Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Decision Time

We six candidates for the open Mukilteo School Board position sat quietly in the back row of a small room of maybe 15 people.   The board sat in front at a semi-circle board-type table facing us.  The Board President gaveled the meeting into session.

He made a few remarks about the difficulty of the decision and how pleased they were that so many had sought this position.  Two other board members also talked about the decision  and the quality of the candidates.

Then the President gaveled for the question:  All in favor of the appointment of (the guy sitting to my left) say aye.  And they did.  And that was it.  The gentleman next to me who  I had actually just chatted with while waiting for the meeting to start is the new District 5 board member.

As I learned of his credentials I realized they made an excellent choice.  He is younger than me, probably smarter than me and has been very active in a lot of non-profit stuff.  And he has a master’s degree in economics, which will be very much needed as the district looks to probably more cuts in an already reduced budget.

I was both disappointed and relieved.   I think I would have done a good job and my background would have been an asset, thus the disappointment.  I was sort of relieved because most of the board is turning over in November and who knows what the chemistry will become?

I’ve been impressed with the board, their process and how they made the decision.  Ultimately time will tell how the new guy does and how the new board does.   But it looks good for right now.

This district has long been among the top performing in the entire state.  It has a rich legacy of providing an excellent education across a wide variety of learning abilities.  Yet, there is hard work ahead and I wish them well.  The challenges will not be easy.  But history tells us they will be up to it.

So, while I’m disappointed I’m happy for John Gahagan, the new guy.  I shook his hand and said:  “Be careful what you wish for.”  I wish him and the board continued success and they should know I’m happy to pitch in wherever I can to help.

Song of the Day:



The school board will have a special session next Thursday, October 6th to decide on the new member.  There are six candidates, including me.  The interview seemed to go well and I was impressed with the collegiality of the group.   These days too many school boards seem dysfunctional and divisive.  This group seems to really like each other and most important have a district that performs well above state scores across all metrics.

I would love to be a part of this but, of course, so would five other people.  I’m on pins and needles.

Song of the Day: 

Today Is The Day

Today I am being interviewed by the Mukilteo School Board.  I am one of six candidates to fill an opening on the board due to a board member resignation.   This is an appointive position to complete the term for the next two years.

I have always been interested in public education and public education reform.  Now I have a chance to be a part of the system and help a great district get even better.  Our two boys have gone through this system and they are both better for it.  It’s my turn to give back.  And these days with budget cutbacks everywhere it will be challenging to keep providing a quality education while dealing with fewer resources.

I’m nervous as this is my first (job) interview in at least 30 years.  Shoes are shined.  Shirt ironed.  I’ve read the board meeting notes going back 12 months.  I have brushed my teeth and removed the nose and ear hairs.

Here we go.

Song of the Day:

When Did Normal Become Not OK?

My wife asked that question a few years ago when our older son, Nick, was considering where to go to school after high school.   The “problem” he faced was that he only had a 3.61 GPA and scored the national average on his SAT.  He was (and still is) very interested in performing arts and began making videos and films when he was eight years old.  He also sings and plays guitar and has written several songs.

Yet he was not going to get into any of the prestigious four-year universities to pursue his life-long passion for exploring the creative arts.  He simply didn’t get good enough grades or score high enough on the SAT.  Not only that but he hadn’t done any volunteering, worked a job or played a sport.  All bias accounted for here as I tell you he was and is smart, interesting, funny, creative, articulate, curious, independent and confident.  The elite schools would not give him a sniff.  If only he had volunteered to install a water system in Somalia, invented a new language, built a robot or cured a disease while competing in marathons, he might have had a better chance.

Instead he is attending an excellent community college, taking a ton of performing arts, making movies, writing songs and planning to attend an acting conservatory next fall.  He will be fine and he will be successful.  Normal is good.

Here We Go Again

Our younger son, Tom,  is in his senior year and we are going through the college search again.  Tom has a 3.93 GPA (damn that B in freshman weight training) and scored well above the national average on the SAT.  He plays baseball, piano and guitar and is a wonderful singer.  Tom has also written and recorded songs.    By all accounts teachers love having him in class (that was true for Nick as well) and he loves school.

I’m concerned that, he too, might not get into one of the elite schools he desires.

He did not have a job, work at a food bank, write a book or work with third world refugees and, as a result, may have difficulty getting into one of the elite schools.   And he too is interesting, curious, talented,  engaging, smart, confident and independent.  Normal is good.

Normal Is Good

Early on we chose to let our boys be kids.  We felt that strength of character was as important, if not more important,  than strength of grades.   We encouraged them to follow their passions and try a lot of different things and enjoy everything school had to offer.  We talked about being generous and having a loving heart.  That empathy was more important than geometry.  If they wanted to get a job they could, but if not that was okay because we wanted them to enjoy the high school experience as fully as possible and take part in all that was offered.   We set the white lines and worked hard at keeping them happy and safe.  We kept a long trust leash and only had to shorten it a few times.   As a result they have good values, lots of friends, are healthy of mind and body and are interesting young men.  They are comfortable in their own skins and ready to go out into the world.

It’s too bad that normal kids rarely get to attend “elite” schools that prefer super-achievers.  Don’t get me wrong, super-achievers do a lot of good.  But I wonder about them being over-scheduled and becoming grade savants who struggle with the real world.  In the working world I often found that the graduates with average grades were usually better at judgement, curiousity, tenacity, negotiation and relationship building because they had better life skills.

There is a great article in The New York Times entitled: What if the Secret to Success is Failure?  It argues that character is a missing ingredient in our schools curriculum and there is evidence to support the notion that kids with great character tend to do better in college and their careers than those who only have great grades.

I don’t know if either of them will be accepted by one of the big-time schools.  I do know they both would flourish at any school.  And any school would be better having one of our boys enrolled.   I think they are very well-rounded and balanced young men – extraordinary, in a very normal way.

Song of the Day

This song has nothing to do with the post.  She is however an amazing new talent.

The Kids Are Alright

I want to be a policeman so I can help people.  I have volunteered at the police department and come to admire them and what they stand for.  I took classes in forensics and loved it.  I hope to be a forensics specialist in the police department

This year  I was among many  parents and teachers who volunteered to evaluate over 500 boys and girls as they presented their Culminating Project as part of their graduation requirement.  It was an honor to watch these young men and women talk about the past four years and what’s ahead.

I will attend Carnegie Mellon University and major in computer science.  And I will continue playing the violin.  The past four years I spend my time either coding video games or playing in a violin ensemble.   Here is a video of us playing at Benaroya Hall last year and we got a standing ovation.  By the way, I wrote the piece.

Each student is asked to spend up to half an hour talking about their time at Kamiak.  Among the highlights are a chronological summary of the past four years, turning points, favorite classes, what they learned about themselves and extracurricular activities.  A big part of the presentation is the presentation of two “artifacts” from the four years.  The artifact can be a class project/paper, something they made or a significant accomplishment.  They must discuss how the artifacts are relevant to what they did and what they hope to do.  Finally they must talk about their plans for next year.

I will go to culinary school next year.  I will also be working fulltime so it will take me awhile to finish.  I’ve been living on my own for the past year with my girlfriend and I do all the cooking.  I’m a great cook.   Who knows, maybe I will be on Top Chef one day.

We hear a lot about kids today.  Unfortunately it’s not often the good stuff.  The media prefer stories about kids in trouble.  I prefer stories like the ones above.  Every day as I watched these kids I was inspired.  They were focused, smart, passionate and compassionate, engaged, interesting and looking forward to life after high school.

I will major in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington.  Here is a robot I built last year for a state competition with my team.  We didn’t win but I loved figuring out how to build the robot and make it work.  I can hardly wait to get out in the world and come up with more ideas to make people’s lives better.

Some kids almost make your heart burst with their stories.

When I was growing up all I wanted was a sewing machine so I could make clothes.  The past couple of years I had a part-time job to save my money to buy that sewing machine.  It was part of my plan to ultimately become a fashion designer.  Finally after nearly three years I had enough to get that sewing machine.   But it was also my sister’s birthday and she really wanted a guitar.  I used the money to buy her that guitar.  I still don’t have the sewing machine but the look on my sister’s face when she plays that sweet guitar makes it all worthwhile.

I’m going to community college in a couple of years.  Right now I’m getting a job to help out my mom who lost her job.  Once Mom gets a job and I’ve saved money, I will go to college with the goal of ultimately being a nurse…just like my mom.

The kids are upbeat, confident and ready to conquer the world.  Their dreams are as diverse as their ethnicity.  One boy played an original composition on the guitar and told us he is going to a college in Indiana to pursue a music degree.  Then he hopes to one day become a Christian music director at his father’s church before heading overseas to do mission work.

It has been amazing to watch the kids tell their stories.  They will be policemen, firefighters, nurses, engineers, musicians, chefs, veterinarians, air traffic controllers, pilots, fashion designers and maybe even a politician or two.  Who knows?  What I do know is that we will be okay because the kids are alright.

Make The Pledge

Waiting For Superman is a documentary that describes the state of our public school system.  You need to see it.  We all need to see it.   This documentary will anger and frustrate you.  Hopefully it will also inspire you to get involved and help return us to world-class public education.

The producers have asked all of us to take a pledge to see their movie.  By pledging to see the movie, $5 will be donated in your name to public education.   Do it and pass the word.

Teach Me

Okay, let me understand.  The Seattle School Teachers’ Union just approved their contract.  But they opted to take the tiniest possible step when it came to authorizing teacher evaluation based on student test scores.  The approved version is limited in that test scores will merely trigger a closer look at teachers.   They will now be rated as innovative, proficient, basic or unsatisfactory — rather than satisfactory or unsatisfactory.  But a “basic” score only means a closer look — not termination or even probation.

And a few months ago,  Washington state was eliminated from the federal Race to the Top (RTT) competition.  In fact Washington finished 32nd out of 36 states.  That means our state will not get $250 million in new education money, which would have helped a lot at a time when schools are struggling to make ends meet.  If you don’t know, RTT is a federal program encouraging innovation in public education.  In short, the program rewards states for proposing significant changes to their public education systems in order to improve education.  Imagine that.

I am embarrassed.  I cannot understand why any teacher would not want student achievement as part of their evaluation.  I certainly agree that it should not be the only criteria.  But c’mon,  to resist including student test scores is absurd.  Trust me when I tell you that my children have had their share of bad teachers.  (To be fair, they’ve had way more good ones.)  I’m talking about teachers who prohibit questions from students, teachers who merely read from the text, teachers who are robotic, teachers who are burned out and going through the motions, teachers who keep returning after 15, 20 and 25 years who clearly don’t enjoy what they do.

In the private sector if you don’t do a good job you get fired.  In the private sector, a score of “proficient” or “basic”  is grounds for termination, especially if it continues.  Why would any teacher be proud of a score of proficient or basic?  Why would teachers not want their students to shine on tests?  Why wouldn’t teachers push their kids to be as good as they can be?  Why wouldn’t teachers want their salaries to — at least in part — be based on how well their students do?  Why wouldn’t teachers demand more of themselves?  Why wouldn’t their union demand it as well?

I understand there are lots of factors like home life, crowded classes, and not enough resources that contribute to the teaching and learning environment.  But in my view there is nothing more important than an engaged, passionate, creative and inspiring teacher.  Those are the teachers whose students tend to do better than their peers, regardless of their socio-economic situation.

I love great teachers.  They are noble and deserve to be recognized as heroes.  Yet, we lump good and “proficient” teachers together and basically let tenure dictate employment.  We have opted not to participate in public school reform — at least in any significant way.  We have chosen mediocrity, at best.

In the Race to the Top we are among the very worst in the country.  But the good news is that we beat Mississippi and Alabama… barely.