Thursday, October 7, 2010

Community Engagement Meeting

Hello friends, and here’s my breakdown of the District’s Community Engagement Meeting Tuesday night at Wasson; the first in a series, and the only one within walking distance…so likely the only one for me.  Straight transcription, with minimal editorial comments, which are in lilac.  Sorry in advance for any typos, and glean whatever you will from it.


I counted about fifty or so people there. People wishing to remain anonymous were invited to write down their questions on notepads that were provided; there was also a microphone for those who wished to stand up and ask their questions. It was thoughtful of the District to have an ASL and Spanish interpreter available.

The whole Board was there, even Al Loma – it’s apparent he’s still recovering, and good to see him up and about. Superintendent Gledich was there; each meeting will also have a Deputy Superintendent on hand.  On deck was Mary Thurman, in a tailored suit so classic and sharp, I wanted to steal it and donate it to the Tanner “Help Me Dress Myself” Foundation. Also, she of southern grace and good manners, Elaine Naleski.


Tom Strand started off the show by reading the District’s Seven Goals, which are:

1. To demonstrate improvement of student achievement
2. To demonstrate a high performing team
3. To embrace a culture of constant innovation
4. To promote community engagement
5. To provide a safe working environment
6. To demonstrate operational efficiencies
7. To demonstrate financial prudence and fiscal responsibility

President Strand handed off to Gledich, who is currently working with staff to develop an end-of-year report on each of the seven goals and their measures. Interested parties are invited to visit the District’s website and click on the business plan – from there, one can see and track the progress on each of the goals.


The first question of the evening came from TJ Henry, who asked "Why is the state of Colorado is ranked near the bottom among the 50 states for per pupil spending?"
The answers came from several of the Board members. The District receives a percentage of monies from state taxes, property taxes and sales taxes – I guess; but Eagle Eye, my neighbor back in the old ‘hood, showed me her property tax statement, and the percentage the District receives is 75%, and according to Bob Null, they also receive 70% of all vehicle it's not like it's a small percentage. Apparently, 90% of all new money to the District goes to teacher and employee compensation.

Bob Null explained that with the $260 million shortfall, the District has taken a severe hit. The rumor is that the State may take back $164 million from schools. Right now there’s a $4 million in an escrow account, and in January, the State might take that money back. The governor has the challenge to finance so many things related to the public’s health, safety and welfare…so the answer is not less money. At times, it's as though the District has resorted to begging for money.

Marilyn Burshin, a teacher at Wasson, questioned the health initiative, which calls for the participation of students, parents, and staff; many of the staff would like to use the facilities, but have been told that they can’t – particularly the pool.
Gledich said that a message was sent out a couple of weeks ago, forbidding staff to use school fitness facilities after hours. The District is revisiting the decision, which was made in response to workman’s compensation and insurance liability issues.  The District is looking into a possible hold-harmless clause that would waive the District’s liability in case of after-hours injury. There are also questions about the additional costs associated with keeping buildings open longer and having security on hand.

What I’d like to know is what gives in this town when it comes to swimming? I find it amazing that so many swim facilities exist, and so few are available for people to use.  As far as I'm concerned, pool use should be a staff perk.


TJ Henry stood again and asked, "What’s been done with the schools that were closed as a result of reutilization?"
Sandra Mann answered that this is the second year after kids were impacted by the school closures, and the reutilization plan has proven very successful. The District was able to consolidate staff. Charter schools have moved into some of the buildings. One building was sold, and others are up for sale. She also mentioned that the District “came up with a really great plan for Irving” and create a vocational school there [pssst... an idea the District stole from the Irving Village Community group during the RFP process and then presented as its own].

LuAnn Long mentioned that Ivywild had been turned into a retail/community center – a good thing to come from a bad situation; she also mentioned the Youth Symphony at Jefferson. Jan said the District saved costs as a result of the overhead that was eliminated, and moved in non-profits that continue to serve the community. Tom mentioned the survival of Buena Vista, the only free Montessori school in the city…and Charlie Bobbitt extolled the rebirth of Wasson, and the benefits it’s presented to the residents in the Wasson area.

Bob Null said he was proud that they closed the schools, that they did it to save money, and that the evidence shows money was saved. He also denied the story that ran in the Gazette regarding the $3 million the District found and promised to teachers in a Memorandum of Understanding.


A woman named Theresa asked how kids were impacted, now that they travel further to schools and are separated from friends; what, if anything, is the District doing to track such issues?

Tom Strand answered first. Tom lives on the west side, which took the biggest hit from the decision to close schools. The first year was a little shaky, but those students and families are very pleased with how things have turned out; it’s taken more than a year, he thinks they’ll do better year after year.

Bob Null said it’s a shame that the real only measuring tool the District has are CSAPs, but then said there was also MAP testing, annual growth, accreditation; he also mentioned attendance, discipline…and then paused. “Some of the kids left their best buddies,” he said, “but kids adjust pretty quick; it’s we adults that have a hard time adjusting. I believe first returns are that they’re doing o.k.”

Charlie said, “There’s no empirical data that shows any change either way. Mitchell had a big jump in student count, there have been positive changes at Emerson and Swigert. The East/Galileo changes have been phenomenal. It takes time. A few years ago, Palmer High School was not a school anyone wanted to go to; now, it’s nationally recognized.”

Gledich said, “We did not lose any students last year – our student count went up; this year, we expect the numbers will be even higher. So much is subjective, though we did have conversations with a number of staff.” He’s been watching Hunt primarily: “It took a while before Hunt would ‘jump’, and it took staff involvement.”

Sorry, but who wouldn't  want to attend Palmer??  But seriously, I want to know, couldn't such questions have been made a part of the RtI "school climate" measures?   Doesn't really matter anyway; regardless of what the data showed, it wouldn't change anything because it's a done deal, and they really don't care.


Cindy Weinbrenner, parent, stood and complimented Rick Hughes of School Nutrition: “Are we doing any tracking of changes in behavior in relation to the improvements in the school lunch program?”

Tom mentioned changes regarding soft drinks and vegetables, and innovative ideas Mr. Hughes continues to introduce and explore. “They do things that are seasonal, and try things that kids might not have ever even tasted before from other cultures.”

Sandra Mann commented that the District used to contract food service out, but decided a few years ago to bring it in house; she thinks it’s been a really good thing for them, and is hoping to form partnerships with farmers markets, community gardens, and possibly even students working gardens and providing food.

Jan said, “When you are well nourished, you learn better; more students are eating their food.” She’s optimistic that there will be a greater number of healthy students and staff as a result of the food service changes.

LuAnn ate lunch with the kids during a recent elementary school visit, and noted that the kids there loved the “yummy food.”

Bob Null said, “At Palmer, the kids are starting to eat at the school, instead of going off campus; also, at Wasson, there is a culinary curriculum, and the kids are learning. They have students who did the menu, the cooking, the serving...I’m looking forward to the good changes that will be taking place as a result.”

Charlie said that the Pro-Start culinary curriculum is available at all high schools, and that lots of good things are happening.

For me, if all of the changes in Food Service are because of Mr. Hughes, all I can say is, "Good job."  One of my two elementary school kids has a sensitive stomach, and is a very picky eater; both kids look forward to eating lunch and eat it readily, and have also described it as "yummy."  But it all made me think of that Board meeting back in August, when discussion about whether any food would be provided at the community engagement meetings.  Jan and Gledich looked at each other uneasily; Jan said there might be some food, but she didn't feel the District should be expected to provide attendees with a meal.  In the end, she and Gledich agreed that "healthy nibbles would be provided."  Just for your information, on-hand were not-so-fresh chocolate chip cookies and bottled water.


Don Richie, Chairman of the Black Business Round Table asked about the relationship between Galileo and the Music Conservatory, asking why the latter has not provided instruction to the former, as had been agreed upon and promised.

Gledich said, “When the conservatory fist moved in there, when we started Galileo, we had a relationship with the Music Conservatory, and they remained in the basement of the building. They’ve not provided y instruction to the Galileo students, because doing so was contingent on whether funding would be available; they’ve not received some of the grant funding they thought. We are currently having conversations with the conservatory and looking at space and time considerations.”


There was a lull in questions being asked; Strand took the opportunity to invite attendees to opine about the ballot issues 60, 61, and 101:  “If you have comments or thoughts about this, please speak now.”

Don Richie said that the Black Business Round Table is against all three, and that people need to really read what the impact would be on education.


Theresa – “Let’s pretend that 60, 61, and 101 are passed – what will happen?”

Strand said that Mr. Gustafson indicated staff reductions, school closures, teacher compensation, and other issues that will really drive down student achievement.

Bob Null said voices in the community had been raised for a return to year-round school as a way to save money; but in actuality, it would take up 98% of _________ (something).  “There are some people who want to use our Constitution to destroy our government schools, charter schools, private schools – all of them will suffer, because they get their money through us. Senator Keith King does not support any of these initiatives.” He raised the spectres of teacher furloughs, and 50-student classrooms.

Nate, a Doherty teacher, said, “The district has experienced cuts over the years, and managed to stay afloat; if these initiatives go through, it will no longer be possible to coast through the changes. There will be a complete lack of resources, we will have to cut programs and raise class sizes; I’m all for fiscal responsibility, but this would be hard on the city.”

Null said, “We can no longer borrow money if these initiatives pass; the impact is that we can’t pay our staff. The key thing to know is that the loans the District takes out are interest free. If these initiatives pass, there can be no debt unless we go to the voters and vote on it, which will contribute new costs.”

I know that these initiatives will be hard on the city, primarily because if they pass, those who are least able to do so will burden the brunt of them. Look what happened with school closures, pool closures, bus routes, street lights, unwatered parks, unmaintained medians, July 4th fireworks; this is the truth, folks -- it's hella dark in some places, including around Wasson High School itself; my friends and I were uncertain and stumbled in the darkness as we made our way out to the car...which unbeknownst to me, was parked at the west-side entrance right in front of Jan Tanner's electric spaceship -- so she can attest to it.  But the affluence of  residents in certain other parts of town apparently merits far superior street illumination, pools and schools that stayed open, parks that stayed green, and medians with lots of pretty flowers. 

If I thought their impacts would be dealt and felt equitably among all of us, I'd vote for them in an instant. 


The Wasson alum who heads the District’s media department mentioned ways that alumni associations can help out their schools. The Wasson Alumni Association, for instance, is looking into solar projects for Wasson.

Tanner said that the solar company involved guarantees the cost savings, and that if the estimated savings aren’t realized, the solar company will pay the difference.

The facilities over the off of Geiger – ?

Question:  what happens if the solar energy savings aren't realized, and the solar company has gone out of business? 


Grant Monies

Sandra Mann mentioned TIFF funds – we get the money upfront; so when the money runs out, we have to sustain it...or at the end of that federal money, programs just disappear. Galileo is at that point now, since the federal grants they received were only guaranteed for five years.

Gledich mentioned the Teacher Advancement program. Last year the District started to explore ways to make this program effective. Chicago also got the grant, which places its major emphasis on professional development. TAST grant (multiple career pathways).  Ten schools in the District have this funding devoted to it. Tim Crossing and ____ of the CSEA helped apply for the grant.


A Coronado Student Council member asked: “Does the District financially support changes to facilities that would be used by various athletics groups for safety reasons; i.e., there are no lightning shelters or dugouts to keep softball and baseball players safe from the elements; what is the District’s involvement in all of that?”

Sandra Mann said these types of things are hard to address, and tenatively recommended fund raisers. Tom said the questions were: how much will it cost, and how dangerous is it for them not to have the dugouts. Tanner said the Board will be thinking about it. Luann advised the girl to give her name and phone number to Julie Stevens, so that someone could follow-up with her after the answer had been received.

Bob Null mentioned the more than 600 partnerships, SCIP funds, TOPS funds, all working together for our communities, and how a grant to receive monies to fund dugouts might be possible. Mary Lay loves the challenge of writing grants for the District. They’ve heard before that Wasson uniforms look crappy, but the dugout issue is a real safety concern. He recommended the pursuit of partnerships to find that kind of money; Bobbitt also pointed out a need to look at liability and insurance .

Mary Thurman oversees the grants program. There's also a roll-in grant, and each school will get some of that money.


Ann McKibben asked: “It’s sometimes a challenge for teachers to communicate with parents; how can we better use Zangle to communicate with parents?”

Tom said, “This is the kind of question we were hoping to get from the Community Engagement Meetings.”

Bob said he believes that, “Face-to-face is important. Imagine if students were able to get one adult that cared about them to take an interest in them and make them succeed.


David Vasquez – retired school counselor: “We still have two big problems within the District: the drop out rate and the achievement gap, both of which are big concerns for the minority community. It would be great to have a weekend school…what is the district going to do this year to help minorities in school address the achievement gap?”

Mann – what we’re seeing is an increase in student achievement…but the gap is not closing. RtI is the gold plated program the District has to address this situation; that’s where we take our lowest-performing students and devote money to them with the aim of closing the achievement gap and determining if we are supplying kids with the support they need.

Tanner – if there was a way to close the gap that was fail-safe, we would do it. No one on the Board is happy with the achievement numbers. She knows Gledich has it on his mind all of the time. It’s an issue that has to be tackled by everyone in the community.

Luann talked about vocational education, and giving students the things that they need.

Loma said that one of the reasons he that he ran for the Board is that there are a bunch of great people at the District who want nothing else but to help kids. But the problem is that there are a bunch of Caucasian people there who are used to teaching Caucasian kids. They are looking at taking Title 1 monies and programs to learn how and what kind of changes must occur for higher achievement. Loma described a mentality of "Look what I’m doing for this poor person, I’m giving them a turkey and in their minds eyes they feel like they are helping; but thet can get a free turkey anywhere; show them the money."

Bob Null began to weep as he related the time when he was made fun of by another student for being poor while in the sixth grade; the memory of it was one of the key reasons why closing the achievement gap is so important to him.

Theresa challenged teachers who were anxious about teaching kids of another color or culture to spend a week with them, immersed in their culture; they might be amazed at how much their outlooks would change at the end of that week.

Don Richie said, “Forget about closing the achievement gap – eradicate it. Don’t give the gap room to grow; start in kindergarten and elementary schools to make sure that kids are all making adequate progress.”

Gledich mentioned several programs aimed at educating all students and improving graduation rates. This year the graduation rate for black kids and free and reduced lunch kids dropped while the Hispanic rates improved. He said the state will soon issue new graduation requirements, the third such change in the past several years.

Nate mentioned the Ethnic Minority Advisory Council, who will be hosting a two-day seminar that will address the achievement gap issue.

Here's my take:  whatever Dave Vasquez was doing back in the 1983-1985 timeframe is what the District ought to return to now.  Mr. Vasquez was my high school counselor at Palmer, and he *rocked*   I'll say this for sure, I might be weak when it comes to math, but I ain't no dummy; and Mr. Vasquez always kept me on track.  I attribute so much of my success to the cool relationship we had together.  It was good to see him again after all of these years. 


Spydra asked: “I recently read in the Gazette about a discrimination lawsuit that was filed by a black educator against the District; the District did not prevail. I’ve heard similar grumbling from other black educators who feel they were overlooked during interview, hiring, retention, and promotion decisions. What steps will the District take to avoid future lawsuits?”

Gledich answered: Last year, Gledich worked with Mary Thurman to look at the procedures and practices that were in place. Some individuals were feeling that they could not get interviews. This past year, we reviewed our hiring decisions to better identify who’ll receive interviews, and re-reviewing the resumes of the people who have the qualifications. We are concerned about the complexion of our staff. We are recruiting more Hispanic and black applicants to provide them with job opportunities to work for the District, and have recently put in place Hispanic and black principals. In light of the recent events and to minimize such complaints, he will meet with hiring managers and supervisors to ensure that all staff is educated and up to date on hiring norms and practices, especially with regard to sexual harassment and Title 7.

1 comment:

  1. Spydra: So does the Conservatory actually teach students? I feel like there was a non-answer to Ritchie's question. Ditto with what is actually being DONE to close the achievement gap. Use Zangle to communicate with parents? Uh, if the parents don't have a home computer...? Teachers could easily ask parents "What is the best way to communicate with you?" I'd say, not by computer! Give me a call on my cell after 6:30PM and before 9PM. I hope you keep going to those community meetings. You could be the education journalist for the Gazette!