Monday, April 21, 2014

Video- Legislature may take up gun proposals this week

Two laws that would make it illegal for federal agents to enforce gun laws in Missouri will be discussed this week. Federal agents could face criminal charges or they could be barred from taking any state or local police jobs after they leave their federal jobs. How long are our state legislators going to continue this nonsense?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Superintendent in my novel No Child Left Alive is self-absorbed publicity seeker

(The following post is reprinted from the July 18, 2013 Turner Report. Any similarities between the fictional superintendent from my novel and the superintendent of the Joplin R-8 School District are purely coincidental, of course.)

Since there has been quite a response to the Turner Report post last night that revealed the Joplin R-8 School District is going to pay $15,000 for people to manage the schools' Facebook pages and then the story today examining the portion of the district's improvement plan, which specifies how it is going to promote itself (including Superintendent C. J. Huff giving State of the District addresses) I thought it was time to relate an incredible coincidence.

The administration at the Franklin Heights Unified School District in my novel No Child Left Alive is also quite taken with the idea of promoting the good things that it has going. I am providing a couple of excerpts below.


As the head of the Franklin Heights Unified School District’s technology department hunched over his computer, Carlton Dunn looked over his shoulder, peering intently at the screen.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“I like the profile shot.”
Dunn nodded. “I do, too. Let’s go with it.”
“Are you absolutely sure you don’t want to go with a picture of the high school or maybe a cougar. That is our school mascot. People are familiar with it.”
“No, no,” Dunn said, his voice ringing with certainty. “The people in this school district need to be reassured that I am in charge.”
“I know I’m reassured,” the tech chief said, though Dunn did not pick up on the trace of sarcasm in his voice.
“Good. That’s the way everyone else will feel, too. Go ahead and put it on line.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. It is high time that we spread the word online about all of the good things that are going on here.”
“Well, start spreading the news. We’re on Facebook.”
Dunn admired the page. “I’ll send out an e-mail to the staff. Everyone will ‘like’ us on Facebook and we will offer a bonus to the staff member who successfully invites the most people to our page. I will have our new public relations coordinator start typing up positive information to put on the page every day. Isn’t it exciting?”
“Oh, yeah. No doubt about it. When did we get a public relations coordinator?”
“I hired her today. She was a steal for $80,000 a year.”
“The taxpayers are lucky to have you in charge of their money.”

“Of course they are and this way we can be sure that they know that. Now tell me one more thing- When you get our Twitter account set up, will we able to have my picture on it, too?”


The first 16 girls entered the second floor bathroom, did what they had to do, gossiped about boys and discussed the pros and cons of various and sundry sexual positions, and even had one near fight.
It was just a typical day.
Even the crude “Out of Order” sign on the third stall didn’t put a dent in the traffic or slow things down…until the clear red pool of blood seeped out from under the stall and onto thetile floor outside.
A sophomore opened the door and discovered the lifeless body of one of the school’s regular substitute teachers, Dorenda Plumb. At one time, Mrs. Plumb had been an English teacher at Franklin Heights High, but after taking maternity leave with her third child, she decided not to go back into the classroom on a full-time basis. Since that time, she had been at the top of the list when substitutes were called.
During the current school year, with teachers gone to one meeting after another, and others just calling in sick to get out of going to one meeting after another, she had been subbing nearly every day.
Abigail Saucier and Stanley Kramer were in a meeting in Carlton Dunn’s office when he received word of the death.
“They’re sure she is dead?” Dunn asked. He nodded as he received a response.  “I suppose suicide has been ruled out?” Dunn paused. “I suppose suicide has been ruled out?” He continued nodding. “Thirty stab wounds, you say?”
A few moments later, when the call ended, Dunn breathed in deeply and then exhaled. “This is not a good day for a murder,” he said. “We have the TV stations and the Daily News coming to the high school so we can announce our new initiative for the homeless.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about the reporters showing up,” Kramer said.
“I suppose not.  I’ll need to call her husband and give him our condolences.”
“What will we tell him?” Kramer asked.
“What can we tell him?” Abigail responded. “He just lost his wife and their three kids have just lost their mother.”
“It will be tough to spin this in a positive way,” Dunn said, staring out the window.
“Do the police have any suspects?” Abigail asked.
“Not yet. It has to be a janitor.”
“Why do you say that?”
“We can’t afford to lose any more students if we are going to improve our graduation rate.”
“Maybe we will be lucky and she was killed by an underclassman,” Kramer said.
“I hadn’t thought of that. That would be just as good as a janitor.” It was the first time Dunn had smiled during the conversation.
He began pacing the floor, wearing a path between his desk and the door. “We will have the press conference just as planned, but we will delay the announcement of the homeless initiative.” As Dunn passed his desk, he punched the button on the intercom. “Celia, put the following message on the district Facebook page. Are you ready?” Dunn continued pacing as he dictated the message. “We are all saddened by the loss of Dorenda Plummer…”
“Plumb,” Abigail corrected.
“We are all saddened by the loss of Dorenda Plumb, a longtime employee of the Franklin Heights Unified School District. Our staff will offer the police department our full cooperation in investigating Mrs. Plummer’s death.”
“Mrs. Plumb’s,” Abigail corrected.
“If this is determined to be a murder…
“She was stabbed more than 30 times!”
“If this is determined to be a murder, it will be the first time in the 89-year history of the Franklin Heights Unified School District that a substitute teacher has been killed on our watch. We are proud of the incredible protection that we provide to the teachers and staff. When substitutes come to our school, they know the odds are heavily against them being murdered. Let me see that before you post it, Celia.”
Dunn looked at the assistant superintendents. “That is the way we are going to deal with this murder.”
“You don’t think she was killed by that Salazar thug, do you?” Kramer asked.
Dunn shook his head. “No, he’s a partner in our graduation initiative. He knows that murdering substitute teachers is bad for business.”
No Child Left Alive is available online at Amazon and locally at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shoppe, and Vintage Stock on the Mall in Joplin, and at Pat's Books in Carthage.

No second miracle for C. J. Huff; school will not start on time

There will be no second miracle for C. J. Huff.

Unless, of course, you bend the rules a bit, or shatter them beyond recognition.

The Joplin R-8 superintendent's famous declaration just a few days after the May 22, 2011, Joplin Tornado that school would start on time has been cited as a major step in the city's recovery. Less than three months later, school did start on time, with students from the schools that were destroyed in the tornado attending makeshift schools in old school buildings, a mall and a warehouse, among other locations.

On March 25, Huff made the same kind of declaration to the Joplin R-8 Board of Education. Despite delays in the ongoing construction at the new Joplin High School/Franklin Tech building, Huff said school would start on time.

Another bold, visionary statement from the man whose leadership, according to his own publicity releases, saved Joplin.

Only one problem. It is just not going to happen.

Huff already acknowledged during a recent meeting with Joplin NEA that school will start about 10 days later than usual- not that it has anything to do with the construction (and the devastating problems that have been encountered through every step of the construction).

The construction was never mentioned. Administration has simply decided to frontload all six of the district's designated professional development days to the beginning of the school year, according to Huff. Students will come back about two weeks later in all district schools, and to make up for the lost educational time, 10 minutes will be added to school days until those missing days are made up.

Oh, one more thing. School will start on time. This is what Huff and his administrative team had planned the whole time.

The calendar will be submitted to the Board of Education during its meeting Monday night. The old board of education, complete with soon to depart Board President Jeff Flowers and Phil Willcoxon will make that decision before newly-elected Debbie Fort and Lynda Banwart are sworn in.

An earlier proposed version of the 2014-2015 calendar had school starting about 10 days earlier.
Huff told the JNEA leaders to make their membership aware that calendars "are not set in stone."

Sometimes you have to shift the calendar slightly so you don't get crossed up on your second miracle.

When it comes to Common Core, the New York Times just doesn't get it

The New York Times just doesn't get it when it comes to education- particularly when it comes to Common Core Standards.

In an article in today's edition, the newspaper paints Common Core as an issue that resonates with Republicans because they failed to overcome Obamacare. The Times picks the usual suspects, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Rand. Paul, etc. to make it appear that the only people who would be associated with opposition to Common Core are those who are seeking an issue to galvanize the Republican Party.

Only in one paragraph is lip service paid to the idea that opposition to Common Core is not just limited to those on the right.

It is not just conservatives who have turned against the Common Core: The leaders of major teachers unions are also pushing back because of the new, more difficult tests aligned to the standards that are being used to evaluate both students and teachers.

In a long article, that was the only mention of opposition being more broad-based and even then it was limited to leaders of major teachers unions.

In fact, despite what the New York Times believes, opposition to Common Core is growing across the board. The tests are a part of that. The idea that teachers should be evaluated on the basis of what students score on tests is flawed, to say the least. It goes along with the idea being pushed by those who have been attacking public school teachers that the teacher is the only factor when it comes to a child's educational success. Nothing else matters- not home environment, not personal problems, not even something as simple as being sick on a test day. The idea that these poorly written standardized tests should be the focal point for both teachers and students is ludicrous.

Obviously, when the tests are that important, you are going to have teachers teaching to the test. Even if they do not want to, they are going to be pushed in that direction by administrators who will also be judged by the test results.

Common Core is also expensive and pushing schools in the direction of adding more and more technology that is not necessarily needed. We see schools across the nation moving toward providing personal laptops or iPads for students, with many school officials acknowledging they are doing so because of the tests. We have also reached the point where school districts, many of which do not have the money, are having to find a way to provide more technology and keyboarding classes for the students in the lower elementary grades because those students are going to be tested on computers.

Whether this is a good thing for the students' education or not, we have no idea. The same people who push the idea of data, data, and more data as the reason for these drastic changes, have yet to provide any meaningful data that would back this monumental change in America's educational landscape.

Instead, we have millions of dollars being poured into a technology budget for items that will have to be replaced and/or updated frequently.

One thing cannot be denied- Common Core is a godsend for companies that provide computers, tests, test preps, textbooks, and of course, those that provide coaching and offer their expertise and seminars to those who want to be able to keep up with the implementation of Common Core.

Those people were at the table when Common Core was created. The educational business community had far more input than educators themselves.

And while all of those things offer sufficient reason to be opposed to Common Core, the main reason to be against it is its push to label American students as commodities, rather than individuals. The whole idea that we hear being pushed everywhere from the speeches of President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to the news releases issued by commissioners of education in the states that are implementing Common Core is that these standards will enable this country to make sure students are college or career ready when they graduate from high school.

To do this, those politicians who support Common Core are asking parents to force their children to undergo the type of schooling they would never favor for their own children. One example- President Obama's speech on education in which he said he was against teaching to the test and that it was not done at the school his daughters attend.

Of course it isn't. His daughters attend a private school that does not have to contend with Common Core.

The idea of having a set of national standards is not a bad one, but please do not expect us to believe, as Common Core supporters do, that local boards of education, elected by the people, are going to be able to maintain control over curriculum. If everything is based on winner-take-all tests, then the curriculum is going to have to be narrowly tailored to focus on statistical results.

The opposition to Common Core is far more broad-based than the New York Times would have you believe. When the Times paints it as yet another left versus right situation, it is trivializing an issue that will have a major impact on the future of this country.

Friday, April 18, 2014

So you've always wanted to be a Joplin R-8 teaching/learning coach

The excessive cost of extra highly-paid people at the Joplin R-8 Administration Building and the layers and layers of lower level quasi-administrators (the teaching/learning coaches, 21st Century coaches, Career Pathway coordinators, etc.) has helped put the school district into a financial crisis situation.

Nevertheless, it appears that the coaches, an integral part of the expansion of non-classroom personnel under the Huff/Besendorfer administration, will continue even as the district's reserves dwindle to nearly nothing.

An advertisement was placed today on the district website for a teaching/learning coach. It reads as follows:

What it takes to be a receptionist at the Joplin R-8 Administration Building

The Joplin R-8 School District has an immediate opening for a receptionist at the Administration Building at 32nd and Duquesne.

This is what it takes to be a receptionist for more than 50 people who make more than $50,000 a year:

Video- Tax cut bill passed this week explained

KC Star video- Mayor thanks residents for help in capturing highway shooting suspect