Friday, August 31, 2007

List of grievances criticized principal

Booker T. Washington Academy parents and other supporters of the school presented Fayette County Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman with 21/2 pages of grievances against departing principal Peggy Petrilli, including allegations of financial mismanagement and unethical scoring and administering of standardized tests.

The accusations, made at a meeting Aug. 22, led to Petrilli's announcement Saturday that she was leaving the district.

Parents and district officials have been close-lipped about specifics surrounding Petrilli's departure. Silberman said district staff members have been assigned to investigate the allegations, but he would not address specific issues in the document, obtained yesterday by the Herald-Leader.

"We're working to move the school forward, but we will look into the issues that the parents have raised," said Silberman. "It's not really appropriate for me to discuss those (issues) at this point in time."

The group of parents, former teachers and other advocates complained about:

• the use of disciplinary tactics not approved by the school council, including "kids being grabbed by the arm, cheeks squeezed, fingers pointed in faces."

• meager funding for special education and low-income students.

• poor teacher retention and high teacher turnover.

• low numbers of African-American and Hispanic teachers to reflect the diversity of the student population.

• inappropriate cultural comments and phrases, including the use of "gigolo man" and "these people."

• concerns about grant allocations, "misappropriation of funds" and a failure to involve the school's site-based decision-making council in budget decisions.

• poor-performing students being held in a grade to keep them from testing in the next year.

• school officials standing over students while being tested.

• retaliation against parents for coming forward with complaints.

The letter asks for a curriculum and financial audit, a test-score investigation, an evaluation of teacher turnover at the school, and a new principal "who will encourage greater ethical, moral, and educational standards as well as cultural appreciation toward all of our families."

Petrilli, 59, became principal at Booker T. Washington, which was created by a merger of the Academy at Lexington and Booker T. Washington Montessori Magnet Elementary schools, in the 2005-06 school year. In 2005, she was named principal of the year by the Kentucky Association of Elementary School Principals.

Petrilli was placed at the helm of the new school because she had raised test scores at Northern Elementary.

She was recently praised for raising scores at Booker T. Washington. In 2005, the Academy's academic index was 56.5 and the former Booker T. Washington's was 53.8. In 2006, the merged school's index was 66.4 out of a total possible score of 140.

Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Lisa Gross said yesterday that the state had "received no allegations related to CATS (testing) improprieties at Booker T." CATS is the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System.

In a statement, Petrilli said she stood behind her work at the school, and "academic achievement of our students has been my life's work, my passion, my ministry." She said she decided to leave the school after meeting with Silberman and elementary school director Carmen Coleman.

"I did the best I could do, I recognize that I did not build the trusting relationships needed with the school community in order to work together for all children," the statement reads.

Although PTA president Jessica Berry wouldn't talk directly about the allegations, she said discontent with Petrilli's leadership was widespread.

"There were a lot of parents who had concerns," Berry said. "A group got together and met with the superintendent ... upon presenting those concerns, she decided she could not come back to the school."

Silberman met with faculty members Monday to discuss Petrilli's departure. On Tuesday he met with the site-based decision-making council, comprised of parents and teachers, to discuss an interim and permanent replacement principal. Both meetings were closed to the public.

Silberman said the council hopes to interview candidates for the permanent position in February, with the goal of making a selection in May for the following school year. Meanwhile, he is working to find an immediate interim principal and is considering retired administrators for the job.

This from the Herald-Leader.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

E-mail threatens some BTW Academy staff

Last Saturday evening the e-mail inboxes of Booker T Washington Academy staff got hit with an ugly message.

It was written from the Hotmail account of someone calling themselves "abouttimebtwa" under the name "Booker Washington." Some on the faculty found it unsettling.

From: Booker Washington [mailto:abouttimebtwa@hotmail.com]
Sent: Sat 8/25/2007 9:32 PM
To: BTWA Staff
Subject: Finally

FInally there is some sort of ramifications for the crap that hastaken place at BTWA for 3 years. Now to get rid of [name redacted], [name redacted], the 4th grade team and the rest of the Peggy's flunkies. In time the truth will come out and you will all be going down!

The e-mail casts an unfortunate tenor to whatever legitimate concerns may have been raised by parents and lowers them to thugish intimidation.

Rumored allegations from a parent letter that is said to be circulating alluded to - among other things - financial concerns. Some in the state have wondered if money could possibly be missing. Apparently not. Fayette County Superintendent Stu Silberman set the record straight telling KSN&C,
"I am seriously not aware of any taxpayer money missing. What we will do in this situation is the same as we would do in any situation where concerns are raised - we take them seriously and look into them and take appropriate action to either discard the issues or deal with them."
Silberman is aware of the e-mail has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to investigating matters. It is uncertain to what extent district personnel are able to trace the troublesome e-mail. It is unknown if the police are involved.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Kentucky Board of Education to Meet, Visit Schools

(FRANKFORT, Ky.) – The Kentucky Board of Education will meet on Wednesday, September 5, at the Van Hoose Education Center on Newburg Road in Louisville.

The board will meet with Jefferson County Superintendent Sheldon Berman and district educators, visit schools in the Jefferson County Public School system, then convene for an abbreviated business session. During the school visits, board members will shadow teachers, eat lunch with students and have discussions with the principals and other staff members.

A full agenda follows:

AGENDA
KENTUCKY BOARD OF EDUCATION
SEPTEMBER 4-5, 2007
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

SCHOOL VISITS TO VARIOUS JEFFERSON COUNTY SCHOOLS

7:40 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Atherton High School
Farnsley Middle School
Fern Creek High School
Meyzeek Middle School

8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. McFerran Academy

CONVERSATION WITH JEFFERSON COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT,
ADMINISTRATORS AND RESOURCE TEACHERS
Van Hoose Education Center
3332 Newburg Road, Stewart Auditorium
Louisville, Kentucky
1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. (EDT)

BUSINESS SESSION - FULL BOARD
Van Hoose Education Center
3332 Newburg Road, Stewart Auditorium
Louisville, Kentucky
2:45 p.m. - 4:15 p.m. (EDT)

I. Call to Order
II. Roll Call
III. Hearing Officer's Report
IV. Discussion of Strategic Work Priorities and Budget Priorities
V. Adjournment
SOURCE: KDE Press Release

Petrilli Issues Statement on Departure

Earlier a group of angry parents met with Fayette county Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman and apparently called for the head of Principal Peggy Petrilli.

Yesterday, Petrilli released a statement:
"I stand behind our work at Booket T.

The academic achievement of our students has been my life's work, my passion, my ministry. After having a heart-to-heart conversation with [Fayette County Superintendent]Stu [Silberman] and [Director] Carmen [Coleman], it is evident that despite my best efforts, and the fact that I did the best I could do, I recognize that I could not build trust with a group of parents...

It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to leave Booker T. Washington for the sake of our students... I ask everyone to stay focused on high academic standards, a safe and orderly environment, a high-quality professional staff and most of all, our incredibly high-achieving, motivated and bright students."

The district simply says, she resigned.

Silberman declined to comment on the parent's specific concerns Saturday telling the Herald-Leader it was a moot point since Petrilli was leaving.

What is less clear is whether, at the end of her meeting with Silberman, Petrilli had the option to stay.

So, I wrote to Silberman to ask. He responded,
"It never got to the point where Peggy ever asked to return to BTWA. As soon as we shared the concerns that were raised she decided that she did not want to go back. So, it never got to the point where that even had to be discussed."

I've been trying to get a handle on this incident because I'm not sure the issues are moot at all. The Academy was a very high-profile effort - lot's of eggs in this basket.

Once you shine a big spotlight on something,
it's hard to turn it off
without folks asking lots of questions.

Petrilli had served on Governor Ernie Fletcher's education committee during the last gubernatorial campaign. She had been invited to speak to school groups around the state on what it takes to close the achievement gap. And when Harvard's Abigail Thurnstrom came to town, they brought her to Northern, Petrilli's old school. She was a National Distinguished Principal in 2005 and Kentucky Principal of the Year. They said she was just what Booker T. Washington needed to break generations of poor achievement. Petrilli was brought in to break the cycle. Apparently, she the one getting banged up.

KSN&C has heard from folks out in the state who are concerned by what they see as serious implications for school reform in Kentucky, particularly whather we can reach children from generational poverty.

One education advocate, who has been mentioned as a possible Education Commissioner has concerns related to whether principals are getting the support they need to do their very difficult jobs and said,
"The push to 2014 is the most difficult part of school reform and many people do not understand this. Patience is thin, a lot of money has been expended and the results are not as rosy as once envisioned, largely because no one really understood how hard the work is."
In the background, there are fresh rumors of a couple of pieces of paper circulating; an e-mail and a parent letter reportedly listing specifics of the parent's complaints.


I have not seen either of them yet but I hear the letter makes allegations regarding testing accountability, SBDM, unsupportive leadership (sounds like somebody didn't get their way) and finances (...something about a payment made to a teacher for some Tshirts during a fund raiser).

If any readers have a copy, please send it to KSN&C (confidentially, if you wish)...and we'll all give it a look.

Supposedly one of the issues relates to alleged SBDM policy. The issue? That BTW Academy, a school formed two years ago, did not yet have in place all SBDM policies required by law.

If this is the type of allegation made...well...it's just lame. If we had run off every principal who took more than two years to get all their SBDM policies in place - most Fayette County schools who have been without a principal...or they would have concentrated on policies and administrivia instead, at the expense of curriculum and instruction issues.

But that's only one allegation. There's apparently much more and it's much easier to get in big trouble over something like money.

Kentucky School News and Commentary has been told (unconfirmed) that - by chance - BTW Academy was scheduled for a routine audit this past Monday and that the report from an independent auditor was good.

Look for more in the Herald-Leader tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

With Turnover High, Schools Fight for Teachers

This from the New York Times: Photo by Bruce R. Feeley:

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The retirement of thousands of baby boomer teachers coupled with the departure of younger teachers frustrated by the stress of working in low-performing schools is fueling a crisis in teacher turnover that is costing school districts substantial amounts of money as they scramble to fill their ranks for the fall term.

Superintendents and recruiters across the nation say the challenge of putting a qualified teacher in every classroom is heightened in subjects like math and science and is a particular struggle in high-poverty schools, where the turnover is highest. Thousands of classes in such schools have opened with substitute teachers in recent years.

Here in Guilford County, N.C., turnover had become so severe in some high-poverty schools that principals were hiring new teachers for nearly every class, every term. To staff its neediest schools before classes start on Aug. 28, recruiters have been advertising nationwide, organizing teacher fairs and offering one of the nation’s largest recruitment bonuses, $10,000 to instructors who sign up to teach Algebra I.

“We had schools where we didn’t have a single certified math teacher,” said Terry Grier, the schools superintendent. “We needed an incentive, because we couldn’t convince teachers to go to these schools without one.”

Guilford County, which has 116 schools, is far from the only district to take this route as school systems compete to fill their ranks. Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit policy group that seeks to encourage better teaching, said hundreds of districts were offering recruitment incentives this summer.

Officials in New York, which has the nation’s largest school system, said they had recruited about 5,000 new teachers by mid-August, attracting those certified in math, science and special education with a housing incentive that can include $5,000 for a down payment.

New York also offers subsidies through its teaching fellows program, which recruits midcareer professionals from fields like health care, law and finance. The money helps defer the cost of study for a master’s degree. The city expects to hire at least 1,300 additional teachers before school begins on Sept. 4, said Vicki Bernstein, director of teacher recruitment.

Los Angeles has offered teachers signing with low-performing schools a $5,000 bonus. The district, the second-largest in the country, had hired only about 500 of the 2,500 teachers it needed by Aug. 15 but hoped to begin classes fully staffed, said Deborah Ignagni, chief of teacher recruitment.

In Kansas, Alexa Posny, the state’s education commissioner, said the schools had been working to fill “the largest number of vacancies” the state had ever faced. This is partly because of baby boomer retirements and partly because districts in Texas and elsewhere were offering recruitment bonuses and housing allowances, luring Kansas teachers away.

“This is an acute problem that is becoming a crisis,” Ms. Posny said.

In June, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a nonprofit group that seeks to increase the retention of quality teachers, estimated from a survey of several districts that teacher turnover was costing the nation’s districts some $7 billion annually for recruiting, hiring and training.

Demographers agree that education is one of the fields hardest hit by the departure of hundreds of thousands of baby boomers from the work force, particularly because a slowdown in hiring in the 1980s and 1990s raised the average age of the teaching profession. Still, they debate how serious the attrition will turn out to be....

This from the New York Times.

Opportunistic Perv gets Wrong Number

Man charged in text-message sex solicitation

A Price Hill man was arrested Saturday on charges he solicited sex from a teenage girl via cell phone text messages - and police say it all started with a wrong number.

Roy Martin, 33, sent a text message to a wrong number, then tried to continue a conversation with the woman whose cell phone he'd mistakenly texted, said Tom Scheben, Boone County Sheriff's Department spokesman.

To get him to leave her alone, she told him she was 14 years old. But that apparently "excited him," Scheben said. Deputies advised her to tell Martin that her 13-year-old cousin might be interested in his advances.

She provided him with the cousin's cell phone number - which was the number of a Boone County detective. He repeatedly solicited sex from the "teen" via text message, Scheben said, then arranged to meet Saturday at Florence Mall.

The "teenager" turned out to be Boone County Detective Everett Stahl, however, and Martin was arrested when he arrived at the mall.

Martin is held at the Boone County jail in lieu of $25,000 cash bond...

This from the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Oldham schools' cell phone rule revised

Students' parents can get them back


The Oldham County school district will no longer keep confiscated student cell phones after a unanimous vote last night by the school board.

Despite the change, board Chairman Joyce Fletcher said, "I still hold firm to the fact that cell phones should not be used in class."
The policy change also adds iPods and MP3 players to items that cannot be used on school property.

Since 1991, Oldham County schools have had a policy dictating that a student caught using a cell phone would have it taken away.

To get the phone back, a parent has to pick it up and sign a form acknowledging that if the student is caught using it at school again, it will be forfeited to the board.

The board donated confiscated cell phones to shelters for battered women, who can use them to dial 911 in emergencies. Last year alone, the district donated 42 cell phones.

But in May, parent Joni Burnett complained to the board after her daughter's cell phone was confiscated when she was caught sending a text message to her cousin during Spanish class after having been warned.

"I'm glad they have rethought it," Burnett said. "I do support rules and I think they need to be followed. But I thought this was a little a harsh."

Now, students will be able to get their phone back if their parents pick it up at the Central Office between the last day of school and June 30. Any phone that's not picked up by a parent will be donated to a local charity...
This from the Courier-Journal.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Finding Their Voices: Encouraging struggling students to argue may seem a debatable strategy. But there's no arguing with success.

IT IS 5 O'CLOCK ON A FRIDAY NIGHT IN APRIL,
AND IGNACIO EVANS AND JERMOL JUPITER
ARE MAKING PLANS.

Heads bent close together, Jermol's braids knock up against Iggy's Mohawk as they map out their evening. They whisper. They argue. They reach an agreement.

Then, with a cocky smile, Jermol, one of the Baltimore Urban Debate League's hottest high school debaters, stands up and begins to speak.

Fast.

"In 1999, the Sentencing Project, which keeps track of incarceration rates by race and offense, reported that 32 percent of African American males between the ages of 20 and 29 are in contact with the criminal justice system as compared to 6 percent for white males and 8 percent for Latino males," says Jermol, quoting from The Warrior Method: A Program for Rearing Healthy Black Boys, a 2001 book by Raymond Winbush, a professor at Morgan State's Institute for Urban Research in Baltimore.

"Based on current rates of incarceration, the U.S. Justice Department estimates that 28 percent of black males will enter state or federal prisons during their lifetime."

Speaking with the rapid-fire speed typical of competitive debaters, who have only eight minutes to cram all their arguments into an opening statement, Jermol waves his hand in front of his stomach like a metronome that keeps his pace so swift as to make his words almost unintelligible. He spits out facts about the nation's prison system and black men's disproportionate place in it. "Sixty-seven percent of prison inmates were of color, compared to 65 percent in 1990, with African Americans making up 46 percent of state and federal prisoners," he says.

"If this trend continues, by the year 2015 half of all black men in America will be in contact with the criminal justice system via incarceration, probation, parole or indictment."

After eight minutes of Jermol firing facts, figures, quotes, sources and assertions at his competitors, a timer goes off. He stops mid-sentence -- and grins.

He plops down at a school desk too small for his lanky frame and sinks into a deep slouch, his super-skinny self nearly buried in the hooded sweatshirt he never removes.

His debate partner, Iggy, thumps him on the back and the two 17-year-olds from Baltimore size up their Midwestern competition.

Across the mostly empty classroom where this national debate tournament is taking place, two students from Ronald Reagan College Preparatory High School in Milwaukee seem a little stunned at this presentation by Baltimore's Frederick Douglass High School debate team. Sixteen-year-old Angela Jones, a junior at Reagan, simply looks at Jermol and says, after a moment, "Whoa."

The teens are participating in the annual, highly competitive J.B. Fuqua Urban Debate League Novice Celebration in Atlanta, where 14 of the top teams from around the country have convened for the season-culminating competition. The Reagan students came prepared to debate the official resolution -- a proposal to increase young people's national service in organizations such as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Teach for America and the armed services.

They have been researching and debating this very topic all year. They have tons of material about volunteerism sorted into files, placed in rubber bins and dragged halfway across the country on a plane from Milwaukee. They have been eating, sleeping and dreaming "volunteerism" for months, debating both the pros and cons of this issue at competitions across the Midwest. They know how to argue it upside down and inside and out.

Iggy and Jermol are participants in what began nine years ago as a pilot program in eight Baltimore schools to teach democracy -- as well as critical thinking, basic literacy and research skills -- to underprivileged urban kids but has snowballed into a wildly popular competition drawing more than 1,000 students from 60 schools to Baltimore's tournaments on any given weekend. The kids compete in citywide, national and even international debate competitions (Jermol went to debate in England last year; Iggy, to the Czech Republic this summer).

Debate organizers invoke a 2004 University of Missouri-Kansas City study to note that a year's participation in debate improves literacy by 25 percent and makes students three times less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as fighting and skipping school. A recent Education Week study found that Baltimore City had the third-worst graduation rate of the nation's 50 largest school districts. Only 34.6 percent of Baltimore students graduate, but 90 percent of the city's urban debaters graduate on time, and 90 percent go on to college...

This from the Washington Post.

Got a problem? Ask the public schools to solve it!

The Carpetbagger Report, a left-leaning DC blog, outlined Peter Schrag’s piece in Harper's (subscription):

Schoolhouse crock:
Fifty years of blaming America’s educational system
for our stupidity

Schrag's article makes four important points:

* Public education in America is trying to do something unprecedented. We strive to educate every child — regardless of race, creed, socio-economic level, family background or mental and physical challenges. Universal public education is a relatively recent idea. It is no longer just the children of the upper crust who are being educated. Public education serves the masses. This is a commendable concept, but it’s one that obviously presents a unique set of challenges.

* There was no “Golden Age” of American public education. The “Golden Age” is a conservative myth. Even as recently as the 1950s, teens could drop out of school, take a factory job and make a decent living. The idea that there was a time when everyone was being well educated is a crock. Until relatively recently, we weren’t even trying to educate the masses.

* Public schools are expected to deal with numerous social problems. Americans have a tendency to expect public schools to deal with every perceived problem that comes down the pike. As Schrag puts it, not only must the schools assimilate students from every conceivable background and experience, they are also expected to “make every child ‘proficient’ in English and math; educate the blind, the mentally handicapped and the emotionally disturbed to the same levels as all others; teach the evils of tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and premarital sex; prepare all for college; teach immigrants in their native languages; teach driver’s ed; feed lunch to poor children; entertain the community with Friday-night football and midwinter basketball; sponsor dances and fairs for the kids; and serve as the prime (and often the only) social-welfare agency for both children and parents.” (No wonder some schools have trouble meeting their educational mission.)

* Schools cannot do it alone. The reason the children of affluent parents tend to out-perform the children of low-income parents isn’t because low-income people are inherently stupid.It’s because affluent parents tend to be more involved in their children’s lives and have the resources to create a more intellectually stimulating environment at home. There are things low-income parents can do to even the playing field – such as turning off the television and hitting the public library regularly – but sometimes it’s tough to do even these simple things when you are struggling to keep your head above water financially or working more than one job.

This last point is perhaps most important. Americans have a bad habit of looking at public schools as merely a government service or a means to an end: You send your child there, and your child is educated. Actually, the first education your child receives is at home, and he or she should continue receiving education at home even as the school year plays out. Parents must be partners with public education, not just passive users.

To no one’s surprise, the current administration has no interest in helping public education overcome the challenges the system faces. The standard answer from the Bush camp is “choice” (a euphemism for privatization) or adding more mandates to an already heaping plate.

Think about it: How many of the difficulties our public schools face are relieved by an insistence that our children take more standardized tests?

This from the Carpetbagger Report.

Officials See Scant Gains From NCLB Rules On Teachers

A 5 ½-year-old federal requirement that calls for staffing most classrooms with “highly qualified” teachers doesn’t appear to be doing much to improve student achievement or make teachers more effective, according to a survey released today by the Center on Education Policy.

“These provisions are being complied with,” said Jack Jennings, the president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based research and advocacy organization. “But there’s a great deal of skepticism about whether they’re going to make any difference.”

Under the teacher-quality provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, states and districts have to staff core academic and fine arts classes with teachers who hold long-term licenses and demonstrate expertise in their subjects by completing coursework, passing state tests, or meeting some other criteria.

To find out whether the law’s teacher-quality mandate has made a difference so far, the center surveyed the officials in charge of implementing it in all 50 states and in a nationally representative sample of 349 districts. The study also gathered feedback from forums and more in-depth case studies in 17 districts.

While administrators in 83 percent of the districts said their school systems fully complied with the law, states appeared to be facing more of a challenge. At the time of the survey—late fall of last year and early winter of this one—only three states could boast that “highly qualified” teachers staffed 100 percent of the classrooms that the law targets, most likely because states have so many more schools than any given district does. Another 14 states said they expected to reach that goal by the end of the 2006-07 school year.

Effect on Achievement

Despite widespread implementation of the law, officials in more than half the states and two-thirds of the districts said the requirements have had little, if any, impact on student achievement.

Likewise, officials in 74 percent of the districts and in 19 of the states said the law had been minimally effective, or not effective at all, at producing better teachers.

The law’s teacher-quality provisions were prompted in part by studies showing that students in poorer schools and districts were often taught by less experienced, less qualified teachers than their counterparts in more affluent schools and districts.

In the area of how well teacher expertise is distributed, the officials gave the mandate a more mixed evaluation: Five states reported that the requirement had led to a more equitable distribution of experienced, well-qualified teachers among schools. Seventeen states said it had been “somewhat” effective in that regard, and another 17 said that teacher distribution had become “minimally” more equitable since passage of the law. The rest either did not know or said they saw no difference in the teaching staffs at schools with high poverty levels.

A key problem with the law from the administrators’ point of view is its narrow focus on content knowledge as an indicator of high-quality teaching, said the CEP’s Mr. Jennings, who is a former longtime education aide to congressional Democrats. The definition fails to account for other factors, such as personal qualities, that also make teachers effective in the classroom, he said.
States and districts are having particular problems, the study also found, in recruiting special education teachers who meet the federal definition—a situation that leads the researchers to conclude that the federal requirements should be more flexible for some teachers.

Samara Yudof, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, did not dispute the report’s findings yesterday. In an e-mail to Education Week, she said department officials are “working to support states as they aim to meet” the NCLB law’s teacher-quality provisions “and get our best teacher in our highest-need schools.”

The law, a centerpiece of President Bush’s first-term agenda that passed Congress with big, bipartisan majorities in late 2001, is due for reauthorization this year.

This from Education Week (subscription).

Advisory Panel Finds ‘Reading First’ Data Less Than Definitive

Washington - State-by-state data on the federal Reading First program were released with fanfare this past spring by the U.S. Department of Education as evidence that the initiative was fueling “tremendous progress” among students and teachers. The Reading First Advisory Committee, a federal panel that met for the first time here this week, found that information on student achievement in participating schools far less definitive and has asked for more time and technical assistance in evaluating the data from the $1 billion-a-year program.

“It seems like there are no standards anyone can interpret,” said committee member Frank R. Vellutino, a prominent reading researcher from the State University of New York at Albany.
He was referring to the variations among states in the assessments used to gauge students’ reading skills, as well as differences in cutoff scores used to determine whether children are on track toward becoming “proficient” readers.

“It’s going to be a job and a half to come to any conclusion whether states are meeting their responsibilities” in improving achievement in Reading First schools, Mr. Vellutino said.

The committee was given a thick binder filled with test-score data from grantees, which states are required to submit to the department each year. The information is based on the assessments and proficiency benchmarks set by each state as part of its Reading First plan...

This from Education Week (subscription).

Simon Kenton uses MySpace as learning aid

Some see MySpace.com, the Internet's popular social networking site, as nothing more than a place where kids reveal personal information and chat with strangers.

But one Kenton County teacher is trying to turn it into a learning tool to help her students succeed in class.

Shannon Dunhoft, freshman English teacher at Simon Kenton High, said roughly 75 percent of students polled at her school claim to spend two to three hours each night on MySpace.

"I figured 'Why not do some good with it?' " Dunhoft said. "When I was in college, they encouraged us to use technology." And she's heeded that advice to the fullest.

She's created a class MySpace page, blog and Web site for her students and their parents to get instructions and assignments and ask her questions if they need help.

"It's a lot more work for me at home, but I tell my students I'll do whatever I need to make information accessible for them," Dunhoft said.

She received permission this summer from the school's site-based council to set up the MySpace page. Students can use it to post comments and ask questions about what they learned that day.

She started the blog at the end of last school year, which serves the same purpose as the MySpace page. "I think the blog is something the parents will use more than the kids," Dunhoft said.

The Web site has a calendar that shows what students will be taught three weeks out, as well as what they'll need for each class. There are also guidelines for the book reviews they have to do and an approved novel list.

There is also a link to the school's freshman academy page (which she also maintains)...

This from the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Second Ex-Johnson Co official found guilty of stealing over a half-million dollars

PIKEVILLE — A second ex-Johnson County School District official was convicted Thursday of stealing over a half-million dollars of school funds.

After deliberating about four hours, a nine-woman, three-man federal jury convicted the former school payroll clerk, Shelby Jean Coleman, of issuing unauthorized pay checks to herself and paying a co-defendant's son, Michael VanHoose, at times he was not a worker of the school system.

The verdict came after about six days of testimony.

Coleman, like Peggy VanHoose, the former finance officer and treasurer, was not remanded into custody after her conviction.

A federal judge is scheduled to sentence the two Nov. 27.

VanHoose faces 30 years behind bars, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release. Coleman faces a similar sentence, but the maximum sentence she can serve is a 20-year prison term...

This from the Big Sandy News along with an outline of closing arguments and testimony; reported at KSBA.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Petrilli leaves Booker T Washington Academy

In a stunning development, it was confirmed by Fayette County officials Friday that Peggy Petrilli would be leaving Booker T. Washington Academy two weeks into the third year of her reformation project.

It is my understanding that the Herald-Leader has the full story. This morning, they ran this innocuous piece instead. (In fairness, I hear that Raviya Ismail is out of town. This story was written by a staff reporter. H-L may not be done with this.)

The principal of Booker T. Washington Academy has told Fayette school board officials that she will be leaving the elementary school, Superintendent Stu Silberman said late Saturday night.

Peggy Petrilli, 59, told Silberman last week that she will either resign or retire after he spoke to her about concerns raised by parents, Silberman said.

“It caused her to decide she didn’t want to go back there,” he said.

Silberman declined to discuss the issues raised by the parents. He said they’re a moot point since she’s leaving.

Petrilli declined to comment Saturday.

Petrilli became principal at Washington, which was formed by a merger of Booker T. Washington Elementary and The Academy at Lexington, for the 2005-2006 school year. Before that, she was the principal of Northern Elementary, where she received praise for working to reduce disparities in student achievement and creating Saturday programs.

In 2005, she was named principal of the year by the Kentucky Association of Elementary School Principals and a National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. She received her B.Ed. from Western Kentucky University and an M.Ed. from Southwest Texas State University.

Silberman said he will meet with the Washington’s site-based decision making council to decide how to proceed. The council will have to decide whether to begin advertising for the vacancy now. It could also name an interim principal to finish the school year, then start searching for a permanent replacement in the summer when more candidates are available, he said.

This development is a serious blow for the school district that established the Academy to prove to the public that achievement gaps could be closed in all communities - even those entrenched in generational poverty - and that the BTW Academy would "become a model across the state."

The Academy, which was formed from the merger of two low-scoring, high-poverty schools, drew the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the University of Kentucky, the Home Builders Association of Lexington, LexLinc, the Georgetown Street Area Neighborhood Association, Success by Six, Head Start and One Community, One Voice.

Fayette County Superintendent Stu Silberman promised to make the academy one of the highest-achieving schools in the state without changing its demographics.

In January 2005, Silberman told Booker T Washington parents that much of their children's low-test-score problem could be attributed to the [former] principals and their ability to motivate their staffs. He said principals -- one at a high-scoring school and one at a low-scoring school -- could be switched, and that the scores would flip-flop in two years.

He brought in his top-gun. Northern Principal Peggy Petrilli was selected to lead the new academy. Petrilli had previously been named Elementary School Principal of the Year by the Kentucky Association of Elementary School Principals.

Test scores for the second year of Petrilli's tenure are due this fall. (Although, with the restructuring of the test this year, it will be impossible to compare the new scores to prior scores. Many teachers have commented that the new test is noticeably easier and, based on that, I'll bet you a nickel scores tend to go up all across the state.)

Petrilli had received acclaim in prior years as principal of Northern Elementary. She showed a flair for innovation, emphasized the arts and found more instructional time by starting Saturday programs. She created a more inviting atmosphere in the school, and her students made significant progress in academics.

In November 2004, Silberman explained his plan for improving schools to the Herald-Leader.
"We don't want to come in and change everything and make that the cause of the increase in student achievement. We want to take the current population and faculty and staffs that we have in place and provide them with supports and resources to show what can happen."
At the Academy, however, it didn't work out that way. When she moved to BTW, Petrilli was permitted to take the nucleus of her Northern leadership team with her. Since then, a high faculty turnover rate has been a cause for complaint within the community. While it was generally accepted that some deadwood needed pruning, the broader changes seemed to suggest a different administrative approach was at work.

Time was, when most principals preferred to hire teachers with successful track records. But Petrilli seemed to choose promising rookies. Well-motivated young teachers can become proficient and loyal. But they are also easier to fire if their performance comes up short. Apparently a boat load of teachers failed to meet performance expectations and, like Silberman, Petrilli was not shy about pulling the trigger when she felt her students could perform better under someone else.

The academy started the 2005-2006 academic year with 20 first-year teachers on a total faculty of 40. The approach was not new for Petrilli. In fact, she received acclaim for her aggressive dedication to student achievement results at Northern and was praised for the same approach she used at BTW; and if some adults got bruised in the process - so be it. Get the right people on the bus. Get the wrong people off the bus. Drive the bus.

And there was never a question about whose hand was on the wheel.

By October, Petrilli had moved to outlaw sugar from the school cafeteria and forbade the teachers from using candy as a reward in class. She received accolades for her foresight and courage. Associate Professor of Exercise Science at Transylvania University, Sharon Brown wrote, "Kentucky's childhood obesity epidemic is not going to go away unless more principals have the courage to follow Booker T. Washington Academy Principal Peggy Petrilli's lead and commit to having a school lunch program that puts our children's health first: no doughnuts, no pizza, no sugared juices, no fried foods, no chocolate milk. No compromises, no apologies."

No compromises; no apologies. That was the approach. Look at the kids. Decide what is best for them. Just do it.

Parents and students may grumble now, but they will love it when their children are successful. That's how it was supposed to work.

So great was the desire for success in the Georgetown Street neighborhood that Petrilli was given unusual leeway in implementing her programs. "She was given carte blanche,' one district official told Kentucky School News and Commentary; "She got whatever she wanted."

That included the full support of Silberman and some support apparently not available to other schools in the district. Petrilli's singular focus and drive - while valued and encouraged by some - was not universally appreciated. It apparently rubbed some principals, and many in the district's middle management, the wrong way.

I heard so many grumbled comments early on, that they lead me to believe some would have liked nothing more than to see Petrilli fail. Jealousy? Perhaps. Or perhaps, the sense of an unlevel playing field for schools that have yet to meet their goals.

But love her or hate her, no one ever accused Petrilli of not working hard.

By February 2006 the Herald-Leader reported a number of programs that had been implemented to change the culture of the school and increase student achievement numbers.

"Pre-schoolers tutored individually by University of Kentucky students. A first-grade class performing the Langston Hughes poem Dreams. A fourth-grade class playing Natalie's Dream on their violins. Classrooms no larger than 15 pupils, nutritious school lunches sans sugar and transfats, additional classes after school and on Saturday. The list goes on and on...

"But the process hasn't been easy. Petrilli spends most of her days scuttling between the intermediate building on Price Road and the primary building on Howard Street. Her work day is often more than 12 hours long.

Her goal is to increase Commonwealth Accountability Testing System scores to a reading goal of 80, a science goal of 80 -- although most of the school is already at 100 in this subject measured through learning checks -- a social studies score of 80 and a math score of 75. This is out of a total of 140 for each subject area.

The school's CATS academic index in 2004-05 was 55. The district index was 78.To make these leaps, she has introduced classes in violin and Spanish for preschool through fourth grade, Latin for fifth-graders, and a rotation of trumpet, clarinet and percussion classes. She also has enforced a dress code, with students obligated to wear either khaki or navy slacks and a shirt with a collar. And for students without the proper attire, the school has a stash of clothes."

By 2006, BTW Academy had raised its Academic Index to 82.4, just shy of its goal of 83, and was deemed a "progressing" school. Reading is at 73.7; Math = 56.5; Science = 81.4; Social Studies = 59.8; Pract Living = 56.6; Arts & Humanities = 46.4 and Writing is at 71.6; for a total Academic Index of 66.4.

The Herald-Leader reported that a "Knight Foundation grant of $550,000 had been secured" to redesign "teacher preparation programs in childhood and elementary education, creat[e] a community involvement program and conduct... an outside evaluation of the entire program to determine its weaknesses and strengths."

H-L wrote, "Parents are excited about the changes at Booker T. and hope Petrilli can fulfill the goals set out for the school."

That sounds great but it was not the whole story. A significant number of parents, and others have been concerned about Petrilli's take-no-prisoners style. The grumbling apparently reached a crescendo recently.

State Board of Education member C B Akins, who contributed his support to the Academy initiative and who pastors the nearby Bracktown Baptist Church where many members of the BTW community attend, commented at the June Kentucky Board of Education meeting that he had been fielding complaints from a number of people in his community about the loss of teachers. He did not specifically mention any particular school.


So What does this all mean?

There was a meeting between Silberman and a group of parents. Unspecified concerns were raised.

After the meeting, Silberman had a chat with Petrilli. Petrilli decides to resign or retire from BTW Academy.

Neither Silberman nor Petrilli want to talk about it.



Just when you thought it was safe to go to the playground...

Spontaneous fire closes playgrounds

ARLINGTON – The sudden heat wave has brought something more menacing than sunburns and higher electric bills. The latest sign of summer just might be spontaneous combustion.

Arlington schools Superintendent Mac Bernd announced Monday that he would replace all the "engineered wood fiber" material on the district's playgrounds after one burst into flames last week. A review of footage from a surveillance camera determined that no one was around to start the fire – either accidentally or intentionally.

"It was like a perfect storm," Deputy Fire Marshal Keith Ebel said.

He said the fire Thursday at Anderson Elementary apparently started from heat generated by decomposition of the wood chips and high temperatures from the recent heat wave. Marshal Ebel said this might not have happened without the rainy first half of the summer followed by high heat.

Dr. Bernd said 35 playgrounds at 20 schools would be closed by the end of the day Monday. He said it would take two weeks and $200,000 to replace the wood fiber with pea gravel...

This from the Dallas Morning News.

More on multiple measures and NCLB

An interesting post, and comments, over at This Week in Education on multiple measures.

It seems that US Rep and education committee Chairman George Miller's speech at the National Press Club last month struck a nerve with conservative Stanford researcher Erik Hanushek.

Miller had signalled his openness to looking at some additional measures of success, like high school graduation rate in assessing the success of our schools. This make perfectly good sense to me.

We ought to clearly define it so that "graduation" in Georgia means the same thing it does in Kentucky, then keep the data and track it.

I'm not a fan of Hanushek's. Some of his sworn testimony in school funding cases has appeared to me to be deliberately stupid. I say deliberately, because clearly, he is not, in fact, stupid. Sometimes, what he says is. To hear him tell it, money just doesn't matter much when it comes to quality schooling - it can't be shown scientifically to have an impact. But I'll bet he understands that it costs you more if you want fries with that burger. If he wants the BMW with the navigational system, he knows it will cost him more. Just like hiring an extra high quality teacher who will make a difference for a bunch of kids. But I digress...

This time, I think Hanushek is a little smarter.

Haunshek is worried by some of the discussion over multiple measures and argues for measures that are clear and, in fact, measurable. Me too. Some argue that school assessment ought to include such measures as portfolio assessment, writing assessments and public speaking. Talk about an undefined measures. These may well be the right idea - but as assessment goes - it will be difficult to agree that one teacher's assessment of student writing would match anther's.

It is an inter-rater reliability nightmare.

Hanushek also correctly points out the powerful effect that disaggregating student achievement data has had on forcing schools to focus on all groups of students, rather than hiding behind mean scores while persistently allowing the same groups of children to fail year after year...without accountability.

Without arguing whether federal imposition of NCLB's federal accountability system is actually constitutional - it would be the right way to go, even under a state accountability system.

And Hanushek concedes that adding a growth model improves NCLB.

But Hanushek only wants to look at data that focuses on "basic cognitive skills."

Why?

We collect a ton of data about the performance of our schools. School leaders across the country pour over that data (some of it demographic like graduation rates) gauging the relative success of school programs; looking for trends. The data tell a story.

Part of that story is what it will take for all school and all students to be successful; what it takes to close achievement gaps.

Perhaps what Hanushek really fears from an expanded data set, is not so much that it might damage kids, but what it might reveal; that it's not enough for us to simply declare our best aspirations - that no child will be left behind - reaching that goal is going to require a greater, more comprehensive effort, than simply putting the thumb screws to America's principals and teachers.

Of course, some of the broader discussion of multiple measures is at cross purposes.

Hanushek is thinking of an accountability system.

Many teachers look at assessment - quite properly - as a useful tool for guiding and adjusting instruction. The teachers are correct. But when policy makers wanted accountability, their heads were in a different place.

Of course, it would have been best if we first built a strong instructional assessment system which started with the content and then provided teachers timely feedback on their student's progress on specific objectives... and then, built an assessment system around that.

But it didn't work that way for political reasons.

Policy makers wanted accountability more than improved instruction...so that's where they put their effort. The two ought to be the same, but they are not.

Minority educators can lead

Intern preparing to be superintendent

Demetria Choice hopes to one day become a school superintendent in Kentucky.

"We have 174 superintendents and just one of them is a minority," said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education. "That does not reflect the racial makeup of this state."

That's why the department started the Minority Superintendent Internship Program in 2003.

Choice is the program's lone participant this year and is conducting her internship with the Kenton County School District. Her salary is paid by the education department, but her work is in Kenton County.

She's filling in the next three weeks for an assistant principal who is on leave at Simon Kenton High. She has attended training sessions on law and finance, and has done research and written a letter for the district to legislators about scholarship money.

"This isn't about shadowing me," said Kenton Superintendent Tim Hanner. "We're making sure that we're putting her in a position where she's getting hands-on experience and learning everything there is to learn."

Kentucky has a 9.6 percent minority population, according to the 2005 Census. Gross said fewer than 10 have gone through the program. Two became superintendents....

This from the Cincinnati Enquirer: Photoby Patrick Reddy: Superintendent intern Demetria Choice (right) with Erin Welch, a first-year special ed teacher at Simon Kenton High.

Schools adapt to digital age

There was a time when students showed up on the first day of school with backpacks stuffed with nothing more sophisticated than solar calculators.

Those days are long past, and administrators and teachers are finding themselves having to adapt their rules and teaching techniques to a new generation of students - the kind who are likely to be more at home with a cell phone than a pen and paper.

Gary Bernardini, store manager of Radio Shack in the Florence Mall, said the main item high school students are buying this season is the cell phone with Internet and music capabilities.

The phones are really becoming more music-centric," Bernardini said. "The keypad doesn't just have numbers any more, but controls for music right on the front of the phone. Kids expect their cell phones to do a lot more than they used to."

Dixie Heights High School senior Lauren Eldridge said her cell phone allows her to keep in touch with her parents and take photos and get on the Internet. She loves her iPod as well, but she said she's careful not to use these gadgets when she's in class. Not everyone is as conscientious, however.

"I do find it annoys me when students are blatantly using cell phones in class," Eldridge said. "It's against school policy to do that. Technically, they're supposed to be in our lockers when they're not in use, but kids do sometimes get away with snapping pictures in class or texting."
To help them deal with the ever-changing technology that students bring to class, the three largest Northern Kentucky School Districts - Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties - all have acceptable-use policies that students must sign at the start of the year. The policies vary slightly but are consistent in requiring that cell phones be turned off during the school day and the Internet be used for educational purposes only.

Such policies, according to Campbell County Schools Technology Director Linda Smith, are all about protecting students from themselves.

"We want students to be safe. We try to protect them as much as we can, but with technology, that's hard to do. Just when we think we've found a way to safeguard students, they find a way around it," Smith said.

That is particularly true of sites such as Facebook and MySpace, Campbell County High School Associate Principal John Hardy said...

This from the Cincinnati Post.

Gifted Kentucky students get their own school

Math, science academy is dedicated at WKU

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- For a decade, advocates for Kentucky's brightest students have lobbied for a program to give them a more challenging academic environment.

Yesterday they celebrated their victory -- with the dedication of the new Academy of Math and Science in Kentucky at Western Kentucky University.

"This is a special day," said Julia Roberts, director of the Center for Gifted Studies at WKU and one of the leaders of the initiative. "I think the academy is going to have a tremendous boost to the economy of Kentucky."

The academy is the first of its kind in Kentucky -- and only the 14th in the nation.

Each year it will admit high school students based on such things as standardized test scores, grades and recommendations. Instead of spending their final years in regular high schools, students will enroll in the academy and live in a special dormitory on campus.

They will take courses alongside Western students, and at the end will have earned college credits, in addition to completing high school. ...

This from the Courier-Journal.

And this from the Cincinnati Post:

Six of Northern Kentucky's brightest teen math and science students left Wednesday for Western Kentucky University's new innovative boarding academy for high schoolers.

The Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky brings together 120 students from 61 counties to live on the Bowling Green campus and take college-level courses taught by professors for up to two years.

The academy - one of just 14 like it in the U.S. - opens today, with the announcement of a $4 million private endowment. Classes begin Monday.

Students can get a jump-start on college by accumulating up to 60 credit hours while finishing their high school requirements.

The program is funded by the Kentucky General Assembly, and will provide room, board, and tuition for students. Students' families will pay for books and travel and personal expenses.

The academy dovetails with state education officials' initiatives to improve academic performance - notably in math and science - and to boost the rate of Kentuckians in college to the national average by 2020...

Erwin's Scottsdale personnel file also Missing

Scottsdale Schools General Counsel confirms:
Erwin file missing

Stop me if you've heard this one before...but Barbara Erwin's personnel file is missing.

Not the one in St Charles Illinois. We already knew it went bye bye. Now comes confirmation that Erwin's Scottsdale Arizona file also mysteriously disappeared.

Now who on Earth would have...?

Who had the means?
Who had the motive?
Who had the opportunity?


Some citizens in St Charles, Illinois are - shall we say ...disgruntled.

Burned by years of feeling marginalized...
...hacked off by revelations of illegal back room deals that violated the Open Meetings Act
...and the Gaffney/Erwin memo that asked for even more than the contract allowed for Erwin
...and what smells to them like attempted fraud
...or possibly conspiracy to commit fraud
...an extraordinary gift of sick days, the kind of gift that threatened to undermine the state's teacher retirement system sufficiently that the Illinois legislature outlawed the practice the board was engaged in
...one that stands to cost the St Charles school district thousands of dollars
...Feeling like the state's attorney's response to willful Open Meetings Act violations fell woefully short
...Feeling stonewalled by state's attorney inaction on the Gaffney/Erwin memo
...wondering if Knipp, Gaffney, and others may be contributors to Barsanti's reelection campaign
...wondering if he could recognize a wrongdoing if it was shown to him
...They feel confused by the inaction, but emboldened...and are pressing their case

So, some more digging has been going on.

It had been rumored at KSN&C...and the Kane County Chronicle...that Erwin's Arizona file was also gone. We haven't heard anything from Allen Texas yet, but I suspect somebody will check for her file there as well.

One St Charles citizen sent KSN&C evidence of an email correspondence with Scottsdale Arizona School's General Counsel, Kim C. Clark:

Responding to an Open Records request, Ms. Clark wrote,

"I apologize for the delayed response. We have been unable to locate Ms. Erwin's file. We are contacting our outside attorney's office to see if they might have retained the file for some reason. We will keep you posted. Thank you for your patience."

After further searching Ms. Clark wrote again,
"After a diligent search of our records, and those of our former outside counsel, the District does not have Ms. Erwin's file. We will be sure to notify you, however, if it turns up.
The St Charles citizen pressed the issue a bit with more questions related to whether the district knew if Erwin was aware her file was missing, if a police report had been filed in Arizona and alerting Clark to the investigation in Illinois. A couple of weeks later Clark responded,
"Sorry for the delay in responding. The District's personnel files are maintained in a secure location at the District office. The District is required to maintain personnel files for three years, so it is quite possible that Ms. Erwin's file has been destroyed in the normal course of events. ... Most of the District's current leadership joined the District well after Ms. Erwin resigned and would have no interest in, or knowledge of her file. We continue to investigate, but at this point have uncovered no evidence that any employee or former employee improperly removed the file. Our former outside counsel is Mary Ellen Simonson at Lewis & Roca. I checked with her office on the off chance that they might have a copy of the file, but they did not. I hope this helps.
Clark's explanation that the file might possibly have been destroyed in the normal course of events was not an explanation of what did happen, so much as it was an absolution of the district, should someone claim Scottsdale had done something wrong - which no one is alleging to my knowledge.

Scottsdale attorney Christine Schild picked up on the story and pressed Clark for clarification...in her own inimitable style. Clark made it clear...they just don't know anything.

"Of course I did not personally supervise the destruction of the file. As I said, that could be what happened, but at this point, we have no definitive proof of what may have happened.We are not withholding any information. We just don't have any information to disclose."


In Illinois

Who had the means?
Who had the motive?
Who had the opportunity?

In Arizona

Who had the means?
Who had the motive?
Who had the opportunity?


In a related matter, An appellate court in Springfield has ruled that contracts of public officials are public record, no matter where they are stored...

...In May, the St. Charles school district said it no longer considered contracts of employees, including then-Superintendent Barbara Erwin, to be public documents. Citing a DuPage County circuit court ruling and a 3rd District appellate court ruling, the school district’s attorney said that, because contracts were kept in personnel files, they were not public information. Last week’s ruling appears to directly contradict that reasoning...

This from the Kane County Chronicle.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Public Schools consider boycott of private schools

Public high schools recently were knocked to the canvas in their ongoing sports dispute with private schools, but one leading advocate for public schools said not to count them out yet.

Somerset Superintendent Wilson Sears sent an email last week to every superintendent in the state outlining five possible reactions – including a boycott of private schools.

Sears, who has been on the frontline for the public schools in this nearly three-year debate, said it was "too early to talk about" the next step. He said that public schools still feel that private schools have an unfair athletic advantage and that his group doesn’t plan to walk away without a fight."We have heard from a whole lot of people," Sears said. "If anybody feels like this has gone away they are mistaken. It’s not going to go away."We’re not inclined to give it up for our kids.

There will be some strategy sessions that will happen among public school leaders. It’s not over."The final — and most controversial — suggestion in the email was for public schools to band together and refuse to play private schools during the regular season."It would take a huge buy-in for that to work, and we don’t know if that’s possible," Sears said. "Everyone hopes it doesn’t come to that. But I do think if the guys that voted on this don’t go back and reconsider it — and I have no reason to believe they would – but if they don’t reconsider it and no discussion...

"Do people really expect the public school people across the state – which is 90 percent of the population – to tuck our tails and say we lost?"...

This from the Courier-Journal.

Erwin's missing personnel file: Unresolved, but the story still won't go away

The police recently dropped their investigation into Barbara Erwin's missing personnel file.

I should drop it too, but the story won't quite die.

Having interviewed everyone who was still in town, apparently the only remaining prospect for the district and police was to subject central office employees to lie-detector tests. Schlomann demurred. He couldn't use any information obtained that way anyhow. I doubt the authorities seriously suspected any central office personnel of being the perpetrator.

I have a hard time imagining some file clerk making off with a precious souvenir of the Erwin era in Illinois - the now famous contract amendment #2 notwithstanding.

Now the Kane County Chronicle published two tid bits from the failed police search in today's paper.
  • The St Charles police investigation confirmed that the "locked" storage room was accessible by a master key after hours.
  • Investigators tried to reach Erwin multiple times but did not receive a response. Her home telephone in St. Charles has been disconnected.
Why wouldn't Erwin return a call to the police? What would you have done?

Am I mistaken, or did Barbara Erwin have means, motive and opportunity?

These are exactly the elements of investigation someone like Hercule Poirot would have used to solve tricky cases. But that's fiction.

In reality, the police have probably gone as far as they should go based on the evidence they have.

But now comes the rumor that Erwin's file is also missing
from her superintendency in Scottsdale!

A Kentucky School News and Commentary reader mentioned this a while back - and honestly - I blew it off. I took a quick peek at the Arizona Republic and couldn't find anything (in about a minute) verifying such a claim and quickly stopped looking. Now, sources tell me evidence is on the way.

I'll keep you posted if things develop.

In the meantime...can anyone tell me why State's Attorney John Barsanti is blowing off Bobbie Raehl?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Shift Happens

This video was the original creation of a school technology guy in Colorado who wanted to stimulate a conversation about the future of schooling, based on the rapid changes in technology and human demographics.

Think: Friedman's The World is Flat

His original title was "Did You Know?" but the "slide show" has been passed around a bit and "improved upon" - even localized for use in some places. And given background music and a catchier title... It runs about 8 minutes.

Eastern Kentucky University's new interim President Doug Whitlock showed it as "food for thought" at EKU's faculty and staff convocation. Despite the fear that everybody is going to show it to their education students - I showed it anyway, with a new course I'm teaching at EKU on Schooling and Society.

One of my students questioned it's authority because the slide show only rarely cites its sources (he gets brownie points for that in my class), but Friedman's book is very well documented and my guess is that the numbers presented are accurate enough...to make its point. As for its implied predictions? Who knows? But that's the point.

Lets talk about it.

Then, let's decide if it's OK with us that Nintendo spends more on R&D for its next product than the sum of money spent on educational research. No wonder high quality research is so rare.

In the competition for kids minds, who do you think is winning?

(Sorry for the link; I couldn't get the embed code to copy properly)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jefferson County school transfers are hard to get. Officials say: Capacity, not race, to blame

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the use of race for individual student assignments, Toya Martin of Louisville hoped two of her children could transfer to a nearby school.

"I was like, 'Oh, good. My kids are going to be able to get closer to home,' " she said.

But that didn't happen.

The week before school started, Martin was told that the school her children had applied to, Byck Elementary, didn't have enough space.

That's the case in most Jefferson County public schools, the district's latest enrollment data show.

Seventy-four of the district's 120 non-magnet schools are at or above their capacity, according to figures from the first week of class. And most of the 46 schools below capacity have only a dozen or fewer openings...

This from the Courier-Journal.

Fayette County calls for help with Special education panel

A new advisory group is being formed in Fayette County to help improve the services provided to students with special needs.

The Special Education Advisory Council will be comprised of parents/guardians, district employees, private service providers, professionals and community advocates who will inform, advise and provide feedback and input to the Fayette County Public Schools Special Education Department on special education issues.

The group will meet every other month.

Applications are now being taken please help us spread the word about this opportunity.

Everyone who is interested in making sure that our students with special needs are served well is welcome. To get an application, call the Special Education Department at 381-4171.

Read the bylaws for this group.

SOURCE: FCPS press release

No stone unturned? Between now and November?!

Jim Waters over at the Bluegrass Institute gives Joe Brothers a good early review and some encouragement to keep his word when he said, “This board will leave no stone unturned until we find a commissioner that is worthy of our state.”

Sounds great. But the last plan I heard from the board sounded more like "quick and dirty" than it did "scour the Earth."

...So far, Brothers gets an “A” for communicating a clear vision: the kids come first.

But leadership is more than just talk. It’s also about action, the right action.

Hiring a competent, reform-minded commissioner willing to make the students, not the system, top priority – even if it ticks off the bureaucrats – would show that Brothers’ actions speak louder than his words.

The board could find numerous candidates without turning over any stones. These likely would be lifelong bureaucrats who have shuffled along in the system and now want to do the same as Kentucky’s top education leader. They want the money or prestige. It’s a safe bet none would vigorously challenge the status quo.

The status quo isn’t close to good enough.

During its April meeting, the board heard from education department officials that less than 40 percent of the state’s public schools – and only 12 percent of its high schools – are on track to meet requirements of 100-percent academic proficiency in critical subject areas by 2014.

“We have to do better,” Brothers said...



Honey.....I'm Hooooome.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Road Trip !

It's the start of the new semester...it looks like I'll be teaching 2 new courses and that makes it crunch time. Add to that a long-standing weekend date with my in-laws in this place...and I'm not sure how much blogging I'll be able to fit in this week.

In the mean time, amuse yourself with the new college ratings from U S News and World Report.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Legislators Oppose National Standards

The National Conference of State Legislatures has taken a hard line against any form of national academic standards, declaring last week that any national attempt to unite school curricula across states would be unacceptable until perceived flaws in the federal No Child Left Behind Act are fixed.

The strongly worded new policy against national standards—even voluntary ones—prompted virtually no debate and was approved on a voice vote during the Denver-based group’s business meeting at its annual conference here, which drew nearly 9,000 attendees from Aug. 5-9. NCSL policies such as the new one on national standards set the Washington lobbying agenda of the legislative group.

The policy reads, in part: “We need rigorous state standards that are anchored in real world demands. … This can be most readily accomplished through individual state refinement of standards … not through federal action—which flies in the face not only of the role of states since the inception of our system of providing education, but the historical role of states and local school districts in funding education with diminished federal support.”

Much of the group’s opposition to national standards is rooted in its dislike for the NCLB law, which is up for reauthorization before Congress. The NCSL, which has been among the most unified, vocal critics of the federal school accountability law, issued a report in February 2005 calling for more flexibility for states.

“The idea of going to national standards when we’re dealing with a system that has imposed itself on all 50 states—with the emphasis on process—would at best be premature,” New York state Sen. Stephen Saland, a Republican, said at last week’s ncsl meeting. Sen. Saland was a co-chairman of the group’s task force on the federal education law. “This would not be the time.” ...

This from Education Week (subscription).

Inside the First Amendment: We're strangling high school free speech, press

Op Ed by Gene Policinski, Gannett News Service, in the Courier-Journal.

WASHINGTON -- As high school students head back to school this month, far fewer have a chance to participate in real student journalism owing to reduced or eliminated programs, fewer trained professional advisers and quite possibly antagonistic school administrators.

Journalism educators gathered here Aug. 9 to talk about high school journalism, 20 years after the first Scholastic Journalism Summit. They heard that many of those same problems considered two decades ago remain -- and the more recent news is even more chilling.

The combination of school abandonment of support for free press and speech and court decisions in the last two decades is "chipping away at fundamental freedoms" in a trend "for which I see no end in sight," warned Mark Goodman, who led the Student Press Law Center for much of that time.

Some student cases in point:

A federal appeals court recently ruled that New York school officials could suspend an otherwise-exemplary eighth-grader for posting a 2001 online picture message from home on his parents' computer and sending it to a few of his friends. The court said the drawing threatened the student's English teacher, but its holding wasn't based on any finding that the threat was "true." Rather, it was because school officials made the case that they believed it would disrupt classes.

In a serious case with a funny nickname, "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," the U.S. Supreme Court carved out yet another exception to a hallmark 1969 student-speech case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. The Court will permit school authorities to punish student speech that administrators deem to indicate even a smidgen of support for illegal drug use.

In Minnesota, an award-winning editor of a student newspaper found his publication censored by a principal because he was going to run a picture of the simulated destruction of a U.S. flag -- in a report about a play on the Civil War.

Then there was the flap last school year in a northern Indiana school district over a student newspaper column that asked for tolerance and compassion for gays. The junior-senior high school has eliminated the newspaper program and turned yearbook into an after-school club. The newspaper adviser, who successfully deflected a school board attempt to fire her, has left the public system for a private school -- where she will not be banned from the journalism program.

We can all agree that realistic threats of violence in school merit realistic responses by authorities. And I have yet to find even strident First Amendment advocates who disagree that student journalists need education, training and adult advice.

But what are we teaching students -- our future fellow citizens -- about the value of a free press when a well-written, mild-mannered essay is reason for killing off a student publication and removing the adviser?

What are we telling students about the value of free speech when the good ones are reprimanded, suspended, expelled or even face criminal charges for musings that likely would have sent a prior generation to after-school detention, at most?

When we block students from expressing themselves in school, we likely don't shut off the speech. We drive it underground or into cyberspace.

When we shut down or water down student newspapers, Web sites and yearbooks, we speak loudly about authority at the expense of education.

Again, from Goodman: "Large numbers of students are learning that government does have the power to control the content" of newspapers and speech.

Summit attendees heard some glimmers of positive news. Innovative programs like the American Society of Newspaper Editors' High School Journalism initiative offer advice and a Web home to electronic versions of high school newspapers. A new initiative by the Radio Television News Directors Association will boost student radio and television.

But in an era when too many school officials seem bent on shutting down student expression and the courts seem willing to support them, there's too little good news for those who don't see the words "except for students" anywhere in the 45 words of the First Amendment.

Kentucky, Indiana scores on ACT up, More students took the test this year

ACT college-entrance scores rose slightly in both Kentucky and Indiana for the class of 2007, according to results released today.

In Kentucky, the average score rose from 20.6 last year to 20.7 this year. In Indiana, the average score rose from 21.7 last year to 22.0 this year. The national composite score for 2007 is 21.2 out of a possible 36.

The test, which measures students' readiness for college-level work, is given in four sections -- reading, math, science and English.

More than 14,000 students took the test in Indiana, an increase of more than 1,000 over last year. In Kentucky, nearly 31,000 students took the test, up from 29,800 in 2006.

"This is good news for our state, especially since more students are taking the test," said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education. "Usually when you increase the testing pool, scores will go down."

An area of concern is the performance of the state's minority students. The average score for black students was 17.8, while Hispanic students averaged 20.7. White students scored 23.1.
All of Kentucky's public colleges and universities and most of the state's private schools use the ACT exam as part of their admissions criteria. That is not the case in Indiana, where most students take the SAT as an entrance exam.

Starting in fall of 2009, incoming freshmen at Kentucky's public universities and colleges will have to score a 19 in math and 21 in reading in order to be guaranteed admission.

This from the Courier-Journal.

Sports eligibility proposal rejected by legislative panel

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A controversial plan that would cost some high school athletes a year of sports eligibility received a harsh rebuke yesterday from a legislative subcommittee, which declared the idea "deficient" in a 6-0 vote.

The plan, called Proposal 2, would define athletic feeder systems for private schools somewhat similar to those imposed on public schools. Many students who cross those boundaries -- moving from a public middle school to a private high school or vice versa -- would have to sit out of competition for a year.

This is a clear signal from this legislative committee that the current Proposal 2 is not acceptable as a solution to the allegations of recruiting in athletics," said Kevin Noland, interim commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education.

Proposal 2 grew out of public schools' view that private schools can recruit athletes, which is against the rules, under the guise of recruiting students. Proponents also point out that private schools have no attendance boundaries and can offer financial aid to needy students.

However, the idea of unfairly penalizing some students to prevent cheating by a few appeared to be the main irritant for lawmakers.

Yesterday's vote was not, in itself, fatal. The issue goes before a House-Senate education committee next month and now is on Gov. Ernie Fletcher's agenda...

This from the Courier-Journal.

Science teacher charged with molesting students released on bond

LEXINGTON, Ky. --A high school science teacher accused of molesting two students in the 1970s was released from jail Wednesday after posting a deposit on his $32,500 bond.

A judge agreed to release Jack Russell Hubbard, 60, from Fayette County Detention Center after he surrendered his passport and paid 10 percent of the bond, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported on its Web site.

Hubbard is charged with four counts of first-degree sodomy and one count of third-degree rape in connection with alleged sexual assaults. He and another former teacher, Roberta Walter, were arrested last month.

One of the students, Carol Lynne Maner, recently won $3.7 million in a civil trial against Fayette County's Board of Education after a jury found district officials ignored incidents of sexual abuse. The other student, Thomas "Beau" Goodman III, settled his case.

Goodman claimed Hubbard sodomized him 30 times when he was 14 and 15 years old. The rape charge involves Maner when she was 15.

Hubbard's attorney, Bill M. Butler Jr., said his client was innocent and that the charges were motivated by money.

"He's never had a single complaint lodged against him," Butler said. "In my experience in 20 years as a defense lawyer, I've found that cases with allegations like this generally have more than one instance. And there are generally allegations along the way."

Butler waived a preliminary hearing, allowing the case to go to a grand jury.

This from the Herald-Leader.

School disrepair focus of tax raise in Fayette Co

Arlington Elementary School's faulty heating and cooling unit forces students and staff members to wear sweaters during the summer and T-shirts during the winter. Students in wheelchairs can't attend the 108-year-old school on North Limestone because there are no elevators to accommodate them.

At Leestown Middle School, a storage closet for athletics has been converted into an office for the school's social worker. And the cafeteria is so small that students have a difficult time moving through the lunch line.

Fayette school leaders are hoping those images of school disrepair will encourage the community to support a school tax increase of 5.4 cents per $100 of assessed property value. District leaders say the nickel will allow the district to borrow the estimated $290 million it needs for immediate school construction and renovation projects, in addition to paying for regular operating expenses such as teacher salaries and textbooks.

"Go to Johnson (Elementary School) and then go out to Veterans Park," said Debbie Tronzo, interim principal at Leestown. "And then we're saying all children should have equal access to things?"

School leaders have said the public has been supportive of the proposed increase from 54.1 cents to 59.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. But they won't formally hear from the community until Aug. 27, when a public hearing will be held at 5:30 before the board's meeting at the district's central office, 701 East Main Street. Opponents could challenge the increase by filing a petition for a voter referendum.

Tina Moorhead, 16th District PTA president, said she is in favor of the increase.
"As soon as you say 'taxes and increase' everyone gets up in arms," said Moorhead. "But when you are talking about school and education, it's really just going to be hard-pressed for you to say no to what they're wanting."

The increase would raise the property tax bill on a $100,000 house by $54. On a $165,000 house -- the median home value in Fayette County -- the increase would be $89.10.

Of the 59.5 cents the district would collect, 53.9 cents would cover regular operating costs. The other 5.6 cents would be used for renovations and construction at up to 25 schools. Without a rate increase, the district would have the money to address the needs of only three schools.
About half the 54 schools in the district need immediate construction or renovations, district officials say.

In addition to its HVAC system, Arlington needs upgrades to its electrical system. There are always fuse malfunctions in the school's computer laboratory, Principal Robert Wilkirson said.
"You add anything electrical, you definitely risk popping a fuse," he said.

Tronzo said Leestown, which was built as an elementary school in 1957 and renovated to become a junior high school in 1984, is the only school that was never renovated to become a middle school.

In most local middle schools, students are divided into groups taught by a team of four teachers and teams are clustered together in a building to reduce time for switching classes and to encourage joint lesson planning. But at Leestown, the science labs are in one wing of the building, making the team concept difficult.

"This is something that is long overdue," Superintendent Stu Silberman said. "If we don't move it forward now, (school construction costs) are going to just get more and more expensive."
A move to change to year-round schools wouldn't help, Silberman said. "If you have to replace a heating unit, you have to replace it, no matter what your school schedule is." he said.

The following shows the amount Fayette County Schools leaders would pay if the proposed increased is approved.

This from the Herald-Leader.

For a database of residential property records in Fayette County, visit http://www.heraldleaderonline.com/property_search.

"Attempted Fraud": Ex St Charles Board President gives Erwin memo to County Prosecutor, police

Erwin's Quest to Vest

Gaffney: “I didn’t write the memo...I just signed it.”

The post-Erwin fallout continues in WestChiTown as St Charles board member Jim Gaffney tries to distance himself from the now infamous "Erwin memo" that bears his signature.

His 'I didn't write it but I signed it' excuse is the lamest thing I've heard since Erwin's, 'I didn't present at the conference, but I signed off on it.'

What's next? 'I'm not the Queen of England, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night?'

One source close to district leadership in St Charles told KSN&C, in April, that several district personnel were aware of Erwin's efforts to pressure HR staff to add 85 sick days to her account starting in 2004 - a year early. Some have opined that such pressure may have played a role in the departure of a former HR chief in 2006.

The rumor was that after only a few weeks on the job, new HR director Tony Spahr started receiving significant pressure from Erwin - first orally - then, after he reviewed her contract, and refused to add the days - she gave him the memo Gaffney signed, and directed Spahr to add the days again.

Spahr sought legal advice and refused again. After that, Erwin told him that maybe he should start looking for work elsewhere - which he apparently did.

If the rumor is true - there ought to be a piece of paper out there - some kind of legal opinion from the board attorney Mike Duggan, written in mid February.
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This from AMELIA FLOOD at the Kane County Chronicle:

ST. CHARLES – Former District 303 school board President Bobbie Raehl has taken to police and county prosecutors a memo – signed by board member James Gaffney – that she says shows “behind-the-scenes business.”

“Personally, I feel it’s attempted fraud and it’s a violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Raehl said.

Gaffney denies writing the one-sentence memo that states that the school board agreed in 2004 to award nearly a year in sick days to its then-superintendent.

“I didn’t write the memo,” Gaffney said during a recess of Monday night’s school board meeting. “I just signed it.”

The board later approved a contract amendment to give 340 sick days to then-Superintendent Barbara Erwin. But that action was taken during a 2005 closed-session vote that was found to be in violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

The memo that was signed by Gaffney, Raehl said, showed he was trying to act on behalf of the board.“He was saying it was the board’s intent, and it was not,” Raehl insisted.

Gaffney explained that “the human resources guy” faxed him the memo.

The district’s former human resources director, Tony Spahr, said the document was not faxed by his department. He said he first received it from Erwin in her office in February.“I don’t know how she obtained it,” Spahr said. “I’d never received anything like it.”

The memo consists of a single sentence: “This is to affirm that the Board of Education, agreed in 2004, as part of her employment contract to award her 340 sick days at 85 days a year.”

It is signed, “Jim Gaffney, past president.”

Raehl said she learned of the memo in March. She confronted Gaffney about it during an executive session April 9, Raehl reported, but he would not acknowledge the memo.

Gaffney said the memo would have been on his personal letterhead if he had written it.“If you look back at the record, everything is on my personal letterhead,” Gaffney said Monday. “If I had written it, ... it would’ve been better written.”

He did not return phone calls Tuesday for comment on Raehl’s accusations.

On Monday night, Gaffney was called upon by resident Jeff Blankenship to explain the memo.“Like a bicycle that’s broken, you have to fix what’s broken,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship also asked Gaffney and board President Kathy Hewell to resign amid the controversy involving a contract extension the board awarded to Erwin.“Mrs. Hewell, Mr. Gaffney, you aren’t helping this board,” Blankenship said. “If we’re going to do what’s best for our children, some people have to leave.”

Gaffney would not comment Monday on the calls for his resignation or those asking for an explanation of his actions.“Everybody’s got their own opinions,” Gaffney said.

Hewell could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Timeline of events

February 2007 -– Tony Spahr, the former head of human resources at the district, is given a memo signed by Jim Gaffney asking that Superintendent Barbara Erwin be given 340 sick days retroactively.

March – Board President Bobbi Raehl becomes aware of the memo through the board’s attorney, Mike Duggan.

April 9 – Raehl alleges she confronted Gaffney in executive session about the memo and that he did not acknowledge it.

July 2 – The Kane County Chronicle requests the memo under the Freedom of Information Act.

Aug. 9 – Raehl meets with lawyers in the civil division of the State’s Attorney’s Office to discuss the memo.

Aug. 13 – Raehl and others call for an explanation of the memo during citizen comments at the school board meeting. Gaffney informs a Chronicle reporter that he did not write the memo, only signed it and that it was faxed to him for his signature by District 303’s human resources department.

Aug. 14 – Tony Spahr says that the fax did not come from his department and that the first time he saw the memo was when he was given it by Erwin in February.

Click here to see the signed memo

Click here to see the Chronicle's request for the memo

Photo by Travis Houghton at the Kane CountyChronicle.

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Gaffney says "the Human resources guy" sent it to him. Bull.

Apart from the fact that Tony Spahr had no motivation to do so, it would have constituted an illegal act, and he had previously refused to grant her the days, despite being threatened with termination...WHERE ARE THE FAX MACHINE MARKINGS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE MEMO?

I don't know about your faxes...but mine all have a time stamps on them. Take a good look at the Chronicle's photo of the actual memo. No marks.

Did Gaffney mess up his story?

So who really wrote the memo? You can't rule out Gaffney. You can't rule out a couple of others either.