Micro-news for CT 4601, Altadena, CA

PUSD School Board Elections

posted by Jeremiah 3/06/2009 02:50:00 PM

Well, the slate for Pasadena Unified School Board (on the ballot Tuesday, March 10, 2009) is pretty grim. Two seats are going uncontested. Here is the line up:

Seat 1:
Elizabeth Pomeroy

Seat 3:
Scott Phelps
Terri Darr

Seat 5:
Ramon Miramontes
Charles Nelson

Seat 7:
Ed Honowitz

Charles Nelson evidently isn't very serious about winning. He has no web site, he hasn't answered the PEN Candidate Questionnaire and he didn't appear at the Candidate's Forum on Feb 28th in Altadena. Even the candidates running for uncontested seats managed to do this kind of due diligence.

So as far as I'm concerned, the only contest is seat 3. Interestingly, Phelps, the incumbent and a former Muir teacher with children in the district, did not get the Teacher's Union endorsement. Somehow that makes me want to vote for him.

In an effort to get an even measure of all the candidates, PEN has created 10 questions which each has been invited to answer. You can find these and many other details in pdf form on their School Board Election page. I wanted to see the answers to their 10 questions side by side, so I have copied and pasted them in full below for those who are interested.

In a nutshell, I like Phelps because he's got young children in the district, he's got teaching credibility, he's got Board experience, and says things like "Our schools are not very user-friendly." I think we need people on the Board who think in terms of making the schools more "user friendly."

I've made my personal choices bold in the slate above.

Full PEN Candidate Questionnaire responses

Consolidated PEN candidate responses for Seat 3


PSN focus on Education

posted by Jeremiah 10/30/2007 02:40:00 PM

Pasadena Star News deserves credit (clicks and eyeballs) for giving us a dedicated Eduction section on their website to complement their new Tuesday section on the same subject.


This kind of substantial reporting about PUSD that goes beyond the scandal-du-jour is to be commended. Please vote with your clicks and visit it every week.

(One day maybe they'll even give us the Education article RSS feed I've been asking for)

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Will Instant Runoffs Trickle Down to PUSD?

posted by Jeremiah 7/09/2007 09:22:00 PM

This article caught my eye today:

Senate committee considers bill allowing instant-runoff voting

By STEVE LAWRENCE - Associated Press Writer

Published 12:10 pm PDT Sunday, July 8, 2007

Voters could express their first, second, third, fourth and maybe even more choices in local government elections under legislation scheduled to be considered this week by a state Senate committee.

Read the full story here:

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At 7/10/2007 4:12 AM, Blogger BROKEN LADDER said...

IRV survives on common myths that are perpetuated by IRV propaganda groups, like FairVote.org. The truth is that better and simpler methods than IRV exist - and IRV is lethal to third parties, because voting for a non-major-party candidate is statistically more likely to hurt you than help you. The world needs Range Voting or its simplified form of Approval Voting. Here's why.

Consider this hypothetical election using IRV.

% of voters - their vote
28% "Green" > Edwards > McCain
20% Edwards > "Green" > McCain
6% Edwards > McCain > "Green"
46% McCain > Edwards > "Green"

In this IRV election, Edwards is eliminated in the first round, and then McCain wins against "Green". But wait! 54% of voters prefer Edwards to McCain - and 72% prefer Edwards to "Green"! Yet Edwards loses? The Greens now slap themselves on the forehead for not strategically top-ranking Edwards, the most similar major party candidate to their true favorite.

IRV sounds initially appealing, because people picture a weak third party candidate who loses in the first round. The myth is that this takes away the fear of voting for your sincere favorite candidate, and gives third parties a fair chance to grow; but if that candidate or his party ever grows to be a contender, he is statistically more likely to hurt the party closest to his own than to win. It doesn't matter how unlikely you imagine the above scenario to be - it's still _more_ likely than the odds "Green" will win. And so third party voters will learn to strategically vote for their favorite major-party candidate. You don't have to buy my math; you can look at decades of IRV usage in Australia's house, and Ireland's presidency. Both use IRV, and have been two-party dominated. So much for the myths that IRV allows you to "vote your hopes, not your fears", and eliminates spoilers. Now we know why the Libertarian Reform Caucus calls IRV a "bullet in the foot" for third parties.

Electoral reform advocates (especially third parties!) should be demanding Range Voting - score all the candidates and elect the one with the highest average. Its simplified form, Approval Voting, is probably the most feasible to implement. It simply uses ordinary ballots, but allows us to vote for as many candidates as we like. Consider the benefits:

* Spoiler free: Whereas IRV merely _reduces_ spoilers
* Simpler to use and implement: A simple one-round summation tells us the results, whereas IRV's potential for multiple rounds can cause long delays before the final results are determined. A side-effect of Range Voting's simplicity is that it makes the necessary transition away from voting machines more feasible. IRV's complexity leads most communities implementing it to purchase expensive and fraud-conducive (electronic!) voting machines, the fraudster's best friend.
* More resistant to strategy: As we see above, IRV often strategically "forces" voters not to top-rank their sincere favorite. But with Range Voting and Approval Voting, this _never_ happens. A vote for your favorite candidate can never hurt you, or the candidate. With IRV it can hurt both.
* Decreases spoiled ballots: Since voting for more than one candidate is permissible, the number of invalid ballots experimentally goes down with Range and Approval Voting. But here in San Francisco, we saw a seven fold increase in spoiled ballots when we started using IRV.
* Greater voter satisfaction: Using extensive computer modeling of elections, a Princeton math Ph.D. named Warren D. Smith has shown that these methods lead to better average satisfaction with election results, surpassing the alternatives by a good margin. But IRV turns out to be the second _worst_ of the commonly proposed alternatives. This mean that all voters will benefit from the adoption of either of these superior voting methods, regardless of political stripe.
* Reduces the probability of ties: While they are not extremely common, they do happen. IRV statistically increases them, but Range Voting decreases them.

Get the facts at RangeVoting.org and ApprovalVoting.org

And if you're in the market for a better system of proportional representation than the antiquated STV system, check out Reweighted Range Voting and Asset Voting.


At 7/10/2007 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

IRV in fact survives on a track record of success, popularity with voters and support from groups like the League of Women Voters. It's endorsed by Robert's Rules of Order, used by more than half of the nation's top-rated 30 universities and used to elect the president of India, American Political Science Association and India. Voters in exit polls in the three most recent cities to implement it expressed overwhelming support averaging more than 4 to one backing of IRV over their old system.

"Broken Ladder" is a broken record, advocating reforms that aren't used in any public election and probably won't be any time soon -- one reason being they run counter against common sense definitions of majority rule Check out www.instantrunoff.com for more


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PUSD BOE election results

posted by Jeremiah 3/07/2007 08:56:00 AM

Here are the results from yesterday's election, according to the website of the City Clerk. According to the election rules, a candidate must get 50% or more of the vote to win, so despite a commanding lead, Cooper will have to go up against Mastromatteo in a runoff. As predicted, Bib and Bob will have a rematch as well.

In a result that surprised me, the Stonehill News favorite for a Seat 6 landslide, Roberta Martinez, lost in what turned out to be a close race to the better funded Tom Selinske. I had at first assumed that a disparity in campaign financing might be an explanation, but I just heard from Roberta who informed me that in the end she and Selinske rang in at about $11,ooo and $13,000 respectively... so that takes that theory off the table.

Seat 2 Votes %
George Loew 3,513 24.6%
Mark Mastromatteo 3,674 25.7%
Renatta Cooper 7,083 49.6%
Seat 4 Votes %
George Lewis 720 4.9%
Bob Harrison 5,238 35.9%
William A. Bibbiani 6,783 46.5%
Milena Albert 1,831 12.5%
Seat 6 Votes %
Roberta H. Martinez 6,881 48.3%
Tom Selinske 7,357 51.6%

I also find it interesting to look at the total number of votes for each seat.

Total Votes Total Abstained % Abstained
Seat 2 14,270 302 2.1%
Seat 4 14,572 0 (baseline) 0%
Seat 6 14,238 334 2.3%


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How will you vote for PUSD BOE?

posted by Jeremiah 3/05/2007 08:43:00 PM

Find out where your polling place is at www.lavote.net, a website that let's you look up your polling location and view a pdf sample ballot if you like.

Follow the results as they are reported tomorrow on the Pasadena Star News tally

Tonight I compared notes with Isaac and Norah and wrapped up our opinions in a table with those other public endorsements I found which put a stake in the ground for all three seats.

Haven't made up your mind yet? Looking for a cheat sheet? Take a look at how the tiny sampling I took is stacking it up.

Updated 3/6/07 9:30am Stonehill News "finger-in-the-wind" poll results:

Seat 2 Seat 4 Seat 6
Norah Small
Jeremiah Small
Isaac Garcia
Larry Harter
Steve Gerow
Gino Sund
Walter Olszewski
Catherine Anderson
Rene Amy

Seat 2 runoff with Cooper and Mastromatteo

Seat 4 runoff with Bibbiani and Harrison

Seat 6 for Martinez by a landslide


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What is PEF?

posted by Jeremiah 2/18/2007 07:54:00 PM

On Wednesday, I invited the pasadenaschools.info email list to surf over to my BOE opinions on this blog. Readers will recall that in my summary of current BOE election leanings, I alluded to at least two of the three seats having candidates with close affiliations to PEF.

Drawing this correlation, elicited comments from "neal" (no last name provided) and sparked a thread on pasadenaschools.info.

Both discussions are highly recommended reading.

Tip: Yahoo Groups threads can be traversed chronologically by clicking "next message" and "prev message" at the top and bottom of each post, or you may use the thread "tree" at the bottom of each message to hop around.

In particular, I want to thank Peter Dreier for taking the time to articulate his perspective on PEF. In his first contribution to the thread (titled "Everything you always wanted to know about the Pasadena Educational Foundation"), Mr. Dreier states that he is one of 30 members of the PEF Board.

My point is, I am very encouraged to see someone from "inside" PEF taking the time to participate in public Web discussions. Last year I had the pleasure of sitting at the same table with Maureen Carlson at a function. She was appreciative of what Isaac Garcia and I had set out to do with pasadenaschools.info. I told her that a huge part of what we were after was a way to give community groups a voice on the Web. She mentioned something about a PEF website being static, and out of date.

I never found a specific PEF website (Google it for yourself), but they have plenty of space inside the PUSD website. Perhaps that is what Ms. Carlson meant. This is a huge (and solvable) problem for PEF. They have so far been left in the dust on the Web. It is so easy to participate in the conversation on the Web, but it requires one vitally important ingredient: understanding the Web.

As far as I can tell, until Isaac and I threw our hats in the ring last year with pasadenaschools.info, there was basically a single voice that controlled the PUSD political conversation online. That voice is most likely still the most prolific, probably out-posting pasadenaschools.info by orders of magnitude to this day, although I wouldn't know first hand, as I was kicked off that list, and non-members cannot browse the discussions. Sequestering themselves is their loss, arguably proving that the list owner doesn't really "get it" either, and leaving plenty of room for far less ambitious (compulsive?) voices to be heard.

Before starting pasadenaschools.info with Isaac, I made overtures towards helping PEN upgrade their Web presence. At least they already had a website, albeit (at the time) a bit primitive, so it didn't seem as far as a stretch for them. PEN CEO, Chris Brandow, was very much interested in creating an interactive web presence, and we worked together on a plan, but to my (and I think Chris') disappointment, the concept was rejected by the PEN Board. PEN has since made some strides in using the Web for top-down dissemination, but in my opinion, PEN does not understand the Web any better than PEF.

Yes, PEN knows they can use it for efficient and inexpensive publishing. Granted, this is miles ahead of groups like Invest In PUSD Kids (as I believe they are officially called these days), and so many others who, like PEF, literally have almost zero web presence.

But having a Web site is not all it takes. The trick is to be comfortable with the fact that the Web can not be controlled. This is why it is hard for traditionally organized groups to "get it". PEN is a prime example of a group who insists on exerting top-down control on the Web. It's the pessimistic approach to using the Web. Keep a firewall between the publishers and the readers, because, if you let the readers become contributors, they might say something off-message. Yeah. They might.

But if rational things are being said, even (or especially) if they are counter to your assumptions, then might you not want to know that? There is big danger in discouraging dissent. Before long, no-one is willing to point out that the Emperor has no clothes. This is not to say that I don't understand why private organizations like PEF and PEN are afraid of what is being said online. The problem is a chicken or egg conundrum:
The online discussions of us are generally negative, based on false assumptions; we don't want to legitimize false negative rhetoric, therefore we will not acknowledge; the online communities erroneously read a hidden agenda into our silence, letting false negative perceptions echo with no counterpoint...
...and so on. Lucky for anyone who wants it, the field is still basically wide open for public PUSD discussion, and nobody really has to worry about which came first, the false or the negative. Other than pasadenaschools.info, I don't know of any other completely public forum for discussion of general issues relating to PUSD politics. All that is required is participation.

And the good news? PEF has at least one member who seems to "get it." I don't think it can be overstated how beneficial it is for PEF to have an informed, "insider" who is willing and able to discuss what exactly it is that PEF does and is in a completely public, "Googleable" forum like pasadenaschools.info.

Peter Dreier has jumped the most important hurdle, one that the PEN Board literally voted not to jump last year. Mr. Dreier, as a member of PEF, has stepped into an wide open public Web arena, and stated his opinion and views about PEF, engaging in civil debate, open to the public, on the Web. All other groups I have observed in PUSD politics, are only willing to hold such debates in small "in person" groups. In a Web-enabled age, this at best gives the impression of being hidebound, and at worst gives the impression of having something to hide.

I was enthusiastic when PUSD BOE Trustees Ed Honowitz and later Scott Phelps joined the conversation on pasadenaschools.info, but they are elected officials, so while extremely helpful, it can almost be expected for them to weigh in on a public forum. It's part of their job to talk to the voters, and anyway, they're subject to the rules of the Brown Act, and therefore already do most of their business in public.

A group like PEF, however, has no particular obligation to talk openly on the Web or otherwise about what they do. To the contrary, it is easy to understand why a private non-profit group might actively shun the big scary Web, full of angry, prolific naysayers. And yet, I passionately believe that to avoid participating on the Web, uncontrollable as it is, is far worse than jumping in and taking your licks.

Peter, you are to be congratulated for "getting it" [and hello to Maureen as well].


At 2/19/2007 7:57 AM, Blogger Isaac Garcia said...

I can't agree more with your blog post Jeremiah. While I don't agree with everything Peter Drier wrote in our email exchange - I WAS and AM very grateful for his participation.

Open, public debate on the web is helpful to everyone and, if conducted in a civil manner, can be one of the most powerful means of communication that people can leverage.

I hope Mr. Drier's emails are only the beginning of a larger groundswell of Pasadena participants on this and other public forums.


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Some BOE feedback

posted by Jeremiah 2/14/2007 11:48:00 PM

Some people are shy. Some people may have conflicts of interest. Whatever the reason, here are some worthwhile comments from people who emailed me but requested anonymity:
Anon: Why is being a current PUSD parent more important than being a public school parent, in general. Just being a PUSD parent doesn’t make you qualified to be on the Board. I think that you need a solid understanding of the education field, otherwise, you just become another bureaucrat telling teachers how they should teach. Don’t you think that it’s beneficial to have a background in education, as well as thorough understanding of the complicated social issues in Pasadena?
Me: True being a current PUSD parent in and of itself is not enough, but still it's a heavy plus for me. Proves a commitment to these schools and this community. Especially Harrison whose last 2 kids of 5 are almost through with high school.
Anon: Do you know the specifics about what these candidates want to do about Noyes?
Me: Not a clue.
Anon: I think you guys should look at Milena Albert for seat 4. She comes from a background of working with Head Start and understands how important parent involvement is. She came from Russia and had to learn the language here which gives her another perspective as well.
Me: I like a lot of what I see about Albert, but I just think she's going for a really tough seat. Bibb and Bob are going to make it really hard for her to make a dent.
Anon: Do you guys know anything about Renata Cooper?
Me: Nope.
Anon: I really think it is time to see Bibb go - I can't point to anything that he has done in the last four years that would make me want to give him another four. And simply disagreeing with people isn't very productive - I don't see him as being able to persuade anyone that his dissenting opinion is worthwhile.
Me: Well, I have to agree with this one. That's what I argued over lunch Monday.


At 2/15/2007 9:05 PM, Blogger catherineaanderson said...

Hi Jeremiah,

Passed you so quickly this morning, I didn't have time to give you my opinion.

I went to the PTA Council Candidate Forum at Marshall and heard from the candidates on some pretty tough questions, with a focus on secondary schools.

We have committed our vote to Bob Harrison for Seat 4. We've known the Harrison's for years through good and rough times at PUSD schools. His listening skills, business sense, and humor will be a welcome change to the board.

I was impressed with the depth of knowledge that some of the candidates had about the most critical issues facing the PUSD.

I am thinking of voting for Renatta Cooper and Roberta Martinez for the other seats. Not for the only reason that they are educated women, but that is on my list.

One comment that Ms. Cooper made about the BOE needing to have a Board Workshop on the Brown Act sold me.

I've had conversations with Roberta and she addresses a number of my concerns with secondary schools in her campaign talking points.

There is another forum at the Altadena Community Center on February 24. This forum should be appropriate to address the pertinent issues of PUSD and the Altadena Community.

I was elated to find out that there is a choice of willing and qualified candidates. This district has been on quite a ride over the last five years, and it is time for some to get off.

There was a $9M budget deficit when talk of closing schools started. Four elementary schools were closed for a budget savings of $1M. There is a $6M deficit projected over the next three school years. The question is...where are those budget cuts going to come from?


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Debating BOE over lunch with Isaac

posted by Jeremiah 2/13/2007 11:32:00 PM

So Isaac Garcia, Steve Gerow and I went to lunch on Yesterday and compared notes. Here are our early returns:

Seat 2: Mastromatteo (very involved PUSD parent)
Seat 4: Bibbiani (incumbent; often a dissenting voice)
Sear 6: Martinez (community leader with a diverse perspective)

Seat 2: Mastromatteo (very involved PUSD parent)
Seat 4: Harrison (very involved PUSD parent; associated with PEF)
Sear 6: Martinez (community leader with a diverse perspective)


Capsule summary of discussion:
We all agreed that being an active and current PUSD parent is a big plus. Generally agree that diversity is important. All agree that debate and dissent is healthy. Generally agree that having a majority of trustees backed by a single private organization (Pasadena Education Foundation) could lead to an imbalance of power.

Given these shared opinions, seats two and six are pretty easy choices. Seat four leaves us split, with me coming down more on the side of the "PUSD parent" factor, and Isaac coming down more on the side of the "dissent is good" factor.

I'm sure I totally misrepresented Isaac, not to mention Steve, but hey, when you own the press... oh wait... this is a blog...


At 2/14/2007 9:30 PM, Anonymous Neal said...

I don't think it's fair to say "backed by PEF". The Pasadena Educational Foundation is a non-profit set up to support the school district with money (by soliciting grants that PUSD can't solicit) and additional expertise. People get involved in PEF because they want to support PUSD - though maybe they want to work in an environment that circumvents the bureaucracy, or contribute to an organization that will use their money more efficiently for the kids of PUSD instead of the administration.

So to say that because some one has volunteered for PEF they are "backed by a private organization" seems to give it a sinister flavor that seems unfair. PEF doesn't back anybody and in fact their board members are all over the map on who they are backing in the BOE races. For instance, a number of both Bibbiani's and Harrison's biggest supporters are advisors to or members of the PEF Board.

At 2/15/2007 12:18 AM, Blogger Jeremiah said...

Good point, Neal. I guess the fact that Harrison and Selinski both put former PEF president on their qualifications is enough to at least establish a close association.

As an anonymous neighbor emailed me today, "My concern with candidates who have mainly been involved with PEF or PTA is that their focus may have been more on the fund raising aspect of parent involvement and education. We need board members who can understand the educational issues we are dealing with and who can make good policy decisions. I wish more of the candidates had been involved in Site Councils in their schools."

The thing is, who demonstrates that they fit this requirement better than Harrison for instance? Bibb? Albert? Lewis? I think being a super involved parent gives a candidate valuable front lines exposure.

At 2/16/2007 8:54 AM, Anonymous neal said...

I agree that being an involved parent shows a level of commitment that is a prerequisite for the hard sloggin ahead for the Board. The fact that a candidate lists their work for PEF shows that they have a close association, but not necessarily a specific agenda, anymore than the fact that a candidate worked hard as a voluntter for their child's school, or the PTA necessarily demonstrates a particular point of view. I also think that the primary work of the Board is financial - budget decisions are going to predominate. Educational expertise should reside in the staff - teachers and administrators, all the way up to the superintendent - and not necessarily in the Board. They need to be able to direct and supervise the Superintendent, not micromanage the educational decisions. So I think that your neighbor's point is misdirected. that financial focus, and especially to the extent that is "got things done" is maybe just what we're looking for...


Picking three for PUSD BOE

posted by Jeremiah 2/11/2007 04:06:00 PM

So March 6th, Altadena, Sierra Madre and Pasadena vote for three new PUSD BOE memebers.

League of Women Voters lists the candidates for seats two, four, and six, although the candidate information is pretty sparse there.

PEN (Pasadena Education Network) has been collecting and publishing information for a month already, and despite their election info presentation being a bit crude, the information is very comprehensive, so worth suffering the mashup of pdfs and awkward html. (In fairness, their web site has come a long way in the last couple years and at least the Microsoft Word docs are all been published as pdfs these days).

Update, Tuesday, Feb 13: I just visited the PEN website, and they have created a nicely updated election info page. The old content is still there for now, but you can see the new content by visiting the homepage or going to www.penfamilies.org/election

PSN (Pasadena Star News) published their summary of the candidates today. Though the write-up is brief (and therefore a bit superficial), reporter Todd Ruiz, includes some interesting facts, including how much money each candidate has reported.

Of course all of these sources will do their best to be neutral.

With less than a month to go, I guess it's time for me to start deciding who to support and vote for. Over the next several days, I plan on creating purely subjective posts on the contests for each seat, with my own opinions of the candidates. As usual, your comments are welcomed here on this blog.

For starters, here is a digest of each candidate's war chest (or maybe more like battle chest, or squabble chest, considering the modest amounts in question) as reported by Pasadena Star News for each candidate "as of last month":

Seat Two:
Renatta Cooper $1,340
George Loew $492
Mark Mastromatteo $720

Seat Four:
Milena Albert $88
Bill Bibiani (not reported)
Bob Harrison >$13,000
George Lewis $0

Seat Six:
Tom Selinske $10,139
Roberta Martinez $1,275


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Texas kids trained to swarm

posted by Jeremiah 10/14/2006 09:39:00 AM

I read the article quoted at the end of this post in this morning's paper. Inexplicably, it elicited a kind of primal emotional response from me, much stronger even than the stories of the Amish school or any of the seemingly endless tide of stories of sociopaths/terrorists victimizing innocents.

I think this story in particular caused a notable emotional reaction in me because it underscores how numerous almost imperceptible shifts in reality have combined over time to the point where people are now beginning to train children in our civil society how to fight a gunman.

Whether the idea that our neighborhoods in the U.S. are more dangerous is real or imagined (aside: I am skeptical), there seems to be a shift in society's acknowledgement of (dare I say, obsession with) the fact that the world is a dangerous place. What I have always found irritating about typical media hype and irrational fear is the implication that innocence equals weakness, which this article does not. Somehow we generally think of an adult, and generally a man, when we think of the stereotype of "hero". So this story hits me from two sides. I feel righteous pride at the thought of innocents pooling their power to overcome evil, even as I balk at the thought of them having to be concerned with such things, which, while frightening, are unlikely to an extreme.

The conventional wisdom is that a child, especially a girl, is helpless, and must wait for a hero to save her. As the father of two daughters, there is no way I can buy into that. Reading the AP article below somehow validates my intuition and sense of righteousness. If faced with a threat, I want my girls to know how to keep a level head, and use all of their resources to protect themselves and others who cannot. One of the most heart wrenching facts I learned about the Amish school was that the oldest girl asked to be first... and then the next oldest asked to be second... my God! If those girls are not heroes, I don't know who is.

Rather than letting fear get the best of us, it is important to talk about the kind of threats we might actually face, and focus on preparation for dealing with such a threat should we actually find our selves faced with one. Where we live, the most likely threats are not generally the ones we see in the headlines. Most likely, is the "mundane" car accident. This is so much more likely a threat that we are almost numb to how dangerous it is to walk across a street, or ride in a car. We all teach our children rigorously about looking both ways and wearing seat belts. This is how we maintain the upper hand on fear. We identify the threat, practice prevention, figure out to do if faced with it, and go on with our lives. Doing so allows us to not be immobilized by the most likely mortal threat we all face on a daily basis.

Taking a look at CDC mortality statistics (pg 28 of CDC pdf), a 5 to 14 year old child is three times as likely to die of "malignant neoplasm", and eight times as likely to die in an accident than they are to be murdered. And yet a school gunman is so much more fearsome, probably because of the unpredictable randomness of it. We train our children how to stay out of the road and to buckle up, but we don't want to believe we need to train them how to take down a gunman. In fact we probably don't.

Statistically, they only stand a 5% chance of facing any kind of homicide when compared to the chance they will face a mortal accident. Put another way, in a given year, a 5 to 14 year old child in the U.S. stands a .0063% chance of death in an accident, and a .0008% chance of being murdered. These kinds of risks are so trivial that it is almost completely irrational to worry about them in any significant way. It is almost irrational to even think about them. And yet we are parents. We are genetically predisposed to invest ourselves in protecting our offspring.

So what to do? We don't want to lock our children in a bunker. We don't want to make our children nervous and paranoid. We want our children to believe that they are safe, which is a fact born out by the statistics. There is close to no chance that they will meet an untimely demise. I believe we need to train them to be pragmatic, self-confident and resourceful. We need to teach them that they are not helpless victims, and that they have a hero inside them. I am almost 36, and the conventional wisdom I was raised on, with regard to a gunman, is "don't be a hero". The idea behind this folk wisdom is based on the assumption that for the most part, gunmen are generally not bent on killing, but rather have another primary motivation such as robbery, etc. The idea was that it was much less risky to comply, and potentially lose your wallet rather than your life. This is still sound reasoning when it comes to a stickup.

But terrorism and this other incomprehensible kind of evil of killing innocents for no apparent reason beyond the killing itself seem to change the rules of engagement. The article below is the first sign I have seen that this new way of thinking is being implemented in the training of children. Somehow, it makes an awful kind of sense to teach kids how to respond to that kind of thing. Then on the other hand, one has to pause and think about what that means for us as a society. The fact is, I want my daughters to always know that they have a hero inside them, but I try to rest easy knowing that they probably will never have to summon that hero in a life-or-death situation.

Where we live, earthquake and wildfire are fairly likely threats. An encounter with a bear or mountain lion would not be inconceivable. I know that the likelihood of one of my daughters ever having to deal with a gunman in her school is so close to zero that I should not even be thinking about it. Clearly it is in the realm of extremely remote, but still, something about the image of five or six seventh graders swarming and immobilizing a gunman gives me a rush of righteousness, even as I remain unconvinced that training them to do so is the right thing to do. In the meantime, while I struggle with my feelings on that, I will continue to talk with my own daughters about making themselves big and loud if they ever find themselves face-to-face with a mountain lion, God forbid.

Texas School Tells Classes to Fight Back

- - - - - - - - - - - -

By JEFF CARLTON Associated Press Writer

October 13,2006 | BURLESON, Texas -- Youngsters in a suburban Fort Worth school district are being taught not to sit there like good boys and girls with their hands folded if a gunman invades the classroom, but to rush him and hit him with everything they got -- books, pencils, legs and arms.

"Getting under desks and praying for rescue from professionals is not a recipe for success," said Robin Browne, a major in the British Army reserve and an instructor for Response Options, the company providing the training to the Burleson schools.

That kind of fight-back advice is all but unheard of among schools, and some fear it will get children killed.

But school officials in Burleson said they are drawing on the lessons learned from a string of disasters such as Columbine in 1999 and the Amish schoolhouse attack in Pennsylvania last week.

The school system in this working-class suburb of about 26,000 is believed to be the first in the nation to train all its teachers and students to fight back, Browne said.

At Burleson -- which has 10 schools and about 8,500 students -- the training covers various emergencies, such as tornadoes, fires and situations where first aid is required. Among the lessons: Use a belt as a sling for broken bones, and shoelaces make good tourniquets.

Students are also instructed not to comply with a gunman's orders, and to take him down.

Browne recommends students and teachers "react immediately to the sight of a gun by picking up anything and everything and throwing it at the head and body of the attacker and making as much noise as possible. Go toward him as fast as we can and bring them down."

Response Options trains students and teachers to "lock onto the attacker's limbs and use their body weight," Browne said. Everyday classroom objects, such as paperbacks and pencils, can become weapons.

"We show them they can win," he said. "The fact that someone walks into a classroom with a gun does not make them a god. Five or six seventh-grade kids and a 95-pound art teacher can basically challenge, bring down and immobilize a 200-pound man with a gun."

The fight-back training parallels the change in thinking that has occurred since Sept. 11, when United Flight 93 made it clear that the usual advice during a hijacking -- Don't try to be a hero, and no one will get hurt -- no longer holds. Flight attendants and passengers are now encouraged to rush the cockpit.

Similarly, women and youngsters are often told by safety experts to kick, scream and claw they way out during a rape attempt or a child-snatching.

In 1998 in Oregon, a 17-year-old high school wrestling star with a bullet in his chest stopped a rampage by tackling a teenager who had opened fire in the cafeteria. The gunman killed two students, as well as his parents, and 22 other were wounded.

Hilda Quiroz of the National School Safety Center, a nonprofit advocacy group in California, said she knows of no other school system in the country that is offering fight-back training, and found the strategy at Burleson troubling.

"If kids are saved, then this is the most wonderful thing in the world. If kids are killed, people are going to wonder who's to blame," she said. "How much common sense will a student have in a time of panic?"

Terry Grisham, spokesman for the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department, said he, too, had concerns, though he had not seen details of the program.

"You're telling kids to do what a tactical officer is trained to do, and they have a lot of guns and ballistic shields," he said. "If my school was teaching that, I'd be upset, frankly."

Some students said they appreciate the training.

"It's harder to hit a moving target than a target that is standing still," said 14-year-old Jessica Justice, who received the training over the summer during freshman orientation at Burleson High.

William Lassiter, manager of the North Carolina-based Center for Prevention of School Violence, said past attacks indicate that fighting back, at least by teachers and staff, has its merits.

"At Columbine, teachers told students to get down and get on the floors, and gunmen went around and shot people on the floors," Lassiter said. "I know this sounds chaotic and I know it doesn't sound like a great solution, but it's better than leaving them there to get shot."

Lassiter questioned, however, whether students should be included in the fight-back training: "That's going to scare the you-know-what out of them."

Most of the freshman class at Burleson's high school underwent instruction during orientation, and eventually all Burleson students will receive some training, even the elementary school children.

"We want them to know if Miss Valley says to run out of the room screaming, that is exactly what they need to do," said Jeanie Gilbert, district director of emergency management. She said students and teachers should have "a fighting chance in every situation."

"It's terribly sad that when I get up in the morning that I have to wonder what may happen today either in our area or in the nation," Gilbert said. "Something that happens in Pennsylvania has that ripple effect across the country."

Burleson High Principal Paul Cash said he has received no complaints from parents about the training. Stacy Vaughn, the president of the Parent-Teacher Organization at Norwood Elementary in Burleson, supports the program.

"I feel like our kids should be armed with the information that these types of possibilities exist," Vaughn said.

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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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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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Clark takes Noyes off table

posted by Jeremiah 4/26/2006 07:13:00 AM

In response to the massive showing that Altadenans for Action mustered at last night's Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Percy Clark took a moment to speak on the non-agenda item.

Clark stated that he and the board officially withdraw Noyes as a potential site for a high school program. This proclamation was greeted by enthusiastic applause from the audience, and numerous Altadenans who had filled out public comment cards in anticipation of having to argue against the proposal, modified their comments to express thanks to the board for being responsive to the community's concerns.

During the comment period there was still broad concern conveyed by the community about the potential for segregation in the implementation of the proposed high school reform plans. It was evident that the board also strongly heard and agreed with this message in their discussion of Attachment R-1 titled "Priorities 06-07" which ensued later in the evening.

The board ended up approving a motion by Mike Babock to endorse the seven general priorities presented by staff, however specifically refrained from providing the weighted "A or B" prioritization staff was requesting. Noteably, they did make a special point of setting the high school reform plan aside as the one priority of the seven that specifically needed more study before it could move forward. It seemed that those on the board who had expressed concerns about the high school reform proposal at last month's meeting were emboldened, an any who may have been neutral or positive about moving forward for fall of 06 are taking a serious second look at the issue.

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At 1/09/2009 9:14 AM, Blogger DeAnna said...

I know this is an old post, but I hope this comment will reach you by email. We are now facing exactly the same scenario you faced with your battle over Noyes Elementary. I read with interest your posts on this short saga, and I'm keen to know what arguments and tactics you found most persuasive with your school district. If you have a few minutes to respond, you can reach me by email at my cox.net address: ddburghart. Many thanks!


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[greatschools]: "uncle!"

posted by Jeremiah 4/15/2006 07:44:00 PM

After three days of having his Yahoo! Group email list deluged by me, Rene Amy sent me a polite back channel communique requesting a cease fire. He peppered it with minor digs and rationalizations such as
"it seems that you don't know a lot of answers to simple questions about the district that longer-tenured members are already somewhat painfully aware of"
"I hesitate to respond to many of your posts because I do not
wish to alienate list members by boring them with the answers"
But for the most part it was a respectful and tactfully worded letter full of phrases such as
"I don't want to appear to limit you"
"your enthusiasm and concern are most welcome to the list"
In a follow up email in which I agreed to contain my "flood of politeness", Mr. Amy consented to my publishing of his request, saying, "I've always adhered to the principle that one should never put anything in print that shouldn't be expected to show up on the front page of the newspaper."

By way of comparison, I posted 24 times during the flood, often with complex lengthy topics. My first post was Thursday morning, and his flag of truce came Saturday evening. In a public "housekeeping" letter that came to the list at the same time as the back channel request, he offered some statistics.

He said that his list had record volume last month averaging 23 posts per day. In the course of my three day deluge, there were about of about 90+ posts between the time I started and the time he asked me to stop. 24 of those were from me. The group has 288 members, but only a small fraction of those post with any regularity. By far the most prolific poster is Mr. Amy himself. During my onslaught, he posted 22 times, (mostly just pasting in news items with a topping of commentary). About 9 of those were responses to me.

For three days I kept up a relentless stream, reflecting back most of the open ended negative sentiments with posts like this:
"So are you advocating... what?

It is clear that you are good at pointing out problems. As I think we agree, watchdogs are a critical cog in a healthy democracy. But isn't it a bit like shooting fish in a barrel at this point?

Rather than glibly sounding off about the problems, what do you propose be done about this particular situation?

If you are at a point where you are utterly fatalistic about it, why do you waste your time?"
"Clearly the big picture is important. Thanks for fleshing out the details.

Belittling people attempting to engage in constructive discussion hardly seems useful though.

Would it not be best if we all consider what you requested of me, "that simple opinion not be the focus, rather that facts and educated analysis rule"? What do you hope to achieve by implying that Jerry, myself and others are "foolish" IYHO?"
I fully expected to take it in the neck from him, but amazingly, he restrained himself, and now has extended an olive branch of sorts. I am almost stunned. It could just be me getting acclimated, but I do believe, at least temporarily, the edge of hostility has been blunted in everyone's posts. Frequent posters, who freely sprinkled dyslogisms into their posts earlier in the week, are sounding much more constructive. If nothing else, I think I can say I was successful at pinning them down for three days using what hackers call a Denial Of Service (DOS) attack. Just by keeping everyone busy for three days, I managed to modulate the acerbic tone of the discussion. Now lets see if it will stick as I ease off the throttle.


At 4/15/2006 10:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I want to thank you publicly for your efforts! I tried, myself, to deflect conversations to more constructive vents than name calling but lacked your skill. The few short days that you "deluged" the greatschools list were by far the most productive the list has seen since I joined. I gained greater perspective over the past few days than I have in the month or two that I have been a member of greatschools. Funny, but Mr. Amy trumpets that his list has grown by leaps and bounds recently (the catalyst being a blind invite sent far and wide by some "unknown"). This being the case, why would you NOT want to "revist" information that is "readily available"? Most of don't know what goes on and that's why many of us newbies joined the greatschools list - to get another perspective. So, we have been shut out from receiving information once again. Although I don't often agree with some of the raw and sometimes uniformed opinions on the greatschools list, I have generally appreciated the alternative perspective because I believe it's important to hear all sides of an argument. So sad your voice has been quelled there. It was refreshing. I believe many on the greatschools list have a great deal to contribute if they would only agree to be a part of a larger conversation. I think their egos limit that possibility, sadly. Thank you for starting this blog. I will be a frequent visitor and will share it with others.

-Bethann Buddenbaum

At 4/16/2006 9:12 AM, Blogger Jeremiah said...

Thank you, although I wouldn't say "quelled" or "shut out". I never could have kept up at that pace anyway. Let's just hope the 3 day flood had a cleansing effect.


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Surviving [greatschools]

posted by Jeremiah 4/13/2006 09:22:00 AM

In a (rather lengthy) open letter to Rene Amy which I recently posted to Amy's private Yahoo! Group called greatschools, and circulated to the media and other interest groups, I have consciously stepped into the debate with a challenge to all parties to reign in the rhetoric.

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. Anyone who wants to read it can subscribe to the Yahoo! Group for free. Access to the Yahoo! Groups archive requires a Yahoo! ID.

I was extremely ambivalent about weighing in on Amy's list, because he and his main supporters are often acerbic in their public and semi-public "discussions" which often seem more like drubbings. I came down in favor of engaging with him in the (probably naive) hope that I might be able to influence the general tone of things.

In his responses to my letter so far this morning, I find myself kind of looking down and patting all my limbs in amazement. I have not been eviscerated so far. The worst he has leveled at me this morning has been to mild chiding for violating his list etiquette by cc'ing addresses that are not subscribed to his group, and for the length of my letter.

He also asked "that simple opinion not be the focus, rather that facts and educated analysis rule." Fair enough. That's exactly what I am hoping to achieve by weighing in. Let's hope that all the members of his list can take heed of this.

He pointed out that "A diversity of analyses and of information helps make the list strong by allowing community members to read, interpret, analyze, and come to their own conclusions."

Here's hoping.

(photo: republished from Pasadena Star News bio piece on Amy
edit: 7/6/2007 Todd Ruiz pointed out that the photo was taken by Pasadena Star News photographer, Walt Mancini)


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Altadenans for Action takes shape

posted by Jeremiah 4/10/2006 01:33:00 PM

Steve Escovar, Isaac Garcia, and I represented the newly formed Altadenans for Action (AFA) at the Pasadena Education Foundation (PEF) meeting yesterday which (I think) was originally scheduled as a fundraising and general community outreach event.

According to the host, Jeanne Register, the turn out was much larger than predicted, most likely due to the heightened community concern about the proposed use for Noyes.

In attendance were, PUSD Superintendent, Percy Clark, President of the PUSD BOE, Ed Honowitz, the PEF supporters (somewhat bemused), the usual cohort of angry parents and rabble rousers that seem drawn to controversy, and neighbors of Noyes with an agenda.

I'm not sure where Isaac, Steve and I fall in that spectrum, but probably somewhere between angry parents, rabble rousers and neighbors with an agenda. The difference is, we are organizing the community and making a concerted effort to structure the discussion in a positive way rather than simply going negative.

AFA's primary tack is to address the issue on its merits (or lack there of), and work with the 7-11 committee and the district to find a more appropriate solution for the Continuation School. We also are committed to engaging in the process and helping to identify an appropriate use for the Noyes property. We see this crisis optimistically, and are hopeful that we can not only help resolve in constructively, but that the net result will be the organization and uniting of a new generation in our community.

If things don't go as we expect them to, judging from the response that was rallied on two day's notice at the first neighborhood meeting (last Saturday at the Escovars), I am confident that the resources and resolve are available in the neighborhood to bring a phalanx of much more aggressive tactics online if it comes to that.

Anyone who is interested in staying informed and participating in this effort can find information and resources at http://pasadenaschools.info

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At 5/04/2006 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

IT'S NOT TIME TO GO TO SLEEP RE NOYES. At the 4/25/06 School Board Meeting we heard that Noyes did not appear to be a proper site (reasons stated) for a high school. Additionally it was stated that the merits of a separated continuation HS had not even been discussed with the Board, therefore, any location consideration, if needed, was premature. At the May 2. 2006 Board meeting, the same HS continuation plan, without Noyes but with "Location: To be determined," was submitted. Additionally, there was a presentation for the Board which was singly directed toward a dedicated site for a continuation HS, with implementation plans for a dedicated site in the works. There does not appear to be a viable alternative proposal from the Superintendant's Office.
Even though the issue of whether there is a dedicated continuation HS and whether that is located at Noyes are two issues, they are related and both issues to be determined. The Superintendant submits the proposals and recommendations to the Board. The Board decides on whether a dedicated continuation HS is appropriate and where it will be. Even if Noyes is not submitted as a proposed site consistent with Dr Clark's stated determination that Noyes is not an appropriate site, the Board members knowing that Noyes was once considered appropriate, may still vote for the Noyes site for their respective reasons: i.e. it's a done deal.
Fot those who stayed to the end on 4/25/06 we had heard some of the "complaints" about some of the condition of some of the schools by members of the public. However, since there is an official complaint procedure which is to be followed regarding "complaints about schools" and complaints to the Board at Board meetings is not part of the process, it was determined for the in question reporting period that those complaints were not lodged and not referenced.
There was a reference to a LAUSD program (I believe LAUSD((my ears don't work as well as in the past)))which is similar to Rose City but has a requirement of at least 14 days in jail (among other requirements) to go to the school. Apparently PUSD uses the facility for some of its qualifyng students from time to time. They said the lease for the facility was running out and that inquiry was made to Pasadena or PUSD for possible sites. The name I heard for the existing school was Alta Pasa or something like that. I was unable to find reference to it on the internet. It was mentioned shortly after reference to a Noyes reference re a continuation HS on 5/2/06. There were a few snickers and hidden/unheard comments among some of the Board members which logically would have been along the lines of "How about Noyes" or "If they didn't want a continuation school, how is this for an alternate." If a lease or sale is made for this out of LAUSD district site, some of the constraints such as renovation costs or community input may be avoided.

At 7/01/2006 11:24 AM, Anonymous Janet Castro said...

I attended the 4/25 PUSD meeting along with others from the Noyes neighborhood. I also spoke to the board during the public comment session and remained at the meeting until some time after 10:00 I also contributed money to AFA that evening as I take your efforts seriously and appreciate the work you folks have done. I was disconcerted by the massive walk out that occured right after Percy Clark made his "cart before the horse" statement and withdrew Noyes as a candidate. As a committed and united neighborhood, there should have been no mass exit as soon as our immediate worries were alleviated. There also should have been no whooping or laughter. It was not respectful to the Board or district. We, as members of a larger community should have remained in our seats and listened politely to the other speakers and heard their concerns even though they are not the same (necessarily) as ours. I was embarrased as I watched many of my own neighbors high fiving and beating a path to the door. We looked like complete NIMBY's and as there is still much to do related to the Noyes property and the district in general, we would have served ourselves better to have behaved in a more attentive and dignified manner. A simple "Thank you for hearing our voices" would have sufficed and while that was accomplished during the comment session later in the evening the original impression had already been set. If there is another such meeting for AFA's in the future, I am hoping you will encourage attendees to demonstrate a deeper and broader commitment to the big picture. There would be no downside to that. Incidentally, as I stated at the PUSD meeting and at the Community Center meeting the night before, my now college age son attended Noyes, I was on PTA and Site Council during my son's K through 6 years there and I believe that Noyes represents a wonderful opportunity for an outstanding neighborhood school within the PUSD or otherwise. Thank you for your time and your efforts. You folks have set an excellent example. Unfortunately it wasn't necessarily followed by all of your neighbors. Let's hope for better the next time as I have to assume this isn't close to over. Janet Castro, Homewood Drive

At 7/01/2006 5:02 PM, Blogger Jeremiah said...


Thanks for participating. I assume you know about the website dedicated to PUSD issues at pasadenaschools.info. Make sure you subscribe to the email list if you are interested in this sort of discussion.

At 7/01/2006 5:07 PM, Blogger Jeremiah said...

Point of clarification... I am referring to the pasadenaschools email list, not the stonehillnews email list, although you are certainly invited to join both. The stonehillnews list is much lower volume and focuses on neighborhood issues rather than PUSD issues.


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Coordinating opposition to Noyes proposal

posted by Jeremiah 4/07/2006 01:11:00 PM

Isaac Garcia set up a "Central Desktop" for collaborating and coordinating opposition to the proposed use of Noyes.

I contributed pasadenaschools.info as a shortcut in case anyone finds it an easier name to remember than the direct url.

Please forward any factual information you may discover (with complete provenance please) to Isaac or me if you don't see it on the site already and can't figure out how to contribute directly.

We would like to make a special point of avoiding all speculative, unsubstantiated, un-attributed, mean-spirited, or generally useless information.

Let's stick to the facts and play nice. Many of us feel strongly about this issue, but it is still early, and I am optimistic that the practical problems are so obvious that this plan will founder under it's own weight. This is not to say we shouldn't speak out strongly and quickly, but again, let our voice be constructive and solution oriented.

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Convert Noyes for 700 Troubled Teens?

posted by Jeremiah 4/05/2006 06:19:00 AM

An article in yesterday's Pasadena Star News reports that PUSD "officials want to turn the Noyes Elementary School campus into a continuation school for struggling high school students."

This is a major problem as far as I am concerned, and yes, I admit I am exhibiting NIMBY syndrome here, but an influx of "
600 to 700 students in grades 10 to 12" into this neighborhood is not to my liking. Even if they can somehow find enough parking for that may high school students and support staff, it will still mean huge neighborhood parking overflow. This is not to mention the incoming commute-time crush of vehicles converging on Allen and Altadena. The thought of 700 teenage drivers flowing out and around this neighborhood does not make me happy.

Then I worry about collateral damage (graffiti, vandalism, petty crimes?) which has been on the rise around here as it is. 700
high school students of any sort are bound to come with the associated adolescent behavior and mis-behavior. This bunch is characterized as "struggling." It may be an unfair stereotype, but at least when I was in high school that was a euphemism for "bad." Before anyone jumps on me for this, I am not saying they are all bad kids. I am just pointing out that introducing 700 struggling high school students to a quiet residential neighborhood raises the probability that there will be problems.

Finally, it seems a shame to convert Noyes to accommodate teens rather than children. All the bathrooms and playground equipment will have to be torn out in favor of appropriately scaled replacements.

If any or all of these issues concern you, please contact your Town Council Member and let them know your opinion.

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At 4/05/2006 11:15 AM, Anonymous Isaac Garcia said...

I've already emailed my Town Council representatives.

I am guilty of NIMBY and proud of it.

My family and I moved to this particular area of Altadena to avoid the inner city, not to get closer to it.

Consider me a VERY STRONG advocate AGAINST this proposition and I plan on being very vocal on this issue!

Isaac Garcia
1537 E. Loma Alta Drive

At 4/05/2006 7:34 PM, Anonymous Norah Small said...

Having spent a lot of time at Noyes in the past (I went to school there) and also some time there recently, (one of my best friends teaches at Noyes), I would have to say that I am pretty familiar with the campus. I find it laughable that PUSD would even suggest that they could put 600-700 10th to 12th grade students at that site. It currently houses less than 300 students and on any given day there are about 25 staff members and they already have parking problems. The campus is designed to be an elementary school and I don't see how a financially strapped district can spend the money which would surely be in the 10s of thousands to make the campus ready for high school students. How can that cost be justified when the largest high school campus in the district, John Muir, has an enrollment (according to a 2006 PUSD publication) of only 1290 students vs. the 2787 at PHS. The Pasadena Star News states that one of the reasons that the Rose City campus is not suitable for high school students is that it has no athletic fields, labs or meeting spaces - neither does Noyes. Why not move these students to an appropriate location where they can have access to all of these things, plus vocational programs and extracurricular activities which just might pull these students out of their "struggling" status.

There are so many reasons beyond the strictly NIMBY ones for why this is a really bad idea. I plan to email these reasons not only to each and every Town Council member (including Justing Chapman who heads the education subcommittee of the Altadena Town Council) but also to Percy Clark, the superintendent of PUSD. I hope that everyone in the neighborhood who is against this plan does the same.

Norah Small
2870 Stonehill Dr.

At 4/26/2006 7:32 PM, Blogger Denise Johnson said...

I have worked at Noyes Elementary for 22 years. In that time, our campus has changed dramatically. When I was first hired, many of the students came from the Noyes neighborhood and their parents were extremely active in PTA. It was a very special, dynamic school. We had monthly sing-a-longs, dedicated PTA families, and a wonderful reputation. When our popular and extremely well-liked principal, Mr. Bill Rosecrans, was transferred to Sierra Madre School and a new principal replaced him, the school began to lose families due to the change in leadership. When that principal moved on, the district made the wise decision to hire Dr. Isaac Hammond. This principal, like Mr. Rosecrans, was highly popular among families and the school began to flourish again. After Isaac left, a series of other principals were brought in, but they lacked the leadership skills that attracted families to the school. It is my feeling that we need to encourage the district to carefully choose principals, teachers, and programs that would make schools attractive to families. Noyes could be the wonderful school it once was if the families in this community were vocal about the kind of a school they want to see for their children. Perhaps Noyes could be reopened in the near future as an elementary site if we can communicate our ideas and visions for its future to this district.

Denise Johnson


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PUSD Still on the Right Track

posted by Jeremiah 3/17/2006 10:27:00 PM

Pasadena Star News ran an article today stating that due to the (smart IMO) budget cuts made by the School Board, "the projected ending budget balance has increased, and officials expect to have enough funding for teacher raises and to implement secondary interventions in math next year."

This is totally in line with what I have been predicting since the discussion about cuts was first made public. I wish we could see more factual
positive articles with headlines like "District steadies budget." I realize that drama and controversy grab headlines over plain vanilla good work, so Kudos to the Star News for making space for this kind of story.

Updated 3/18: Well so much for the Star News sticking with the facts. Today Staff Writer Gene Maddaus leads off his City Beats column with pure unsubstantiated drama, stating "
As the Pasadena Unified School District crumbles, administrators are losing control of internal information."

What does Mr. Maddaus site to substantiate his bold assertion that the district is "crumbling"? In a nutshell, word of a lawsuit by a disgruntled former district employee, coupled with the fact that superintendent Percy Clark and financial director Eva Lueck use auto-responders on their public email addresses. The subtext of the entire article sounds like sour grapes from the tiny vocal minority who are upset about the Allendale closing.

I continue to wonder what
those who are so upset about the changes currently taking place in PUSD hope to achieve by dragging down the image of the entire district?


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