November 2006

No Surprise

As expected, voters living in a 200-acre tract on the east side of the I-75/Hwy 61 junction have indicated by referendum that they wish to be annexed by Clinton.

The vote was 22-0. KNS has the story.

What is surprising — and disappointing — is that some County Commissioners continue to think in terms of blocking or delaying the annexation by Clinton. It’s clearly not a matter of principle; it’s a matter of greed. Anderson County will gladly agree to the annexation for a share of Clinton’s tax revenue. The deal they proposed Monday night is strikingly similar to what Clinton offered two years ago — before the 5-year ban on annexation had expired, and before a lot more time and money were spent on legal maneuvering.

It’s no surprise to me that Clinton is not interested in sharing now, since it appears that the annexation will be finalized without any concessions to the County (which has not put much effort, it would seem, into encouraging development on its own).

When any development occurs in Anderson County — whether within the boundaries of a city or not — the County collects additional revenue. It’s called expanding the tax base, and is greatly preferred to raising the tax rate. But to provide a reasonable level of services, it is necessary to do one or the other. Anderson County will realize a windfall for Clinton’s success, as well as that of Oak Ridge, Norris, Lake City, and part of Oliver Springs. They don’t have to do anything except get out of the way.

Anderson County Commissioners: please do so.

Annexation Vote to Go

The on-again off-again referendum over whether or not Clinton shall annex property adjacent to I-75 in the Bethel community will go forward, following Chancellor William Lantrip’s ruling yesterday.

At the last County Commission meeting, Commissioners approved a new “master settlement agreement,” wherein the County would share in the portion of tax revenues that would ordinarily be allocated to Clinton. A couple of years ago, Clinton had offered such a settlement, but the County’s rejection and continuation of legal action resulted in a major retail developer walking away from the deal.

Recent statements by Clinton officials indicate that the city is no longer willing to cut a deal.  The five-year moratorium on annexation in the growth plan has expired, and there seems to be little reason for Clinton to deal.  After years of litigation, who could blame them?

The News Sentinel reports on views from lawyers on both sides:

Yeager on Monday argued that Clinton couldn’t have it both ways; that the city can’t seek annexation both by growth plan changes and by a referendum.

“There’s no pressing need for a referendum before Clinton votes on growth plan amendments,” Yeager said.

Clinton’s attorney, Dick Jessee, countered by saying the urban growth plan’s five-year moratorium on annexation by referendum has ended, and Clinton can legally follow that route.

The interesting part of the story, however, is found in Commissioner David Bolling’s blog:

A motion was made to file the injunction, it tied and thus failed, and I actually thought that progress had won the day. That was, of course, before Doug Haun realized that he was confused and had voted wrong in his opposition to the injunction. Now, I respect Commissioner Haun, and normally would have believed that someone could honestly vote wrong by mistake. However, when I see Rex Lynch point at someone across the room and say “I need to see you outside”, which he did to Doug, and then see Doug come back in moments later wanting to change his vote, I don’t see a simple mistake, I see a shady political maneuver.

Sigh.  Three and a half more years, unless something really interesting happens in between.

How much more might we accomplish if the County actually worked with the cities for growth, rather than posturing on turf?

School Board Meeting, Nov. 27

The second reading of the proposed new attendance policy was withdrawn from the agenda, and a work session will be scheduled on the matter — probably in the next week or so. In the packet provided to Board members prior to the meeting, the policy had been amended to incorporate my concerns.

I would look for the second reading to occur at the January 3 Board meeting.

* * *

There was one speaker during the public forum: Bill Dodge reiterated his concern (from an earlier e-mail to all Board members) that the elimination of bus service within one mile of the schools would not generate the savings expected in the budget. However, the monthly financial report shows that we have used 31.4% of the allocated transportation funds thus far, but are 33.3% through the fiscal year. Put simply, we’re within budget, and it appears that the change has indeed generated the estimated savings.

Certainly, it’s at a cost of decreased service. I don’t like it. But we must operate within our available resources, and those resources are wholly beyond our control, having no way to generate additional revenue on our own.

The Achievement Gap

There’s a great article in yesterday’s New York Times magazine: What it takes to make a student.  It’s long — 17 pages printed — but contains solid information about the reasons for the achievement gap between students who are poor and those who are from middle-class or wealthy homes, as well as between minority and white students.  Not just reasons for the gap, but examples of educators who have overcome that gap and their methods.

Researchers began peering deep into American homes, studying up close the interactions between parents and children. The first scholars to emerge with a specific culprit in hand were Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, child psychologists at the University of Kansas, who in 1995 published the results of an intensive research project on language acquisition. Ten years earlier, they recruited 42 families with newborn children in Kansas City, and for the following three years they visited each family once a month, recording absolutely everything that occurred between the child and the parent or parents. The researchers then transcribed each encounter and analyzed each child’s language development and each parent’s communication style. They found, first, that vocabulary growth differed sharply by class and that the gap between the classes opened early. By age 3, children whose parents were professionals had vocabularies of about 1,100 words, and children whose parents were on welfare had vocabularies of about 525 words. The children’s I.Q.’s correlated closely to their vocabularies. The average I.Q. among the professional children was 117, and the welfare children had an average I.Q. of 79.

So the gap begins very early… a young child’s vocabulary is directly related to the number and complexity of words spoken to him or her.  Furthermore,  there were  differences found in the type of speech — that toddlers from low-income homes tended to hear a greater percentage of discouraging statements, where in wealthier families, the greater part of the utterances were encouraging in nature by an overwhelming margin.

Martha Farah, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, has built on Brooks-Gunn’s work, using the tools of neuroscience to calculate exactly which skills poorer children lack and which parental behaviors affect the development of those skills. She has found, for instance, that the “parental nurturance” that middle-class parents, on average, are more likely to provide stimulates the brain’s medial temporal lobe, which in turn aids the development of memory skills.

There’s much more on the “whys” of the achievement gap, but answering the “what to do about it” question is far more useful:

The schools that are achieving the most impressive results with poor and minority students tend to follow three practices. First, they require many more hours of class time than a typical public school. The school day starts early, at 8 a.m. or before, and often continues until after 4 p.m. These schools offer additional tutoring after school as well as classes on Saturday mornings, and summer vacation usually lasts only about a month. The schools try to leaven those long hours with music classes, foreign languages, trips and sports, but they spend a whole lot of time going over the basics: reading and math.

Second, they treat classroom instruction and lesson planning as much as a science as an art. Explicit goals are set for each year, month and day of each class, and principals have considerable authority to redirect and even remove teachers who aren’t meeting those goals. The schools’ leaders believe in frequent testing, which, they say, lets them measure what is working and what isn’t, and they use test results to make adjustments to the curriculum as they go. Teachers are trained and retrained, frequently observed and assessed by their principals and superintendents. There is an emphasis on results but also on “team building” and cooperation and creativity, and the schools seem, to an outsider at least, like genuinely rewarding places to work, despite the long hours. They tend to attract young, enthusiastic teachers, including many alumni of Teach for America, the program that recruits graduates from top universities to work for two years in inner-city public schools.

Third, they make a conscious effort to guide the behavior, and even the values, of their students by teaching what they call character. Using slogans, motivational posters, incentives, encouragements and punishments, the schools direct students in everything from the principles of teamwork and the importance of an optimistic outlook to the nuts and bolts of how to sit in class, where to direct their eyes when a teacher is talking and even how to nod appropriately.

Particular attention is paid to the brand of charter schools known as “KIPP Academy,” and the results detailed in the article are indeed impressive.  The results for the Memphis KIPP Diamond Academy are less so, but perhaps showing a lesser gap.  I’m not sure how long the KIPP school in Memphis has been in operation, and that would have some bearing on how far they’ve come in closing the gap.

How many of the methods employed by KIPP might be applicable to a program within a public school system?  Obviously, the longer day and year would constitute a concern, yet it appears that those are key ingredients to the success of those schools.  Even if such a program could be developed within the school system, would it be voluntary, and if so, would the families of the students who need it most actually enroll them?

It seems that to get the most out of such a program, it would have to begin no later than middle school.  If we are serious about eliminating the growing income disparity in adults, it begins with addressing the achievement gap in students.

AtomicTumor AW/L

Not A w/o L.  Surely any or all of us can understand that AT needs/deserves a break; actually, the story is deeper than just being tired or at a loss for words.

Yesterday on the shoutbox, BJ’s sister signed on as GoldenAppleCorp and began pouring her heart out.  There’s a history there that GAC detailed herself several months back, and I’ll leave it to you to scour the archives at atomictumor.com once it comes back up.  But, to make a long story short, seeing someone else use GAC’s screen name was very troubling, and not only to me.

Because AT took the gentlemanly route and went to editing last night, and there was a glitch, and Johnny-the-server-guy is apparently incommunicado for a bit, the ‘tumor has been down since last night.

I don’t have to be gentlemanly; I’m the mother of three teens and a ‘tween and I’ll call it like it is.  Folks, to impersonate GAC on her own website is far worse than in poor taste.  It’s hurtful to people who are already hurting, and being a sibling does entitle one to some measure of sympathy, but not a license to do what was done last night.

I’ve had shopping therapy, and I’m still a bit torched about the whole episode.  Can you tell?

Anderson Co. TN – world’s only?

The Tennessean reports this morning that the “jail cam” at the Anderson County Jail — thought to be the only one of it’s kind in the world — may soon be shut down. (I can’t get this link to work with FireFox; works with IE.)

The Sheriff cites security concerns, while others quoted note inmates’ privacy rights. it does seem though, like it would be a deterrent to undesirable behavior on the part of either inmates or jail staff.

Still, since the Sheriff’s department already owns the technology, perhaps they might be able to use it for another purpose: would it be possible to do video arraignments of arrestees from the jail, rather than transporting them to the courtroom in Clinton or Oak Ridge? I think the technology to do this is relatively inexpensive… a sum that would be saved in just a few days of law enforcement time and resources to transport prisoners back and forth.

It would also improve security — something that one judge has been citing as an excuse to move his court to Clinton from Oak Ridge.

Worth thinking about, anyway.

Black Friday Preview

CompUSA ventured into new territory this year, targeting bored consumers stir-crazy after a full day of eating and spending time with family by opening from 9-midnight on Thanksgiving.

It was a zoo.

We arrived at 9 p.m. and got in the back of a line I’d estimate to be in excess of 100 yards long, waiting in the cold for an hour and a half before being permitted inside.  Apparently, there was an issue of not exceeding the fire code by having too many people inside.

Some things were sold out, but the item we were there for (a 1GB memory module for hubby’s laptop) was in ample supply.  Oddly, I didn’t find anything else I simply had to have… so we came home having spent only what we intended to.

That’s a good sign.  If only we can maintain that discipline throughout the season.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We had dinner at my mother’s house today, which means traveling all of about two miles, and never even getting on the turnpike (no traffic). It also means I ate enough for about three people, as my mother is a truly great cook. She even brought us down some leftovers a few minutes ago, with a portion for Dog, who weighs as much as she does, and who stayed very close to her as she walked in.

My middle sister is in for the weekend, which is always a treat. I wish my youngest sister and her family could have been here too, but Houston’s a long way away for just a four-day weekend.

I have so much to be thankful for, I’m trying to let that override some minor aggravations.

After dinner (when the older two kids took off to be with friends), hubby and I took off to see the new Bond movie, Casino Royale. If you have any free time this weekend, I highly recommend it. I think it’s the first time I didn’t take a nap after Thanksgiving dinner since I was a child… but you won’t sleep through any part of this one!

Now, we’re just hanging out a bit before CompUSA opens at 9… they’ve got 1GB of notebook memory for $89, and hubby is anxious to catch up to me. For the two of us to go to a geek store when there’s a big sale on could be a dangerous thing… but we’ll do it anyway.

I hope that your day was a good one, that you ate your fill, and that you enjoyed whomever you spent the day with.  Take a few minutes to count your blessings, and may they greatly outweigh your burdens.

Homework: Read this…

There’s an excellent letter to the editor in today’s paper, written by someone who absolutely knows what she’s talking about.

Homework for tonight: read it.

Now who has lumps?

Metro Pulse’s editorial lambasts Knox County Commissioner “Lumpy” Lambert for putting a stop to an attempted armed robbery by pulling his own gun, thereby persuading the would-be robber to drop his weapon and leave (leaving behind his driver’s license, having just gone for a test-drive at Lambert’s car dealership), in a piece entitled, Lambert has His Lumps All Right.

Heh.

Thing is, once the sheriff’s department caught up with him, additional evidence came to light and the kid (he’s 19) would up being charged with first degree murder in a completely separate incident — the killing of a Walgreen’s truck driver in nearby Powell last weekend.  (WATE has the story)

I’m with Lumpy on this one, folks.  For that matter, with Tim Burchett too.  That doesn’t make me an advocate of vigilante justice, because neither of these responsible fellows exacted any punishment — but they stopped the crime, and allowed law enforcement to handle the rest.  If you’ve ever been a victim, you know how slow and uncertain the investigation process is.  I know.  I experienced it firsthand.

In Lambert’s case, he not only helped solve the crime committed against him, but another, more serious offense.

Metro Pulse is showing their pink stripe.

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