More Info (Questions I get asked)

As I receive questions through this site and via email I will also work to update this page in case there are others who have the same questions.

I’ll preface all of this by saying that the newly elected board members will take seats in January so we’ll see which of these decisions will have been made, but I will certainly share my input with those currently making decisions. I also believe in decision making by consensus when it comes to school boards, so I realize that there are other opinions that would influence what actually happens. The makeup of the board can have a drastic impact of whatever I might think should be done. I’m committed to making sure that it becomes a collaborative environment and not a contentious one.

Okay, so here are the questions and my thoughts…

Can you clarify your position on technology in the classroom?

My Master’s thesis was about the negative impact of media on at-risk youth, and my work in recovery schools informs my views on dealing with student addiction. I believe that screen addiction is a serious concern facing students, classroom behaviors and how teachers reach their students.

While I think that blended learning is an important aspect of education and its role in personalizing instruction, I also believe that if we have the chance to bring students together in one place at the same time then we should utilize that to the fullest extent possible. Blended learning allows for more targeted assessments, making data-informed decisions and can be great for organization and access to information. I believe in having access to digital curriculum because of the flexibility it provides, but again, I want classrooms to be an active space for discussion, group work and providing for student experiences that build community.

Where do you stand on class size?

This question came out of The League of Women Voters Candidate Forum. I wish I’d had more time to respond because it seems my answer was perhaps misinterpreted.

I said that having taught classes from 45 students that went fine to 7 students (which were some of my most challenging [this was a middle/high school setting for at-risk students]), I didn’t think the issue was with size as much as it is with student engagement.

That is not to say that I think we should overburden teachers with large numbers of students. I only want to express that class numbers aren’t the only, or even the most important issue in a classroom. Teacher experience, subject matter, time of day, makeup of personalities in the classroom all contribute; an none contribute to a challenging class more than the addiction to screens. Students who are addicted to social media and gaming begin to experience anxiety symptoms within twenty minutes of not having access. This is a real issue that teachers in the past did not have to face. Teachers need more support, professional development and strategies for how to deal with students who find their social networks more engaging than any one course they might be in. This frustration on both sides may contribute to the feeling that class sizes are too large. Stillwater class sizes are larger than the average, but it should not be the only factor considered when discussing student engagement and there are strategies that can be put in place to make that average of around 30 seem more manageable. Here’s the latest report on MN class sizes.

Potential Solutions:

  • Include more Educational Assistants
  • Set up classroom stations (blended learning options, student groups, individual, teacher-led discussions, Socratic Seminars, etc.)
  • More hands on and project based learning opportunities

As someone who has chaperoned a number of Kindergarten field trips (one just a couple days ago), I know how important it is to have an extra adult in the room.

Where do you stand on the idea of multiple pathways and not just having a college bound track/focus for students?

My educational philosophy has to do with giving students options and creating opportunity for them to make the choices that they see fit. Aside from the importance I place on Math and Literacy as the starting place for our learners, I have also had experience in helping students find pathways for College and Career Readiness. I was last year’s recipient of the NROC Ambassador of the Year Award. They focus on creating assessments and instructional pathways that can help prepare students for their goals in whatever pathway they choose.

I have also just completed the initial meetings with Career & Tech Ed. (CTE) specialists at the MN Dept. of Education to work with a group of teachers to create materials that will satisfy all of the Employability Frameworks. These materials will be created this year in a process that I will facilitate and be ready for sharing by next school year with a Creative Commons license making them an Open Educational Resource (OER).

Do you support an expansion of Brookview. If so how should it be paid for. How do you plan to address overcrowding in our elementary schools.

With the growth indicators in that part of the district I do think it makes sense to strategize how an expansion can be paid for. That same growth is not occurring in the northern portion of the district. According to the latest utilization of facilities data and expected trends, it looks like we are right on track with where we need to be with other facilities.

Do you believe an increase to the 2013 levy is necessary and if so would you support holding the election on a day not on the first Tuesday of November.

The community ultimately makes that determination, but in light of the division in the community, it’s unlikely to pass, so we have to prepare for that eventuality. I would like to see an increase in funding because I do not believe that our children should take up any of their instructional time discussing fundraising. Teachers should not have to pay for educational expenses out of pocket; the rate at which this district is subsidized by contributions is quite excessive at this point. The demand on families with children are not equitable. The volume of school supplies each family is asked to purchase is a burden when a school has the ability to leverage their purchasing power with vendors and order items tax free. They’d make better decisions about what is truly needed in the classrooms as well. Those are costs that should be distributed across all residents in the district equitably.

If you’re talking about a special election for a levy, I am not in favor of that. That’s not using taxpayer funds wisely.

Do you believe the district has delivered on the promises made in the bridge to excellence plan developed around the time of the 2013 levy. If not where has the district fallen short?

As someone whose children were impacted by two of the school closures I believe that there was an incredible disconnect between what the board thought they were doing and what many in the community thought they were voting for.

I do not believe that the district has delivered on the Bridge to Excellence plan. Here are a couple examples:

  • Personalization – We are not utilizing our existing systems to the extent possible. I am disappointed in the move away from the Moodle (Open Source) Learning Management System in favor of Schoology (a vendor system). There is less access to our data that is helpful regarding decisions about what progress students are making. I would like to see better analytics of student performance to assess what skills gaps exist and fill those in before students move on. I would rather see us host our own applications over vendor options when possible so that we can decide what data is important and how to act on that data. Since that ship has sailed, it is still within possibilities to utilize the current LMS more effectively to make sure that personalization is happening.
  • Safety – The goal was “Our schools will be safe and welcoming learning environments that support students’ learning, as well as their social, emotional and physical well-being.” They are not that. Girls and young women are called derogatory names at the middle and high school; children are mocked for their disabilities or race; homophobic and sexist remarks/insults are a daily occurance; there are children afraid to use the restroom at the high school because they fear being harassed, bullied, or physically assaulted; at the elementary level, children are harassed about their religious beliefs, or lack of. Bullying is still a major issue. I don’t feel like that is a “welcoming environment” that “supports student learning”.

Part of what prompted me to run is specific to issues students face that relate to these topics. I didn’t feel like I was being heard, and if I did hear back, I was not satisfied with non-response responses.

Do you support linking the levy to the rate of inflation for automatic increases?

That’s an interesting proposal. Again, I think it’s unrealistic that this community would vote for that. I would support that initiative. In some sense though, it’s good for schools to continue to approach the community with funding needs and providing the why for those requests. In this current climate, I can see how this could help reduce the need to go back and ask for more and then have to try and explain to the electorate what happened when they thought they already voted for a specific amount to address the need. Even with a new makeup of board members, I believe that there are feelings directed at the district regardless of board makeup. My focus has been and will continue to be on the students in all things.

From reviewing the multitude of Facebook posts after the last board meeting it is fairly clear the district is still divided. How do you propose to unify the district? Does the district need to be unified?

I think a few things are happening here. There is more of a media focus on what is going on in this district compared to others that perpetuates the anger and deepens the wounds, I think that’s unlikely to change and it’s in the interest of those reporting on the district to keep some degree of disagreement going.

What I propose is starting with some Restorative Conferencing with trained facilitators that will allow community members who feel like they’ve been wronged to approach with how they’ve been personally affected. As a practitioner in Restorative Practices, I have seen amazing transformations and know of instances when it has been used in entire communities. Part of those facilitated sessions allow for resolution of issues where the parties agree on what it will take to resolve the issue and then they are then asked to live up to their end of the bargain.

I do not think that all of those affected by the tensions will participate, but getting as many as we can together for a reconciliation process will be a start. It’s still a matter of various groups to start building trust again with the community and with each other.

I think we can also think of this In terms of the diffusion of an innovation process, we know that there will always be about 16% who will resist no matter what. The positive messages must currently be presented to the Innovators; Early Adopters; and Early Majority in order to bring along the Late Majority. Once those groups are addressed then the final group tends to come along. I also believe that creating district report cards on various initiatives should be developed and widely distributed. I also think that more needs to be done in terms of Administrators addressing parent and community concerns. Many questions go unanswered (part of why I’m running).

What is your solution for addressing the $2.5 million dollar deficit?

There were some proposals made to the board from staff, but I would table the ones that students would notice first (teacher reduction). I think that by doing a few simple things we could be back in good shape again and show the residents that the district can be good stewards of their money. I suggest drafting a policy that requires curriculum groups to first seek out and evaluate Open Educational Resources (OER) as a solution before purchasing vendor products, not buying curriculum, textbooks and tools is a significant expense (hundreds of thousands of dollars). This alone could get us a good start in budget reduction and we’d own what we build off that OER. I’ve been doing this with over 200 district around the state already; Stillwater already has access but when leadership changed, that went nowhere.

There are a minimum of 40 courses already aligned to MN State Academic standards that can be replaced in the core academic areas, grades 3-12 that we wouldn’t have to pay for; we could adapt/modify to suit the needs of our students and we would own our copy of those courses and continue to build upon them. (There are similar options for professional development).

Once those types of issues have been looked at we can look at other issues. Not paying out tremendous amounts of money in lawsuits would be helpful. I fear we open ourselves to even more if we don’t get all of our policies and practices updated.

Additionally, there are other efficiencies outlined by staff.

In my daily work, I focus on collaboration. None of these can or should be answered by one person working in isolation. Innovation comes from connecting minds and bouncing ideas off each other. I’m happy to take in community input and let that inform my thinking. My focus is on efficiency and if it helps students learn better.

What is the connection to the MN Partnership to Collaborative Curriculum (MPCC)?

The MPCC was formed by a group of districts with the same goal. It made sense to collaborate, save money, and offer a flexible alternative to vendor materials, textbooks, subscriptions etc.

The MPCC is a group of over 200 school districts in MN that have invested in creating materials to align with the MN State Academic Standards. The curriculum is ultimately all going to be Creative Commons licensed but inaugural and continuing members receive early release copies to customize in their own platforms. The Stillwater district made an initial investment as an inaugural member and is not an ongoing participant, though they have access to all 40 courses that were created to use as they see fit. All of the funds for the MPCC are spend on course development and are managed by ISD 287. My work in helping to form this partnership has been one of the most rewarding of my career and has resulted in numerous awards, recognitions, and presentations. It’s an innovative collaboration that is unmatched in any other state.

I was a writer on a few of the projects and I facilitate the writing on a few others. I also manage/maintain master copies and make updates based on member involvement. There is no profit to me, or the district that employs me through this project.

Who are you? How come you haven’t gone to board meetings?

I’m a parent in the district. Until now, my participation has been limited to paying PTA dues, classroom donations, classroom volunteer, reading stories to students, chaperone, many conversations (probably hundreds of phone calls and emails) with teachers, principals and other administrators. I have offered support through those staff and ultimately made the decision to use my experience on the policy side of the district. So, while I haven’t necessarily been visible at meetings, I am actively engaged in supporting students in the district. I also keep up with what is happening online.

Tell me about your work as an educational consultant.

I created a business about five years ago to work on some curriculum and professional development projects through the American Institute for Research (AIR) and the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE). I have also given workshops in greater MN to districts who wanted Moodle training or were working on implementing digital curriculum and were diving deeper into blended learning. I’ve not taken a consulting job in three years and am focused on my work as an educator for ISD 287 and an involved parent in the Stillwater District. I present at conferences around the country and internationally and have not taken a fee for those presentations.

Isn’t Online Learning just a way to replace teachers?

Short answer: No

Long answer: While there are vendors out there who will offer to take on thousands of students; and those who run charter schools across the country, I have seen what it takes to be an effective online educator (I still teach English); and what it takes to develop an effective online program. I set up a state approved program for ISD 288, and I work on program planning in the district I work for. Throughout that time I’ve stressed the fact that teaching online is just as much, if not more, work as teaching in the classroom. While the work is somewhat different, it’s not easier, student loads remain consistent with what a teacher takes on in a traditional face-to-face environment. I think online learning should be an option for students. For some students, it is their only option.

I also think that blended learning should be a regular part of a student’s day. What I believe strongly is that if we have the opportunity to have students in the same place at the same time then we should take advantage of that opportunity to build connections, collaborate, team build and work with peers. I believe in the effectiveness of well-designed online learning but it’s not something I would push a student into.

What is OER and what is its connection to Open Source?

OER stands for Open Educational Resource. They are objects that have been licensed in a way, usually with Creative Commons, that gives those who find them permissions and terms of use to implement them in their own organizations. Because of my work in a district years ago that didn’t have the funds for curriculum resources, I naturally gravitated toward that community and became amazed by the possibilities. I want to see districts take ownership of their content and not pay licensing fees when possible. When I create materials, I license them as open so others can use them and build off of them. Too many times teachers feel like they are recreating the wheel; with OER, they don’t have to.

Open Source relates to software with an open license, like Moodle. The software is free to download and use and you can make tweaks to the code to suit your needs. The cost comes with hosting. I am also an advocate for any district that wants to maintain their own content and not allow vendor learning management systems (LMS) to use all of the analytics that all of those student interactions with their platform gives them while paying them for honor of using their site. I have found Open Source softwares to be more responsive to the community (FireFox, Chromium, many servers run using open source software and you are likely using it almost every day and don’t realize it.) I think about it like this, Facebook and Twitter aren’t free. You are giving them something by spending your time there while they analyze your activity, behavior and connections. That is worth billions to them so they don’t ask us to pay them, but that is what is happening to schools all of the time.