Tuesday, October 30, 2007

School Board Candidate Night

I haven't had any time to write, which is what I get for choosing sleep over blogging on both the front and back end of the night, but I attended the candidate forum for Board of Education candidates at the Cassingham Theatre last night. There were probably 50 people in attendance, and the males were outnumbered 2-1 in the audience, which was the second thing that struck me about the crowd, after I had registered that Michele Kusma had won the Matt Lampke Honorary T-Shirt Support Award by bringing a sizable and very visible contingent of supporters to the forum.

Opening statements were 3 minutes, and set the tone reasonably well for the rest of the discussion. Joan Fishel is an experienced board member whose undergraduate degree is in education, who has pursued a variety of professional pursuits but is grateful to be in a position that aligns with her lifelong interest in education. Sean French introduced himself by endorsing his opponent Craig Halliday, and then explained that he was running for school board not on issues, per se, but to remedy the lack of representation for South Bexley on the board. Craig Halliday had a great opening, recounting that the first time he was on the Cassingham stage was in a supporting role in the 1972 kindergarten production of Billy Goat Gruff, highlighting a lifetime of involvement with Bexley Schools, and the aforementioned Michele Kusma identified herself as the educator running for the board, touching on her professional experience as a teacher and segueing into a listing of a slew of prior volunteer positions in the district.

My somewhat impressionistic summary of questions (where a stand-alone question mark means that the question was some variant of "what is your view on... " the preceding statement):

1) Non-traditional learners. ?. SF says handle every kid case by case. CH says listen to teachers and parents. And parents some more. MK says we have a spectrum, and the new "Value-added" assessment requirements will influence education strategies across that spectrum, JF rhetorically asks if there is such a thing as a traditional learner, and suggests needs beyond academics (e.g. psychological well-being) need to be more fully addressed.

2) Best practices differ by elementary school... and CH says that's not good, International Baccalaureate has become a default standard now that the middle school is on board, and Montrose and Maryland should have been/should be brought along. Everyone else disagrees with Craig.

3) Bigger class sizes? MK says hire full-time subs to create a bullpen, JF says cost-benefit leads to tough choices and you can't please everyone, SF says if Bexley wants more teachers let the community decide where to shift resources, and CH lost me with an inadvertent comment.

4) "Sex in the Suburbs." The school newspaper (The Torch) apparently published an in-depth piece on adolescent sex, complete with names and descriptions of both sexual activity and alcohol/substance use. ?. I was pretty happy that most of the candidates answered with some form of support for students who want to publish responsibly produced pieces on important if controversial topics. S.F. insisted that it was not for school, but it was unclear what "it" was in the context. BTW, Blue Bexley would greatly appreciate the opportunity to review the original piece - two of the four candidates had not read it themselves, and it's difficult to judge the appropriateness of the piece third-hand.

5) Choice of the 3 Elementaries? yes.

6) technology needs... .?. SF says trust experts, CH says teach fundamentals, tech not a priority, something I didn't quite understand about how kids in high school have laptops, which should be addressed. MK says tech is absolutely a priority and that the hiring of Paul Ross as District Tech Director was a great first step. JF says to push the Superintendent forward with recommendations that have already been made, look to teachers who are using tech for inspiration.

7) Peter Yarrow blah wah blah wah blah blah. ?. There was an actual question in there, but after the Peter Yarrow part, nobody really heard it. Consensus: Bullying bad. Anti-Bullying Good. Angry Parents Bad. District Response Good. Vague on all other elements.

8) Foreign Languages Substandard. ?. MK says that the issue is known and is currently under study. JF would like to promote a World Languages approach, SF has been to 35 countries and thinks English is the only really important language, and CH thinks that classroom foreign language study is over-rated but that improvements could be made.

9) With possibly no new funding for years, um what? SF thinks money is good, CH explains mills traded for income before, maybe mills again in '09,'10, or '11, MK says yes, and JF says be accountable.

10) Full Day Kindergarten. ?. CH says it's a community priority, it's being studied, it will happen, it will need to be paid for. MK agrees, but suggests moving birthday cutoff up to Aug. 1 to help ensure readiness, JF adds that people like the idea because research shows benefits, and SF says that to the extent people want to have it, and they should be asked how to pay for it.

11) Are you willing to disagree, to advance a minority opinion? Everyone says yes. MK adds in history of speaking to board, JF extols consensus, SF vows to represent his constituency, and CH indicates that he has a voice.

12) Greatest challenge faced by district ? JF says maintaining excellence and continuing to improve, SF adds increased communication, CH says financing the excellence, and MK says all that, and meeting new performance standards (value-added).

Everyone gave closing remarks, and a reception ensued. I caught up with Michele Kusma afterward and she sat down with me for a half-hour interview that I will post tomorrow, where she had a chance to follow up and expand on some of the answers she gave (and didn't get a chance to give).


Anonymous said...

Thanks again, very helpful. I actually emailed every mayoral candidate and the school board candidates. While most responded, it is amazing that several have not (and I imagine will not) that speaks volumes to this voter. Also, still can't get over the sense that too much effort is being put into worthiness rather than meaningful presentations of positions. We're not voting for president here, but something that really matters! I wish the banter was a bit more intelligent.

bonobo said...

Their banter or my banter? I certainly wish my banter was more intelligent. As for the candidates, I try to highlight when they take concrete positions on issues, but it's tough. In both the mayoral and school board races, there are few instances where candidates are articulating clear positions that are clearly different from the others.

They are there, and they are important, but the signal to noise ratio tends to be low. So, once again, if it's me you want more intelligence from, I'll try. If it's politicians, then ride, beggar, ride.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. I wish I would have gone now to the Bexley School Board forum at Cassingham because it sounds like Kusma and Halliday came off quite differently than at the forum at Brookwood Presbyterian a couple weeks ago. I walked out of there with a much more positive opinion of Halliday's ability to serve effectively on the board in comparison to Kusma. Two things that stuck out for me from your summary of this forum: 1) I believe Kusma was much less agreeable to the all-day Kindergarten at the first forum and gave a June birthday cut-off as her desired date. 2) the "value-added assessment" that Kusma touts is not widely appreciated by teachers and some administrators. It basically means that the district is judged by how many students make at least a year's gain in learning. Children don't learn in neat little packages of yearly chunks. While I'm sure Kusma is a dedicated parent and volunteer, I question her representation as "the educator" candidate because she doesn't seem to share the same opinions as many of the Bexley teachers.

bonobo said...

I just posted a summary of my interview with Michele Kusma. For what it's worth, Craig Halliday came across as very competent, confident, and capable of serving on the board. There's not an incredible amount of content in these forums, however, and his performance didn't translate very well to the summary method I employed.

As for value-added... I personally like the concept, and I'm going to be in Pittsburgh giving a conference presentation on a very similar method of evaluating behavioral health outcomes next week. Having said that, however, VA has a lot of potential for misinterpretation and subsequent misuse, and the presentation I'm giving will stress that these types of analyses should supplement group-level analyses rather than replace them.
Having said that, I'm somewhat happy just in that someone seems comfortable talking about assessment.

Michele Kusma said...

I would like to the respond to the post discussing my PTO forum comments.

1) At both forums I said that I was in favor of full-day kindergarten as long as the children were developmentally ready for it. Yes, I mistakenly gave a June 30 cut-off date at the Brookwood forum, but I corrected myself at the PTO forum. In the state of Ohio there are currently only two birthday cut-off dates, September 30 (which is what is currently being used) and August 1. If Bexley decides to offer full-day kindergarten, I would like to see the birthday cut-off changed to August 1, so students would enter kindergarten a little older and with the potential of being more developmentally ready. At the PTO forum, I also commented on the fact that even if Bexley does decide to offer full-day kindergarten, state law currently says that school districts must offer half-day kindergarten if there are parents who do not want their children in full-day programs. Many districts in central OH offer both full-day and half-day kindergarten. If there are readers who would like to learn more about kindergarten in Ohio, you may read more here: http://www.ode.state.oh.us/GD/Templates/Pages/ODE/ODEDetail.aspx?page=3&TopicRelationID=778&ContentID=2167&Content=37889

2) I do speak a lot about the Value Added Analysis that is going to be added to the district's state report card this year. As an educator with classroom teaching experience, I absolutely sympathize with all teachers who are currently in the classroom. It is going to be a new challenge to insure that every single student shows at least a year's worth of growth. I mention it very often because the community, parents, and educators have to accept that this is a new standard that we will now be responsible for. That said, I also feel that Value Added is a better way to measure student progress than what was previously being used. Students used to be measured on whether or not they reached a required level of competency. With Value Added, students are measured on whether or not they actually had a year’s worth of growth. For instance, if a child entered 3rd grade, reading at grade 2.4, they would need to exit 3rd grade reading at grade 3.4 or higher in order to be acceptable for Value Added standards. With the old system, if teachers didn’t get that same student to exit 3rd grade at a 4th grade reading level, it would affect the district’s report card because they did not meet the standard. So now, teachers who have actually been making great progress with students but missing the “bar” will be acknowledged for the accomplishments they made. Change is scary. I can absolutely understand why teachers and administrators may be wary of how it will affect their classrooms. However, the bottom line is that Value Added is here and our district is going to be evaluated in this way, and I believe it’s better to spread the word and explain it, rather than hide from it. I believe in our teachers, and I know Value Added will be very successful in our district. To read more about Value Added, visit: http://www.ode.state.oh.us/GD/Templates/Pages/ODE/ODEPrimary.aspx?Page=2&TopicRelationID=117

If you have any other questions that you would like to ask me, please feel free to contact me through my website at www.KusmaForKids.com

Michele Kusma