Sunday, August 31, 2008

University distances itself from earlier compliments paid Felner

As recently as June, U of L President James Ramsey wrote to Robert Felner saying, "You have done an incredible job here, and I am deeply indebted...I do want to get together to chat and get some of your ideas on things still to be done with the College … cannot run the risk of letting the Indians get back in control of the reservation."

Setting aside whether Ramsey's reference to one branch of my ancestors is offensive - the university press office is now distancing Ramsey from the series of behaviors that netted Felner 33 complaints and grievances from numerous members of the faculty.

University spokeswoman Cindy Hess told C-J, "It is important to note that the complimentary e-mails to Felner from university administrators were not about his management style, but rather his ability to achieve goals and objectives during his tenure at U of L."

The letter which can be seen at Page One lays out Ramsey's case; that initial grievances were dismissed (mistakenly?) as being from faculty who couldn't live up to the increased demands.
Ramsey writes: "It is fair to say the CEHD has had some history of concerns about its leadership."

Ramsey also, amazingly, discounts the no confidence vote taken against Felner. Now, maybe I'm naive and no confidence votes happen all the time - but this seemed pretty unusual to me.
If Ramsey now believes faculty complaints to be valid, it is surprising he would try to dismiss them, and the no confidence vote, at this late date.

To Ramsey's credit, U.S. Attorney David Huber confirms that the original complaint against Felner came from U of L.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ramsey Tosses the Faculty a Bone

Willihnganz: "The heat on this one is on us."

Since U of L President James Ramsey knew there were legitimate concerns about former Dean Robert Felner, his dismisive comments to Mark Hebert calling faculty concerns "anonymous crap" was disengenuous...at least.

His justification - that Felner's behavior was somehow OK, if it produced results - is equally troubling.

In the quest for numbers, somebody seems to have forgotten that the best educators are in the people business.

From Page One:

...In a mid-May email discussion earlier this year, Ramsey alluded to “issues” surrounding Felner in a message about a Board of Overseers meeting. Here’s what he said, “Given the issues with Robert right now it actually might be better to hold this until things are settled.” ...

...[There's an email] from Jim Ramsey to Alicia Sells, Associate Vice President for Government Relations, about sending a follow-up letter to the General Assembly (DAMAGE CONTROL!) outlining “positive things happening” while staying “away from any reference to Felner.” ...

Ramsey goes on to say that Mark Hebert and [C-J's] David Hawpe “won’t let it die.” No mention of the bloggers making his life a living hell.


Records indicate that despite being aware of issuses involving Felner, Ramsey did not see this public relations disaster coming.

Unknown to Ramsey, a blogger (Jacob Payne at Page One Kentucky) had received tips and damaging information through an open records request, published it, and fed it to the mainstream media.

The mainstream media took a while to follow up, but when they did the story came to the attention of the state. Suddenly, Ramsey was "caught off guard" and started learning details through the media that he didn't know himself. In one email he told Provost Shirley Willihnganz,
"those in the Univesity and those in the press - have much more insight and
information than we do."
Ramsey's remarks to Hebert precipitated a strong negative reaction from faculty, illustrated by an email from Staff Senate Chair and Staff Trustee, Brent Fryrear, who informed Ramsey that his comments "may not have played as intended," and that his comments seemed to confirm the fears of those faculty who were reluctant to report bad behavior "for fear of retribution."

Willihnganz's response was to acknowledge that "the heat on this one is on us," and direct that she and Ramsey see any open records releases "before they go out." "...it's pretty disconcerting to see things that WE haven't even been told on the front page of the paper,"she wrote.

This from C-J:


U of L president's letter acknowledges Felner problems

In a letter to University of Louisville alumni, donors and boards, President James Ramsey acknowledged the administration knew there were problems with former education dean Robert Felner’s leadership and management style.

“While we can’t talk about personnel actions, we did take steps to improve the situation,” Ramsey said in the letter dated last Friday. “Rightfully so, we have faculty who are hurt and disappointed by events of the recent years.” ...

...In his letter, Ramsey explained his decision to hire Felner to head the college, which was criticized in a 2001 report over its effectiveness, interaction with local teachers, and “indifference to its alumni’s employment issues.”

Felner’s “references were very good,” Ramsey said. When Felner was hired, “our mandate to him was to turn things around and do it quickly. He became a change agent — a role all of our new Deans have played.” He said the administration believed early concerns about Felner’s leadership “stemmed from the rapid change and heavy demands he had placed on his faculty.”

Ramsey twice noted that four formal grievances were made against Felner, but he said “none of those grievances moved forward as negative toward the Dean.” ...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Education Defecit the Size of Texas

This from Ed Week:
Hard Times Hit Schools
States’ Budget Shortfalls Darken Start of New Year


Just two months ago, states had already racked up $40 billion in budget shortfalls so far this fiscal year—or the equivalent of the K-12 education budget for the entire state of Texas, with a couple billion left over in change.

The number only keeps rising, along with the pressure on educators at every level, as they start the 2008-09 school year.

Mapping Analysis Finds Interdistrict-Choice Options to Be Limited

This from Education Week:

The use of interdistrict-choice programs is unlikely to increase most students’ educational opportunities significantly, a new report concludes, despite recent attention to the idea as a means of reducing economic and racial segregation and giving students in low-performing public schools a chance to find a better school.

“Only a limited number of students in a limited number of locations are likely to benefit from interdistrict choice—and even then, only if carefully crafted policies succeed where many past programs have failed,” says the report, issued this week by Education Sector, a Washington think tank that supports public school choice...

Survey Gives Obama Edge on Education

The presidential candidate better able to
strengthen public education?
Survey says,
Barack Obama 46%
John McCain 29%
Undecided 25%
Twenty-five percent undecided means that this is still an unresolved issue for many Americans...but not by a lot.

This from Education Week:

Two polls also show a public divide on NCLB

A larger proportion of the American public thinks that the Democrats are more likely to strengthen public schools than Republicans, according to a pair of opinion polls released recently.

The two polls also show that the public is divided as to what extent Congress should reshape the No Child Left Behind Act.

A poll released last week by Phi Delta Kappa International and the Gallup Organization reports that 46 percent of respondents viewed Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as the presidential candidate better able to strengthen public education, compared with 29 percent for Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they didn’t know which candidate would be better able to handle school policy.

Providing a World-Class Education 'A Moral Obligation,' Obama Tells Crowd

This from Ed Week, Photo by Robyn Beck/AFT/Getty Images:

Barack Obama’s promise to “meet our moral obligation to provide a world-class education” sets an ambitious goal that members of the Democratic Party can’t agree how to reach.

“America, we cannot turn back,” the Illinois senator said near the conclusion of his Aug. 28 speech at Invesco Field, a football stadium packed with more than 70,000 people waving flags and raising signs saying “Change.” “Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate.” In his speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Obama mentioned the broad points of his platform to address the educational needs from preschoolers to college students...

Sarah Palin: VP Choice Backed School Funding Overhaul

Two years ago she was mayor of Wasilla Alaska, a city of 8,500. She was then elected Governor of Alaska.

The idea that she's ready to deal with international relations - not to mention the rest of the massive responsibilities of one a heart-beat away from the presidency - is a joke. But folks in alaska seem to think she was a pretty good education governor.


This from Ed Week, Photo by Kiichiro Sato/AP:

In tapping Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, presumed Republican presidential nominee John McCain has selected an elected official who has supported increased funding for education across her rural, frontier state and voiced support for school-choice programs that appeal to many conservatives.

A mother of five children, Ms. Palin, 44, vaults onto the national stage as the vice presidential nominee from relative obscurity, at least within the political and education circles of the nation’s capital.

The Republican governor was elected to that post less than two years ago. Before that, she was the mayor of Wasilla, a suburb of Anchorage, which is the state’s largest city...


"Alaska Legislators Overhaul Funding," April 30, 2008

A Plan to Test NY's Youngest Pupils

This from the New York Times:

The Bloomberg administration, which has made accountability the watchword of its overhaul of public education, is asking elementary school principals across the city to give standardized tests in English and math to children as young as kindergartners.

In an e-mail message sent on Monday evening, the Education Department’s chief accountability officer, James S. Liebman, urged principals to join a yearlong pilot program with five testing options for kindergarten through second grade, including timed paper-and-pencil assessments in which students record answers in booklets for up to 90 minutes, as well as ones in which teachers record observations of
individual students on Palm Pilots.

Mr. Liebman, the architect of the city’s much-debated program of assigning schools letter grades of A through F, said in his message that because New York — like most of the country — now begins formal testing in third grade, the system does “not give schools credit for this foundational work or provide you with the means to evaluate the effectiveness of your K-2 programs.” ...

A Georgia School System Loses Its Accreditation

This from the New York Times:

ATLANTA — A county school system in metropolitan Atlanta on Thursday became the nation’s first in nearly 40 years to lose its accreditation, and the governor removed four of its school board members for ethics violations.

A school board member-elect, Jessie Goree, right, with State Representative Mike Glanton, after accreditation was lost.

The school system in Clayton County, just south of the Atlanta city limits, was ruled unfit for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, one of the nation’s six major private accrediting agencies, after school board members failed to meet the group’s standards for leading a school system.

An investigation by the agency found that county officials had not made sufficient progress toward establishing an effective school board, removing the influence of outside individuals on board decisions, enforcing an ethics policy or meeting other requirements for accreditation, Mark A. Elgart, the chief executive of the association, announced Thursday at a news conference.

County officials said they were planning to appeal the decision.

The loss of accreditation could impair the ability of Clayton County students to attend some colleges and earn scholarships. It could also prevent teachers from receiving benefits if they change school systems, and could mean a loss of money for pre-kindergarten education.

Two hours after the accreditation agency’s announcement, Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia removed four Clayton school board members...

C-J smacks Ramsey, Willihnganz and Porter

Whew. That was a bunch of Felner stuff to catch up on in one day.

We end with C-J's editorial saying that the resentment of the U of L faculty was justified and a result of the failure of the university top leadership to act.

After being drug, kicking and screaming, into a story they didn't seem to want to cover for weeks - C-J is shocked; shocked to find that U of L leadership covered for their golden goose - only to find he didn't bring in so much of the gold himself, and arguably took credit that rightfully belonged to others - all while behaving badly and putting the university in jeopardy.

But lately, C-J has caught up, done some fine reporting, and has gotten it right in today's piece.


The real surprise

As it turns out, the most surprising aspect of the Felner Affair at the University of Louisville is not the possibility that taxpayers' money was squandered or pocketed. Waste and corruption are all too common.

What's shocking is the failure of top university administrators to look seriously enough, and early enough, at evidence that Education Dean Robert Felner was leaving academic wreckage behind, as he stomped toward his goal of giving the college a bigger and better national profile.

It's not as if feedback from the College of Education and Human Development was cheerful, as Mr. Felner was installed as a change agent. Indeed, informal complaints and formal grievances piled up.

Looking back, 21 former faculty who just sent a blistering letter to the U of L board about their experiences with Felner are hurt and outraged by the slow and insubstantial response. And they should be.

President James Ramsey and Provost Shirley Willihnganz should have admitted much, much sooner that Felner's tenure was collapsing into an organizational and managerial debacle. And they should have reacted accordingly.

Instead, even in the backwash of a federal investigation into the way Mr. Felner handled a $694,000 federal grant, Dr. Ramsey was still dismissing some faculty complaints and grievances as "anonymous crap."

And, just this week, board chairman J. Chester Porter pronounced himself "satisfied" with the way the administration handled faculty criticism and charges. He did this
without serious investigation of the letter's specifics and before a proposed Faculty Senate review produced any findings. All of which calls into question the university's good faith in dealing with allegations that people and careers were being abused.

This is no way to recruit the best and brightest professors and researchers, or to become a top 20 metropolitan research campus.

Ville Board Trustee Jumps into the Bunker with Ramsey & Willihnganz

This from Nancy at C-J:

Trustee chief backs U of L leaders in Felner inquiry
Porter 'satisfied' on Felner inquiry
The chairman of the University of Louisville board of trustees sent a letter to the full board this week saying he is "satisfied" with actions taken by the school's administration regarding faculty complaints and a federal investigation involving former education dean Robert Felner.

"We care about our employees -- they are a source of our pride," J. Chester Porter said in the letter. "We have worked with (U of L President) Jim (Ramsey) and (Provost) Shirley (Willihnganz) long enough to know they, too, care deeply about the
welfare of all the University's employees and students."

Porter acknowledges in his letter that "given issues raised in the media, there is little doubt that Dean Felner's personality may have accelerated the departure of some of the faculty."

He then says that during Felner's five-year tenure, Ramsey and Willihnganz "began to understand the tensions he created in the college" and notes it was the university's investigation that "alerted the U.S. Attorney to investigate peculiarities" in the College of Education and Human Development.

Felner, who resigned from the university June 30 to take a chancellor position at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside that he later backed out of, is the focus of a federal investigation sparked by his possible misappropriation of a $694,000 federal grant.

Porter's letter was in response to an open letter sent last week to the board by 21 former faculty who worked for Felner.

In the open letter, the former faculty took issue with comments made to the media in July by Ramsey, who characterized many of the faculty complaints and grievances against Felner as "anonymous crap."

"We are insulted by President Ramsey's response to this crisis," the letter states. "On the contrary, faculty stepped up repeatedly, knowing that any overt action would make them vulnerable to severe retaliation."

The letter went on to recount how faculty tried repeatedly to get the administration
to take action against Felner, including casting a no confidence vote against him in 2006.

A day after Ramsey made his comment about the grievances to the media, U of L Trustee Brent Fryrear, head of the university's staff senate, alerted Ramsey in an e-mail that he had received 15 to 20 calls before lunch from university employees upset by the comment, and "questioning whether or not the university takes its grievance process seriously."

"There are a number of staff who are leery of reporting incidents or filing grievances for fear of retribution and I believe this confirms their fears," Fryrear said in the e-mail, which was obtained yesterday by The Courier-Journal through an open-records request.

Porter told trustees in his letter they are welcome to discuss the points made in the faculty letter at the board's next meeting of its Personnel Committee in September.

He went on to explain several points made in the faculty letter, saying that Ramsey's anonymity comments related directly to a reporter's question regarding the grievance process.

"Jim had explained to the media numerous times that only four grievances were filed," Porter said. "References to 'more than 30 grievances' (in the faculty letter) were closer to the number of people who spoke to the grievance officer but did not pursue a grievance. The names of individuals who speak to a grievance officer are never released so those conversations may remain anonymous." ...


Felner’s follies - Former U of L dean Robert Felner racked up grievances, not grants

This frorm LEO:
When Robert Felner arrived at the University of Louisville in 2003, he brought with him a reputation as a “rainmaker.” University administrators praised the former dean as a change agent, citing him as the driving force behind a spike in grant money at the school.

In fact, even after federal prosecutors began investigating Felner for possibly mishandling hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money, university president James Ramsey repeatedly reminded critics that under the former dean’s leadership, the College of Education and Human Development saw “an increase in grants and contracts from $4.2 million … to more than $40 million.”

But a recent review of public records obtained by LEO Weekly reveals Felner is directly responsible for only a fraction of that windfall.

It appears Felner was only personally involved — as either director or co-director of specific grant proposals — in bringing in about $1 million in total grants during his tenure, according to documents the university turned over in response to an open records request. That total includes a $694,400 No Child Left Behind grant the feds are now investigating. Most of that grant was funneled to a defunct nonprofit headed by a longtime friend and former associate of Felner...

Hat tip to Jake.

A disturbing peek inside Felner's U of L

Rancorous emails galore from Jake at Page One. This one takes a while.

He who dies with the most toys wins...unless he loses his freedom first

This from C-J. First two photos by Joe Gerth and Robert Gates for C-J; the last two from web sites.

Felners have four homes, $1.96 million in mortgages

Property records from Kentucky, Florida and Rhode Island show that former University of Louisville dean Robert Felner owns four houses, two of them with his wife, Marilyn, who recently filed for divorce.

They are paying a combined $1.96 million in mortgage payments, record show.

In 2004, Robert and Marilyn Felner jointly purchased this home in Prospect, Ky., for $580,000, putting down $18,000 in cash. The home is now for sale.

The Felners bought this $318,000 split-level house in Narragansett, R.I., in 2002, putting down $64,000.

Robert Felner bought a waterfront lot and mobile home in St. James City, Fla., in 2004 for $320,000, without a mortgage.

Felner also owns a black 2005 BMW and a white 2005 Lexus, according to AutotrackXP, a commercial database, and a powerboat...

Felner was paid $174,000 in 2003, his last year at the University of Rhode Island, and $255,757 a year when he resigned from U of L, according to the universities. His wife, a systems support technician at the University of Rhode Island, makes $44,362 a year.

Mortgage experts, including David Kittle of Louisville, who is chairman-elect of the national Mortgage Bankers Association, say that a couple with a combined income of about $300,000 a year wouldn't qualify for mortgages totaling nearly $2 million, unless one or more of the properties produced income through rent.

Catching up on Felner

Here's what's been up with the U of L scandal involving former Dean Robert Felner and the leadership that protected him.

Following a 90-minute interview with Felner (where he refused to answer any questions about grant improprieties or his real estate which totals $2.66 million in value) C-J's Andrew Wolfson wrote:

Robert Felner profile:
Accomplishments praised, but he's left trail of outrage
Trying to help the University of Louisville's new education dean find a house in 2003, real-estate agent Judy Johnson says she spent hours showing him one in a Harrods Creek gated community.

Only later did she learn that Robert Felner had gone back and bought the house on his own, cutting her out of the deal. Yet he still had the nerve, she said, to call afterward and complain that she hadn't told him that the house stood in the path of a proposed Ohio River bridge.

To former colleagues within U of L's College of Education and Human Development -- and some other educators around Kentucky -- the story perfectly captures Felner: arrogant, outrageous, abusive and duplicitous....
Wolfson continues to cite the impressions other professionals had of working with Felner:
Rowan Claypool, program director for Teach Kentucky: "He was one of the most difficult people I have ever been required to work with in my life."
Leon Mooneyhan, the almost Interim Commissioner: "He brought new collaborations to the table and changed the mindset of the college... He was a breath of fresh air in that regard."
Damon Andrew, who taught with Felner, now a Dean at Troy University "This guy has wrecked the lives of so many people."
Skip Kifer at Georgetown College's Center for Advanced Study of Assessment: "He was very keen on getting status for the university, and he knew how to do that...He is a world-class schmoozer and knows how to work a room."
Steve Schenck, retired associate commissioner at KDE: "He was almost self-destructive in the way he turned people off." [He] denounced work that others had done or sometimes took credit for it himself.
Virginia Fox former state Education Secretary: Felner "lost his temper when he should have held his tongue" and always had to be the center of attention. "He wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral,"
C-J also talked to more than a dozen former colleagues who indicated, "he humiliated professors in front of their peers and punished those who challenged him, driving away talented people, including some who once supported him."
C-J details several examples of on-the-record complaints faculty made agains Felner, but
...U of L President James Ramsey characterized faculty and staff complaints against Felner -- 31 during his tenure -- as "anonymous crap." ...
...21 former professors who signed a letter sent Friday to U of L's board of trustees citing Felner's "abusive and unethical behavior" and what they described as Ramsey's insulting response to it...
But Felner's curious personality traits revealed themselves early and often.
At Yale University, where he was an assistant professor in the psychology department from 1976 to 1981, female students circulated a petition to oust him for "bullying and sexual harassment,"
At Auburn University, where Felner worked from 1981 to 1985, Phil Lewis...said he hired Felner...and eventually came to regret it... "When he left, there was a collective sigh of relief."
At the University of Illinois, where Felner worked from 1986 to 1996, he was removed as director of clinical training in the psychology department because of faculty complaints about his rudeness and attitude...
In the Ville...
Felner also tried to get Jefferson County Public Schools to use his survey, but Bob Rodosky, the district's chief of planning and research, said that his price was too high and that it raised a "red flag" when Felner indicated he would analyze the surveys at his center in Rhode Island, even though he said "he wanted us to use the survey to show his bosses there was a relationship between the college and the school district."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

First-Day Jitters Aren't Just for Students

This from the Washington Post, Photo by Katherine Frey:

In those last few seconds before the beginning of the school year at 7:45 a.m., Paul Murdock's baby face was a mask of concentration. As he stood outside Room 23, a column of almost two dozen fifth-graders marched right at him. He was nervous. It was his first day of class at Langley Park-McCormick Elementary School.

In fact, it was his first day as a teacher as he joined a professional corps of tens of thousands in Washington area public schools. Murdock was out of time to change his mind. These were his kids. He had to take charge.

"Right here," he said, gesturing to where the lead student should stand. "Second full tile. Make a line. Eyes forward. Hands to your side, please."

The children obeyed quickly and quietly, lining up single file alongside the wall. In uniforms of white polo shirts and navy blue pants and skirts, they looked like little police recruits. They, too, seemed a bit nervous, perhaps in need of reassurance.

"Welcome to Mr. Murdock's class," the teacher said. He led them inside.

And so school began yesterday for Murdock's class...

... Last Tuesday, Room 23's desks and plastic chairs were stacked atop one another. Some children's books were piled on a table, and a few hundred thin volumes sat in milk crates. The salmon-colored cabinets were dusty; the walls, bare.

Murdock's imagination worked aloud as he assembled the scene: Where would the library go? The class slogan? The teacher's desk? How would he arrange chairs and control access to the built-in bathroom?

"I didn't realize that teaching involved so much interior decorating," he said.

It was a first lesson for the tall, lanky new teacher from Hyrum, Utah, a small town not far from the Idaho border. It was his 26th birthday. For a long time, he had thought he would never be a teacher. A political science and economics major, he planned on law school. But it didn't feel right.

So he applied to Teach for America and was accepted and assigned to teach language
arts in Langley Park.

Elementary school, he said, fit his personality.

"Well, I'm a big kid, really. That's basically what it comes down to. I want to act in a silly way," he said. "This is one profession where you can be paid to be crazy."

Although Murdock received intensive training, there is no substitute for standing in front of a roomful of children, said John Malter, a sixth-grade teacher at the school and Murdock's mentor.

"Your first week, you're not even thinking about your curriculum. You just want to survive," Malter said. "You're hoping those kids don't eat you alive." ...

Scores Stable as More Minorities Take SAT

This from the Washington Post:

SAT performance held steady for 2008 high school graduates even as participation rose among minority students and those who are part of the first generation in their families to go to college, the College Board reported yesterday...

...Nationwide, the number of students taking the SAT surpassed 1.5 million for the first time, up 8 percent from five years ago and almost 30 percent over the past decade. Forty percent of test-takers were minority students, up from 39 percent last year, and 36 percent were among a group described as first-generation collegegoers, up from 35 percent.

College Board officials considered the boost in participation evidence that the high school students who aspire to a college degree are growing more ethnically and economically diverse.

Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, a nonprofit organization based in New York, said the pool of test-takers "more than ever . . . reflects the face of education in this country."

"It's essential that all students strive to attend college -- and then succeed in their classes and, ultimately, graduate. We're gratified to see that our country is moving increasingly toward being a nation of college graduates," he said.

Some educators, policymakers and others concerned about high school quality saw the consistency in scores from last year as a bright spot. Scores on standardized exams often dip when the number of test-takers increases.

Education experts said that recent efforts to improve the quality of high school courses and expand academic options, to ensure that students are ready for college, are possibly starting to take hold.

"Some of these kids wouldn't have taken the SAT just a few years ago. They wouldn't have wanted to. They wouldn't have been encouraged to. And both are changing," said former West Virginia governor Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a group seeking to improve high schools. "I also take it as a challenge. It's not fair to build the expectation level and not be able to deliver on the quality of education." ...

Charter Advocate objects to Charters comparison to Public Schools

Privatizing public schools under state charters will stimulate competition and create better schools where traditionally disadvantaged students will thrive. Freed from the evil teacher's unions, and so-called "educrats," innovation will reign and excuses for poor student achievement will fall away.
That's the dream of many who believe free market principles will solve real human problems.
But it's only a dream.
In reality, the performance of charter schools is no better than public schools. In Ohio, they are apparently worse. More than 100 of Ohio's 277 charter schools rated in academic "emergency" by state.
And when the going gets tough - the advocates make excuses.

This from the Toledo Blade:

Charter school report cards:

2 area academies shine; 14 others come up short

State accolades proving elusive, figures indicate
Charter schools across Ohio, including the Toledo area, continue to struggle to do well on the state report cards, according to the state Department of Education.

Statewide, 102 charter schools were rated as being in academic emergency, the equivalent of a grade of F, including 14 that failed in northwest Ohio.

Eight charter schools in Ohio were rated excellent, two of them in Toledo - Toledo School for the Arts, which participates in the standard assessment, and M.O.D.E.L. Community School, which teaches autistic children who take an alternative assessment.

But comparing charter schools to public schools is not apples to apples because charter schools have different purposes, said Ron Adler, president of the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education, a charter school advocacy group with 15 Toledo-area charter schools as members.

He said charter schools can be dropout recovery schools or serve children with special needs, and that they vary widely depending on their mission.

"They want to have one set of uniform tests for everyone, but not all students are
alike," he said. Of the 277 charter schools listed in the state report cards, 102 were rated in academic emergency, 56 were in academic watch, 61 were in continuous improvement, 18 were effective, eight were excellent, and one was excellent with distinction...

Thanks to Brad at KSBA.

JCPS to investigate football player’s death

This from Toni at C-J:
Jefferson County Public Schools will open a formal investigation into the death of a 15-year-old Pleasure Ridge Park High School student who collapsed during football practice a week ago, and died on Saturday.

Lauren Roberts, a spokeswoman for the district, said this morning that officials decided to investigate further after reading witness accounts in today’s Courier-Journal.

Four people who were at PRP during the Aug. 20 practice told the newspaper that they heard coaches deny players’ requests for water.None of the witnesses knew if the players requesting water included Max Gilpin, 15, who died three days after collapsing on the field. Jefferson County Deputy Coroner Sam Weakley has said he believes that Max died of complications of heat stroke, although no autopsy was performed.

“District level athletic officials did an initial review last week and on Monday,” Roberts said. “We decided to have our Security and Investigations unit look into this and as soon as Max is laid to rest, we will be talking with players and the witnesses that have come forward.”She added: “From the information we have been given, it does appear that between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., the players were given three water breaks.

The questions seem to be surfacing in the time after regular practice ended, during the time they were running sprints, which was around 5:30 p.m.” ...

Sugg Named Associate Commissioner, Leadership and School Improvement

I got to meet Sally Sugg last night. Turns out, we will be studying together this semester.

Congratulations Sally!

(FRANKFORT, Ky.) – Sally Sugg, assistant superintendent for student achievement
in the Shelby County school district, has been named by Education Commissioner Jon E. Draud as associate commissioner of the Office of Leadership and School Improvement (OLSI).

“Sally’s experience in working with diverse student populations, leadership skills and knowledge of strategies to help low-performing schools make her an excellent choice for this position,” said Draud. “She brings a new energy to our efforts to help schools reach proficiency.”

"I’m excited to be a part of the KDE team,” Sugg said. “It’s a great chance to have an impact on those schools that need assistance.”

Sugg will oversee the work of OLSI, including three divisions – Leadership and Instructional Support; Scholastic Assistance; and Educator Quality and Diversity. OLSI houses the Highly Skilled Educator program, school-based decision making resources and educator recruitment programs.

In her most recent position in Shelby County, Sugg was responsible for district planning, professional development, the federal Title II and Title V programs, school-based decision making and assessment and accountability.

From 2004 to 2007, she served as a Highly Skilled Educator. Sugg also served as school principal in McCracken and Henderson Counties and a teacher in Henderson County and Sikeston, Missouri.

Sugg earned a bachelor’s degree from Murray State University, a master’s degree and Rank I from Western Kentucky University and a superintendent endorsement from Eastern Kentucky University.

She is currently enrolled in the Doctoral Program Cadre at EKU.

She holds endorsements for elementary and Secondary principalship (K-12) and
supervisor of instruction (elementary & secondary), is a Kentucky Association of School Councils Endorsed SBDM Trainer and holds Kentucky teaching certificates in English/language arts and history.

Sugg began her duties on August 18 at a salary of $111,000.

SOURCE: KDE press release

Witnesses say PRP player's death tied to denial of water

The right of passage when I was a kid, was surviving that set of football practices known as August two-a-days. It was all about toughness; heat and helmets. There was no such thing as a a heat index.

One day during practice I reportedly became a bit delirious, passed out, and I woke up in the showers - straddled by my coach Paul Kroth; cold water streaming over me.

Fifteen year old Max Gilpin wasn't so lucky. The Pleasure Ridge Park player will be buried today after he collapsed at football practice and was taken to the showers - but did not recover - a victim of complications of heat stroke.

An initial in-house investigation "found no violations whatsoever.

But now, witnesses are coming forward to refute that finding.

This from C-J:

4 who saw PRP practice say players denied water
PRP student, 15, died 3 days after collapsing on football field

Four people who were at Pleasure Ridge Park High School when a player collapsed during football practice last week say they heard a coach deny players' requests for water.

All four told The Courier-Journal yesterday that they came to the school to watch an Aug. 20 soccer game between PRP and Waggener High School on an adjacent field, but were closer to the football players and their attention was drawn by the coach's yelling.

"A couple of them asked for water and he went off on them," said Mary Frazier, whose granddaughter was playing soccer. "He said, 'Don't you ask for a water break, I will tell you when you can have a water break.' "

Lauren Roberts, a spokeswoman for the district, said Monday that PRP coaches made sure players had water breaks every 20 minutes and that water was left running. And Superintendent Sheldon Berman said yesterday, "We have not heard about any of these complaints, either by the team or from others.

"If people have any information and they want to come forward and give us their
names and what they saw, we urge them to do so and we will look into it."

Brian Bale, who was at PRP on Aug. 20 to watch his daughter play soccer, told the newspaper yesterday that he heard a football coach ridicule the players' requests for water, noting that they had had the previous day off, yet couldn't finish their practice.

Bale, who said he once played football at Waggener, said he understands the need to push athletes but thought the coach's behavior was excessive.

Bale's former wife, Robyn Kirchner, who estimated she was one of about 30 soccer fans, said she saw three or four football players walking off the field to get water when a coach yelled that he hadn't given permission to get water and to "get your butts back over here."

Rhonda Barnett, whose daughter attends PRP, said she had been watching the soccer game for about 10 minutes when she heard one of the football players ask if he could
stop to get a drink of water.

"The coach's response was to yell, 'Did I tell you that you need a drink of water? You don't tell me when you need something, you got that? We are the professionals here, we'll tell you when you need a drink or a break or anything else,' " Barnett said in an e-mail.

She also said the coach told the player that he was still sweating, so he was not
dehydrated yet...

Kentucky High School Athletic Association guidelines say that when the heat index is 94 degrees or less, "water should always be available, and athletes should be able to take in as much as they want."...

More from the 40th Gallup Poll of Public’s Attitudes Toward The Public Schools

  • Lack of funding for schools tops the list of “biggest problems facing schools” for the sixth year in a row. After inadequate funding, their second largest concern is discipline.
  • Parents don’t consider lack of discipline in schools as a problem at all and are more concerned with overcrowding.
  • Americans support an increased use of federal funds to maintain local public schools.
  • Fewer than 2 of 10 Americans believe the No Child Left Behind legislation should be continued without significant change.
  • Americans are more supportive of school vouchers than they have been in recent years but are less favorable toward charter schools, ending a five-year trend of increased support for these alternative public schools. Republicans favor vouchers much more than do Democrats. However, Democrats and Republicans favor charter schools at about the same levels.
  • Americans continue to view their community schools positively with 46% assigning grades of A and B. This is in contrast to how Americans view the nation’s schools, with only 22% of respondents giving the nation’s schools A’s and B’s.
  • Parents’ perception of the school attended by their oldest child is very positive with 72% assigning grades of A and B, the highest recorded in 15 years.
  • Americans believe the next president should turn to education leaders — not political or business leaders — in developing policies for public schools.
Chester E. Finn, Jr., Senior Fellow,Hoover Institution, Stanford University, President, ThomasB. Fordham Institute sees the results this way:

Ignoring the election-year stuff that journalists will surely focus on, I’m most struck by five revelations in these data:Though parents still give high marks to their own kids’schools, Americans plainly sense that not all is well with the nation’s K-12 system.

Hence, the middling-to-low grades for “public schools in the nation as a whole” and the widespread awareness that schools in other lands are doing better. The public is
receptive to, often eager for, a host of reforms that educators view with alarm and politicians with apprehension.

These include national academic standards, national teacher testing, differentiated pay, and both charterschools and vouchers.

People still know little about NCLB and are wary of its renewal, yet when it’s deconstructed into key elements such as standards and testing, most people like them fine and even want more of them!

The case has yet to be made with much of the public that schools should impart a broad, liberal arts curriculumto youngsters. I’m depressed to find a (slim) majority continuingto view it as a “good thing” if today’s press for stronger reading and math skills leads to de-emphasis on other subjects.

Americans say they trust state and local officials (and educators) more than Uncle Sam to make education decisions— but that doesn’t keep them from wanting
Washington to shoulder a larger share of school budgets! Maybe folks don’t believe the maxim that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

But Linda Darling-Hammond, rumored to be in line for a White House Ed policy job (should Obama be elected president) says,

The American public has some clear messages about education for our next president. Although parents feel more positive than ever about the schools their
own children attend — with 72% giving these schools an A or B grade — they
worry about other schools and believe there is a need for continuing improvement.

Most would like to see more common expectations for what students learn, more
opportunities for students to take college courses while they are in high school, and more financial aid for students to attend college — a critical issue as reduced access to college aid has collided with demands for a more educated workforce, and the U.S. has slipped from 1st in the world in college participation to 15th. The public also wants to see more common standards for teachers, as well as incentives such as career ladders to reward excellence in teaching.

While the public wants to see standards increase, most do not think the current No Child Left Behind Act is accomplishing the job. Only 16% of respondents would re-authorize NCLB without change. Two-thirds would either change it significantly or abandon it entirely.

While several answers suggest the public does not want to abandon testing, overwhelming majorities would like to see school progress measured by student
improvement rather than by a single score, as NCLB now requires, and 4 out of 5
think that examples of student work, teacher grades, or teacher observations are
the most accurate measures of students’ academic progress, rather than test
scores.

The next president’s challenge may be to build a broader vision of learning and performance while raising educational standards and greatly expanding opportunities to learn."

Did I miss anything?

I haven't really been gone....just extra busy

  • getting up-to-speed for the new school year
  • poking fun at the Webb boys and CentrePointe at Picnic with the Pops
  • and lamenting a bad case of unrequited love

Now it's time to get back in the saddle. So let's see....what did I miss?

50 students were "locked out" of Rowan County Senior High School for dress code violations.

The new PDK/Gallup Poll (the 40th) is out and sees a major shift in presidential support for schools. "Americans view Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as much more supportive of public schools than Republican presidential candidate John McCain."

Urban League sues Illinois over discriminatory school funding.

Shelby County teacher resigns after allegation that she choked a student "to get her to be quiet."

JCTA is suing JCPS again. Arguing "breach of contract" to protect teachers who - brought a gun to school; had sleep overs; rewriting student portfolios; called the kids a "bunch of assholes;"and others.

UK's Bill Stilwell gets new Technology award named for him. Congrats Bill!

Jefferson and Oldham (and Bullitt) look at property tax increases. C-J supports.

National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders to provide technical assistance to Kentucky, Michigan and Minnesota. (SOURCE: KDE)

Push for universal preschool ongoing, unfulfilled.

Charles Murray wants to lower the bar. Says the problem with modern education isn't low expectations but unrealistic ones. "Far too many young people with inherent intellectual limitations are being pushed to advance academically when, Mr. Murray says, they are "just not smart enough" to improve much at all."

Texas court tests GPS ankle bracelets for truant students.

South Dakota judge says school districts can't spend district money to support their lawsuit that challenges the state's education funding system.

Suspicious fire hits Harlan High School.

Larry Connor leaves Fayette Co for Georgia.

Immigrant Study finds today's immigrants assimilating into the mainstream better than past generations.

Washington Post Opinion: Why classic literature fails to resonate with teens.

Finally, a little shout out to Donald Webb who was a great sport at the Picnic with the Pops.

Posing as the SpidreWEBB Demolition Company, we condemned the Pops tables around us, invited other party-goers to knock down historic landmarks (and win a jell-o shooter) and poked fun at the lego-looking design of the proposed CentrePointe. We even got Don to wear a sticker proclaiming that he was an anonymous investor in SelfeCentrePointe. Thanks Don.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Has Robert Felner got your Number?

WHAS TV's Adam Walser continues to pound away at the treasure trove of documented misdeeds surrounding Robert Felner's tenure at U of L - and it seems like everybody from Felner's old department continues to comment from the trenches at Page One. These folks even write poetry.

Last night's news was all about Felner's U of L cell phone records, and citizen investigators are sinking their teeth into them. Who was he calling and why? Is your number (502) 648-7012?

Was it university business when Felner called a dating hot line? Had Just Solutions advised Felner that seeing another someone might make him a happier person and better boss? We may never know, since U of L says there's no final report from Just Solutions.

And as one might expect, those laughing last, like Page One commenter "ed," seem to be really enjoying it:
Hey, Robbie, does huggie bear know about these hot line calls? Just can’t figure out which side of the closet door to be on, huh? Well….no worries….Bubba will help you sort all that out soon enough.

As this story continues to devolve, and despite the fact that Felner has not been charged with any wrongdoing, it's becoming harder to imagine anything short of jail time for at least one of the players in this scandal - and job changes for some others.

This from WHAS:

Felner's U of L cell phone records reveal
questionable calls and lengthy data transmissions
WHAS11 News has uncovered more insight into the professional and private dealings of a former U of L dean. WHAS11 News discovered lengthy data transmissions and questionable phone calls made by Robert Felner.

At one point, Felner made over 100 data transmissions on his cell-phone within a 24-hour period.

Felner is part of an ongoing federal investigation...

...WHAS11 News went through nearly 75 pages of bills; breaking them down and trying to identify who Felner was calling and how often. Plenty of calls dealt with university matters, like calls to the University Counsel Office and University Police.

Felner contacted colleague Jennifer Taylor 58 times. She administers grants for the college of education and human development. Records show Felner called her office, cell phone and home phone, often at night and on weekends.

Felner also apparently took care of personal business, calling Comcast Cable in Naples, Florida which is the cable provider in Lee County, where Felner’s owns two vacation homes, one valued at $1.4 million dollars.

Felner called his estranged wife Marilyn Felner 38 times in the records we found. At one point, just minutes before calling Tom Schroeder, the President of the National Center on Public Education and Prevention in Rock Island, Illinois.

The center has not been operational in years, but Felner allegedly sent hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants there, even though no work was performed.

There are mysteries in the bill too. WHAS11 News tried to determine who owns an unlisted Louisville number Felner called 50 times, but after leaving messages, our phone was eventually blocked by the caller.

Felner used his university owned-phone for entertainment one night last August, when he called a local dating hotline twice.

Felner’s phone could work as a computer too. He was sending and receiving dozens of megabytes of data transmissions most months. During a 23-hour period right around the time Felner learned that he had been named the new University of Wisconsin-Parkside Chancellor, his statement showed he transferred data in 100 different transactions for 23 straight hours. Computer experts we talked to said he could have been transferring files from the phone, sending or receiving e-mails or surfing the internet.

That was the last recorded activity on the university issued phone.

An important reminder, Felner has not been charged with any crime.

WHAS11’s Adam Walser spoke with David Huber earlier this week and he expects the investigation to take until at least early October.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Seeking "Just Solutions" to the Felner problem

Page One and WHAS have been focusing on U of L's response (or lack thereof) to Just Solutions, the group hired to help resolve internal issues between former chair Robert Felner and many on the CEHD faculty.

This from Jake:

It’s been the hot topic of the past few weeks: the Just Solutions report that the University of Louisville commissioned to help deal with faculty concerns at the College of Education and Human Development. We initially reported on the situation and published documents yielded from open records requests on July 14.

Earlier in the week we reported that UofL’s open records officer revealed no report was ever completed. Now we learn from WHAS11’s Adam Walser that not only was the report never completed and released, UofL never paid the $9,987.80 bill from Just Solutions. There’s no really clear reasoning for why UofL never paid the bill. It was sent three times but UofL says it was never received.


WHAS Video story from Adam Walser.

Felner Update: U of L funds used to keep Rhode Island center afloat

Nice work from Nancy C. Rodriguez at the Courier-Journal:

Former U of L Dean Felner guided funds to center, e-mails show
R.I. group told to bill U of L for research, but use money on salaries
Former University of Louisville dean Robert Felner directed almost $130,000 in U of L funds toward a University of Rhode Island education center he created that was in dire need of money, according to e-mails and documents obtained by The Courier-Journal.

And in at least once instance he told officials at the National Center on Public Education and Social Policy in Rhode Island to submit a bill to U of L for research work but use the money for center salaries and future work, those e-mails show.

Such an action may violate university policies and could result in consequences as serious as dismissal, U of L officials said.

The Rhode Island center is one of two agencies Felner had a personal connection with that received money from a $694,000 federal education grant he managed while at U of L. The other center was based in Illinois.

Felner, who was dean of U of L's College of Education and Human Development until resigning in June, now is the focus of a federal investigation into possible misuse of the grant money.

Between 2005 and this June, Anne Seitsinger, director of the Rhode Island center, and Felner exchanged hundreds of e-mails, including several where she worried about running out of money to pay the staff, according to U of L documents The
Courier-Journal received through an open-records request.

In one 2005 e-mail, Seitsinger told Felner: "Our budget is pretty desperate. We are
short about $90K."

That same month, the center's business manager, Diana Laferriere, e-mailed Felner, writing: "Robert, are you giving out loans? We sure need one right now!"

E-mails on funding
Felner and Seitsinger exchanged e-mails at that time about possibly using U of L funding to cover salaries for center staff in the summer, a move they hoped would cut overhead costs to the University of Rhode Island.

Felner said in one e-mail that he would hire a center staff member as a consultant "for the month, but that would require real work."

But he told Seitsinger in an e-mail to bill U of L for $15,000 for "additional analysis and survey processing relating to research."

"I will simply get the funds up to you for payment," he wrote, adding that the funds should cover a month's salary for one center worker and "get us a $10K running start on next year for a little in the bank on some of the upcoming work and salaries."

Violation of policy
U of L spokesman John Drees said yesterday that directing someone to bill the university for one purpose when the intent was to use the money for something else violates university policy. Violators can face repercussions ranging from a reprimand to dismissal.

The violation may be compounded by Felner's failure to disclose his relationship with the Rhode Island center, a requirement for all U of L employees involved in research and one that is common at research institutions.

"The whole idea is avoid conflicts in decision-making," said James Tracy, vice president for research at the University of Kentucky, which has a similar disclosure policy.

It is unclear if the e-mails between Felner and the Rhode Island center are part of the investigation. U.S. Attorney David Huber would say only that he expects the grant investigation to be completed in September.

Seitsinger did not return calls and e-mails this week.

Felner has not returned phone calls seeking comment. But his attorney, Scott C. Cox, said yesterday that the Rhode Island center received the funds because it "had done legitimate work and earned the money."

Drees said yesterday that an internal audit of the education department is continuing. He had no additional comments, citing the ongoing federal investigation.

And Robert Weygand, vice president for administration at the University of Rhode Island, said that university is continuing a review of its center, which should be completed by next month.

[Two] $60,000 contracts
In 2006 and 2007, Felner arranged for the Rhode Island center to receive two $60,000 contracts to be paid with money from the federal education grant that is now under investigation.

The $694,000 federal grant was intended to establish a center at U of L that would study ways to boost student achievement on federal No Child Left Behind tests. But the center has no staff and no office, and local and state education officials have said they knew nothing about it or its research.

University of Rhode Island officials say Felner contracted with its center to help conduct research related to the federal grant, which the university said it did, though the work has not been made public. University of Rhode Island officials have refused to release the work to The Courier-Journal because of the potential of individual student results being identified.

Rhode Island officials say the center was paid for one of the $60,000 contracts but is still awaiting payment on the second.

Felner was a Rhode Island professor from 1997 to 2003, when he left to become dean of U of L's College of Education and Human Development.

Rhode Island officials say the university paid Felner to run their national center until he left for U of L in 2003.

But Felner's connections with the center continued long after he moved to Louisville. The center's Web site listed him as its director until 2006, and he attended staff
meetings there as recently as June, according to e-mails between Felner and
Seitsinger.

And in addition to the $60,000 the Rhode Island center received from the education grant, U of L records show that Felner also sent $66,178 -- through a series of four payments -- to the center.

In 2005, before Felner received the federal NCLB grant, U of L sent $6,178 to the Rhode Island center to cover printing costs for surveys for schools in California and
New York.

According to the center's Web site, the Rhode Island center had research contracts to do the work for the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District and Buffalo Public Schools.

In June 2006, U of L sent a $30,000 check to the Rhode Island center for "academic counseling services provided in conjunction with the NCLB and Jefferson County Public Schools projects."

In March 2007, U of L sent two checks for $15,000 each to the Rhode Island center for academic counseling services.

In May of this year, e-mails show that Felner was seeking to give the center more money -- between $35,000 and $40,000 -- for work it completed as part of a principal study he was hired to do in 2005 by Jefferson County Public Schools.

The district paid U of L $50,000 for that study. U of L officials have said almost all of
that money remains in a university account that was controlled by Felner.

Return to R.I.?

In addition to discussing money, Felner and Seitsinger e-mailed over the years about him possibly leaving U of L to take jobs at other universities, including returning to the University of Rhode Island.

Felner also talked about possibly hiring Seitsinger and her husband, Roy Seitsinger Jr., at U of L. He is the director of the Office of Middle and High school Reform at the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Felner resigned from U of L on June 30 in preparation for becoming chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in July. He backed out of that job after the federal investigation became public.

Other university documents have shown that while at U of L, Felner also contracted
with an Illinois center run by Thomas Schroeder, a colleague and friend, to do work in connection with the federal education grant.

Felner is identified on U of L documents and also on the Rhode Island center's Web
site as being involved with the Illinois center, which Schroeder said he created at Felner's request.

Documents show that U of L wrote three checks totaling $450,000 to the Illinois center, called the National Center on Public Education and Prevention Inc., to buy surveys.

But all three checks were later deposited in a Louisville bank account under the
Illinois center's name.

Who deposited the checks has not been made public.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

JCTA: More Union...Less Teacher's Association

Toni Konz reports on the JCTA's latest stunt at C-J's Learning Curve blog:


The radio advertisement paid for by the Jefferson County Teachers Association that criticizes Superintendent Sheldon Berman that was supposed to be canceled has aired at least once this morning.

I heard it on WHAS-84 as I drove to work....

JCTA President Brent McKim told me this morning that the union tried to get it pulled and even substituted another ad in its place, but knew it was a possibility that the original ad was going to "slip through" a few times, since the decision to pull it came late Friday.
The minute-long ad, in which the union voiced its displeasure with Berman's decision to not rehire 18 teachers over alleged disciplinary and performance issues, was supposed to run all week on four local radio stations.The ad features people reading positive evaluations from some of the teachers' former supervisors and accused Berman of ignoring "the review process agreed upon by the administration, school board and the Jefferson County Teachers Association."

The ad also featured the home phone number of school board Chairman Joe Hardesty and asked listeners to call him and "tell him that teachers who get fair treatment are teachers who perform at their best."

The new ad that JCTA is going to run in place of the anti-Berman as apparently voices its support for the three Jefferson County Board of Education members who are up for re-election this fall -- Hardesty, Steve Imhoff and Larry Hujo.
C-J's Editorial Board responded with this:

Making waves

The Jefferson County Teachers Association never should have concocted an ad campaign against Superintendent Sheldon Berman in the first place. The fact that
one of the spots accidentally aired, after the union decided against targeting Mr. Berman in this way, is regrettable.

JCTA does deserve credit for deciding against a broadcast assault on the superintendent. It's never easy to put that kind of effort in reverse. Those who suggested the idea presumably were vested in it, and convincing them it should be abandoned would not have been easy. Nor would opposing them, if they stubbornly continued to push such a plan.

But then whoever among JCTA leaders finally decided against radio broadsides may have been yielding to facts, such as these: (1) the case for not renewing the contract of 18 teachers had been laid out clearly and specifically, and (2) the public gave no indication of buying the JCTA's opposition.

In the absence of any substantial public show of support for the JCTA complaints, it would have been futile to waste money on radio ads. The union would have looked small-minded and mean-spirited, and determined to give Mr. Berman an early show of muscle-flexing, when exhibiting more cooperation and collaboration would have made more sense.

Teachers are critical to the success of Jefferson County Public Schools -- the institution that will have the most impact on quality of life in this community over coming decades. They deserve respect and help, as they work hard at doing a very difficult job -- preparing Louisville's next generation to compete in the emerging economy and to live full, rich lives.

But Mr. Berman deserves the same measure of respect and help, as he puts his new administration and his best ideas in place.

Radio attack ads don't help. Nor would political maneuver.

It's no secret that JCTA actively supports board candidates whom it likes. Nothing untoward about that. However, it would be reckless of the union to threaten withdrawal of support from board members who merely failed to take the union's side in the dispute over these 18 former teachers. That would undercut crucial relationships, not undergird them.

Texas school district OKs pistols for staff

I said, do your homework or else...

This from the Houston Chronicle:

HARROLD, Texas — A tiny Texas school district may be the first in the nation to allow teachers and staff to pack guns for protection when classes begin later this month, a newspaper reported.

Trustees at the Harrold Independent School District approved a district policy change last October so employees can carry concealed firearms to deter and protect against school shootings, provided the gun-toting teachers follow certain requirements.

In order for teachers and staff to carry a pistol, they must have a Texas license to carry a concealed handgun; must be authorized to carry by the district; must receive training in crisis management and hostile situations and have to use ammunition that is designed to minimize the risk of ricochet in school halls.

Superintendent David Thweatt said the small community is a 30-minute drive from the sheriff's office, leaving students and teachers without protection. He said the district's lone campus sits 500 feet from heavily trafficked U.S. 287, which could make it a target.

"When the federal government started making schools gun-free zones, that's when all of these shootings started. Why would you put it out there that a group of people can't defend themselves? That's like saying 'sic 'em' to a dog," Thweatt said in Friday's online edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram...

School's Ban on Confederate Flag Upheld

This from Mark Walsh at the School Law Blog:

A federal appeals court today upheld a prohibition on displaying the Confederate flag in a Tennessee high school that had experienced racial tensions.

"The facts in this case ... indicate that school officials could reasonably forecast that permitting students to wear clothing depicting the Confederate flag would cause disruptions to the school environment,'' said the unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati.

The decision in Barr v. LaFon upholds summary judgment in favor of the Blount County, Tenn., school district and administrators in a challenge to the prohibition by students "who would like to express their Southern heritage by wearing clothing depicting the Confederate flag at school."

The appeals court pointed to facts in the record about several racial incidents at William Blount High School, including an alleged physical altercation between black and white students at a basketball game in 2005, and several incidents of racist graffiti found in a boys' restroom, including one depicting a noose.

Lawyers for the students who challenged the district argued there was no evidence that Confederate flag symbols had caused disruptions at the school.

But the court said the racist graffiti "exemplifies how school officials reasonably concluded that the connection between the symbolism of the Confederate flag and racial tensions at the school meant that the Confederate flag would likely have a disruptive effect on the school."

This case on Confederate flags in the schools is not the same as one from another Tennessee school district that ended up in a mistrial last week because a federal district court jury could not reach a verdict. I briefly blogged on that case here
and here.

Fla. town backs ex-principal in gay student case

This from the AP:

PONCE DE LEON, Fla. (AP) — When a high school senior told her principal that students were taunting her for being a lesbian, he told her homosexuality is wrong, outed her to her parents and ordered her to stay away from children.

He suspended some of her friends who expressed their outrage by wearing gay pride T-shirts and buttons at Ponce de Leon High School, according to court records. And he asked dozens of students whether they were gay or associated with gay students.

The American Civil Liberties Union successfully sued the district on behalf of a girl who protested against Principal David Davis, and a federal judge reprimanded Davis for conducting a "witch hunt" against gays. Davis was demoted, and school employees must now go through sensitivity training.

And despite all that, many in this conservative Panhandle community still wonder what, exactly, Davis did wrong.

"We are a small, rural district in the Bible Belt with strong Christian beliefs and feel like homosexuality is wrong," said Steve Griffin, Holmes County's school superintendent, who keeps a Bible on his desk and framed Scriptures on his office walls...

Backstory from KSN&C.

More than 200,000 kids spanked at school

This from CNN:

Schools in 21 states can use corporal punishment

More than 200,000 children were spanked or paddled in U.S. schools during the past school year, human rights groups reported Wednesday.

"Every public school needs effective methods of discipline, but beating kids teaches violence, and it doesn't stop bad behavior," wrote Alice Farmer, the author of a joint report from Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union. "Corporal
punishment discourages learning, fails to deter future misbehavior and at times even provokes it."

Corporal punishment in schools remains legal in 21 U.S. states and is used frequently in 13: Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, according to data received from the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education and cited in the report.

The highest percentage of students receiving corporal punishment was in Mississippi, with 7.5 percent of students. The highest number was in Texas, with 48,197 students.

"When you talk to local school officials, they point to the fact that it's quick and it's effective -- and that's true," Farmer said. "It doesn't take much time to administer corporal punishment, and you don't have to hire someone to run a detention or an after-school program."

But she said, "We need forms of discipline that makes children understand why what they did was wrong."

In addition, corporal punishment can be linked to poverty and lack of resources. For instance, the report said, "Teachers may have overcrowded classrooms and lack resources such as counselors to assist with particularly disruptive students or classroom dynamics."

Overall, 223,190 students received corporal punishment in 2006-07, according to the Department of Education statistics. That number is down from 342,038 students in 2000-01 as more and more districts abolished corporal punishment....


More on corporal punishment in Kentucky from KSN&C:

And from Ed WEek:

Study Finds Minorities More Likely to Be Paddled

Paddlings, swats, licks. A quarter of a million schoolchildren got them in 2007 — and blacks, American Indians and kids with disabilities got a disproportionate share of the punishment, according to a study by a human rights group...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A little Petrilli v Silberman Update

The legal processes tick away in Petrilli v. Silberman.

Both parties are involved in depositions these days. A source tells KSN&C that Peggy Petrilli was deposed yesterday. Coming later this month...plaintiff's depositions of Jock Gum, Bob McLaughlin, Carmen Coleman and Stu Silberman.

Hey, wait a minute. Jock Gum?

Gum was not at BTWA at any point when - whatever - events occurred. But he followed Peggy Petrilli as principal at Booker T Washington Academy during the past year.

When you follow someone in a job it is always an interesting experience. You learn things from files and reports. You see how the building was organized and how business was conducted. Then, you map out your own path according to your goals and leadership style.

But what happens mostly....is that you begin to hear from people. Whatever complaints existed before are almost certain to come to the attention of the new principal - and much of it is second-hand and biased; although, not necessarily untrue.

My favorite Jock Gum semi-quote occured when a teacher at BTWA approached him - apparently prepared to unload her concerns and "help" Gum chart a new direction for the school. Jock reportedly said - something like - 'Wait a minute. I'm not a change agent. I'm just here for one year to keep the train on the tracks. You'll want to take that up with the next principal.'

Involving Gum in this case is an interesting choice. What does legal counsel hope his testimony will do? Establishing the climate at BTWA in the immediate aftermath of Petrilli's departure is one thing. But, I wonder. What else is hoped for?

It is surely the testimony of Directors Carmen Coleman and Bob McLaughlin that the district hopes to use to discredit Petrilli.

In Fayette County, directors are line-managers. Principals report directly to their directors. Principals and directors consult regularly on virtually all major issues. The relationship, in practice, is truly collegial and is, in large measure, built upon trust.

In fact, it's hard to imagine that much gets past a good director. They are the district firefighters. Whenever there is a complaint about a school, it goes to the director. Directors then bring the concerns back to the principal and they work together to resolve whatever issues exist.

If there are a lot of complaints about a school, the director knows it.

But while all that trusting is going on, the wise principal remembers that directors serve their superintendents - just as directly.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Give me your Top Ten

School's about to start and it's going to be a busy week for this blogger. I'm not sure how well I'll be able to keep up, so let me know if I miss anything big that's going on.

In the meantime, may I ask for your help?

In EDL 822 (Social and Political Dimensions of Leadership) this fall, our doctoral students will be taking a whack at determining:

Who are the most influential folks when it comes to education in Kentucky.

Initially, we are looking at individuals and groups - sometimes as though they are one. So for example, Bob Sexton = the Prichard Committee; Sharon Oxendine = KEA...and so forth. Sometimes individuals stand alone, like Harry Moberley, David Williams, Helen Mountjoy...

Here's where you come in.

Reply to this post with your own top ten most influential people impacting education in Kentucky today. Tell us who they are. Feel free to say why certain folks are or are not on your list. Let's see what we come up with.

I'll start you off with a list you can shoot at.
  1. David Williams
  2. Harry Moberley
  3. Steve Beshear
  4. The KEA
  5. Courier-Journal
  6. Herald-Leader
  7. Jon Draud
  8. Prichard Committee
  9. Dan Kelly
  10. Roger Marcum

Have Fun!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Jury Deadlocks in Stars and Bars Dress Code case

This from the Knoxville Tennessean:

Jury undecided over dress code
involving Confederate flag
KNOXVILLE — A federal court jury in Knoxville says it hasn't been able to reach a verdict over whether a school dress code banning the Confederate flag violated a student's free speech rights.

The judge told the panel to return today, and asked lawyers for the two sides to consider ways to resolve the dispute if the jury can't render a unanimous verdict.

Tommy DeFoe, 18, was suspended by Anderson County school officials more than 40 times for violating the dress code. He received his certificate of completion from the vocational school last fall.

School administrators feared DeFoe's Confederate flag shirts and belt buckle could inflame racial tensions.

The all-white jury deliberated for 10 hours Thursday before informing the judge they couldn't reach a unanimous decision.

DeFoe's lawsuit is the latest in a string of cases across the South since the 1990s challenging dress codes that banned Confederate flag apparel.

And this from OakRidger.com:
School officials:
Rebel flag suit more than a dress code issue;
funded ‘by outside sources’

References made to racial unrest in Clinton in the 1950s

CLINTON, Tenn. — Likening the case to the racial discord of the mid- to late 1950s in Anderson County, county school officials on Thursday night said this week's U.S. federal court hearing over a student's right to wear the Confederate flag symbol is being funded "by outside sources."

"Regardless of what you read there's a lot more to it than our enforcement of our dress code," John Burrell, Anderson County Board of Education chairman, said during the county school board's regular monthly meeting...

...According to a November 2006 story published in The Oak Ridger, DeFoe's lawsuit was filed by an attorney employed by the Black Mountain, N.C.-based Southern Legal Resource Center Inc.

"In 1956, an outsider, John Kasper, came in and created a problem," Stonecipher said, referring to the racial unrest in Clinton that resulted in the 1958 bombing of Clinton High School. "Then, in 2006, it's an outsider coming in looking for a landmark case."Kasper was among those who opposed the court-ordered desegregation of Clinton High School in August 1956....
A tip of the hat to Brad Hughes @ KSBA.

Schools on Notice: Mid-year cuts from Frankfort are possible

This from the Crittenden Press by way of KSBA.


Crittenden County Schools to seek tax hike

Hammered by rising energy costs, Crittenden County Board of Education is again turning to taxpayers to help close a gap that has led to cuts in programs and personnel across the school district.

When board members meet later this month, they are expected to ask the county’s property owners for more money to prepare the community’s children for tomorrow’s world. A proposed 1.3-cent increase on each $100 of real and personal property is anticipated to generate almost $185,000 in additional revenue for the school system.

“Increased energy cost certainly makes the school district’s budget … much more difficult to manage,” said Superintendent Dr. Rachel Yarbrough.

The 3.1-percent tax hike would see the owner of a $100,000 home paying $13 more in real estate taxes. However, this will be the second consecutive year the district has sought a tax increase after leaving rates put since 2003...

...“Rural school districts seem to be caught in an ongoing dilemma between decreases in revenue sources and an increase in student achievement accountability performance,” Yarbrough said. “We will continue to try and maintain the integrity of the instructional programs for Crittenden County students so that they receive a high quality education each year of their school career.”

The superintendent said state-allocated funding has been flat while expenses have soared. She added that all school districts in the commonwealth have been put on notice by Frankfort to be prepared for a potential unfavorable, mid-year adjustment to the state’s funding formula.

Compared to 2003 when the school district increased its property tax rate from 39.0 cents to 40.2 cents, the board is today paying $117,000 more annually in combined electricity and natural gas costs, which does not include proposed increases to both that could take effect before winter.

As for fuel costs, the numbers are staggering compared to just 10 years ago. The last load of diesel fuel delivered before school resumed last week was $31,947, more than the annual cost each year from 1996 to 1999.

Aside from increased energy expenses, state-mandated contributions to the County Employee Retirement System have doubled from 6.34 percent of the annual payroll for classified employees in 2003 to 13.5 percent. In that same period, the starting salary for a teacher has also increased $6,797 to $34,267, and salaries across the board face a mandated one-percent increase. Food costs, too, have increased drastically....

New Jersey Superintendents sue Education Commissioner

This from the Star-Ledger:

Administrators association challenges
new state rules on
contracts and compensation

Adding fuel to the debate over school costs, the group representing New Jersey's superintendents filed a federal lawsuit yesterday against the state education commissioner, claiming new limits on administrators' pay are arbitrary and unconstitutional.

The suit comes one day after the state released information about compensation for more than 3,000 administrators, including millions of dollars in stipends, benefits and other pay beyond their published salaries.

But the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Trenton, challenges new regulations enacted by Education Commissioner Lucille Davy last month that give the state the power to review and even reject the contracts of superintendents, assistant superintendents and business administrators.

The suit contends the new rules violate the administrators' rights to due process and single them out over other public employees....