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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Revising school accountability deserves bipartisan support
Posted on Tue, Feb. 26, 2008

Guest Columnist
I am a fiscal and religious conservative who almost always votes Republican.
So I have been more than a little uncomfortable recently as a few of my
fellow Republicans in the S.C. House of Representatives have tried to score
political points over what should be a bipartisan effort to improve South
Carolina's public schools through revision of our school accountability

It's no secret to anyone that South Carolina's 10-year-old Education
Accountability Act is in need of an update. Teachers and administrators aren't
happy with PACT because it provides too little "diagnostic" information on
individual students. Test results come back to schools too late to be of any
real use to either educators or parents. Annual school report cards are
rarely read past the front page by parents. When parents do read further,
they're very confused about what the information means.

Last summer, state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex appointed two
nonpartisan task forces composed of 150 teachers, school administrators,
school board members, legislators, business leaders and representatives from
colleges and universities. As one of those involved, I can honestly say that
our many days of work were devoid of any sort of political game-playing or
agenda. Our charge from Superintendent Rex was to improve student testing
and strengthen the Accountability Act. We presented him with an extensive
set of recommendations designed to do just that.

Sadly, House Speaker Bobby Harrell has led partisan attacks in press
releases and newspaper articles on the task forces' recommendations.

Dr. Rex shared the task force recommendations with House Education Committee
Chairman Bob Walker, whose staff drafted a 42-page bill that was quickly
endorsed by 40 Republican and 30 Democratic co-sponsors. This was a bill
provided by the Republican leadership, but it possessed bipartisan support.

Then the wheels came off. The proposed bill's filing was postponed as
Speaker Harrell told news media that 95 percent of the bill was defective
because it would "dismantle" the Accountability Act. Then, one week later,
much of the original bipartisan bill reappeared and was filed. According to
the House Republican Caucus, it was now a "Republican bill" that was
virtually stripped of Democratic co-sponsors. The bill was portrayed as
removing any liberal influences. Instead of providing the kind of bipartisan
leadership South Carolinians want and so desperately need, the speaker chose
to invoke the Roman maxim of divide et impera - divide and conquer.

In his column published in several newspapers around the state, Speaker
Harrell has stated that the original version of the bill removed ratings of
school performance with the intent of substituting "subjective and easily
manipulated" measures. It did not. He also asserted that the bill did away
with end-of-year high school U.S. history tests altogether. It did not. In
recent press releases, he characterized the recommendations from the task
force that were included in the original bill as an attempt to "water down"
the Accountability Act. Such mischaracterizations are disappointing.

In recent years, Speaker Harrell has projected himself as a friend and
defender of public educators, and rightly so. Unfortunately, his dismissive
attitude toward the task forces' recommendations betrays this. Members of
the two task forces included public school educators who over the past
decade have personally wrestled with the strengths and weaknesses of the
original Education Accountability Act. Ironically, many if not most of the
new features in what the speaker touted as a purely "Republican bill" came
straight from the original bipartisan recommendations from the two task

Rather than creating doubts about the intent and legitimacy of the task
forces' proposals, it would be much wiser for the speaker and other
legislative leaders to promote a genuine discussion centered upon the merits
of the proposed task forces' changes.

With the revision of the Accountability Act, the General Assembly and all
South Carolinians have an opportunity to improve and enhance accountability
and public education in our state. Over the last 10 years, one of the
greatest obstacles to effective accountability and academic success has been
the inability of public educators, legislators and local communities to
develop a sustained level of trust for one another. This lack of trust has
prevented the development of a shared vision and the momentum so necessary
for success.

The lesson in all of this should be clear. While it may be easier to divide
people as a short-term tactical maneuver, it becomes difficult if not
impossible to unite them after political, religious or racial polarization
has occurred.

If we are to forge a common agreement on how to promote academic excellence
through effective academic accountability, the process of revising the
Accountability Act must promote trust among all South Carolinians. It would
be wise for each of us to consider that the character of the political
process will ultimately influence the success or failure of improving South
Carolina's public schools as much as any revision that we will ever make to
the law.

Dr. Gummerson is superintendent of Lexington School District 3. From 1998 to
2004 he served on the Education Oversight Committee as the representative
for Govs. David Beasley and Jim Hodges.

Sunset Park and District Three's Magnet Program

Four years ago, the Board was told a year round calendar would be good for
students by; providing a shorter break during the summer; a draw from across
the district which would help bring the school up to capacity and:
intersession periods throughout the year which would provide enrichment
opportunities and a chance for slower students to catch up so summer school
would not be necessary. Since that time, the Superintendent, Principal, and
the Program Coordinator have moved on and the school has not lived up to
expectations. Just last year, the district went into partnership with
Winthrop to make the school a math & science magnet - and this has not met
expectations either. Now the District wants to drop the year round calendar
and math & science and start yet another magnet - a gifted and talented
school... And all of this without a serious analysis of what has happened
during the last four years with what was good and what was bad. On top of
all this, the school has not met AYP and students were given the option to
opt out last year because of its title one status.

The most often quoted district with school magnets (by the administration)
is Wake County, NC. A quick look at their criteria for being selected into a
magnet shows the following:

Applications are selected through a random computerized process using the
following criteria:

· Application submitted during the on-time acceptance

· Transportation Patterns

· Siblings

· School Capacity

· Classroom Capacity

· Diversity

· Present magnet/year-round status of applicant

They also have established Objectives for their magnet programs.

"Magnet Programs will be used to foster healthy schools throughout the Wake
County Public School System by using choice to help:

· Reduce high concentrations of poverty and
support diverse populations;

· Maximize use of school facilities and

· Provide expanded educational

The administration wants the Board to go forward with another leap of faith.
Gomer Pile is smarter than that.


Since the proposal is for a gifted and talented magnet - this is what Wake
County has in that area:
Curriculum: Gifted & Talented
Unique Features

* Variety of electives and course levels for exploration of interests,
acceleration, and a rich, in-depth study of the subject

* Opportunities for in-depth visual and performing arts studies

* Foreign Language offered elementary through high school

* Extensive AP course offerings at the high school level

The Gifted and Talented Program is based on the belief that every child has
gifts and talents to be valued and nurtured. This program promotes choice
for the student and parent. Children explore a wide variety of learning
experiences through core and elective courses that continually develop
individual strengths and interests. There are no tests, auditions, or
performance standards for acceptance into the Gifted and Talented Program.
All students have the opportunity to take elective classes. Students in k-2
take two electives and students in our 3-5 classes take three electives.

The philosophy of Wake Forest Elementary's gifted and talented magnet
program is visible through the structure of the curriculum and instructional
techniques. The curriculum design offers a "choice" model for students and
parents. It provides options and alternatives for learning designed to
accommodate varying gifts, talents, interests, strengths, and needs.

Academically gifted students have been state-tested, starting in the third
grade, and qualify for Differentiated Services in Gifted Education.

Gifted and Talented (GT) is the title given to the program in seven magnet
elementary schools, four magnet middle schools, and one magnet high school.
The GT magnet program is based on the belief that every child has gifts and
talents that need to be valued and nurtured.


Ultimately, the elementary school choice comes down to what Jay Mathews
describes in his article on how to choose a school:

7. Don't worry about elementary school.

The fact that you have read this far means you are an energetic parent who
puts great emphasis on education and who, I would guess, has been reading
and talking to your children since they were infants. You have filled your
house with books. You make learning exciting. All the studies show that you
are going to have much more influence over your child's academic achievement
through sixth grade than the elementary school you choose. So as long as the
school is safe and you like it, it really doesn't matter whether its test
scores are not the highest. Your child is still getting a great education
because of you.


February 25, 2008, School Board Meeting

Following a discussion as to whether Sunset Park Elementary should return to a traditional school calendar, the discussion was tabled. Board members want to be certain of all ramifications that returning to a traditional calendar might entail. This would include student assignment or reassignment to Sunset Park. The next discussion is anticipated to be held in March, possibly at the March 10 work session.

In other business, the board...

*listened to Jeff Nicholson, a parent and President of the school improvement council at South Pointe, as he spoke in favor of the board's moving forward with the plans to build a field house at South Pointe;

4Northside Elementary School of the Arts on its selection as a National Creative Ticket School of Excellence by the Kennedy Center. As a special treat, students who plan to perform at the Kennedy Center in early March performed two songs for the board.
4Linda Crute on her selection by the S.C. Art Education Assn. as the 2007-08 Principal of the Year;
4December 2007 National Board Certifiers;

4minutes of the January 28 and February 11 meetings of the board;
4personnel recommendations;
4field trip requests from Saluda Trail, South Pointe, Northwestern, and Rock Hill High;

*heard Supt. Moody make the following announcements:
4Feb. 25 through Mar. 7 are the dates for parents to enroll their children in preschool for four-year-olds, kindergarten for five-year-olds, and first grade. Applications are now available in all elementary schools and at the district office, and enrollment can take place any school day between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Brochures on the first-year-of-school enrollment went sent home by elementary students last week.
4Wednesday, March 5, will be a late start date. All schools will open on a two-hour delay. Parents who need to drop off their children earlier than the regular start time need to notify their child's principal on or before March 3.
4The next work session of the school board will be held on Mon., Mar. 10, at Rosewood Elementary. The meeting will begin at 5:30 in the school's media center.
4All schools and the district office will be closed on Good Friday, March 21.
4The annual Gala, sponsored by the Rock Hill School District Foundation, will be held on Thurs. evening, Feb. 28, at South Pointe High, beginning at 6:30. The Gala is the Foundation's primary fundraiser for teacher grants. A wonderful meal by Outback Steakhouse and entertainment by student groups will be provided.

*watched a PowerPoint presentation on Adult Education provided by Sandy Andrews (director), Lori Grant (teacher), and Mike King (transition specialist). It was stated that 1,042 students were enrolled in

the program during school year 2006-07, and that 151 high school credentials were awarded. Ms. Andrews stated that an important goal of the program is to raise the awareness of the GED program.

*listened to Assoc. Supt. Harriet Jaworowski give an update on the status and highlights of the Literacy Expectation Guide. Dr. Jaworowski stated that every teacher, K5-grade 5, will get a copy of the guide during staff development sessions which begin next week. She stated that the guide, based on research and best practices, provides a framework on how we teach reading and writing in our schools, and that it will be a great tool, especially for new teachers. The board was immensely complimentary on the guide.

*decided to postpone further deliberations on the South Pointe wrestling room/field house project until the board's work session on March 10. Board Chairman Bob Norwood expressed his disappointment that the local newspaper has taken a negative position on the project before the board has even made a decision on the project. Supt. Lynn Moody reminded the board that the project is not just about a wrestling facility, but rather about a facility that could be used for wrestling, cheerleading, other sports, and for physical education instruction.

*heard Board Chairman Bob Norwood review topics discussed at the board's work session on
February 11. Items included a report on the results of a comprehensive salary and staff study and the school bus advertising program introduced by the S.C. Department of Education.
*approved second reading of policies AC (Nondiscrimination/Equal Opportunity), DFAC (Fund Balance), JB (Equal Educational Opportunity/Nondiscrimination), JBCC (School Choice), JI (Student Rights and Responsibilities), and JII (Student concerns, Complaints, and Grievances);
*approved first reading of policies IJOB (Community Resource Persons/Speakers), IJOC (School Volunteers), and KGBA (Student Mentoring Program).

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ten Tips for Picking a Good School

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 25, 2008; 5:45 AM

This is the time of year many parents seek advice on how to find a good
elementary, middle or high school, public or private, for their children.
Usually I send them a Washington Post article I wrote on this subject three
years ago. But this is such an important topic to so many families, I
decided to update my thoughts. Here are 10 suggestions, in no particular
order. As you'll see in recommendation number 10, your own thoughts and
feelings should always be the deciding factor.

1. Buy an expensive house and you can be almost sure that the local school
will be good.

This is an admittedly cynical notion, but there is truth in it. Newcomers
often say to themselves, "Let's find a school or school district we like and
then find the house." Yet most school systems in this area are so good, and
parental affluence is so closely tied to educational quality, that if you
buy a pricey house, the nearest school is almost guaranteed to be what you
are looking for.

2. Look at the data.

In my opinion, based on 22 years of visiting schools and looking at data,
the two largest school districts in the Washington area, Fairfax and
Montgomery counties, are so well run that even their low-income
neighborhoods have schools and teachers that compare with the best in the
country. I think the same is true for public schools in Arlington, Clarke,
Loudoun and Prince William counties, and the cities of Falls Church and
Alexandria. (I'm based in Northern Virginia, so I have closer first-hand
knowledge of school systems on that side of the Potomac River.) I also think
all the D.C. public schools west of Rock Creek Park are as good as those in
the suburbs.

My beliefs are influenced by data on how much schools challenge all of their
students, even those with average records of achievement, to take
college-level courses and tests before they finish high school. I call this
the Challenge Index. (For more on the index, see recommendation No. 9
below.) I want to stress that other systems in the area have some fine
public schools. Case in point: All four public high schools in Calvert
County appear to be pushing students solidly toward college-level work.
There are also some good charter schools. But in some places, you have to
look more carefully to find them.

In the Internet age, there are plenty of ways to check the achievement
levels of public schools that interest you. All the major school systems
have Web sites that provide information on test scores, courses,
extracurricular activities and strengths of each of their schools. Three key
Web sites --, and offer links to the latest test passing rates for each
school, as required under the federal No Child Left Behind law. But don't
judge schools just by average test scores. They usually are better measures
of the wealth of the parents than of the skill of the teachers.

3. Talk to parents of at least two unrelated children in different grades
already enrolled in a school that you are considering.

Your real estate agent might know some parents you can call, or the school
principal's secretary will have the names and numbers of a few PTA leaders
happy to talk to parents. Ask them about the school's strengths and
weaknesses. Find out how well the school serves children whose interests are
similar to your children's, and always ask what they think of the principal.

4. Visit the school and ask to speak to the principal.

I think checking any school you find attractive should include at least a
30-minute conversation with the principal. He or she is the person who is
most responsible for the quality of the teaching, the atmosphere in the
halls and whether your child will be looking forward to going to that
building every day. Ask this person what the school's strengths and
weaknesses are, what should be changed and what the school can offer a child
like yours. Ask yourself, "Would I hire this person to work in my office?"
If the answer is no or, even worse, if the principal has no time to see you,

5. Listen to your kids.

Many of us, in our conscientious desire to find the best schools for our
children, sometimes forget to ask them whether they want to go to the place
at the top of our list. Many elementary and middle school students are going
to find the question mystifying or boring, but high schoolers are old enough
to have useful things to say. If they are putting up a fuss about your
choice and have in mind an alternative that is not significantly more
expensive (if it's a private school) and passes the tests in points 3 and 4,
you might seriously consider letting them go there.

6. The most competitive high schools do not necessarily lead to acceptance
at the most selective colleges.

Many parents think that if their kids can get into the private school where
all the Supreme Court justices sent their children, or into the public
magnet school that rejects 80 percent of its applicants, they are guaranteed
admission into the Ivy League. The opposite is true. A 1997 survey of more
than 1 million high school seniors by Paul Attewell of the City University
of New York Graduate Center found that, except for a few superstars,
attending a very competitive high school hurt students' chances of getting
into a very selective college. The reason is that selective colleges take
only a few students from each school. A student with a 2200 SAT score is not
going to stand out at a high school with several 2300s, but will be at the
top of Yale's list in a school that has only one or two seniors who score
over 2100. (The top score is now 2400.) Of course, those competitive high
schools will still give your child a great education, and perhaps that is
more important than which college sticker you get to put on your car.

7. Don't worry about elementary school.

The fact that you have read this far means you are an energetic parent who
puts great emphasis on education and who, I would guess, has been reading
and talking to your children since they were infants. You have filled your
house with books. You make learning exciting. All the studies show that you
are going to have much more influence over your child's academic achievement
through sixth grade than the elementary school you choose. So as long as the
school is safe and you like it, it really doesn't matter whether its test
scores are not the highest. Your child is still getting a great education
because of you.

8. There are no good middle schools.

I am exaggerating for effect, but there is some truth in this outrageous
statement. It is an itchy age, pre-adolescence. You will discover that no
one will have many nice things to say about whatever middle school you pick,
even the one full of millionaires' kids. Children that age are just too
difficult to teach. So look beyond the weariness of the teachers and parents
who have to deal with those raging hormones and look at how hard the school
tries to get every student through Algebra I by the end of eighth grade. If
at least half the students reach that goal, it is a very good school. If
fewer than 25 percent of a school's students meet this benchmark, you might
want to look elsewhere.

9.Look for challenging high schools.

These days, that means schools that have many Advanced Placement or
International Baccalaureate courses, and that encourage all interested
students, no matter what their grade-point averages, to take those courses
and the independently written and scored AP or IB tests. For a list of which
high schools do this best, look at's Challenge Index

10. Listen to your heart.

You can read all the charts, interview all the neighbors, decide the
principal is a saint and still not like one school as much as another. Go
with your instincts, not the statistics. You have to be happy with the
choice if you are ever to hope that your children will be in a mood to

Is New Gym Necessary?

Many of you have read the editorial in Sunday's Rock Hill Herald ( ). The paper makes
one good point, have board members explored any alternative proposals for
spending that money - and that is something the board will have to discuss.
The board has already been presented with a need to modernize Sunset Park
Elementary School - what other projects need to be done? Since this money
must be spent on capital projects - what about combining these projects with
the District Three Stadium Project, which frees up stadium money, originally
earmarked for District Operating expenses, to be used on the 2008-09 budget.
District Officials are already dropping hints there may not be enough money
to fully fund next years budget. Also, what items have been dropped from the
current capital spending? Should any of those be added back? Many items
were dropped from the South Pointe Capital project - some had to be added
back the first year from the operating budget and some - such as the third
gym, were to be added back when funds became available - Yes - the third gym
was in the original plans and had to be dropped because of capital spending
limits. The paper makes light of the board's commitment to provide equitable
facilities at all the high schools - but this has been one constant message
from the community for the past 10 years. Is now a good time to revisit?
South Pointe parents have been very patient as our district learns to
operate a "three" high school system. Many times they've been told to "wait
until next year".

This is not the same thing as the District Three Stadium Improvements. It is
different money intended for different purposes. Never-the-less, the
question needs to be asked, can we provide facilities for less money. That
answer is always yes, but it must be balanced with the expectations of the

Two last points. The District Stadium at South Pointe can be used by all
the schools in the district. The fact the other schools choose not to, is
not South Pointe's problem. In fact, this was brought out in the District
Three stadium improvement discussions last summer. How can one stadium be
getting more wear now when we have 3 schools and two stadiums (verses two
schools and one stadium). You do the math. Mismanagement of facilities
shouldn't be an excuse for spending tax payer dollars. The Board's intent
for the District Stadium South, was to eliminate wear and tear on District
Three Stadium.

South Pointe already has a strong wrestling program. In fact, they have many
fine programs - on par or exceeding those of cross town rivals Rock Hill and
Northwestern. The Herald continues to think this is a two school town. It's
time for them to update their thinking.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

District News for Feb. 23

Compiled by Elaine Baker, District Three Office

<Tickets for the March 1 Jazz Discovery Music Festival at Northwestern are
now on sale and going fast. Steve Smith's Jazz Legacy is the featured artist
this year. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. performance are $20. Orders can be
placed at

<Lesslie Elementary will celebrate birthday #102 on Thursday, March 6, with
a drop-in from 1:00-2:00 in the media center. A scrapbook highlighting the
first 100 years at Lesslie will be unveiled.

<Freshman Academy teachers at Rock Hill High will hold a National History
Day Family Night Drop-in on

Feb. 27 from 5:30-7:30 in the media center. Student exhibits will be on

<The automotive technology lab at the Applied Technology Center needs three
automobiles to use as demonstration models. The vehicles do not need to run,
and they will not be returned. Those who wish to donate a car and receive a
tax deduction should contact Jeff Shmanske.

<The York County Education Assn. will host a legislative forum at 6:00 p.m.
on March 6 in the Dinkins Student Center (upstairs) at Winthrop. Mike
Fanning will tell "what's happening in Columbia that could impact you."

<Lesslie fifth-grade teacher, Jennifer Camp, and Saluda Trail eighth-grade
teacher, Davonia Freeman had students selected as district winners in the
Lt. Governor's annual writing competitions.

<The Palmetto Reading Council will hold its spring meeting on March 13 in
the Magnolia Room at Laurel Creek. Chris Soentpiet, an author/illustrator of
children's books, will be featured.

<Congratulations to Karen Percival and Tracy Shuckhart, from Old Pointe, and
Susan Cook, from the ATC, on receiving $2,000 teacher grant awards from Best

<Hats off to school board member, Walter Brown, who was recently cited by
the S.C. School Boards Assn. for "convincingly defeating S.C. Center for
Grassroots & Community Alternatives President Thomas Simuel in a recent
debate at the RH Freedom Center. Brown effectively stated the potential harm
any voucher or tuition tax credit program would have on public education in
S.C. and overwhelmingly won support from the audience."

Hayes and Rex Talk About Education

Catch Senator Wes Hayes and Superintendent of Education Jim Rex talk about
public education on SCETV, 6:00 PM, Sunday, February 24, 2008 (Channel 30,
Rock Hill).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

District Three February Business Meeting on Monday the 25th

Meeting of the Board of Trustees
Monday, February 25, 2008
6:00 p.m. District Office Board Room
I. Call to Order
Approval of Agenda
(Under consent agenda, all action items will be voted on after one motion and second to approve them without discussion.

If a board member wants any action item discussed or voted on separately, the board member, before the agenda is
approved, must ask that the action item be moved to the discussion item section.)
II. Citizen Participation
III. Special Business
        A. Recognition of Northside Elementary School of the Arts
        B. Recognition of Linda Crute, S.C. Arts Educator of the Year
        C. Recognition of National Board Certified Teachers
IV. Consent Action Agenda
        A. Approval of Minutes
          1. January 28, 2008, business meeting
          2. February 10, 2008, work session
        B. Approval of Personnel Recommendations
        C. Approval of Overnight Field Trip Requests (3)
V. Communications -
VI. Report of the Superintendent
        A. Announcements
        B. Adult Education Report
        C. Literacy Expectation Guide
        D. South Pointe Field House Project
VII. Review of Work Session
VIII. Action Agenda
        A. Approval of Policies AC, DFAC, JB, JBCC, JI, and JII - 2nd Reading
        B. Approval of Policies IJOB, IJOC, & KGBA - 1st Reading
IX. Other Business
X. Executive Session - None
XI. Adjourn

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Public Education Legislative Forum

Advocacy in Action

· SCSBA salutes Walter Brown, member of the Rock Hill District Three School Board, for convincingly defeating SC Center for Grassroots & Community Alternatives President Thomas Simuel, in a January 15th debate at the Rock Hill Freedom Center. The debate centered on the topic of vouchers and tuition tax credits. Brown effectively stated the potential harm any voucher or tuition tax credit program would have on public education in SC and overwhelmingly won the majority of support from the audience.

Levine Children's Hospital

Colgate-Palmolive and Starlight have teamed up again this year to help
 seriously ill children and their families cope with the pain, fear and
 isolation of illness. The outpouring of support from 2007 Colgate-Palmolive and Starlight national online Fun Center voting contest was wonderful and
 resulted in an overwhelming success, with more than 2 million votes cast.
 This year, Colgate-Palmolive is awarding all 30 participating hospitals a
 Starlight Fun Center - a mobile entertainment unit that kids can enjoy at
 their bedside or anywhere in a hospital setting.

And now you can make an even bigger difference. The ten hospitals that
 receive the most online votes will receive two Starlight Fun Centers,
 generously sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive. That's double the amount of fun
 and laughter.

Go to   http://     to click on a hospital and place your vote. One hospital in each state listed will receive a Fun Center.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Rock Hill School District Director of Federal Programs on Straight Talk

Missy Brakefield, Rock Hill School District Director of Federal Programs talks on Straight Talk:

Renaissance Academy on Straight Talk

Jamie Quinn, Directory of Rock Hill's new Renaissance Academy talks on Straight Talk:

One Dad's Campaign to Save America

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2008; 10:15 AM

Bob Compton may be wrong about American students losing out to our hard-working Indian and Chinese competitors, but he is astonishingly sincere in his views. Even if his country doesn't react to the international threat, he will. He has hired special tutors for his daughters, even though they already have top grades at a premier private school.

Compton, 52, is a high-tech entrepreneur and investor based in Memphis. His documentary film, "Two Million Minutes," has become a key part of a campaign known as ED in '08, which aims to push the next president toward big changes in U.S. schools. Compton and the ED in '08 backers, including billionaire Bill Gates, support the growing movement for more instructional and study time. Compton's message is that American kids are wasting much of their four years of high school--about 2 million minutes--on sports and jobs and television while Chinese and Indians are studying, studying some more and then checking in with their tutors to see what they still need to study.

I am not friendly to Compton's argument. I think the Chinese and Indian threat to the American economy is a myth. I have been convinced by economists who argue that the more prosperous they are, the more prosperous we are, since they will have more money to buy our stuff. I also believe that prosperity in previously troubled countries such as China and India promotes democracy and peace.

I do, however, like Compton a lot, and agree with him that our high schools need to be much better--not in order to beat the international competition but to end the shame of having millions of low-income students not getting the education they deserve. I admire a dad who applies his arguments to his own life in ways I never would. He is significantly increasing the amount of time his children are devoting to their studies, whether they like it or not.

"Let me tell you," he said in an interview, "I'm not liked at home. My daughters wish I had never gone to India. They wish I had never gone to China."

Educators at the St. George's Independent School are apparently not pleased with him, either. After a lengthy trip that inspired his 2007 book "Blogging Through India," Compton went to the expensive and well-regarded Memphis school, attended by his daughters, Elizabeth and Meredith, and asked the staff to recommend tutors in math and science. He wanted them to have extra help to accelerate their learning, as he saw happening at some of the best schools in India.

As Compton tells the story, the St. George's people were astonished that any father would think that St. George's students with top grades need tutors. When they failed to send any recommendations, he responded with words he knew they would understand: "I am your greatest donor. You are going to give me the name of a tutor, or I am not going to pay my next pledge."

"They finally relented," he said, "but they thought I was insane. In India you show your love for your child by getting the best tutors possible. In America you get a tutor if your kid's having a problem. Well, I disagree with that."

He also hired an Indian team to develop a program that would allow his daughters to take a second math course online at home. He could not forget that Indian students he met of the same age were way ahead of them. Next year, he said, his older daughter Elizabeth will be a high school junior but will take some of her classes at a local college. There is always a chance that Compton's daughters will rebel against this Asian-inspired regimen, but I suspect that like all dads, he knows that.

St. George's president and head of school William W. Taylor said the school welcomed Compton's ideas and has made some adjustments, but "we must ensure that any curricular changes that are made are in keeping with our commitment to promoting and sustaining a learning culture that emphasizes the development of well-adjusted and well-rounded students." Taylor also said "financial incentives do not direct or influence any pedagogical initiatives or decisions of the school, and they never will."

Compton's documentary, made with his money by filmmakers Chad Heeter and Adam Raney and screened for select audiences around the country, takes a vivid look at high-performing students in India, China and the United States. What irks Compton is that so many of the Chinese and Indian students he met and profiled want to be engineers, mathematicians and scientists, while those occupations seem less fashionable in the United States. He has spent his life creating or investing in new companies, creating many U.S. millionaires, but he and the entrepreneurs he works with are finding it more difficult to find qualified American engineers. They have to recruit abroad, particularly in India. It frustrates him that American high school students spend so much time on sports. He has persuaded his daughters, top swimmers, to drop out of all competitions except those for their school teams.

I gave him the usual arguments against the notion that our languid high schools are killing us in overseas competition. I pointed out that many commentators blamed U.S. schools for our losing markets to the Japanese two decades ago. When U.S. companies roared back in the 1990s, and the Japanese went into a slump, those same experts fell silent. I told Compton that his own early life -- as an undistinguished student at James Madison High School in Vienna and at Principia College in Elsah, Ill. -- showed that accelerated lessons in school were not necessary for the kind of success he has had. What made him the creative, productive and wealthy person he is was his own energy and imagination, and a free-enterprise economy that gives even B and C students more chances than A students in China and India have.

I argued that both China and India are weighed down by the 70 percent of their populations that are very poor and don't get to attend high school at all. Compton said that doesn't matter. Those countries are so large, he said, that they are going to produce more engineers than we do even though the percentage of their students who can go to high school and college is much smaller.

Neither of us is a soothsayer. We don't know what the future holds. If Compton's campaign results in a better education for his daughters and more efforts to improve our high schools and convince more American youth to try engineering, that is fine with me. But it seems to me that his documentary itself proves that we are unlikely to fall behind by much. Americans HATE getting beaten. "Two Million Minutes" seethes with distress over the possibility of America losing out, including a cartoon car race to show how many other countries pass us in average test scores.

If American living standards and economic opportunities ever slide from their high perch, if many of our students begin dreaming of jobs in India and China, rather than the other way around, perhaps we will hail Compton as the Paul Revere of the 21st century, put a statue of him in every public square and bring on a cultural and social revolution until we get back on top.

But I think we already have more than enough of that competitive spirit, embodied by entrepreneurs like Compton, to make the kind of lives we want for our children and grandchildren. I don't see any way we are going to lose that yearning to improve. And I think we will be pleasantly surprised at how much better we will feel about ourselves and the world when China, India and many other nations build the same kind of creative futures, trading ideas among each other and with us.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Help introduce Sam to John, Barack, Hillary, & Mike!

Meet Sam. Like all four year olds, Sam has a brain like a sponge. In
fact, children's most important brain development occurs before they
turn five. As a supporter of pre-kindergarten, you know that what Sam
learns now - during this critical window of opportunity - will affect
the rest of Sam's life.

By now you've met Barack, Hillary, John, and Mike. As candidates for
president, they are talking about big issues like the struggling
economy. But you, like Sam's parents, probably want to know: Who will
invest in our children's potential by making pre-k a national priority?

The future for Sam - and for all of America's young children - depends
on what you do right now. Click the link below to introduce Sam to
Barack, Hillary, John, and Mike and ask them to make Sam's access to
quality pre-k a priority in their campaigns.

Unfortunately, Sam lives in one of the 47 states where state-funded,
voluntary pre-k is not available to all children.
That's why today, Pre-K Now is launching - a national
campaign to raise awareness of the lack of access to high-quality,
state-funded pre-k and what these missed opportunities cost America's
children, families, and communities.

When budgets are tight, a country makes clear its priorities.
It's time for the presidential candidates to show us that they
understand: We can pay now for quality pre-k, or we can pay much more
later to cope with more children who need special education classes, get
held back a grade, or drop out of high school.

Tell the candidates that when you vote this November, you'll be looking
for a president who will make pre-k a national priority and who
understands that this is the first step to improving America's education

After you make your voice heard, please click here to introduce your
friends to Sam and ask them to join you in sending a message to the

With your help, Sam doesn't have to miss out on the kind of early
learning that builds a foundation for success. Together, we can make
quality pre-k accessible for Sam and all of our country's youngest

Libby Doggett
A project of Pre-K Now

Festival Announcement

The 2008 Jazz Discovery Music Festival will be on Saturday, March 1st, on the campus of Northwestern High School.  The featured artist this year is Steve Smith’s Jazz Legacy which features Steve Smith on drums, Walt Weiskopf and Andy Fusco on saxes, Barron Browne on bass and Joel Weiskopf on piano.  The Winthrop University Jazz Ensemble, with guest soloists Joe Eckert, Lou Fischer, and Mike Steinel, will complete what is sure to be an unforgettable evening of jazz.  The evening concert begins at 7:30 pm in the Northwestern Auditorium.  In addition, the festival will also include performances by high school bands from North and South Carolina throughout the day as well as clinics and master classes with the festival clinicians and members of Jazz Legacy at 3:15 p.m.  The Northwestern High School Senior Jazz Ensemble will perform at 2:30 with special guest soloist Steve Smith.  The high school performances and the master class are free and open to the public.  For additional information please visit the festival web site at http:// HYPERLINK "" .

A dose of reality on our dropout rate

No one knows the exact figure. But, best guess, about one in three high school students in the class of 2008 will drop out of school before graduating.

The dropout rate is even higher in high-poverty urban centerssometimes surpassing the 50 percent mark.
In recent years, officials in a number of states have proposed a worthwhilebut somewhat simplistic solution: Raise the age of compulsory school attendance to 18.

Sounds good in theory. But there are concerns: First, although 27 states have raised the legal dropout rage to 17 or 18, there’s spotty evidence that this mandate has had any real impact in the dropout rate. After all, how do school officials keep uninterested and restless older teenagers in school if they don’t want to be there?

And how many schools seriously track down truant near-adults and "compel" them to return to school?
There also are budget implications to this approach. Officials in Maryland recently estimated an older dropout rate would require the state’s high schools to find classroom space for as many as 21,000 students.

They’ll also need to find 1,100 more teachersin a state with an acute teacher shortageand come up with about $200 million in extra operating costs.

Certainly the investment is worthwhile. It’s a personal tragedy when a student drops out of school. And there’s a monetary price tag for society, as well: A study in North Carolina concluded that the dropouts of a single year cost the state $169 million annually in lost sales tax revenues, higher Medicaid costs, and more tax dollars poured into prisons.

So I understand why there’s interest in raising the legal dropout age.

But let’s be honest: A legislative mandate alone isn’t going to solve the problem. What we need are reforms to the large number of schools identified last year as "dropout factories." What we need are early intervention efforts that ensure every student entering high school is prepared for ninth grade. And what we need are school programs that keep kids engaged in their education.

So we’ll see how this plays out. It would be nice if state lawmakers put some money behind these good-sounding mandates. Alas, the record for such sound legislative policy is mixed, at best.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

District Three News for 2-14

Compiled by Elaine Baker - District Office

Al Leonard Selected for State Award
South Pointe's principal, Al Leonard, has been selected for the Administrator-of-the-Year award from the Southern Interscholastic Press Assn. Mr. Leonard will receive his award on March 1 in Columbia where he will be the keynote speaker at a banquet of 450 school newspaper advisors and students from 16 states.

Rawlinson Road Step Team to Host Community Workshops
The Lady Raider Step Team will sponsor two major events (both free) on Feb. 29 and March 1. On Feb. 29 at 6:00 p.m. in the school auditorium, the team will present its annual step show titled "Teaching Tolerance" to promote understanding and tolerance of other cultures. A number of step teams will perform, including college teams. On March 1, the team will host a number of community interest workshops from 10:00-2:00.

<Rock Hill has been named as one of the top 100 Best Communities for Young People by the America's Promise Alliance. The 100 Best competition recognizes the 100 outstanding communities across America—large and small, rural and urban—that are the best places for young people to live and grow up. Rock Hill was chosen due to its commitment to improving the lives of its young people, including the collaborative efforts among the City of Rock Hill, Rock Hill School District Three, and the United Way of York County.

<Students at Northwestern will join millions of their peers across the country to celebrate the ninth annual National Education Association's (NEA) Read Across America Day on March 3, which falls on Dr. Seuss's 100th birthday. To honor the good doctor and celebrate the fun and value of reading, classes will participate in silent sustained reading with a twist. The class with the most Cat-in-the-Hat hats (bought or made) will win an ice cream party. In addition, the media center will serve free hot chocolate during all three lunches, and district personnel will be on campus throughout the day to read to classes.

<Main Street in the downtown area should be brimming with student artwork beginning Feb. 20. Banners designed by students will be on display as a prelude to Youth Art Month in March.

House subcommittee okays EAA reform bill

The House Education K-12 Subcommittee on Tuesday reported out favorably a bill to reform the Education Accountability Act (H.4662) with two technical amendments. The first eliminates the requirement to include National Association of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores of other states in the district report cards. The second requires graduation rate be used as one of the criteria for determining high school and district ratings. 

The bill calls for changes in four of the five major components of EAA: testing, professional development/technical assistance, public reporting and rewards and intervention. No changes are proposed for the academic standards component.


  • PACT would be replaced by the Elementary and Middle School Assessment Program (EMSAP) beginning 2010.
  • EMSAP performance level terms would be Exemplary, Met, and Not Met.
  • EMSAP would include tests in the four subject areas (English/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies).
  • EMSAP multiple choice test items would be administered close to the end of the school year to provide schools with strand level information. The writing test would be administered earlier in the year.
  • Formative tests to provide individual student diagnostic information would be administered twice a year for grades 3-8 in English/language arts and math beginning in 2008-09, and for science and social studies beginning in 2009-10. Individual student score reports will be included in students’ academic file.
  • The State Department of Education would provide student test results to schools by August 1 each year.  

Technical Assistance

  • EAA provisions concerning technical assistance to low performing schools and districts are updated to include several of the flexibility provisions in state budget provisos.  

Public Reporting

  • The term Improvement Rating would be changed to Growth Rating.
  • Graduation rate would be used as one of the criteria for high school and district ratings.
  • District report cards must include the states' National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores and the nation.  

Rewards and Intervention

  • Closing the achievement gap between disaggregated student groups would be added as a third criteria for Palmetto Gold and Silver awards.

The full House Education Committee is scheduled to take up H.4662 today after the House adjourns. 







Thursday, February 14, 2008

No skipping class

BoardBuzz found this article

in the Star-Tribune (Minnesota) pretty interesting. It seems that
missing class affects student learning. And no, it's not what you think.

When students miss class, of course it affects their learning. But this
editorial asserts that when teachers miss class, that also affects
student learning. "The more time teachers spend away from their
classrooms, the more student achievement suffers, according to recent
studies. That means school officials and educators should take steps to
reduce teacher absences and use substitutes more effectively."
As the article points out, everyone gets the flu and misses a day from
class here and there, but:
Nationwide, school officials reported that the number of subs
needed to fill regular teaching vacancies doubled between 1994 and 2004.
Federal Education Department data shows that about 20 percent of public
schools use substitutes to fill longer-term openings, often in subject
areas where there are teacher shortages. And that makes it more likely
substitutes will be asked to teach outside their areas of expertise.
Studies from the University of Washington and Duke University
indicate that districts rely so heavily on temporary teachers that
American students spend the equivalent of a full year with a sub in 12
years of schooling. Even as few as 10 days with a replacement teacher,
according to the study, can lower student test scores.
And in these times where we are constantly striving to increase student
achievement, every little bit helps. "Training and consulting with
colleagues is important; teachers need continuing education for their
jobs just like other professionals. However, given the impact on
students, districts and educators should look for creative ways to offer
training and minimize classroom absences." Districts in Minnesota are
working hard to ensure that teachers miss as little class time as
possible for professional development.

Another way to address the problem is to prepare for times when
substitutes are needed. Some teachers do an excellent job of planning,
providing detailed lesson plans to assure that students don't miss a
beat. That kind of preparation should be more widely practiced.
Reducing teacher absences alone is not the answer to all
education woes. But giving teachers and pupils more time together is one
of several factors that can improve student achievement.
As any teacher knows, planning is the key to classroom success, and
planning for absences is just another crucial part of the equation. How
does your school district effectively manage teacher absences?

Sanford, Rex look past voucher dispute, focus on charter schools
Posted on Wed, Feb. 13, 2008
Associate Editor

PERHAPS THE most distressing thing about the whole school voucher push is the way it has insinuated itself into every discussion about education. Even the most routine proposal becomes a proxy for the voucher fight, every vote parsed over what it says about where the Legislature is headed.

The result is that for five years now, we’ve been paralyzed, unable to have a meaningful, much less fruitful, discussion about how to address the problems that will face our state whether we have vouchers or not. Problems like how to provide poor kids in poor schools as good a shot at a good education as well-off kids in well-off schools.

I believe that most people who think vouchers are a good idea find this as distressing as those of us who oppose vouchers because like us, most of them also believe the state has an obligation to run the best public school system it can.

So I am delighted to be able to report that in one small area, the warring camps have put down their slings and arrows and are working together, diligently, on an education initiative. Not a transformative initiative. But one that could move us a tiny bit in the direction of better educating the next generation.

I wrote about the genesis of this dialogue back in the fall, when the men who have become the public faces of the battle Gov. Mark Sanford and Education Superintendent Jim Rex made nice before a roomful of witnesses during the governor’s annual budget hearings.

Much has happened since then, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Sanford Chief of Staff Tom Davis, the most level-headed person in the administration, the guy who joined the team because he believed in Mark Sanford and his good-government ideas not because he was a groupie of the governor’s loopy political ideology. There have been meetings and memos and agreements on reforms both sides are ready to push to improve our charter school law.

Let’s be clear: Charter schools are not the answer to what ails South Carolina’s schools. Like many other ideas, they can be a part of that answer. At their best, charter schools are laboratories of innovation; freed from many regulations, they have the flexibility to experiment with new ways to teach students. Because their governance is parent- and teacher-centered, they encourage a level of parental involvement that surpasses that of even the most dedicated parents in regular public schools.

And the charter movement includes safeguards to limit the downside: Unlike the private schools that would receive public funding under the voucher and tuition tax credit proposals that have been offered in South Carolina, charters have to take all comers. They have to administer and report the same tests as regular public schools, meet the same education standards. (Dr. Rex has also made no secret that he sees the growth of charter schools as a way to take some of steam out of the voucher movement.)

But a lot of public education supporters remain, at best, cool to the idea of charter schools; there are even some legislators who still seem unable to distinguish charter schools from vouchers. What the two ideas have in common is the danger of sucking all the best students with the most motivated parents out of regular public schools, leaving behind a dispirited band of children whose parents either can’t or won’t help and encourage them the most difficult children to teach, and the children who most need a top-flight education.

It is because of those concerns and in some cases some less-noble concerns about personal power that our law has some rough spots that make starting and running a charter school more difficult than it should be. One of the biggest impediments to charter schools is facilities, and so the Sanford/Rex proposal would give charters dibs on renting state-owned property and extend their life, from five to 10 years, to increase their ability to attract start-up funding. The plan also would increase funding for state-chartered schools, which receive less money per student than locally chartered schools; and give the schools more financial flexibility.

Mr. Davis says the changes would take back some of the concessions that education groups “extracted” in return for the last legislative attempt to encourage charter schools, and he expressed optimism that “if Dr. Rex and Gov. Sanford are together on this, we can get it done.” Dr. Rex describes the initiative as an opportunity to expand a movement that has “the potential to implement innovative practices that can be replicated by schools throughout the state.”

There likely will be some points of contention as ideas get transformed into legislation, and agreements between the governor and the superintendent get tweaked by legislators with ideas of their own. But the proposal stands a chance of breathing some new life into the charter school movement.

Far more important than that, it gives us hope that there is life beyond or at least alongside the distracting and destructive voucher wars.

Ms. Scoppe can be reached at or at (803) 771-8571.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It's ALIVE Once Again -- Robot, That Is

Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but this year's robot is alive
and well!!

About 7PM tonight, we tried Mothra out for the first time. Zach and
Jeff had developed the teleoperated program and Patrick, Kevin, Matt,
Brittany, Justin, Victor, and several others had the robot mechanicals
and wiring fabricated. I must admit, I was REALLY surprised that all
five motors and two limit switches worked as designed. OK, so there was
a little issue with battery connections, the right wheel turned
backwards (we KNEW that, anyway), and the arm didn't extend (first
because the motor wasn't connected and then because the belt was loose).
But, for all those pieces to come together with such few and minor bugs
is truly remarkable.

We've still got LOTS of work to do -- programming the IR remote (by the
way, Zach, the wiring for the remote is complete and the sensor is
working), adding two more limit switches, finishing off the ball holder,
attaching fenders and lettering, installing a few required electronics
(lap counter, function light), and many, many PR items.

See you at ATC!? Come dirve Mothra. . .

Mack Bailey

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Feb 11 District Three Work Session Notes

Action Item: The Board voted 4-3 to uphold a students request for
reinstatement in school. Brown, Norwood, and Reid voted against.

In other business:
Northside Elementary School of the Arts gave a presentation on their
strategies for increasing student achievement.

Sig Huitt and Jane Peeples, Carolina Public Relations/Marketing, gave a
presentation on work they are doing for the district on improving our
recognition power and getting everyone to communicate clearly in one

Dan Holden and Daniel Cobb, Educational Human Resources and Management
Consultants, gave a presentation on their work with the district on
benchmarking salaries for administrative and classified staff. Their
recommendation was to bring salaries to 5% above the average of 7 districts
benchmarked (York, Clover, Fort Mill, Chester, Lancaster, Richland 2,
Dorchester 2) at a cost of $1.322 million dollars. They couldn't explain why
the state report cards showed the Rock Hill District with the third highest
administrative salary average or the fact we have not lost administrative or
classified employees to surrounding districts. The administration promised a
salary administration policy before making an adjustment request for next
years budget. The consultants did report our salary supplements (coaches,
band directors ect.) were in line with the other districts. The district
does not plan a similar review for critical needs teachers.

Tammy White, Principal of Sunset Park Elementary School, Rich Melzer,
Director of Elementary Education, and Caroline Massengill, Consultant for
Magnet schools and President of Magnet Schools of America, made a
presentation of proposed changes for Sunset Park. Basically, Sunset Park
would be turned into a Technology and Gifted Magnet. A good write up of
this can be found in Tuesday's Rock Hill Herald ( ). The changes would not
take place until the 2009 - 2010 school year and would take 3 to 5 years to
take off. First year costs would be around $500,000 for capital improvements
and staff development. Additional staff would also be required. The
administration is asking for a reversal of the vote taken at the January
Business session where the Board denied an Administration request to drop
the year round calendar. All indications are this would be done.

John Hair gave an update on the Stadium Scoreboard/Turf. Bids for the turf
should be in this month. The review committee included no coaches but the
administration committed to have the football and soccer coaches sign off on
their recommendation. Only one vendor bid on the scoreboard. Most likely,
an advertising package would be worked out with the scoreboard vendor so
district staff and booster volunteers would not have to sell ads.

MB Kahn and MBAJ Architects gave a presentation on a new wrestling and football building for South Pointe High School. This would make the athletic facilities comparable for the three high schools. Cost was $2.4 million dollars and would be paid for from bond interest.

Luanne Kokolis reported the district was not interested in pursuing school
bus advertising at this time.

Policies were submitted for review. The administration committed to have
lawyers review their proposed policy on mentoring - particularly with
reference to after school activities.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Improve critical skills through gaming

I have written numerous times in my blogs about critical skills that managers need to be successful and to enhance their careers (see Soft skills in a hard world). In these blogs I often talk about obtaining these skills through traditional methods such as studying and practicing. While this may work for a section of the population, there are those that learn better through non traditional methods. Thus the focus of my blog today.The most critical skill in my opinion for a manager is the ability to communicate. The majority of managers communicate through writing and speaking. Both of these skills depend heavily on vocabulary. Thus enhancing one’s vocabulary is one way to strengthen communication skills. So how do we do that and have fun at the same time? Play a word game of course!

One of my favorites growing up was the “Word Power” pages in Reader’s Digest. These pages are still available in Readers Digest, however we are tech folks right? We don’t need paper! <grin> No worries folks, you can enhance your word power on line with Readers Digest Super Word Power. Spend some consistent time playing the game and you will increase your vocabulary. Another source of vocabulary games is Sheppard Software. They have a variety of vocabulary games for all levels. For adults I would focus on the ones designed to improve your SAT/GRE scores - these will be geared more towards the words you will find in the workplace and in management. Another way to improve vocabulary comes in your daily newspaper - crossword puzzles. They are another way of passing time while improving yourself without realizing it.

Besides vocabulary, grammar is another important building block in our ability to communicate. The BBC comes through for us here with their Skillwise section on their website. This site is an excellent starting point for improving all areas of written communication. It is worth a look.

Besides being able to communicate, a manager/leader must have critical thinking skills. One way to improve these skills is through logic problems/puzzles. Again revealing my age, I used to get these types of books at the supermarket in the checkout aisle. They were packed full of logic problems and their answers and you could spend days and weeks figuring them all out. I think these are still available but you may have to find them in your drug store or book store. However if you don’t want print, here are a few electronic links that will get you some logic exercise for your brain:
The last skill regarding communication is speech or speaking. For this, I have a game of sorts but it cannot be played online. The only requirement to play is that you need another human being that will play along with you. It is pretty simple conceptually but harder to do than you think. Take a topic, ideally IT related, and explain it to a non IT person. Here are the rules:

(1) You have to be able to explain the entire topic in 10 minutes or less.
(2) You must try to avoid jargon and technical terms and if you must use them you have to explain them.
(3) You have to explain to the person you are talking to why the topic is important, why they should care, and convince them to take some kind of action.

(4) You cannot use visuals of any kind and you must not stutter, stop and think, get noticeably frustrated, raise your voice or come across in a condescending manner. The last part about condescending is particularly important. This game will prepare you for those moments (I had one of these 2 weeks ago) when a senior executive calls you out in a staff meeting and asks you to explain your complex data conversion project in 2 minutes and tell him or her why it is important to the organization and to the legislature. I failed miserably - note to self - don’t doodle and day dream in staff meetings.

Understanding strategic business concepts is important to anyone in IT that needs to understand the enterprise as a whole. Many IT managers though are often confined to the world of IT and have little knowledge of how the rest of the business works. Therefore, having at least a basic concept of business strategy gives one a better sense of how the enterprise and business operates. I used to play a game many eons ago called the Harvard Business Simulator. I doubt that it is still available (this was pre-Windows) but I think I have found some new on line equivalents:

Business Strategy Games
The Business Strategy Game
I am still a big proponent of reading and I truly believe it is becoming a lost art. Therefore I still recommend that you have The Elements of Style and What NOT to Say! as part of your library and that you make some critical reading (not the newspaper but something written at a higher grade level) part of your weekly ritual. In the meantime, spending some time with the games I suggested above will provide you with some self improvement opportunities that aren’t dumbed down, geared towards adults and are fun at the same time.

The Definitive Response to KIPP Hype
At some point in your life, you're probably going to encounter a KIPP'ster -- someone who went to school at or teaches at one of the Knowledge Is Power Program charter schools -- who will tell you some rather amazing things about KIPP. Or you may read about KIPP in the newspaper or see something on TV. The best way to counter support for KIPP is to point out the following obvious points:

If you gave me any ONE of these factors with a low-income population of students, I could virtually guarantee you that student achievement would improve. Give me any TWO of these factors and my confidence of success would raise by an order of magnitude.

But KIPP enjoys ALL SIX.

In other words, if you have a small school with highly motivated teachers, students and parents that enjoys the benefits of private financial support and the accolades of the local and national press, you will be a great success.

Ergo, if all schools were small, had highly motivated teachers, students and parents, enjoyed the benefits of private financial support and the accolades of the local and national press, they would all be a great success.

But not all schools can do this. It simply is not possible, given the current paucity of funding and
the current mindset that blames low-income people for their own dire straits. So why can't every school repeat KIPP's success?

If we can look at these factors -- (1) student, teacher, and parent motivation, (2) private financial support, (3) small class size, and (4) media celebration -- as goals and try to increase the likelihood of their occurring elsewhere with greater regularity, we might have a worthwhile project on our hands.
But to consider KIPP a scalable, reproducible model is silly. Worse, because it attracts the conservative "if they can do it, anyone can" types, KIPP effectively derails substantive dialogue about how the factors that most contribute to its success can be reproduced in other schools.

For example, what policies can be created to increase student, parent, and teacher motivation? What factors decrease motivation? For low-income families without adequate healthcare, living in squalid conditions does not a motivated person make.

What policies can be created to decrease class size? What can be done to provide ongoing high-quality professional development and support to teachers so their desire and ability to teach is lifted up, not smashed down?

Let's have serious discussions about these questions. Let's not be distracted by talk of KIPP and its "magical solution," its hyped stats about its college matriculation rate, and its extraordinarily misleading claim that it helps ALL children learn. KIPP is not the cause of its success. Small class sizes, motivated teachers, motivated students, motivated parents, and tons of private financial support are.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Historical Links

Civil Rights Road Trip in SC :

History of the White House:

High-poverty -- AND high-achieving

Print This Article
Saturday, Feb 9, 2008


What's going on at Pinewood Elementary?

Superintendent Peter Gorman and the school board want to know. Frustrated by slow progress and setbacks at most high-poverty schools, Gorman asked his staff to crunch some numbers and find bright spots.

Pinewood popped out. More than 80 percent of children in this south Charlotte school live in poverty, yet they're passing state tests at rates that leave other schools in the dust.

Principal Nancy Guzman calls her strategies simple, if sometimes controversial.

She groups kids by ability, with strong teachers and tiny classes for the weakest and a faster pace for high fliers.

Students do daily timed drills reading passages out loud, a boon to children who don't speak English fluently.

And in a district known for mandates from central offices, she has seized academic freedom for her faculty.

"Anything that I want to try, she supports me," third-grade teacher Natasha Pegram says. "It helps to have an administrator that isn't like, `Follow the book! Follow the book!' "

Gorman says he can live with that. He's been asking his staff about Guzman's approach, and says he believes she's "making great decisions for her school."

"The formula that they are using works for the school and community," he said.

High fliers soar

Last summer, Kurt Thompson was skeptical of ability grouping.

The fifth-year teacher was transferring to Pinewood from Steele Creek Elementary, a lower-poverty school that includes high and low performers in each class.

He landed with 24 of Pinewood's top third-graders, and no assistant to help. He was wary.

Last week every hand in class waved eagerly as Thompson led a discussion on the branches of government.

Students proposed new "laws" for their class: Replace math with recess. Require students to keep the classroom clean. They debated penalties for infractions: Silent lunch? A day in jail?

Earlier they'd wrapped up a reading lesson on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." One girl assumed the role of a spoiled brat in Roald Dahl's book, trying to explain herself to classmates. Then everyone wrote letters to the fictional characters.

Thompson has a new take on ability grouping: "It's awesome."

His biggest stretch: Challenging the two gifted students in his class.

Gifted enrollment tends to track affluence. Pinewood has 12 gifted students, compared with 164 at Hawk Ridge, a low-poverty school farther south.

"I would put my children up against Hawk Ridge or anywhere else," Thompson insists.

Numbers suggest that's not an empty boast. Last year 92 percent of Pinewood's gifted kids scored "above grade level" on state exams, similar to Hawk Ridge's results and better than the CMS average for gifted students.

Intensive help

Down the hall, Pegram was introducing new reading techniques for her struggling third-graders.

She, an assistant and a student teacher work with 14 children.

The students wrote letters with their fingers in plates of sand. They worked on a sight word -- "and" -- by writing it in cursive and print, tracing it with their fingers, and tapping their outstretched arm as they spelled aloud: "A-n-d. And."

The new exercises are part of the Orton-Gillingham program, generally used for children with learning disabilities. Guzman wants to use it for all of Pinewood's youngest students, as well as older ones who lag in reading. She believes using sound, touch and motion will reach kids who don't pick up reading just by looking at letters.

So, shortly after CMS offered the training, Pegram gave it a trial run. She was dismayed when she did baseline testing. Two students couldn't identify sounds made by letters of the alphabet, something kindergartners are expected to master.

One of them had arrived at Pinewood from Puerto Rico the week before, speaking little English and lacking clothes warm enough for a Charlotte winter.

That kind of challenge scares some teachers away from high-poverty schools. But Pegram, who has been at Pinewood nine years, loves it. She insists on working with the lowest-scoring kids.

Her work, she says, is about building confidence, setting high standards and celebrating success: "I don't believe in `never.' I don't believe in `can't.' "

Many of Pegram's students have disabilities or are learning English. Some are being raised by grandparents, or by parents who work such long hours that their kids get little supervision, she says.

She works to help them pass exams, but that's not enough: "I'm teaching them how to look in someone's eyes when they're talking to you. I'm teaching them there's street conversations and there's formal conversations."

Award-winning maverick

Guzman, 57, came to Pinewood nine years ago, after retiring from S.C. public schools. She won national honors in both states.

She likes a lot of what she sees in CMS, and considers Gorman less heavy-handed than predecessors. But she's not afraid to test limits.

Guzman doesn't expect her staff to use the "Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support" system recommended by district officials. Her teachers do fine, she says, with high expectations and common-sense discipline.

When the fourth-graders started making messes and intimidating younger children in the restrooms, their teachers restricted bathroom privileges and warned that offenders might end up donning rubber gloves to help with cleanup.

Was that OK? Writing teacher Rhonda Broom asked Guzman afterward.

Sure, Guzman grinned. She gave a couple of kids bathroom duty last year.

Guzman is currently at odds with CMS's special-education folks over the latest push for "inclusion," putting students with disabilities into regular classes.

It often works well, she says. Pinewood has more than two dozen kids in such settings, and last year they passed state exams at twice the rate of disabled kids districtwide.

But Guzman says officials have lost sight of what's best for individual children in their zeal to push a program.

One recent morning, Guzman stepped into a kindergarten class, where a boy wailed for a baby doll. "Baby! Baby!" he sobbed.

Guzman sighed. The child speaks only a few words. He has tested as having the mind of a 2-year-old, she says, and disrupts class unless an assistant tends to him full time. She has repeatedly asked to have him placed in a special-ed classroom, she says, only to get denials and demands for additional testing.

Guzman believes all educators should seek out new ideas. At a conference at Harvard University, she picked up on "fluency drills," or having students repeatedly practice reading passages aloud.

Students time each other. All week they do the same passage, charting their progress and building confidence.

In Kelly Case's fifth-grade class, students read a passage on hydroelectricity. Some stumbled on words such as "generators" and "irrepressible," but overall read well. Justin Malcolm finished 135 words, up from 114 at the start of the week.

"When I read it I mess up a lot of words," he said, "but when I read it again I get more better at it."

Teachers report students' progress quarterly. At the start of the year, Case's kids, the weakest in reading, were logging 45 to 146 words per minute. The fastest reader has moved to a higher-level class. The slowest is up to 128 words a minute.

Meanwhile, the top fifth-graders are testing one another on seventh-grade reading.

What's next?

Pinewood can't coast. State reading tests are expected to get tougher to pass this year.

And success stories at high-poverty schools often end with the departure of strong principals or key staff.

Pegram, the third-grade teacher, has earned her certificate in administration. She wants to lead her own high-poverty school.

Like other teachers at Pinewood, she scoffs at talk of forcing experienced teachers into such schools. Pegram wants only "teachers who want to be here, that love these children."

On a recent Thursday Guzman e-mailed Gorman about some of her own aspirations: She'd like to pull together a team to turn around a low-performing school.

Or become principal of an all-girls middle school, if CMS would try such a venture.

He e-mailed her back on Friday, and called her first thing Monday morning.

"He was very interested," Guzman said.

What works?

Here are some of the things Pinewood Principal Nancy Guzman and her faculty say create high test scores at a high-poverty school.


The weakest students are in very small classes with a strong teacher and an assistant. Advanced students are in larger classes that move faster.


Pinewood students participate in Accelerated Reader, a widely used program that encourages students to read books they enjoy, and do regular "fluency drills," in which students repeatedly check each other to see how fast and accurately they can read short passages out loud.


Guzman decides which CMS programs work well for her students, and gives teachers freedom to make their own choices as long as they get results. For instance, the fourth-grade team decided to specialize by subject, with their students changing classes for reading, math, writing and science/social studies.

Beat the odds

Here are some other CMS schools that score much better than poverty levels would predict:

Garinger's New Technology High: This experimental small school was created last school year with about 100 freshmen, about two-thirds from low-income homes. The eastside school logged some of the district's highest scores. Still to be seen: Will success continue as the school grows to include grades 9-12?

Collinswood Language Academy: This magnet elementary school in south Charlotte offers dual-immersion teaching in English and Spanish. All types of students, including those who are just learning English, significantly outscore similar students statewide and across CMS. Just over half the kids are poor, and 58 percent are Hispanic.

First Ward Elementary: This center-city school combines neighborhood students and a magnet program that uses techniques developed for gifted kids. Most students are low-income and African American; they outperform similar groups statewide and in CMS.

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