High School Journalism Gets the Ax In Hillsboro


Those of us then serving on the HSD 1J Board of Directors, i.e., the school board, were somewhat stunned to learn recently — via letters of protest and/or appearances at school board meetings from/by students, teachers, parents, a USAF officer, two professional journalists (who are alums of the Glencoe journalism program), and other Glencoe graduates — that although the District had been able to backfill some of our cuts, including some athletic programs that had been consigned to fund-raising, high school student newspaper advisor stipends (and thus the newspapers) remained on the cut list.

The high school community, the current Board and former Board members, and I suspect the entire District community, would like to know why…

John Peterson, a local trial attorney and fellow Board member emeritus (we both declined to run again after two four-year terms ending June 30th) frames the issue well in his letter of July 28, 2011 to the current Board…

From: John Peterson
Sent: Thursday, July 28, 2011 2:17 PM
To:schoolboard@hsd.k12.or.us
Subject: Plea for Journalism

July 26, 2011

To:  Hillsboro School Board

Re:  Cancellation of Journalism Advisor Stipends at High Schools

Dear Board Members:

It is with some considerable disappointment I address you on this subject once again.  After receipt of grateful news the State of Oregon would be providing slightly more funding than originally projected, we had a discussion of where to “backfill” budget cuts already planned.  I then made the statement such decision-making should be pursuant to a prioritization of deserving programs.  I urged programs supporting our academic curriculum should be of the highest priority.  My failure was in not insisting we have a debate then and there about what we believed as a board should be funded once again with these unexpected revenues.

I apparently placed too much faith in the belief that anyone with an educational background would recognize that the school district is first and foremost an academic institution.  It was with great dismay the next word I received was that our district administrators had decided non-academic athletic stipends were apparently to trump the stipend for academic faculty support and supervision of journalism.  The budget document does not require administration to spend allocated money as it might appear in the document.  The funding of stipends is entirely a decision of administration unless the board specifically directs a reversal of a decision made.  It is just such a reversal I urge upon you.

No one enjoys high school athletics more than I.  However, that is not the issue.  We should be ashamed of ourselves in the decision to fund any non-academic activity before we assure that those traditional and excellent activities directly supporting and complimenting our academic curriculum are first served.  Are we or are we not an academic institution above all else?

As the sports editor of my high school newspaper I can attest it was one of the most enriching educational activities of my life.  Concise writing, persuasive writing, deductive reasoning, appreciation of access to a broad working vocabulary were but a few of the skills acquired from my experience.  Organization of thought and words to state a point succinctly and accurately is a skill honed well in the pursuit of a journalism experience.  Writing under time deadline and pressure is yet another.  Confidence to interview others and speak for and against and defend positions is likewise fostered by an experience with journalism.  I was certainly impressed by the young lady from Glencoe who eloquently explained to us the disappointment over loss by her and many others of the ability to continue to develop their journalistic skills.  I found her arguments extremely persuasive when she shared how much of the funding for the newspapers is raised by the student’s own efforts and the large number of students directly involved in the production and publication of a newspaper.

Far more students are involved in this activity than are involved in many of the athletic programs we offer our students.  If you want to count heads you would find far more students are served by the journalism advisor than are served by coaching stipends for small team sports.  I hate to make this a contest over numbers as I would hope we could fund all stipends to maximize what we offer to all students.  But, I feel compelled by our Strategic Plan Mission Statement to make the point that sports coaching stipends should never trump the funding of stipends for traditional academic support of activities such as journalism.  The classroom in which journalism is taught and will continue is but a fraction of the learning associated with journalism.  The journalism laboratory, where the nitty-gritty real world lessons are learned is in actually assembling and publishing a newspaper.

Why would this school district choose to abandon decades of journalism excellence exhibited by those of our schools that still have a student newspaper?  Alas, I suspect principals are not excited with the prospect of conflict possibly arising over issues of censorship which has afflicted some schools in this country.  But, this is another compelling reason why we should embrace and encourage student newspapers.  It is the very reason we have faculty advisors to instill a sense of responsibility in our students and accuracy in the written word.  In my opinion this decision to abandon student newspapers is a “cop-out” on the part of district administrators and high school principals of this district.  It should not be permitted to stand.

I can only now speak to you as a concerned patron of the district.  I beg this board to reconsider the defunding of the journalism faculty stipend and support the publication of student newspapers.  Our mission as stated in our current Strategic Plan is to “Engage and challenge all learners to ensure academic excellence.”  Glencoe’s newspaper is a model of academic excellence.  With the many student members of newspaper staffs we were engaging and challenging them as our mission statement would charge us to do.  Now, we have chosen in this instance to ignore our own mission by elevating funding of non-academic pursuits over those of direct support of curriculum and the classroom.  Shame on us!  It is not too late to reverse the course and decisions of principals.  Abandonment of student newspapers is not chiseled in stone.  I remind everyone, demanding accountability and adherence to our mission statement is a board responsibility.  In fact, as this board learned from the last two years of involvement in the Lighthouse Project, it is school boards who demand accountability and adherence to their mission who govern the most successful schools in this country.  Please direct a reversal of this wrong-headed decision.  Do the right thing!  Following the spirit and intent of our mission statement is always the correct path to take.

John Peterson

Not On the Test Revisited

NCLB (the federal No Child Left Behind law) makes me grind my teeth for lots of reasons.

This very cool song pretty well sums them up…

Now go visit Tom Chapin’s web site, Not On the Test.

For those of you who want the lyrics, Tom generously published them on his other web site, tomchapin.com.

Not On The Test
by John Forster & Tom Chapin
© 2007 Limousine Music Co. & The Last Music Co. (ASCAP)

Go on to sleep now, third grader of mine.
The test is tomorrow but you’ll do just fine.
It’s reading and math. Forget all the rest.
You don’t need to know what is not on the test.

Each box that you mark on each test that you take,
Remember your teachers. Their jobs are at stake.
Your score is their score, but don’t get all stressed.
They’d never teach anything not on the test.

The School Board is faced with no child left behind
With rules but no funding, they’re caught in a bind.
So music and art and the things you love best
Are not in your school ’cause they’re not on the test.

Sleep, sleep, and as you progress
You’ll learn there’s a lot that is not on the test.

Debate is a skill that is useful to know,
Unless you’re in Congress or talk radio,
Where shouting and spouting and spewing are blessed
‘Cause rational discourse was not on the test.

Thinking’s important. It’s good to know how.
And someday you’ll learn to, but someday’s not now.
Go on to sleep, now. You need your rest.
Don’t think about thinking. It’s not on the test.

Thanks to Tom Brandt for hooking me up with the video!

Not On the Test

NCLB makes me grind my teeth for lots of reasons.

This very cool song pretty well sums them up…

Now go visit Tom Chapin’s web site, Not On the Test.

For those of you who want the lyrics, Tom generously published them on his other web site, tomchapin.com.

Not On The Test
by John Forster & Tom Chapin
© 2007 Limousine Music Co. & The Last Music Co. (ASCAP)

Go on to sleep now, third grader of mine.
The test is tomorrow but you’ll do just fine.
It’s reading and math. Forget all the rest.
You don’t need to know what is not on the test.

Each box that you mark on each test that you take,
Remember your teachers. Their jobs are at stake.
Your score is their score, but don’t get all stressed.
They’d never teach anything not on the test.

The School Board is faced with no child left behind
With rules but no funding, they’re caught in a bind.
So music and art and the things you love best
Are not in your school ’cause they’re not on the test.

Sleep, sleep, and as you progress
You’ll learn there’s a lot that is not on the test.

Debate is a skill that is useful to know,
Unless you’re in Congress or talk radio,
Where shouting and spouting and spewing are blessed
‘Cause rational discourse was not on the test.

Thinking’s important. It’s good to know how.
And someday you’ll learn to, but someday’s not now.
Go on to sleep, now. You need your rest.
Don’t think about thinking. It’s not on the test.

Thanks to Tom Brandt for hooking me up with the video!

RU Stuck? Task vs. Proficiency

Jose Vilson and Brown Sugar encouraged me to reprise a conversation I might have had with a peer who was willing to listen and entertain non-traditional ideas about grading and reporting…

I recently had a discussion with a teacher in which I asserted that homework should be evaluated, but that evaluation, whether in the form of a letter or a percentage grade, should not be included in a report card grade if the purpose of the homework was to reinforce classroom learning (as in “formative assessment”).

Then the teacher asked what they should do if the student decided that, because the homework mark didn’t “count,” he or she would not turn in their homework.

In the case above, most teachers would try to control the errant student with punitive grading, the most frequent manifestation being the award of a zero for non-performance and then including the zero with percentage items that determine the report card grade. The teacher with whom I was conversing thought that zero was the only option.

I said, “No, it’s not the only option. Stick with the principle of not adding homework evaluation to report card grades (summative evaluation).”

He said, “Then I should just let them skip homework.”

“No,” I said, “let’s back up a second.”

I asked if we could agree that homework should be thoughtfully assigned by the teacher, and the purpose of the homework should be to reinforce knowledge or skills taught in the classroom, and not assigned without consideration of the fact that students actually have a life in addition to school.

Yes, we could agree on quality homework.

Next, I asked if he would want to pursue every student who didn’t do any homework assignment. He said he would, because otherwise it wasn’t fair to the other students.

“Suppose,” I asked, “that the student in question has an A in the class and doesn’t need to do the homework?”

“Well,” he said, “it just wouldn’t be fair to the other students if I let that one go.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Well, it just wouldn’t,” he said.

“Can we talk about ‘Fair,'” I asked. “There’s two ways of looking at ‘Fair.'”

“Okay,” he said.

“First,” I said, “‘Fair’ has nothing to do with anything. With regard to that particular student’s achievement, it’s all between the state standards, that student, and you. Other students don’t figure into the equation. Remember, we’re criterion-referenced, not norm-referenced, right?”

“Right.”

“Second, and this is the way I prefer to think of it, ‘Fairness is not treating all students the same. Fairness is meeting each student at their level of need.’ So we consider each student, each case, one at a time, isolated from all the others.”

“Besides,” I said, “most well performing students are doing their homework anyway, and if they miss an assignment, there’s usually a pretty good reason. You’re a teacher, not a cop, so let it go.”

“If you’re concerned about the student who chooses to ignore homework because they may fail or perform poorly in the course without the practice, then you need to find a way to support them, and that takes some investigation into the reasons they are not doing the homework, as well as an enlightened administration that will provide before and after school, and lunch-time opportunities for students to have homework supervision and help.”

“Okay,” he said, “I get it. I’m a teacher not a cop. And I’m concerned with the value of what the homework produces for the student, not the process of making sure every kid does it or else. Homework is generally formative assessment, for practice, so it doesn’t go into the report card grade. If a student who doesn’t need the practice misses a homework assignment, I don’t need to sweat it, but if a student who needs the practice misses, I find a way to help him or her get it done.”

“Right,” I said. “And besides, in all the years that I’ve observed those homework policies, I’ve never seen kids try to take advantage of me. The ones who will do it on their own, do it. If it’s late, there’s usually a good reason and it comes in later. If they’re not going to do it, you have an opportunity to support them. And I’ve never seen that mythical stack of late papers on my desk at the end of a marking period.”

Winnie-the-Pooh image copyright Walt Disney Productions

Policy EBCC: Hazardous Threats

Honestly, I try to live a normal, productive life. A life without angst or worry, a happy life. But sometimes…

About a month ago, our district admin requested that the board put on review an update of Policy EBCC, Hazardous Threats. Mainly, this deals with bomb threats, e.g., a scrawled note in a restroom stall that gives notice that the school will be vaporized at such and such a time. The proposed policy update reflects current practice legitimated by recommendations from police, fire, and other emergency response agencies.

Last Tuesday, at the regular board of ed meeting, we had the recommendation from the superintendent to approve the revision. Actually, it was a revision of the revision’s revision, because there had been a great deal of feedback during the review period, and a lot of it came from yours truly. Admin graciously worked to accommodate the feedback, which was mostly concerned with allaying the fears of building staff who, because the original draft spoke of them “searching” their areas, thought they were in danger of being blown to kingdom come.

Back before the Civil War, when I was just a kid, I was trained in Ordnance Reconnaissance and Bomb Disposal by a Washington State US Army Reserve group tasked with just that. I was a young sheriff’s deputy (criminal division, patrol, second night shift), and the sheriff wanted his folks to be able to at least recognize danger, if not actually do something about it. (The bomb disposal training part was, I believe, just to scare the rat poo out of us, so we’d have some respect for the recon aspect of our job. We had to disarm briefcase and cigar box bombs that, instead of blowing us into the next world would merely set off a flashbulb to signal our demise. A lot of us got flashed with the accompanying unpleasant adrenaline rush.)

Long story short, as a guy who’d had some years in law enforcement and a career in teaching, I felt deeply for the building staffs, because the word “search” was not defined in the policy. In pre-microchip days, there were five ways (and any combination thereof) to set off bombs, one of them being motion. (Nowadays, I don’t even want to think about it.)

Here are some synonyms for “search” from the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary:

Main Entry:search
Function:verb

1 Synonyms SCOUR 2, beat, comb, finecomb, fine-tooth-comb, forage, grub, rake, ransack, rummage


Related Word run down, scout (around), scrimmage, skirmish


Idioms search high and low


2 to subject (a person) to a thorough check for concealed or contraband articles *police searching the suspects for weapons*


Synonyms ||fan, frisk, shake down
Related Word check, examine; inspect, look over, scan, scrutinize, study

Needless to say, I was not enamored of the word “search.” Certified and classified union presidents were both up in arms, as would be expected, because a bomb could easily be set of by being bumped by an innocent staff “searcher.”

Well, after all that discussion and written feedback, our policy will reflect that staff, when requested, and if a threat is not credible enough to evacuate the building, will be asked to visually scan their areas (the theory being they’d be the ones to spot anomalies). If a threat was credible enough to evacuate, no staff would be asked to return to the building, even for that visual scan.

If you want an eye opener, check to see if the police or fire people in your area are trained for hazardous threat response. I think my old sheriff, back in the mid-1960s, may have been ahead of the curve.

Because there was so much discussion and revision (although I was pleased with the final draft), the board voted to continue the review until July. In any case, I believe staff fears were allayed, and I felt a lot better about it too.

One last thought: anyone who works in a public building should keep an eye peeled for anything out of the ordinary. Threats were the subject of this policy, but if anything bad is gonna happen, there probably won’t be a warning. Moral of the story? Be vigilant and observant always. (Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not really out to get you.)

Yeah, I know…but humor is a tool, too. 😉

PS: For anyone interested, I’ll post a link to the policy after its approval next month. It never hurts to have comparisons.