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

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.