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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Greeley Colorado District 6 Mill Levy: Jane's Thumb Critique

The District Board has decided, formally, to put the Greeley Colorado District 6 school improvement mill levy onto voter's ballots this coming fall. While it is a pleasure to see the board president, Bruce Broderius, begin to come to terms with district image and reputation it is not yet clear $16 million dollars more going into the general fund is going to provide effective solutions. It is a beginning. But there are more questions to be asked and answered before the Board hits the Greeley streets to hawk this tax to the voters.

Jane's Thumb Critique on the "ups" and "downs" of the District's proposal follows. The Board has shown some improvement on answering surface questions and beginning to address some big picture issues but there is still more to go in the way of discussing accountable management practices, realistic student performance issues, and talking about that management elephant in the waiting room.

*The language above each critique below is taken from the Greeley District 6 Board's proclamation.

...TO BE DEPOSITED IN THE GENERAL FUND OF THE DISTRICT AND EXPENDED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES, INCLUDING:

Jane Thumbs Up: The money must be expended for educational purposes.

Jane Thumbs Down: Once this money goes into the general fund the final accountability that the $16 million raised is spent in exactly the way it was sold to voters gets a bit murky. It is a common discretion of General Fund uses. Let's say, for example, that there is already $16 million being expended from the General Fund that goes to all the categories of expenses listed below. When asked for proof of where this money has been expended it is a bit too easy to hand over the old list of expenditures and say that $16 million was spent on these items. Technically true, if misleading, unless the designation is new expenditures. Rather an easy distinction to request but one often forgotten once the ballot passes. Citizen committees assigned to oversight are a comforting idea but generally toothless if they are politically appointed citizens or gutless because the citizens do not have the management background to look for general funding manipulation. (See the blog Colorado Spending Transparency for more background). Of course, political oversight, may also leave open the discretion to spend this money on real places of need. These are the place that most voters never understand the need of, or approve, because voters tend to focus on emotional issues.

• PURCHASE TEXTBOOKS, COMPUTERS AND OTHER INSTRUCTIONAL
RESOURCES REQUIRED BY STUDENTS AND TEACHERS FOR HIGHLY
EFFECTIVE, HIGH-QUALITY ACADEMIC INSTRUCTION;

Jane Thumbs Up: Each student should have their own textbook. It is a sense of identity and it is a sense of pride in knowing the community cares enough about their education to support it.

Teachers should be trained and the rapid advance of technology into the classroom requires continual training--especially for the aging teachers who haven't been brought up in the technology world. Sorry for the age crack but it is true. Not a personal slight just a matter of circumstance.

Highly effective, high-quality academic instruction is a great buzz term for selling this deal to the public. Looking at the foundation and kicking the tires is even better. These terms imply a fiscal relationship in the purchasing process. The Board is indicating that management is going to make the most cost effective choice possible that produces high-effective, quality results. Therefore the assumption is that the Board has created a governance rubric that will allow them to follow up that management has done what has been indicated, and, the objectives have been met. Just what were those objectives anyhow? Specifically. I'd like to hear more about that rubric. Let's keep this in mind when those test scores get released the next three years.

Jane Thumbs Down: Textbooks are on their way out. Kindle and other technology programs that will replace the need for a textbook are on there way in. These are not deployed in Greeley Colorado yet so the Board's request still makes sense. But the Board should also keep in mind that it will need to come back in half a handful of years and ask voters for the money to change those textbooks into individual technology devices/readers.

Current training for teachers, from what I have seen of it this summer, is weak and often of a lesser value quality than it should be. Plus teachers often skip out on these trainings, talk, or snooze through them. The trainings, some of them, are not taken very seriously likely because they do not add quality and useful content to the teacher's repertoire. This can stem from a variety of causes including teacher burn-out and apathy towards management. On the other hand there is management's apathy toward paying for valuable content and lack of investment in making a high quality training plan that can be an issue also.

For example of low value content, the selected trainers are on a circuit and have a comfortable job security. So spending the first two hours of class making sure everyone in the room is introduced in a friendly congenial way may be a nice intro but in the meantime, with teachers in the room paid and presenter all paid, just how much does it cost the district to have their teacher's introduced to each other? (I have heard one instance of this particular abuse has been curtailed so let it serve as a past example).

Also, placing first-year teachers into course room training with fifteen-year experienced teachers may not produce the greatest benefit per dollar to the taxpayer. The entire concept of effective teacher training programs in District 6 may need to be closely reexamined for benefit return. The experienced teachers can tell you what they need and what is useful but that shouldn't be the only component certainly. Teacher's may not like having to go into intensive training during their summer breaks. Most are in mental health retreat mode so they can come back next fall. A good plan is going to consider all these factors first and then add in what the State guidelines require for additional funding. Innovate. Try something that works. It needs improvement.

I'd like to know what type of technology investment Greeley's Board is considering and who their consultants are, etc. Let's not repeat the entire Coca-Cola debacle again and sell the district's kids and teachers out to corporate interests. The overall management of District 6 doesn't instill confidence that these decisions are being made for the betterment of the educational performance of students It is much more likely that there is a strong foundation for political brownie points with the community and general ease of making the job of education easier for those working. (Which isn't a bad idea--again just not the one being sold to get the money). What are those outcome objectives for educational value again? Convince me that this management is credible. Please! Then I can go back to writing my specialized personal rants.

• SUPPORT COLLEGE, ACADEMIC, CAREER AND VOCATIONAL PROGRAMS
TO PREP ARE STUDENTS IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY FOR THE FUTURE;

Jane Thumbs Up: A priority to install, develop, and maintain if effective high end, high wage paying jobs are going to come into Greeley. People with effective education and/or experience want to know that their own bright little stars have an avenue for educational success in the area without having to drive to Denver to get said access. Feeder programs, considering the amount of established higher education vehicles we have in the community, just make sense to bond together a community relationship of healthier life-long learning processes and investment in our own community assets.

Charter Schools and advance placement programs will get the loudest most active community members off the political backs of the District Board and management. They will feel their kids are serviced.

Jane Thumbs Down: This isn't very helpful to the lower performers in the school district and those at risk of failure all ready. And this does seem to be the area where District 6 still needs to improve according to Schoolview.org.

I haven't seen anything in this dedicated proclamation that directly addresses the need for overall improvements in math or reaching out to those segments of the community whose entire best interests are likely not being served by the school system. Just buying computers and giving teachers additional inservice training does not create effective high quality math instruction and performance. It doesn't do much specifically for incorporating application of science and the arts either.

It does add informational access to Internet content. That, in and of itself, should not count as improvements in learning. Paying high quality well trained math and science teachers who know how to use computers might be a step in the right direction and then they can help train and service other teachers for integrated support in language, science, art, and technology. Okay, well anything approaching this type of plan, would be acceptable. I haven't seen anything like it.

Pumping money into the high-end performers does not serve the entire community. I don't think I can repeat this enough. It will please the middle-class parents stuck withmost of the bill that is true. But it will not fix what is broken in District 6. And once the higher end of education in this community is better served who is going to stand up and be an advocate for the rest of the system.

This attitude and strategic approach takes the heat off the Board for performing but may gut the quality of the system on the low-end performers so deeply that the District is left with some very broken barrio-type schools on their hand. Once abandoned these poor relatives to the magnet schools have the ability to fester more gang activity and youthful discontent and racial divisiveness within the community unless brilliantly, and I do mean brilliantly, managed. Hence gains made to bring new families and jobs into the city will be eroded. Do you, the Board, really want to go here just so your neighbors will be nice to you in the grocery store lanes again? Or do you have a plan for the lower end of the students we haven't seen yet that is effective?

• ENHANCE THE SAFETY AND SECURITY OF STUDENTS, STAFF AND SCHOOL
PROPERTY;

Jane Thumbs Up: I can't argue with this. Just don't make it a prison camp, k?

Jane Thumbs Down: I can say that by improving on the cultural relationships within the school district, bringing in higher quality teachers with better pay, and educating the public about the real issue with gang activity, school-bullying, racism, etc., it would lower the future need to expend on these resources. Effective progressive minded management can lower these costs. Putting locks on doors an alarms in classroom are bandages used once the problem becomes out of control. Treat the disease with our dollars so we need less bandages please. Training the parents on how to bridge the cultural divide is also a good idea--but I don't envy the Board that additional bucket load. Better strategic community-based planning can work--even if Fox News keeps making everyone scared out of their minds that their kid is about to be kidnapped, sliced and diced, or hit by a drunken bus driver--regardless of the real statistical chances.

• ACQUIRE, OPERATE AND MAINTAIN BUSES TO IMPROVE STUDENT
TRANSPORTATION;

Jane Thumbs Up: A regular cost required by every district as their population expands. Is District 6's population growing? What are the projections? We want our kids safe. Does this mean you will be paying bus drivers with the money?

Jane Thumbs Down: What proportion of these funds are going where? Why can't more kids walk--it is healthy. Oh that's right, the bullying and Fox News paradigm. Ride bikes? A bike safety initiative or more bike pathways--City Council might buy into this pie. Okay, well then what happened to the depreciation schedule? Why can't these buses be replaced? Just what operational expenses will be covered.
______________________________________

And there you have it. Keep asking the good questions and you'll have better accountability from the public servants. Throwing shoes at them during town hall meetings isn't nearly as productive.

Just my opinion folks. Keep those emails rolling in--they make the hamster work harder for lunch.

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