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Beloit Education Association Sounds Off

[WARNING: Local politics. If you’re not in Beloit, WI, you might as well skip this. But if you are, make sure to read it instead.]

Tonight, I open our local free paper, the Stateline News, and find a full page ad the Beloit Education Association took out to print a report card on our current school board. It’s less of an advertisement and more of an indictment of two of our current school board members: Pam Charles and Shannon Scharmer.

A few things struck me as I read this.

First, I’ve been hearing lots of rumors about improprieties on the current board, and the ad covers these pretty well and with some measure of authority. Those rumors are a major reason I considered running for the board myself this year. Although I decided I couldn’t in good conscience make that kind of commitment at the moment, it’s also the reason I did choose to help out with the campaigns for two candidates I believe in: Amy Oselio and Missy Henderson.

Second, I’m grateful that someone finally decided to investigate the rumors and bring them into the light. It needed to be large group with some cash to hire a lawyer in case of the potential libel suits such accusatory language can expect to incite. The BEA fits that bill and has a strong enough interest in the makeup of the school board to dig deep.   

Third, I’m saddened that our local paper, the Beloit Daily News, didn’t step up to handle this investigation itself. I’ve always treasured the idea of an unbiased fourth estate that can dig into these sorts of matters for the betterment of the community, but if there’s such a watchdog here in town, he slept right through this one. I spend most of my time in my own world, and I’d heard these rumors. The BDN had to have heard of them too, and yet I saw no mention of this in its pages.

I expect that may change soon, but would it have without the prodding of the BEA?

The one point I didn’t like about the BEA ad was the cheap shot they took at the nascent Gifted and Talented program we have here in Beloit. We have a real problem in this city with the wealthier people taking their kids out of our public schools and placing them in private schools or in neighboring public schools. One big reason for this is that these parents don’t see many if any services being offered to kids with the potential to excel. In my neighborhood, we’re in the stark minority here in keeping our kids in the Beloit public school.

This creates a huge problem because the funding our schools receive from the state is based upon the number of students we have. When we lose a student, we lose about $10,000 a year. If we kept a good chunk of our departing students here in town, we’d have more than enough money to fund the Gifted and Talented program.

The worst part is those kids who leave are the ones who would be best able to up our average test scores, a metric our teachers and administrators worry about a lot. If we kept them around, we’d not only have more cash, we’d have more successful schools. Instead, we find ourselves in a death spiral. The Gifted and Talented program represents one easy way to reverse that doomed direction, but the school administrators never seemed to get behind it.

The ad claims that we’re spending half a million dollars on 33 kids, and this is disingenuous. That much may have been budgeted, but I’d be surprised to see if that much has really been spent. My son Marty is one of those 33 kids who’ve been identified, so I’ve seen the developing program from the inside. I could go into excruciating detail about the problems the program has, but it just started up in the fall, so I’m willing to cut it some slack while it ramps up—if the board doesn’t strangle it in its crib.

Seriously, though, to claim that we’ve only been able to pick out 33 gifted kids from the over 7,000 we serve in our district is insulting. That’s less than one half of one percent. The other 99.5+% are apparently either average or below that. It’s the polar opposite of Lake Wobegon.

It means one of three things:

1) We have very stupid children in Beloit.

2) We have very stupid people administering our Gifted and Talented program.

3) We have very stupid people making this claim.

Actually, I’d be generous enough to say it could be some combination of both 2 and 3. I’ve been involved in the schools here for the past five years, and I can emphatically say that the answer is not #1. I don’t know exactly where our student population ranks nationally as a crew, but there’s no way that our kids are that dumb. We haven’t driven off all the gifted and talented kids—not yet.

It could be that the people involved in bringing us this ridiculous statistic—either by causing it or reporting it—are deceitful or even malicious rather than stupid. I generally respect Hanlon’s razor in such cases, but I’m prepared to back Vice-President Biden’s feelings when it comes to budgets: “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

That aside, allow me to be emphatic in my endorsement of Amy Oselio and Missy Henderson. I’ve known both women for years—Missy used to trade babysitting with my mother when I was still in diapers—and they’re both excellent candidates with the best interests of our students at the top of our respective agendas.

Best of all, they’re both level-headed, smart, and ethical. They know the system inside and out. They ask the right questions. They explore excellent answers. Please vote for them both this Tuesday, April 7.

We get to cast three votes for school board this time around. Two should go to Amy and Missy.

As for the third, well, my mother tried to teach me to not rip people in public, and while I don’t always live up to her expectations, I do at least try. All I can say is that—according to the BEA’s ad —you could do a lot worse than using your third vote for either Tia Johnson or Jessica Everson. A lot worse.

Comments 30

  1. Matt ~

    Thank you for analyzing the situation in Beloit – which is, unfortunately, too common a situation in cities all across the country. School administrators, school boards, parents and community members struggle to find common ground on issues such as the ones discussed in this article. Their agendas often butt heads rather than befriend each other, and their missions become so narrow minded – each group is guilty of this – that often the larger picture of ‘what is best for the children’ is lost in translation. What is in the best interest of each student? And who gets to define that? New Hampshire, for example, at the moment is struggling to define ‘adequate education’ to use as a measurement for failing districts. If districts truly provide one, that would be an ‘adequate’ one, apparently, which then makes them successful?

    As an education professional and advocate, I often struggle to bridge the gap between policy and practice. Because I think this is the real issue in many cases – perhaps Beloit’s situation is bogged down with other politics, including unethical practices, personality conflicts, etc. While I am not in the least informed on the Beloit system other than this article, and am only taking a brief moment to inject a few areas for thought and discussion before I head off to work, there are some universal practice and policy issues worth considering when local educators and community members are suffocating themselves with problems they have created. Because while many of these problems, as I suggest, are self-induced in a myriad of ways, much of the weight is due to an education system which lacks benefits of current research, theory, and best-practice influences.

    While the statistic of ‘less than one percent’ has been identified as Gifted and Talented in Beloit surprises you, as an educator who has been involved in assessment design and interventions for many special needs populations, it is not surprising to me. Much has been written about the assessments in which Gifted and Talented students are identified and, while I do not doubt that the 33 children directly fall into that identification, it is a small population of students that can be captured with the assessments currently used. There are a certain number of indicators a student has to meet in order to fall under the classification. And while our students have been exposed to more diverse methods of education than we ever were in the 1970’s, and research since then has identified multiple levels of intelligences, these assessments have not reflected this change. My belief is that we are using outdated assessments – as a profession – to identify many special needs populations, and before more children can be identified, the assessment tools currently used need to be restructured to allow for wider range of students to be identified.

    Not dissimilar to a Autism assessments over the years…When Autism was first being assessed, you were either classified as Autistic or not. With research and understanding, the identification of Autism led to a spectrum. Now students are identified within a range of Autism, and although there is still the classification of being Autistic or not, the assessment grew and developed based on research which proved there was subtle behavior which was not captured in earlier testing. The benefits these newly identified students have are numerous, and they often receive skills training and therapy which is differentiated from their fellow Autistic peers given their identified level. My point in this is that the Gifted and Talented programs around the country have lagged behind in terms of developing a spectrum or broadening their definition. While I again feel the 33 identified children in Beloit is an acceptable number, that is based on outdated assessments and current practice. Are there more highly intelligent children in Beloit who are not identified? Of course. Would these students benefit from a Gifted and Talented program? Definitely. Would we as a society move closer towards reaching high levels of achievement if we push our top students in more rigorous educational settings? Definitely. Just as the Autism spectrum has helped socialize more and more children, and has allowed them to learn to use the tools which help them find successes in life, so would a Gifted and Talented spectrum.

    And finally, money matters. And it’s not necessarily about the policy issues I addressed previously in term of revamping our assessment system. And while I empathize with your frustration, Matt, I am as such reading your statements about ‘stupidity’ inherent in this issue as nothing more than facetiousness. I appreciate that is most likely not about stupidity, but lack of ability to work within a structure which not only struggles in identifying the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ of the bell curve, but perhaps more hideously, does not support the middle 90% of our current student population. Beloit is not far off other cities and states in the policy to practice reality that less than one percent in served at the ‘top’. And yes, half a million dollars is probably spent. Actually, it seems a standard is that our ‘top’ 5% students in a district have a program and our ‘bottom’ 5% of our students have their financial needs met – and the latter is enforced by the No Child Left Behind mandate. I encourage you all to look at your school budgets and the amount of funding spent on that 10%. It’s not right or wrong, it is what it is at this point. My point is that while each 5% population traditionally receives more than half of the school budget to support those programs, the middle 90% – many of whom could be captured in a more inclusive system – get left with less funding, which translates into less professional attention, less individual instruction, and an ‘adequate’ acceptability standard.

    As concerned as I am about the 5% populations needing to be expanded, it is based on the knowledge that the middle 90% are simply getting overlooked. In a society where we are experiencing backlash from an education system which far too long overlooked the special education needs of students, and are now stepping up to the plate, so much emphasis and professional human resources are put into a 10% population, that 90% of our students do not get more than adequacy. And while you note, Matt, that ‘wealthier’ people are moving on, that is true across the country…because unless their children can be captured in a small percentage of students, the system may, by failure or inability to identify their intelligence, place them among the ‘adequacy is okay’ group. And if there is a neighboring town which can somehow identify more children by either using different assessments or having different standards for identification, it would be a hard argument to make them stay.

    I believe teachers, counselors, administrators, etc. do their best in our school systems everyday. I watch teachers struggle with a vast range of students in classrooms, curriculum which is targeted for a ‘majority’, and the knowledge that each student deserves the best they have to offer. I also see them in a failing, unsupportive, antiquated system which deserves more than, as you state, Matt, public humiliation and scrutiny.

    I believe parents do what they need to do for their children, not for what is best for the system. And who can blame them.

    In the end, all children are our citizens. They will be our future surgeons, teachers, cancer researchers, and musicians. They deserve the best educational foundation we have to offer, and we are quite simply, accepting adequacy as an acceptable standard. Who can step up to the plate and demand review of current research and practice and allow Beloit to grow and develop and succeed for the best interests of its future citizens? It seems it is time, as Matt suggests, to look carefully at the ballot and find ethical educators who want more than just adequacy.

  2. Matt ~

    Thank you for analyzing the situation in Beloit – which is, unfortunately, too common a situation in cities all across the country. School administrators, school boards, parents and community members struggle to find common ground on issues such as the ones discussed in this article. Their agendas often butt heads rather than befriend each other, and their missions become so narrow minded – each group is guilty of this – that often the larger picture of ‘what is best for the children’ is lost in translation. What is in the best interest of each student? And who gets to define that? New Hampshire, for example, at the moment is struggling to define ‘adequate education’ to use as a measurement for failing districts. If districts truly provide one, that would be an ‘adequate’ one, apparently, which then makes them successful?

    As an education professional and advocate, I often struggle to bridge the gap between policy and practice. Because I think this is the real issue in many cases – perhaps Beloit’s situation is bogged down with other politics, including unethical practices, personality conflicts, etc. While I am not in the least informed on the Beloit system other than this article, and am only taking a brief moment to inject a few areas for thought and discussion before I head off to work, there are some universal practice and policy issues worth considering when local educators and community members are suffocating themselves with problems they have created. Because while many of these problems, as I suggest, are self-induced in a myriad of ways, much of the weight is due to an education system which lacks benefits of current research, theory, and best-practice influences.

    While the statistic of ‘less than one percent’ has been identified as Gifted and Talented in Beloit surprises you, as an educator who has been involved in assessment design and interventions for many special needs populations, it is not surprising to me. Much has been written about the assessments in which Gifted and Talented students are identified and, while I do not doubt that the 33 children directly fall into that identification, it is a small population of students that can be captured with the assessments currently used. There are a certain number of indicators a student has to meet in order to fall under the classification. And while our students have been exposed to more diverse methods of education than we ever were in the 1970’s, and research since then has identified multiple levels of intelligences, these assessments have not reflected this change. My belief is that we are using outdated assessments – as a profession – to identify many special needs populations, and before more children can be identified, the assessment tools currently used need to be restructured to allow for wider range of students to be identified.

    Not dissimilar to a Autism assessments over the years…When Autism was first being assessed, you were either classified as Autistic or not. With research and understanding, the identification of Autism led to a spectrum. Now students are identified within a range of Autism, and although there is still the classification of being Autistic or not, the assessment grew and developed based on research which proved there was subtle behavior which was not captured in earlier testing. The benefits these newly identified students have are numerous, and they often receive skills training and therapy which is differentiated from their fellow Autistic peers given their identified level. My point in this is that the Gifted and Talented programs around the country have lagged behind in terms of developing a spectrum or broadening their definition. While I again feel the 33 identified children in Beloit is an acceptable number, that is based on outdated assessments and current practice. Are there more highly intelligent children in Beloit who are not identified? Of course. Would these students benefit from a Gifted and Talented program? Definitely. Would we as a society move closer towards reaching high levels of achievement if we push our top students in more rigorous educational settings? Definitely. Just as the Autism spectrum has helped socialize more and more children, and has allowed them to learn to use the tools which help them find successes in life, so would a Gifted and Talented spectrum.

    And finally, money matters. And it’s not necessarily about the policy issues I addressed previously in term of revamping our assessment system. And while I empathize with your frustration, Matt, I am as such reading your statements about ‘stupidity’ inherent in this issue as nothing more than facetiousness. I appreciate that is most likely not about stupidity, but lack of ability to work within a structure which not only struggles in identifying the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ of the bell curve, but perhaps more hideously, does not support the middle 90% of our current student population. Beloit is not far off other cities and states in the policy to practice reality that less than one percent in served at the ‘top’. And yes, half a million dollars is probably spent. Actually, it seems a standard is that our ‘top’ 5% students in a district have a program and our ‘bottom’ 5% of our students have their financial needs met – and the latter is enforced by the No Child Left Behind mandate. I encourage you all to look at your school budgets and the amount of funding spent on that 10%. It’s not right or wrong, it is what it is at this point. My point is that while each 5% population traditionally receives more than half of the school budget to support those programs, the middle 90% – many of whom could be captured in a more inclusive system – get left with less funding, which translates into less professional attention, less individual instruction, and an ‘adequate’ acceptability standard.

    As concerned as I am about the 5% populations needing to be expanded, it is based on the knowledge that the middle 90% are simply getting overlooked. In a society where we are experiencing backlash from an education system which far too long overlooked the special education needs of students, and are now stepping up to the plate, so much emphasis and professional human resources are put into a 10% population, that 90% of our students do not get more than adequacy. And while you note, Matt, that ‘wealthier’ people are moving on, that is true across the country…because unless their children can be captured in a small percentage of students, the system may, by failure or inability to identify their intelligence, place them among the ‘adequacy is okay’ group. And if there is a neighboring town which can somehow identify more children by either using different assessments or having different standards for identification, it would be a hard argument to make them stay.

    I believe teachers, counselors, administrators, etc. do their best in our school systems everyday. I watch teachers struggle with a vast range of students in classrooms, curriculum which is targeted for a ‘majority’, and the knowledge that each student deserves the best they have to offer. I also see them in a failing, unsupportive, antiquated system which deserves more than, as you state, Matt, public humiliation and scrutiny.

    I believe parents do what they need to do for their children, not for what is best for the system. And who can blame them.

    In the end, all children are our citizens. They will be our future surgeons, teachers, cancer researchers, and musicians. They deserve the best educational foundation we have to offer, and we are quite simply, accepting adequacy as an acceptable standard. Who can step up to the plate and demand review of current research and practice and allow Beloit to grow and develop and succeed for the best interests of its future citizens? It seems it is time, as Matt suggests, to look carefully at the ballot and find ethical educators who want more than just adequacy.

  3. Thanks for the Scribd link to the advert.

    I still think it’s odd that the BEA is allowed to hang their web site off the SDB web host. That’s like the local Steelworkers Union being hosted on Fairbanks site on the AFSCME local being hosted by Beloit Municipal web site. Weird.

  4. Thanks for the Scribd link to the advert.

    I still think it’s odd that the BEA is allowed to hang their web site off the SDB web host. That’s like the local Steelworkers Union being hosted on Fairbanks site on the AFSCME local being hosted by Beloit Municipal web site. Weird.

  5. Molly: Thanks for the excellent analysis. I’m stunned you had the time to rattle that off before you left for work.

    I’ve seen this situation here from both sides of the spectrum. Some of my kids have special needs (speech therapy now, and occupational therapy and physical therapy in the past), and I think Beloit has done a mostly excellent job serving them, right to the point that my kids have graduated from some of those programs and no longer need them.

    We also have SAGE funding in a some of our elementary schools, which brings our teacher-student ratio down to 15 to 1 in kindergarten through 3rd grade. Plus, we have free breakfasts in the schools for every student, to ensure that they all get good starts to their days. The consensus seems to be that, although there’s always room for improvement, we’re doing a decent job to help the struggling kids do better.

    We’ve really failed to address the higher-achieving kids, though, to the point that many parents are driving their kids to Janesville or Rockford every day to get their kids the kind of attention they deserve. This drains both our brains and our bucks, and we need for it to stop.

    Last year, Missy and Amy both served on a committee that analyzed this problem and came up with a Gifted and Talented program. The school board voted to fund it, and things were looking up. However, I’m told that the program did not have the administration’s full support, which I suspect is the reason that it’s not been handled well to date.

    The official program has three levels of identification and services for gifted and talented kids, and they’re supposedly using a snappy new testing tool to help pick these kids out. However, the execution has clearly not fulfilled the plan.

    In the middle of this, we’ve had our board and our superintended publicly bickering with each other. It seems that our superintendent has had his foot out the door for over a year. The fact that he doesn’t send his own children to our schools indicates that he never fully committed himself and his family to our district. He made a half-hearted attempt to run for state superintendent this year, but my guess is that he only did this so he could gracefully resign.

    The current board is trying to rush through the hiring of a new superintendent before the election—which is Tuesday. The stated reason is to get the best candidates for the job before other school districts snap them up, but that doesn’t explain having to actually seal the deal before the election.

    Anyhow, that’s probably far more than you wanted to know about our situation, but thanks again for sharing your experience and perspective.

    Mark: Yeah, that stuns me too. It’s like giving your opponent the keys to your house. However, someone did post the ad to Scribd, so they’re clearly capable of using other resources to get their point out.

    It wasn’t me who posted that, by the way, although I’m glad someone did. I poked around a bit on the Scribd site, and the account seems to have been set up solely to post that ad, as no one’s used it to post anything else. Also, the account name doesn’t correlate to anyone in particular, not even the BEA, so it seems the posted wished to be anonymous.

  6. Post
    Author

    Molly: Thanks for the excellent analysis. I’m stunned you had the time to rattle that off before you left for work.

    I’ve seen this situation here from both sides of the spectrum. Some of my kids have special needs (speech therapy now, and occupational therapy and physical therapy in the past), and I think Beloit has done a mostly excellent job serving them, right to the point that my kids have graduated from some of those programs and no longer need them.

    We also have SAGE funding in a some of our elementary schools, which brings our teacher-student ratio down to 15 to 1 in kindergarten through 3rd grade. Plus, we have free breakfasts in the schools for every student, to ensure that they all get good starts to their days. The consensus seems to be that, although there’s always room for improvement, we’re doing a decent job to help the struggling kids do better.

    We’ve really failed to address the higher-achieving kids, though, to the point that many parents are driving their kids to Janesville or Rockford every day to get their kids the kind of attention they deserve. This drains both our brains and our bucks, and we need for it to stop.

    Last year, Missy and Amy both served on a committee that analyzed this problem and came up with a Gifted and Talented program. The school board voted to fund it, and things were looking up. However, I’m told that the program did not have the administration’s full support, which I suspect is the reason that it’s not been handled well to date.

    The official program has three levels of identification and services for gifted and talented kids, and they’re supposedly using a snappy new testing tool to help pick these kids out. However, the execution has clearly not fulfilled the plan.

    In the middle of this, we’ve had our board and our superintended publicly bickering with each other. It seems that our superintendent has had his foot out the door for over a year. The fact that he doesn’t send his own children to our schools indicates that he never fully committed himself and his family to our district. He made a half-hearted attempt to run for state superintendent this year, but my guess is that he only did this so he could gracefully resign.

    The current board is trying to rush through the hiring of a new superintendent before the election—which is Tuesday. The stated reason is to get the best candidates for the job before other school districts snap them up, but that doesn’t explain having to actually seal the deal before the election.

    Anyhow, that’s probably far more than you wanted to know about our situation, but thanks again for sharing your experience and perspective.

    Mark: Yeah, that stuns me too. It’s like giving your opponent the keys to your house. However, someone did post the ad to Scribd, so they’re clearly capable of using other resources to get their point out.

    It wasn’t me who posted that, by the way, although I’m glad someone did. I poked around a bit on the Scribd site, and the account seems to have been set up solely to post that ad, as no one’s used it to post anything else. Also, the account name doesn’t correlate to anyone in particular, not even the BEA, so it seems the posted wished to be anonymous.

  7. Matt,

    Very interesting article.

    You might be interested in this website which has data on Beloit and other Wisconsin school districts.

    http://www.schooldatadirect.org/app/data/q/stid=50/llid=116/stllid=163/locid=955445/catid=1020/secid=4532/compid=851/site=pes

    I would certainly prefer a situation where I felt I could send my kids to the school 3 minutes from my house. That’s why we bought the house we did. It’s just not working out right for H, something I’m not sure a gifted program would fix, because he probably doesn’t qualify.

    Their is a more optimistic side to what you note in your excellent description of the situation here in Beloit. The glass half-full side would be that at least it is such a nice affordable place to live that so many families are choosing to live in Beloit and send their kids elsewhere. In many ways it would be far easier just to live elsewhere.

    So while the district does not get the state revenue for these folks’ kids (about $7000 adjusting for inflation from the above link), it does get their property tax dollars without the burden of having to educate the child. Given how hard some families try to get into Morgan and Todd through open enrollment, the freeing up of a spot for a new student cannot be overlooked.

    Anyway, great commentary and good luck to your candidates.

    1. Josh: Thanks for the note and the link. I’d heard lots of funding numbers bandied around, but that clarifies them nicely.

      I really am sorry it’s not working out for H. I’d love to have him continue through school with my kids, although that’s purely for our own selfish reasons. You have to do what you and Sam feel is best for him, and I respect that. As you say, I’m sure his spot won’t go empty for long, but the kids will miss seeing him every day.

      That said, I’d like to see the conditions improve to the point that our neighbors are all proud and happy to send our kids to our local schools. While the gifted and talented program is one component of that, I agree with Gary that simply encouraging more differentiation in the classroom would go a long way toward changing that too.

  8. Matt,

    Very interesting article.

    You might be interested in this website which has data on Beloit and other Wisconsin school districts.

    http://www.schooldatadirect.org/app/data/q/stid=50/llid=116/stllid=163/locid=955445/catid=1020/secid=4532/compid=851/site=pes

    I would certainly prefer a situation where I felt I could send my kids to the school 3 minutes from my house. That’s why we bought the house we did. It’s just not working out right for H, something I’m not sure a gifted program would fix, because he probably doesn’t qualify.

    Their is a more optimistic side to what you note in your excellent description of the situation here in Beloit. The glass half-full side would be that at least it is such a nice affordable place to live that so many families are choosing to live in Beloit and send their kids elsewhere. In many ways it would be far easier just to live elsewhere.

    So while the district does not get the state revenue for these folks’ kids (about $7000 adjusting for inflation from the above link), it does get their property tax dollars without the burden of having to educate the child. Given how hard some families try to get into Morgan and Todd through open enrollment, the freeing up of a spot for a new student cannot be overlooked.

    Anyway, great commentary and good luck to your candidates.

    1. Post
      Author

      Josh: Thanks for the note and the link. I’d heard lots of funding numbers bandied around, but that clarifies them nicely.

      I really am sorry it’s not working out for H. I’d love to have him continue through school with my kids, although that’s purely for our own selfish reasons. You have to do what you and Sam feel is best for him, and I respect that. As you say, I’m sure his spot won’t go empty for long, but the kids will miss seeing him every day.

      That said, I’d like to see the conditions improve to the point that our neighbors are all proud and happy to send our kids to our local schools. While the gifted and talented program is one component of that, I agree with Gary that simply encouraging more differentiation in the classroom would go a long way toward changing that too.

  9. Matt
    Interesting observations. I will throw a few in as well….

    I saw the ad, and was a bit surprised. After reading it, I reminded myself that things are neither as good or as bad as people make them out to be. Some stuff is probably true, some is probably overstated, and some is false. I will agree, this Board is pretty dysfunctional, and I put the blame on more than two people. There is plenty of blame to go around.

    Yet this dysfunction can happen, more often than not. We have this ideal of “local control”, and that is what you got. Nothing in the concept of “local control” says “good” or “competent”. You will have Boards that get elected that are not so good at times. It may happen again after this election. When an electorate can be influenced by signs and ads, and not dig deep into the issues, you can get some strange situations. On that point, we the electorate are to blame, along with the individuals that were elected.

    Regarding “Gifted and Talented”. This group always gets the short end of the stick here in Beloit. We don’t like rich people here, we don’t like smart people, and we don’t want to admit there are gifted and talented kids. When we do admit it, it creates tension, both with parents and kids. I know many parents who think Junior is gifted, when he is simply capable of doing his homework and smiles a lot. We do tend to ignore our truly talented ones. For years I asked for simple stuff, like ability based groupings, to no avail. Too difficult to administer I was told. So the smart ones stayed in 3rd grade, when they were capable of 8th grade work. I don’t even believe Teachers believe in the Gifted and Talented program.

    Also, a lot of the problems of this Board goes back to the Superintendent. A good one can overcome a poor board. A bad one makes a Board look all the worse. We had a weak superintendent, along with a weak board, and got very poor results. The Board has only one employee, the Superintendent. Sure they can influence, but they only have one person. Screw that up, and look out. I wrote on my blog on this issue, how just one person can screw up an organization for years (http://bettermanager.blogspot.com/2008/10/rules-for-managers-listed-below-are-few.html).

    I might suggest we start by electing better Board members. Ask questions like these, instead of the “warm and fuzzy” questions:
    >How many people have you personally hired and fired in your career. If the answer is none, we need to keep looking, we need people who know how to do both and are comfortable doing both.
    > Can you develop and implement policy, or can you tell me what a policy is and what it should do?
    > How many budgets have you cut and by how much? Can you cut a budget and still function?
    > Do you know how to run a meeting effectively, or be part of one?
    > Do you know when you are beaten and when to move on?

    Just some ideas to consider….

    1. Good points, Gary, and an excellent post on your blog too. I do think the right superintendent can make all the difference, which is one reason I’m appalled that the current board is trying shove through hiring our next one so quickly before the election. I’d also like to remove the micromanagers from our board so those on the board can set policy and then get out of the way of our professionals.

      You do see this in other districts, notably the Kansas state school board, which notoriously swings back and forth on teaching creationism in schools. One year they push it, and the next the people vote them out. Then they forget about it until it happens again.

      When you have good people, and it’s all humming along like a new car, few of us bother to pay attention. It’s when the engine starts making noises that we pull it into the shop. Our engine’s knocking pretty hard this week.

  10. Matt
    Interesting observations. I will throw a few in as well….

    I saw the ad, and was a bit surprised. After reading it, I reminded myself that things are neither as good or as bad as people make them out to be. Some stuff is probably true, some is probably overstated, and some is false. I will agree, this Board is pretty dysfunctional, and I put the blame on more than two people. There is plenty of blame to go around.

    Yet this dysfunction can happen, more often than not. We have this ideal of “local control”, and that is what you got. Nothing in the concept of “local control” says “good” or “competent”. You will have Boards that get elected that are not so good at times. It may happen again after this election. When an electorate can be influenced by signs and ads, and not dig deep into the issues, you can get some strange situations. On that point, we the electorate are to blame, along with the individuals that were elected.

    Regarding “Gifted and Talented”. This group always gets the short end of the stick here in Beloit. We don’t like rich people here, we don’t like smart people, and we don’t want to admit there are gifted and talented kids. When we do admit it, it creates tension, both with parents and kids. I know many parents who think Junior is gifted, when he is simply capable of doing his homework and smiles a lot. We do tend to ignore our truly talented ones. For years I asked for simple stuff, like ability based groupings, to no avail. Too difficult to administer I was told. So the smart ones stayed in 3rd grade, when they were capable of 8th grade work. I don’t even believe Teachers believe in the Gifted and Talented program.

    Also, a lot of the problems of this Board goes back to the Superintendent. A good one can overcome a poor board. A bad one makes a Board look all the worse. We had a weak superintendent, along with a weak board, and got very poor results. The Board has only one employee, the Superintendent. Sure they can influence, but they only have one person. Screw that up, and look out. I wrote on my blog on this issue, how just one person can screw up an organization for years (http://bettermanager.blogspot.com/2008/10/rules-for-managers-listed-below-are-few.html).

    I might suggest we start by electing better Board members. Ask questions like these, instead of the “warm and fuzzy” questions:
    >How many people have you personally hired and fired in your career. If the answer is none, we need to keep looking, we need people who know how to do both and are comfortable doing both.
    > Can you develop and implement policy, or can you tell me what a policy is and what it should do?
    > How many budgets have you cut and by how much? Can you cut a budget and still function?
    > Do you know how to run a meeting effectively, or be part of one?
    > Do you know when you are beaten and when to move on?

    Just some ideas to consider….

    1. Post
      Author

      Good points, Gary, and an excellent post on your blog too. I do think the right superintendent can make all the difference, which is one reason I’m appalled that the current board is trying shove through hiring our next one so quickly before the election. I’d also like to remove the micromanagers from our board so those on the board can set policy and then get out of the way of our professionals.

      You do see this in other districts, notably the Kansas state school board, which notoriously swings back and forth on teaching creationism in schools. One year they push it, and the next the people vote them out. Then they forget about it until it happens again.

      When you have good people, and it’s all humming along like a new car, few of us bother to pay attention. It’s when the engine starts making noises that we pull it into the shop. Our engine’s knocking pretty hard this week.

  11. It certainly sounds like Beloit has more than its fair share of educational issues to handle…seems the right time for an election and appointments! Your information lends to many insights from an outsider such as myself, and being somewhat more subjective, it is nonetheless painful to read about bickering and misuse of professional energies.

    One source of contention that seems universal is the tenous trinity of politicians, educators, and parents. It does not surprise me, for example, that the ‘administration’s full support’ is not evident in the G&T program brought into the school by 2 (albeint well meaning) politicians.

    As an educator, a non-parent and a government employee (currently work for the federal department of education) I tend to probably see more the professional angle of things. And the reason this trinity is in a constant struggle, is precisely because of the angles investors bring in. I likened an analogy to the auto making industry (disregarding their current financial disaster). We rely on trained, educated engineers to design safe and effective cars. They rely on focus groups of parents in desiging the mini-van (tv or no tv, cup holder designs, storage compartments, etc.). However, the framework is solidly designed by engineers – no parent contribution is expected.

    However, our society – the larger society as well as each community – currently has such little faith in educators and educational systems at this point (rightfully or not), that the ‘engineers’ which can best design the frameworks either get pushed out by politicians or questioned to the extent that their professional knowledge becomes a peripheral factor.

    I had a politician actually tell me last week that while she didn’t posess the ‘educational jargon’ I did about a certain topic, she certainly could do my job. I cringe to think that a 60,000 Harvard education in educational psychology comes down to ‘jargon’.

    So while politicians and parents push agendas on the school department’s professional personnel, it’s a good reminder to ask the actual professionals if the agend being pushed through their doors can be supported and developed within the current framework. AND, if it’s not, how can we CHANGE the framework to make it so? is it worth changing the framework for this one item? can it, should it be changed for other items? Basically, what is it worth for educators to invest in change? EVERYTHING. We are not driving Edsels anymore for a reason…

    Rather than stay disconnected, INVEST. Invest in each other as invested partners – whether you are politicians and parents who can research good programs and get funding and participation, etc. OR you are the educators who can make an effort to redesign outdated frameworks like policy, practice, and systems, simply DO IT and take heed from the basic knowledge we learn in Kindergarten: Work together, clean up together, play together. Forming factions and taking sides sucks up what can be productive energy for all stakeholders.

    Again, this is more of a universal perspective – Beloit clearly has its own issues to resolve, but it is not in an entirely different position than many districts and cities in this country. Power, egos, and agendas are tricky territories to negotiate. Everyone’s support – parents, educators, and politicians – becomes important, and respecting we all come from different perspectives is an integral part of making it work.

    Thanks, Matt, for providing this forum. Hopefully I’ve contributed some food for thought 🙂

    1. Molly: You certainly did raise some great points. Politics and schools make for a volatile mix. I’d like to say that the attitude of the politician you encountered surprises me, but I’ve seen similar arrogance too often.

      As I mentioned in a previous comment, it only gets worse when the board tries to micromanage the school. Hire a good superintendent, set a good policy (with feedback from all stakeholders considered), and then call it a night.

  12. It certainly sounds like Beloit has more than its fair share of educational issues to handle…seems the right time for an election and appointments! Your information lends to many insights from an outsider such as myself, and being somewhat more subjective, it is nonetheless painful to read about bickering and misuse of professional energies.

    One source of contention that seems universal is the tenous trinity of politicians, educators, and parents. It does not surprise me, for example, that the ‘administration’s full support’ is not evident in the G&T program brought into the school by 2 (albeint well meaning) politicians.

    As an educator, a non-parent and a government employee (currently work for the federal department of education) I tend to probably see more the professional angle of things. And the reason this trinity is in a constant struggle, is precisely because of the angles investors bring in. I likened an analogy to the auto making industry (disregarding their current financial disaster). We rely on trained, educated engineers to design safe and effective cars. They rely on focus groups of parents in desiging the mini-van (tv or no tv, cup holder designs, storage compartments, etc.). However, the framework is solidly designed by engineers – no parent contribution is expected.

    However, our society – the larger society as well as each community – currently has such little faith in educators and educational systems at this point (rightfully or not), that the ‘engineers’ which can best design the frameworks either get pushed out by politicians or questioned to the extent that their professional knowledge becomes a peripheral factor.

    I had a politician actually tell me last week that while she didn’t posess the ‘educational jargon’ I did about a certain topic, she certainly could do my job. I cringe to think that a 60,000 Harvard education in educational psychology comes down to ‘jargon’.

    So while politicians and parents push agendas on the school department’s professional personnel, it’s a good reminder to ask the actual professionals if the agend being pushed through their doors can be supported and developed within the current framework. AND, if it’s not, how can we CHANGE the framework to make it so? is it worth changing the framework for this one item? can it, should it be changed for other items? Basically, what is it worth for educators to invest in change? EVERYTHING. We are not driving Edsels anymore for a reason…

    Rather than stay disconnected, INVEST. Invest in each other as invested partners – whether you are politicians and parents who can research good programs and get funding and participation, etc. OR you are the educators who can make an effort to redesign outdated frameworks like policy, practice, and systems, simply DO IT and take heed from the basic knowledge we learn in Kindergarten: Work together, clean up together, play together. Forming factions and taking sides sucks up what can be productive energy for all stakeholders.

    Again, this is more of a universal perspective – Beloit clearly has its own issues to resolve, but it is not in an entirely different position than many districts and cities in this country. Power, egos, and agendas are tricky territories to negotiate. Everyone’s support – parents, educators, and politicians – becomes important, and respecting we all come from different perspectives is an integral part of making it work.

    Thanks, Matt, for providing this forum. Hopefully I’ve contributed some food for thought 🙂

    1. Post
      Author

      Molly: You certainly did raise some great points. Politics and schools make for a volatile mix. I’d like to say that the attitude of the politician you encountered surprises me, but I’ve seen similar arrogance too often.

      As I mentioned in a previous comment, it only gets worse when the board tries to micromanage the school. Hire a good superintendent, set a good policy (with feedback from all stakeholders considered), and then call it a night.

  13. Matt,

    Re: “I’d like to see the conditions improve…”

    Here here. The last thing I want to do is pay our relatively high property taxes AND school tuition.

    Plus, it would mean that Beloit is an even more desirable place to live, which would help us at the College in recruitment and retention.

    1. Josh: I totally agree. If we let our schools deteriorate, we’ll get fewer and fewer people moving here, sending their kids to school here, or wanting to bring their businesses here. It’s really not just about our kids, although since we have school-age children we have more of an emotional investment in it than others. Excellent schools are good for our entire community.

  14. Matt,

    Re: “I’d like to see the conditions improve…”

    Here here. The last thing I want to do is pay our relatively high property taxes AND school tuition.

    Plus, it would mean that Beloit is an even more desirable place to live, which would help us at the College in recruitment and retention.

    1. Post
      Author

      Josh: I totally agree. If we let our schools deteriorate, we’ll get fewer and fewer people moving here, sending their kids to school here, or wanting to bring their businesses here. It’s really not just about our kids, although since we have school-age children we have more of an emotional investment in it than others. Excellent schools are good for our entire community.

    1. Post
      Author

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