, and understanding. Just reading what she wrote makes me feel good about her, our district, and what we can achieve together.

Kim McGuiness took a different tack in writing her piece. I know Kim very well, and she is one of the most intelligent people I know. She and I share a lot of the same professional interests, in that we're both very interested in organizations, how they operate, and how people in them relate to each other, and her interest in this subject shows in what she wrote. Her piece comes off as much more serious than Darla's, but both of them are saying the same things. They are both using words like openness, collaboration, communication, community. These are open words, words that invite others to join, words that express a willingness to listen, learn, and share.

Rao Kaza writes similar words and thoughts, though in his own way. Rao tends to speak his mind in a very measured, intellectual way, probably based on his years in business and information technology. He is generally very soft spoken in Board meetings, but his questions and remarks always reflect a thoughtful, reflective  nature. I hear this same tone in West News Magazine. Throughout Rao's piece, he carries forward the theme of Darla's and Kim's positions, that openness, communication, and community are critical aspects of our district and of how Board members should behave.

Each of these three expresses similar thoughts. Reading between the lines, they all value people and their relationships as the main contributing factors to the success of our district. Teachers are valued as people and for their contributions to our students, parents are valued for their contributions in raising their children and for helping turn their kids into lifelong learners, and open communication is valued as the tool to bring everyone together. That's what I take from what each of them wrote.

As a spectacular counterpoint, let's look at what Mary Battenberg wrote. Mary gives a laundry list of items she values as her priorities, including fiscal accountability, responding to patron concerns, equity amongst district schools, and so on for about a dozen more. What is missing in her recitation is a single indication that there are people involved in any of this. The opening paragraph of her statement is filled with activities or priorities, but there is nothing in there that has anything to do with people. In fact, the only person she mentions in her entire position piece is Kathy Peckron, the retiring Deputy Superintendent. For her, the praise is effusive, but again, impersonal. What is entirely lacking in Mary's piece is any indication at all that she considers herself to be part of a community, that she values any sort of input from anyone other than herself, and any hint that she might be willing to listen to parents, teachers, staff, or anyone else before forming her opinion.

Board members are representatives of our community. They are charged with running the Rockwood School District in the best way possible, informed, in part, by listening to input from other interested parties. I don't expect them to know everything, I don't expect them to agree with me on everything, I don't expect them to do what I would do on everything. I do expect them to listen to me, listen to teachers, and listen to each other. Listening is a key part in how relationships are born, and how people work together effectively. If you don't listen, you become an island standing in the way of progress.

On April 8th, I urge you to vote for the inclusive candidates, the candidates who will listen, the candidates who will act with the interests of all in mind. I urge you to vote for Darla, Kim, and Rao for Rockwood School Board.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rockwood announces Proposition 3

This April, the Rockwood School District will be asking voters to approve a $74.5 million dollar bond issue. I helped create this bond issue, and I can tell you, it is an excellent package, and it has my full support. I urge you to vote for it at the same time you are voting for DRK (Darla Baker, Rao Kaza, and Kim McGuiness).

This proposal is full of absolute needs for the school district. I know it seems big, but that is only a first impression. Construction costs have risen and inflation has taken a bit out of the purchasing power of money, so its not really fair to do a dollar for dollar comparison with the amounts of previous bonds. Taken at its face value, this package offers great value to the students, District, and patrons, since it is focused on upgrading existing facilities when possible, adding new facilities when needed, and improving the academic opportunities for our children.

I'll write more on the bond issue later, but for now, please understand that this package has my full support. I intend to advocate for it through my blog, through letters, and in person, and I will vote for it in April.

April 8th, vote for DRK, and vote for Prop 3!

-- bab

Candidates for 2008 Rockwood School Board Election!!

Hi, all,

It is with great pride and pleasure that I announce my support for

Darla Baker

Rao Kaza

Kim McGuiness

in their bid to become members of the 2008 Rockwood School Board. I have come to know each of them over the past year, and I find them each to be intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable and reasoning, and supportive of each other and of their peers.

Rao Kaza is an incumbent on the board and is fully qualified to continue BOE participation. In Board meetings, he serves as a thoughtful voice of reason, is well spoken, and unafraid to ask logical questions. He probes for underlying meanings, while being polite and humble. I believe he understands that serving on the BOE is a privilege, that his role is to serve the Board and District, not the other way around, and that our children and their needs are paramount. I respect that, and he has my vote.

Darla Baker ran for the Board last year and lost by just a few votes as a write-in candidate. She is a trained early childhood educator, a former teacher, and an insightful person. Last April, she was able to garner almost enough votes to unseat an incumbent, and do so in a matter of two or three weeks. She did this with her ability to create passion among her supporters, her infectious enthusiasm and attitude, and her own passion for helping children. She will be a fine member of the Board, for years to come. Again, she has my vote.

Kim McGuiness is a newcomer to Board elections but not to serving the District. She is one of the best known parent-leaders in Rockwood, previously having served as President of President's Forum as well as being involved with her local school for many years. Kim is also very well known to the current administration, as she is never shy about sharing her opinions on the District with them. One of Kim's many talents is the ability to craft correctly structured organizations, instinctively understand how to appraise and evaluate them, and structure them in such a way that the people involved with them feel good about their participation. She is a natural born leader, possesses a dedication to helping the District and its children, and will add to the voices of reason already present on the Board. She has my vote.

I have complete and total faith and trust in these three individuals. I find them to have the highest senses of integrity, dedication, and passion for the District. I plan on voting for them on April 8th, and I urge you to as well.

If you would like to help, or would like to donate to this campaign, please visit the campaign website. It is continually under construction, as we add position statements, pictures, bios, and up-to-date schedule information for this slate of candidates.

-- bab

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Report from January 3rd, 2008 Board Meeting

All in all, a pretty uneventful Board meeting. This summary should be pretty short, as not much was said, and it ended pretty early.

As always, your primary source for the facts of the evening should be BoardFocus.

The biggest issues were:

  • NCLB report
  • Bond issue approval
  • Additional topics

NCLB Report

Kathy Peckron gave a report to the Board on the results of the Adequate Yearly Performance metric, as defined by Missouri, for No Child Left Behind. The basic summary of the report is that Rockwood, as a district, is not in compliance. That sounds a lot worse than it actually is. The overall district is doing great in achieving its NCLB AYP goals. But the way the law is written, if any subgroup (I'll talk about these shortly) doesn't hit their own mark, the entire district is ruled not to be in compliance. For this year, there are three small groups of children in Ballwin and Boles Elementary Schools who missed out on Math AYP, which caused the district to be considered non-compliant.

These subgroups I'm talking about are enumerated below:

  • White
  • African American
  • Hispanic
  • Asian/Pacific Islander
  • American Indian
  • Reduced price or free meals
  • Special Education
  • English Learners
  • Migrant status
  • All students

Any student who qualifies for any subgroup is a member of that group. It is possible for a single child to be a member of multiple groups. There is a minimum number of students who need to be in a subgroup before you are held accountable for that group.

So, each year, the state sets an Adequate Yearly Performance metric that all districts in the state must meet. Failure to meet this metric in each and every school for each and every subgroup for which you are being held responsible results in the district being non-compliant.  To make things even harder, the metric is getting increasingly strict each year as we march towards the program's conclusion in 2014. For the year 2007, there were exactly 0 districts in the entire state who were in compliance with AYP. And it is going to get worse next year as the standards are raised again.

One reason for our difficulties, as described by Dr. Peckron, is a large and diverse district. For NCLB AYP purposes, that effectively works against us. District-wide, we are making good progress towards AYP, but we have 8 subgroups for which we are responsible while most districts have 2 or 3. Having so many subgroups increases the chances that just one of them, in just one school, will miss their mark, and make the district non-compliant.

So, what happens if you're not in compliance?

Well, for most of our schools, the answer is "not much". If they are not in compliance, they officially only need to adjust their plans for the next year to help them achieve compliance. Since this is what they would be doing anyhow, this is really not a punishment. On the other hand, for schools who are accepting Title 1 money, which is money paid to the district by the federal government to help low-income students, there are more dire consequences. These include having to send out a letter to your community stating that you are failing to achieve AYP, giving the students the opportunity to transfer to the nearest school that is in compliance, and eventually having the state take over your school if you're out of compliance for 5 years.

This led to a discussion about whether it was worth it or not to accept Title 1 money. Currently, 6 of our elementary schools accept these funds, so these schools are the ones at risk. The money amounts to about $510,000 per year total across the district. For that sum, we put ourselves at risk for these sanctions. If we chose not to accept Title 1 money, as a district, we'd still do the same things to ensure that all students were learning, so nothing would change from an instructional point of view, but we'd have to replace the money somehow to help these children pay for lunches and supplies and we'd be immune from the sanctions above. Interesting conversation for the Board to have.

The conclusion of this discussion was a wish that a representative from the state school board would attend a future board meeting and discuss options and consequences with our board, so that they can make an informed decision (this meeting happed on Saturday, 1/12).

Bond issue approval

Not much discussion or dissension in the ranks, but this was an important decision. The bond issue is going forward, at $74.5 million dollars, to be put to the voters on April 8th, 2008. This, co-incidentally, is the same day that we are voting for our new school board members :) The vote of the board was unanimous, 7-0. Thus have they spoken :)

Additional topics

Steve Ayotte, District Coordinator of Practical Arts, gave a presentation on the future changes to the FAC curriculum. He listed several problems with the current curriculum, including a lack of general understanding of its benefits, a lack of technology usage, and an out of date curriculum. They have set into place a series of improvements, throw their improvement process, to address these issues, and move the FAC curriculum forward. An important change is that the high school and middle school curricula will be coordinated, so that students will arrive at high school knowing what they need to know to succeed, and so that middle school students will not have to sit through repeats of subjects they already know. They are also adding new courses, including a culinary arts program for those students who are interested in becoming professional chefs.

There was a presentation on the Language Arts preliminary discussion. There is a movement to update the language arts curriculum in Rockwood, and this committee is going to be responsible for making it happen. It hasn't started work yet, but they talked about what is going to happen, what their goals are, and when things should start happening.

Finally, there was a presentation on the implementation of Everyday Math through the district. It was acknowledged that this program has been a little controversial. There was a discussion of how teachers were being trained in this way of teaching math, and mention of a parent web site portal, where parents can get information about Every Day Math, including samples, exercises, and games.

Next Board Meeting

The next meeting of the Rockwood School Board is on January 17th. Unfortunately, this is also Marquette Curriculum Night, so I can't make it :( But I'd love to hear about a big turnout from readers there. Time is running short for this board, so they need to know that there are concerned citizens out there watching them, to avoid any last-minute actions by them. Hopefully, by April 9th, we'll have a new Board in place, with new members, and a new power structure.

More on the Board election and about the slate of candidates who has my full and unconditional support will be coming soon.

-- bab

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

My son and his science experiment

Please enjoy!

-- bab