Archive for Wednesday, October 12, 2011

First Bell: District’s new rooftop units ‘best’ available; teachers raise concerns about standards-based grading in middle schools; teacher cites ‘trust’ gap

October 12, 2011


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Anyone wondering whether the Lawrence school district is getting a good deal on its 11 new rooftop heating and cooling units for district headquarters should rest assured that all is well, said Randy Masten, a member of the Lawrence school board.

He called around. Checked out the specs. Reviewed the bids.

All is well, he reports. District personnel — including Tom Bracciano, division director for facilities and maintenance — did a fine job ordering the most efficient, reliable and environmentally appropriate equipment available.

“They did a very good job in selecting these units,” said Masten, who joined his fellow board members in unanimously approving a $106,250 contract with Chaney Inc., of Lawrence. “We are selecting the best units that are available for their intended use.”


Several middle school teachers attended Monday night’s meeting of the Lawrence school board, expressing concerns about this year’s use of standards-based grading for sixth-graders.

Yes, such grades have been used to assess sixth-graders for several years, they conceded, but that was when sixth-graders were in elementary schools.

Now sixth-graders are in middle schools, sharing buildings with older students who only receive letter grades — and teachers who face an increased workload with the grading system, and who would find themselves keeping two different systems in mind if they had different grade levels among their classes.

Tara Zelvy, who teaches sixth-grade at South Middle School, said that she and 30 teachers at the school had met to discuss their concerns. The also drafted a letter listing their concerns, and planned to forward it to board members.

Their concerns include worries about the time required to determine standards-based marks for all their students; about how the Skyward computer system doesn’t have all assignments entered; and about how students in the same school will be receiving different grades, simply based on their grade level.

“Middle school should be a cohesive community,” Zelvy said.

Later in the meeting, board members approved a list of goals that includes a call for an educational forum for parents and teachers to be able to learn more about standards-based grades, and the district’s plans for such grades going forward. That forum is expected to be scheduled sometime in November.


Chris Cobb, who is teaching sixth-graders this year, also attended the board meeting and cited the district’s plans to use standards-based grading in middle schools as yet another example of a problem recognized by others from outside the district.

That problem — teachers lacking trust in district administrators — was cited in a Kansas Learning Network report, a finding that Cobb and colleagues on the Lawrence Education Association’s negotiating team used during contract negotiations in recent months.

The KLN recommendation: "Address an apparent longtime communication and trust gap between the central office and teachers and work to build a climate of collaboration and openness among all employees."

Monday night, Cobb advised board members to “speak to teachers personally” to find out what they really think about the standards-based grading system, instead of relying on others to relay such thoughts.

Cobb acknowledged that the grading system moved up into middle schools after being reviewed by a committee of administrators and teachers, but described such groups as little more than “rubber stamp committees” that merely affirm “predetermined” decisions.

As for the trust issue cited in the KLN report: “This year has seen that trust gap widen — markedly,” Cobb said.

Later in the meeting, board members approved a list of board goals for 2011-12 that calls for the district’s Teacher Advisory Group — formerly the Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Group — to “include scheduled meetings with board member representatives.”


Kookamooka 6 years, 7 months ago

I love my administrators. They explain things fully, are always available for questions and reply to emails before the end of the day. They have my back. I know they are there for the best interests of my students and families and they show it every day. They are visible within our schools- moving around the district. They attend special events-even at the earliest learning levels. What's going on in Lawrence? Sounds bad.

ConcernedResident 6 years, 7 months ago

Please be clear. The administrators being referred to above are the district administrators, not the building administrators (principals).

Kookamooka 6 years, 7 months ago

I do think the district gets bamboozled by heavy handed developers begging for TIF's. The district also blindsided the community when they implemented shorter Wednesdays for professional development. Talk about a child care fiasco.

Stephen Roberts 6 years, 7 months ago

I find it funny that the teachers don't trust the administrators... why??? are they afraid they are going to get fired?? how many teachers that have been with the district more than 5 years were fired last year????

sugarmonkey 6 years, 7 months ago

Unless you are a teacher you don't fully understand the repercussions. I thought the same thing as you until I spoke with teachers. No, they will not get fired. The union has made that very difficult, however, they can make your experiences a living nightmare. It took a lot of guts for teachers to come forward to speak. The district doesn't really care to hear from those who you are actually working day-to-day with our children. It's so sad to be afraid to speak, and
I applaud those teachers who spoke at the meeting. I just wish this article was on the front page of the paper. The community needs to read how our district administrators views our teachers and principals.

Kookamooka 6 years, 7 months ago

I am talking about my district administrators. I see our Superintendent and all of the associates at the upper tier of leadership at all sorts of events and important meetings. They are the ones that reply to my emails. I'm a lowly person on the totem pole but I am always treated like an important collegue.

We work so hard to teach our children how not to bully but it sounds like there are some intimidation tactics and passive agressive behaviors running amok at the highest levels of USD 497. If the consultants see it and call them out on it, it's pretty bad. And embarrassing.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 7 months ago

They did a very good job in selecting these units....

Had to read this twice. A school board member's opinion his organization did good in purchasing complicated equipment.

So sorry, but I would rather have the opinion of a heating and cooling resident expert. Now this is an example of a situation warranting a volunteer (retired heating and cooling engineer/purchaser) from the community.

How much? Installation charges waved or not? What happened to the old units? Were they sold, or the old “no charge” to haul them off. Did the district take advantage of zero interest payment terms keeping our money drawing interest while using theirs at no cost.

Did we check and see if any Federal grant money was available for upgrading to energy efficient machines?

Did we check for installation discounts for using our employees to assist the install? Did we even offer?

In some situations the used equipment replaced can be re-sold for up to half the price of the new. Automovtive equipment for instance sometimes sells for nearly more than new. Tire changing machines for instance.

Or, did somebody get a free hat and jacket with a company logo on it?

Maybe they did all these things. You think?

GMom05 6 years, 7 months ago

Bad is an understatement, Kookamooka. That those teachers had the guts to stand up in front of Doll and speak out against their administrators speaks volumes. They know what happens to good little soldiers who buck the system, yet for the sake of our children and the sake of the work environment for all the building staff, they stood up there, even though they know it could cause great problems for them or maybe even cost them their jobs. We've seen it happen before. The issue of firing aside, commuter, the teachers and the parents DO NOT trust the administrators (and half the SB) because they are poor leaders and continue to exhibit poor judgement as evidenced most recently by this whole SBG fiasco. I agree with DIST, if they don't get a handle on Doll and the like, the state will end up coming in here and running our district for us. At this point I'm not sure that isn't a good a idea.

Nikki May 6 years, 7 months ago

I read this: a call for an educational forum for parents and teachers to be able to learn more about standards-based grades, and the district’s plans for such grades going forward.

and it sounds like the reply is "blah, blah, blah, that's nice, we don't care!"

Nice try Cobb. Hope that works out and they do listen to the teachers, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

conservative 6 years, 7 months ago

Early dismissal Wednesdays are the fault of the teachers not the administrators. They are the ones who demanded the time off every week as part of contract negotiations.

Deb Engstrom 6 years, 7 months ago

Collaboration time on Wednesdays is a valuable tool for making education better for all students. It's unfortunate that it is a "childcare nightmare" for some, but most were able to work it out. Who ever said that the school was supposed to be a "childcare provider" for 6 hours a day 5 days a week?? Standards based grading will go the same route. Lots of discussion and controversy at the outset and when it settles down, everyone will survive.

conservative 6 years, 7 months ago

Collaboration time without a requirement that the teachers remain is a grossly abused perk. Some use it appropriately many disappear from the school minutes after the students do. Talk to teachers from other districts and they can't believe that Lawrence does this EVERY week.

optimist 6 years, 7 months ago

Nobody implies that the schools are a childcare provider. However plenty of working families have fixed work schedules and the early dismissal cost them money or in some cases their ability to work at all. A lot of working parents don't have jobs that allow them to leave early on Wednesday and they don't have a support system that can help. Those effected most adversely are those in lower income brackets. What's important to remember here is that teachers are civil servants. They work for the taxpayer. I think many of our civil servants forget that sometimes in this world where they are allowed to collectively bargain against the taxpayer and our elected officials are too cowardly to stand up to the pressure from the union. In today's world the taxpayer is subject to the civil servant. I'd like to get back to a point that when I pay somebody for a service they actually provide the services that I need in the manner that I need them. Is this unreasonable? When this happens is the day that the education system in this country gets better.

Matthew Herbert 6 years, 7 months ago

if schools were a childcare provider, teachers would be getting paid more. Calculate the average hourly wage you pay a 15-year old babysitter. Now, calculate the average wage a public school teacher makes - especially coaches. The addendum for coaches, who add 20 hours to their work week EVERY WEEK, is typically in the single digit thousands. Anyone want to work an extra 20 hours a week at their job for a $3,000 annual raise?

aryastark1984 6 years, 7 months ago

You imply that if teachers lost collective bargaining power that we would have better teachers, better schools, and better education. This is just not true.

There are 3 or 4 states where teachers don't have this power and those states are ranked in the bottom 5 in terms of educational quality.

Long ago we made a "deal" with teachers. The deal was, "we will pay you way less than what you are worth. But, in exchange, we will esteem your profession, you will get your summers off and you will have job security."

The powers that be (and by that I mean the Koch bros) are trying to undo that social contract- increasing class sizes, reducing classroom resources and then demanding teachers meet increasingly high educational standards. You want better teachers? Pay them better. You want improved academic performance? Reduce class and school size, increase classroom support and lengthen the amount of time kids spend in class.

swolf03 6 years, 7 months ago

yep, i agree with that, whoever said schools are childcare providers? it's ridiculous the way schools are treated as "day cares."

KSManimal 6 years, 7 months ago

"Early dismissal Wednesdays are the fault of the teachers not the administrators. They are the ones who demanded the time off every week as part of contract negotiations."

In typical "conservative" fashion, you spout nonsense for which you have no evidence. Collaboration time is not time off of work. It is time at work, without students. Believe it or not, teachers have work to do that does not involve directly interacting with students.

If you had it your way, teachers would only be paid from the minute students walked in until the minute students walked out. Would you only pay lawyers for the time actually spent in the courtroom? Would you only pay surgeons for the time spent in surgery? Of course not.

More proof that what you're really doing is nothing more than teacher-bashing.

lunacydetector 6 years, 7 months ago

that's also the time for their doctor appointments

youngjayhawk 6 years, 7 months ago

Most LPS teachers will tell you that Wednesday collaboration is a waste of time. They would much rather use the time for class instruction and student contact; it disrupts the learning continuity of the week. And BTW, teachers did not want Wednesday collaboration; they had little say in the decision.

Deb Engstrom 6 years, 7 months ago

I served on the committee when collaboration was implemented and most teachers very much wanted the time available for collaboration except the high school (there was only one then). They soon figured out that they needed it, too, so now they have late arrival weekly.

optimist 6 years, 7 months ago

Look into "holistic grading", the foundation of standards-based grading. It sort of reminds me of holistic medicine, sort of like real medicine. Not to knock holistic medicine but it seemingly relies more on faith for healing rather than grounded science.

This change is so wrought with political correctness and waste it’s truly unbelievable. I’ve read that the cost to conduct "holistic grading" on standardized tests is estimated at approximately $25-$30 per test as opposed to $2-$5 per test for multiple-choice. This cost difference obviously reflects the additional time required to score and re-score the test to make certain that one scorer's subjectivity is not overly skewed. If this is any indication of what teachers can expect with standards-based grading it’s evident that teachers will have unnecessary time burdens placed on them in this new system. What I am most confident of is that most children and taxpayers will be cheated just so we can preserve the self-esteem of a few children that struggle in school.

What are we doing?!

volunteer 6 years, 7 months ago

Teachers cannot "demand" anything, conservative. They request, and the final decision rests with the school board. They are not a strong-arm union that goes on strike if their requests are not agreed to.

Teacher time required in the building is also a contractual matter. One friend of mine has a "zero hour," so has a class starting at 7am. He usually stays until 4:30, but occasionally will leave earlier in the afternoon.

Finally, yes, I have heard that THIS MUCH "collaboration" time is superfluous. A few hours at the beginning, middle, and end of the year would suffice, according to all my teacher friends. One theory is that this is a ploy for the Administrators to look valuable to the Board..just like those "in-service" days..."We are teaching the teachers how to improve, thus justifying our existence at the central office."

youngjayhawk 6 years, 7 months ago

Kudos to the South teachers for sharing their concerns and taking a stand, quite courageous on their part. I would imagine that by this morning, Fernandez/Harrod have been told to get their teachers under control.

teacherspet2 6 years, 7 months ago

Kudos to the Southwest teachers as well. Harders and Drinkhouse made some valid points. Did the board even look at the six page handout that Harders gave them? The handout showed four pages of the SBG for a math class and a one page simplified report that is currently being used under the traditional system from a math class at 7th grade. It is pretty hard to imagine that a parent would read four pages to decipher what their child is achieving. I hope the board and administrators will take the time to look at the handout.

The parents that spoke up were also very effective with their message. I truly hope the board will take action.

Carol Bowen 6 years, 7 months ago

USD 497 hasn't done anything to promote trust in the community, either. The board has badly managed priorities, in the past, and increased millage when no other government unit did.

Eleven rooftop units for the district office. Which elementary schools need new roofs?

USD 497 will have a tough time passing the next bond proposal.

Windemere 6 years, 7 months ago

Chiming in with praise for those brave teachers. If they suffer retribution, I sure hope that it will come to light and be denouced publicly. Wish there could be an annonymous poll of all teachers that asks some very pointed questions on some of these recent issues. Results published on the front page of the LJWorld.

sickofdummies 6 years, 7 months ago

Also filled with praise for those brave teachers for standing up for our students' educations. If only the school board would have as much concern. Members of the school board need to remember that they are elected officials. They work for us. They do not work for Rick Doll and his administration. They are supposed to be representing our wishes and keeping the administration from implimenting programs that the parents and community do not agree with . School Board, if you are reading this: We did not elect you because we felt that you were so smart and should make decisions for us. We elected you to represent us! Listen to what the parents, teachers and community want.

teacherspet2 6 years, 7 months ago

I think the forum is a nice idea, but it doesn't go far enough. The board should call for an immediate halt to SBG at 6th grade. Then let us have a forum to discuss the future of this system. The SBG system is not compatible with Skyward and district administrators have already admitted that there are problems with the system. So I would like to ask the school board to stand up to the district administrators, Kobler and Doll specifically, and put an end to this debacle currently in place. The Skyward system is a valuable and informative tool when used for the traditional grading system for which it was designed. The sixth grade teachers have better places to spend their time. Thoughtfully grading papers and giving students meaningful feedback takes enough time without the headache of a system that is flawed. Elementary teachers discussed the use of SBG long before the system was put in place. The sixth grade teachers that are new to SBG did not have the benefit of those discussions, nor the months of training that followed elementary teachers through the first year of the implementation of the new grading system. The district has proven their lack of trustworthiness time and time again. It is time that the board stands up for the teachers, parents, and students and puts a stop to a practice that was put in place in a very underhanded way.

KSManimal 6 years, 7 months ago

Thanks to each of you who chimed in to support the teachers who spoke out.

Remember, this kind of advocacy is made possible by continuing contract law, due process law, and strong teacher's unions.

Please remember what you value, and watch your legislators closely this coming session. We are sure to see Brownback & Co work to dismantle any and all protections teachers now have.

After all, teachers who speak freely tend NOT to support the "tax breaks for Kochs, close public schools, and screw everyone else" Brownback agenda.

Jayhawks64 6 years, 7 months ago


Don't be so fast to assume that everyone who supports the teachers regarding SBG support the unions. I support good teachers. If a teacher isn't getting the job done, that individual should be fired.

KSManimal 6 years, 7 months ago

You're making a fundamental mistake; albeit a very common one.

Specifically, you're placing the responsibility of hiring/firing teachers on the union. The union has no authority or power to hire or fire anyone. That is the job of administrators and the Board of Education.

The union does not want incompetent teachers on the job any more than anyone else does. Teachers can be and are fired for not "getting the job done." Unions DO NOT protect bad teachers from being fired. Unions protect the contract and due process, and in doing that they protect GOOD teachers from BAD firings.

If there is a lousy teacher on the job for long, you can bet there is also a lousy administrator above them allowing it to persist.

Jayhawks64 6 years, 7 months ago

Tell that to the former Chancellor of the DC school district. She fired a bunch of lousy teachers and got run out if town by all those union members.

KSManimal 6 years, 7 months ago


Michelle Rhee illegally fired a bunch of decent teachers and faked a bunch of standardized test scores; all to build a career for herself in the "get grant money from Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton family" education reform business.

Rhee is a complete fraud. Look it up.

aryastark1984 6 years, 7 months ago

Help me out here. I have been trying to suss out the nature of the concerns about SBG. Some I think I understand. The district did a terrible job of explaining things. But, after listening to and reading a lot of stuff, here is how I understand things:

There is little to no change for 6th graders. They will continue to receive both letter grades (A-F) AND SBG. This is exactly what they got last year. Same grading scheme, different building.

4th and 5th graders will get only SBG. This is a change. In the past they have gotten both SPG and letter grades.

As I see it, SBG and letter grades serve two very different functions. Letter grades represent an assessment of achievement or performance. SBG break down what a child is supposed to learn over a given time and assess whether the child has "mastered" that concept or not. My daughter is in elementary school and I LIKE SBG. When I look at her report card, I get a sense of what she does well and what we need to work on. It seems to me that it would be WAY more useful to know that your child (and I am making this up here) had mastered most of 5th grade math, but was struggling with multiplying fractions than to see that he/she got a B+.

Please help me out here. I am not sure what I am missing.

GMom05 6 years, 7 months ago

Yes, you are missing something here. SBG is way more subjective than traditional letter grades. The teacher can give you an 'S' for almost any reason and the range of 'S' scores is much larger, basically you can be any where from a C+ student to an A student and get an 'S.' Here are the bigger problems, the kids have no idea what the rubric is. They don't know what it takes to get an S or E or anything and that can change based on the teacher. Again, it's subjective. And here's another subjective thing, those traditional (A-F) letter grades the 6th graders WILL BE getting (they don't have them this quarter, NOT the same as last year!) are 'trended.' Meaning they might be an average or they might represent that the teacher saw progress, or the lack thereof, recently, and graded you based on that, completely independent of any average. She also might be tired or think your child isn't working up to their potential even when you think they are. It's a moving target and not at all like what the 7th & 8th graders are getting. Why are they treating the 6th graders like elementary kids and not like the rest of the middle schoolers?

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