Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Top secret video reveals what goes on at Joplin R-8 Administration Building

The best part is when Tina Smith arrives at the end.

VIdeo- Ignite Church on the ground at Arkansas tornado scene

C. J. Huff in national magazine: My vision moved Joplin forward

(The following article is reprinted courtesy of Emergency Management magazine and can be found at this link.)
The EF5 tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011, spent 32 minutes on the ground. In that brief period, the twister managed to inflict immense damage.

The storm, which featured winds exceeding 200 mph, killed 161 people and destroyed more than 25 percent of the city, including 7,000 homes and nearly 2,000 buildings. It was the deadliest single U.S. tornado since 1953.

And the twister didn’t spare Joplin schools. Twenty of the school district’s buildings were damaged or destroyed, causing more than $100 million in damage and leaving more than 4,000 students without a school to attend.

“The tornado seemed to take a direct hit on the schools,” said Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr. “But we were fortunate it happened on a Sunday afternoon and not on a school day.”

As the city battled shock and confusion in the wake of the disaster, Rohr, Joplin Schools Superintendent C.J. Huff and other city leaders concluded that moving ahead with plans to repair the city would be key to the healing process.

“I can’t even begin to describe the sights, sounds and smells of what I experienced,” said Huff. “It was an abysmal feeling. We were in a very bad place as a community. But you can’t just stay in that place. So we started talking about what the future would look like and making plans right away.”
A few days later, Huff announced his intention to the school board: Joplin schools would open again in time for the fall semester, which was just 84 days away.  

“Making that declaration was important for a number of reasons,” he said. “It created a vision and helped us to stop focusing on the despair. Instead, everyone started thinking about how we were going to pull together to get our schools back online in time for the next school year.”

The Search for Space

In all, Joplin lost more than 600,000 square feet of educational space. The process of finding temporary classrooms for 4,000 kids and repairing the damaged schools was at first overwhelming.

“Obviously you don’t have a game plan for something of this magnitude,” Huff said. “But we started by working with the local Chamber of Commerce, real estate agents and the Army Corps of Engineers to find large, open spaces that could be modified to meet our school needs.”

Among the first priorities was creating an interim high school. The devastated Joplin High, which had served 2,200 students just before the disaster, had been the city’s only high school.

“Not only was the high school important because of the number of students that attended, but also because, as high school students, these would be the last memories of their K-12 education,” Huff said. “We wanted to treat our kids right and make sure the facilities were high-quality, even though they were temporary.”

The city secured 100,000 square feet of vacant retail space at the north end of Joplin’s largest mall, once occupied by a Shopko department store. Corner Greer & Associates of Joplin was selected to retrofit the space and transform it into an educational area. Designers and contractors had just 55 business days to complete the job. They not only had to be fast, they also had to be creative in working with limitations. For example, the kitchen and science labs had to be housed in modular trailers outside the building.

Because of limited space at the mall facility, the Joplin School District chose to use the space only for juniors and seniors (approximately 1,100 students). Freshmen and sophomores were sent to Memorial Middle School, which wasn’t hit by the tornado. Other temporary facilities were constructed or retrofitted in various locations to accommodate the rest of Joplin’s students. Huff said the biggest challenge was retrofitting an 80,000-square-foot industrial warehouse that had nothing but a gravel floor — it didn’t even have windows, air conditioning or power.
“We did a lot of juggling to make all the puzzle pieces fit,” Huff said. “It was a full-court press for each of those 84 days.”

In the end, the city successfully found facilities for all its students and the new school year started on time.

New Beginnings

Once students were in their temporary facilities, city officials turned their attention to replacing what had been lost. Rebuilding Joplin schools had one distinct advantage — starting from scratch gave school officials an opportunity to improve both safety and the learning environment. Each of the new schools built or under construction has one or more FEMA-compliant EF5-rated tornado shelters.

“All of our schools will now have safe places for all the children,” Huff said. “That’s important, obviously from a safety perspective, but also from a mental health perspective. Our district has 7,747 kids, and about 40 percent of those kids lived in the direct path of the tornado. Most of them experienced an EF5 tornado up close and personal, and lost everything in the storm. They need that peace of mind, as do the parents. Post-traumatic stress is still very prevalent here.”

The shelters will also be open to the community 24/7. By the time all construction is complete this August, Joplin schools will have enough room to shelter approximately 15,000 people.

In addition to improving safety, Joplin officials took the opportunity to incorporate 21st-century learning environments into the new schools. District leaders engaged high school staff, students, administrators and parents to brainstorm new ideas. A team of administrators toured tech-savvy schools around the country, as well as innovative companies like Apple in Cupertino, Calif., to examine cutting-edge work environments.

“We didn’t take the traditional approach to school construction,” Huff said. “We are creating schools that have a very open environment and collaborative spaces.”

The new schools have moveable walls that allow educators to create flexible spaces where students can collaborate in large and small groups. In addition, small group “think tank” areas are located in all the new buildings.

Technology also plays a key role. Franklin Technology Center will be incorporated into the new Joplin High School, and thanks to a $1 million donation from the United Arab Emirates Embassy, all 2,200 Joplin high school students now have a dual-platform laptop computer. All new buildings are also wired for current and future technology opportunities.

From a curriculum perspective, Huff said they have developed a new Career Pathway framework for course delivery.

“In essence we will be creating interdisciplinary teams that are in the process of delivering rigorous, project-based instruction in the students’ areas of interest,” he said. “We have five broad career pathways kids can choose from.”

Care was also taken to ensure the new school buildings would be efficient. While they won’t be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rated due to the high cost of certification, the buildings were built with sustainability in mind, with everything from the materials used, to rain water collection for irrigation, to natural daylighting, and motion on/off switches in the classrooms. In addition, the new Joplin High School has a conduit in place to incorporate solar power once it becomes cost effective.

Moving Forward

Though the 2011 tornado left a permanent scar on Joplin, Huff and Rohr are thankful something good came out of the wreckage. In January 2014, students moved into two new elementary schools and a new middle school. The permanent high school will be complete in August. The schools will not only be stronger, safer and better equipped to handle another tornado should one occur, but they also have the distinction of being some of the most advanced learning spaces in the U.S.

“We took the design of our new schools very seriously, and we went above and beyond to research best practices from a learning standpoint as well as from a construction standpoint,” Huff said. “When all is said and done, we’ll have some pretty amazing new schools that are efficient, cost effective and innovative.”
This story was originally published by Emergency Management magazine

Arne Duncan: In Joplin, I witnessed a community working together

(The following post on the U. S. Department of Education blog was written this month by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.)

“The best ideas come from outside Washington, D.C.” I’ve used that phrase in a lot of speeches and conversations during the past five years, and I repeat it because it’s true.Earlier this month in Hawaii, I visited two schools and talked with military families at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam about college and career ready standards. The stop in Hawaii marked my 50th state that I’ve visited since being Secretary, and the visit once again reinforced the importance of listening to what matters most at the local level.

During the past five years, whether my visit was to a conference, a community center, a business, an early childhood center, a university, or one of the more than 340 schools I’ve stopped by, I’ve come away with new insight and knowledge into the challenges local communities face, and the creative ways people are addressing them. I know that in order to do this job well, it’s vital to never stop listening, especially to those in the classroom each day.

Video- McCaskill praises White House stance on campus sexual assault

Billy Long: EPA makes life harder for rural America

In his latest newsletter, Seventh District Congressman Billy Long takes on the EPA.)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one of many agencies in Washington that issues regulations with little thought about how they will impact hardworking American families. EPA over-regulation stifles economic growth, hurts businesses, and makes life harder for rural America without doing anything substantial to further protect the environment.

Two examples of the EPA’s actions making life harder for rural Americans is its New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) proposal for wood stoves and its work with the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) on a proposed expansion of the Clean Water Actas it relates to navigable waters.

The EPA has a record of increasingly attempting to impose harsh new rules with dubious or non-existent environmental benefits. The EPA’s NSPS proposal for wood burning stoves takes a harsh “technology forcing approach” which will eventually render 85 percent of wood burning stoves sold in the U.S. illegal. Earlier this month I had the opportunity to question EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. I questioned her on this proposal and expressed my frustration with how impractical the proposal is, especially for folks in Southwest Missouri. Specifically, I requested a list of stoves currently on the market which will meet the proposed standards so that if this ridiculous proposal comes into effect my constituents will know which stoves they can buy now which will comply with possible future rules. As of today, Administrator McCarthy has failed to produce the list. The EPA should not make it harder for families to heat their homes with wood stoves and ban the production of America’s current wood burning stoves. The EPA needs to bring common sense to its proposals.

The Clean Water Act (CWA) originally defined navigable waters as the waters of the United States. This definition was much broader than older definitions of navigable waters, which were limited to those waters which were “navigable-in-fact.” In order for a water to have qualified as navigable-in-fact, it needed to be navigable for the purpose of trade or travel. The broadened definition in the CWA caused confusion and led to lawsuits over increasingly burdensome regulations related to our nation’s waters. On March 25, 2014 the EPA and the Corps released a draft rule which would expand regulatory coverage under the CWA to seasonal and rain-dependent streams and wetlands near already protected rivers and streams. The agencies are also seeking public comments on how to expand regulatory coverage to other types of waters which are even less connected to currently protected waters.

In anticipation of this rule, H.R. 3377, the Defense of Environment and Property Act, was introduced in the House. This act would redefine “navigable waters” as waters that are navigable-in-fact, which effectively limits the application of the CWA to waterways used as highways for commerce over which trade and travel may be conducted. Additionally, it specifically exempts from federal jurisdiction streams which may only form when rain falls, prohibits the EPA and Corps from regulating or reinterpreting the definition of navigable waters without Congressional authorization, and returns the authority of waterways not under the jurisdiction of the CWA to states and local authorities. I believe this legislation will protect businesses and landowners from this regulatory overreach, which is why I am proud to cosponsor it.

Every citizen should be assured the air they breathe is clean and their drinking water is safe. However, over the last few decades the federal government has regulated the activities of the American people in increasingly minute detail. This micro-regulatory state is strangling businesses, preventing job creation and costing our economy hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars each year. Even worse, this degree of regulation is incompatible with a free people enjoying a limited representative government.

Former Jasper teacher's aide pleads not guilty to sex charge

A former Jasper High School teacher's aide waived her arraignment and pleaded not guilty this morning in Jasper County Circuit Court to felony charges of statutory rape and statutory sodomy.

Janice Lorene Rusk, 43, Carthage, was an aide in the special education department at Jasper High School at the time the crimes were allegedly committed.

The Jasper County Sheriff's Department began its investigation after being told by the Jasper Police Department of reports of sexual contact between Ms. Rusk and "several juvenile males," according to the probable cause statement.

I made contact with D.S., a 16-year-old male on April 2, 2014. During an interview, D. S. said that on a day in the first week of December 2013, he had deviate sexual intercourse and sexual intercourse with Rusk.

D. S. explained that he had been texting Rusk for a while an they agreed to meet on a bridge at the west edge of B. S.'s family property on Baseline Blvd. in Jasper County.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 9:05 a.m. May 21 before Judge Richard Copeland.

Video- Springfield vigil held for Jewish Community Center victims

Video- Veteran's lost medals discovered in Arkansas tornado rubble

A report from KOLR News

Video- Roy Blunt calls on Democrats to support energy policy

Video- Family shares memories of Quapaw tornado victim - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Oklahoma inmate dies of heart attack after botched execution

Will this slow down Missouri's recent frenzy for executing death row prisoners? - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Video- Michael Jarrett announces House candidacy

A report from KODE's Allie Woldtvedt

Video- Volunteers hard at work in Quapaw

A report from KOAM News

Joplin's Ignite Church gathers donations for Arkansas tornado victims

A report from KOAM News

State asks FEMA to help with assessment of Baxter Springs


Joplin officials bring help, experience to Baxter Springs after tornado

A report from KOAM's Cailey Dougherty

Video- Baxter Springs middle school storm shelter locked during tornado

A report from KOAM's Rudy Harper

Economics professor: Huff Administration lacks ethical, moral leadership, is driving away teachers

A professor of business and economics minces no words when it comes to C. J. Huff's administrative decisions.

In a letter provided to media, the professor criticized Huff and the board of education:
Our previous and current school board, and current administration, have made some serious blunders in fiscal and personnel management, thus creating our current situation. The School District is top-heavy in all levels of management, as well as being extremely over paid. Our schools are lacking responsible, ethical and moral leadership from some school board members and our school's present administration. We demand accountability! We are losing our good teachers because of their lack of staff management! We must hold our school board and administration accountable for their lack of supervision and inadequate attention.

The letter was written in 2007 by Gene Bauer, a professor of business and economics at State Fair Community College and came in opposition to a tax levy increase proposed by the baby-faced superintendent of the Eldon School District, C. J. Huff.

If the accusations in that paragraph sounded familiar to those who have watched the performance of the Joplin R-8 School District over the years that C. J. Huff has been superintendent, then some of the other charges leveled by Bauer should also ring a bell:

-Because of our administration's ineptness concerning state guidelines and rules regarding curriculum, we are being placed on probationary status by the state board of education. Our administrators (not our children) are responsible for scoring an unacceptable 75 on the states last district audit! (You may recall that the Joplin school district scored an equally unacceptable 78.)

-Our tax dollars are supposed to be spent for kindergarten through 12th grade. Why then is our administration taking $500,000 of our tax dollars and spending it on head start programs?  The $500,000 in Eldon has become $15 million in Joplin.

Reportedly, the financial situation in Eldon was dire when the Joplin R-8 Board of Education thought enough of C. J. Huff to bring him here and give him more money than the previous superintendent, Jim Simpson, who had led Joplin to give straight accredited with distinction ratings from DESE. The fifth one, it should be noted, was announced during the early months of C. J. Huff's first year in the district.

The financial problems appear to be a result of Huff conducting business here the same way he did in Eldon. He explained his business methods to the Lake of the Ozarks Business Journal in 2007:

"We are also applying for several grants – healthy schools, preschool, volunteer, but the problem with grants is that there is a stop date on them and then we have to figure out where to come up with the money to continue the programs they were funding.

At Joplin, Huff's team has applied for one grant after another, many times adding employees, then using other funds to pay for those positions when the grants run out. One such example is the creation of teaching and learning coaches for the school district. When the grant money was gone, not only did the jobs remain, but more were added.

Eldon was lucky. For that school district, bright futures began when the Joplin R-8 School District decided to bring C. J. Huff here to construct a new educational pyramid scheme

Springfield R-12 School Board opposes SB 509

A report from KOLR News

Video- Mayflower, Arkansas residents pull together after tornado

A report from KOLR's Laura Kennedy

Video- Baxter Springs residents worried about their homes

Video- Volunteers in Baxter Springs help restore the city

Missouri Chamber holds rally supporting tax cut bill

Nixon: SB 509 provides a windfall for the wealthy, harmful cuts to public schools

(From Gov. Jay Nixon)

Gov. Jay Nixon today raised questions about the legislature’s priorities in passing an unaffordable tax bill that would allow profitable LLCs and corporate partnerships to take advantage of generous tax breaks, while giving the average working family a tax cut of only $32 a year. Citing Senate Bill 509’s harmful impact on public education, the Springfield R-XII Board of Education last week passed a resolution calling on the legislature to support Gov. Nixon’s expected veto of the bill.
“A bill that takes money out of our classrooms to give special breaks to the wealthy raises serious questions about this legislature’s priorities,” Gov. Nixon said. “While Senate Bill 509 would result in harmful cuts to our K-12 schools, the average family would have to wait until 2022 to get a tax cut of just $32. Missouri families are not willing to trade crowded classrooms, higher tuition and fewer teachers for what amounts to an oil change. That’s why once again I am calling on the General Assembly to abandon this unaffordable, unfair and dangerous legislation and work together on a more responsible approach.”
Senate Bill 509 includes a 25 percent tax deduction for what is called “pass-through” business-income.  This type of income is often reported by wealthier individuals – such as lawyers, lobbyists and even casino owners – that are organized as LLCs or corporate partnerships.
In fact, 52 percent of the tax savings Senate Bill 509 would generate would be collected by the top seven percent of taxpayers. For example, under Senate Bill 509, the operator of a casino with $1 million in business income could write off $250,000 of income and receive a tax cut worth $18,200. And Senate Bill 509 sets no limit to these windfalls, so the more income that casino makes, the bigger the tax cut its owner would receive. By contrast, a family making Missouri’s median income of $44,000 a year would receive a tax cut of only $32 when the legislation is fully implemented in 2022. 
In February, the right-leaning Tax Foundation wrote that “special carve-outs like this simply encourage individuals to structure themselves as pass-through entities for tax reasons, even if there is no economic or business reason for doing so.” 
Last week, the bill review process identified a provision that would increase the bill’s cost by $4.8 billion annually by eliminating all income taxes on Missourians with greater than $9,000 in income. The provision would eliminate 97 percent of all individual income tax collections and wipe out 65 percent of the state’s general revenue budget.
Even according to the fiscal estimate produced by the legislature, Senate Bill 509 would reduce state revenues by more than $620 million annually when fully implemented. K-12 education is heavily dependent on general revenue, so public schools are affected disproportionately by measures that reduce the general revenue budget, such as Senate Bill 509.Data
External Links icon
 released by the Missouri School Boards Association showed that Senate Bill 509 would reduce state support for K-12 school districts by $223 million annually, including more than $6.5 million from Springfield Public Schools, or the equivalent of 130 classroom teachers.

Instead of the unaffordable approach taken by Senate Bill 509, Gov. Nixon has laid out a proposal to fully fund the K-12 foundation formula and give working families a responsible tax cut by reining in wasteful tax credit expenditures.
Gov. Nixon has signed four tax cuts as Governor. In 2009, he signed legislation to phase out state income taxes on military pensions. In 2011, the Governor signed Senate Bill 19 to phase out Missouri’s corporate franchise tax, which will save Missouri businesses $70 million this year alone. In 2012, Gov. Nixon signed a targeted tax deduction for small businesses that create jobs. And last year, Gov. Nixon signed House Bill 128, which benefits Missouri manufacturers with significant out-of-state sales.
According to the Congressional Quarterly’s State Rankings 2013, Missouri has the 6th lowest per capita taxes in the nation. In addition, a report
External Links icon
 from the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University shows Missouri as one of only five states to receive an ‘A’ grade for its tax climate and economic diversity, and the only state among its neighbors to receive the top score in these areas. 

Last year, employment in Missouri grew faster than our neighboring states of Kansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Illinois, Nebraska, and Arkansas, and Missouri has been the fastest-growing state in the nation for technology job growth for two years running. Missouri has also led the rebirth of the American auto industry and attracted historic investments in biosciences, information technology, and advanced manufacturing throughout state.
A link to the breakdown of district funding levels if Senate Bill 509 becomes law is available here
External Links icon
. The data was generated using the same methodology used by education groups in assessing the impact of House Bill 253 last year.

Americans for Prosperity- Nixon's lying about Medicaid

(From Americans for Prosperity Missouri)
Americans for Prosperity - Missouri today called out Governor Nixon for inaccurate claims about the costs of expanding the state's Medicaid program. Governor Nixon says that if Missouri disregards his last-minute bid expand Medicaid, Missourian's tax dollars will be lost to other state that chose to expand Medicaid, as defined by President Obama in the new health care law. Both Politifact and the non-partisan think tank Galen Institute have refuted this claim.
"Once again, Governor Nixon has been proven wrong, choosing not to implement a costly Medicaid expansion will not directly send our tax dollars to support Medicaid expansion in other states," explained Patrick Werner, Missouri State Director of Americans for Prosperity. "We should do the responsible thing for Missourians and not worry about the misguided and costly decisions of other states. Medicaid expansion is not only a bad deal for taxpayers, but will make it more difficult for our poorest and most vulnerable citizens to access health care."  
Politifact recently fact-checked and found this this very claim "mostly false" when made by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, in support of expanding his state's Medicaid program: "There’s no finite money for expansion," said Edwin Park, vice president of health policy at the liberal Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “there’s no direct connection between Virginia’s decision on expansion and what happens to Medicaid in other states….states participating in the program will receive the same federal subsidy for each new enrollee regardless of whether Virginia participates”
Similarly, the nonprofit health and tax policy think tank Galen Institute states“not expanding Medicaid doesn’t mean other states get the money.  The expansion is an entitlement; if one state doesn’t expand, the money stays in the federal coffers.”
"Missourians should not be deceived, Medicaid dollars are not earmarked in the U.S. Treasury," Werner continued “The real problem is that every additional dollar the federal government spends is exacerbating our $17 trillion national debt, saddling future generations with a higher tax burden."
This isn't the first time AFP-MO has caught Governor Nixon stretching the truth to support his agenda. Last week, AFP asked Nixon to prove it when he said Missouri was a “relatively low tax state being ranked 6th lowest in the nation.” That claim runs contrary to the non-partisan Tax Foundation's recent study which shows that Missouri has the 14th highest combined state and local taxes in the nation. If the Nixon-supported proposal to increase the Sales Tax by one percent passes, it will vault Missouri all the way to the 6th highest combined rate in the nation.
Werner concluded: "Governor Nixon has barnstormed the state the past two years in opposition to tax relief while supporting big government programs like Medicaid expansion which will cost Missourians hundreds of millions. Is it too much to ask that he at least stick to the facts when he advocates for these terrible policies?"

Cape Girardeau official: Those who oppose Common Core Standards haven't read them

I am beginning to see a sameness with all of the statements that have been issued by those who are in favor of Common Core Standards.

-We can't get rid of Common Core because we have spent so much implementing it in our schools

-The people who are criticizing Common Core are ignorant and have not actually read the standards (the implication being, of course, that once you read them, you will love them).

-We are setting our own curriculum. No one else is doing it for us.

-If you are opposed to Common Core, you are one of those paranoid people who think the government is out to get you.

That same attitude is obvious in comments from Cape Girardeau's assistant superintendent in an article in today's Southeast Missourian:

Formative assessments are administered on a frequent basis -- such as daily or weekly -- to ensure students are on track in their learning.

Summative assessments are for the end of a unit, end of a semester or end of a year to make sure students learned what they needed to during those time frames.

(Assistant Superintendent Sherry) Copeland said students are doing much better on the assessments than they have in the past.

"We determine curriculum; we decide what textbooks, if any, we use, [and] what resources we use," Copeland said. Many of those resources are online with the advent of the district's 1:1 initiative at Central High School, where students were given laptops that could be converted into tablets.
That initiative will be moving down to Central Middle School in the fall.

"People who don't understand Common Core and are posting on Facebook and Twitter and really haven't read the standards," Copeland said. "That's concerning to me."

"We are constantly changing and improving as a society and education has to keep up with that. Missouri was right: We want our students to be college and career ready," she said.

It would be hard to fit in any more educational buzzwords in a passage. Districts are spending millions on 1:1 initiatives because Common Core requires that standardized tests be taken online. Even more technology has to be purchased because the tests begin in the lower elementary grades well before keyboarding instruction normally begins. And with the addition of the now-necessary keyboarding classes for elementary students, we are eliminating other instruction that would be far more valuable to them at that age.

The buzz words "college and career ready" are thrown around. Perhaps all of these computers will make it easy to step into the workplace, though I have my doubts, but please stop the nonsense about them making the students college ready. How many colleges and universities do we see that are providing the same kind of technology to all of their students? Not only is it not being done, but for most institutions of higher learning it is not even on the agenda for the distant future.

Cape Girardeau, Joplin, and other schools that have completely immersed themselves in the 1:1 philosophy and are totally changing teaching styles in order to make every lesson about the machines are not preparing the students for college where many of the classes will be done by lecture, a style that is considered disgraceful by the proponents of 21st Century education.

When the Cape Girardeau official talks about constant assessments, she is hitting on another of the problems with Common Core. While it is true that teachers are making assessments all the time and did even in the days before Common Core, this is not what is meant by assessments nowadays.

When it comes to today's educational landscape, everything is about the standardized tests and the testing companies are making a killing off Common Core. The students are being forced to take boring practice standardized tests that not only take away from valuable instructional time and destroy the joy of learning, but they have little educational value. Standardized tests were always meant be just one weapon in the educational arsenal. When everything revolves around them, education suffers. The Joplin R-8 School District, for example, has used McGraw-Hill's Acuity practice tests for years, taking them eight times a year to give the district an idea of where the students are when it comes to preparing for the end-of-the-year tests.

Even worse, I sat in on meetings in which we prepared curriculum based on the Acuity tests. Joplin is not the only school that thought it could game the system by buying practice tests from the company that prepared the annual MAP tests.

Now the entire state is being forced to do this since DESE (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) has signed an $18 million contract with McGraw-Hill to not only provide the Common Core annual tests, but also to provide its practice Acuity tests to the entire state.

In other words, we will have all state schools building their curriculum around the tests and the practice tests. Missouri's schools will soon follow Joplin's example and not only have practice tests for the standardized tests, but also practice tests for the practice tests (yes, it happens on a regular basis).

With the Obama Administration's Department of Education basing the awarding of millions of dollars on whether states are implementing Common Core and whether evaluation of teachers is being based on standardized tests, you will not only see a sameness in the curriculum of all schools, despite the protests by Common Core supporters who know so much more than the rest of us, but you will also see more and more teaching to the test because the jobs of teachers and administrators are going to depend on it.

History does not look with kindness on Common Core supporters' argument that it would be horrible to eliminate Common Core because so much money has already been spent to implement it.

Suppose the same thing had been said about the integration of America's schools.

In fact, it was. Those who wanted to maintain the separation of the races in southern schools often cited how much money it was going to cost to change things and how much money had already been spent to build the system they had.

When something is wrong, keeping it because you have already spent so much money doing it, is not an intelligent argument.

Kansas City, St. Louis mayors oppose GOP gun bill

Baxter Springs man identified as fatality in Quapaw tornado

A report from KOAM News KOAM TV 7

Video- Mayflower, Arkansas begins tornado recovery

A report from KOLR News

99-cent sale on Randy Turner e-books ends at 10 a.m. today

The 99-cent sale on five of my e-books ends this morning at 10 a.m.

The five include my novels No Child Left Alive, The Devil's on Facebook, and Small Town News and non-fiction books Let Teachers Teach and The Best of Sports Talk.

No Child Left Alive is the story of one year in a dysfunctional high school as teachers battle out-of-control students and clueless, self-absorbed administrators (Where do I come up with these ideas?). It is the book that C. J. Huff testified has nothing to say whatsoever about education and frequent Joplin Globe columnist Anson Burlingame says is pornography. After you read it, you will begin to wonder if C. J. Huff knows anything about education and if Anson Burlingame knows anything about pornography.

The Devil's on Facebook is an updated version of my 2006 novel Devil's Messenger and is a combination horror story/murder mystery. A teenage girl communicates with her murdered father on Facebook. Devil's Messenger, you may remember, is another book that Joplin R-8 Administration cited in its eventually successful effort to fire me. This vile book (according to them) was also pornographic and I allowed students to read it. That is true. Of course, it was never mentioned that the book had been on the shelves at East/South and Joplin High School for seven years.

Small Town News was my first novel, originally published in 2005, and is a fictionalized version of the events of October 31, 2001, when the bank of Diamond was robbed and Diamond R-4 Superintendent Greg Smith on the same day. The book is a satire on what happens when a small town is besieged by the media as newspaper and television reporters battle to get the story.

Let Teachers Teach is a collection of my best writing on education, including some original essays, plus ones that have been published elsewhere. Topics featured include standardized tests, the war against public education and public schoolteachers, my experiences teaching after the Joplin Tornado, remembrances of colleagues and former students, and the challenges that face classroom teachers.

The Best of Sports Talk is a collection of my best sports writing, mostly from the 1990s, including features on current Joplin City Councilwoman Miranda Lewis, about her aunt Nancy Cruzan of the Supreme Court right-to-die case, former Lamar Coach Armando DeLaRosa, who murdered his wife and then killed himself, current Carthage teacher Peggy Lucas as she watched her daughter Tysha, also a teacher now, play her final high school volleyball match, and the girl who received her first kiss at a basketball game, plus the way a swimmer who died of meningitis affected a class of first graders and much, much more.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Empire crews work to restore power in tornado areas

A report from KSN's Brad Douglas

Video- Kansas Gov. Brownback tours Baxter Springs tornado damage

A report from KODE News

Tornado damage affects Quapaw tribe

A report from KODE's Gretchen Bolander

Baxter Springs volunteers start recovery process

A report from KODE's Brian McLoone

Video- Mayflower, Arkansas, tornado caught on camera

A video from KOLR News

Video- Aerial footage of Mayflower, Arkansas tornado area

A KOLR News video

Springfield agencies respond to tornado-stricken areas

A report from KOLR News

Samaritan's Purse sends disaster relief unit to Arkansas

(From Samaritan's Purse)

A violent storm system swept across the central and southern United States on Sunday, causing widespread devastation in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Iowa.
The storm produced a deadly twister that killed at least 16 people in Arkansas. Most of the destruction took place in Faulkner County, where entire neighborhoods were wiped out in the towns of Mayflower and Vilonia.
Samaritan's Purse staff members are assessing damage, and a Disaster Relief Unit has been deployed. Volunteers will soon begin clearing debris and sharing the hope of Jesus Christ with storm victims.
More severe weather is forecast for today. Please pray for victims of this tragic storm. Monitor our website for the latest updates, including a call for volunteers.

Sen. Moran on tornado: Kansans already reaching out to meet needs

(From Kansas Senator Pat Moran)

Last night a tornado — nearly three blocks in width — struck the community of Baxter Springs resulting in at least 34 injuries along with major damage to a minimum of 160 homes and 12 businesses. This tornado was part of a larger storm system that also ravaged parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma resulting in at least nine deaths. My thoughts and prayers go out to residents and business owners who suffered great loss and devastation. 

This morning I traveled to Cherokee County to join local, county and state officials for a tour of some of the hardest hit areas and to receive an update on relief efforts. As I witnessed the destruction of homes, businesses and infrastructure, it was clear that the damages are much more than a number. Much more importantly, they represent families, employees and business owners in need. And not surprisingly, less than 24 hours after the destruction, Kansans were already reaching out to meet those needs. 

Video- Arkansas governor tours tornado-damaged areas

Newsmakers video- A legislative update from Charlie Davis

In the accompanying video, Newsmakers host Judy Stiles interviews Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City.

Video- MSBA news conference: SB 509 will hurt our schools and our students

AP video- Arkansas residents figure out next steps after tornado

Video- Woman describes close call in Baxter Springs tornado

Kelli Benefiel murder trial will be held in Jasper County

The trial of a Carthage woman accused of murdering 87-year-old Raymond Ritchhart December 13 will be held in Jasper County.

During a hearing today, Judge David Dally rejected Kelli Benefiel's request for a change of venue, but granted a motion for a change of judge. The case will be heard by Judge David Mouton.

Mrs. Benefiel and her husband, Brian Benefiel, faces charges of first degree murder, first degree burglary, and armed criminal action.

Brian Benefiel's preliminary hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. May 14 in Jasper County Circuit Court.

The Benefiels, who were neighbors of Ritchhart, were allegedly surprised by him while they were burglarizing his home at 1237 Douglas Court looking for prescription drugs. Police say they beat and stabbed Ritchhart to death.

May 14 arraignment set for former Webb CIty teacher on sex charge

A 9:05 a.m. Wednesday, May 14, arraignment has been scheduled for former Webb City High School choir teacher Carrie Njoroge on a felony charge of sexual contact with a student.

Mrs. Njoroge turned herself in to Christian County authorities Thursday and posted $3,500 bond.

The probable cause statement says Mrs. Njoroge is being charged with an after-hours sex act with an 18-year-old high school student that allegedly took place Tuesday, April 15, in her office at the school. Two days later, school officials placed her on paid administrative leave. She resigned the following day, according to a statement from the school district.

The probable cause statement says that April 15 was not the first time Mrs. Njorege had sex with the student. He says that the relationship began three months earlier.

Mrs. Njoroge is represented by Dee Wampler, Springfield, who has filed a motion to dismiss and a motion for a bill of particuiars.

C. J. Huff: It's the parents' fault East Middle School shelter wasn't open on time

When the first serious tornado threats came for the new shelter at East Middle School/Soaring Heights, the doors were locked.

C. J. Huff knows who is to blame for that potentially disastrous oversight.

The parents, of course.

In an interview with KZRG, Huff once again avoided taking responsibility for any problems that have occurred on his watch.

Superintendent Dr. CJ Huff tells News Talk KZRG a volunteer tasked with unlocking the building missed when the watch was issued.

"We have some communication issues we need to work on. We also need to work on... where Irving is more prominent on just where the shelter's entrance is, at Soaring Heights and East it's a bit confusing."

The doors were opened three hours later. The shelter at Irving Elementary was opened on time.

"The volunteer at Soaring Heights is a good man, and the only volunteer we have covering that building. Unfortunately other volunteers there have disengaged, which is a problem."

What Huff did not mention (nor was he apparently asked about it) is why the volunteers at East Middle School have become "disengaged." Huff has not only ignored the East teachers resolution calling for more professionalism from Principal Bud Sexson, but he has ignored scores of parent complaints about Sexson and the way things have been run at EMS.

These include complaints about the lack of discipline at East, the enforced switch to standards-based grading, and the refusal of Sexson to deal with problems and often even to return calls or messages.

Some volunteers had it with East after my situation last year. When PTO members let Sexson know they supported me, Sexson let them know the PTO's job is to support what the school wants and what they wanted did not mean anything.

All of this time, many have been under the apparently mistaken assumption that parents should be involved in PTO to make things better for the children, not necessarily to back administration edicts.

And now that they have been ignored for the past four years by Huff and Sexson, it is the parents' fault when they are not lining up to volunteer to keep Huff from being embarrassed when things go wrong.

Is anything ever C. J. Huff's fault?

Video- Baxter Springs man- SIren went off and two minutes later, it hit

Video- Nursing home destroyed by Baxter Springs tornado

Video- People, dogs search rubble after Arkansas tornado

AP aerial video of Arkansas tornado

Video- Quapaw resident offers eyewitness account of tornado - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Baxter Springs resident's video of tornado - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Missouri may become second state to dump Common Core

This week the Missouri Senate will begin debating a bill that would require a rewriting of state standards. If the bill passes and is signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, it will make Missouri the second state to drop Common Core Standards:

Now the Senate is scheduled to debate legislation this week that would charge a panel of educators and parents with writing new student performance goals to replace Common Core. The House passed a similar bill earlier this month.
Critics of Common Core said lawmakers should have been consulted on the decision when the State Board of Education adopted the standards. They want Missouri to write its own student benchmarks with involvement from lawmakers.
“There was no open and transparent process,” said Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue. “I think once Missourians found out they had no say on the adoption of those standards, they now want their own.”

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Video- One fatality, five injuries in Quapaw tornado - Tulsa, Oklahoma - News, Weather

Video- Nine hospitalized after Baxter Springs tornado

A report from KODE's Bryan McLoone

Video- Baxter Springs storm damage press conference

A report from KSN News

Video- East Middle School tornado shelter locked when residents arrived

A report from KOAM's Cailey Dougherty KOAM TV 7

Video- Fort Scott tornado damages train

A report from KOAM's Dowe Quick KOAM TV 7

Video- Quapaw storm siren did not go off before tornado

A report from KOAM's Liz Holliday KOAM TV 7

Video- KOAM coverage of Baxter Springs Tornado


KOAM raw video of Baxter Springs tornado damage


Video- Chopper pilot watches SE Kansas supercell develop