Here's what this campaign is about:
Ensuring equal opportunities in curriculum and programming for all students
Providing our students and faculty with safe, healthy, technology-driven learning environments
Committing to our neighborhood schools
Guaranteeing responsible stewardship of public funds
Celebrating the diversity within our district
Engaging parents to become active participants in the schools
Making data-driven decisions with measurable results
Friday, September 13, 2013
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
From the beginning, I promised to run a positive, issues-based campaign. I laid out what issues I believed in and went out with the help of my awesome campaign staff and my good friend and new MBA grad, Amber, and we tackled this seemingly impossible task. I don't know how the journey will end today, but if nothing else I know I've formed a lot of great relationships.
I believe that we need to take control of this unique moment in our history and focus on our district's long-term future in both facilities and programming. We need to ensure that every child in every neighborhood has an opportunity to achieve their highest potential. That's what a public school system should be about. To have the perception that there are good and bad schools does a disservice to our students and our teachers and is unhealthy for our community.
Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way and the sentiment is district-wide. The outpouring of support both in sweat equity and in donations to our cause was humbling. We couldn't have run our campaign without all of you. Win or lose, I am forever grateful.
When the campaign finance reports came out last week, I did a little breakdown:
68% of our contributors gave under $100 with an average of $37.50
32% of our contributors gave over $100 with an average of $135
There were 127 total donors and I have known most of these people for much of my life.
By ZIP code 42% were from 52240, 4% were from 52241, 1% from 52244, 34% from 52245, 14% from 52246, 4% from 52317, 1% from other areas.
You can view all of the candidate reports of income and expenditures by clicking on each candidate's individual dollar amounts HERE if you don't believe me. It's all public record now anyway.
Some have focused in on the record contributions this year. I think it speaks volumes of our community that collectively $35,000 was donated to help the candidates get the word out. In our 24/7 media based society that's a tall order. People obviously do care about education and it's future in our district. I think it's a relatively small price to pay to raise awareness of the issues facing our students and teachers.
Speaking of the other candidates, I have a great respect for all of them. I've met nearly all of the spouses and children and I have just as much respect for them. I know everyone has given it their all and it shows. The physical, emotional and mental toll is incredibly difficult to deal with and I don't wish it on anyone. Jim, Jason, Chris, Karla, Sara, Phil, Tuyet and Greg, my hat's off to all of you and whatever happens today, I've enjoyed getting to know you. Believe it or not, we share a common bond now. I think our little "reality show" is going to set an all time record for voter turnout. No one can ever take that away. Best of luck to all of you today!
What a long strange trip indeed.....see you at the finish line!
Now, get out there and vote. Find your polling place HERE
Our community is at a crossroads. I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work for all of our kids. I hope you'll join me.
Monday, September 9, 2013
While these traits definitely were a blessing and a curse in the classroom, I think that my teachers all hit the nail on the head. I do play well with others and, yes, I do socialize too much. As a potential board member I hope these traits serve me well. It may be too late for me to try to change.
I guess if you really want to know something, ask a teacher.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Saturday, September 7, 2013
As I read through it, trying desperately to understand a man who had never opened up to any of his family, I was struck by one question in particular. Under the section for History and Politics, in response to a question about what issues and causes he felt strongly about, he answered "Apathy of American voters. Democracy will fail if 70% of eligible voters do not: 1. Inform themselves and 2. Vote. Apathy is one of the reasons for the sad state of politics today - we get what we deserve."
This is true of school board elections in particular. People don't inform themselves and sadly, people don't vote. Typically here in our district, we can only expect 4500-5000 voters to vote in school-related elections. That's less than 8% of eligible voters. Sad, indeed.
I believe and have stated numerous times that schools are the most important public service that we can provide to our citizens. Roads, sewers and stoplights are important, but people don't move to an area because of those things. They move to an area because of the schools.
Our schools prepare our kids for their future. Our schools teach our kids to think critically and analytically. Our schools provide the social structure where our kids learn about the world beyond their community. Our schools can provide inspiration and teach not how our world is, but how it ought to be.
We owe our entire district and all of our kids a fair shot at a good beginning to the rest of their lives. We owe them safe facilities that inspire and nurture them. We owe them creative programming that allows them to achieve their highest potential. It is our duty.
I feel that if you believe in something strongly, you should roll up your sleeves and work for it. I believe that if you feel that there is injustice, you should work to make it right. I feel that you should advocate for those that can not advocate for themselves. That's why I'm doing this and that's why I want you to get out and vote.
If you're tired of feeling like it should be better for our kids and teachers, get out and vote.
If you're fed up with the back and forth tit-for-tat in this district, get out and vote.
If you believe that our entire district deserves to have a bright future, get out and vote.
If you are optimistic that we can be more transparent and communicate better, get out and vote.
If you believe we can do better and should, then get out and vote.
Voting is the only way that anything is going to get better. No matter who you vote for, just get out and vote. Apathy is the enemy.....
Pass it on.
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It's not."
-Dr Seuss from The Lorax
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Before you read any further, read this amazing bit of trivia: Carver and Borlaug There may be a quiz.
It seems our very own Iowa hero Norman Borlaug who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his efforts to combat world hunger is only two generations removed from George Washington Carver's famous pioneering work in agriculture. All it took was one woman guiding and advocating for the young Carver to create a ripple that saved over a billion lives.
Here's how this relates to our district.....
We currently have an alarming performance disparity between minority students and their peers when measured at all levels. Across our district, there is an 30% or greater disparity in proficiency in Reading and Math. See for yourself on page 5 of this document: District Report Card
There are a few ways to address this issue. First and foremost we need to go to teachers and see what they think. No initiative is going to work without their input and enthusiasm.We also will have to enlist parents and community leaders, because we already know that the most powerful changes start with the broadest base of support. I do have a few ideas of my own though, if you were wondering.....
- I believe expanding access to Pre-K is critical. Ensuring kids get started with a solid foundation in reading and math concepts will help to streamline their kindergarten matriculation. If you start off behind your peers, it'll never be easy to catch up.
- I believe we need to actively recruit recently graduated minority teachers from across the country. This effort should be fully funded by the district. Good healthcare, low crime, great schools and a university town should be attractive to many. Having positive role models in teaching and administrative roles is a must.
- We can create a "career cluster program" to have minority students mentored by teachers who are people of color in order to foster a love of teaching in our own students who may show interest. Working with community groups we can commit to scholarships as well for minority students that are pursuing an education degree with intent to teach in the area. Recruiting from within may be more powerful than recruiting elsewhere.
- As minority teachers leave the district, we must truly dig into why they left as part of the exit interview process. We need to know what we can be doing better to retain these talented individuals and role models and we need to commit to fixing it.
For us not to insist on every single child reaching their highest potential means that we are failing all of our students. We need to try harder, because what we're doing isn't good enough.
So which child is it? Which student just needs us to try a little harder? Which one, through a small act of kindness like Etta Mae Budd's advocacy for Carver, may go on to do great things? Which of our current students is going to be the one that changes the world? Let's find out.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
Hi, my name is Brian and my children attend a small school. That school is Shimek.
Shimek elementary only has about 200 students which makes it one of the smallest schools in the district. Only 91 of those students live within one mile of the school. If it weren't for the fact that Shimek serves the entire area reaching out to Newport Road and there are no other alternatives that are nearby, I'm sure Shimek would be targeted frequently for closure.
Traditionally, Lincoln enrolls about 250 students. 93 of those students live within one mile of the school. Like Shimek, it serves an area that really doesn't have another alternative facility within a reasonable distance. I know that Lincoln has been mentioned at times in sentences that end with closure, but for the life of me, I can't imagine what alternative facility those 93 students who live near Lincoln would attend.
Then there's Hills. 108 students attend Hills. 39 live within one mile. There is no alternative to Hills Elementary school in the immediate area. Hills is the only school for roughly a 7 mile radius. Their community has taken exciting steps to address infrastructure needs and is poised for growth. That school serves a large area. I think that to consider closing Hills would be extremely short-sighted. Remember, 20 years ago Penn was the only school in North Liberty.
Which brings me to Mann. Mann has about 250 students enrolled each year over the past decade. 105 live within one mile of the school. After the anticipated renovations that are part of the Strategic Facility Plan approved by the Board in July, it is projected that Mann will be able to house over 400 students. Mann serves the historic GooseTown neighborhood and, like Lincoln, doesn't really have a nearby walkable alternative.
I want to share these thoughts because as we move toward new, larger, more peripherally-located and cost-efficient schools as part of addressing our district's explosive growth over the previous and coming decade, we must still recognize that there is intrinsic value to maintaining a small school when and where there are no other alternatives. Although larger schools are more cost efficient to operate, the true test of a neighborhood school is its sense of community. Being able to walk in as a parent and have the principal and the school secretary able to recognize you by face and know where your children are at is comforting. There is no dollar value that can reflect that.
Exciting changes are about to occur with our district-wide facelift. Let's ensure that we don't lose track of our roots.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
And now, on with the show....
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
You see, up until this Monday morning, there was no clearly stated district policy regarding candidates visiting a facility. Most, if not all, of the nine candidates have toured numerous facilities in order to see firsthand what is needed at each location. If the campaign process is a prolonged job interview, then it seems pretty smart to me to actually go out and learn about the job, just in case you end up getting hired.
I know other candidates have toured other facilities with me with the school principals present. There was no indication from our administration that visiting a school was frowned upon. This is entirely evident in that numerous principals were willing to make themselves available for candidates to tour their respective facilities.
I did not file a facility room request at City High because I did not use a room and I was not holding an actual listening post for the public. My public listening posts have been at the Coralville Public Library, the ICPL, the North Liberty Community Center, the Senior Center, and Coach's Corner.
Which brings me to the next thing, Hills. It has been reported that I held a public listening post at Hills on Tuesday, August 13. That is not correct. I visited Hills that evening from 6-7 pm at the invitation of the Coalition for a Greater Hills Community who held their meeting at Hills Elementary that night. I had contacted them to learn more about the community of Hills and hear their concerns. I would assume that since the door was unlocked and they were there, that they had filed a proper facility room request.
It is disheartening to me that my ethics have been called into question by individuals and media outlets over the last two days. I am committed to running a positive campaign focused on the issues. I will not let these insinuations and allegations sway me from my real focus, which is our children and their education. They deserve it.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Free or reduced lunch (FRL) is how we measure poverty in schools. Years of education research show that when a school creeps above 40-50% of the children qualifying for FRL, that school performance, as measured by standardized test scores, begins to fall (the merits of theses tests is a WHOLE different discussion). Due to No Child Left Behind, this can lead to schools being labelled as a School in Need of Assistance (SINA). Having even one SINA school should be unacceptable to us as a district and as a community. Our recently passed Diversity Policy is an attempt to limit the percentages of FRL in any one elementary to 15% above the district-wide mean, which, at this time, would be mean a target FRL in the mid-40's or below.
Tackling disparities in poverty to improve school performance is not a new concept. This issue has been dealt with by 80 other school districts across the country. Many, like LaCrosse WI, were pioneers in this realm, so our task is not nearly as difficult as theirs was. The good news is that we can go to them to find how they tackled this issue and what pitfalls and problems they encountered without bringing in more expensive consultants.
Since magnet programs are a hot topic, lets discuss those. Magnet elementary schools are essentially schools that provide K-6 education along with some added incentive. On a smaller scale this might be as simple as having a prairie field campus similar to the one at Shimek. Or perhaps an outdoor classroom and arboretum like at Coralville Central.
On a grander scale, this might mean asking the teachers and the public what types of programs might interest them and entice them to consider enrolling their child in a school other than then one closest to their home. Some examples of this are a year-round calendar school, a Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) school, a young writers workshop school, or perhaps a language immersion school where children receive a multilingual education. The idea is that we could design programs within the walls of existing elementary schools that would entice and give incentive to parents to enroll their children there.
Champaign, IL is a community that is especially interesting to me. It's a Big Ten university town. It had elementary schools that had been labelled as failing. It had similar issues regarding high concentrations of poverty. It had many facility needs that had to be tackled as part of a long term plan. They are currently going through phases of new construction and renovations just as we will be in the near future. Sound familiar?
After involving the community to determine what types of magnet programs might be successful, they decided on starting a STEM program, an international education school and a MicroSociety school. Check it out here: http://unit4magnets.org
The enrollment process is easy to understand and the process of assigning children to facilities is transparent. In other words, the parents have choices and the rules are clear and transparent to the community. Interested yet?
There three stages to the process: Review, Rank, Request.
REVIEW: In January and February, parents get the opportunity as their child enters a grade school to visit the different schools and meet the administration, teachers and parents already there to learn about the different programs.
RANK: By March, parents submit their FIVE top school choices in order of preference. Each family may use different criteria for their choices. It's up to them.
REQUEST: Submit the registration forms. The district then uses four criteria to assign children based on Proximity, Siblings, Transportation and Waiting Lists. See here: http://www.unit4registration.org
OR...if you like video instead of reading the web site, try clicking on the picture of the little guy with the yellow binoculars on the upper right of the page at the link above.
The point is that most parents get their first or second choice. In addition, the administration has been able to level the FRL statistics across their district and previously failing schools have shown vast improvements in test scores. They are also able to limit class sizes and limit busing which provides a better classroom experience for students and teachers while committing to decreased transportation costs.
This may not be the way that we decide to go as a community, but the status quo is not acceptable. We are on the verge of big shifts in our thinking about schools. The good news is we don't have to go it alone. Other districts can help us learn from their experiences. We just have to be willing to ask.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
From the beginning, I've believed that this campaign is about the whole district and that my relationships with individuals representing the entire district would be something I could rely on. I had no idea, though what incredible people I have working with me.
You see, this morning, I woke up in Nevis, MN at a cabin on Lake Belle Taine. After trying to relax for the past week while blogging, making phone calls, reading and answering questions in preparation for the next month, I was leaving my wife and children behind to work diligently for the next week on the campaign back in Iowa City.
Leaving was not easy. My son, Cooper, asked, "If this is about the kids, then why do you have to leave your kids?" His sister, Grace, was sobbing...even though minutes before, she'd been singing the candygram song Will Ferrel sings to James Caan in Elf (gotta love 7 yr olds). I was pretty distraught and down for much of the ten hour drive home and the standstill traffic on 35W south of the twin cities didn't help either.
Imagine my surprise to return to see all of the Kirschling yard signs and a calendar chock full of meetings and listening posts. It appears that in my absence, my own elves have been busy in the workshop. I feel like someone threw me a welcome home party.
I am thankful to all my good friends who believe in what we are doing. I look forward to meeting those of you that I'm scheduled with over the past week. I am re-energized and ready to roll for the next month. Lets focus on the sprint now, so we can win the marathon that comes next. We've got a lot of work to do, but if we continue to focus on the well being of the entire district, then our efforts will bear fruit.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can never repay you all for what you've done for me.
"I get by with a little help from my friends...with a little help from my friends."
-Lennon and McCartney
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
You see, the type of changes we have to make are going to take optimism and enthusiasm. It's also going to take public confidence. This can only be gained by involving the public voice from the very beginning.
Anyhow, as we were returning to the cabin from our morning fishing expedition, it dawned on me that right there on our U.S.currency is the answer to my dilemma. E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one. You see we've been going about this all wrong.
For example, the ONE District facilities master planning process was long and drawn out. It involved a planning committee made up of individuals from across the community who put in many, many hours over many months of time to work with BLDD to design multiple scenarios for our district. The scenarios were then presented to the public multiple times for their input. A district-wide phone survey was done to gather even more public input. The scenarios shifted and re-shifted, then a final presentation was made to the Board for their consideration. Information Gathering, Recommendation to the Board, Decision. And yet....many still feel that their voices were not heard.
I think that going forward to the next big decisions with regard to the Diversity Policy and a broader redistricting effort, we must take the process we used for the facilities planning and strive to make it better still. There has been MUCH improved transparency as of late and the effort to include the public was significantly better than previous attempts in past years, however, there is always room for improvement.
I think that perhaps what we need to do going forward is:
- START with gathering community and teacher input through district-wide surveys by phone, focus groups, social media, email and snail mail. We need to analyze and utilize that data to spend time focusing on what the public wants, not what their assumed wants are.
- Next, we need to go out and gather a committee of diverse community members who can act as not only representatives, but also liaisons to their neighborhoods, organizations, PTOs, etc. In this way, we can involve community members in a cohesive effort in which their voices are heard in a transparent fashion BEFORE any recommendations or decisions are made. These meetings must be held in the open and recorded to serve as public record every step of the way. The information must flow both ways.
- The committee must be given a clear directive from the community and not put into a position where they are trying to determine what the community wants. They can then focus on achieving their goal, not trying to reach a shifting goal line.
- Finally, a recommendation can be made to the Board for their consideration. To go out of order may give the perception and feel that the public isn't being heard or worse, ignored.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Friday, July 26, 2013
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Friday, July 19, 2013
- Growing up and attending Lemme Elementary when it was still a relatively new school (I'm aging myself here) most of the students attending were within walking distance of the school. There were some who lived out on what was then called Rural Route 5 by Fairway Golf Course (now Windsor Ridge). My friends who grew up on RR5 have recently reaffirmed to me that Lemme was considered by them to be their "neighborhood school" although they could not walk there and relied on bussing.
- Shimek enrolled 199 students last year. Of those children, 92 are eligible for bussing and only 40 live within 0.5 mile. Our family drives 1.3 miles to Shimek and many parents drive 5 or more miles. Most parents at Shimek refer to it as their "neighborhood school," although relatively few can walk there.
- Many of my friends whose kids attend Lincoln live in the Manville Heights area, but then others live north of I-80 in the region stretching all the way to the Coralville Reservoir. Of the 246 students enrolled last year, 126 rode busses and only 65 came from the surrounding 0.5 mile radius. I know my friends both north of I-80 and in Manville Heights refer to Lincoln as their "neighborhood school"
- Longfellow enrolled 334 students last year from the immediate surrounding area as well as the Windsor Ridge area east of Scott Blvd, 3 miles away. 82 (24.6%) of those kids are bussed and 182 live within 0.5 mile radius.
- Hills Elementary is the only school in Hills. 108 were enrolled there last year. 62 rode busses and only 28 lived within a half mile. It is truly a neighborhood school because it's the only school in the community.