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

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What? No More Board Meetings?

Where did eight years go? After serving two four-year terms, ending June 30th, I feel that no time at all has passed, but according to my calendar, a significant portion of my lifetime has indeed gone by.

My fellow retiring Board member John Peterson and I left behind some unfinished business that I will address in subsequent posts on my local ed blog, but in spite of the seemingly glacial pace of change in [local] education, the Board has posted some significant gains for the District, which I will also deal with later.

Right now I’m interested to see how the new Board will function. Seven individuals have to learn to function as one.

But the Board is currently — as it has been for the last two years — a mixture of independent thinkers and ideologues. The thinkers are independent learners and respect the expertise of fellow Board members. The ideologues follow partisan party and/or special interest lines, and seem incapable of accommodating wisdom offered by fellow Board members if it diverges from the “party line.”

If you’re local, check in with me once in a while at Straight Talk, and you’ll get stories that are beyond the purview of The Oregonian or the Hillsboro Argus.

After 35 Years of Good Research…

…Bill Gates tells us what to do? (How come you abandoned Small Schools, Bill?)

The real question is, should billionaires be telling education professionals what to do when the billionaires are throwing money at their pet projects?

We know what to do, Bill. We just need superintendents and boards to man and woman up and get it done, without your interference.

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!

So, What Else Did the Board Discuss Last Tuesday? (Tempest in a Teapot, Part 2)

From my comments on The Oregonian Forum re Lighthouse:

The irony in this discussion of the Board’s faux “division” is that our OSBA Lighthouse Project instructors are competent, experienced, and successful education professionals who are, as the Board is, locked into a rigid program that needs data on the Board’s performance as measured by future student achievement, and therefore [the program] cannot adapt or change to improve.

Also ironic is that of all the topics the Board discussed last Tuesday, this one is merely “sensational,” while the other topics were much more relevant to the continued improvement of student achievement.

The Board received updates on the District’s rollout of standards-based grading (see Policy IK) accompanied by increased professional development in classroom assessment — the day-to-day, moment-by-moment feedback teachers give to students about learning, which, according to exhaustive research, is our most powerful teaching tool.

The Board also continued the discussion about the upcoming renewal of the HSD 1J Strategic Plan that will involve a large cross-section of the HSD community. Board members Adriana Canas, Rebecca Lantz, and Hugh O’Donnell will serve on a core committee with 27 other community representatives to determine which of the current plan’s objectives have been met, which should be maintained, and which still need work. The core committee will also deliberate on perceived need for new objectives.

Following the work of the core committee, still more educators and community members will serve on action teams that will determine the steps needed to realize the objectives.

Any volunteers?

What’s High School For, Anyway?

During this deep and prolonged recession here in Oregon, we get to thinking about the costs of public education, especially secondary public education. (If you don’t think about it, that’s okay…I do, and I have to admit to a lot of ambivalence.)

Yesterday, the Orange County Register published an online artlcle about the differing expectations of teachers, parents, and students with regard to exactly what we should expect from a high school education.

This might be a bit of an overgeneralization, but I think of high school as both a beginning, and for many, an ending of formal education. Logically, a high school education needs to prepare students for life after high school, whether it’s joining the workforce and raising a happy little family, or going on to college and then joining the workforce and raising a happy little family.

In short, preparing students to be prepared for anything.

What do you think high school is for?

Oh Yes, I Have Been Working!

I have a favor to ask of my gentle readers…

I’ve been distracted from my usual free-roaming education discourse here on RepairKit because we have a lot going locally, in Hillsboro School District 1J.

So, as some of you may have noticed, I began a local community blog that I hope will become a nexus of school patron communication. Already one elementary school parent blogger has linked up with me, and I hope for many more.

I also hope that the blog can refer district patrons and others interested in public education to sources where they can soak up some information about the inner workings of our school district, including administration, board work, and curriculum and instruction.

My links on Straight Talk are to blogs and web sites that address national education issues, so don’t be offended if you don’t see your blog linked there. (RepairKit’s not there either.)

Back to the favor…I’d appreciate comments here on how to improve this effort as well as indications that I’m heading in the right direction.

Straight Talk from a Hillsboro School District 1J Board Member

Thanks very much!

Photo: Century High School, Hillsboro, Oregon (3rd of four high schools, opened 1999)