Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Britain has its own Grammar Nazi!

It's nice to find a kindred spirit. I once walked around my college campus with a Sharpie, correcting errors on posters, so I feel his pain.

Apostrophe warrior Stefan Gatward's mission to correct our wayward grammar

He has been called a vandal, a graffiti artist and a pedant.

Even his admirers admit he is "a bit of an old codger". But Stefan Gatward – accountant, former private in the Gordon Highlanders and now Anglican day chaplain – remains unrepentant.

Known as The Apostrophe Man of Royal Tunbridge Wells, Mr Gatward shot to fame last week after taking the law (or at least a bylaw) into his own hands by adding a missing apostrophe to the street signs on his road.

St Johns Close became St John's Close and overnight Mr Gatward gained respect and derision in equal measure. While many of his neighbours congratulated him on his stand, the apostrophe was scratched off three days later.

Fearful of an appearance at a magistrate's court – or should that be magistrates' court? – Mr Gatward decided not to paint in the apostrophe again.

However, determined to halt the slide of the Queen's English into what he regards as a babel of Americanisms and street slang, he has instead embarked on a tour of the spa town in order to point out the grammatical howlers which besmirch its street signs.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My response to the Rutherford County School Board

Below is the draft of what I plan to say during the open comment section of the RCSB meeting on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009. If anyone has any feedback for me, I would appreciate it.

Gentlemen of the Board, I find it very necessary to respond to your work session discussion regarding the CAMS admission policy upon which you plan to vote tonight. While some of your arguments have great merit, and while I agree with some of them, others are based upon flawed assumptions and information which I feel it necessary to address before you vote on this proposed admissions policy.

First, I think we are all in agreement that you were elected to this school board because you care about the children in Rutherford County. You were elected to represent each and every taxpayer and each and every child in this county. It is your duty as an elected official to ensure that each and every child has an equal and fair opportunity to obtain the best education to which he or she is entitled. I firmly believe each of you wants to do that. This magnet school will be a great means to that end, and I, along with the parents in this room, am delighted that this school will be available to our children. But if you vote for these admissions requirements as written, you will deny some children in this county the opportunity to obtain the very education this new school is meant to provide. You will, in effect, be violating your policies, which state under the Role of the Board of Education, "The Board will provide, within the ļ¬nancial limitations set by the community, the best educational opportunities possible for all children." A vote for this policy as written will violate that policy, clear and simple.

Dr. Mark Byrnes, you said at Tuesday's meeting that, and I quote, "One of the reasons government is not trusted is they keep going back on their commitment." Your quote implies a promise was made to McFadden students that they would have a magnet school education through the eighth grade. Yet, you also said no written guarantee was ever made. Your own attorney, Mr. Jeff Reed, told you at the work session, and again I quote, "There's been no contract. Zone lines can be changed at any time, admission standards can be changed at any time. That's all at the discretion of the board. There's been no written contract with parents of McFadden School, and you can't guarantee zone lines with admission to certain schools." Your own attorney has contradicted your argument that this board must honor its unwritten commitment. To quote a famous philospher, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." What is more important to this board: Ensuring a unwritten commitment to a small group of students, or the commitment you made to each and every student in this county when you ran for public office and were elected to this board?

Second, Mr. Donald Jernigan himself pointed out that even though he has a grandchild in first grade at McFadden, he's not certain this middle school will be appropriate for that child in five years. He agreed the child should have an opportunity to attend, but he questioned the need to grandfather in that child. How can anyone possibly say that a kindergartner, who by virtue of an interview is admitted into McFadden this fall, will be ready for a middle school and high school magnet environment in 2015? Even if that student meets the minimum enrollment requirements, is it fair to that student to place him or her in a school where he or she may be 10 points or more behind his or her peers who tested in exclusively on merit? Is it fair to the teachers? Is it fair to anyone?

Mr. Donald Jernigan went on to say, however, that current middle schoolers should be allowed in, even hinting that their scores shouldn't matter, that their self-esteem should be considered. However, Superintendent Harry Gill said this is to be a high-achieving school known for its academics throughout the state. If we are going to make exceptions for kids because we don't want their feelings hurt if they don't qualify, then what's the point of an admissions standard at all? Additionally, the concern was raised that we would be hurting these kids if they had to leave McFadden for one year, go to a new middle school for eighth grade, and then to a new high school for ninth grade. However, regardless of what happens with this admissions policy, that's still going to happen to this year's seventh graders at Central. Sacrifices will have to be made if this school is to achieve its fullest potential. The only way this school will achieve the respect and reputation you desire it to obtain is to ensure that it enrolls the best and brightest students in Rutherford County. Each and every student must meet the same admissions requirements. You can't create one policy for one group of students and a second policy for another group of students. Yet, that's exactly what your current policy sets forth.

Third, Mr. Rick Wise, you said this was the same issue as when the Discovery School moved from Bellwood to Reeves-Rogers, but it's not. That was, literally, just moving a school. The policies did not change. The admissions requirements did not change. The scope, breadth and mission of the school did not change. All of that changes with CAMS. This is not just moving a school from one building to another, as Mr. Terry Hodge himself said at the work session. This board voted, unanimously, I might add, on April 24, 2008, "to develop the magnet school around an academic focus for mathematics and science and a Career and Technical Education focus on engineering and health sciences." However, according to its own Web site, "students at McFadden School of Excellence are provided with a wide range of learning activities and experiences in all areas of written, oral, and visual communications." It's mission theme is "Communications through Technology." I don't know about you, but mathematics and science seem to be a completely new direction than written, oral and visual communications. The argument made by many people that you are simply moving one school to another here does not fit with your own mission statements for these schools. That must be considered. And, I argue, the admissions standards for this school should emphasize those test scores that directly apply to this new school's mission. If science and math are going to be the emphasis of this school, then it should be the science and math TCAP scores that have the greatest impact on admission. Not just any two, and certainly not minimum standards met by a student from a school with an entirely different educational focus.

Finally, and I can't emphasize this enough, there are far, far more areas regarding this new school on which we agree rather than disagree. We are all excited about this new school and the opportunities it will offer the children of this county through the 12th grade. It would be a travesty if this debate created a rift regarding this school between the parents and children who all want the same thing: an education that best fits our children's needs. I simply hope that each of you recognize for that to take place, this school must be equitably accessible to each and every child in the county.

Thank you for your time and your service.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Board work session transcript

The Rutherford County School Board met Tuesday, Aug. 11, at 5 p.m. for its regular work session meeting to discuss items on the agenda for its regular meeting set for 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13. The majority of the time was spent discussing the admissions policy for Central Academic Middle School. Below is the transcript of that discussion. Members of the public were not allowed to speak at the work session, but may speak for a maximum of three minutes at Thursday's meeting. My next blog post will be my interpretation of this work session.

Rutherford County School Board Work Session

Aug. 11, 2009

5 p.m.


Dr. Mark Byrnes, Rutherford County School Board Chairman

Mr. Wayne R. Blair, School Board member

Mr. Grant Kelley, School Board member

Mr. Terry Hodge, School Board member

Mr. Harry Gill, Superintendent of Rutherford County Schools

Mr. Rick Wise, School Board member

Mr. Dorris Jernigan Sr., School Board member

Mr. Donald Jernigan, School Board member

Mr. Jeff Reed, School Board attorney

Byrnes: If you want to speak on Thursday night, you are certainly free to do that. I've talked to different people on different sides of this debate. I am pretty certain we know what the issues are and the sides are, so I'm not sure it's going to be incredibly useful for 25 people to get up and say anything. But you have that right and you can certainly do that, but you need to keep your discussions to three minutes if you do that.

We welcome your presence here, but this is not a rally. Do not cheer, boo or hiss. That is not welcome here.

There's been a lot of communication about this issue and we're all for the public being involved, but what I'm hearing second hand is that some miscommunication has taken place. First on the city-county issue and how McFadden's admission policy figures into this debate. In this issue I don't see how it's particularly relevant. Our GIS person plugged the McFadden enrollment numbers into his database and found 206 city students and 195 outside the city. When you consider Murfreesboro residents only make up 40 percent of the population, then they are overrepresented, so this argument doesn't work.

Another miscommunication is that the committee who did this was comprised of McFadden parents. They were employees who just happened to be McFadden parents. Could we have done a better job with that committee, probably. But it wasn't unfairly loaded with McFadden parents.

The proposed grandfather clause is the middle school only. No proposal before the board that said the proposal would grandfather the kids through high school. Doesn't say that now. Never has. I will close with this comment: We've heard a lot of arguments, and 90 percent of them say we need to do what the fair thing is. The problem is all sides have a different idea of what fairness is. Screaming that is not much of an argument. I think most board members recognize there is some reasonable case to be made on both sides, and our job Thursday night will be to decide what is most fair. I understand it's a passionate issue. You're talking about your kids. We're all parents up here, we fully understand the passions involved. I think we need a little less passion and a little more rationality on this.

Full disclosure I am a McFadden parent, and I will not vote on Thursday, but I will not give up my right to say what I think.

GILL: There weren't any backroom politics. No deals were struck with anybody. I think the policy is fair, but if you are a parent at Discovery, you probably don't. It's a fair recommendation from my perspective, so I'm going to propose to the board to approve the policy as it was presented to the board.

BYRNES: Slightly edited. New version is on the Web site.

DORRIS JERNIGAN: This only applies to the kids in sixth, seventh and eight at McFadden, right?

GILL: No, every child at McFadden.

HODGE: Are we discriminating?

REED: The question has come up if you establish a grandfather clause is that discriminatory. You have to identify a class. Under this policy, there's no evidence of that in this case. Not race, gender or anything. This is just the board setting its own admissions policy in terms of this school. Under state law, local school boards are given broad policy to determine the admission criteria of the new magnet school. It's not like you are trying to do any profiling. No discrimination based upon this policy.

DORRIS JERNIGAN: I received an e-mail that talked about a contract. I'm not sure there was a contract. There's been discussion about there being a contract with McFadden parents about that school. A contract can be written, implied, or verbal, by someone who has the authority to make that agreement. In my seven years on the board we've never made such an agreement with a McFadden parent their child could go all the way through the eighth grade. We have moved kids from one school to another school, which we are going to do next fall, so I just have a problem thinking there's been a contract.

REED: There's been no contract. Zone lines can be changed at any time, admission standards can be changed at any time. That's all at the discretion of the board. There's been no written contact with parents of McFadden School and you can't guarantee zone lines with admission to certain schools.

GILL: We tested out, and we're here eight years or nice years, and we think it's a fair thing to do to move all the McFadden kids over to the new magnet school. I think we kind of addressed that. We wanted this magnet school to be a school that challenged kids. We want this to be recognized as a high achievement school.

BYRNES: I haven't heard anyone argue there's a legal contract, but there is a commitment. One of the reason government is not trusted is they keep going back on their commitment.

WISE: When Discovery School moved, didn't they move those kids from one school to the other? Isn't that the same issue? I'm not taking a stand one way or the other, I'm just making a statement on that issue.

DORRIS JERNIGAN: The word contract keeps coming up, and we don't have a contract. My daughter told me we were set on zone lines, and I told her don't count on it. The way things are in the community change is going to happen. Change is going to have to happen.

HODGE: I've struggled with this from the get-go. It's not moving from one school to the other. I know people think this is unfair. Time will tell when they get there. If they don't pass, they'll have to go someplace else. In my opinion sixth, seventh and eighth grade ought to be able to go, but K-5, I don't know.

BLAIR: It came down to two questions for me: Do we move sixth, seventh and eighth, just move them over. and the other question was do we work out a compromise that students who come into this highly academic program be challenged and have a chance to be successful. I think we have a responsibility to these McFadden students and parents. I think your staff put together as fair a compromise as you could, and I'm going to support it.

DONALD JERNIGAN: When did we set upon the sixth through 12?

GILL: It's been a year and half that we've been trying to have this magnet school concept approved. It was about 18 months ago that we settled in on a grade structure.

DONALD JERNIGAN: That's a date that students at that particular time are there. But after that, people knew what was going on. The sibling rule, you say we dropped that, or it changed. Would you please explain that change to me, Mr. Gill?

GILL: As it is, kids who are in K-8 right now would be grandfathered into the school. We recommended we drop that altogether. Total drop.

DONALD JERNIGAN: I have two grandchildren at McFadden. One is an eighth grader this year and one a first grader. I thought about this a lot from that standpoint. From first grade to the sixth grade there might be some changes there. Grandfathering him in? I don't know. Giving him an opportunity, yes. Grandfathering? I'm not so sure.

I would hate to see a child who's been in McFadden all these years, K-8 situation, if they are a rising sixth grader, and then to say or seventh grade, look, you can't go to the new school, because of whatever, you're down the list. Your scores are good, but you're down the list, in a middle school somewhere else in the county. I think we can be prudent with that child, but the kids who are in K-5 or K-6 schools in the county or in the city, they know they are going to change, they've known that all the time. I think we have to, in my mind, we have to protect these kids that fall in that category.

There will be a lot of interest in this school. But just because there's a lot of interest doesn't mean a lot commitment. But when it comes to those who express interest and those who are committed. That number will dwindle.

GILL: When we started a discussion of a magnet school, we wanted a school with an accelerated curriculum. There are people in McFadden and Discovery School who scored in the 50th or 60th percentile. We talking about a significant disparity in how they are scoring. We're not going to win this in whatever direction we go. If kids have to go to Rockvale, or whatever, these are great schools, and it's not like they're going to be left out of a good education. I think we start discriminating when we say you don't have to meet the minimum standards to get in.

DONALD JERNIGAN: The seventh grade is going to be the one who loses out here. If you don't give them some flexibility, you are sending them out and you are automatically categorizing them. They didn't make it. The only reason they didn't go is they didn't make it. You are throwing the red flag up on them. For that middle school group, it's a difficult time, and we're saying you've got a seventh grader, and going to be an eighth grader next year, to say she had to go to Christiana Middle School, she went to McFadden all those years but couldn't make the grade for Central, I just have a hard time with that.

Byrnes: Gosh, you say going to McFadden all these years, then have to go to a different school in eighth and then a differnet one in 9th, walking a fine line here. There are those at McFadden who aregue that any sort of qualification is inappropriate because it's not required now. We really need to think about that.

Blair: I'm sympathetic and I've struggled with it and I continue to support the director's recommendation because I want to make certain the kids are equipped and ready for that sort of challenge. That challenge is coming. The academic curriculum.

Wise: If you do this all the wya down to K you are going to be dealing with this for a long time. For the 6, 7 and 8, I can understan d, but if you do it all the way down to K, it's going to keep coming back "we did it for this one, we did it for this one." I'm leary of that.

DONALD JERNIGAN: That's why I started it out about the date.

BYRNE: We need to look back before Thursday to see when that was set.

DORRIS JERNIGAN: I sat down this morning, and made some notes, and these are my thoughts. We need to get it right. It will change even in the second year. This is a one step, two step, three step process. These kids will come from the city, the county, private schools and maybe even home schools. And where will home schools come up with these grades that we are dictating to be these requirements. Transfers? How can you have a transfer? There are county children who are going to schools outside this county who may decide to transfer back when this school goes into effect. I don't want to rule out kids from Eagleville, Smyrna or LaVergne. I am worried we are underestimating people. If I see it as a battle between McFadden and Discovery, I'm not going to get in that mess. I want as many to step forward and make application to attend the Magnet School. I have a concern about the sixth grade student in the Murfreesboro School System. If they wait to apply to come to the Magnet School in seventh grade, are they at risk? Yes, we'll have 25 more in the seventh grade than in the sixth grade, but I have a concern for the child who will be a sixth grader next year. They are already having a number of sixth graders coming out of the City schools to go into the County system. They are losing money. Dollars the state provides that goes to the county system. I understand dollars drive our concern.

Do we only accept just the top scorers? We have a baseline here, but does that limit diversity? Free and reduced lunch students. Are we going to say because you don't meet the top scores, you don't come to this school? We need diversity in this program. I don't want to limit it only to the top, top scores.

I think we delay the vote to survey all the schools, city and county, to determine the interest. we can't assure the sixth grader out of the city system there will be magnet seat when they reach the seventh grade.

Finally, sports, we have in place a program in the county, if your school does not offer this sports program you can do sports at another school. Can magnet school kids go to their zoned school and participate in sports?

GILL: We will offer all sports but wresting and football. But we've got those bases covered.

DONALD JERNIGAN: We've talked about a lot of things, but until we take a vote and a commitment, that's what it is, talk.

DORRIS JERNIGAN: It's easy to express an interest, it's more difficult to make a commitment. I think if you take a survey, you throw out a third of them, because they will never follow through.

BYRNE: None of this is final until we vote it that way Thursday night.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Machiavelli, meet the Rutherford County School Board

Today, the Daily News Journal has a story about the admissions policy being proposed for the new Central Academic Magnet School. The policy, supported by most, if not all, members of the Rutherford County School Board, is a monumentally flawed document that favors certain students (specifically, children who currently attend the county magnet school, McFadden) above others. The policy is not based upon admission by merit; but rather, a favored-sons status. You see, the chairman of the RCSB, Mark Byrnes, has a child at McFadden. As did two-thirds of the people who drafted the admissions policy, including the new school's principal, John Ash, who drafted the original proposal for admission. Where are your ethics in this process? Where are your morals?

Schools Superintendent Harry Gill sees nothing wrong with the policy. Today, he's decided to make a good-will gesture to members of the community by asking the board to cut a provision that would provide favored status to siblings of CAMS students, a policy even more discriminatory than the basic admissions policy, again excluding children based upon merit. Mr. Gill, your good-will gesture remains a sham. The core of this proposal still smacks of favoritism, elitism, discrimination and entitlement. It is wholly unfair, and is essentially design to ensure that many of the best and brightest children of the county will, indeed, be on the outside looking in when this new school opens. Unless, of course, one of their parents sits on the School Board or was drafted by the board to write the admissions policy.

The only fair admissions policy is one that provides each and every child living in Rutherford County equal consideration for admission. It's a policy that requires each and every child to take the same test, and meet the same standards for qualification. It's a policy that ensures no child will be admitted ahead of another child simply because of where he or she attended elementary school, or who his or her father happens to be. Those who have drafted this policy, and those who support it, appear to disciples of Machiavelli. Simply put, their ethics state they will do whatever it takes, regardless of the harm it causes, to maintain the status quo. In this instance, the status quo means their children gain favored status over others, regardless of qualification.

Perhaps before these school board members take a vote, they should look at what happens to board members who ignore what's right for their personal gain. Today's Chronicle of Higher Education has a story about the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, all of whom are being asked to resign in a report drafted by a state-appointed panel that found every single member of the board violated state ethics laws in how its policies admitted students. An excerpted summary states: "The Illinois report, prepared by an Admissions Review Commission appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn, says that since 2005, about 800 applicants with ties to trustees, politicians, and donors received preferential consideration for admission. The applicants' names were flagged on an internal list known as "Category 1," or the "clout list," and were funneled through a pipeline supported by their well-connected sponsors." The parallels between what these trustees did and what the Rutherford County School will do if it passes this policy are stunning.

Gentlemen of the school board, and I say gentlemen because our school board is comprised entirely of white males and contains absolutely no diversity (much like CAMS will be if this admissions policy is enforced -- check the TDOE report card if you would like to compare McFadden's diversity [90.7 percent white; the second-whitest elementary school after Lascassas Elementary in Rutherford County, including Murfreesboro City Schools] to other schools in the county and city), if you pass this policy as written, you will violate the very trust the citizens placed in you when you were elected to your current positions. We elected you with the expectation you would protect our children, treat them fairly, and provide each and every one of them with the opportunity to obtain the best possible education. This admissions policy is a blatant violation of that trust. It's time for you to reject this policy that smacks of back-room political deals and Washington politics, and for you to do the job you were elected to do: educate our children fairly.