"God must love the common man, He made so many of them..." Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Count Blessings, Not Pennies

It’s been two board meetings now, with no blog to show for it. Sorry. I haven’t decided if lack of blog means I’m too lazy or too busy. Either way, the meetings have been fine and if you want the full report thereof, just follow the links to the official meeting minutes.

It’s been a tough week for our community what with the financial double-whammy bad news from both Boise Cascade and Governor Kulongoski. St. Helens has been a mill town for nearly a century and it’s sad to see that change and to witness the effects on so many local families. Of course it was all over the news, reporters with pity in their voices. We don't want pity. We want paychecks. No doubt this is a most difficult situation, but don’t count St. Helens out… And then there was the governor’s money news. Is the state’s abysmal budget really a surprise considering the financial hits we’ve all taken in the last year? The numbers keep changing, but regardless it equals likely budget cuts in the district this year and certainly for next year.

So while we’re pinching pennies remember to count some blessings, too – we’ve got more of those than pennies anyway.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 27th School Board Meeting

The slogan said “things go better with Coke.” I suppose so, but may I propose a new slogan? “Meetings go better with cake.” At last night’s school board meeting, our First Student school bus drivers were given our highest thanks and appreciation – and a slice of cake. I think there should be a special recognition with cake at every single meeting.

So besides the cake, there were lots of other good things:

· Public comment included comments about 1) the use and fees of Olmscheid Auditorium and 2) benchmarks for higher-achieving students.

· The high school’s ASB report covered Senior Night for fall sports, the beginning of winter sports, a leadership retreat, and the plans for an all-league dance with the proceeds going to charity.

· The high school boys basketball team requested and got the green light to attend a basketball camp in San Diego over the holiday break. Funds are raised by the students and they have to pay for their own meals.

· Ms. Rau presented the St. Helens Middle School Improvement Plan. The goals are to 1) improve communication among staff and between home and school; 2) see a 5% increase of students entering the 9th grade placing into Algebra 1; and 3) see a 5% increase in the number of students passing the 7th grade benchmark in writing. For more complete data about the MS plan, check the official minutes or talk to school administration.

· Ms. Hagen presented the St. Helens High School Improvement Plan. The goals are to 1) see a 5% increase in the number of students meeting the state reading standard and the same increase in writing; 2) see a 5% increase in the number of students meeting the state math standards; and 3) see a decrease in the number of students who are truant, drop out or enter a 5th year of high school. For more complete data about the HS plan, check the official minutes or talk to school administration.

· Ms. Grogan presented the Columbia County Education Center Improvement Plan. The goals are to 1) see a 5% increase in the number of 10th grade students who pass the state writing assessment; 2) see a 5% increase in the number of 10th grade students who pass the state math assessment; and 3) see a 5% increase in the number of 10th grade students who pass the state reading assessment. For more complete data about CCEC’s plan, check the official minutes or talk to school administration.

· There will be district-wide safety audit (including noise levels) on November 19 and 20, which will be conducted by the insurance risk division of Special Districts. Results are expected back by the end of the year.

· Previously mentioned new policies, policy revisions, and policy deletions had their third readings and were adopted unanimously.

The next regular board meeting will be November 10 at the regular time and place. Hopefully with cake.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

‘Tis nearly the end of the fall sports season so get some hot chocolate, find a comfy bleacher seat and cheer on your favorite team. Go Lions!

Gosh, it seems like forever since the last board meeting. I know that time flies when you’re having fun, and I’ve been having fun but time didn’t seem to fly at all... Please read the office minutes on the district’s website. So to recap from my own perspective:

Agenda items 1.0 and 2.0 went off without a hitch – flag salute and agenda approval must be the least contested items of any agenda anywhere.

Agenda item 3.0: A huge and heartfelt “Thank You!” with an official recognition certificate was given to the St. Helens Booster Club. Without their efforts, the district wouldn’t be enjoying such nice athletic facilities. The latest project, a new weight room, was made possible with Booster donations of $80,000 and huge amounts of volunteered time and materials. It’s almost done and should be ready for student use by the end of the month.

Agenda item 4.1: The superintendent report covered two main topics, the first being the SCORE (Students Can Often Reach Excellence) Awards. Students are nominated by staff and then the superintendent’s office chooses the winners. In November, the awards will be given to students who demonstrate leadership, citizenship and community service. February awards will be for skill and/or commitment to the arts, and May’s will be focused on academic performance. The report’s second part was the Strategic Planning Committee. This soon-to-be-appointed committee will mesh together all of the district’s plans, goals, etc into one workable document. The committee will be meeting in December, January and February.

Agenda item 4.2: The Arthur Academy reported on its lead testing and abatement efforts. Some of the testing done still showed elevated lead levels in a few areas, including the drinking water. Students have been and will continue to use bottled water. Parents are “in the loop” regarding clean-up, staff training, and future plans regarding this issue.

Agenda item 4.3: The Lewis and Clark School Improvement Plan was presented by Principal Carson, who was very excited about some new strategies the building has implemented in order to meet their goals. For more and better information about the plan, contact the principal.
Goal 1 - Reading: Increase the average RIT scores of the lowest 30% of all students in grades three, four, and five by 5%.
Goal 2 - Math: Increase the average RIT scores of the lowest 30% of all students in grades three, four and five by 5%.
Goal 3 - Writing: Increase the number of 4th grade writing scores that meet or exceed by 6%.

Agenda item 4.4: The Columbia City School Improvement Plan was presented by Principal Valpiani, who shared how the one-grade school has it’s own unique challenges. For more and better information about the plan, contact the principal.
Goal 1 - Reading: Increase the number of students who meet or exceed the 6th grade state benchmark by 5%.
Goal 2 - Math: Increase the number of students who meet or exceed the 6th grade state benchmark by 5%.
Goal 3 - Communication: Increase parent involvement through communication and by providing a variety of opportunities for participation.

Agenda item 4.5: Ms. Wallace presented some interesting facts about teenagers learning personal finance who become adults practicing personal finance. It’s a class offered by the high school next semester, but isn’t part of Oregon graduation requirements. Isn’t it funny that students need algebra to graduate, but not knowledge about bank accounts, credit cards, car loans, and budgeting. Can you guess which math I use the most?

Agenda item 4.6: The district’s communication plan is done!

Agenda item 4.7: Second readings of revised policies Board Member Ethics and Conflicts of Interest, Student Transportation Services, School Bus Safety Program, Student Transportation in Private Vehicles, Staff Ethics, Family Medical Leave, Service Training, Academic Achievement, Graduation Requirements, Assessment Program, Student Achievement Program, and (deep cleansing breath) Public Records.

Agenda item 4.8: Second reading of new policy Board Member Ethics and Nepotism.

Agenda item 4.9: Policy deletions of CIM Proficiency Standards, District Standards and Juried Assessments.

Agenda item 5.0: Approval of the September 22nd meeting minutes and approval of the October 13th human resources report.

The next regular board meeting will be October 27th. I think costumes and candy are in order… After all, there’s nothing scarier than a bunch of elected folks making decisions!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

September 22nd Meeting

Last night’s board meeting was good, just every bit as good as the last one, and I’m duty-bound to share the highlights. Please remember this is coming through the Jana filter, so look for the okey-dokey official minutes on the district’s web site.

Item 2.0: Agenda Approval was unanimous. I love it when that happens.

Item 3.0: Public Comment on Non-Agenda Items. None offered. But later on…

Item 4.0: Consent Agenda. Unanimous approval and more love.

Item 5.0: Congratulations Mr. Patterson, Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year! Thanks for all you do! Keep up the good work!

Item 6.0: Reports and Discussions and there was plenty of good stuff.
6.1: The board was introduced to this year’s student leadership at the high school. What a great bunch of hard-working Lion Pride students! Who-hoo!
6.2: The WEB (Where Everybody Belongs) Program for the middle school was presented by Mr. Robitz and Ms. Krabenhoft. This program is designed to help facilitate a smooth transition for 7th graders and provide leadership training/opportunities for 8th graders. This is WEB’s second year and from all the anecdotal evidence, it’s a great success. As students transition to the high school, the LINK program takes WEB’s place.
6.3: The Arthur Academy provided updates on attendance, expansion, and test scores. Mr. Arthur and Mr. Liljegren shared concerns about lead contamination both in the building and in the drinking water.
6.4: The bond report was to highlight the new media DVD available to the campaign. However, techincolor glitches prevented it from being shown in its entirety. It will be posted on the district’s web page today – without the funky special effects. I’m in it and will be happy to autograph something for you. :o)
6.5: Middle school textbook adoption will be handled at another meeting.
6.6: Board communication plan and goals are coming along nicely and any revisions, changes, suggestions needed to be e-mailed to Mrs. Wallace by Friday.
6.7: The first reading of board policy revisions, mostly due to legislative changes and new laws. Revised policies are Board Member Ethics & Conflicts of Interest, Student Transportation Services, School Bus Safety Program, Student Transportation in Private Vehicles, Staff Ethics, Family Medical Leave, Service Learning, Academic Achievement, Graduation Requirements, Assessment Program, and Public Records. NEW POLICY first reading was Board Member Ethics and Nepotism. POLICY DELETIONS are CIM Proficiency Standards, District Standards, and Juried Assessments. Whew!

Item 7.0: Approval of the Superintendent’s Evaluation and Contract was unanimous.

Item 8.0: Public Comment on Agenda Items. One parent of an Arthur Academy student shared her concerns that 1) the level of contamination was very high, 2) school officials were too casual about the problem, 3) true abatement may not have been done, and 4) parents weren’t notified in a timely manner about the problem.

Item 9.0: Communication and Correspondence to the board and superintendent were noted.

Item 10.0: Suggestions for future board meeting presentations?

Item 11.0: Meeting Adjourned!!

Join us again on Monday, October 13!

Straight Line? Shortest Distance?

Haven’t you always heard that the shortest distance between Point A and Point B is a straight line? From ancient seafarers to westward pioneers, this was commonsense knowledge. Modern-day airline pilots and my teenaged kids know this. On-line direction providers claim to know this – but I believe my experience is proof to the contrary.

This last Saturday, the Lady Lions varsity volleyball team was scheduled to play at a tournament in Dallas, a town that I had not yet had the pleasure of visiting. Before I go any further, let me just say it – I always get lost. I have directional disability. Maps for me are worse than story problems what with all their little hieroglyphics and origami-ness. So in the interests of self-preservation and timeliness, I placed all my straight line trust in an on-line direction provider, which I will call M.Q. I entered Point A, St. Helens, and Point B, Dallas, and waited with baited breath for my easy-to-follow step-by-step driving directions to spit out of the printer.

So once the car was loaded with snacks, the dog, and the directions, it was down (or up?) and over Cornelius Pass – gotcha. Take a left onto the Tualatin Valley highway – fine. Next turn right onto a 2-lane country road – unexpected but okay… And then the adventure began. Over the river, through the woods, past the orchards, and around the cyclists we went. We drove past vineyards, fields, and farmers markets. We drove up some small town main streets and down others. 11 left turns, 13 right turns, 4 straight aheads, and 2 ½ hours later, Dallas appeared on the horizon.

Never once did I deviate from the route suggested and no matter how rural or gravelly the road, the M.Q. directions were spot on. All of those twists and turns though… What happened to the straight line approach? Coming back, following other volleyball families, it was a quick trip back along I-5 to Highway 30 to home. Yep, we came straight home.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

September 8th Board Meeting

Monday night’s meeting was a good one as meetings go. There was plenty of good discussion and more than one opinion around the table. And I must say the vice-chair did a lovely gaveling job in the chair’s absence.

So does every school board in the universe have to constantly talk about bond measures and cut scores? Yes. Sigh. It’s not that those aren’t extremely important but… I’d much rather talk with the students themselves and celebrate their accomplishments – like a good test score in a challenging class or a surprisingly successful fund raiser. But again, a sound infrastructure is essential to building individual success. Sigh again.

The board communication plan, the transportation contract, and the safety of student hearing (as in ears) were all topics of conversation. Two bangs of the gavel, one potty break and one stubborn projector later, the meeting adjourned. Check out the district’s website for the full meeting minutes minus the Jana filter…

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Welcome to the 2008-09 School Year!

Almost everyone’s back – principals, teachers, support staff, and yes, the school board. Only the students are missing! And we only get to miss them until Tuesday. Where did the summer go? Well, wherever it went, I hope you went with it and had a great time!

Our first board meeting of the 2008-09 school year was last night. There was the usual order of business, nothing out of the ordinary. What wasn’t ordinary was the school district’s new web site. http://www.sthelens.k12.or.us It’s great and the technology team deserves a double-click standing ovation! Please log in, sign up for e-alerts and spend some time exploring all the new features, including some really cool customized calendars. And just so you know, the pictures alone are going to make folks move to our district. Here’s to increased enrollment!

It’s hard to believe the first day of school is almost here. My baby is a senior this year, so it’s her last first day. Sniffle. It will be bittersweet when she graduates because it was really and truly only just yesterday that she was in kindergarten. There are three generations of St. Helens lettermen graduates in our family, so lemon and black run swift and deep. Go Lions!

Here’s wishing you all the best this coming school year. May back packs be light and homework be easy. May lunch be good and recess be fun. May pencils be sharp and minds be sharper. Have a happy and successful 2008-2009!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Are you a shopper? I'm not. I hate shopping -- especially for Christmas gifts and groceries because no one ever likes what I buy. I grit my teeth every time the mall is mentioned. There is just one enjoyable annual shopping trip that's worth every penny -- school supplies!

This weekend I spent a lovely hour browsing the school supplies at a local store. My kids are big now (college and almost-college), so no more watercolors or blunt-end scissors. It's amazing how fast kids grow up, isn't it? Anyway... as I ambled up and down the aisles, I found myself bedazzled by the notebooks, composition books, planners, portfolios, binders, journals, crayons, markers, pens, pencils, erasers, rulers... Let me not forget to mention the book bags, back packs, and lunch boxes. I almost fainted from the overwhelming variety.

What was your most favorite new school supply? Clean big pink erasers? Pens before the caps and ends are all chewed? It's so hard to choose just one, but my all-around favorite new school supply has to be the college-ruled composition book.

In the 5th grade, the list of supplies included a college-rule composition book. It languished in my desk, buried under the usual detritus of elementary school, until one day in November. The teacher asked us to pull them out for a "journaling activity." What the heck was that? The teacher explained this was like a diary, but instead of being super deluxe private with a heavy-duty heart-shaped lock, it would be turned in. The teacher would read out entries and write back to us. Then we could continue the conversation by writing back or start over with a new entry. Ancient I.M.-ing. Prehistoric blogging.

That activity unlocked the writer in me faster than my brother could pick a heart-shaped lock with a bent paper clip. Since then, I've filled heaven-knows how many comp books. I buy as many as I can find every fall and gleefully use 'em all up. And this year, so that I will feel less old, I'm going to buy watercolors and blunt-end scissors.

Friday, August 1, 2008


I'm sure it will come as no surprise to anyone, but I'm broke. Not flat busted broke, but broke enough. And I'm surrounded by broken stuff that I'm too broke to fix.

After a little tour around the house, I found lots of things that need to be fixed or replaced. May I share?

Kitchen: leaky pipes under the sink, broken oven door, burned-out burner, unreliable fridge, and noisy rusted-out dishwasher.

Living room and hallway: non-working electrical outlets and light switches.

Bathroom: non-working electrical outlets, non-working fun, and LEAKY tub taps.

Garage: broken garage door and LEAKY hot water heater.

Outside: two broken gates and rusted out down-spouts.

I would love to fix all of this but I just can't afford it. So I'm giving this list of repairs to the neighbors and ask them to pay for it all. Whaddya think?

Welcome to the world of school maintenance and bond measures. It's just like this...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

New Chairs

Congratulations and Best Wishes!
David Morrisson, Board Chair
Rebecca Wallace, Vice Chair

Monday, June 30, 2008

Curveball & Cupcakes

So that meeting didn't go like I thought it would. And my vote certainly didn't go like I thought it would.

Up until now, I've only chaired at two board meetings. One was simply to adopt policy and it lasted all of 13 minutes. Even though I've been on the board for three years now, I am relatively inexperienced at conducting meetings. However, the agenda for this meeting was straightforward with no surprises. One addition was made to allow the board an opportunity to discuss the budget before adopting it.

I had every intention of voting against the proposed budget. I've been very unhappy about the classroom layoffs while administration came through it all mostly intact. I knew I would be the minority but was okay with it because I had voted honestly.

Our budget discussion was thrown a big league curve ball when one board member stated he would vote no based on the lack of an art line item. I was completely stunned and unprepared for this scenario. Oregon school districts must, by law, approve a balanced budget by July 1 every year. Since we are now a board of four instead of the customary five, the vote was now a tie.

What a mess. What a complication. His no vote plus my no vote would cancel out the two yes votes, thereby putting an immediate halt to all district business. I had never once considered voting in favor of the budget and I do think a no vote because of layoffs trumps a no vote because of art supplies. But if I changed my vote, it would be a betrayal to the affected employees and families.

I changed my vote.

I extend my sincere apologies to all who supported me in my decision to vote no on the proposed budget and I hope you can understand and maybe even forgive me for my action. I am just sick about it. Not even cupcakes with frosting and sprinkles can fix this.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Musical Chairs

'Tis the season for board reorganization. Every July the school board members elect two of their own to serve as Chair and Vice Chair for the next 12 months.
This time around, the board will be reorganized more than usual because the Board Chair recently resigned for employment reasons. At the meeting to declare a board vacancy, there was a distinct undercurrent of what I call "gavel envy." Suddenly we were swimming with words like "experienced" and "parliamentary procedure" and "leadership" when the conversation's tide turned to Chair appointment. I'm not much of a swimmer, but I do know that undercurrents are dangerous.
Serving on the Board of our school district is an honor. It means being an advocate of what's best for our students, not what's best for personal agendas. No one should aspire to be a Chair. If it happens, it happens. But know there is no trophy, no perks to the appointment. The gavel isn't a scepter of power. It's a lightning rod of publicity.
So I have deeply pondered the dilemma and have had a stroke of gavel genius. Musical Chairs. Yep, that's right. A simple child's game is the best remedy for gavel envy. Just imagine the pictures and headlines... At every meeting the high school band could play a rousing rendition of the Lions fight song while we all jostle around for Chair and Vice Chair. Like I said -- genius!
Happy Board Reorganization!

Monday, June 16, 2008


Congratulations Class of 2008!
Just the other day, 24 years ago, I graduated from high school. Life beyond those hallways and classrooms was unimaginable -- and then suddenly there it was! The world was wide open! What a moment!
When I graduated I had only one goal -- to be famous. I imagined my future self as a top-notch award-winning correspondent for the National Geographic. In my daydreams I would travel far and wide from the freezing north to the sub-tropical south. With my trusty typewriter ever at the ready I would cover all topics from crumbling ancient ruins to the most modern technology. As a journalist and writer I would be responsible, insightful, and grammatically correct. And best of all? I would be the darling of all future class reunions what with all of my fantastic globe-trotting tales and kick-a$$ slide show. "And now this is me with the Gondola tribe of Venice. Notice their native dress..."
I must now admit that none of it has happened. I do read National Geographic. I do have my trusty typewriter. I do consider myself to be responsible, insightful, and grammatically correct. But globe-trotting tales with an accompanying slide show? Nope. Instead I have stories about all the people I've met. Instead I have pictures of my kids. It hasn't been the way I imagined -- it's been better.
It's such an honor to hand our St. Helens High School graduates their diplomas and send them on their way to their futures. I wonder where they will go, what they will do, and who they will meet. I wonder how they will influence society and change the world. I wonder when they will have slide shows ready...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Budget Bruises

After the last and final budget committee meeting for this year, I needed an ice bag. Two actually -- one for my head and one for my heart because both were bruised and hurting.

It's no secret that I am unhappy with next year's budget. Sigh. This is the first time since I've been on the board that it's been necessary to trim. Budgets and haircuts are a lot alike. Have you ever had a haircut you didn't like? "Trim it," you tell the stylist, "to even things out." The stylist, with all good intentions, ignores your request because he or she knows what's best. Oh sure, you get a trim alright -- but aren't one bit happy with the final look. That's me and the budget. A trim was required, requests were ignored, trimming happened, and in the end... Bad haircuts and bad budgets make me cry.

I can't help but be upset when the budget was balanced on the backs of our kindergarteners. I can't help but be upset when the budget was balanced on the sanity of our kindergarten teachers. I can't help but be upset when cuts are made to the classroom but not the administration. (with one exception) I can't help but be upset when creative options are casually dismissed. I can't help but be upset when financial cooperation doesn't happen.

So after some vigorous discussion and a split vote, the budget will now make its merry way to the board for approval. I will vote against it, but I know it's a moot point.

To any and all who are or will be adversely affected by district budget cuts, you have my most profound apologies.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Budget Blahs

It's hard to decide which one I'm looking forward to the least -- my next budget committee meeting or my next root canal. Which one can I get a Valium for?
In essence, our district gets a "paycheck" from the state to run our schools. The amount of the check depends on how many students are enrolled. 80% of this paycheck is tied up in employee wages and benefits. That leaves the remaining 20% to fight over. Over the last few years the paycheck has been good. But now... Due to declining enrollment, there is a monetary shortfall of about $900,000.
Fighting about money is always so unpleasant. I think those have been the worst "discussions" of our marriage. Just even thinking about it all makes me queasy. Now just imagine financial "discussions" in front of an audience full of opinions. Welcome to the school district budget meeting.
I didn't say much at the last meeting. Honestly, I wasn't prepared to say much. More honestly, I wasn't prepared. The budget book had arrived a couple of days before the meeting and I just didn't have the time to give it due diligence. Oh sure, I browsed through it but that doesn't count as preparation. And if ye are not prepared, ye shall not speak up. Especially when speaking up about limited financial resources.
How money should be spent can be a terribly hot topic. Two weeks ago there were raised voices, quick exits, logical demands, and emotion everywhere. I appreciate the passion, but in the end there just isn't enough money.
Monetary shortfall. Limited financial resources. Making ends meet. Pinching pennies. Wanting a fistful of dollars. So how are we gonna work this budget out for our students' best success? Shrug. I don't know. Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Keynote: Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor, bringing news from Lake Wobegon, was the final keynote speaker of the conference and he opened by speaking about the differences between school now and when he was a child. However, one thing has remained constant in the great state of Minnesota. "School never was and never will be cancelled due to the bad weather."
Keillor spoke fondly about his first-grade teacher. He was a struggling reader so she used to ask him to stay after school and read aloud to her because he "had a nice voice." He tried to read with ease, inflection, and confidence -- and was soon looking forward to his after school sessions. "To take a child who is having a hard time reading and make remedial reading seem like doing a favor -- that is a gift." "Nothing you can do for a child is wasted, and if just one teacher gains traction..." School should offer "a sense of success and blessedness" for all students, even if he or she looks like "they have just fallen face first into a tackle box."
Then or now, "the principles of public education are the same." Keillor acknowledged that many schools are struggling but education is a moral imperative, "perhaps the greatest moral obligation we have, and the most important investment a community can make." "Children are our most precious resource. If we lose faith in our children, if we do not give to them at least as good as was given to us, there's no future for this country."
Keillor spoke to the importance of local control of schools, even though state and federal politicians want that local control instead. When it comes to any difficult painful decision "that should be made by people who can explain them to parents face-to-face."
Poet James Wright was one of Keillor's professors at the University of Minnesota. "He made you believe you could do great things -- you could aspire beyond what anyone thought possible." To close his comments, Keillor quoted from one of Wright's poems, A Blessing. "Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body / I would break into blossom." "Blossoming," Keillor summed up, "is the business we are in."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Keynote: Jim Lehrer

Jim Lehrer, anchor of PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, was the keynote speaker of the third general session. Lehrer stated "it all begins with education" and "I am who I am and I am what I am because of public school."
And Lehrer certainly had lots of experience in lots of public schools. When Lehrer was growing up, his father worked for Trailways Bus and the family was always on the move from one hub city to another. By the time he graduated from high school he had attended 18 different schools. When Lehrer was a sophomore, he realized his dream of becoming a professional baseball player was not going to pan out. So he began to wonder about being a sports writer in lieu of being a sports player. Coincidentally, it was then his teacher returned an essay with an A and comment written in the margin. "Jimmy, you are such a good writer." Lehrer stated he "was the product of a teacher's wisdom, of her giving me that grade and sharing that comment."
Throughout his nearly 50 years as a journalist, Lehrer has had the opportunity to interview many a political mover-and-shaker. But the most compelling person he has interviewed to date was a young teacher's assistant in Denver during the '88 presidential campaign. Lehrer described sitting on her porch in a rundown section of town. He asked her what she would like to see the new president do. She pointed at her old Dodge car in the driveway and said, "I want the president of the United States to help me tell the young people in school that it's okay that you work hard and do the right thing and you get a car like this." She then pointed at a drug dealer's new BMW parked just up the street and continued. "But if you do something dishonest and terrible, you get a car like that. You explain that to me and you explain that to the kids at school."
Journalism has also taught Lehrer "the value of education." He quoted Thomas Jefferson's remark "Democracy is dependent on an informed electorate." Lehrer then finished by saying "I truly salute you and your commitment to education and the education of the American public."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Keynote: Sidney Poitier

Academy Award-winning actor Sidney Poitier was the keynote speaker in the second general meeting of the conference. Personally, I must say that being a fan of his, I was so excited to hear him speak.

Poitier shared "snapshots (experiences) from the album" of his life to show how the "simple basic truths" he learned from his parents have guided his life. His parents, Reggie and Evelyn, were uneducated tomato farmers living on Cat Island in the Bahamas. To sell their crop, the loaded a boat and went to Miami. It was on one of those trips in 1927 that Sidney was born.

He was born two months premature and the midwife told Evelyn to prepare for the worst because "there was not enough of the baby to take ahold." While Poitier's father went in search of a shoebox to bury him in, his mother "with a reservoir of hope" went to the local soothsayer. Evelyn was told "your son will have a full life and the world will know him."

Poitier, who learned to swim before he could walk, grew up in a thatched-roof cottage without running water or electricity. He called himself "a boy with a fair amount of imagination and no common sense." This often resulted in being corrected by his mother's "whap-whap method" because his "behavior and her tolerance were out of sync."

"How steady are we as captains of ourselves?" Poitier asked. He then related three stories about three separate nights he spent in jail. "These experiences have helped me to steady myself." When Poitier was 12, he and some friends stole corn from a neighbor's field -- resulting in his first night in jail. In 1943 at age 16, he was arrested in Harlem during a "massive civil disturbance" and spent his second night behind bars. During the winter of that same year, he was arrested as a vagrant for sleeping in Penn Station. Upon his release the following morning, a policeman gave Poitier fifty cents and directed him to Brooklyn's Catholic Orphanage for shelter. He stayed there long enough to decide to join the Army. After his time in the service, Poitier began working as an actor in New York.

Poitier only briefly mentioned his Hollywood experiences. "They have all made me look good," he said of his co-stars.

Poitier is a strong believer and supporter of philanthropy. "It is the profound manifestation of the very best of us." Without it, he said, "the world would be a less hospitable, less humane place." He encouraged constant "bit by bit" repayment for any kindness ever extended.

In the end, he said, "It doesn't matter how many times you get knocked down. What matters is what you do with your time after you get up."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Keynote: Sandra Day O'Connor

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the keynote speaker in the first general session of the conference. She opened her address with the challenge "we can do better" when it comes to teaching subjects that are not routinely tested or part of No Child Left Behind. The "importance of a good civics education" was stressed as essential for producing citizens who are "actively involved" in society.

When O'Connor retired from the Supreme Court, she was invited to be part of the Central European Law Initiative which advised newly-emerging central and eastern European nations on establishing democracies. Of the 26 nations that participated, more than half are now members of the European Union. "Our system is a model to the world," she said, "because it has survived so long through so many changes and challenges."

"The citizens are responsible for democracy and better educated citizens do that better." O'Connor lamented the fact that "civics education in the past didn't seem to stick." She is co-chairing a national campaign to make civics lessons more exciting and relevant for students today. This is critical, she believes, because only 1 in 3 Americans can name the three branches of government and less than 1 in 10 can name the Chief Justice. However, 2 in 3 can name at least one American Idol judge.

"Civics classes should be useful, dynamic and engaging because everyone matters to the success of our government. An educated citizenry is the key to a healthy and robust democracy."

Needless to say, Justice O'Connor was thanked by a standing ovation.

If you would like to read more about Justice O'Connor's efforts to revitalize civics education, just follow the links...


Portland to Orlando: 2,733 Miles One Way

I like to think I'm a traveler. But in reality, the furthest east I've been is Yellowstone Park and the furthest south is Salt Lake City. That is until... March 27, 2008 -- the day I crossed my eastern and southern boundaries.
I was on my way to the National School Boards Association conference in Orlando, Florida. Let me be very clear -- the whole board was invited to attend. Comments made in open meetings may have clouded that fact. As it turned out, only Terri (the board chair) and I (vice chair) attended.
Does it ever seem to you that the Oregon educational picture is a bit dim and out of focus? I'm not talking specifics here, just an overall tone. Having attended many a meeting during my board service, it seems throughout the state the issues are common. Funding, testing, funding, testing, funding and testing. I know we have success every day in our classrooms but somehow that's not as talked about. Anyway, I was anxious to see other states' educational pictures. I wanted to refresh my own educational picture. So off to Orlando I went.
The conference did not disappoint in any way. My brain was full to bursting with new ideas, suggestions, policies, activities, etc. One great idea was a blog, so I must thank the presenters from Virginia. My plan is to share with you highlights from the speakers and classes. I'm going to share what is, in my opinion, the best of the best. After all, what good is new stuff if it's never shared, discussed, evaluated, tried, tweaked, and tried again...
So if you want the whole conference enchilada, let's go to lunch. Seriously.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Successful Mann

How about another teacher story? I promise this one doesn't have anything to do with running for the board...

Once upon a time, my husband knew what to do with the rest of his life. Rick wanted to be a teacher. When he graduated from high school and enrolled in college, there wasn't a doubt in his mind about his future. But by happenstance, a family friend who was a teacher told Rick "Don't get into teaching. The work is hard, the pay is lousy, and you'll never find any kind of satisfaction in it." What was said as good-intentioned advice eventually took him on a 20-year detour. And did you know that road to h-e-double-hockey-sticks is paved with good intentions?

Rick worked in the timber industry for years designing machinery for lumber and paper mills. It was a good job with decent pay and benefits as long as the economy was thriving. Oh sure, there were signs the timber market was faltering but we never expected it to drop the way it did. Whole companies disappeared overnight, including the one he worked for. The ensuing job search was timberless and hopeless.

Finally, in a fit of desperate boredom combined with bored desperation compounded by cabin fever, Rick decided to volunteer at our daughters' elementary school. Talk about opening the barn doors! Singing, playing, fundraising, coaching, chaperoning, stapling, cutting, filing, coloring, lifting, toting, moving, shoveling... It was in the midst of all this that Rick realized it -- he was a teacher and it was time to do something official about it.

He also realized something else. He was a "displaced timber worker" and was eligible to receive four semesters of tuition assistance. That very week Rick enrolled in community college, found an educational assistant job, and started his future all over again. Now, more than six years have passed and in less than three weeks Rick will graduate magna cum laude from college (again) with a degree and a teaching certificate. Hooray!

I won't kid you. Going back to college as a middle-aged mortgaged-out student with a wife who has hot flashes has not been easy. It has been hard. It has been grim. It has been upsetting. Truly it has cost far more than the dollar amount might suggest. And to add insult to injury, we're too old to be Homecoming royalty! So has it all been worth it? Yes! Rick came home last week with his first "paycheck" -- a thank-you note from a student.

Along that same line, to all of our family and friends -- THANK YOU! Behind every successful Mann is a herd of helpers. We never could have done it without your love and generosity. You guys are magna cum laude great!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My Other Mother

Before I jumped into the school board campaign, I consulted my other mother, aka, mother-in-law. Let me state right now that she is NOT the melodramatic, overbearing, villainous kind of mother-in-law that haunts many a dream. She is kind, considerate, helpful, supportive and genuine. I consider her to be Mom, and since my own mother's passing, I have come to depend on her more than she will ever know.
Mom is a kindergarten teacher here in my district -- and she's fabulous! She loves her students and they love her right back. There's nothing like a heart-felt leg hug, right? Mom's students sing, gallop, write, color, read, play and learn. Her room is bright and inviting, full of wonderful things that facilitate early education. This is Mom's last year as a full-time teacher. After more than 30 years, she is retiring. Or as one student put it, she is "going out of business."
Her honest opinion about my run for a board position was really important to me. I respect her as an experienced educator. Mom listened carefully to my whys and wherefores. "Go right ahead," she said, "but know that being on the board can be great or terrible. Sometimes both in the same meeting."
Mom, you were right! It can be great. It can be terrible. It can be both in the same meeting. It can be both at the same time. Thank you for you advice, support and love. I couldn't do it without you. And the voting public.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


This is isn't the greatest picture of my Mom. She would be mad that I even have one of her because she was "allergic" to cameras. This picture was taken on a family wood-cut about 30 years ago. Mom and Grandma have laid out lunch on the hood of our old Polaris station wagon.
Grandma Zoe was my Mom's mom. And the apple for the teacher doesn't fall far from the tree.
Mom was an elementary school teacher before I and my brothers arrived on the scene. She wore swoopy black cat-eye glasses sprinkled with tiny rhinestones, conservative dresses, and impossibly high heels. So stylish!
Mom adored her first-graders. She said teaching that particular grade was her most favorite because "that's when they learn to read!" Mom used to tell us about a little boy who really struggled to read. Day after day after day they worked together on letters and sounds. But one day, almost as if by magic, he got it! Mom said his whole face lit up, his eyes were sparkly, and his excitement was contagious. This moment became a lifetime memory for Mom and, I hope, for her student. As for us kids, she taught us to love books. She read to us, we read to her, and we all read to ourselves. Our small basement office was stacked floor to ceiling with books -- all read and all enjoyed.
When Mom left the classroom to be home with us that certainly wasn't the last she saw of elementary school. Mom was the example of room-mother extraordinaire and she orchestrated some fantastic classroom parties, often dressing to meet the occasion -- especially on Halloween. Yes, back then the party matched the holiday. And the treats were always homemade. Her cupcakes couldn't be beat and her caramel apples were the stuff of legends.
Mom was very artistic, so when she was put in charge of the main office bulletin board it was transformed. What had been sloppy and hap-hazard became a monthly work of art. Mom said her bulletin board was the official greeter for any visitor to the school so it had better be good. What I wouldn't give now for pictures of her "masterpieces." Her artistic eye certainly viewed things differently at home, most specifically when the National Geographic arrived in the mail. The natives in our issue were always "fully dressed" in black marker.
Whether she was in the classroom or at home, Mom was a great teacher with a profound influence upon me. I can't do bulletin boards. I can't make treats. But maybe in some small way, through my service on the school board, I can help a teacher be successful. Every teacher should have the opportunity to be their very best so they can help their students to be their very best. Bright faces, sparkly eyes, and contagious excitement -- public school at it's very best.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Grandma Zoe

If you follow the link to my local school board bio http://www.sthelens.k12.or.us/ you will find an off-the-cuff answer as to why I decided to run for the position. My Grandma Zoe, pictured above, was really why, and the story behind it was just too big to condense.

This is my favorite picture of Grandma -- and it was a challenge just to get it. Grandma wouldn't hold still for any picture, except for her faculty photo every fall. She was a middle-school English teacher and high school librarian for years in rural southeastern Idaho. She was a teacher when the dress code included high heels and a girdle. She was a teacher when penmanship was part of the standard curriculum. She was a teacher when teachers felt valued and respected.

Mandatory retirement was the end of Grandma's more than 40 year teaching career. She was madder than a wet hen about it, too. So my two younger brothers and I became her students. No subject was off limits. Grandma tutored us in everything from long division to the Revolutionary War, and yes, even penmanship.

How can I ever share all that Grandma taught me? It was far more than just the usual and customary. She instilled a love of learning, a love of teachers, and a love of students. She instilled a sense of responsibility and duty to the public school system.

Grandma loved being a teacher. I remember once, in the local grocery store, meeting a former student. He told her that she had been a great influence for good and thanked her for her dedication. Then he said, "It was so good to run into you -- you haven't changed a bit after all this time." She paused for a moment and then sweetly asked, "Have I always looked so old?" Grandma and Miss Clairol had a long friendship after that.

Grandma was a big influence in my decision to run for a local school board seat. It seemed only right to repay in a forward way for all of her service. Next time, I'll introduce you to my mother who was a first-grade teacher and a moving force in my life.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Common Mann Gets Going!

Welcome! This blog is run by Jana Mann, school board member of the St. Helens School District. Topics on this site will include education, community, and children. Comments here are not official, but are a personal effort to be more open with the concerned public. Of course comments are both encouraged and appreciated, but please practice decorum and appropriate language.