Friday, April 18, 2008

Sports and Academics

Back in the days of my father, who played several high school sports in the '50s, a guy couldn't play unless his grade point average (GPA) was no lower than a "C" - 2.0 on a four point scale. That's just the way it was. That criteria held true when I was in high school in the '70s as well - no one could participate in high school sports with anything lower than a 2.0 GPA.

We are doing many things in our district to equip our students for life after high school, as they become productive and positive adults. Our core curriculum is being beefed up. Technology is getting serious attention, as we strive to give our kids the best educational foundation available. Several other things are in the works, for the benefit of our students.

So it was with some surprise and alarm that I discovered Swanton was subscribing to the lowest possible academic criteria for sports eligibility as established by the OHSAA (of which we are a member) : a 1.0 on a four point scale. That is only slightly above failing! On April 14th, I sent a letter to several board members of the OHSAA, asking how they could state that one mission of the organization is to "recognize and promote academics" when the academic eligibility to play is set so terribly low.

Now, before I get cards and letters - I realize that the OHSAA standards are the minimum, and that member schools are within their rights to require a higher standard than that minimum level. So I did a little survey of my own.

I went online to school websites, and also popped an email to the principals and athletic directors of 34 high schools in the four-county area, plus a few of our neighbors such as Maumee, Perrysburg, Sylvania, and Springfield, all members of OHSAA. Of those from whom I received information, only 2 used the minimum standards for academic eligibility, and Swanton was one of them.

That's the bad news.

Bryan and Bowling Green enforce 1.85 and 1.7, respectively. The vast majority of the rest use a 1.5 requirement, with varying methods to keep the kids at that level, such as requiring study tables when a grade dips or using weekly eligibility. (I made up a spreadsheet of this information, and if you'd like a copy just send me a note with your email address.)

Having fully expected to find schools using the old 2.0 standard, I confess to being very surprised at the results of my survey. Many parents with whom I spoke (at Swanton and other schools) were surprised as well, so at least I was in good company. Most were VERY surprised to learn how low the standards had dipped since their own high school days.

Anyway, I made a short statement and presentation at our April BOE meeting, and it seemed to meet with general approval (except from Dennis Heban - he told me later that it is inappropriate for a Board member to dictate to administrators what they should be doing. . . that They should recommend things to Us for approval, not the other way around, really . . . so evidently I went about this the wrong way - which shows my ignorance of how things should be done! how embarrassing!!)

The principal and assistant principal, along with our athletic director, put their heads together and came up with a recommendation that Swanton move to a 1.5 criteria. Given what I now know of our neighboring schools, that seems to be a reasonable compromise and a definite step in the right direction for our kids.

That's the good news!

Anything we can do to encourage our kids to do their best, is a positive thing!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My First Hate Mail!

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later: a resident would send an anonymous note telling me of his/her displeasure with something the Board had done. This one is particulary sad, however, as the author's level of understanding is not able to be lifted since I don't know who to address.

Here's what I received: someone had printed an April 11, 2008 editorial from the online version of Business Week. The gist of it was basically an "Apple vs. Microsoft" thing. It was an op-ed piece - not a news article. The anonymous sender included a 'personal note' on the second page that reads, "Maybe you and your administrators should have done your homework before you spent $500,000 of the taxpayers money ! ! !"


Let's get the facts straight, shall we?

First of all, we did our homework - a LOT of homework. The process actually began last year, and included a December 2007 visit to VARtek's corporate office in Dayton, along with an on-site to Fairmont Kettering High School by a select group of administrators, teaching staff, and support staff. VARtek provides educational technology solutions exclusively to the K-12 education market, and they use both Apple and Microsoft systems. They have been in business for over 19 years, and have worked with over 200 public and parochial schools in Ohio and Indiana. Those visits last December, along with some additional phone calls etc. to clients is what initiated our January request and contract with them to provide a technology integration analysis for our district, including a report on what improvements would be recommended with a long-term managed solution.

Then we went to our staff. Ask any teacher or administrator from any of our 4 schools about the detailed survey they were asked to complete (on which a huge majority obliged). The vast majority of those who took the survey were more than a little disappointed with our current situation. They were angry! They were frustrated! They were also excited to think that the Board was actually going to DO something about a failing system they were forced to wrestle with daily.

Our network is down several times each week, and when it IS operational it is terribly slow. The data cabling infrastructure is at least 10 years old in all of our buildings except the high school. We have no automated back-up and recovery system. (Are you corporate people turning pale yet, from reading this?) Virtually ALL of the workstations/laptops at the high school and Park Elementary are beyond their useful life. Getting our older units to work with newer units is also causing many problems. Common sense would dictate that older units are eliminated - but we have not done so.

We are running multiple operating systems and many different application software versions throughout the district. Our teaching staff has had little training - and they are asking for more. Our expenditures have been slightly higher than our peer schools - yet we have aged equipment, limited curricular software, inappropriate support skill sets, and limited training which results in a less than desirable technology environment to positively impact our students.

So, Yes, Virginia - we did our homework.

Next, the cost issue. One interesting discovery for me as a newbie on the Board was that the district had been spending an average of $323,000 per year on our technology (around $231 per student annually) - and it wasn't working! The system was abysmally slow - when it worked at all - and people in every building had difficulty getting things to print. There is no defined budget, inconsistent home access, limited technology labor skills, limited network engineering and maintenance skills, and no plan for the future. We are limping along, with severely limited functionality, and paying $323K annually for the pleasure. NOT a good thing.

With the proposed technology solution from VARtek, we will spend between $314K to $392K annually and with that we have performance guarantees. We will be spending essentially the same amount, but getting guaranteed results.

Now - that takes care of the 'homework' issue and the 'spending of taxpayer money' issue.

As to that editorial, it's too bad the sender didn't take the time to also read the 30+ pages of comments to get a clear picture of the issues at hand. By itself, the article might be reason to purchase Apple stock for speculative purposes, if you believe Business Week knows what its talking about in an opinion piece, and if you are willing to put your money where their mouth is. But there was nothing written that should have upset John Q. Public about our contract with VARtek, even if s/he had gotten the facts straight about the transaction itself.