Thoughts this week about the school board

Walking in reverse direction down the path of my thoughts of the school board this past week:

Who are we?

I subscribe to a feed of the Wake County School District blog, and just this morning is a post about the new school board chairman of the Wake County school district (which, by the way, is frickin’ HUGE!). What is fascinating about his “acceptance speech” is that he casts an identity for the school board that unites it with the community; he readily acknowledges the rocky road they have been through (you think Champaign has an issue with Schools of Choice? Ha!) and the challenges going forward.

“We the Wake County Board of Education will provide the kind of exemplary leadership that is expected of us by this community, and I intend to lead us in that direction. I ask my colleagues around this table to join me in this commitment and this effort for we are Wake County.”

2013 Board Candidate John Williams, III

I am going to be reaching out to candidates as I find out who they are. Last night I had a great facebook dialog (be sure to click the tiny “See More”) with Mr. Williams. I am impressed by his convictions and desire to tackle some big issues. Better yet, not just desires but ideas on how to make them come to fruition. I asked him further about two points (getting the community to show up at meetings and pedagogy); he responded to the first by admitting there is a lack of community participation that is not solved by free food, the need to build relationships and the need for more open communication; to the second he agreed there is no “one size fits all” and very much wants to move away from lecture-laden approaches to engaging the students more thoroughly. What’s cool is that I see a number of excellent teachers already doing this. Hearkens me back to the Sir Ken Robinson video shown at the Futures Conference. Having said all this, don’t take my word for it – go read about John Williams yourself, or better yet, ask him some questions of your own.

As I find out who other board candidates are, I am going to make it a point to drop by and get to know them. Laurie, I have some questions for you next. *grin*

Transparency

I already shared how I attempted to address the board at Monday’s board meeting. Dr. Joe Davis was kind enough to follow-up with me (and CC: Dr. Judy Wiegand). He mentioned Gene Logas’ previous efforts to spell out “Where does all the money go?” I agree that this is a good first step in breaking down the complex tongue of finances, but it only goes so far (it is, after all, a first step). I responded with an example of Jess Bachman’s now famous “Death and Taxes” poster which gives an awesome overview of the Federal Budget. On top of this, I followed up with a member of the Promises Made Promises Kept (PMPK) committee; here is an excellent example where the district communicates a ton of information to a group of people that is open to the public, but the public has next to no clue what is going on because 1) very few community members attend the PMPK meetings, 2) the “transparent” reports take a REALLY long time to make it up on the website. In fact, the last one I can find is from December of 2011. So, first hurdle is to get this information in the public sphere, second hurdle is to get these reports so that we the common people can understand them. 🙂

Transparency is not about pointing fingers. It is about collaborating towards a common goal. As John Williams implied, accountability is a good thing, when done right. It helps all of us.

[PS – I hope that a letter-to-the-editor I submitted on this topic is printed soon]

More about 2013 Board Candidates

Meg Dickinson wrote an article on Tuesday in the aftermath of Tom Lockman stepping down from his position on the board. One particular quote of Mr. Lockman that I really like is:

I truly believe that public education is the most critical aspect of a community’s ability to succeed and develop…

Most. Critical. Those are big words, ones that should challenge our community. But back to Meg’s article about the candidates. She relates the Stig Lanneskog intends to run for the 2-year slot. She also says that seven people to date have checked out petitions from the Mellon Center. Note that the petitions actually come from the County Clerk’s office and that the Mellon Center merely provides the forms as a courtesy; since the forms are downloadable from the internet, there is no telling the maximum number of people that have expressed an interest. On top of that, just because someone picks up a packet does not mean they will get all the signatures and actually submit it by December 26th. What is most curious to me is, of the people that have picked up a packet, we only know about three (Ileana Saveley, Laurie Bonnett, John Williams and Stig Lanesskog). Personally, I really want to find out who the others are because I want to meet these people who are so interested in the school district that they want to serve on the board, which is not all fun and games. 🙂 Very worthy, no doubt, but a sacrifice none the less.

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3 Responses to “Thoughts this week about the school board”

  1. Karen Says:

    ‘In regards to teaching methods, I agree that there is no one magic bullet, however the days where teachers just solely lecture and students listen are not applicable anymore, (although I have witnessed a number of teachers in Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul and in Decatur recently employ this method with lackluster results). Students process information almost a million times faster than when teachers were teaching in the 1900’s. Our students have evolved, yet our textbooks, some of the classes subjects and some of our instructors have not. They are almost at the point where they are educating the instructors. Knowing this, I believe that best teaching methods revolve around facilitation of the curriculum through active participation, a small percentage of lecturing, and wrapping the subject around experiences students can relate to. Teachers are facilitators of knowledge, not the experts. Believing in that mantra, knowledge circulates between the students and teacher. This I believe greatly benefits the students, and in the end……it helps our teachers continue to be great. Thanks for the inquiry, as deep dialogue I believe is the predecessor to progress.’

    ‘…not applicable anymore…’, huh.

    ‘(although I have witnessed a number of teachers in Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul and in Decatur recently employ this method with lackluster results).’ Direct instruction is not effective is your position, then?

    ‘Students process information almost a million times faster than when teachers were teaching in the 1900’s.’ Huh?

    ‘Our students have evolved,’ Actually, they fair pretty poorly these days and aren’t too competitive on the global scene.
    ‘They are almost at the point where they are educating the instructors.’ If this is so, perhaps that’s part of the problem. In ‘real life’ accuracy of knowledge kind of matters.

    ‘Teachers are facilitators of knowledge, not the experts.’ Don’t the most effective teachers have expert level knowledge in their subject area? I thought there were data on this.

    Indeed, let’s have an objective discussion of where our kids are at and where they need to be to have a better chance of being successful in their future world.

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    @Karen:

    I am not going to defend John, but I’ll speak from my own experience. First, we must agree that we have different opinions. 🙂 I think the tricky part is we are trying to determine what is “best”, when “best” is subjective. I think it would be interesting to have an objective discussion, but I don’t know how to do that when we are talking about our own kids. I like your final assertion of making sure our kids are “where they need to be to have a better chance of being successful in their future world.” But how? This is where 10 people will give you 10 ideas. Or 10 research papers.

    Personally, I think having a teacher that is at the expert level of knowledge in their subject area might be impractical. At least, according to my own definition for “expert level knowledge”. Are we going to only hire teachers who have a PhD (or three) and have worked in the field of their subject for 20 years? Don’t get me wrong, I think that would be totally awesome!! But we can’t afford it, both financially and logistically. So I have to ask, how do you define “expert level knowledge”? Let us get on the same page for semantics first. 🙂

    While I am tempted to go for the bait of direct-instruction vs some other pedagogy, let me divert my energy into pondering what we want the outcome to be. I think it might be more productive to focus on access, by providing the resources and tools such that they are readily available to any child (or any learner regardless of age, for that matter). We want children who are ready for the future – how do we allow that to happen? I carefully avoid using the phrase “make that happen” because I don’t think we can. But I feel quite strongly that it is our responsibility to create an environment where such growth can occur.

    Thoughts?

  3. Karen Says:

    ‘efficient delivery of sufficient academics’
    Need to find where I read that 🙂 . Need to come back to this.


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