Friday, March 28, 2008

The Problem Is Not With Your 'Net

17A Tran Hung Dao, Hanoi--

In our 10 or so days of travel we've had slow internet, slower internet, bad keyboards, keyboards without a working spacebar, etc., but have been able to eventually navigate pretty much anywhere.

Except for blogger (insert Socialist government plot conspiracy here).

Gmail is fine, NYTimes no problem, even the slowpoke ABQJournal gets through (although honestly I haven't even tried to get past the infamous burly sports guys home breakfast invasion ad yet). But Blogger ain't been happening. I spent an hour banging on a wasted keyboard in Cat Ba Town, squeezing out tortured prose in a post that was just as unspecial as is this one.

And Blogger ate it. That's an hour and 573 words of crap I'll never get back.

And here, at the end of our trip to Vietnam I'm trying again in some "Business Center" at the De Syloia Hotel in Hanoi's French Quarter. May I say before Blogger and the archly evil Socialist government conspire again that it's been a great trip, I've had pho seven times, bun a couple, a pretty damn good lemon tart, and seen a group of small flying fish and a gynormous jellyfish.

We've taken photos and dig film from many markets, 1.4 million artistic renderings of "Uncle Ho", 1.4 billion moto-scooters and a trekking trail so steep our quad muscles still ache.

It's been fun...and largely unrecorded here. No matter. One thing you find working on a broken keyboard is that mental acuity and condition of keyboard go somewhat hand in hand. Bad keyboard, lousy thinking at the keyboard. At least for me.

Or maybe it's the humidity, the pollution of Hanoi or a overdose of pho. All I know is that it's a relaxing state of mental blankness, one certainly worth paying for a plane ticket to Asia for.

Ommmmmmmm....or is that, more precisely, Duhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh?

And now the dreaded hitting of the "publish post" button. What will happen this time? If a blogpost falls in the Internet forest, does it leave any trace of its existence? Does it matter? Did it really ever matter?

This Eastern psychology is really getting to me...time to hit the damn button.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Going Where The Pollen Suits My Nose

When the allergies get tough, the tough get out of the Western Hemisphere. In an effort to escape the juniper, mulberry and whatever the Hell else is making life a sneezing, watery eyes Hell, your humble blogger is heading out of town, state, country, Dodge and the half of the Earth we call home.

Okay, there are other reasons, too, but I can't remember a worse allergy season. Whine, whine, whine. I've also noticed that, for reasons unknown, people just don't enjoy hearing about your allergy suffering. I think we need an allergy support group. I think we need to acknowledge the pain and suffering of allergies and stop blatant allergy-sufferer discrimination. I think this cause is worthy of changes to both the Constitution and local/state hate crimes legislation.

Or maybe I just need to get out of town. I'll be even more intermittent than usual for the next little bit, but might have exciting travel stories to tell. Or maybe not. If I do have travel stories, they will most certainly feature details as to my levels of sneezing, watery eyes and Sudafed usage. Pretty riveting stuff, no doubt.

Regardless, please do, as we educators say, have a "Happy Spring Break". For those workers who don't get anything resembling a "Break" this time of year, we'll try not to rub it in too much.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Getting Back To What Really Matters in Education

It's easy to get consumed with all that is wrong with K-12 education in general and the Albuquerque Public Schools in particular. All of us can argue, yell and stomp out feet about standardized testing, and huff and puff over who the APS superintendent should be. Yelling and screaming about such things does have a bit of a cathartic effect, giving us the feeling, usually inaccurate, that we are doing something about the many problems in education today.

And over the last few weeks I've huffed and puffed so much about the superintendent question, I find myself hyperventilating, reaching for a paper bag instead of really caring too much about what Winston Brooks thinks about evolution. I guess when you get down to it, breathing, whether literal or metaphorical, is more important than who the damn superintendent is.

A good example of "breathing" was just sitting and watching some of this weekend's State High School Mock Trial competition over at District Court. To "witness" kids eloquently argue points of law through logic, tact and considerable humor was inspiring. To see old students of mine "battling" each other using all of the above and more was enough to make me forget all about stupid questions about superintendents and Adequate Yearly Progress.

For those not "hip" to Mock Trials, it's pretty much what it sounds like. A fictional case is created (more about this later), including witness statements, facts surrounding the situation and background information on the issues involved. Teams delve into a case packet of roughly 100 pages for weeks, tweezing arguments for both sides and dividing teams into attorney/witness roles for both prosecution/plaintiff and defense.

After months of practice, a regional competition is held, followed by the State tilt I had the pleasure to witness this past Saturday.

My little teaching program at Jefferson employs mock trials as a major part of the curriculum. We spend two weeks doing a case in February, and then tackle another one for three weeks in April. The latter trials are called the "real" mock trials because we walk teams down to UNM Law School and use their "moot" courtrooms.

The middle school kids love UNM, with its swiveling expensive chairs and cavernous "courtroom" full of carved wood and other judicial accoutrement. Going back far before my time with the program, what is now my classroom has been going to UNM Law each April for over 20 years.

So I came to watch "graduates" of Jefferson who have gone on to high school and stuck with mock trials. Sticking is the right word, because the competition requires a great deal of time, something today's entrepreneurial high school student has very little of. Demands of Honors classes, AP classes, other extracurriculars and life combine to leave little room for anything like mock trials.

Unlike more glamorous sports, the fanbase of mock trials isn't in the thousands. The State Final isn't webcasted like the high school basketball tournament. One guesses that 90% of your typical school's student body doesn't even know a mock trial competition exists.

Yet there they were Saturday, dressed in power suits and skirts giving a small, but overflow crowd of onlookers a rousing display of argumentation and chutzpah. As the "feeder" school from Jefferson, the Albuquerque High team featured several of my old students. They went against Sandia, a team including another Jefferson "grad". In my myopic view of things it was classic My Classroom v. My Classroom, the only difference being the increased height and new grown sideburns of the students.

Being a competition, there had to be a "winner" and a "loser". A trip to "Nationals" was at stake, causing both nerves and brain synapses to be somewhat strained. Frankly, the whole "winning" thing is the only part of mock trials I don't like. "Winning" makes it harder to luxuriate in the simple pleasure of watching great performances. Given the chance to re-hardwire the human brain, I'd tweak with the whole "winning" mindset. But, to quote Reggie Jackson, competition is what puts meat in the seats.

Overshadowing the competition, however, was the simple beauty of all those minds at work. Both rehearsed and improvisational, mock trials combines debate and drama in an exquisite way. The performances Saturday were balletic, chock full of art. It was as moving to watch as any well-polished string quartet.

Thanks guys for a great show. And congrats to all of you, including the "winners".

Lastly, a quick mention of the Center for Civic Values, the organization that prepares the cases and puts on the State Competition. They do great work, and have been very gracious in allowing us at Jefferson to use their cases. Bravo to them as well for another well-produced "show".

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Wednesday Link: Blue Snow

Today we find out if your humble blogger can withstand the combination of non-drowsy allergy pills and middle school children. A terrifying experiment brought on by the fact I can no longer stand the incessant stabbing pain in my eyes combined with the constant state of allergy-induced "crying" that makes me look and feel like a recently dumped person watching a Meg Ryan film marathon.

Speaking of environmental conditions, let move away from the horrors of juniper and other allergens, and instead look at a very pleasing map.

The above map shows snowpack levels throughout the West (click on it to enlarge). The deep blue and purple in Northern NM and Southern CO is very pleasing (the red down south, not so much), as it indicates snowpacks well above 100%.

I know John Fleck does a bang-up job keeping track of such information, but us allergy-suffering snow/weather junkies need our fix of meteorological graphics, too.

P.S.: I'm thinking this will be the first in an inconsistent series of midweek posting that are even less informative than the typical Babble postings. This J-O-B thing might provide plenty of blogging fodder (superintendent crap, etc.), but having early morning meetings three days a week doesn't leave much time to rant about having early morning meeting three days a week, or anything else.

Have I mentioned I also have allergies? And that I'm now on Walgreens' version of Sudafed? Out of my way, everybody! Crazy hopped-up "crying" person heading to work in the dark ahead!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Let's "Lockdown" Some Thoughts on Something Other Than the Superintendent

We need a break from the intense discussion and debate over a new APS superintendent. We need to move on to something lighter and more fun.

So let's talk about the "lockdown" at Jefferson Middle School instead. (sorry, "story" no longer on crawl at top of what is, arguably, the single-worst webpage in the entire "Internets", included)

No, despite what you might think or read, I was not the "irate person" responsible for the "lockdown". Those rumors are nothing but that, rumors.

Actually, today was my first "lockdown" in 14+ years of teaching. I'm sure I'm not supposed to go into details because of "confidentiality" or it being "a police matter", and that's fine because I don't really know much besides I had to lock the door to my classroom and close the blinds. Then about a half-hour passed and I could open the blinds again.

One thing I did notice is that there are some teachers who think about this "lockdown" stuff alot, especially late at night in their nightmares. The looks on some faces were far more troubling than the "lockdown" itself.

I'll just leave it at "fortunately, everything turned out alright". I knew I'd been dancing between the "lockdown" rain drops and it was just a matter of time before my school had one. I'm also sure at least one ABQ resident has seen mention of this situation and thought "man, that Jefferson Middle School really is going downhill".

Oh well, at least it provided a change of pace from obsessing about the superintendent situation.

P.S.: All day before "lockdown" it was impossible not to notice the general cheery disposition of our, generally surly, teaching staff. I'm sure much of it had to do with the end of standardized testing, but I also saw a special gleam in the eyes of many who were really glad Linda Sink didn't get the job. Winston Brooks seemed like a pretty popular choice among those I talked to, not to mention the shock that it wasn't our "interim" super.

Lessons in Media Mastery 101: Your Classy APS School Board

I'm gonna take a wild, crazy guess and speculate that APS School Board Member Robert Lucero never orders the most expensive thing on the menu when he goes out to eat. He is most probably one of those guys who scan prices before the actual entrees, sees the second least expensive one hoping it isn't liver or snails, and orders away.

Of course I'm making this guess based on Lucero's comments regarding his preference for Linda Sink as "permanent" superintendent instead of the the Board's choice, Winston Brooks. I can't find a quote online, but the TV stations last night replayed portions of some weird non-public TV-only press conference in which Lucero mentioned that Sink was willing to take the job for $200,000, and he wasn't prepared to order anything more expensive than that on the menu.

Both Lucero and Marty Esquivel voted for Sink instead of Brooks, stating that they and the public preferred a local candidate over an out-of-towner. But for Lucero the fact the Board could get Sink at discount pricing compared to the $273,000 Brooks package was important enough for him to start blabbing away about Sink's offer in "public", while other Board members tried to shut him up for disclosing "confidential personnel" matters.

As a fellow overly frugal person, I have to step in and show some support for brother cheapskate Lucero. I, too, tend to order the second least expensive thing on the menu. I, too, think $273,000 is a big chunk of change to pay a superintendent. At the same time, I'd rather have a higher quality superintendent at a higher price than Linda Sink for a 30% discount. As mentioned previously, I'd rather not have Linda Sink at all.

Personally, I'd rather have a superintendent that can actually speak in public, thus eliminating the need for Monica Armenta's $110,000 salary as APS Spin Mistress. If Brooks showed anything during the dog and pony shows of the last few days, it is that he isn't shy about cameras or making comments. So ordering the more expensive entree, Brooks, and cutting out the Armenta appetizer would still save us a bit of money, brother-in-frugality Lucero!

Speaking of "public", what the APS School Board showed more than anything last night is that it has absolutely ZERO understanding of public relations, marketing, or news dissemination. Zero. To wit:
  • School Board holds strange press conference (Lucero frugality ranting included) on Sunday night. NOBODY holds a press conference on Sunday night, unless they are trying to publicly stuff a dead body into a car trunk. Perhaps APS was trying to do exactly that, and it showed.
  • Instead of a spokesperson (Board President Maes, for instance), the strange video event has all the Board Members seated and arguing, Lucero's cheapskate rant included. You stay classy, APS School Board.
  • Instead of presenting a united front to start the healing process, Board Members freely talk to media individually about how "disappointed" they are in hiring Brooks. As the media always likes controversy, naturally the clips show these "disappointed" members, while showing nobody explaining why the other five members DID vote for the guy. Why did they vote for this guy?
All in all, another stellar APS media performance. Maybe Monica Armenta can earn some of that $110K today and "explain" what all the board members meant to say last night when nobody was paying attention because it was Sunday night.

Meanwhile, overwhelming favorite Linda Sink is rebuffed. Dark minor chords play as she heads to Kansas to talk transition with Winston Brooks. While not preferring Sink as "permanent" superintendent, I find myself a wee bit sad contemplating the image of her on that airplane to Wichita. It seems nobody ends up looking good with public relations this bad.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Maybe Good Like a Superintendent Should...It's Winston

Winston Brooks from a really interesting PBS "Frontline" interview

Obscure old cigarette jingles aside, it's Winston Brooks as the new Super, with a tantalizing "Breaking, Developing News at Ten" kicker:
After the decision, two board members expressed disappointment with the selection.
-Shauna Clark, Bill Diven, KRQE, posted 8:42 p.m.
Any guesses as to who those two are? And yes, I spent far too much of my Sunday night hitting Refresh to find out who got the job instead of grading papers.

P.S.: Whither Sink? Much more to mull over, but now to those ungraded papers.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Two Charts Reflecting A Personal Reaction to Yesterday's Superintendent Candidate Forums

Sorry, I'm still trying to figure out how Blogger can do thumbnails. As I waste significant time this Saturday trying to figure that out (help, anyone?), try to figure out the following teeny-weeny charts....

Aha! It appears you can just click on the charts to see them full-sized. Let me know if you have problems...

P.S.: I will sum up my attendance at the "educator" portion of yesterday's show thusly:

4:04 p.m.: I drive into the sinister parking lot of the even-more sinister APS "twin towers"
4:06 p.m.: I almost get in an accident with another driver also wasting time trying in vain to find a parking space
4:07 p.m.: I park in front of a nearby apartment complex
4:08 p.m.: I get to the front doors of the highly sinister "twin towers" and see a mob of people arranged inartfully right at the door
4:09 p.m.: Upon opening the doors, I observe this mob of people is watching a smallish TV screen with superintendent candidate Miller on it talking about "free money". Some mob members have chairs, others stand, while other notice and rush over to the scant leftovers remaining on what must have once been a bulging tray of cookies.
4:10 p.m.: Your humble blogger bypasses the remaining cookie crumbs and wanders back and forth between an "overflow" room of folks watching candidate Miller on a big-screen TV, and a completely packed Board Room in which the actual physical form of Dr. Miller currently resides as he talks about "free money".
4:11 p.m.: Your humble blogger returns to the front doors of the sinister APS "twin towers", opens them with a feeling that must have been strikingly similar to that guy with the sledgehammer on top of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and walks to his car in front of the nearby apartment complex.
4:12 p.m.: While continuing the walk to his car, your humble blogger rationalizes that these forums are on KANW-FM and he can just listen to them in the car on the way home.
4:13 p.m.: Your humble blogger turns his car radio to KANW and discovers the forums are NOT on the radio. He continues driving anyway, waving at the sinister APS "twin towers" as he passes them and the mob within.

Friday, March 07, 2008

It's Superintendent Race Day, and Track Conditions Are Favoring Inside Speed

dog-and-po·ny show
n. Slang
An elaborate presentation orchestrated to gain approval, as for a policy or product.
-The Free Dictionary

We'll keep it short this morning. No Daily Racing Form in-depth analysis with speed ratings of the candidates or insights about whether a particular candidate is a "mudder" or not. Just a timetable for today's events, and an updated betting line (Note: no exacta/trifecta wagering...2nd place don't mean nothin')

The six finalists will be in Albuquerque for open meetings with the public on Friday— a day before the board is scheduled to select one of them as the new superintendent.
Here's whom the candidates will meet with on Friday at the John Milne Community Board Room, 6400 Uptown Blvd. N.E.:
6:30-8 a.m.— APS student body officers.
11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.— local business and government leaders.
4-5:30 p.m.— APS employees.
6-7:30 p.m.— APS parents and student family members.
-from the Albuquerque Journal (Note: Posted times have varied a bit I've noticed, these are taken from this morning's paper)

As you doubtlessly know, the "only paper you will ever need" has done profiles on each of the candidates (some including that little Q&A "have you ever been arrested" gotcha thing, some not). Armed with this information and little else, your humble blogger had adjusted the early morning line to the following:

Linda Sink: 1/3
Steve Flores: 7/2 (Note: a significant reduction in price from 50/1)
Winston Brooks: 4/1
Tom Miller: 15/1
Gary Norris: 35/1
Diego Gallegos: 99/1

It's still Sink's position to lose as we head into the Swimsuit Competition today (wait, wrong cheesy analogy, let's go with "today's Belmont Stakes" instead). I'm both cringing and looking forward to the APS Employee part of the shindig this afternoon. Teachers never seem to come off looking very good in this sort of forum, tending to resemble quite strongly a series of Geraldine Amatos in both the hyper-specificity of their bitterness and the indecipherable construction of their arguments.

I expect plenty of questions like "Remember that time that Johnny got lunch detention at (insert former President here) Middle School, and you let him out of lunch detention because his entire family had been wiped out in a typhoon and I told you then and I'll tell you now that the International Monetary Fund and Big Oil are responsible for student's "sagging" and using IPods and violating other school rules in a way that makes a teacher's job impossible. Impossible I tell ya! IMPOSSIBLE!"

Well, it's "Post Time"....somebody cue the trumpet player.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Other Voices, Other Padded Rooms: "News" of Other Superintendent Candidates

Humble Blogger's Note: I have no idea whatsoever of the veracity of the "facts" contained in the following quoted rant. Rational Discretion Advised...

I've noticed in recent days (from looking at the little "sitemeter" hit counter that all bloggers are obsessed about, but won't admit it) that ever since I started posting about the finalists for the APS Superintendent's job, I've been getting almost as many hits from Sarasota, Florida as I have Albuquerque. One of the candidates, Dr. Gary Norris, is currently Superintendent there. I wrote a little something specifically about Dr. Norris a couple of days ago, but it hasn't mattered..anything having to do with the APS job has led to numerous visits/views from Sarasota.

Then this morning I wake up and see the following comment to a post of last weekend. I post it for two reasons: 1. if your sense of humor runs to this sort of thing, it's pretty darn funny, and even possibly informative; 2. having the following signed "anonymous" demonstrates how much more powerful the tirade would be if it had an actual real name attached to it.

So, primarily for entertainment purposes only, here's the comment in toto:
Concerning Dr. Norris of Florida: He says he's looking for a school district with cultural diversity. Someone should ask him, "If this is true, why, after firing the principal of Booker High School (a predominantly African-American school in Sarasota), did you hide out in your office like a little girl, refusing to talk to the students and faculty?" Also, School Board members may want to ask about the lies and deception centered around the Sarasota school referendum vote of 2006. Why did the faculty and staff of the Sarasota schools send over 800 emails to the School Board requesting that Dr. Norris be fired? Two of the three School Board members who voted to retain him had been on the board for only two weeks. Two former board members stated that, if they had still been on the board, they would have voted to fire him. Dr. Norris's communication skills were deemed so poor that the School Board had to hire a Communications Director to do the job that he was unable to do. Someone should ask the principals and teachers at the Sarasota schools if he has ever visited their schools. Most would say he has never been to their schools. On a lighter note, someone might ask him about the speeding ticket he received for driving 20+ mph over the limit in a school zone.
Again, I have no idea about the "truthiness" of the above allegations. If I had more time this morning before work I'd love to check some of the juicier details out. Perhaps a reader can do that for me.

P.S.: The above rant also confirms, in my mind, how difficult a superintendent's job must be. A few days back I made the comparison between running a school district and being a college basketball coach. The similarities are there: high pay, high pressure to succeed, lots of job mobility, tendency to look like used car salesmen and/or preachers.

But there's a big, big difference. College basketball coaches oversee a small group of young men/women and only have to get them to win basketball games (and graduate from school, if you're into that sort of thing). It's fairly simple: basketball team goes 20-7 and gets into the NCAA tournament = great coach; team goes 7-20 = time to get a new coach.

Being a superintendent means overseeing "success" of thousands and thousands of students. But what makes it even harder is that there's no agreed criteria for "success". There's no single scoreboard. Some/many are trying to make standardized testing just such a "scoreboard", but it's far too complicated for that.

In other words, I think the whole idea of "superintendent" as currently constituted is flawed and needs to be scrapped/overhauled. I'd like to see/hear some new thinking on the subject and I'd like to hear it in the next 72 hours before we fly through the tail-end of this hiring process and end up just repeating the ultra-short life cycle of the "mayfly" superintendent just because we've always done it this way.

And no, my feelings on the difficulty of the superintendent's job doesn't mean I take back my comments about Linda Sink yesterday. In my own little version of "scoreboard" she lost the game v. the Journal, and helped make all of us losers in that little situation.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What Those Infamous Jefferson MS Letters Teach Us About Linda Sink

Back on February 20th the Albuquerque Journal published a bunch of unedited "letters to the editor" from kids at Jefferson Middle School. The letters were in response to a February 11th Journal story citing an APS plan to eliminate/reduce electives for students who don't show "proficiency" on standardized tests and replace electives with remedial classes to get kids up to "proficient".

There is about a 99.9% chance that you already know this. Chances are also exceedingly good you know that the student letters were filled with grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors.

And you also very likely know that on February 21st, the day after the Journal published those student LTEs (letters to the editor), Interim Superintendent Linda Sink wrote a district-wide email/press release publicly castigating the teacher who allowed such "first draft" letters to be published.

We pretty much all know the aforementioned facts, but one fact I've learned from this little "viral" brouhaha is this: Linda Sink will very likely make a lousy APS Superintendent.

I readily admit making this assumption without really knowing Ms. Sink. I've never met the woman, and didn't even know what she looked like until I found the above photo at the APS website. Over the years I have heard some things about Ms. Sink. No, not all of the things I've heard have been positive. Some have been both positive and negative, depending on your views of things.

Here is a short list of solid to vague things I've heard:
  • Linda Sink is big on public relations and not so big on actual accomplishments
  • Linda Sink is not a big fan of "gifted education"
  • Linda Sink is not a big fan of people who are not big fans of Linda Sink
  • Linda Sink has done a good job of recruiting people, particularly students, to go to Albuquerque High School
  • Linda Sink has some interesting ideas, such as the one requiring non-proficient third graders to attend summer school
  • Linda Sink really, really wants to be APS superintendent
  • Linda Sink could definitely use an editor in her public correspondence
  • Linda Sink, like almost all high school principals in APS, really had little to no idea what was going on in her classrooms while principal at AHS
  • Lastly, Linda Sink got promoted to Assistant Superintendent around the same time many APS principals got shuffled around. There is a feeling, possibly unwarranted, that Ms. Sink had quite a bit to do with the principal shuffle, and this shuffle included the former principal at my school of employ, Jefferson Middle School. Small world, isn't it?
So let's get back to that previous statement, namely: Linda Sink will very likely make a lousy APS Superintendent.

I grant you that my feeling on the subject is, to an extent, influenced by the solid to vague points listed above. Especially the last one, frankly, as the removal of my previous principal, Ivy Langan, from Jefferson was a move far, far more deleterious to my school than any Journal publication of poorly written Jefferson MS student LTEs could ever be.

Still, given the vagueness of it all, I never definitively considered Ms. Sink wrong for the superintendent's job until I read her public response to those LTEs.

Here's what it showed me. Ms. Sink is the kind of leader whose response to a negative situation is to go public, wrap herself in indignation and throw her employees, schools and students under a bus. Instead of first going to the teacher involved, or possibly visiting the kids who wrote the letters and assuring them that they are not to blame, she goes to the blanket email/press release.

Instead of defusing at the school level, she inflames via the media.

As I mentioned above, I might be biased. Just so you know, that bias doesn't extend to the fact Ms. Sink chose to crap on Jefferson MS and a certain teacher there. I don't really even know the teacher directly involved, and I never got that "hometown" gene that makes one defend a school just because one attends or teaches there. Jefferson is fine, but I don't root for it like a basketball team or anything. I don't feel personally besmirched just because Jefferson MS has been allegedly tarnished by this whole thing.

No, all I feel from the whole imbroglio is that Linda Sink is the kind of boss who puts media/public perception over the real needs of schools and their students. We don't have much to go by in her short reign as "Interim Superintendent", but we do know that when a quick decision needed to be made, she decided to fling a poorly written email/press release at the world instead of really dealing with the situation on the ground.

And that's why I think Linda Sink will very likely make a lousy APS Superintendent.

P.S.: This is not to say there isn't plenty more stupid to go around concerning those LTEs. The teacher most definitely did a stupid thing. No doubt about it. The Journal is culpable, too, preying on kids inability to write clean copy (and trust me, the kids involved KNOW who's being laughed at here) to supposedly prove a point. Icky.

In the past I've had student work published and the publishing entity worked very well with me to make sure everybody was happy with the finished product. Seems the Journal no longer plays by those rules. Enjoy "proving" your point o' sleazy ones...just don't expect much from us K-12 folks anytime soon, including trust in what you print.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Problem Might Not Be Finding a Superintendent, It's Having a Superintendent

From what I read the average urban school superintendent stays at a job, on average, only 2.75 years.

A 2000 Time Magazine piece on the subject is entitled "Is Superintendent....A Job For a Superhero?", then goes on to say:
"The pool of applicants is shrinking, leaving millions of America's poorest kids--in cities that include New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Baltimore and Las Vegas--in school systems run by the managerial equivalent of a substitute teacher."
A 2003 Wallace Foundation funded study by the "Center on Reinventing Public Education" entitled "An Impossible Job? The View From the Superintendent's Chair" interviews 140 current and past large district superintendents and concludes that "the structure of the position virtually precludes them from doing what they were hired to do". One interviewed superintendent sums up the findings of the study in his remark that "the superintendency as now structured is undoable."

The above is just a metaphorical snowflake of an avalanche of white papers, research and op/ed pieces one can read on the subject of the urban superintendent.

My reading of the above and other sources in the last 24 hours has left me with one question regarding the hiring of a new APS Superintendent: Why should we care?

I appreciate and commend the diligence of the search process (although I still think Linda Sink is getting the job, and that the Board decision to let Beth Everitt out of her contract early and appoint Sink "interim" was just about the stupidest decision ever made by a Board known for its stupid decisions).

But after all these public meetings, hiring advisory board sessions, job-recruitment pitches, preliminary interviews, we conclude the process with a veritable NBA All-Star Weekend of public meet & greets and still more interviews.

And for what? So we can hire somebody for a couple of years at $27ok to do an impossible job and then have them leave or get rid of them in some ugly professional death ritual?

And yes, I'm am saying this in part after seeing and reading about the six APS finalists. I could be wrong, but I don't see any superheroes in the bunch. I do see a number of folks who will very likely stick around for right at 2.75 years.

As the overwhelming problems of the superintendent/school board framework aren't a secret, I'm hoping significant discussion about alternatives to this framework took place during the advisory board meetings. In a brief review around the 'Net I don't see any record of such a discussion, and would love to hear the details if one or more, in fact, occurred.

It's late in the game, granted, but there's still time to ask a few questions before having Dr. 2.75 Years sign on the $270k dotted line.

1. Is there a more workable arrangement for school district success than the "unworkable" Superintendent-Board system?
2. Many scoff at the idea of splitting APS up, but wouldn't doing that now make sense and provide at least a slightly better chance of success on the part of a traditional "superintendent"?
3. Or should we keep APS intact, ditch the current job of superintendent, and really install "site-based management" in a way that empowers individual schools and helps reduce what almost everyone agrees is the biggest problem with APS, and large school districts in general. its bureaucracy?

Those are just a few questions, and, to be honest, every time I go back over the list of finalists for the job the list of questions just gets longer. Oh well, maybe we can get back to these questions the next time around in 2011, or 2014, or 2017....

P.S.: Essay Round

Elected superintendent?
Discuss. Cite examples.

Bonus Question (a blast from the past): Feudal Prince Marty runs the schools?
Discuss. Cite examples.

Rating the Superintendent Choices: Dr. Gary Norris

One could certainly argue that APS Superintendent candidate Dr. Gary Norris looks like a Southern Baptist preacher, or the host of a television game show. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

More importantly, we are above the superficiality of looks here at Burque Babble. No, we plunge deeper and instead focus on the superficiality of slogans like "NeXt Generation Learning", Dr. Norris' totally rad initiative to make his Sarasota Public Schools better. Perhaps it is our inherent cynicism that makes us leery of something called "NeXt Generation Learning", or perhaps it's our disdain for the use of old Pepsi ad campaigns to promote school improvement initiatives. Mainly it's that upper case "X". That's just about making me choke on my Cheerios this morning.

Anyway, "NeXt Generation Learning" is about more than an upper-case "X". It's about $350 million of education buzzwords to promote a "NeXt Generation" classroom (teacher included) that does the following (unlike a bad, horrible evil 1950s classroom...not to mention the segregation angle):

1950s Classroom
Receive Knowledge
Learn Alone
Learning Content
Teach all the time

"NeXt Generation" Classroom"
Construct Knowledge
Learn Together
Learning to Learn
Adapt to Learning Styles

The sales brochures for "NeXt Generation" say the "NeXt Generation" will consist of longer school days, a bunch of technology and creation of a teacher certification process that is like National Board Certification but different enough to cost Sarasota taxpayers $20 million over four years.

And now comes the clincher from a Sarasota Herald-Tribune story about Dr. Norris' status for the APS job:

Norris is credited with overseeing sweeping changes in Sarasota's 42,000-student school system, but his impending departure comes at a time when the district's ambitious academic reform, the $350 million Next Generation Learning plan, is being implemented.

Outside of having a terribly uncool name "NeXt Generation Learning" doesn't look like that bad of a concept. Sure it is full of the same buzzwords that make any education initiative difficult to assess, but things like increased technology and teachers adapting to their students is fine. What irritates is that the "inventor" of these particular buzzwords is leaving, or wants to leave, just as the thing gets started.

Perhaps my expectations are too high, but I want my radical reformer administrators to stick around for the tough days of radical reform implementation. I don't want somebody to just sell me a marching band or "monorail" and then head out to the next Shelbyville or Albuquerque.

I'm still rooting for an "out-of-towner" to be hired, but why does this process have to so closely mimic the hiring of a college basketball coach? Hundreds of thousands in pay to lure somebody who either wants to use the job as a stepping stone or, like Dr. Norris, is somewhere deep into the back nine of a career and wants to max out on his/her retirement?

Maybe I'm being naive, but I was kinda hoping we could find somebody who wanted to innovate here and stick around for the years it will take to make it happen. I don't know if Dr. Gary Norris is that guy (maybe none of them are). Add to this the fact Norris, in true college basketball coach fashion, already held the Sarasota schools hostage by threatening to quit back in 2006 and we basically have a 68 year-old, or so, Steve Alford on our hands.


Sunday, March 02, 2008

You, They and Everybody Sucks. Sincerely, "Anonymous"

Sorry to bring it up, but occasionally your humble blogger contemplates the "anonymous" comment question. Basically, I'm torn: I don't like comments being "anonymous", but I don't like the idea of having to register for something like a "Google account". Yes, I think Gmail is the greatest thing since the metal filing cabinet circa 1953. Yes, I currently have 2,887 messages in my Gmail inbox (actual figure).

But I just don't like the idea of having to register for something just to speak one's mind.

Hmmm...a dilemma. And sure, it's been a dilemma for forever, but from time to time the "anonymous" comment thing bothers me, and this Superintendent selection process is one of those times.

Personally, I think we should all be upfront and identifiably public on the issue of a new APS leader. Same goes with the recent "6thgraderscan'twriteGate" at my place of employ, Jefferson Middle School. Hiding behind anonymity on subjects like this just seems wrong.

Having blathered on via 'Burque Babble for almost three years now, I'm sure at least one APS personage has been upset that some APS teacher has been publicly trashing APS decision this or political position that. I say this despite the fact that I have NEVER received any request to stop talking about said issues, not from my Principals, the District, nothing.

And that's the way it should be, because if it wasn't that way, and attempts were made to stifle public discussion of education issues by teachers, that would simply force this blog (and others) to go "anonymous" and underground and say far, far nastier things.

There is a responsibility to having your real name on something, even something as silly as a blog, and when it comes to these issues I'd personally prefer that everyone commenting here took on a bit of the same responsibility.

On the other hand, I detest avatars and only have the "frannyzoo" name because way back in the distant, pre You-Tube Internet past everyone thought it was a bad idea to have your real name on the Internet (remember those days?). And I'll change the "frannyzoo" as soon as I stop being lazy about it, and get the gumption to start throwing new link emails to those who choose to link here.

Maybe I should do that today, instead of writing rambling incoherent ambivalent calls for less internet anonymity on educational issues. Point taken. The whole "anonymous" thing is also less of an issue here than on more popular blogs, where trolling is far more rampant.

So why even bring it up? Again, point well taken, but sometimes it just bothers me and it's a windy Sunday morning and I think this is my fourth cup of coffee and there's been about 11 "anonymous" comments in a row.

Grouchy. I think the term here is grouchy.

P.S.: I plan on putting something together about the whole Jefferson MS kids can't write good situation, but think a 10-day or so moratorium on the subject is in order. I'll get around to that later this week.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Saturday Night's Alright For Superintendent Candidate Googling

Late night on a Saturday and here I am trying to dig up dirt on the "finalists" for APS Superintendent.

Pathetic, surely, but I'm probably not the only one so occupied.

Anybody found anything good on:

Winston Brooks, Superintendent, Wichita Public Schools, Wichita, Kan.
Steve Flores, Chief of Staff, Dallas Independent School District, Dallas, Texas
Diego Gallegos, Assistant Superintendent, Albuquerque Public Schools
Thomas Miller, Chief of Staff (Acting Superintendent), Ysleta Independent School District, El Paso, Texas
Gary Norris, Superintendent, Sarasota County School District, Sarasota, Fla.
Linda Sink, Interim Superintendent, Albuquerque Public Schools


Google is already turning up some interesting tidbits on Brooks (hmm...but this "Frontline" interview is more interesting), Flores (and yes the blog looks even more tawdry than Burque Babble, but the terms "deposition" and "Superintendent candidate" should not go together) and Norris (I like computers, and sure I'd like $350 million of them in my classroom, why not?). Not much on Miller at this point.

For Gallegos and SIW (Super-in-Waiting) Sink we don't need no stinkin' Google.

I am completely uninformed here (like that ever stops me), but I'm putting the early morning line at:

Chances of being next APS Superintendent:

Sink: 1/5

Gallegos: 9/2
Brooks: 5/1
Norris: 5/1
Miller: 10/1
Flores: 50/1 (unfairly high, most probably, but there's the "deposition" and the fact he is currently in Dallas...a fact that needs no further explanation to anyone who, like me, has ever lived anywhere close to the place)
Field (anybody but Sink): 4/1

Wagers, anyone?

Okay, back to more late night Saturday digging, Philly Joe Jones, Dexter Gordon, George Cables and friends helping me on the music side. Am I a party animal or what? In fact, I'm so zany I just might show up at next Friday's swinging Superintendent candidate "Happy Hour" soiree. Move over Amy Winehouse, you got nothing on me.