Thursday, February 26, 2009

Robbinsdale Intradistrict Transfers

Today I am going to tell you a story about some friends of ours. Let's name the parents Bob and Betty, and the kids Billy(2nd grd) and Bonnie (5th grd).

Well, about 6 years ago Bob and Betty decided that Meadow Lake was not the elementary school they wanted their kids to attend, so they open enrolled to Zachary Lane Elementary. Bonnie, and then Billy attended ZLE, where they made friends and excelled in their classes. While this was happening, Betty drove the kids to school daily, volunteered often and made many friends. Bonnie and the family even endured the 3/4th grd split class one year. (different story)

Now, Bonnie is a very bright child that excels in all her classes and really wants to go to the Plymouth Middle School pre-AP program with her classmates and friends. Therefore Betty completes the intradistrict transfer and pre-AP application process. Betty even accepts the responsibility and cost of driving to PMS along with ZLE.

So Betty and Bonnie wait anxiously for a reply......

The reply comes in the form of multiple letters. One says that Bonnie will not be able to attend PMS pre-AP because it is full. Another accepts Bonnie into the RMS IB program. The third welcomes them to RMS.

I am not sure the moral to this story, however I am still trying to figure out why we are budgeting $375,000 to intra-district transfer busing when these folks who were clearly on the ZLE/PMS/AHS path can not get into PMS? (at no cost to the district...) Unless these buses only go from SW to NE....

As always, all thoughts welcome.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Robbinsdale Schools: Squished at ZLE ?

The following is to provide information for those who are looking to open enroll or intra-district transfer to Zachary Lane Elementary for the 2009/2010 school year. It is a great school !!! With only one little bitty problem that will certainly be exacerbated this year....

The building was designed when "open classrooms" were in style. And for some reason this was not changed during the remodel. The upside of this is that it makes team teaching much simpler. The downside is your children will hear everything that is said or done in the neighboring classroom.... Some kids can block it out, others find this distracting

In the past years, there have been some empty spaces that have helped to reduce the disruption. In 2009/2010, I believe the school will be filled to the max with no sound deadening vacant space. Here is why:
  • It sounds like the existing out of district open enrollees and intra-district transfers are guaranteed a spot.
  • Due to the school closures, boundary changes and the newly assigned Principal from PLE, there is an unprecedented number of intra-district transfer requests for ZLE.
  • The lunchroom is the only multipurpose room, their is only one gym and Adventure Club is very popular.(currently uses 2 classrooms)
  • Creative Play uses one classroom and is a very popular feeder program. (ie pre-K kids like going to "their" school)
  • The pressure on the administration to "let me in" will be intense.
I am certain it will still be great school, however if you are looking for small class sizes or quiet classrooms, you may want to look somewhere else. Just be aware of this when you tour the school/classrooms.

I have asked informally about the need for additional walls and how the district will keep us from the MAX class size, however no response yet. I am betting the school gets filled up...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Crisis of Credit - Economics for Dumbies

Thanks to Chief and Spike over at Freedom Dogs for this great link:

Crisis of Credit

It explains the current situation in a simple graphical way. Definitely worth the time.

The possible causes that are discussed in the FD blog include:
  • Greedy investors that demanded better returns.
  • Bleeding heart liberal politicians that demanded that everyone be given a loan for a home.
  • Excessive American citizen's that "needed" that "beyond their means" dream home or just a home.
  • Unethical business people that wanted to get rich by any means possible.
  • Incompetent or self serving regulators.

I vote that we all played a role in this. Take a look and judge for yourself... Then ponder, how do we keep it from happening again, if we get this fixed this time?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Robbinsdale School District- Spanish Immersion

First: I believe there are benefits to exposing students to Spanish Immersion. (K-5) Primarily, it takes advantage of a period in the development in a child's brain when it is easier to become bi-lingual. Possibly allowing some topics to be learned easier in the future.

Second: Overall, I believe the typical RAS curriculum works just as well or better in teaching kids the core subjects. (ie reading, writing, math, science, etc)

Thirdly: I only write this blog because repeatedly the RSIS folks tell me how great the program is, we need to expand it and this will fix the district's academic performance issues...

Below are the links to the RSIS, ZLE and RAS report cards and demographics. In summary, ZLE has twice as many special education students, twice as many free/reduced lunch students and equivalent test scores.

The reality is that Spanish Immersion succeeds as well as it does is because the school has:
  • only 5% special education
  • only 8% free and reduced lunch
  • only active parents focused on education submit their children's name into the lottery

Now it is good to be proud of your school, yet we also need the humility to face reality. I accept that a key factor in ZLE's success are the staff, parents and students. Please understand that though RSIS is a great school with great staff, parents and students. It is still by far the most segregated and specially treated school in the district. This is really the key to its success and this will not hold as the student/parent body comes to closer to matching RAS.

So every night when you go to bed, thank god that your child's name was selected in the lottery that allowed you to escape the reality of the RAS community schools. I know I am thankful for ZLE and pre-AP. Now how do we give back to improve general education at all the elementary schools.

ZLE Demographics

RSIS Demographics

RAS Demographics

ZLE Performance

RSIS Performance

RAS Performance

Friday, February 20, 2009

Robbinsdale School District: Transportation

Continuing on yesterday's topic. What else could $500,000 a year buy?
  • 7 to 10 general education teachers or
  • 7 to 10 music or art teachers or
  • 10 to 20 educational assistants to help challenged or advanced students or
  • 71 SMART Boards @ $7,000/board or
  • 100 $5000 bonuses for the district's best performing teachers

Why again are we spending this money on transportation?

17Feb09 Restorations

Total Restorations

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Robbinsdale School District: Transportation

After attending my 5th grader's music concert, I am even more frustrated by the decision to reinstate cross district transportation for those who choose to leave their community schools to pursue "something better"... instead of working to make their community schools better...

This sounds like a strange reason to be frustrated, yet here is the rationale. The district is choosing to pay for "optional" bus transportation for the "particular folk" at the expense of the general student population. This will cost the RAS tax payers ~$500,000 per year and only benefit a small percentage of the students. (<20%)

Now, I remember there used to be music concerts for each grade, and even a 5th grade musical. Now there is only 2 concerts total in our school because general education can not afford a music teacher per elementary school. The ZLE music teacher is split between 3 schools or ~1400 kids....

Music of course is only one of the sacrifices the general education budget has made. Others include the loss of the kaleidoscope, focus and other gifted programs. Not to mention the loss of the elementary art teachers. If community schools are the district's vision, then let's make them special and important !!! Not pay for people to transfer out of them !!!

I am not sure how the transportation decision reversal got passed with little or no public discussion, however I think it should be reconsidered and overturned. Or at least these families should pay for the bus transportation on a sliding fee scale, and return the money to the "community" schools and students... or to the tax payers.... Please feel free to send an email to your board members if you agree.

Useful Links
Speed - Communication
Speed - Matrix
Speed - Speeding Bullet
Speed - New Boss
Speed - Reactions

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to Win Friends and Influence People

For 20 years of my adult life I put off reading this book because I thought it was about manipulating people. (not my style) Then one day I noticed that it had been in print for 70 years, and decided it must be worth $14 and some time to see what all the buzz was about. Now it makes my top 10 list and this summary is in a frame over my desk.

I am still working on improving my execution of these basic key guidelines....

“How To Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
  • Don't criticize, condemn or complain.
  • Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  • Arouse in the other person an eager want.
Six ways to make people like you
  • Become genuinely interested in other people.
  • Smile.
  • Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  • Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  • Talk in terms of the other person's interests.
  • Make the other person feel important - and do it sincerely.
Win people to your way of thinking
  • The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  • Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say, "You're wrong."
  • If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  • Begin in a friendly way.
  • Get the other person saying "yes, yes" immediately.
  • Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  • Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
  • Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
  • Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
  • Appeal to the nobler motives.
  • Dramatize your ideas.
  • Throw down a challenge.
Be a Leader: How to Change People w/o Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

A leader's job often includes changing your people's attitudes and behavior. Some suggestions to accomplish this:
  • Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  • Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly.
  • Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  • Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  • Let the other person save face.
  • Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be "hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise."
  • Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  • Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  • Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Teacher: Creative vs Incompetent

I think I have probably sat in more class rooms than most people.

This is due to my years of company sponsored training and certifications, and my HS, BS Engrg, MS Engrg and MBA degrees. Along with all these different classes and classrooms, came 100+ instructors that all had different styles and techniques.

When I was younger, I used to judge the teachers effectiveness based in a large part on their style and technique. Of course, if it did not match my style they must be the problem.(ie incompetent) Well this rebelling caused me a fair amount of conflict and questionable grades. After ~40 years of different teachers and occasionally instructing co-workers myself, I have finally figured out that students need to be somewhat trusting, flexible and accepting of different instructional styles. After all, they are the instructor and they may just know something you do not. Also, their style may be ideal for other students in the class.

With this perspective in mind, I question why some of the RAS teachers are still teaching. Parents complain to administrators year after year about specific teachers that:
  • assign homework in a somewhat haphazard/inconsistent manner
  • find it difficult to maintain discipline in their classrooms
  • consistently lose the homework of their students, then blame the students or just give them 100%
  • fail to enter grades in Parent Portal for months at a time
To me the above have nothing to do with teaching style, creativity, method, etc. They are just symptoms of poor organization and a failure to perform to the base expectations of the position.

Now I understand that personnel are human and that short term performance issues need to be worked through occasionally. Like when I fell apart for ~1 month due to a panic attack/nervous breakdown/etc.(a different blog...) My Supervisor and company were great while I experienced this life changing disaster. They supported me as I got the medical and counseling help to get back on top of my game.

Now would they have allowed me to stay in my position for multiple years while I did questionable work and alienated the company's customers. NOT A CHANCE !!! So why does RAS not address this small minority of teachers that are giving the district and teachers in general a bad name? And why do the other teachers and the union want to protect them at the expense of the students and their own profession's reputation? How can can we better reward the good performers and weed out the poor performers?

Friday, February 13, 2009

School Superindents - Critical Characteristics

The following letter and preferred profile have been posted on the RAS website. (links below) I am not sure what to make of them, the profile seems pretty generic and all inclusive. The basic "must walk on water boiler plate"....

I guess I would like to have seen some "Critical Characteristics" listed that aligned with our future goals. For instance:
  • Proven capability of developing student values, and significantly improving student test scores in math, science, reading and writing across all categories of students.
  • Proven capability of generating productivity gains that consistently shift money from "other expenses" to "classroom/counseling expenses".
  • Proven capability of exciting the community, parents and students regarding the school's general education program, without needing to support "niche" offerings.
  • Proven history of monitoring and caring about employee engagement, and a proven capability of creating and maintaining high engagement scores. (link1, link2)
  • Proven capability of creating, collaborating on, communicating and meeting a Specific, Measureable, Action oriented, Realistic and Time based plan.
You will note I do not stress a strength in teaching, finance, student advocate, fine arts, etc. My rationale is there are ~2000 employees that will lobby for and manage these areas. The Superintendent simply needs to be a great Manager/Leader with a vision that is aligned with the community, not a "Super Teacher or Super Accountant".

Profile desired
Letter to Candidates
Speed on AH Supt
Speed on Supt searches
DC Supt Video

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Is a Recession a Bad Thing ?

I have what is probably a very unpopular opinion right now:

A serious 2+year recession would be great for the country !!!

Now I know this sounds crazy, however here is my rationale. Many citizens:
  • have forgotten the importance of saving for a rainy day.
  • believe they are "owed" their dream life. (home, cars, vacations, etc)
  • have forgotten that markets are supposed to go up and down.
  • have forgotten the importance of donating their money and time
  • have neglected to keep improving their health, education, skills, productivity, etc.
  • believe they are above hard manual labor, or think a good job is a right.
  • believe that double digit property appreciation is normal.
  • believe they should get something for nothing. (ie too many lawyers)

The Great Depression had a lasting impact on generations of Americans and it seems we have lost the message. Maybe some good lessons could be relearned:

  • no matter your income, you need to save for a rainy day
  • you need to live beneath your means
  • personal debt should be used for conservative home mortgages and educational expenses only (ie not to buy cars/toys)
  • work and learning is a privilege to be respected and pursued with energy
  • people should not rely on the government, except as a last resort

If we do not collectively re-learn these lessons, I think America will have a hard time maintaining a dominant world leader role in the future. As usual: "Pay me Now or Pay me Later"

A good and useful book/movie: The Ultimate Gift by Stovall

Applicable writings by Fred Zimmerman

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round part 2

I was given a brilliant and simple solution to the transportation expense issue.

Charge the folks for the transportation costs related to their choosing to enroll their children in the "out of area" program.

This has precedent and many benefits including:
  • many school situations already charge user fees (ie parking, sports, etc)
  • it maintains choice and ensures the general fund is not paying for the "choice" privilege
  • it can be applied to each unique offering that requires non-standard "house to school" transportation (including existing programs)
  • it frees parents from dropping off the kids

Worst case there can be a sliding fee scale to ensure equal access. Seems like a slam dunk !!!! So why wouldn't we do it?


Friday, February 6, 2009

The Joy of "Blog"

Now I know there is a group of people who like to watch people interact. Sometimes this is:
  • at the mall
  • watching sports
  • blogging
  • other more intimate activities.....
Now I usually find it much more enjoyable to take part in the interaction.

With this in mind, there has to be a first time for everyone... And your participation can be totally anonymous if you desire...

So, when I write something that you agree with... Write a comment and
tell me "You are right on.... because......"

Or, when I write something that is so stupid you can hardly stand it.
Write a comment and tell me "You are such an idiot....
" (remember you won't hurt my feelings, I expect and encourage different viewpoints) So let me have it with both barrels !!!

Or, if you just don't understand the topic or why it is worth discussing. Write a comment and tell me "What in the world are you talking about??? Or why??? "

Just think, where else can you interact with dozens of people with no fear of guilt, no feelings of embarrassment, no concern about future meetings, and no future health concerns...

Also, we like hearing opinions from all Cities, States and Countries.... Even if you do not know where Plymouth, Crystal, Robbinsdale, New Hope, Golden Valley and Brooklyn Center Minnesota are... We actually appreciate your perceptions more since they are likely very different....

A special thanks to my readers from Canada and India....

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Power of and Need for Empathy

As I sit here listening over the wall to my co-worker of 12 years packing his boxes due to our most recent round of layoffs, I am contemplating the incredible value and power of sincere empathy.

When I was younger and more foolish, I would have rationalized the situation in order to avoid feeling intense negative emotions. I may have made a list of why the unfortunate were somewhat at fault for their own situation. Along with this I may have explained to myself how I was superior in some way, and therefore it wasn't my problem.

Per Merriam Webster, empathy is:
the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner

A coach that once told me that by doing this I was avoiding the full sadness and joy of being alive. (ie life is messy) Also, it prevented me from fully connecting with, understanding and helping others. Therefore, I have learned and now totally sanction that only through making a conscious effort to see and feel the world through the other person's eyes, skin and heart can a difference be made.

This applies to school board members making hard decisions, parents facing change, kids starting a new class, retirees on fixed incomes facing tax increases or my friend becoming unemployed..... I am much happier and complete now that I choose to feel...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

I had such high hopes that the RAS Board members and Administrators had gotten the voter's message loud and clear:
  • Be Conservative with our money
  • Ensure all the schools/students meet NCLB/AYP
  • Give the citizens back any extra money

I mean they had stated that any extra savings from the building closures would go into the rainy day fund, not more programs. (ie prepare for MN funding freezes) Also, they had announced the discontinuation of cross district bus routes and committed themselves to "community schools". It looked so promising....

Apparently old habits die hard... This week the district Administrators announced:

  • that direct bus routes to any special program will be reinstated. This means the students can choose Spanish Immersion, IB or pre-AP/AP, and the district will pick them up and deliver them to that school. (ie extra transportation cost)
  • that middle school Spanish Immersion classes will be offered if a full "class" of students sign up. (ie extra coordination & administration costs)

From what I understand, neither of these are in alignment with the Voter's wishes. One drives up transportation costs and defeats the concept of community schools. The other drives district costs up and further rewards a few folks who were lucky enough to be picked in a lottery in the first place. Neither helps the district's general education students to excel...

Here is what I propose:

  • discontinue IB or AP, and ensure the survivor is fully implemented and available at the community schools
  • limit bus routes to between homes and their community schools
  • limit Spanish immersion to K-5, or discontinue it entirely and use the transportation savings to offer some Spanish instruction in all the elementary schools.
  • discontinue Orchestra and use the savings to offer more general art and music in all the elementary schools.

As I have said before, maintaining unique and prestigious programs is a luxury that should be limited to school districts that are meeting the base requirements and still have discretionary funding. RAS has little money and students are still failing, therefore the perks need to be pruned and the focus must be on core education/programs for all the kids.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Seniority and Tenure vs Learning and Productivity

As the manufacturing company I work for faces the grim reality of separating with and/or laying off upwards of 25% of the employees (~25,000) worldwide in order to ensure the company remains a viable business and employer for the other 75%, I wonder what the stockholders and stakeholders would think if seniority was the primary selection criteria ?

The company line would be that employee capability, effort, willingness to continually improve and learn, customer focus, etc are less important than years served. Therefore we will continue to harbor those that have lost interest in their job, show little effort, show poor behaviors, and have stopped learning/trying, etc. We will accept the loss in productivity and the risk of having our American company put out of business by foreign competition in order to keep these disengaged employees unhappily employed until their retirement.

Would this make any sense at all ?

My father taught me a very simple and transparent truth. You must continually work to ensure your perceived value is greater than your perceived cost, in order to survive the cuts in a downturn. And if you are still one of the unlucky ones, the ongoing efforts you had taken to maintain your value should help you find another job quickly.

So I did some research on how seniority and tenure grew in importance in the public school systems and found the Time articles linked below. I am interested in this today, because I learned this weekend that the ZLE Principal that started just this year is being bumped to Northport and that the PLE Principal will move to ZLE next year.

I am sure the new Principal will be fine, many PLE parents love him. However, what strange rationale would drive the Administration to subject the teachers and students to another transition when the Principal is doing a great job. More importantly, wouldn't Northport get more value from having a more experienced Principal?

I assume this has a lot to do with seniority and some to do with extending an olive branch to the PLE parents that will have kids at ZLE next year. Though I would think the PLE parents whose kids will not be attending ZLE may find it more of a slap in the face. ZLE wins either way, just thought it odd. Enjoy the articles:

Time Tenure
Time Great Teachers

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dead Beat Parents

After discussions with a few folks, it turns out there may be some very good reasons that schools will be unable to meet AYP goals....

Dead Beat Parents

By this term I refer to those parents that do not understand, do not accept or are unable to fulfill the roles and responsibilities they accepted when they chose to have children. Some examples of how this supports failure include:
  • Parents are required by law to approve holding the child back when the teacher/administration thinks inadequate progress has been made. Often parents who are indifferent to kids performance refuse....
  • Parents are required to sign kids up for special needs services. Sometimes parents refuse to avoid the stigma or "embarrassment"....
  • Parents need to sign kids up for and provide transportation for extra learning services. (ie summer school, tutoring, etc) Often the same parents think this is too inconvenient and not worth the sacrifice....
  • Parents, especially in poverty, move often and prevent the kids from having a stable learning environment. Often these parents would not be educated enough to fill the gap via home schooling.
  • Parents and others that believe speaking poor English and treating people in authority disrespectfully is a cultural right.
  • Parents fail to attend Teacher conferences, ensure homework is completed, etc.
Does this mean we should discontinued NCLB or AYP? NO WAY !!!

This does mean that the problem needs to be clearly identified and legislators need to work with educators and parents to resolve it. The challenge is that parental and state rights/responsibilities are certainly at odds in this case. However, for America's success it is critical that ALL kids have a base academic proficiency !!!!