Saturday, June 21, 2008

Wacky Wednesday's: Pure Rompin Stompin Fun!

When CJ Summers can take a week off, and still post more than I do, I know its time to update my blog.

Well as you know, the D150 School Board voted last Monday night to adopt Superintendent Hinton's new revised, bigger and better super duper plus plan. This new revised super duper plan was completely Mr. Hinton's idea because at some point after the vote of May 5th he experienced a light bulb moment and realized he should be sensitive to the needs of parents needing babysitters. THIS HAS NUTHIN TO DO WITH EDUCASHION.

The new plan shortens only Wednesdays, by 90 minutes. If this plan stands (and I have serious doubts it can), children will be dismissed every Wednesday at 1:45.

So if you count on your fingers starting at 9:45, 10:45, 11:45 - you will count a total of FIVE total hours in school for primary school children on Wednesdays.

Now, readers, if you did your homework, read, studied and assimilated the ideas in my blog, you would know that the minimal requirement for clock hours of INSTRUCTIONAL time (excluding lunches, recess, passing times) in Illinois for any class day, with few exceptions, is FIVE HOURS.

So, how, you may ask, will Hinton et al. get away with what he have affectionately come to know as Wacky Wednesdays?

Dang good question. In the spirit of cooperation and olive branch extending, I have brainstormed some ideas to help the Admin better understand how we can fit 5 hours of instructional time into a 5 hour class day.

First up, when the little annoyances arrive, we can put them all immediately in pull-ups. This will eliminate the need for potty breaks. Pull-ups are now available all the way until Size 8, and if the kid is bigger than a size 8... it won't be long, since they will go every Wednesday with NO LUNCH, before they will be down to a size 8 or below.

Lunch? Who needs lunch? Kids are starving all over the world. Going without lunch on Wednesdays can be part of their social studies lessons.. since we have now been told by Admin that it is best to INTEGRATE themes throughout the day.

On these special Wednesday's, there can be no passing time between classes. So, I recommend we retain the services of some clowns. As the special teachers transition between rooms, the restless kids can be distracted. Mind you, the clowns will have to be part of the academic day as we don't have a single minute to spare, so we could paint numbers on the balls and as they are juggled the kids could solve math problems. Ex. If there are 4 balls in the air and the clown drops 2 how many balls remain in the air??

Parents of children with medical needs may express concern about the lack of flexibility during the class day but we have addressed those issues as well. All parents are encouraged to adjust their children's meds according to the rigors of an intense 5 hour study day with no breaks, recess or lunch. Parents of asthmatic, diabetic, and ADD children can send extra meds in a special little fanny pack. No trips to the nurse will be permitted during the day so all children will be trained to self-medicate.

The opportunities are endless and in fact, throwing Kids out on the street one afternoon a week is such a great idea that soon I will be brainstorming ideas for the middle and high schools as well. I've already started.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Political football

Great editorial in the PJStar today about the *new* proposal from Ken Hinton regarding how much time the district should take from the school day to create common planning time for teachers. It should come as no surprise that my answer would be -0- minutes. And its not that I don't agree that common planning time could be a good thing. It might be the greatest thing since protein shakes, it just has not been demonstrated that the results of its implementation are so profound we should shorten the school day for it.

Although I appreciate the District's efforts to listen to and address our concerns, I still remain befuddled as to why any time at all should be taken from our school schedule, especially when many children within the district are already failing academically. The best analogy I have heard so far is that if someone takes $100 out of your wallet, and offers to give you back $60, you are still out 40 bucks!

The wisest most prudent way to proceed is to do what many in the district have been proposing from Day one: table the implementation of this plan for one year, renegotiate the teachers contract with the common planning goals in mind, work out all the bugaboo's, then instate it with a bang the next school year.

The new plan, although a large improvement over the initial one, is really not even a plan. It is more of a position statement, summed up in a whole half page on the district website. There continue to be many details that have not been addressed, including whether or not the revised plan would need further bargaining with the teachers union, whether the new day would meet state requirements, the status of the specialist teachers and that pesky question regarding the 5th grade classes that are included in some of the primary schools. In fact, the details of the new plan are so unclear, that even the status of the middle school schedule is unknown. It is like a gigantic grab-bag of surprises a mere 8 weeks out from the beginning of the new school year.

Mr. Hinton has held up the Park Ridge/Niles school district in the Chicago Suburbs as a model of his aspirations. We have spoken with one of their administrative staff -Mr. Roger Stein. Mr. Stein told us that it took them well over a year to implement this model. Many details needed to be worked out - transportation, working with the Teachers' Union, using teachers' meetings to prepare teachers as to the DuFour model, and district administrators collaborating with building administrators. He emphatically stressed that without at least one year's planning prior to implementation this model would surely fail. He was extremely adamant about that point.

I have also spoken with Scott Schieffling the head of the teachers union. He sounds like a reasonable guy. I believe that with open honest and respectful dialogue between the district, the community and the teachers union, we can make make this happen with a logical and measured progression of events and achieve all of our mutual goals. I just don't see it happenin in 8 weeks.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Peoria Historical Society Exhibit - "Lincoln: His Life, His Letters, His Legacy"

Question: How can you get a cheap laugh on a Saturday afternoon? Answer: Visit the Peoria Historical Society Lincoln exhibit at the Pettengill Morron House while I am volunteering and ask me a LOT of questions about the Civil War. Ha ha.

I just finished volunteer training with Peoria Historical Society Executive Director Amy Kelly (who signed our D150 petition by the way) in preparation for a stint of volunteer duty at the Lincoln Exhibit. It is very cool, and that is about all I have to say. You'll just have to see for yourself. The house museum is amazing, and so is the Lincoln exhibit. Thanks to Ms. Kelly who let me take these pics. A picture is worth a thousand words.

The exhibit runs through July. Click here for tour times and cost. Pry the kids away from the Gameboys for a few hours and bring them along for a little intellectual edification. You'll be glad you did!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

District 150: Scorched Earth?

Last Monday I participated in the planned protest outside the District 150 Admin office prior to the Board of Education meeting. Our goal: a full rescission of the May 5 vote that shortened our primary school day by 45 minutes as well as reduced the specialist instruction of science, music, art and PE for most Peoria children.

The evening was electric as nearly 100 parents, teachers and children donned signs, matching tee-shirts and not so subtle messages to the District. Protesters lined both sides of Wisconsin Avenue and cheered with delight as passing cars lay ed on their horns in support of the crowd. Thank you to HOI News and Peoria Illinoisan for this video clip.

After the protest, the festivities moved indoors to the Board of Education meeting, where Mr. Ken Hinton and Mary Spangler continued to speak in Slavakian. On one hand they claim they are listening and our agenda is being "further reviewed". On the other hand they continue the filibuster by insisting over and over that Peoria will pump out multiple Einsteins if only the parents would back off. What particularly cracks me up is that the decision to rescind is taking weeks if not months of in depth analysis while it took them less than a week to vote it in in the first place. Not sure to whom we should attribute this sudden embracing of "due diligence".

There were several notable moments throughout the evening, including when Mr. Hinton informed the crowd that he would not be threatened or intimidated - the implication being that, as opposed to taking a stand and exercising our constitutional right to protest a decision that would clearly deliver harmful consequences to the children of Peoria, we are threatening and intimidating him. Mr. Hinton, once again, this is not about you! Another notable moment was when the husband of a board member took to the podium and reminded several of the board members of their vow to stand on their own two feet and make decisions independent of one another. A gutsy move and very much appreciated by the audience - I just hope he isn't still sleeping on the couch. Many others addressed the Board delivering the most compelling arguments to date, including the President of the NAACP, Mr. Don Jackson, and Linda Millen, an early childhood educator and administrator.

All in all, I felt very good about the powerful statement delivered by the community to the board of education, but still worry that no matter how persuasive our message or delivery, the district will adopt a "scorched Earth" policy as they continue down their self-righteous path- much like the knight in this Monty Python movie...

The point is, we can dish it out till the cows come home but at some point someone has got to step forward and say enough already. We are hoping that voice of reason comes from the Regional Superintendents Office. It is no secret that District 150, if the vote stands, will be barely scraping the bottom of the minimal number of instructional hours as required by the state. Consider the following elements of the code:
Illinois School Code: 105 ILCS 18-8.05(F)(1)

Illinois Administrative Code: 23 Ill.Admin.Code 1.420(f)(4)(b)

The board of education operates its schools so that each child receives a minimum of five (5) clock hours of school work per day under direct supervision of certified teachers. (This excludes recess, lunch periods, and passing time.)

It further states:
During the academic year, each school conducts a minimum of 3 school evacuation drills to address and prepare students and school personnel for fire incidents. One of the 3 school evacuation drills must require the participation of the appropriate local fire department/district.

During the academic year, each school conducts a minimum of one bus evacuation drill. This drill must be accounted for in the curriculum in all public schools and shall include instruction in safe bus riding practices for all students.

During the academic year, each school conducts a minimum of one severe weather and shelter-in-place drill to address and prepare students and school personnel for possible tornado incidents. They may also conduct additional drills to account for other incidents, including without limitation, earthquakes or hazardous materials.

Do the math. If the school day is 5:45 minutes, and you take 30 minutes out for lunch - a 5:15 minute school day remains. That leaves 15 minutes extra for all passing time between classes, recess (something that will undoubtedly become a thing of the past), and the mandated drills. It would be physically impossible to meet the state requirements for instructional time on any day a drill or something out of the ordinary takes place. All I would need is a stop watch, a video camera, and a "heads up" from a school insider and my feet would be wearing out the welcome mat at Brookhart's office. I told him so myself and by the way, please don't misread that as a threat. It's a fact.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My dog eats roly-poly's

It has been confirmed - although I have always suspected it from the little crustacea carcases that are perpetually present on her snout. Last night I had the displeasure of actually hearing the crunch. So much for the premium organic dog food. This discovery just saved me a small fortune.

Bad Kharma?

So if one wants to bring a few beers along on a picnic and the only thing you can find to tote them around in is your childs lunch box, is that bad Kharma? Hope not.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Peoria Speaks!

Here are pics from the protest tonight. There were so many amazing moments. Today's events remind me of why I am proud to be a Peorian. I'll post more comments later but suffice it to say it was a great day! Dang, I'm tired - and sunburned!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Stop the Gravy Train - Its time to get off!

Last week members of our District 150 Watch Coalition intensified their efforts to influence the Board of Education to rescind their misguided vote of May 5 - a vote that reduced the primary school day and Specialty teachers for most Peoria Schools.

It appears that despite our efforts, the Board intends to dig in its heels, as an action item for a re-vote is not on the meeting agenda for June 2.

Their lack of action perfectly demonstrates how removed this district is from the community. Despite relentless pressure, they clearly feel that their collective wisdom is infallible.

As I delve in to the inner-workings of the District, a picture emerges that is not pleasant. It appears that the District's power and influence has been largely cultivated by themselves, as they hire, retire and re-hire staff that will be loyal to them and any of the principles they want to advance. Below is an excerpt from a letter our district watch group received from a principal currently in the District
"I'll be joining the ranks of the working retired a year from now. Then, maybe, I'll return as a consultant to straighten everyone out!!"
It seems that the policies and hiring practices are designed more for the preservation of the entity of the Administration than towards the delivery of a sound educational model for the children of Peoria.

The current Administration is already top heavy, but word on the street is that it will only get heavier, as the District seeks to keep in place only those that will remain loyal to their commitment of perpetuating their limitless existence. The following quote is from a post from . The particular thread that I link to perfectly illustrates the level of mistrust and lack of confidence the public has in the District.

District 150 has hired the principal from Lindbergh for another admin job at Central office to take over middle schools and high schools from Sanfilip. Sanfilip will only have grade schools now. They are also bringing back Simpson and Fisher and of course, hiring a new principal for Lindbergh. Since they want Simpson to stay so badly, why can’t he be in charge of the grade schools since it was his idea to shorten their day, and then Sanfilip could do middle and high schools. You thought they were ADMIN heavy before, well folks, it just got worse. This must be going to come up at the next board meeting.

The District insists that the changes they wish to instate through the reduction of the school day and the cut of specialty teachers has its supporters. However, they rely exclusively on the opinions of their own minions. Additionally, if you look at the "research" they cite, upon closer examination, it just doesn't add up. We have not heard from a single community leader or educator outside the administration that supports this proposal. As one leader of the business community put it:
It just doesn't "feel" good, it doesn't "look" good, and had it had any educational merit, they would not have felt the need to rush it through. Even if their proposal did have some educational merit, at this point it is doomed
I will not identify the individuals who are vehemently opposed to this idea, but suffice it to say they are plentiful, and they have the right to speak for themselves. I believe that if the Board continues down this belligerent path, we will hear from them soon enough. In the meantime, out of professional courtesy, they are trying to give the board the opportunity to right the wrong they inflicted on the children of Peoria in their own due time.

On the other hand, I am not without my critics. One or more individuals who pose as "anonymous" or some loosely made up user name have accused me of wanting longer free babysitting for my children. I will let the anonymous nature of their comments speak for themselves, and the fact that as Anons, readers with any common sense know that one person can create multiple user ID's and appear to be a symphony of opposition as opposed to one person that is likely intimately linked to the harm that was inflicted upon our children with the vote of May 5. There is also the voice of a well-known and well documented chronic Internet bully, one whom the least of her worries is the children she serves, but that will be saved for another day.

My father is a great man. He is a product of the depression but unlike many of our present generation, based his life on a sound work ethic, a clearly defined sense of right and wrong and personal responsibility. He is a fearless man. I'll never forget the day he physically wrestled to the ground and pinned a vicious German Shepherd who had just mauled my face. My Dad never overlooked corruption or greed but would loudly expose it and stand firmly against it. As I relayed to him the details of our current struggle with the school board I saw once again a glimpse of his glory days. "Don't you let them get away with that, Diane. Stand firm". For all of his exterior toughness, he had a very soft side. Through the years I watched and assisted them with the care and placement of over 30 foster children from the inner cities of Chicago. Most of the children came with medical issues attached, as my parents both have medical background. Many were drug-addicted at birth, some had been abused and neglected. Most all were African-American. One in particular had been a 32 week old preemie. He was returned to the hospital for a domestically inflicted injury shortly after his release from the NICU. He was released again into the care of my parents who fought against the system and were successful in having the abusive parents parental rights terminated. That little boy is now my 17 year old brother who has just learned to drive. YIKES!

It is these experiences as well as the adoption of our daughter that, like many, cause me to feel a responsibility to protect the interests of all children. If this was only a fight for MY children, I would pull my boundary waiver from the district and simply place my children back in the Northmoor Edison school of which we are part of. Their school day is over 7 hours. That would be a LOT of free babysitting.

Just when I feel like I could be losing some steam, I get a phone call, or an e-mail, or the cashier at Krogers will recognize me in the grocery store. Thank you, thank you for the stand you are taking for our Kids. Another time I was securing the signature of my boss, John Ginder, the owner of RE/MAX Unlimited- one of the most successful Real Estate offices in the nation. As I broke in to my spiel he interrupted me and proclaimed - "Diane, you don't need to explain. Why wouldn't a school board know that you don't balance a budget by taking away from the Kids?" I always have and will continue to admire this amazing man.

If THAT isn't enough, I turn to the blogs, and read something like this. It seems that the amount of money that the District hopes to save by cutting back on the school day is exactly equal to the money they must pay back as a result of the frivolous use of funds earmarked for helping our most at-risk and disadvantaged children. Seriously, where does it end?

I look forward to seeing all of you at the protest tomorrow at the District 150 Admin office, 3622 N. Wisconsin Avenue, Monday, June 2, at 5:00 p.m..