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
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

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)

Politics: Where Do You Draw the Line?

Board Buzz, the NSBA (National School Board Association) blog, is asking questions about the legitimacy of political contributions linked to school personnel and Matthew K. Tabor has asked a relevant question to which I replied on his blog. Inasmuch as I’m committed to the study of boardsmanship that improves student achievement; leadership; and the general welfare of school districts, I decided to cross-post that reply here.

The question:

Can a superintendent contribute to a board member’s campaign?

My response:

Possibly. All the arguments about individuals participating freely in a democracy — on their own time and off-site — apply to the supe as well as anyone else. But there are big downsides.

I’d like to rephrase the question and look at it from a different angle. Should a superintendent contribute to a board member’s campaign? Emphasis on “should.”

Let’s consider the case of John Jones, superintendent of Onagonka Schools in northern Minnesota, who is thinking about making a contribution to a board candidate’s campaign (fictional character, fictional district).

From a board members perspective (I’m in my second four-year term), John’s exercise of whatever rights he has in this domain would signal me that he isn’t thinking strategically, and therefore, might actually be the wrong person for the job of superintendent. After all, supe’s have to be smart and savvy. It’s a tough job, and anyone who can’t figure the angles in this case doesn’t inspire my confidence.

Here’s why…

First, good superintendent-board relationships lead to high accomplishment in any district. Ingredients include honesty, transparency, and impartiality. “Integrity” on the part of all involved would be a good word to cover the bases.

Second, that relationship is fragile and not easily maintained. It’s hard enough to strive for perfection, but unforgivable to purposefully detour into stupidity.

From a political point of view (and I really hate that part), what if John’s candidate loses? Has the supe put himself out on a limb? Has he fulfilled his duty to maintain the impartiality of his relationship with the board? John has to work hard on mending fences with the new board member, and could easily have avoided this situation by staying out of it.

If John’s candidate wins, not only will the board’s perception of John change, but they will be looking askance at the new board member as well! “What’s going on here?” they’ll be thinking. Is John trying to “pack the court?”

Speaking of courts, the “court of public opinion” made up of “the taxpayers” will be another body looking with suspicion upon this turn of events.

Finally, since the board is the body that hires and fires the likes of John, and determines his remuneration, he might be seen by the court of public opinion, and possibly the state ethics commission, as trying to influence the conditions of his employment.

Any smart supe would shy away from contributing to a board member’s campaign. Any experienced board member would nod in agreement.

Cross-posted (in adapted form) on Matthew K. Tabor’s blog and Board Buzz, the blog of the National School Board Association.

Blogger Stalkers?

Let me say first that although this blog appears anonymous, it is not. Scattered throughout it are many clues to the identity of Repairman. Outing me would not take a work of genius, nor would I mind, although the time could be better used, I’m sure.

My blogging goals are focused on the improvement of public education, and any criticisms I have made have been in the spirit of helping another pilgrim avoid a screw up under my scrutiny. I have never tried to strengthen an argument by reducing other people (ad hominem). Generally, folks who make jackasses out of themselves don’t need my help to accomplish the task.

A short while ago, one of my posts drew a boorish comment from a local person who is apparently angry about the perceived inequities between boys baseball and girls softball in our district. Following good advice from a more experience blogger, I ignored the comment, although I did save a copy.

I then reflected on the purpose of the blog, which includes highlighting various education issues and engaging in discussions about them. I decided I did not want to be a lighting rod or a forum for local issues, and I would concentrate on discussing examples of positive leadership, so I removed the posts that referenced those local issues and two others that referenced leadership flubs elsewhere.

Since that time, I have been mindful of two things:

First, the local person (actually persons, because there’s more than one local IP Address showing on sitemeter) persisted in looking only at, then looking for (after removal) my posts on the local issue, “Tossing the Baby,” and “Tossing the Baby 2.” And today, in one of several exploratory sessions, he/she/they spent 28 minutes and 57 seconds on my site, finally exiting to the Google page that caches my entire blog. This person(s) has/have been at this since “Tossing the Baby” first appeared on RepairKit.

Second, I will continue to speak about all issues that are important to me whether they be local, regional, national, or world-wide. I will continue the practice of making only those observations that I would be willing to make in person, but I don’t guarantee smiles.

My local readers, if they want to talk more, can find me in the phone book. (The district won’t give out my phone number.) I’m listed and have been for 44 years.

I have reprised the deleted posts, with the most recent directly below this one. In “Tossing the Baby” I have also included, as forensic history only, the negative comment that plainly indicates that the writer, in his or her anger, chose to ignore most of what I said in the post. (I publish disagreements, not ad hominem rants. Also, I no longer accept anonymous comments. If anyone has something worth saying, they can register with Blogger or one of the other blogging services. It’s all free.)

For those of you in the edusphere who have yet to add sitemeter or some similar tracking device to your blog, I recommend that you do not wait. I have a complete record of my local visitors’ comings and goings and what they were curious about. They only live two miles away.

You’d think they could pick up the phone.

Tossing the Baby 2

Originally published August 23, 2007

The other day the supe and I were talking about school (what else?) and I asked how the Title IX situation was shaping up.

We had left our board executive session late last month with the understanding that we were going to do everything in our power to not merely spend federal money equitably (which we already do), but we would somehow, by problem-solving and working with sports booster organizations, ensure that differences in booster organization funding doesn’t cause inequities. That’s a pretty tall order, but we think we can get the job done.

We don’t want to alienate patrons who contribute lots of time, work, and money by telling them that some of the fruits of their generosity will fund someone else’s kid in another sport. We need and encourage their generosity. And despite the fact that I mentioned reverting to 100% club sports in Tossing the Baby, we don’t want to do that either.

The board and the supe also left the board executive session with an admonishment from the attorney who studied the district’s sports program that we should not share all the information in the full compliance report. The supe and I were both a little surprised at that, because the public executive summary really didn’t leave any facts out, just a lot of verbiage that covered details that support the executive summary. Again, nothing substantive was left out of the publicly distributed executive summary.

When a lawyer warns you, you’d best listen. The state school board association lawyer, whom we had retained to do the compliance report, acted in good faith, which was to fact-find, support and protect her client (the school district, and the board). However, zipper-lip on the part of the district can really upset people. Loose-lip can do even more damage, for example, in personnel cases.

But the supe and I agreed that withholding the full report, especially since it contained nothing new, was not congruent with the reputation for transparency that we have been building for the last three years.

Long story short, the district’s own attorney (different attorney) reviewed the report, and much to our relief, agreed with us. The major metropolitan newspaper’s education reporter has gotten her wish – we sent her a copy of the full compliance report today.

Now all we need is for the parents who threatened lawsuits to hunker down with the district and get to work making things the best they can be in “our town.” Neither party needs to waste money on a “second opinion” compliance report. Our end goals, great sports experience for students, are the same.

The supe is enthusiastic about working with all parent sports groups, meeting the challenges, and finding equitable resolutions. Like I said to begin with, athletics is important for everyone.

Posted by Repairman
Labels: athletics, Boardsmanship, leadership

Eric said…
Boy, I sure hope this works and doesn’t somehow backfire!
August 4, 2007 4:32 AM Repairman said…
Drpezz: 😀
August 4, 2007 4:33 PM