Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The more things change, the more they stay the same?

So I guess Kansas City has a new baseball team? The Royals? This is news to me because I only listen to sports talk radio from August to March every year. This allows me to hear lunatics scream and wail about Chiefs football and Jayhawk basketball, and generally by August these “Royals” aren’t getting a lot of airplay. August is the time when Royals fans have lost hope, and Chiefs fans are gaining false hope.

The recent success of the Royals has sports talk wasting my time with talk of pitching rotations and batting orders instead of important things like who will the be the Chief’s third QB!? One station had a competition to have callers talk about where they were 29 years ago when the Royals last made the playoffs. Not being a baseball fan, I don’t have a lot of memories around the sport, but 29 years ago I remember Ell-Saline shop (yes, it was shop back then) teacher Tom Fee parading through the school halls wearing a crown, holding a bat as a scepter, with a blue Royals blanket for a cape. One might say Tom was a fan. He and his wife Marilyn traveled to every home game.

As I thought about Tom and Marilyn Fee (both ESHS teachers) it reminded me that it was my first year as a school administrator, principal of Ell-Saline Jr-Sr High School. I hope those teachers have forgiven me by now for being green as a gourd and not really knowing what I was doing. Fortunately, it was enough just not to be the previous principal.

So where were you 29 years ago? Youngsters, don’t bother with your smart answers. Now think about how much education has changed since the Royals last made the playoffs. We were just thinking about continuous improvement in schools. We were still accredited based upon a system of counting inputs like, “Did you fly the flag? and How many books were in the library.” QPA was still years away, and now it is being retired in favor of a more robust system of accreditation.
Everyone gave the ITBS, and no one paid much attention to the results. There wasn’t talk about assessments for accountability, or to inform instruction. Now we have a generation of students and teachers who know no other way except how important it is to do on state assessments. A sad fact, I think.

Ell-Saline bought eight apple computers that year, and assigned two students to a computer in computer class. Students learned some obscure programming language. We showed off that lab to anyone and everyone who came through the building. We were state of the art. Today, the paper has an article about all 25,000 of the students in Shawnee Mission joining districts all over Kansas in getting their district-provided computers for the start of school. According to mybroadband, my antiquated iPhone 5 has 262,144 times more memory and is 1,300 times faster than those old Apples.

But as William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” How many things are exactly the same as they were 29 years ago? Grading scales, attendance policies, worksheets, nine months on, three months off, and Parent-Teacher conferences all look pretty much the same as they did in 1985, 1975, and 1955. Some say all educational change is a pendulum swing; I would say that it certainly swings back and forth, but we continue to get better. The one tradition we have to embrace is a willingness to look critically at what we are doing and continue to change and get better, even if it takes 29 years to make the playoffs.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Ask Good Questions

The name in this story has been changed to protect his FERPA, HIPPA, IDEA, IPA, and ERISA rights. Let's call this young man Daryl Gardner. Daryl was a ninth grader and I was a junior high assistant principal. Daryl did not particularly like school, and to be fair, school did not particularly like him. I served the role of match-maker, trying to bring the star-crossed lovers together, but had limited success. He was a nice-enough kid, certainly not an academic, but not a mean-spirited young man. Today we might say he was unengaged.

In a large junior high school, the office can be a hectic place between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. Kids coming and going and the phone ringing off the hook with parents calling about absences and the like. Always the helpful soldier, I grabbed the phone early one morning because the receptionist was on another call. Now this part of the story sounds better than it reads. If you want to get the full effect, you may want to read it out loud.
Me: South Junior High School, may I help you?
Caller: Daryl Gardner will not be in today, he is sick.
Me: Daryl, is that you?
Caller: No, this is my dad.
Me: See you first hour, Daryl.
Caller: OK

It is always important to ask the right questions. Assistant principals are like lawyers and cops, they always know the answer to the question before they ask it. I knew Daryl, and knew his dad, and I knew his dad never called him in sick. So I asked.

This is the season for elections. Everyone should be voting on Tuesday and again in November. Voters need to pay heed and ask good questions. Campaign rhetoric can be true (hey, maybe Daryl WAS sick) but misleading at the same time.

At KASB we often get requests to list candidate votes on key issues. We can do so, but how someone votes on a bill can be misconstrued. A representative might be strongly in favor of parts of a bill, but strongly opposed to others. They may vote against something that appears to be pro-education for reasons that are also pro-education. It is important to ask questions! Why did this legislator vote for or against this bill might be more important than how did this person vote on this bill. Ask questions.

Don't accept as fact what is printed on that shiny flyer you get in the mail before the election. If an issue is so simple it fits on a flyer, there has to be more to the story. Well-informed voters know the rest of the story.

Please remember to vote on Tuesday, and in November. Daryl probably won't. I think he is sick...