May 2007

Addressing Failure

The Nashville City Paper reports this morning on Metro Nashville Public Schools’ efforts to turn around three schools which, for three years, have failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind.

The story caught my eye due to one key factor — and one not mentioned in the City Paper story at all:

Teachers at Alex Green will be allowed to reapply for the school, but the school district has already reassigned current Amqui Elementary School principal Brenda Steele as the school’s new principal.

Because of a professional connection to the Education Consumers Foundation, the name Brenda Steele jumped out at me; she’s the principal who’s been honored two years in a row (this year and last) for producing the highest value-added achievement scores (TVAAS) of any elementary school in the middle-Tennessee region.  Actually, her value-added scores were the highest in the state.

In short, that means she leads a team of teachers who are producing significantly more advancement per year than average, not just smarter kids.  Given the right demographics, anyone can get lucky with a batch of high test scores.  Getting a less-advantaged population to make greater gains is a significant achievement.

It seems to me that MNPS’ decision to let Ms. Steele try her hand at turning around Alex Green Elementary will likely be a good one.

Summer Reading List

Making the most of the pre-dawn hours this Saturday morning, I checked in with Anotherthing2, who resumed posting for a while after an absence. He had an excellent link to a reading list for college freshmen and sophomores; of the 57 works noted, I’ve read about 20 of them at some point in my life.

Many of those were not as a college student, but as a sophomore at Oak Ridge High School, courtesy of a tough but enjoyable class known as Combined Studies. Several others were in various English classes in high school, except Don Quixote, which we covered in Spanish III.

However, that was so very long ago, I think I need to re-read most of them. I haven’t had time to read as much lately as I like to, though on Mother’s Day, I did spend the afternoon on the couch with Alpha’s copy of The Optimist’s Daughter, reading it cover to cover.

* * *
One which I would love to read, but don’t know if it exists, is a book of all the shortcut keys for Windows. Especially those bizarre shortcuts that can drive one utterly crazy if they’re accidentally hit, producing strange results, like ctrl-alt-↑. Go ahead — try it!

Leaving one’s laptop open overnight with cats in the house can result in all manner of strange key combinations being pressed. That’s the one I woke up to this morning.

My cats are as strange as everyone else in this house.

One Year Later

Yesterday, I thanked a friend for a really nice letter to the editor (it was in the Observer yesterday), and he noted that it was exactly one year ago — to the day — that I’d thanked him for a very supportive post for our school system on

I think that was before I’d actually met him in real life (as opposed to virtual life, which though different, is often more "real" than real life), but I do remember a feeling of gratitude that people like AT and GAC, Bos and Mrs. Eaves had moved to Oak Ridge to raise their families. They are the real hope for our future. We had the gift of GAC for far too short a time, but she left an indelible imprint that makes us better in many ways.

Oak Ridge has always been a place where most people come from somewhere else — whether Norris or Norway — bringing with them a little bit of something different, something fresh, to combine with all else that is Oak Ridge for a unique combination as a whole. These days, there are some folks like myself who were actually born and raised here, but part of our role is to remember and carry on some of the treasures — our symphony, our playhouse, soccer, and so many other things — that were brought from the outside a few decades ago by others that we knew as youngsters.

A comment on AT’s post last year by Joel, an Oak Ridger who grew up here and landed elsewhere, is worth repeating:

… And if you don’t have kids, or they’ve graduated, you owe it to yourself to keep your property values up. Let’s say that $30/yr on a $150K home is the price of housing price stability. OTOH, without the $30/yr, the reputation of OR schools slips, let’s say that home prices drop an average of 5%. That’s $7500 on a $150K home. In this scenario, $30/yr is a bargain.

In the parking lot outside early voting yesterday, I overheard one woman say "School board! Money, money money — raise my taxes and they always want more!" I was saddened to hear the other school board candidate agree with a hearty, "yes ma’am, that’s why I’m running," but I do understand: he doesn’t understand. He’s never gone through the schools budget process, which is an eye-opening experience. It was for me, too, those first couple of years.

Without question, Oak Ridgers have been asked in to carry a larger share of the financial burden than most communities in Tennessee. That’s why reform at the state level is so important. However, a key element of the Governor’s plan is the cigarette tax, which is currently held hostage by partisanship in the Legislature, and we won’t know until sometime in June what the impact to our school system will be.

Second reading of the City’s budget is Monday night. We are in a better position than we were one year ago, with Council having recognized the need and taken preliminary steps to partially address the situation, but I hope that they have the will to continue through second reading. Even so, the schools budget will still be short $140,000, and additional cuts will have to be made. While Council agreed to a ten-cent tax increase, only five of that was allocated to the schools (we needed seven).

IF additional state funding comes through sometime in June, the budget will be amended. It’s going to be an interesting few weeks.




On Call

I received word this morning that the House and Senate Education Committees have finished their work, with the exception of items relating to the BEP  proposals (BEP 2.0 and others) along with the associated funding.

Thus, we’ve been asked to be "on standby" to go to Nashville next Tuesday and Wednesday for the final committee meetings, since we won’t have much time to react to what is presented.

Delta will be at Tremont, so hopefully He Who Tames Flying Monkeys can manage the rest of the crew.  Alpha doesn’t need management, just gas money until she starts her summer job.  Beta and Gamma are another issue.

Which brings us back to the conflicting priorities: to do the job of a school board member, or to work to ensure I keep that job?  For me, the choice is clear:  I will do what I was elected to do, and trust that that is sufficient.

Of Politicking {grimace}

Although this is not my campaign website and I’ve tried to avoid making it seem like such, I did open that can of worms myself with Monday night’s post. For that, I apologize. This weblog is typically reserved for education issues, state and local government matters, with some personal and parenting trivia or commentary with extraneous things thrown in.

The challenger candidate in the school board race is out there working hard, going door in a long-sleeve dress shirt and tie, even on hot sunny days. He’s obviously working his base, and this morning, we were both greeting people coming in for the first day of early voting. In his campaign style, he shows promise. (Does that count as a sufficient "attaboy?")

Yes, I believe that voter contact is absolutely necessary — not only during the campaign, but also once elected for the duration of the term. I’ve been participating in some door to door and similar efforts, though I’m certainly not about to detail my campaign strategy in a public place. I will tell you this: I hate yard signs (although yes, there are several in my yard), and I believe that local elections have gotten far too expensive. Thus, I don’t have — and won’t have — as many yard signs out as some, and I won’t raise or spend anything in the range of what many municipal elections have cost in recent years.

I’m running on my record: I have worked toward and completed many of the issues I set forth when I first ran five years ago, and when I was elected four years ago.

When I noted that the young man did not attend Monday night’s work session, it was, in my opinion, a legitimate critique. The budget is one of the most important functions of the school board, and this year, it is particularly complex due to pending changes from Nashville — changes that we are cautiously optimistic will be positive, but we won’t know until early June at the earliest. That complicates matters.  We were told was to not plan any June vacations this year; it is almost certain that our budget will have to be amended.

On another venue, LeeRoy Gilliam asked if Oak Ridge could ever support a younger candidate, and the answer is yes. Mayor David Bradshaw was only about 25, I think, when he was first elected. But he had completed his education, was employed as a full time professional, was married and owned a home. Those elements were evidence of stability and responsibility for a man of his age. Even so, I recall that his first couple of years on City Council were a little rough.

* * *
There is no question that there are people who would love to see me defeated, not for my actions (or lack thereof) as a member of the school board, but purely personal. That’s a risk I’ve taken in remaining true to who I am instead of pretending to be someone I’m not; in some cases, it was a risk I took because I thought it was the right thing to do.

In doing so, I knew there would be a few people who looked for anyone to support in my stead at the next opportunity. That is underway, and I’m aware of it. The flip side is, there are people who thanked me for doing the right thing at some of those decision points, and they support me in this race because they believe that I will do the right thing, even if it is difficult, risky, or unpopular in some quarters.

That’s why I do what I do.
* * *
Early voting started at 11 a.m. today, and continues until 6 p.m. at the mall — the entrance nearest the flagpole. And yes, I would very much appreciate your vote.


The School Board held a work session tonight on the FY08 Budget, and the potential impacts of proposed changes in State and local funding.

The Governor has put forth BEP 2.0, but the cigarette tax has not yet passed, and there are several possible plans for phasing in the formula change (all of which are positive for Oak Ridge).  It was an exceedingly productive hour — just an hour — for which two of the three candidates for school board were present.

The challenger, I suppose, already knows everything he needs to know about the budget and the impact of changes.  Funny, since even those of us who live and breathe it learned a few things.  As I drove to RealtorChick’s for a quick visit afterward, I realized why the young candidate wasn’t at the meeting; it seems he was taking his evening constitutional along Briarcliff Avenue.

I waved.  He waved.

I thought about the meetings I attended when I was running for this office, and how lost and uninformed I would have been without having done so.

Education, Money & the Legislature

This year’s legislative session in Nashville has brought a flurry of activity on education issues, with the biggest splash being the Governor’s proposed revisions to the state’s funding formula. 

Last week, the State Funding Board confirmed a significant surplus in state revenues, which brought about the usual flurry of activity about how to spend it.  Seems to me that the best policy would be to first fund those priorities that we’ve put off in recent years because there wasn’t enough money (i.e., improvements to school funding, health initiatives, etc.) and scuttle the inevitable pork projects and last minute ideas.

However, the newfound surplus does make it more challenging to pass the proposed 40-cent increase in the cigarette tax — a revenue source that might not be critical this year to fund BEP 2.0, but will most likely be needed in the future to continue implementation of the Governor’s improvements over the next few years.   Although I feel a tinge of guilt for advocating that they go ahead and pass this tax, knowing that no longer affects me personally (three months and a day without a cigarette — WOOT!), recognizing that we’d still be at about 60% of the national average in tobacco taxation seems fair enough.

*  *  *  Legislative Shenanigans
Other issues abound in Nashville, though.  Last week, Rep. Frank Nicely pulled a sneaky one, trying to add an amendment allowing elected superintendents an obscure bill having nothing to do with such; fortunately, the amendment failed on the House floor, but other bills remain that would achieve the same.

From the Tennessee School Boards Association’s TLN Notes:

Niceley is a vocal supporter of elected superintendents and made the same attempt last year. During his comments in support of the amendment, Niceley, who didn’t begin his House service until recently, stated that the appointed director of schools provision was "snuck in" back in 1992 and that legislators did not know what they were voting for. Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington), who most certainly was around in 1992 and greatly involved in the discussions, quickly set Niceley straight, informing him that legislators were very aware of what they were doing. No question Niceley was mistaken, as more provisions than any other in the Education Improvement Act dealt with the appointed director of schools.

The case for keeping appointed Directors of Schools is summarized nicely here.

*   *   *  Locally…
Tonight, the Oak Ridge Board of Education will hold a work session on the subject of the BEP 2.0, and how the various implementations of the proposed changes might affect us.   The most difficult part of the school system budget is that we must enact it before any of our funding sources (the City, the County, the State, and Congress) pass their budgets, so the best we can do in formulating the revenue side is projections and educated guesses.

However, we’ve received assurance that there will be increased funding from the State in some fashion, and provided that the City approves it’s budget on second reading in the form that passed on May 7, we’ll be okay.  I think.  I’ll know more tomorrow.

Posting Bail

Dog disappeared sometime yesterday; evidently, the batteries in his collar had weakened enough for him to take off.  He hadn’t gone to his usual haunt, a home a couple of miles away with four dogs and a really nice pond, because they always call and let me know.  Since I hadn’t heard, I knew he wasn’t there.  He was missing all night, which is actually a rare occurrence.

This morning after an early meeting on the East end of town, I stopped by the Animal Shelter ("dog pound") to inquire as to whether they’d seen him.  Unfortunately,  they keep worse than bankers’ hours — 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. — and I was unavoidably scheduled to be elsewhere in the afternoon.

Employing the only alternative I could see, I stood near a large vent in the kennel area and called for Dog.  Immediately, I heard him respond — I could easily tell where he was within the building (other end, right side) over and above the usual kennel uproar.  Such is the bond between Dog and his mistress; he will always answer to me.  I will always discern his voice above others.

Just to hear him bark again, I called a second time.  Dog responded enthusiastically — so much so, that an animal control employee came to the door, unlocked it, and asked if I needed help.  (Dog is loud.  This was working brilliantly.)

I still cannot believe my good fortune, that the shelter employee was kind enough to let me post bail and bring Bad Boy home — top down, ears flapping in the breeze — without waiting until the posted opening hour.  According to reliable sources, he was picked up about six miles from our house, hanging around a place with a female in heat.   There’s a screen door somewhere in town that I need to replace, but it’s not at the address given to me by the animal shelter (I checked already), so I have no choice but to wait until they contact me.

Gamma and I just polished off a couple of T-bone steaks on the deck, sharing the bones with Dog (who consumes them in entirety).   It’s good to have him back home, and new batteries will be installed this evening, so that he may roam the yard unfettered tonight.

Alpha has been retrieved, Dog is back.  All is almost right with the world.

I Hate May.

Don’t get me wrong… the weather is lovely.  I like having really low utility bills; I enjoy the low incidence of mosquitoes.

It’s the breakneck schedule, the cramming of a year’s worth of activities into one month that I despise. 

I’m sure it’s better for folks without a flock of children at home, but for parents, it’s madness.  Every major project, final exam, and most field trips are scheduled in the month of May, meaning that my calendar is illegible at this point and after a long day of productive adult things, I have to oversee the completion of a 9-weeks social studies project (which, of course, requires cooking a medieval dish), followed by the teen living project (requiring that I print a bunch of family pictures, followed by cooking Delta’s favorite food — chicken and dumplings — for the whole class).

Why do all the end of the year projects involve cooking and hauling it to school?

Beta’s vehicle allegedly needs $1,300+ in repairs, but they’re all things that He Who Tames Flying Monkeys can do for far less (a new head gasket, new plugs and wires, and flush the radiator)… so his weekend’s booked.  I don’t claim to be able to replace a head gasket without supervision, but I expect to have to help.

Alpha’s coming home tomorrow, so Netmom’s Moving Service is called back into action.   Remember how much stuff she took to UT back in August?  Well, now she’s had nine months to accumulate all the trappings of college, and it all has to come home.

There are a few little budget meetings I have to show up for, and a little campaigning here and there if I want to keep doing the work I love.

And, my best client is opening a new office on June 1.  She hasn’t been at all demanding, but I still wake up feeling guilty, thinking up ad strategies, and all that stuff. 

June is going to be sweet.

Thank You

Members of Oak Ridge City Council:

Thank you.  I know that none of you ran on a platform of increasing taxes, but I’m glad that you recognize the harm that is being done by underfunding both city services and our schools.  Every year that some repairs or investments are delayed, the greater the cost.  In the case of our students, when educational services are delayed, the impact may be permanent.

While our request was not granted in full, I do appreciate the good-faith effort to fund our priorities.

I hope that you will not lose the desire to do so two weeks from today.  We must move forward, and it will take a team effort.

— Netmom

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