Friday, December 27, 2013

Popular, Best, Good enough

One of my favorite Christmas traditions in our church is the Children's Program.  Actually, I tolerate the bulk of the program because I'm really there to hear one thing- "The Friendly Beasts."  If you've never heard that song sung by children- live, and non-professionally- you're missing out on one of life's great moments.

What makes it special is that is ISN"T perfect, or even close to perfect.  It has to be "good enough," it wouldn't be any fun if it was a total train wreck.  It's little kids in animal suits doing the best they can after a few rehearsals.  If they know the words- at least with a little prompting, and can even carry some semblance of a tune- it's good enough.  The restarts and other miscues are part of the appeal. 

Sometimes, as adults, we loose that spirit and get too worried about perfection- to the point that we don't attempt things that we could do.  Maybe not do perfectly, but good enough.  We choose to do nothing instead.  Bad choice.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Which Charity? By Seth Godin

Great post by Seth Godin.  If you don't follow him already, you should!

Which charity?
Organized non-profits provide reach, leverage and consistency that can't be matched by the millenia-old model of individuals helping those they encounter in the community. It's one of the extraordinary success stories of the industrial age that they've been able to have such a worldwide impact with relatively few resources. As our choices continue to increase (yes, there's now a long tail of philanthropy), it gets ever more important that we make conscious choices about what to support and how.

Here are a few questions with no right answers, questions that might help you think about where you want to allocate your charitable support...

Are you more drawn to emergencies that need your help right now, or to organizations that work toward long-term solutions to avoid the emergencies of the future?

Would you prefer to support a proven, scaled, substantial organization, or does the smaller, less well-known organization appeal to you?

How much personal impact and leverage do you seek?

Are you a browser, jumping from issue to issue, or are you more excited about a long arc of a relationship?

Is this donation anonymous? If it's not, who will you choose to tell? Does their reaction matter?

How much of your donation activity is the result of opportunities and outreach from the organization, and how much from unprompted giving? (Hint: organizations do a lot of outreach because it works on their donors, not because it's fun. You will get more of what you respond to.)

What story do you tell yourself about you and your giving?

Are you focused on published numbers of organizational efficiency (how much goes into fundraising and admin)? Or does it make more sense to focus on the organization's impact as it goes about its mission? How will you decide to measure that impact, or does it not matter to you?

[Worth a second to note that every question I just asked could be asked about just about any marketed product you buy on a regular basis, whether it's coffee, cars or a consulting firm.]

There are no perfect charities, just as there are no perfect cars. But the imperfection of cars doesn't keep us from buying one--we pick the model (and the story that goes with it) that best serves our needs.

What an extraordinary opportunity to support something that matters to you.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Legacy of Mandela

Courtesy of Seth Godin:

A legacy of Mandela
Others can better write about Nelson Mandela's impact on the world stage, on how he stood up for the dignity of all people and on how he changed our world.
For those that seek to make a change in the world, whether global or local, one lesson of his life is this:
You can.

You can make a difference.

You can stand up to insurmountable forces.

You can put up with far more than you think you can.

Your lever is far longer than you imagine it is, if you choose to use it.

If you don't require the journey to be easy or comfortable or safe, you can change the world.

Monday, December 2, 2013


The weather description for Milwaukee the other day was:  "Partly cloudy and pretty nice."  The day was, in fact, quite pleasant for this time of year- with light wind and a high around 40 degrees.  However, "pretty nice" is still a relative term. 

Expectations play a huge role in how we frame things. A late November day in the neighborhood of 40 degrees, with some sun and light wind, is about as good as it's going to get around here.  Veteran Midwesterners know this, and we set our expectations accordingly.  

The same weather in late April would not be met with the same level of enthusiasm.  Even though we know April weather can be miserable, we have higher expectations by then.

How often do we fall into this 'expectation trap' in other areas of our lives?  At work, in our business transactions, in relationships, as sports fans, at family gatherings?  The list is endless.  How often do we allow unrealistic expectations to mar an otherwise perfectly reasonable situation, event, or gathering?

I think we'd be happier more often if we accepted a standard that was the equivalent of a 40 degree day being defined as "pretty nice."

Or, at least, if we were brutally honest with ourselves at all times and made sure we weren't settling for "pretty nice" from ourselves while demanding much more out of others.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Thursday is Thanksgiving and Sunday is the beginning of Advent.  This just seemed to fit:

Two quick stories:

1.  We had our first snowfall of the season earlier this week.  Not a lot of accumulation- but sideways snow, lots of car accidents, shoveling, and tough walking from the car to the front door.

I was shoveling here at school- and grumbling a little to myself- when I witnessed something that changed all that.  A physically disabled person pulled up, and I watched- partially to see if they needed help, and partially in amazement- as they slowly and deliberately, in the driving snow and cold, moved around the van, lowered the scooter, and made their way past me and into the school.

It took almost ten minutes.  Scooted past me with a huge smile and a "Good Morning." 


2.  We had an 8th grader here last year who was very much on the edge.  This student endured more adversity in a year than many of us have faced in our entire lives.  On several occasions, his future truly hung in the balance.  People went out of their way to help and intervene.

He has since moved a couple of hours away and is in a much better situation.  He has stayed in touch, but today he paid us a special visit.  He is doing extremely well. 

Every once in a while, we get the opportunity to truly be a difference.  Truly.  So proud of him, and so thankful of those here who gave so freely to help him through the adversity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Vouchers and Accountability

Senator Grothman claims that private schools should not have to divulge student performance data, because they haven't in the past.  He is partially right.  Private schools shouldn't have to divulge any performance data to the general public- if they aren't taking any voucher money.  But, of course, that's exactly the key point Senator Grothman is overlooking.

His comment is disingenuous.  He was an outspoken advocate of public monies being used to fund private school vouchers.  He knows very well that the current situation is very different from the historical one.

I agree with Senator Olsen.  If a school is taking public money, then it absolutely must be accountable for whatever performance measures the state is imposing.

I'm no fan of the current report card grading system, but it is what it is.  Senator Grothman and like minded politicians gave us the voucher system and they gave us the report card system.  Fair enough.  What isn't fair is one set of rules for one publicly funded group and a different set of rules for another group also using public money.

Senator Grothman and his cronies need to stop protecting private voucher schools and make them step up and be accountable.  A private school can decide to participate in the voucher program, or not.  If a private school wants to participate in the voucher program, then that means that they are accepting public monies.  If they accept the money, then they should be accountable for student performance.  Period. 

People of good faith can have different political views.  This disagreement isn't political.  This is about being consistent.  It is hypocritical to demand that public schools face multiple forms of accountability, while voucher schools face none.

Good luck to Senator Olsen and anyone else, of either party, pushing for accountability for voucher schools.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How about asking them??

Education seems to be in a constant state of "reform."  Urban education, especially, is buffeted by a never ending series of reform efforts.  Large scale.  Small scale.  Everything from "Going back to basics" to "21st Century" and all points in between.

I recently attended a meeting with area legislators where, as always, someone brings up the Milwaukee Public Schools.  Also, on cue, there is a collective throwing up of the hands and cries of "what can we do about that mess?"  And- "We're spending all this money but getting no results." 

I'm reading Creative Confidence, by Tom and David Kelley.  The talk of an example of one of the groups immersed in a project at the .school at Stanford.  This group decided to take on the problem of infant mortality- especially in low weight babies in underdeveloped areas of the world.  Primary cause of death?  Hypothermia.

The team visited hospitals in the area and found, much to their surprise, plenty of unused incubators.  The problem was not a design flaw with the incubators, or access in the general area.  The problem was that most births occurred in villages a few miles away- with little or no access to the hospital in the those precious first few hours.  The battle for life was occurring in local homes, not hospitals.

This visit led to the initial reframing of the problem- from one of improving hospital incubators to designing a bay-warming device for people in remote areas. 

They took the initial prototype to India and began the conversation with the locals- which led to the discovery of a number of cultural factors that continued to impact subsequent iterations of the design.

In the end, they came up with something that is already saving thousands of lives.

They got there by listening.  They did the listening in the local remote villages. They uncovered cultural things, large and small, some quite subtle, that were crucial to the final design.  The final design had to be what it was in order for it to work.

They got there by listening.

Educational reformers tend to be politicians looking to make a national name for themselves, or wealthy businessmen looking to leave a legacy.  They get to where they are by talking.

I don't have any great reform solutions for large urban districts.  But I do have one thought- maybe it's time for the politicians and the wealthy businessmen to shut up and start listening.

Monday, November 4, 2013


I'm reading The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown.  Ostensibly, it's about the 1936 Olympic Gold Medal winning Rowing Team from the University of Washington.  In the process of telling the story, one gets a first hand look into life in America during that era. 


I taught US history for 10 years.  I've heard Depression Era stories before.  And yet, accounts like this one continue to cut me to the core.  I like to think I know a thing or two about toughness.  Nope.  About giving an effort.  Nope.  About what it means to struggle.  Nope.  About what it means to persevere through tough times.  Nope. 

The examples I can draw from my life pale to nothing when juxtaposed with those faced by millions of Americans during the Great Depression- and countless others throughout the course of human history.

By detailing the upbringing of a couple of the "boys in the boat," the author brings home the incredible hurdles they had to overcome just to live- to say nothing of the effort required to overcome those hurdles and also compete at the highest levels of a demanding sport.

As bad as day to day life was, that wasn't the worst thing about the Depression.  The worst thing was the absence of hope.  As the days and years ticked by, many people abandoned any hope that things would ever get better.  And who can blame them?  The daily hardscrabble life is one thing, but an absence of hope destroys people.

Even knowing that going in, I was jarred by the poignant way Brown tells the story.  I've always been amazed by stories of people who managed to keep hope alive in the face of seemingly hopeless situations- from rugged explorers like Earnest Shakleton to WWII POWs like Louis Zamperini.  While those types of stories are truly incredible, at least those people were trained to face hardships and in situations where danger and death were constant companions.

It's different when those conditions are faced by millions of average folks.  Just ordinary people playing by the rules and trying to get by.   

So, how can I have the same level of toughness as a person who endured the Great Depression, without having to go through a traumatic experience?  I can't, and that's OK.  I just can't fool myself into thinking I'm tougher than I really am, or that my problems are bigger than they really are. 

I've never faced a situation that was truly hopeless- so I lack the scars and the toughness and the resiliency that can only be forged in the midst of true desperation.  Challenges?  Yes.  Difficulties?  Sure.  Hopelessness?  No. 

Several of the books I've been reading offer variations on the same theme.  That is: Obstacles suck, and yet those that face and overcome them are often the ones destined for greatness.  They are forced to be creative and tough and resilient in ways that the rest of us just aren't.

I've got a few obstacles staring at me right now- time to go chop 'em down to size and find a way.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Benefits of Music

I think my mom (a music major with perfect pitch) would be very upset if I didn't post this about the value of music education!

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Winning seemed pretty easy as a child.  My high school team was dominant, the Vikings of the 1970's were among the NFL elite, and even the Gophers- though down from their glory years- could at least hold their own in trophy games against the Badgers and Hawkeyes.

I later became the defensive coordinator for the Milwaukee Vincent Vikings.  For two years, we lost games in heartbreaking fashion.  We broke down at just the wrong time.  We found creative ways to, as they say, "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."  We some some games, but no signature wins.  No playoff appearances.

Milwaukee Marshall was always in our way.  We couldn't beat them.  And then- magically- we did.  The feeling of euphoria that overtakes you in those moments is stunning.  I'm not a scientist, so I can't describe the chemical reactions going on inside- but it sure feels good!

In those moments, all differences are set aside.  All of them.  The team celebrates as one.  One heartbeat.  Special.

Winning is always nice.  It beats losing one hundred times out of one hundred.  But, the especially euphoric feelings only happen when you achieve an unexpected victory after experiencing hardship and pain.

My Gophers beat Nebraska in football on Saturday.  The win extended the Gophers lead in the all time series against Nebraska to 30-22-2.  But, it was their first win since 1960- the year before I was born.  Since then, Nebby had run away with 16 straight wins, most of them in blowout fashion.  When the Gophers took the lead in the 2nd Quarter, it was the first time they had held a lead against Nebraska at any point of any game since 1964.   Ponder that for a moment.

So yeah, I'm sorta pumped up by that win!

Pain and suffering, even within the limited context of being a sports fan, are real emotions.  Overcoming the odds, breaking through, and achieving victory- even if only in a game- unleashes tremendous joy.

I'm reading David and Goliath, another great book by Malcolm Gladwell.  I highly recommend it.  He talks about overcoming odds, dealing with adversity, and pushing through pain.  While no one wishes bad things on anyone, the proof is overwhelming that many of our most creative, undaunted, and fearless innovators endured real adversity.

Real adversity, not the self-inflicted adversity of a sports fan.  Go Gophers!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Failure- it's not the worst thing in the world

I recently stumbled across a "GRIT" Rubric developed by a school in San Francisco.  It outlines behaviors that Exceed, Meet, or Fall Below Expectations in the areas of Guts, Resilience, Integrity, and Tenacity.  I gave one to every teacher, but should probably give one to every student and parent as well.  It provides an opportunity for purposeful introspection and offers a model of what decent and exceptional "GRIT" looks like.

I just started reading David and Goliath, the new book from Malcolm Gladwell.  Two of the early themes are overcoming what appear to be insurmountable odds and overcoming adversity. 

I've had an old Marine slogan hanging in my office for 20 years: "Improvise  Adapt  Overcome"

One doesn't 'overcome' anything without a little "GRIT."  Guts.  Resiliency.  Integrity.  Tenacity.

It also reminded me of these posts:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Toughness and Evaluation Models

"Men, we have our fun on Friday nights!" The booming voice of Coach Larson, my high school football coach, reverberated around the practice field and the surrounding countryside.  It was a Tuesday, in the middle of a miserable, exhausting drill.  Or a Wednesday as we struggled to complete one of our brutal conditioning regimens.  Or a Monday, after getting screamed at for being, without question, the worst collection of football players to ever even think about playing football at Cambridge High School.  Or a Friday, just before we took the field for a game, right after being told how proud he was to be associated with this group of guys.

We loved Coach Larson.  Still do.

Most people couldn't get away with the things Coach Larson did and said.  Some people are just jerks.  Coach Larson was one tough hombre, but he wasn't a jerk.

I wonder what an evaluator with a detailed "practice walkthrough rubric" would've hand to say to Coach Larson in the post-observation conference.

Some teachers are mean to kids, or are just plain ineffective.  Others do and say what can look to the untrained eye like almost the exact same things, and yet the kids love 'em.

A new cottage industry is rapidly forming around teacher evaluations.  There were lots of concerns and complaints about the deficiencies of the old model.  I share those concerns and complaints.  The new evaluation models provide us with significant improvement.  Or do they?

The new models really amount to a tightening up and a doubling down on the old model.  At the core- it is still a principal evaluating a teacher's instructional effectiveness.  To be fair- the new models do a much better job of getting a more complete sense of the overall instructional picture.  That's a good thing.  The new models also more directly account for "professionalism."  That's a very good thing.

And yet- I'm still not completely sold.  A local band writes a song and records it on crummy equipment.  A more refined band hears the song- cleans it up, adds better musicianship, records it on superior equipment- and the song sounds a lot better. 

The problem is- I just don't care for the song. I can't offer any suggestions on how to make the song any better.  I want a new song.  A different song.  A different kind of song.

I wish I had better answers, because I do have questions.

What if most of the really heavy lifting around instruction and pedagogy happened in conversations between teachers?  What if the primary evaluator, presumably the principal or superintendent, instead of running around with a new and improved evaluation rubric, was instead expected to foster a culture and climate that promoted those kinds of courageous conversations?  A culture and climate that focused on positive relationships between and among all stakeholder groups.  A structure that hired the best people and kept them both nurtured and challenged.

Part of that would involve a "culling of the herd."  Some folks be replaced over time.  But, and this is a big but..., not necessarily in the way that I hear some talk about 'firing bad teachers.'  These folks might not be 'bad,' they just don't fit the organization.  Or- they don't fit it anymore.  Also, a truly strong and innovative organization needs people in various roles- not a collection of cookie cutter cutouts who all think and act the same.

I want someone like Coach Larson in my organization.  Not an organization full of them, but a few.  One of my worries is that the new evaluation model makes it more difficult for a Coach Larson type to survive.  I hope I'm wrong.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lying artfully (ie Fishing)

I love to read, and appreciate great writing.  This is a small excerpt from a surprisingly funny and enjoyable book.  As a fisherman, I can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of these claims!

Jerome Klapka Jerome. “Three Men in a Boat.” iBooks.
Some people are under the impression that all that is required to make a good fisherman is the ability to tell lies easily and without blushing; but this is a mistake.  Mere bald fabrication is useless; the veriest tyro can manage that.  It is in the circumstantial detail, the embellishing touches of probability, the general air of scrupulous—almost of pedantic—veracity, that the experienced angler is seen.
Anybody can come in and say, “Oh, I caught fifteen dozen perch yesterday evening,” or “Last Monday I landed a gudgeon, wrighing eighteen pounds, and measuring three feet from the tip to the tail.”
There is no art, no skill, required for that sort of thing.  It shows pluck, but that is all.
No, your accomplished angler would scorn to tell a lie, that way.  His method is a study in itself…

I knew a young man once, he was a most conscientious fellow, and, when he took to fly-fishing, he determined never to exaggerate his hauls by more than twenty-five per cent.
“When I have caught forty fish,” said he, “then I will tell people that I have caught fifty, and so on.  But I will not lie any more than that, because it is sinful to lie.”

But the twenty-five per cent. plan did not work well at all.  He never was able to use it.  The greatest number of fish he ever caught in one day was three, and you can’t add twenty-five per cent. to three—at least, not in fish.

So he increased his percentage to thirty-three-and-a-third; but that, again, was awkward, when he had only caught one or two; so, to simplify matters, he made up his mind to just double the quantity.
He stuck to this arrangement for a couple of months, and then he grew dissatisfied with it.  Nobody believed him when he told them that he only doubled, and he, therefore, gained no credit that way whatever, while his moderation put him at a disadvantage among the other anglers.  When he had really caught three small fish, and said he had caught six, it used to make him quite jealous to hear a man, whom he knew for a fact had only caught one, going about telling people he had landed two dozen.

So, eventually, he made one final arrangement with himself, which he has religiously held to ever since, and that was to count each fish that he caught as ten, and to assume ten to begin with.  For example, if he did not catch any fish at all, then he said he had caught ten fish—you could never catch less than ten fish by his system; that was the foundation of it.  Then, if by any chance he really did catch one fish, he called it twenty, while two fish would count thirty, three forty, and so on.

It is a simple and easily worked plan, and there has been some talk lately of its being made use of by the angling fraternity in general.  Indeed, the Committee of the Thames Angler’s Association did recommend its adoption about two years ago, but some of the older members opposed it.  They said they would consider the idea if the number were doubled, and each fish counted as twenty.

If ever you have an evening to spare, up the river, I should advise you to drop into one of the little village inns, and take a seat in the tap-room.  You will be nearly sure to meet one or two old rod-men, sipping their toddy there, and they will tell you enough fishy stories, in half an hour, to give you indigestion for a month

Friday, October 11, 2013

Live, or Studio?

It didn't take the "geniuses" of iTunes too long to figure out that I prefer live music over studio tracks.

From a purely technical standpoint, the studio versions are almost always better.  Better acoustics, richer and more complex background tracks, tighter vocals, precise instrumentation.  A sound for the masses.  A sound for the casual fan who likes the song and the group enough to listen when it's played on the radio, and maybe even buy it for a playlist.

The live versions simply can't replicate the musical precision of the studio.  They offer something else- joy, freedom, passion, excitement.  A live version represents a celebration amongst a tribe. The connection between the group and the crowd is palpable.  You can hear it in the cheers of the crowd and the intensity of the performance, but you can also feel it.  Literally.

Live versions are usually longer.  Sometimes, the artist tells a story, often they extend the riffs- building on the familiar, but creating something new and special as well.  The time constraints of commercial radio and a mass audience are kicked to the curb and replaced by an extended musical expression, one built around freedom and joy.

Here is one example:  The first couple minutes of the song sound pretty much like the recorded version, the last part is the extra little bonus you can only get on a live version.

I'll take a little less musical precision in favor of the extra joy and passion of the live performance.

Maybe my preference for live versions also offers a partial explanation for my skepticism over the value of things like the WI School Report Cards.  Some very important things don't lend themselves to easy 'measurement.' 

Literally thousands of people, maybe tens of thousands, can sing better than Bruce Springsteen.  He can play a guitar fairly well, but still, by any objective measure, not better than many other musicians we've never heard of.  He is "good enough" at both, but that's not why millions buy his records or attend his concerts.  His true gifts are in songwriting and performing- and both of those are harder to measure and quantify.

It always amazes me how many of our most creative people struggled and felt stifled in school.  And that was before the standards, testing, and accountability craze.  Hmmm....


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Creativity, or not so much

What gets measured, gets done.  We're measuring a lot of basic knowledge, and assigning grades to schools based on how well students perform on those tests.  Friess Lake is happy to be in the "Exceeding Expectations" category according to the WI Report Card System, but we view the situation with a much broader lens than test results.

Creativity is critical to our future success as a nation.  We keep saying that, and yet the powers that be keep finding ways to encroach into any area that would allow creativity.

We have learning going on in every classroom- and that includes the MAKER'S Lab.  As a matter of fact, there is a tremendous amount of learning going on in the MAKER'S Lab.  Creative learning- learning based on solving problems.  There is a curriculum, but it isn't incredibly detailed and nicely bound in a 3-ring binder. 

It's more like this:  Here is some cardboard and some duct tape- how are you going to design and build a boat that will float?  The students are obsessing over this project- positive obsessing!  Staying in from recess obsessing.  Getting ideas and advice from parents obsessing.  Thinking and rethinking obsessing. 

The kind of obsessing that yields creativity.  The kind of learning we need more of in schools.  The kind of learning the standardized testing and accountability crowd can not account for.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cardboard Boats

I'm excited about many of the things going on as we begin the 2013-14 school year.  But, one stands out as my favorite. 

The Friess Lake MAKER'S Lab is open for business, and it is pretty cool!  And, of all the projects currently underway in the MAKER'S Lab, my favorite is the upcoming boat regatta.  Our middle school students are building cardboard boats that they will test out on Friess Lake in a few weeks.

This project has all of the elements of what education should be about, but- too often- isn't.  All one has to do is walk into the classroom and the following are all evident in spades:


The students have clearly embraced the challenge of building a boat out of cardboard.  They are passionately discussing options, working through ideas, uncovering 'AH HAA' moments, and- wait for it- LEARNING!!!

I was on the verge of posting this when a blog post appeared from Peter Gow:

Love it!!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Friess Lake: Welcome Back Message

My goal was to blog more in the summer- figuring a little bit more open time would allow me a few extra minutes to write.  Well, that didn't happen.  No excuses.

This is the written version of a phone message that we sent to all parents:

Thank you for sending your child, or children, to Friess Lake School.  We know how much you love them and want them to be happy and successful.  it is, truly, an honor and a privilege to work with the students and families of Friess Lake School.

We've added two new dynamic teachers- Mrs. Jakubowski in 3rd grade and Ms. Goral in Middle School Math.  Ms. Ellefson, who joined us last year in a part-time role, has moved to 4th grade.  They add to what is already a talented, caring, and compassionate staff.

We are one of the only schools in the Midwest to offer a MAKER'S LAB!!!  Our lab will operate under the guidance of Mr. Hoefs.  Every child will have an opportunity to do at least one project in the lab.  The first middle school project is cardboard boats.  We will be testing them out on Friess Lake in a few weeks.

We've added time to the school day in order to help us provide targeted instruction in Reading and Math.

We are in Year 3 of a 1:1 Initiative, and we now have 1:1 iPads in 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 6th grades.  The other elementary grades have access to iPads on a cart.  Our 7th graders have access to Macbooks, and our 8th graders have their own.  More importantly, we are using the devices to both guide and change instruction.  The ultimate goal is to improve learning.

We are using both Fountas & Pinnell and STAR Enterprise tests to help us assess student achievement levels and provide targeted instruction on specific skills.

There's more- there's always more!!

I'd like to end with this:

25% of our total school enrollment is through families choosing us via the Open Enrollment program.  We have six students open enrolling IN for every one student who open enrolls out.  That positive ratio of 6:1 is the highest in Washington County!!  

Once families choose us, they tend to stay.  90% of the families who have open enrolled here over the course of the last ten years have stayed here through 8th grade Graduation.

So, in a competitive and crowded local school marketplace, the numbers prove that Friess Lake is thriving and has the support of the local community.

Thanks again for making us your school of choice.  Thank you to all of the parent volunteers who add so much to our school culture.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Monday, August 19, 2013

Friess Lake and MAKERS (and MIT!?)

I posted recently that Friess Lake will be one of the few schools in the entire Midwest with a full-fledged MAKERS program!!  Yes, we are very excited.

I was just about to walk down to the library for a school board meeting, when I came across this post showing how MIT is now providing a link on their application for young MAKERS.  Looks like we've hitched our chariot to the right horse.  Did I mention that we're very excited :)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Musings of Superintendents

I was recently scanning the August edition of the AASA School Administrator magazine.  They have a section called the "Best of the Blogs" featuring a few quotes from the blogs of superintendents across the country.  These two caught my eye:

When philanthropists have potentially useful ideas about education, they should by all means try them out, establish pilot programs, put their money where their mouths are.  But before government officials incorporate those ideas into policy, they must study them carefully and make sure that what sounds reasonable in theory works in practice.  by Michael Maryanski's blog: Needing Better Balance

I continue to find it interesting that state law prohibits bait and switch tactics, but some of the legislature's members endorse this illegal strategy for promoting their own proposals when their proposals won't stand the scrutiny of the facts. by Richard Zimman on his Dr Z's blog   Richard is a friend and former colleague- he just retired!

This last one is a distilled version of some points raised by another friend and recently retired superintendent:

We hear all about these "fat public employee pensions."  People say that public employees are able to retire @ 55 and never work again due to these "Cadillac retirement benefits."  The average public employee pension in the state of Wisconsin is under $25,000!

I finally finished reading the book Decisive, by Chip and Dan Heath.  (Previous post)  As I read the three quotes above, I can't help but think of what the Heath brothers call the "Confirmation Bias."  The Confirmation Bias is a common trap, and also a barrier to good decision-making.  In essence, we form an opinion first- and then look for data that supports that view while ignoring or discounting data that runs counter to our belief.

A CEO is successful at running a business- therefore they must know how to run a school.

Legislators, and the political parties they represent, seem to live in a perpetual state of 'confirmation bias.'

How an argument is framed is, essentially, the argument itself.  A discussion about an appropriate pension level for someone after 30+ years of service- and how it should be funded- is perfectly legitimate.  The argument is framed differently though, if someone is convinced- before seeing any numbers- that the current pension amounts are at 'fat cat' or "Cadillac' levels.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friess Lake and the MAKER'S Lab!

Friess Lake is one of the few public schools in the world to initiate a MAKER’S Lab.   What is a MAKER’S Lab?  Let’s start with what it is not- it is not like your old middle school industrial arts class, the one that culminated with a birdhouse.
The MAKER’S Lab is a community of learners who use their creativity to prototype and test their ideas in the process of MAKING things.  Rope bridges out of plastic bags, robots, roller coasters, Lego Robotics, using cardboard and duct tape to build a boat, underwater robotic vehicles, aquaponics, rockets, and more!    
In the process of MAKING these things, the students are testing and developing their knowledge of electronics, math, science, and engineering.  They are also developing their “grit” as they learn to persevere through failure.  The MAKER’S Lab will provide students with opportunities to tinker with ideas, to imagine and iterate as they apply skills to an actual product, and, in case you missed it the first time- to persevere through failure.  Mistakes can be celebrated and used as part of the learning process.
The role of the instructor morphs from that of “Sage of the stage” to “Guide on the side.”  
We believe that a key part of our educational mission must be to provide students with opportunities to enhance their Critical Thinking and Problem Solving through Reasoning and Analysis, Initiative and Entrepreneurialism, and Curiosity and Imagination.  These are part of what author Tony Wagner refers to as “...Survival Skills for the 21st Century.”

Some of the details are still taking shape, but we are extremely excited to offer this unique learning experience to the students of Friess Lake School.  All students in K5-8 will have an opportunity to cycle through the lab.  This is made possible through a grant from Cognizant, a leading provider of information technology, consulting, and business process outsourcing services, headquartered in Teaneck, NJ.  Cognizant’s Making the Future education initiative seeks to inspire young learners to pursue science, technology, engineering and math disciplines by creating fun, hands-on learning opportunities.

Making the Future draws inspiration from the Maker Movement, a broad-based community that celebrates the art of designing and building really cool things, either doing it yourself (DIY) or with others (DIWO). Makers are driven by the challenge of the projects they tackle, while also engaging in design- and project-based learning that can nurture creativity and develop proficiency in the STEM and arts disciplines (STEAM).
We will also be working in partnership with School Factory as we move forward with this ambitious project.  Information on School Factory can be found at, but this part of their mission statement concisely sums up our primary goal “...creating communities and spaces that transform education.”  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fishing, Quitting, and Succeeding

As a kid, I always thought I was a good fisherman.  The process seemed pretty simple, actually.  Tie on a Rapala, go to the spot one cabin down that had emerging weeds, cast to the edge of the weeds and twitch it back.  Fish on!

Only later did I fully appreciate that this was truly a magical spot on a magical lake.

Ann Richards had a great line about a well-known politician who, in the interest of keeping this non-political, will remain nameless: "He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple."  In terms of fishing, that line could certainly apply to me in my youth.

The intervening years have humbled me.  Fishing is hard.  When they aren't biting, the questions are endless:

Am I in the right spot? Should I stay in this general area, but move shallower or deeper- or quit and move to a completely different spot?

Should I quit what I'm doing and change my approach?  If so, to what?  Live bait?  Which kind?  How presented?  Jig?  Troll?  Cast?  Crank baits?  Color?  Depth?  More aggressive or a subtle presentation?

Quit and fish for a different species?  Quit and go home? 

In The Dip, author Seth Godin talks about the importance of knowing when to quit.  Yup- turns out that quitting is actually an important key to success. 

Successful fisherman devote more time to (what turn out to be) the right spots, and less time to (what turn out to be) the wrong spots.  The same maxim applies to successful people. 

Godin: "Stick with the Dips that are likely to pan out, and quit the Cul-de-Sacs to focus your resources.  That's it....The biggest obstacle to success in life, as far as I can tell, is our inability to quit...soon enough."

In fishing, and in life, it is essential to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. 

Friday, June 28, 2013


Two couples arrive in New York City.  Each has about the same amount of money to spend.  One couple goes out to a fancy restaurant, the other one heads to the nearest national chain restaurant.

Why?  Opportunity?  No.  Random chance?  No.  Personal Invitation?  No.  Advertising?  No.

It turns out that the most likely explanation has nothing to do with anything that happened after they arrived in New York City.  The decision had largely already been made, though they may not have even realized it themselves- and it was based on their preconceived notions and plans. 

Their point of reference.  The frame through which they viewed eating in relation to their trip to the Big Apple.  The stories they told themselves.

Was eating out part of the adventure, an opportunity to add to the tapestry and richness of the trip; or was eating just something they needed to do for common sustenance?  Were they, by nature, adventurous eaters, or were they the type who liked the tried and true?

What stories are we telling ourselves?  How are we framing situations?  Are we missing opportunities as a result?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Guest: Seth Godin on Parenting for a New Economy

I recently attended a one day conference with Seth Godin in New York City.  Loved it- and there will be some of my own thoughts in the near future.   For now, please allow me to share a post from one of the many interesting people I met there- Cate Lazen.

Cate writes a blog filled with interesting posts (check it out @ play buffet).  This post is from an interview she had with Seth.  Great stuff.

Common Core

Common Core

The Common Core is the name for the new curriculum that schools across the nation have been implementing over the last couple of years. It represents the work of a diverse group of folks operating under the premise of creating, just as the name suggests, a "common core" of essential learning targets to prepare students across the country for post secondary opportunities- in the workforce or continued schooling.
The Common Core has received mixed reviews.  While I am generally supportive, I have my own doubts and concerns.  My biggest fears are that we will botch the implementation and end up with an overly prescribed set of standards that judges success/failure through test scores.   I worry that we might be sacrificing creativity and innovation at the altar of the industrialists.  Industrialists want everything to scale, to be repeatable, to be efficient.  A great education is messier than that.

If any of those things happened, it would be the result of poor implementation and training, not because the Common Core Standards themselves and inherently flawed, 
Suddenly, the Common Core is under attack from those who believe it is a plot designed to bring about One World Government, that schools will be using assignments to covertly collect data on students and families, and other- equally bizarre- claims. 
I recently watched a film at the office of local State Assembly Representative Don Pridemore.  The film was filled with half-truths, disconnected pieces of information connected in a way that resembled a Picasso painting, and claims that simply cannot stand up to fair and honest scrutiny.  The film was followed by a community member who railed against the Common Core.  In fairness to Representative Pridemore, the community member went further in her claims than the film- but it is all fruit of the same tree. 
The claim that schools are supposed to collect 400 data points on your child is not true.
The claim that the Common Core is a dumbing down of the curriculum is not supported by empirical evidence.  
The claims that a child's answer to a 5th grade question could somehow be used to gather medical histories on an entire family, or could prevent him or her from one day purchasing a gun- are patently false. 
The claim that school administrators have all been given 'talking points' to say to parents who question them about the Common Core is also false.  Well, if it is true, I sure missed the memo- and so did every colleague I have subsequently asked. 
The people who developed the Common Core, their motives, and the final product are all fair game for honest questioning.  I'm hopeful that a serious national dialogue about curriculum will be good for all of us.  If it helps us in public education to "sharpen our saw," then it's a form of Mission Accomplished.
The Common Core goals and objectives are easily accessible.  Go check for yourself.  Eliminate the middlemen, just go read them.  Seriously.  Read them.  Please.  Read them.
The Milwaukee Journal had a great article in the crossroads section of the Sunday paper- "Common Core: conservative to the core."  The authors are Chester J. Finn, who worked for President Reagan, and Michael Petrilli, who worked for President Bush.  Both currently work at the right-of-center Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  Please read what these gentlemen have to say about the Common Core.
If you have questions, great.  Let's talk.  If your conclusion is that the Common Core represents a step backwards in terms of rigor and a step towards One World Government.... Well, we're just going to have to agree to disagree.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

21st Century Learning

One of the people I follow is Ian Jukes, who posts on the Committed Sardine site.  The Committed Sardine is one of my favorite sites for ideas on forward thinking educational practices.  This is an excellent post full of ideas and challenges:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rules of the Game: Vouchers

As the legislature continues to push for an unprecedented expansion of vouchers, a few of us continue to write articles trying to shed some light on what we believe is a misguided effort.  This article was written collaboratively with Dr. Lisa L Olson and Dr. Susan Borden, the District Administrators of Hartford Union High School and the Germantown Public Schools, respectively.  Mr. Scott Sabol, the District Administrator of Neosho School, also agreed to sign his name to this article.

Rules of the Game

While it is less common today to find games of baseball and kickball being played in backyards during the summer evenings, many of us still fondly recall those memories.  The specific rules often varied depending upon the backyard, the players, and the evening.  In fact, the rules were sometimes challenged or even changed in the middle of the game.   

Sometimes special accommodations were made—four outs when the neighbor’s youngest brother was filling in or only one strike for the college kid home on break.  Whatever.  These were games and the art of negotiating terms and the joy of competition amongst friends were every bit as important, if not more important, than who won or lost on a given night.   

What’s great for a backyard game of baseball does not translate into other areas of competition.  American companies often complain over various loopholes that create unfair competitive advantages for companies in other states and other countries.  Competition is great, they say, but we’ve got to have a level playing field.  Amen.  And we’ll have what they’re having.  Competition is great, and we welcome competition with other schools, public and private.  Public schools have faced competition for generations; this is not a new concept. 

America is an exceptional country.  The American Government belongs to the people.  Our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.  Our public schools are merely an extension of that—schools that are by and for the people.  All people.   Public schools welcome competition with parochial schools.   We don’t need to rules to be equal in order to compete.  But the rules have to be fair.

 The proposed voucher legislation from Joint Finance Committee will be moving forward to the Assembly and Senate next week.  Let’s be clear about what this proposed new legislation will do:

1.         This proposed voucher program is predicted to be the largest entitlement program advanced in Wisconsin within the last generation.

2.         Voucher schools are not accountable to the taxpayers as public schools because they are not required to have locally-elected officials, mandated programming and services, and public reporting of achievement and financial data.  

3.         The income tax credit will reduce the general operating dollars available to support the entire education budget, potentially transferring those budget gaps to property taxes. 

4.         The costs of the statewide vouchers will be unsustainable.   

5.         The parochial children receiving the vouchers are educated in public high schools across Wisconsin as most attend a public high school after a private or homeschool K-8 experience.  These public high schools will continue to cut programming that is valued and available to all of the children and families in the state as the students are preparing for higher education in order to support vouchers..

6.         The proposed voucher program provides the right for parents to shop for a school but not necessarily the right to a good education due to lack of accountability.

7.         The proposed voucher program allows for private, for-profit, and all religious schools to participate without any system of accountability to ensure quality. 

 Competition already exists for public schools—virtual charters, private, homeschooling, and religious.  Parents and taxpayers make decisions of where to live based upon many factors, including local community schools.  As public schools, we welcome the competition and feel we have services and programming that exceed expectations.  However, when the rules of the game are not fair and those rules are being decided without all the players at the table, competition is no longer about improving the product and service but other motives.

Public schools are the solid foundation on which to build.  We encourage you to look deeper at this proposed legislature and understand the dynamics of the voucher proposal on your local public schools.  

Competition and change are good.  Flexibility and innovation are great.  Discourse on education is excellent.  

Monday, June 10, 2013


A few disparate notes regarding COURAGE:

Seth Godin:      

Knock, knock.  Who's there?

Bruce Springsteen:

It's a sad man my friend who's livin' in his own skin, and can't stand the company

Wizard of OZ:

Courage! What makes a King out of a slave?
Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave?
Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk, in the misty mist or the dusky dusk?
What makes the muskrat guard his musk?
Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder?
Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder?
Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot?
What have they got that I ain't got?   Courage!


The problem is you can't have good ideas unless you're willing to generate a lot of bad ideas.  I asked a colleague how many bad ideas he has every month.  He said "none."  And there, you see, is the problem.

Knock, knock.  It's the future.

So, I ask myself:  Do I have the courage to publicly generate a bunch of ideas- knowing at least some of them are going to be "bad ideas," in order to potentially generate a few really good ones?

I hope so!

Do as I say, not as I do

Oh by the way, at the most recent Friess Lake School Board meeting- we passed a bunch of stuff that we had been talking about behind closed doors for a few weeks. Typical stuff really- secret negotiating between and among the various factions, with plenty of help from lobbyists.

Then, at about 3:30 in the morning, we all shook hands and agreed to the final terms.  Some of the key proposals had never been talked about- well, not publicly anyway.  But now it is all settled, so deal with it and get over it.  And, you're welcome.


Of course none of this happened at Friess Lake School, or any public school, or any public governmental entity subject to the rules and regulations of the legislature. 

Where did it happen?  The Legislature!  

Where could it happen in the future?  One of the new places about to receive a whole lot of public money- private voucher schools who, at least as of now, are not subject to the same open meetings regulations as public schools.



Eight habits of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is my favorite President and, arguably, one of the most interesting historical figures of all time.  I found this link via twitter and just felt like sharing.

All of these habits are choices that any of us can choose to make, or not, every day.  Great stuff:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

"The Rest of the Story" an article on vouchers

I recently had the pleasure of collaborating with Dr. Lisa Olson (Hartford Union HS) and Dr. Susan Borden (Germantown Public Schools) on one more article regarding the proposed legislation on voucher schools.

The article is titled "The Rest of the Story"

The Rest of the Story

The current questions around public schools center around parental choice, competition, and how one measures success. How we frame the questions is important. In what terms and on what grounds do we set the debate?

With another Wisconsin legislative session drawing to a close, the wheeling and dealing is accelerating at a fast and furious pace. We are inundated with data, statistics, and quotes to support or oppose specific legislative agenda items. It is a challenge to discern fact from opinion.  In our rush to quantify things, we forget to ask if we are quantifying the quantifiable and measuring the measurable just because they are quantifiable and measurable.  

Here is a story of a "day in the life" of a student from your local public school: His parents are able to drop him off at 6:15 AM on their way to work so he can access school facilities such as the weight room and the library media center. During the day, he eats both breakfast and lunch provided by the school food service program. He may have also visited his school counselor, school psychologist, school nurse, and social worker. He takes 8 academic classes during the day␣7 face-to- face classes and 1 online class. Those classes include band, physical education, and career and technical education. He also receives an individual band lesson during the day. He is able to see his teachers for additional outside help before school, during resource period, after school, and participates in additional academic assistance through a tutoring program. He participates in an athletic team after school each day. Depending upon the time of the year, he also participates in additional activities such as the musical or academic club meetings and activities. School-provided transportation then drives him home by 6:00 PM. 

And in each of these daily activities, there are relationships and more stories. We value relationships as part of a successful learning environment.  By developing nurturing, positive relationships with students, we can buffer the impact of some factors that may negatively impact a student's academic achievement.

In the story above, the costs associated with the student include transportation, pupil services, food service program, co-curricular programming, and career and technical education. These are services provided to all our public school students and are services our communities have come to expect. However, there are additional costs associated with these services our public schools provide, services not guaranteed in voucher schools. While there is debate on the aid voucher schools receive as compared to our local public schools, we need to look beyond the aid provided and determine what additional expenses are incurred and services provided.

When we compare our K-12 public education system to voucher schools, we cannot continue to use standalone statistics that do not tell the whole story. In the United States, we have chosen to educate all students with the same expectations through age 18 (or 21 in some cases) and provide services and opportunities not provided in other countries or in non- public schools. 

At the secondary level, we provide more than our counterparts in educational offerings, including advanced placement courses, technical college courses, fine arts courses, physical education and health courses, and elective core content courses. While we must improve student achievement for all students, we cannot select only certain data points to create mass reform. We must improve those areas which we need to improve but be sure the data provides the complete story.

The issues we are confronted with are complex. Conscientious citizens want to know the key issues but as the complexity increases, our human nature entices us to simplify in order to process.
In her most recent blog post, Elisa Carlson, Director of Instruction for Surrey Schools, writes, "When we fall victim to pursuing the data we can lose the story. . . In the information age, we are flooded with data. The data, however, is powerful only when embedded in the story..."  We're all busy, and we all come with some beliefs that make us inclined to quickly support some things, while vigorously questioning others. Consequently, we tend to select a single piece of a complex issue and that is all the "evidence" we need.  

There is seminal legislation being considered in Madison right now. The proposed voucher legislation would provide sweeping changes to the educational landscape. How will vouchers impact innovative, dynamic career and technical programs? How will vouchers impact broad programming and co-curricular opportunities? Will this become an entitlement program that we cannot support? How will we truly know whether the voucher schools are successful in serving students?

Public schools are the solid foundation on which to build. We encourage you to look deeper at this bill and understand the dynamics of the proposed legislation on vouchers to your local public schools.

Competition and change are good. Flexibility and innovation are great. Discourse on education is excellent.