Micro-news for CT 4601, Altadena, CA

A penchant for PUSD

posted by Jeremiah 5/24/2006 06:24:00 PM

With just over 500 subscribers to their online newsletter, the Pasadena Education Network <http://penfamilies.org> may seem to have a small footprint relative to the 20,000 families in the district, but I don't think the impact of word of mouth should be underestimated. Word of mouth is how I first heard about PEN (before the even had a website). It seems to me that PEN families ripple the PEN message out to other families in their neighborhoods via the "mommy network," as I have heard it called. Many of these families may never subscribe to PEN's email announcement loop, but the advice of a family friend is far more robust than any form of parent outreach the district could hope to engage in itself.

This kind of message spreads slowly, but is strong if it takes root. Other parents we know started considering their education options years before they were ready to make a commitment. In my family's case, we started looking at schools almost three years before we were ready to enroll in kindergarten. According to a recent PEN newsletter, they are just two years old, so if my observation is true, the district should just be starting to reap the benefits of the seeds that PEN has planted.

Before I had children approaching kindergarten age, Pasadena school politics were completely off my radar, and the meager information I had was third hand at best. When I started looking for firsthand information, I was lucky enough to find PEN relatively early in my search. Their "see for yourself" message encouraged me to go have a look at individual schools.

As simple as this sounds, many families who have a private school option might never consider it. For those who do, it can be hard to figure out where to start looking. PEN realized that if they could aggregate existing tour schedules from the individual school sites, and to republish existing enrollment-related documents, they could providing a one-stop shop for prospective parents, improving the "shopping" experience. I see their website as a "Consumer Reports" for PUSD schools.

When I went and toured schools, I was surprised and pleased with what I saw. I count myself lucky that I didn't first come across some of the critics who espouse a consistently pessimistic message about PUSD. If I had, I think I might have been dissuaded from considering public school at all. My oldest daughter will be starting a PUSD kindergarten in the fall, and I have started to become active in PUSD matters.

Some time ago I volunteered to help PEN set up a broad PUSD-themed online discussion as a counterpoint to more critical forums, but PEN decided to stick with a dissemination approach. I think the organizers feared a general discussion might be co-opted by the critics who have dominated online discussion about district politics for years.

After attempting to engage constructively in existing online discussions, I felt discouraged. The only things out there either strictly limited the scope of the discussion, or were hostile and counterproductive. I felt the desire for a moderate, broad discussion forum: not expressly hostile and not expressly supportive of the district administration. Unable to find such a resource, my neighbor, Isaac Garcia, and I have collaborated to create one at <http://pasadenaschools.info>. While in no way affiliated with PEN, I credit the efforts and enthusiasm of PEN members for inspiration.

PEN's primary recruiting tactic is to invite parents to go to the schools and see for themselves. I think anyone who heeds this simple advice will be pleasantly surprised by what they see. It's true, there are some problems yet to be solved, but if you are like me this could be all it takes to get you involved with Pasadena public education in a constructive way.


At 5/25/2006 3:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: "word of mouth should not be
underestimated". I could not agree more, and have been wanting to say for some time, that PEN will never be able to measure the impact they are having.
Without ever going to a PEN meeting, I was encouraged just knowing that PEN exists.
My son will start McKinley in Sep. and like many, I began
'freaking out" (as I now like to call it), about Kindergarten almost two years ago.
I started with the assumption that the public schools would be overcrowded, understaffed, and did not have enough parental involvement, etc.
As I said, I myself, have not yet made it to a PEN meetings, but I talked to many PEN members and current PUSD moms through my MOMS club. Seeing the growing enthusiasm for public school from other moms first hand, was so
encouraging! I saw that public school was a very attractive option, and I was grateful for the readily available PUSD tours (facilitated by PEN) I
went to 3 tours this year, and I'm very happy with our choice.
I then also passed the enthusiasm on to my sister -who as far as I know
doesn't even know that PEN exists. Last year when their private school closed without warning, they enrolled their 1st grader at McKinley. Trust me, they were in the category that would NEVER even consider public school,
but out of desperation, and with my encouragement, they took a tour. Like so many others, they were pleasantly surprised, and have been very happy there.
They will be enrolling my niece in Kindergarten at McKinley next year as well.
I just wanted to use these personal examples to say that PEN may never get a quantitative measure of their success, but I feel it, and I have seen it.
As more parents feel that they are not alone in wanting a great public school, and believe that they can collectively make a difference in their own schools, the open enrolment process will also improve. There will be
more and more "first choice" schools. Keep up the good work PEN!

Ann Webb


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Amy's offensive defense

posted by Jeremiah 5/22/2006 07:01:00 AM

In a strange tale of mistrust and dare I say paranoia, I was banned from posting to Rene Amy's "greatschools" email group last week, and over the weekend he kicked me out altogether.

After Amy's troubles stemming from being temporarily shut down by Yahoo! either due to allegations of violating their Terms of Service, or a hacker, he defensively closed his reincarnated list archives to the public.

I am guessing that Mr. Amy was suspicious that I was somehow behind his troubles. Not only is this false, but I think turning him in to Yahoo! was a counterproductive cheap shot. I reached out to Mr. Amy privately, offering technical support, etc, but I suppose these offers may have been viewed as a Trojan Horse if he suspected that I was somehow involved.

Anyway, given the circumstances, I emailed him privately to see how he felt about me quoting from his posts outside of his group. In his reply explicitly requested that I "*not* post material" from him.

As such, when he made what I thought was a good set of points in an email with the subject, "The Big 'B': Buyout Time for Percy Clark?" I replied to his list with a supportive post, even quipping that I would help with the fundraising he suggested. At the time, Mr. Amy already had my account "moderated" which means that anything I posted to his list had to be approved by him before it would go out to the group. He evidently disallowed my comment (although I have included it in the excerpts I compiled).

The points he outlined in his post echoed points Martin Truitt had outlined the for me on a phone call three days earlier. I contemplated how to best amplify the subject while honoring Mr. Amy's request from the previous morning that I not quote him. I decided to quote a relevant pasadenaschools post by Ed Honowitz, but not to quote Amy, instead attributing him as one of "a couple different sources." I threw in a wink to those reading both lists by "answering" Amy's joke about fundraising.

When someone on the pasadenaschools list observed the obvious echo of Amy's earlier post with generic attribution of Amy and Truitt as "a couple different sources," and without benefit of having read my original reply to PUSDgreatschools, the person evidently pointed it out to Amy as a case of "plagiarism." So plagiarism was the coup de grace in his rationale for kicking me off his list this weekend.

Rather than call or email me about the issue, he instead posted to his list "If you're a member of this list, it is expected that material and ideas first posted to this list will be attributed both as to author and as to posting place," in direct contradiction to what he had explicitly requested of me two days earlier. He didn't name me directly, but to anyone reading both lists, the implication was clear because he cited the subject and commented on my winking offer to help with the fundraising he had suggested.

Needless to say, I was caught off guard. I had thought I was exhibiting model behavior and being exceptionally considerate of him. Whatever the case may be, in an off-list email discussion, I was unable to redeem myself. Mr. Amy was unsatisfied with the sincerity of my apology and feels I demonstrated a lack of remorse. He also was unconvinced that I was acting in good faith by attributing him and his list anonymously. It is so ironic, not only because as he points out, the issue I am agreement with him on relates indirectly to Percy Clark's plagiarism problems, but more so because the issue at the root of this is one Amy and I actually agree on.

I guess this is one of those damned if you do damned if you don't situations. And now I am in the kicked-off-greatschools hall of infamy. Rest assured however, regardless of what he may prefer, I will never cite Rene Amy without bold attribution again. For the record, I compiled the relevant bracketing excerpts and the posts in this text document.

Considering the circumstances, I would rather be defending fully attributed quotes from emails as fair use than defending against plagiarism for having attributed the same thing tangentially as a courtesy to the original author.

In the excerpts I compiled, the last one really starts to smell like a witch hunt. According to Mr. Amy, anonymous accusers with unspecified "evidence" are rallying behind him to tar me with plagiarism. My goodness. Mind your Ps and Qs people, lest the posse come for you.

This kind of bullying tactic doesn't discourage me. I won the game of chicken. I refused to quit calling it as I saw it on Amy's list, so he finally had to kick my butt out. Kind of like, "This here list aint big enough for the two of us, pardnor." I admit I am disappointed, because I thought things were going pretty well for a while there.

I really wish Ms. Hoge had not turned Amy in to Yahoo! The funny thing is, even though I initially dismissed the tactic as not only morally questionable, but also as ineffective, maybe she has actually achieved one of her goals. She has caused Amy retreat back into privacy again.

In an April 13th post I noted "Amy's [greatschools] Yahoo! Group is archived online and can be searched by members of the group. Non-members cannot read the archives or post to the list, ostensibly to prevent spammers from polluting the list, although I am not sure why he also restricts read-only access to his archive." Three days later he posted on greatschools, "As moderator, I've made a switch as to who can access list archives. Now, anyone can access the list's archive of over 16,000 list posts at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/greatschools/"

Plagiarism! He stole my idea! (kidding)

He feels more secure not having his archives be searchable by the public, and I'm sure Ms. Hoge does too. Perhaps he ironically agrees with Hoge about having something to hide. Personally I prefer openness, so maybe I really don't belong in his club.

Taking the long view, I am not really surprised at being kicked out. I expected something like this right out of the gate when I wrote my Open Letter to Rene Amy on 4/13/06. I guess I was lulled into a false sense of security when it didn't happen during my initial foray into the greatschools arena.


At 9/26/2008 12:30 PM, Anonymous Todd Mizuki said...

I have been raised and born in Pasadena and all my school life
in PUSD it was the best. Ones who
still live in Pasadena/Altadena
then to now would say the say the 1960's and 70's decade of PUSD were
great, sure we Pasadena was segergated, but the ones on the west and north westside no matter if you were rich,low income or any color you were one. Even the gangs
respected the rules.

To see how many just say PUSD is
terrible or he or she messes up or
specially my high school John Muir as a stupid campus.

They need to go and really visit the schools and see the problems as well as community insights as well as students.

When we say students cannot be taught orit is there race no wonder why
our kids just ditch school we never say to him or her how well they do even if it is a low gpa.

Specially the way Amy has put down PUSD and the BOE, I wonder if he is as smart as the one he puts down.


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Report from St. Bernard's Parish

posted by Jeremiah 5/07/2006 10:44:00 AM

This story is obviously not local fare as Stonehill News tends to be, but it is an inspiring tale of civic responsibility and commitment. My wonderful, beautiful, twenty-something cousin, Amata, filed this report yesterday from New Orleans:

Hey Everyone!

I'm writing from St. Bernards Parish - 20 minutes outside of New Orleans. I have spent the last two months living here at a FEMA camp called Camp Premier. We leave here on Monday and are very sad to be moving on as this has been two of the most amazing months.

St. Bernard was the most completely destroyed region in the gulf. 67,000 plus residents all had their homes destroyed. There was only one structure in the Parish not ruined. The area was hit not only by Katrina, but a total of 4 catastrophes. Hurricane Katrina hit August 29 th, 2005, which caused not only severe wind and rain damage, but also the second disaster, a flood from the levees breaking. The 5 to 28 feet of floodwater that remained in the Parish for roughly 14 days receded only days before hurricane Rita brought about a second flood.

This flood left water in the Parish for seven days as well as lifted the Murphy's Oil tank to rise above its guard walls and spill into the surrounding residential area. This last disaster occurred due to the irresponsibility of Murphy Oil to follow hurricane procedures to fill all tanks, leaving it only one third full. We have spent the last two months living in the area, gutting (mucking) out houses, supervising/leading numerous other teams of volunteers (mostly Habitat for Humanity). Americorps runs the operations of the camp so we have team members running tool distribution, registration and reception, operations, logistics, and leading the other volunteers, most of whom are only here for 1 week.

We live in a tent city, sleeping on cots, using Porto Potties and shower trailers, all meals are provided by the camp and served in a large tent, the mess hall. The absolute best thing about the whole experience is the people that we have met. We get a chance to meet, live with and work with Americorps NCCC members from ours and other campuses, a large number of Habitat volunteers from all over the country, as well as some displaced persons from the area. We also work closely with the St. Bernards Fire Department - who are absolutely amazing. All residents of the Parish, they stayed through the storm and continue to live and work here. They are some incredible guys and we have had the chance to get to know them and hear their stories and experiences.

While working we also frequently have the opportunity to meet the homeowners whose houses we are working on, as well as other residents. It is one of the most illuminating things to meet and talk to the person that you are helping. They have all been wonderful, sharing stories, histories, lives. Some have brought us lunch, or snacks just to show their gratitude, but all have expressed a heartfelt appreciation for our work which just completes the experience.

But all work and no play make jack a dull boy, so trust me we have plenty of fun. Sticking to the motto work hard, play hard. Our days are filled with work, PT (physical training), team meetings and activities, but when we are not working we spend time hanging out with the other Americorps and Habitat volunteers with whom we have become very close. We are also 20 minutes form downtown New Orleans, so we spend many of our weekends exploring the French Quarter and downtown areas.

Our camp has a strict 12 am curfew (which I have only gotten out of a few times because we were out with the guards we have also befriended) so most of the time we will all get a hotel room and just stuff as many of us in there as possible. The most being 17, this makes it affordable of course. The most recent one, however had hard wood floors, who would put hard wood floors in their hotel? I, of course, was stuck sleeping on this floor, missing my cot. So we have our last weekend, which also happens to be the first weekend of Jazz Fest. So we are downtown the whole weekend to go out with a bang. Then we very sadly depart Monday morning for our next adventure.

We will travel to Pensacola, FL for one week to debrief from this project and get briefed on our next project. Then we will return to the great state of LA and spend the next 6 weeks in Thibodaux, about an hour form New Orleans in the SE corner of the state. We don't know much about the project, but we will be building houses with HFH. We will be living in one of the houses they have already built, not finished, but still a step up from tent city.

Anyways, we are excited about the next step, but sad to be leaving this place I have come to call home. I would love to hear from all of you. I miss everyone and want to know how you all are doing.

Lots of love!

Amata Small


At 9/22/2006 7:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just read this account by Amata Small 09/22/06 so I hope this will get to the correct person. My wife and I did not stay behind but evacuated for Hurricane Katrina. I just want to from the bottom of my heart to first thank you for all your work and second to thank you for sharing your experience. May God continue to bless you and all. George Osborne


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PUSD: to give us pixels not pulp?

posted by Jeremiah 5/05/2006 08:40:00 PM

I just got back from tonight's PUSD "7-11 committee" meeting where I was promised pdfs of all the new demographic data that was compiled for the committee to use, as well as all the handouts and reports that were distributed tonight and here forward.

Let's hope this comes to pass and becomes the start of a new habit for the district, because I also came away with a 6" stack of historical reports that I had requested copies of, including the huge "District-Wide Facilities Master Plan" from 1999. Unfortunately these (recent) historical documents were not easily available in anything but paper, so that is what they gave me.

What do I want with a huge stacks of paper? I'm a pixel-pusher (as in pencil-pusher, not the other kind of pusher). I will just be digitizing them as time permits over the next few weeks (thank goodness we have access to high speed scanning, but even then it is a bit of a time consuming chore). And even then, the documents will be basically opaque to search. It would save the district plenty of money if they could satisfy even a small percentage of their information requests with pdfs instead of paper.

I hope that if more people make a point of asking for copies of public documents in pdf form that it will become a more standard way for them to meet their some of their Brown Act obligations. It would certainly save a lot of trees and money.

You can email your requests directly to Eve Lueck <elueck@pusd.us> and if you like you can CC business manager Cherie Moreno <cmoreno50@pusd.us> to request that they make these documents consistently available in digital form.

Thankfully useful information is easy to get if one is even mildly persistent, but in this digital age there is no reason we shouldn't be able to break open the paper bottleneck and disseminate the facts beyond the TINY circle of bureaucrats and wonks who have traditionally been the only ones with the time to make a career of chasing this stuff down, much less analyzing it in any thoughtful way.

At the 7-11 committee I am observing 11 (relatively) un-jaded and obviously intelligent members of the community study the data and ask smart questions and demonstrate sincere civic duty. They all know that they have a Herculean effort before them, and yet they all seem committed to doing the right thing.

What comes of it? Chances are just another rubber stamp on another dusty report that doesn't have any major constructive impact on anything. But I will remain hopeful until that actually comes to pass, we have the *chance* to see something positive in the making here, even if it's just increased access to information.


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