Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fund Balance

I really want to post a bunch of thoughts about a bunch of things- but this time of year....

Some of you may have heard of the recent flap over the UW System's fund balance.  As a result of that, questions have been raised about the fund balance in K-12 school districts.  The following four minute video clip is a nice explanation from Dr. Miles Turner:


If a local reader has any questions about the Friess Lake fund balance.  Please call John or Denise @ 262-628-2380.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I had a brief conversation with a friend/colleague yesterday- she referenced a book called Quiet.  It is about Introverts.  I haven't read it yet, but it's on my short list. 

I briefly checked my twitter feed today, and a link to this TEDTalk about Introverts was near the top of the feed.  With interruptions swirling all around, I still managed to watch this, and IT IS EXCELLENT!

The talk is not an attack on extroverts, but it is an impassioned defense of the power of introverts- the way that the creativity of introverts can get run over in modern society, what we can do to create more 'room' for introverts, and how everyone would benefit in the process.

A few of my favorite take aways:

"Solitude matters.  For some people, it is the air that they breathe."  (What a great quote)

Schools, work places, and society in general all tend to favorite extroverts- people of "action" and "bold personality."

There is zero correlation between the best talker and the person with the best ideas.

Three things that need to happen:

  • Stop the madness of constant group work.  Encourage the casual, chatty conversations- but also teach students and workers the power of working alone.

  • Go to 'the wilderness.'  Unplug now and then.

  • What's in your suitcase?  Why?  (Note to introverts:  Have the courage to share)

Final note:  When she talks of her grandfather ( a rabbi), many of the characteristics remind me of my dad (Pastor Bob)  :)


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Is it a Shrine or is it a Dump?

I recently attended a meeting out of the building and tuned to a sports radio station to pass the time.  The topic of discussion was Wrigley Field*- the home of the Chicago Cubs- and the question was: "Is it a shrine or is it a dump?"

To the surprise of no one, callers had a variety of opinions and the banter was entertaining.  Some insisted that it had to be a shrine- the history, the all time greats who have played there, the memories, the ambiance.  A minor renovation might be OK, but nothing that altered the fundamentals.  Other were less generous- calling it a crowded, stinky, dilapidated mess.  Any renovation would amount to "lipstick on a pig."  The only solution is to start over.

All callers could produce at least a shred of evidence to support their claims but, let's be honest, this is a debate fueled by emotion.  Great radio, but not exactly an intellectual recreation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

The squawking on the radio continued, but my mind drifted to other examples from the sports world- like Williams Arena.  Affectionately known as 'The Barn.'  The basketball home of my beloved Minnesota Gophers.  One of the oldest basketball arenas in the country.  Raised floor.  Obstructed view seats.  Cramped.  Fire hazard.  The storied names- Whitey Skoog, Michael Thompson, Dave Winfield, Kevin McHale, Trent Tucker, Bobby Jackson.  The place where my dad went to games as a young man, the place he took me when I was young, and the place where my son now attends games.  Another one of those venues that invites the question- is it a shrine or is it a dump?  Again, emotional responses would rule the day.

My thoughts then turned to the politicized world of education.

What's one of the easiest ways to become an ex-superintendent or ex-school board member?  Propose that the district close a school.

What's up with this Common Core stuff?  Is it the long sought answer to lagging test scores, a well meaning attempt that focuses on the wrong things, a plot to take away local control?

Are the new Wisconsin School Report Cards a great way of promoting accountability and pushing schools to get better, or are they a flawed attempt at measuring the unmeasurable? 

Are voucher schools a better alternative?

Where can a person go to get an unbiased answer?  Who can I trust?  Why do I trust them? 

Let's be honest with ourselves- many of the things we argue about regarding schools are questions without answers.  Well, not answers that can be empirically proven and measured with a high degree of accuracy.

One of my daughters is pursuing a PhD in the area of toxicology.  Scientists tend to talk about evidence and breakthroughs much differently than politicians, sales representatives for major textbook companies, talk radio hosts and the people who call in to their programs or- dare I say it- those who show up at a school board meeting to complain.

Scientists talk about control groups, repeatability, reliability, peer reviews, and the needle tends to move slowly.  "Breakthroughs" are few and far between.  And, even though one person or group may make the final push- they are typically building upon the work of many others.

Too often, in education, a preconceived notion and a tiny shred of evidence are all we need to argue long and hard for our position.  Why do we believe what we believe?  Once we've reached a decision, are we even open to the idea of reconsidering our view?  How much evidence would it take to convince us to change our mind?

I will say this much- Friess Lake School is a little gold mine.  A very special place.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it!!

*Eric Mordeszewski, a Friess Lake alum and aficionado of all things Chicago, believes Wrigley is a shrine!

Monday, April 8, 2013

March Madness

Yes- it's April now, but let's not get all literal here.

I've never been a fan of Michigan.  (I'm saying that as politely as I possibly can.)  Maybe just a little when the play Ohio State, but even then my secret hope is that both teams will lose.

The Louisville teams of the mid-late 80's were fun to watch, and Rick Pitino's son was just hired to coach the Gophers- but Louisville holds no special place either.

However- this game is being played exactly how basketball was meant to be played.  Thank you to the players and coaches for allowing us all to see the simple beauty of the game.

This is fun!

I've heard several high school coaches lament the lack of shooters in their program.  Well coach, maybe if you didn't run a boring offense and yell at kids for shooting too early in the possession- there would be some incentive for a kid to practice shooting.

Some in education lament what kids can't do or won't do.  Well, maybe if we allowed them the freedom to be creative....

Friday, April 5, 2013

Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World Spin, a novel by Colum McCann.

Those who know me know that I hardly ever read fiction books.  Not never, but seldom.  You couldn't pay me to read Harry Potter.  Well, you could pay me- but it would cost you- because that kind of stuff just does NOT do it for me.

So here's the story:

We went to Seattle last week to visit our middle daughter- great trip, and we changed it up a bit by staying at a couple of bed and breakfasts.  The second one was kind of interesting- cute, but with some idiosyncrasies.  Horrible TV reception, a record player (yes- a record player) with some old albums (yes- albums), and a smattering of books.

I picked up a book that looked like a winner- started reading, and quickly discarded it and searched for a different one.  On a whim, I selected Let the Great World Spin.  I managed to get to page 50 or so, and mentioned to Joan that I needed to order that book when we got home.  She gave me 'the look' and said "why don't you just download it one your iPad?"

"Um, oh yeah, I forgot.  Thanks."  (sometimes I am an idiot..)  Anyway, 47 seconds later, I had my reading material for the flight home!

One paragraph from the opening pages:

...They found themselves in small groups together beside the traffic lights on the corner of Church and Dey; gathered under the awning of Sam's barbershop; in the doorway of Charlie's Audio; a tight little theater of men and women against the railings of St. Paul's Chapel; elbowing for space at the windows of the Woolworth Building.  Lawyers.  Elevator operators.   Doctors.  Cleaners.  Prep chefs.  Diamond  merchants.  Fish sellers.  Sad-jeaned whores.  All of them reassured by the presence of one another.  Stenographers.  Traders.  Deliveryboys.  Sandwichboard men.  Cardsharks.  Con Ed.  Ma Bell.  Wall Street.  A locksmith in his van on the corner of Dey and Broadway.  A bike messenger lounging against a lamppost on West.  A red-fced rummy out looking for an early-morning pour...

This doesn't do the book true justice, but I love this style of writing- and it permeates the book.  It is a series of stories of seemingly disconnected lives that the author brings together in a beautifully crafted story.  I love the way he allows us to see from the eyes of multiple characters, and interweaves several story lines in a way that creates tension and curiosity.  The book covers a lot of territory- love, hope, failure, faith lost- faith found, success, human frailty, war, and kindness- to name a few.

In our own lives we come in contact with others at unique angles- a chance intersection may be just that, or it may result in a life altering change.  Life altering for us, anyway.  Meanwhile- the great world spins on.

The book is intended for a mature audience.