Friday, January 30, 2009

RAS Facility Transition Q&A

The Q&A documents provided by RAS are sales oriented, however they are useful and informative. My comments are:
  • Why are we continuing Spanish immersion into middle school? (driving cost and complexity in the form of transfer buses and program administration)
  • How to handle the large number of intra-district transfer requests? Is it time to bump all the non-RAS kids that open enroll to ZLE and Spanish Immersion? The Q&A says In-District families have priority.
  • No Child Left Behind accounts for the student body's current demographics and performance when setting the AYP targets. With exception of the Special Need and ESL language students, there is no reason the targets should not be met. (time to move our focus and priority)
  • Hopefully Obama does not rescind NCLB, it is one of the few accountability tools offered to measure public school performance. Also, problems that stay hidden tend to not get fixed.
  • Pilgram Lane is a school building, lease/sell it to Beacon Academy. Raise the price if nervous about competition.
Transition Page
Q&A 23Jan09
Q&A 28Jan09

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The True Patriot

My most recent read was a book given to me by one of my most conservative/Republican co-workers. It is called "The True Patriot" by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer. Ironically, Eric and Nick are self proclaimed "progressive liberals".

The theme of the book is that they feel liberal and conservative politicians have spent far too much energy pandering on specific issues to gain votes, instead of holding fast to the core values of America. We citizens don't get off too easy either, ultimately it is our self focused thoughts and behaviors that allow, encourage and select these politicians. (ie "we want something for nothing")

Therefore the authors propose that citizens increase their focus on "we", and decrease their focus on "me". All the time remembering that it is America that has enabled our personal success, not our "special" abilities and efforts. (Success) And America can only help our future generations to be successful if we sacrifice for it like our forefathers did. They acknowledge this is hard, however no one said being a good patriot would be easy.

Of course, they are self proclaimed Progressive Liberals, so a few of their ideas will challenge the Right Wing Conservative paradigms. Still, it is worth a read.

Now, how does this relate to the current RAS issues:

  • We elected a school board, who after due diligence made a decision. Why are citizen's writing to papers saying that they will not support a possible capital referendum in the future because "their" school was closed ???? If you want to vote no because you thought their process was weak and they do not deserve more money, GREAT !!! But because your special interest was not served, GIVE ME A BREAK !!!
  • The goal of the public school is to provide strong core education/activities and prepare children to be good productive adult citizens. Why are citizen's complaining that their kids will not be Spanish immersed in Middle School, or some other activity far from the core goal of RAS ???? Give me a break !!! We have kids that are failing to meet the basic performance in the core curriculum. If you want something "special" for your child, pay for it at a private school, tutors or club activity.
  • The role of the parent is to ensure their children are prepared to learn and to model/enforce the correct behaviors. Why do we have parents allowing their children to not complete homework and then blaming the "the school" for their kid's poor academic performance? Why do we have parents suing the district when their child misbehaves, chastising teachers when their child is punished for disrupting the class, etc? The parents must teach and model/enforce good values and behaviors if the child is to succeed.
  • The diverse student body in the district offers more challenges than most in the state of Minnesota, yet we citizens choose to fund it lower than the "easy" districts. (ie Edina, Wayzata, Orono, etc) Citizens, does funding the "more challenging" district with less money than the "easy" district make any sense? And then complaining about how much they spend... This is the public education system that enabled your success.
  • The board and administration continue to try and "woo" the parents who want special things for their kids. Also, they want to spend money to develop / improve curriculum so RAS can be "special & proud" about their school offerings. How about we steal practices and curriculum actively and often from districts that are working, partner closely with them to reduce/share costs, ensure that our academic standards are high and return any excess money to the citizens? I would feel much more "special and proud" regarding RAS if student test scores far exceeded the state averages.
  • The administrators and teachers continue to support tenure and seniority.... How can protecting the poor performers possibly help the kids learn? Or support raising the perceived professionalism of the American education system and it's personnel? In the business world, Supervisors work hard to keep the best performers, improve the marginal performers and move the poor performers onto a job that better fits their skills and interest. It's in the Supervisor's best interest to have successful employees working for them. (ie it makes them look good and their job easier) If Educators want more respect, they need to allow the poor performers to fail and move onto something they are better at.
With these questions in mind:

Is maintaining the American opportunity worth personal sacrifice?

If so:

  • How can we all be better "Patriots"?
  • Are we willing to volunteer and get involved?
  • Are we willing to pay for our "perks" rather than demand them?
  • Are we willing to be happy and proud to pay the taxes that support our society?
  • Are we willing to be more than a one issue voter? Focus on the greater good?
  • Are we willing to hold poor performers accountable? Even if it may be us someday?
It is all these small decisions and actions that will determine what our country will be like in 50 years.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

RAS Future Priorities - A Work in Progress

Here is a portion of a previous blog string that seems appropriate as we look forward to a better and stronger school district. Especially since I kept hearing occasional comments by board members about how our new found windfall could be used for new or innovative programs. I do not believe this is what the tax payers want. My perception is that they want good school report cards and lower taxes. Therefore, how can RAS stop experimenting with curriculums and start following the lead of other successful districts in order to put those curriculum/program dollars in the classroom, in the bank or in the taxpayer's pockets?

The Strategic Plan is a great start, however we need to decide the relative priorities. It currently promises everything to everyone, and we just can't afford that. As usual, these are my viewpoints and they are likely to have errors or inconsistencies. They are not meant to insult, offend or blame anyone, however they will hopefully make some of the undiscussable topics in our district discussable. This is the only way they can be resolved. As always, dissenting and supporting comments are encouraged.

"Hey Folks, The RAS community and schools are worth fighting for and that is why my family is still here, however don't stick your head in the sand and say that things are great. Also, don't blame the realtors for a widely held perception that has been created regarding buying a home in the RAS district. We have created our own problems and only by acknowledging them can they be overcome.

Here are some key improvements that I think need to be made to start overcoming those widely held perceptions:
  • all schools need to pass AYP/improve report cards, no exceptions. These goals are set based on the schools current performance, they should be attainable.
  • though less than 5%, all teachers, counselors, etc that are consistently deemed poor performers need to be removed from the classroom/roles. (ie you know, those teachers that the parents year after year warn new parents about)(lose homework, can't maintain discipline, disorganized, temper outbursts, etc) Their presence disheartens the parents and other teachers, and it is likely the poor teacher would be happier in another profession/role.
  • administration personnel must demand and actively support teachers in maintaining classroom and common area discipline. It is not a racial/diversity thing... Parents must know their kids are in a safe and effective learning environment. No fights in the halls, no kids throwing desks, etc. One incident spreads ripples of rumors and bad press.
  • the community must consistently fund/support the district schools. No one wants to deal with continuous discord and uncertainty in the district.
  • elective programs and niceties come only after meeting the above criteria. They are nice to have, however parents want basic academic results and a good learning environment first.

Accomplishing the above will be difficult, however it must be done if we want to replace the common perception that is held by most non-RAS folks I know. (Oh, you go to RAS... too bad...) Parents do have the right and obligation to do what is best for their kids, and they need to balance this with how much they are willing to give to support the community... The folks who choose to fight for the community need to eliminate the problems to encourage folks to come, or stay. That is the challenge we face."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

RAS Facility Plan: Equity or Seperation ?

Well, the very difficult decision has been made. RAS will:
  • close Pilgrim Lane Elementary, Sunny Hollow Elementary and Sandberg Middle Schools. (all in SW area)
  • move the Spanish Immersion program from the centrally located RALC building to the Sunny Hollow building
  • move the Sandberg students to the Robbinsdale Middle School. (ie RALC building)
  • consolidate other school services in the Sandberg building
When the final arguments were made, it seemed that only two criteria were highly weighted in the minds of most of the board members. Tom Walsh was the exception, and he made an excellent case for the other criteria. The two criteria used to make the decision were:
  • A strong fear of the "mega elementary" at RALC
  • A strong desire to have Elementary Schools that are equally distributed around the district
These are important criteria, however letting them dominate the decision has left us with some other consequences that will need to be addressed going forward. The following are some thoughts regarding the changes, criteria and consequences:
  • For better or worse, the district is now officially split almost right down the "VOTE yes/Vote no" boundary. (NE & SW)
  • Northport and Lakeview are still on their own. The "mega elementary" though scary in concept offered some incredible advantages for these kids and the district. First, the support services could have been consolidated and improved. Second, the class sizes could have been better stabilized due to more sections of each grade. Third, the mobility issue could have been reduced because a larger area of RAS would have attended the same school. Fourth, Spanish Immersion parent volunteers and students could have helped its sister school due to the close proximity. Fifth, additional "at risk" students may have become aware of and joined the immersion program. Sixth, half of the school is already an excellent Elementary and it would have kept the magnate school centrally located.
  • The district now has 2 schools to renovate rather than 1, and no funding has been confirmed. This will be a challenge, especially since the key "Vote YES" volunteers/donors are pretty frustrated right now.
  • The K-5 option keeps more sections per grade in the Elementary schools, which helps to stabilize class sizes and improve school efficiency.
  • Spanish Immersion is officially segregated from the rest of the district. (ie stand alone building in the SW and significantly different student demographics than the district) I am not implying a conspiracy, just stating facts. If "at risk" kids don't apply, they can not be picked.
  • There will be minimal extra capacity in the SW Elementary schools to accept intra-district transfers or open enrollees. Many currently intradistrict transfer from NE to SW. (likely not possible in future)
  • Robbinsdale and Plymouth Middle Schools will be very very full for the next few years.
  • RMS will need to receive updates to improve its capability to house a middle school as well as the Sandberg building does today. (how will the Sandberg pool facilities be used? Bus the kids from RMS, which does not have a pool?)
  • Economies of scale should be gained by having many of the school services at the Sandberg building. Now if we can just move the ESC offices and bus garage there and sell off the retail space.
  • Pilgrim Lane Elementary is available to open a great charter school in Plymouth. That is what the site is designed for. Hopefully the district personnel see a PLE charter as a great opportunity for the kids that are interested in the option, rather than a threat to RAS that needs stifled.

The definite positive of last night is that a decision has been made and parents/students can start making their plans for next year.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bar Stool Economics and RAS Facility Plan?

The following was sent to me by an acquaintence and she sees it as somewhat of an anology regarding what the RAS schools are doing to the supportive SW citizens. (ie by closing 3 of the SW schools) What do you think?

Bar Stool Economics by David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.
Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:
  • The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
  • The fifth would pay $1.
  • The sixth would pay $3.
  • The seventh would pay $7.
  • The eighth would pay $12.
    The ninth would pay $18.
  • The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.
So, that’s what they decided to do. The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve. ‘Since you are all such good customers, he said, ‘I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20. Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. What about the other six men - the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his ‘fair share?’

They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay. And so:
  • The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
  • The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
  • The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
  • The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
  • The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
  • The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).
Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. ‘I only got a dollar out of the $20,’declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man,’ but he got $10!’‘Yeah, that’s right,’ exclaimed the fifth man. ‘I only saved a dollar, too. It’s unfair that he got ten times more than I!’‘That’s true!!’ shouted the seventh man. ‘Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!’‘Wait a minute,’ yelled the first four men in unison. ‘We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!’The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.Professor of Economics, University of Georgia

Her thoughts:
  • For those who understand, no explanation is needed.
  • For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible

Monday, January 19, 2009

Facility Alternatives and a Decision Matrix

The RAS School Board continues to wrestle with which schools to close. In fact, they have chosen to muddy the waters some by opening the discussion as to whether Sonnesyn or Sunny Hollow would be the better Spanish Immersion site.

My advice is that the Board should complete a Decision Matrix that includes all 5 of the alternatives that were created and assessed. Then this should be made public once the decision has been made. The advantage would be that the citizens could then see the criteria, weightings and scores that drove the decision. Which would reduce the sense of politics, closed door negotiations, favoritism, etc that seems to be proliferating in the blogs...

I use decision matrices often at work to bring teams together and to ensure a decision is made by consensus. Also, it helps management to understand why the team made a decision that was not intuitively obvious.

As a side note, a couple things I am still curious about:
- How do we fund the update on Northport and Lakeview?
- What is the plan for ESC and bus garage during next 5 years?
- Are we keeping the NE schools to encourage open enrollment from Brooklyn Center and Mpls? (ie funds)
- Will we lose more in the SW than we gain in the NE ? (ie active volunteers, funding, etc)

Friday, January 16, 2009

How to Stop the Bad Noise ?

When I coach folks regarding how to be more popular and influential, I explain to them about "noise". Some of you call it the rumor mill... From my view there are 3 types of "noise":
  • Good: When your name arises, people say good things or request that you be on their team. Or when people are talking about good things/behaviors, your name comes up.
  • None: Folks really don't ever talk about you and may not know who you are. (safe but not to influential or rewarding)
  • Bad: When your name arises, people say negative things or try to avoid having you on their team. Or when people are talking about bad things/behaviors, your name comes up.
During my career I have generated both good and bad noise, and here is what I have learned:
  • My good/bad actions and behaviors were directly responsible for generating the noise.
  • Once generated the strength of the noise increased, because people start to spread it and look for facts that support it. (ie we see what we look for) This results in "he can walk on water" or "he is so difficult".
  • Only through my consistently good actions/behaviors could I reverse the noise.
  • It takes a lot of time and patience to reverse bad noise, however good noise can be reversed very quickly.
This strongly applies to the RAS community. People in the metro area spread bad noise about our community and school district often. (ie declining/low property values, poverty, questionable school academic results, community not supportive of schools, etc) The only people that can reverse this noise is us... but only through accepting responsibility for and learning from the past, accepting the current reality, and improving our future actions/results... Hopefully we can work as a community to reverse the noise instead of squabbling amongst each other. (ie strengthen it)

Check out this Speed Blog for some more discussion on this

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

281 RAS Facility Update

I attended the District 281 Facility Planning Citizen feedback meeting last night. There was a super turn out of parents and teachers from within the district. (make up ~20% of RAS citizens) There were very few representing the viewpoints of the 80% of RAS citizens that do not have kids in school. The vast majority of people were from Sunny Hollow, Pilgrim Lane and Lakeview elementary schools. (ie facing closure as community schools, kids will be moved...)

100+ people certainly spoke their thoughts. (the good, the bad & the ugly):
  • The vast majority were praising their schools /teachers and asking the Board to not disrupt a great thing by closing their schools.
  • Another theme that came up several times was the "we may not pass the levy next time" or "we will move our kids to another district" threats.
  • There were a few asking for additional programs to be funded with the potential savings.
  • There were a few concerned about "what happened to mid school Spanish Immersion"
  • The folks who praised the Board for taking on this tough task and encouraged them to make a decision quickly, so the savings can be realized in 09/10 and the parents/students can start moving forward. (these were my favorites)
The best thing of sitting through it was that it helped me put a "human" face to a logistical problem. The most touching was a mother with an autistic daughter who has finally started being verbal, and the mother's fear that the daughter will regress if her school situation is disrupted.

Here are some of my general thoughts regarding the plan/process:
  • the SW folks are the greatest flight risk (can afford to and have option of same/better schools just across the border)
  • the NW schools pull more open enrollees into the district since the schools to the North/East are in even worse shape. (funding, poverty, etc)
  • Trading Mpls & Brooklyn Center kids for Golden Valley & New Hope kids.... Good idea ?
  • Sunny Hollow & Pilgrim Ln are ideally situated to be community schools.
  • Sunny Hollow & Pilgrim Ln have a very active community volunteer & fund raising base.
  • Northport and Lakeview seem to have a limited community volunteer & fund raising base.
  • Should the district disengage these core volunteer bases?
  • If the Northport and Lakeview kids moved into RMS, would the Spanish Immersion volunteer and fund raising base help to support and encourage the "whole school" or just their clique?
  • Parents often worry about stability for their kids. From what I have seen and experienced, it seems the kids adjust pretty quickly. (ie just a new classroom/teacher, another new thing to learn, change is normal...) The parents however seem to find it challenging and often "wind up" their kids.
  • Northport & Lakeview will require a lot more capital to renovate. Where will this come from?
  • Smaller elementary schools with K-6 have too few classes by grade to stabilize their class sizes. 3 classes of 22 can jump to 2 classes of 30 with a minor shift in enrollment.
  • I hope the Board puts any extra savings into the reserve instead of offering more programs. (correct choice given risk of flat or declining state funding)
  • I hope Board puts the ESC & Bus garage into the facility plan. If not, it is not much of a facility plan.
  • Final thought: Thank Heavens I am not a Board member !!!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

281 RAS Superintendent Input

I attended the meeting at Armstrong High School where citizens were given the opportunity to meet with the Superintendent search consultants. The purpose was to help them understand what the citizens see as the strengths and weaknesses of the district, and what qualities we want in our next Superintendent.

I thought it was well run by the search company consultants who are retired Superintendents from Edina, Brooklyn Center & Wayzata, however I was very disappointed by the attendence. There were ~10 of us, and we were the typical pro-referendum type citizen. (ie. RAS employees and parents) It seems the consultants are talking to many stakeholders that are affiliated with the school district. My concern is how to engage and get input from the non-affiliated folks that do not trust the administration and board, and feel the district is wasteful/incompetent, and still carry grudges from 20 years ago.

So I say again to the citizens of RAS, if you want to be heard, first you need to speak. Please take some time to fill in the online survey at before Tuesday, 13Jan09. After that the criteria will have been set.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Words of Wisdom regarding Coaching

As a personal coach to several co-workers and a father of 3 daughters, I often wonder how I can help my frienda and children learn from my mistakes... Thereby saving them some of the pain I have experienced. In the book I am currently reading they summed this up in a great quote from Will Rogers:

"There are three kinds of men, ones that learn by reading, a few who learn by observation, and the rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves."

I thought this summarized very well the thoughts I have been forming while coaching and parenting. The book is called "Influencer - The Power to Change Anything" (Kerry Patterson etal). It is authored by the folks that wrote the great books called Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations... I'll add it to my list if it is worth a read.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

281 RAS Facility Options and Mtgs

After 2 weeks of shopping, wrapping, traveling, celebrating, sledding, tubing, snowmobiling, hunting, fixing, cleaning and in general "relaxing"..... I think I am ready to get back into my typical routine....

Well, the consultants came back with their proposed Options ahead of schedule. The report contains a great deal of information and is worth an in depth review. (pg 56 for recommendation) If you want to influence the decision please remember to contact your board members, or attend one of the listening sessions. I am certain the 13Jan09 meeting will be lively, now that the schools have been officially named.

The recommendation seems to make sense, though I am still confused as to how the district plans to fund the improvement or rebuild of Lakeview and Northport. Northport in particular needs a great deal of expensive renovation. Hopefully the Board will explain the plan for accomplishing this as part of the facilities plan.

Also, it seems the RSI/Spanish Immersion enrollment should be adjusted somewhat in order to bring its mix of students more in line with the rest of the district. The current and planned numbers show this "cross district" school's student mix is significantly different from the district's student mix.