Friday, September 12, 2014

Sunny Side Musings - Part Three

Slats needed to get to Lansing for what he described as an “urgent assignment.”  I didn’t inquire further.  Before he departed, we met at Frank’s Diner in Jessup.

“So why are you writing about the forum?  Is there any money in it?” he asked, perusing the menu.

“Not a dime. I am just trying to sort out how I want to vote,” I paused, “Oh, the sausage here comes in links, not patties, in case you were wondering,” I replied.

“Seriously?  So really I need to decide between bacon and corned beef hash, is that the deal?”


“Well,’ he shrugged, “it might not be ideal, but those are some decent options.”

With that, he pulled out his phone to check his email.  I shifted my attention to my coffee and the notes I took.   Here are the final audience questions and responses from the Columbia Democratic Club’s Board of Education forum and my thoughts:

Audience Question Four:  How would you prioritize resources?

French: We need more feedback on this.  I lean more towards human resources.  Relayed the anecdote involving the teacher who wore a sign saying, “I am your best app.”

Furman:  The key consideration is, “What is in the best interest of the students?”  We need a balanced approach.

O’Connor: We need effective teacher development.

Vaillancourt: Apocalypse-scenario.  If all of the buildings were gone, teachers would be left, so it is about the teachers.

Altwerger:  Equity across the schools.  More school psychologists and counselors.  Keeping the facilities equitable.  Hiring and maintaining the best teachers, increasing their time for preparation.  Ten days on testing is ridiculous, money could be spent elsewhere, such as on arts and music.

Dyer:  Proper direction of the resources that we have.  Teachers should be where they are most needed.  I raised this issue before and was ignored for four years.  FARMS kids could have more experienced teachers, we need to move them around.  Start high school classes later.    

Spartan Considerations thoughts: I thought the incumbents delivered the best replies to this question, strictly in terms of connecting on a visceral level with the audience.  As usual, Altwerger gave a detailed, thoughtful answer (more head than heart).  Furman suggested a reasonable test and appeared to be focused on reaching a consensus, which may give voters an idea of the type of Board Member he might be, if elected. 

Audience Question Five:  What resources could you use to work together as a board

Spartan Considerations translation:  “So how can the new Board learn to act like adults and drop all of the public acrimony?”

Furman:  There has been contention for years.  We need to be in a position to work together.  Create “personal connections.”  There is no one workshop or program that will resolve these relationship issues.

O’Connor: “My personality.”  (Spartan Considerations chess notation: !?!).  I am a good listener. I take time to make decisions.  I work things through.

Vaillancourt: I would not define disagreement as contention.  The “Golden Rule” is missing.  We need to be respectful of each other.

Altwerger:  Respect.  Civility.  It should not be a matter of personalities.  The recent HCEA – Board contention led to a lot of “bad press that tarnished the system.”

Dyer: I believe in the “cacophony of democracy.”  Things can’t be done behind closed doors.  Open decisions, openly arrived at….this is part of having an elected Board of Education.  We worked to get this.

French: “Shock of shocks.  I agree with Allen Dyer.”  This is part of the rough and tumble of politics.  “No one Board Member has authority.” We deliberate in public.  We need to accept decisions that are made. Some people need to “let things go.”

Spartan Considerations thoughts:  Although the question was focused on the heavy matter of the seemingly sometimes dysfunctional working relationship involving multiple current Board members, this query led to one of the lighter moments of the evening. The French reply generated genuine laughter.  Of course her admonition that some needed to “let things go” was clearly directed at a fellow Board Member, which ramped up the tension in the room a little bit.

Dyer, channeling his inner Woodrow Wilson, delivered a thoughtful response.  In my estimation, O’Connor gave the riskiest reply, but it seemed consistent with her plain- spoken persona.   

Audience Question Six:  If the school day started later, won’t kids just stay up later at night? 

Spartan Considerations note:  With time running out, we entered the “rapid-fire” round at this point.  Candidates gave short answers, if at all, for the rest of the questions.

Dyer:  The science bears out that later starting times are better.

Altwerger:  Spoke about Circadian Rhythms of teenagers and that some kids are “more likely” to get in trouble in the early afternoons, in the window of time after they are currently let out of school.

O’Connor: We need to see more studies on this subject.  Wondered about the impact on the sports schedule.

Furman:  Said he raised the question of pushing the school day to a later start time back in 2002.  Believes that kids will go to bed at a “reasonable time.”

Spartan Considerations thoughts:  On a personal note, I had to chuckle at Altwerger’s response.  I was working on a presidential campaign back in ’99 and we focused on that early-to-mid afternoon timeframe as a potential danger zone, when teenagers were out of school but before their parent(s) came home from work.  Fifteen years later and society is still grappling with the same fundamental question.

Audience Question Seven:  By a show of hands, do you have any guns in your home?

Spartan Considerations thoughts:  I am not going to record the candidate’s responses here.  I thought the question was inappropriate for this forum.  It merely served to remind me that it would be challenging for Slats to be a candidate for public office.  His first instinct would be to invite the individual to knock on his door at an early hour of the morning so they could find out, up close and personal, if he owned any firearms. I commend the candidates for exercising the appropriate level of restraint on that question.

Audience Question Eight:  Common Core is state law, so how would you fix it (if at all)?

Spartan Considerations notes:  This was a great question because it compelled skeptics and advocates alike to recognize the world, as it is, and address the question based on the political and legal realities of the situation and not treat Common Core as an abstract concept.

Furman:  More funds should be spent on professional development.

O’Connor:  Spoke about the need for greater interaction, education between the PTAs and parents (French liked this idea).

Dyer: Students can’t be treated differently if their parents opt them out of high-stakes testing.

French:  When I hear a concern, I go to the Superintendent.  They are often “six months to one year” ahead in their thinking.  They [those in the HCPSS administrative offices] are professionals, they have a plan. Also, parents of 3rd graders, all they know is Common Core.  The ones who are skeptical tend to be older parents.

Altwerger:  I have conducted a great deal of research on Common Core.  It was not field-tested.  It is not scientifically-based.  Gave an example regarding phonemes.

Vaillancourt:  We need to be honest about resources.  Talked about curricula, lesson planning.

Spartan Considerations thoughts:

French positioned herself as the Defender of the Current Regime on this question.  In terms of subject matter expertise, Altwerger again emerged as the candidate who articulated the most detailed reply.

Overall Forum Implications:

Of the eight candidates, I am still pondering which will receive my vote. I have ruled out two, leaving six as “possibles.” I hope to settle this question soon, preferably before Slats winds his way back to the Mid-Atlantic.  He doesn’t like to be in the States for more than a couple weeks at a time, so I imagine he will be back in our neck of the woods soon enough.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

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