Friday, November 02, 2007

In the Wider World

A young man named Aaron Dagres from Newark has thrown his hat into the ring in Ohio's 12th U.S. Congressional District. For the moment, I'm pretty much of the exact mindset as Jerid, on this. Mr. Dagres was probably inspired by the lack of a credible Dem candidate. That didn't last long. BSB is also reporting that Stonewall Democrats Columbus president Russ Goodwin will soon be officially getting into the race. Next week I will start looking more closely at the legislative landscape again. Right now I'm still as interested in the fallout from LaTourette's involvement with the Wide Open scandal at the Plain Dealer. As another blogger who has pushed at his Congressman, I'm quite interested in what happens when the Rep. pushes back, not just in cyberspace, but in the real world.

2008 starts next week, though. All of this can wait that long.

Woo-Hoo, Tuesday Night Live

As I'd told a bunch of folks over the course of the campaign season, I've got out-of-town commitments for work starting on Wednesday, and I've been scheduled to be in Pittsburgh Tuesday night. I had figured I would probably learn the winners of the Bexley races via a cell phone conversation somewhere between Zanesville and Wheeling.

The Wednesday morning schedule has changed, allowing me to cancel my hotel room for Tuesday and leave the next morning. Now I can be here election night, and blog the results from Bexley. Life is good.

More Multi-Media

It's easy to like a candidate when they are a likable person, and they are careful not to take any concrete positions. It's easy to like a candidate who takes likable, popular stands on issues. Then you've got Ben Kessler, a likable guy who says you should vote for him because he takes concrete stands on issues, some of which he has a pretty good idea won't be universally loved.

Judge for yourself. I've run into a bunch of people who have been impressed with Mr. Kessler, and I sat down with him this week to discuss his run for City Council. I'm not always sure I'm in agreement with him, but I've been impressed myself. He's the only candidate among the five who has never sat on the council, but he's been attending meetings and doing homework. It shows in the interview, which, although it spanned a number of issues from retail development to politics and campaigning, I've edited down to one question: How would you balance Bexley's budget?

You can hear Ben's (15 minute) answer here. As I summarized at the end, he's talking about increasing staff productivity, re-benchmarking budgets to 3% annual growth from 2004 levels, and engaging in long-term planning to increase the accuracy of budget forecasting, but if you want details, go to his website or grab your headphones and listen to the audio.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

More Primary Sources

If you saw the latest issue of The Torch (not the one discussed at the school board candidate forum, but the 10/31 issue), you will find that the center spread is eight separate articles, each focusing on a mayoral candidate. The Torch instantly becomes the most in-depth source of reporting on that race. Sigh. Dang kids.

But I've got other races. I'm a utility blogger. Tonight's offering is a brief interview with school board candidate Michele Kusma. The school board race has been at least as rough and tumble as the other two, if not more so. My first view of the candidates came on Monday, but multiple people who saw both have said they thought Ms. Kusma was notably better on Monday than in the prior event. I can believe that, but she continued to do well for herself afterward.

Michele Kusma and I met up for warm beverages after the School Board Candidate Night on Monday. We started off talking about... me. For many of the folks involved in this election, it seems that I just sort of popped up out of nowhere one day. This is because I just pretty much popped up out of nowhere one day, a process that I described in more detail to Ms. Kusma as we transitioned into a discussion of the campaign, and eventually back into School Board matters. I started off by asking her to answer the question that she had most hoped would get asked but didn't. She first referred to a thick folder of notes she had brought with her. As she said, being the only candidate with a website might make her a little more accessible to folks with questions, but she had certainly received plenty, and had prepped the notes (in part) in anticipation of some of those questions being raised at the forum. She then decided on the hypothetical topic of Special Education/Gifted Education. There is apparently a segment of the population that believes Ms. Kusma is too narrowly focused on gifted education. Her response is that she has been vocal about supporting gifted education because it is an area of expertise for her, which has also led to her being asked to advocate for gifted education. She says that she is not overly focused on one group of kids, she wants to support all kids, and that all kids need support.

I was happy that she picked the topic, as I had only prepared a few questions, and the first one I was planning on asking was on exceptional kids, and which populations in Bexley would most benefit from extra attention. I framed it in terms of Special Education/Learning Difficulty kids, Gifted Kids, and "normal" or the "big middle of" kids. She answered that she was excited that the answer to the question was about to become much clearer due to "value-added" assessment and evaluation. [Value-Added (VA) refers to assessments that are benchmarked against a child's own achievement levels from the previous year, rather than to standards based on "typical" educational development. For example, under current assessment practices, Little Jane's education has been successful if she can read at "a fifth grade level" when she is in the fifth grade. Under VA standards, success depends on what Jane could do in 4th grade. If she was reading at a second grade level in fourth grade, then jumping two grade levels and reading at a 4th grade level in 5th grade would be a success. Likewise, if Jane was reading at a 6th grade level in 4th grade, and still reading at a 6th grade level in 5th grade, her education would be considered unsuccessful, even though she was testing above grade level - bonobo]. As Ms. Kusma pointed out, the data generated from this type of analysis can be used to make much clearer statements about achievement across the distribution of students.

The implications for classroom structure should at this point be obvious, and I asked Ms. Kusma what happens when you are a teacher tasked with teaching subject matter dictated by individual assessment level to a classroom grouped by chronological age? She comfortably discussed a range of methods that have been used here in Bexley and elsewhere, such as all classes sharing a common "math time" during which students are rearranged by math skills, etc.

All in all, she seemed enthusiastic and comfortable discussing the issues, and when I did throw her off a bit with DeRolph and then later by explaining how perceptions of the ways in which Bexley's schools interpret and enforce in-district eligibility made me personally uncomfortable, she responded cautiously but thoughtfully.

It was a pretty short interview, but it was following up two hours in which many of the good questions had already been asked. Next up: City Council candidate Ben Kessler.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

spooky, creepy, other-worldly

On a night when ghosts and goblins (or at least Venom and Yoda) come a calling, it's easy to entertain irrational beliefs. For instance, I recently wrote about something I really disliked, and then a blog with a prominent link up and to the left here went and did exactly the thing I hate. So I removed their link and replaced it with Wide Open, the Plain Dealer project bringing together 4 prominent Ohio political bloggers, 2 liberal and 2 conservative. A week later the Plain Dealer fires one of the best political bloggers in Ohio because Steve LaTourette doesn't like him. Needless to say, Wide Open is toast.

So now that I have decided that the spot up and to the left is cursed, I can go ahead and put the mother of all non-scientific methodologies up there. You can now take part in the only pre-election poll I know of for the three big Bexley races. Please vote once, and once only.

Clap if you believe in internet polls. Happy Halloween.

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).

Monday, October 29, 2007

New Week Rising

Tomorrow night (tonight by the time I finish writing this) at 7:00 pm, there's a Bexley School Board Candidate Night at the Cassingham auditorium. I know I keep promising School Board posts, but now I'm actually working on it. In the meantime, I did a sit-down over coffee with Bexley Mayoral candidate Bill Minckler today. We talked about his new campaign video, and the questions I had after watching it.

Nobody would ever accuse me of being a hard-hitting journalist, but the audio turned out pretty well, so (why not?) you can listen to the whole half-hour interview here (mp3, 4Mb).

Some highlights - Mr. Minckler believes that from a marketing standpoint, a community becomes attractive by being different, distinctive, even unusual (within bounds). I later asked him, how will the typical Central Ohio resident view Bexley after four years of a Minckler administration, and actually I really liked his response "an intellectual and cultural center... a center of ideas, influence, and art."

Of course, of course, this is in the context of a well-maintained city, with good services, and the line held on taxes, etc. We talked about management, with Mr. Minckler emphasizing the need to have projects analyzed in complete and meaningful ways before committing resources, an approach he would also employ with consultants. This came up in the context of one of my pet topics, the Woodland Meadows property, which Mr. Minckler was uncomfortable expressing an opinion on due to what he felt are unknowns in the situation. Reasonable enough. We also discussed multi-level parking structures. It's a topic he's obviously spent more time thinking about, and he outlined the benefits of underground structures, of rooftop community gathering spaces, etc.

I asked if he saw this as a Bexley-owned structure, a partnership, or a Bexley-facilitated private structure. It's apparently a good question. I'm always getting ahead of myself.

So anyway, if you'd like Mr. Minckler's platform as he himself presents it, check out his video on www.bexleyforward.org, and if you want to hear me blather, check out the audio.

More of this sort of thing forthcoming. And rumors of OH-12 news to boot.