Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Why I'm Opposed to Charter Schools in Nebraska

There are a small number of organizations in our great state that are really working hard to discredit the important work of our public schools. These small organizations are trying to "create a problem" so they can swoop in with "a solution" and further push their agendas. They seemed to take delight in sharing a "study" yesterday that ranked Nebraska's schools as the worst in the nation. A 3-minute google search allowed me to find a more recent study that ranked Nebraska's schools as the 17th best in the nation. It's interesting to see the different perspectives.

For now, these small organizations are fixated on trying to convince as many Nebraskans as possible that public schools spend too much money and don't do a good job of educating our children. I've been like a broken record for a few years that these two claims are simply not true but I won't dwell on that, yet again, in this certain blog.

Here are some reasons I am opposed to charter schools in the Cornhusker State.

** I'm opposed to taking funds away from public schools. Nebraska already ranks 49th in the nation for the percentage of its state budget that gets allocated to K-12 education. We already have way too much of an over-reliance on local property taxes.

** Charter schools lack the same kind of accountability and transparent leadership that public schools have. I thoroughly enjoy working with publicly elected officials that are accountable to their patrons. I love it that any patron can attend any of our board meetings and that all of our agendas and meeting minutes are published for everyone to see.

** Charter schools get to be very selective of the students they choose to work with while public education is for everyone. I am sure there are some really competitive charter schools across the nation that are full of lots and lots of students from well-to-do families with lots of resources at their disposal. Good for them. I love it that public schools take everyone and still perform at a very high level.

** Public schools are getting better each and every year. When I look at the dual credit programming, work certification offerings, art academies, high ability learner institutes, extended day and extended year programming, and the thousands of other things that public schools offer, it amazes me! Come out to visit York Public Schools and we will take you around and show you an exemplary PreK-12th grade district in every facet. From innovative birth-to-five programming that includes home visitations to an abundance of career academies for our high schoolers, we offer something for everyone, every day.

"Choice" doesn't necessarily mean better.

I encourage you to support your public schools. Get to know the teachers, staff, and administrators. Visit the facilities. See for yourself all of the great things they do each and every day.

For me, the "choice" is easy. Nebraska public schools do a great job and will get even better. I personally love the jabs and put-downs from a few small organizations that want nothing more than to see Nebraska public schools fail. It isn't going to happen.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Tribute to Phil Towle on a "Job Well Done"

The York Duke Family lost a true legend and leader on Saturday when Mr. Phil Towle passed away from a brain aneurysm. Phil was the proudest York Duke you could ever meet. He graduated from York High School. He was a teacher, counselor, and coach at York High School. He was a Board of Education member. He was a community volunteer that was active in his church.

Mr. Phil Towle was a treasure. He was a difference maker. He made the people around him better.

Phil and I had become very close during my 7-years here in York. He would often stop by 1-2 times a week to shoot the breeze and visit about how things were going. We went to state track together and he had to have Dairy Queen afterwards. We went on a couple of football road trips together to Lexington and GI Northwest. We roomed together at a couple of school board conferences. We had planned to go to a track meet together later this spring. He was very excited about his throwers and how they were improving. After his heart surgery, I kept asking him what I could do for him and he finally gave in one day and asked me to bring him a ham breakfast wrap from Arby's out to his house. He was a wonderful man.

He loved the York Dukes. He took a lot of pride in being a York Duke and helping those that are currently York Dukes to appreciate what that means and stands for. He knew a lot about our students and would often do many things behind the scenes to help those in need.

Phil was the first person I met in York when I interviewed here in January 2009. He was our "tour guide" on interview day and was just a pleasure to get to visit with. He was a tremendous ambassador for our school district and community. He couldn't contain his pride and love for York when he spoke as you could see it in the sparkle of his eyes.

Phil was very kind. You knew he was sincere when he would shake your hand, give you a hug, shoot you a text, or send an email that contained the phrase, "a job well done." In Phil's world, "a job well done" was as good as it gets. You did what you were supposed to do and you did it well.

Phil always made you feel better about tough issues and times full of adversity. I felt comfortable telling him things I don't tell other people. He just made you feel safe and you knew you could trust him. He told me he loved me one day as we were discussing some serious issues about the future. I loved him as well and was glad I told him before it was too late.

It hurts to look into the board room at the district office where we sat and talked just last week.

As I got word of his condition this past Saturday morning, I spoke with his grandson and was lucky enough to see him in Room 310 at the hospital in Grand Island about 10:45 AM. I had to see Phil one last time. I had to tell him "thank you" for all he did for so many. I had to tell him "job well done" on a life full of service, unselfishness, and being a difference maker.

Phil leaves a huge hole in the hearts of many. As my eyes tear up with sadness, I also feel a twinge of added responsibility and motivation to continue to help the York Dukes get better and better like Phil always talked about. I never wanted to let him down and that will never change.

We often talk about "Duke Pride" and "Forever a Duke" and nobody exemplified either of those better than Phil.

I wish I could give Phil a hug and tell him "a job well done." He lived his life the right way and will be missed by many.

He will always be "Forever a Duke."

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Time REALLY Does Fly

The "R" word was brought up in a discussion I had last night. Yes, I actually had a conversation about "retirement" and had to pinch myself as it was an out-of-the-body experience! You see, I have only 13 more years until I retire. I know that 13 years is a long time away but the last 13 years have flown by!

Just 13 years ago, I was a 30-year old rookie superintendent in Franklin, Nebraska. I wasn't really sure what to do or how to do it. I spent the first 5-weeks of the job living in the office, literally. I slept on the floor. My family was back in West Point, Nebraska. My job began on July 1st and they didn't move down with me until the first part of August. Taylor and Micah, my daughters, came to visit me one weekend and we made smores on a candle in my office. I had a grill in the parking lot that I cooked on for lunch and supper. It was a crazy summer. "The budget" gave me nightmares!

Fast forward 13 years and it has gone by in the blink of an eye. I can still remember almost every key concept from the 2003-04 school year. My first board meeting as a superintendent....my first "all-staff meeting"....my first upset patron....the list goes on and on and on and it seems like yesterday.

The last 13 years have provided with lots of satisfaction but some bruises as well. It's been great to have been a part of the Franklin Flyer community and school system for six years and now seven years here in York as a Duke. I've made lots of connections that have helped make me a better person. I've seen lots of students mature into great leaders and extremely productive citizens. I've worked with many dedicated teachers and staff members. I've seen the thrills of victories and the agony of defeat. I've been praised. I've been criticized. I've been adored and cussed at. Every day is truly a different adventure. Leadership isn't for the faint of heart.

As I ponder what the next 13 years might bring, it is a bit scary. Social media has been a major change in the last 13 years. What will be next? Each year, more and more gets added to the duties and responsibilities of educators but nothing ever seems to move off the to-do list...how much more can be added? What is the tipping point?

I hope the next 13 years include more ways to involve parents with their child's education. I hope it involves a re-emphasis on work ethic and accountability. I worry that "apathy" is becoming way too common in our great state and country. I hope it involves some "simplifying" as well. I personally want to focus on "quality" over "quantity."

Not so long ago, I was the "young pup" at all the superintendent meetings. Now, I have more gray hair each time I get my hair cut. I used to be the guy that stayed up late and woke up early. Now, I look forward to going to bed at 9:59 as often as possible.

I hope to draw on my experiences of the past 13 years to make the next 13 years even better. I don't know where the next 13 years will take me but I hope they're as rewarding as the last 13 have been!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Special Shout out to Mamas

By now, many folks have seen and heard about the game winning shot that Kris Jenkins made last night to give Villanova its first national championship since 1985. It was a thing of beauty. He looked as "cool as the other side of the pillow" as he effortlessly and calmly connected on a 3-pointer at the buzzer that sent thousands of folks into a frenzy!

Earlier in the tournament, if you were watching, we learned that Kris Jenkins was taught to shoot a basketball by his mama. That's right...one of the best shooters in college basketball today learned his shooting stroke from his mama. It made me think once again just how important and special mamas are. They do so many "behind the scenes" things for us all that is just unbelievable. Mamas are typically unselfish and the most committed of all human species. Many of them will do almost anything to help their children be successful.

I remember back when I was 11 years old in a single parent household with my own mama. I was preparing for the city wide All-Star Baseball Tournament, which was a big deal in Ocala, Florida where baseball is king. I had played in it the year before and didn't do very well. After a very strong regular season, I simply flopped as a pitcher in the tournament as I succumbed to the pressure, the different surroundings of different ball parks we had to play at, etc.

To help me better prepare for the upcoming tournament now that I was 11; my mama took me to Clyatt Park where that year's tournament was. She made me pitch off the mound there to get familiar with it. She made me take in the surroundings in the week leading up to the tournament so I wouldn't be rattled. I ran the bases. I fielded ground balls. I took batting practice there. She made me feel confident about playing there.

We were there one hot July afternoon for my final "tune up" before the tournament started and I was again pitching off the mound. It gets so hot in Florida in July that even the frogs sweat and this was one of those kind of days. My mama decided to step into the batter's box to make it look more "game like." One of my strengths as a pitcher all the way through high school was that I typically had great control and could throw strike after strike. Well, not on this day. My second pitch broke my mama's arm. I couldn't believe it. I was crushed. We went to the hospital and my mama got a cast. I felt horrible but my mama kept reassuring me she was fine, it was no big deal, and we need to get ready to play some baseball.

Fast forward a few days later to the All-Star Tournament. I took the mound at Clyatt Park knowing I could throw strikes (unless my mama got back in the batter's box) as I was familiar with the new surroundings and had confidence that my mama had instilled in me over and over and over. We won game one. We won game two. We lost game three. We won game four. We lost the championship in gave five. My mama wore that dadgum arm cast the entire time in 100+ degree weather. There was no "storybook ending" that year BUT due to my mama's continued support and love, the next year Fisher Park, the only little league baseball group in Ocala that had never won the City Tournament, won it all! It was one of the best memories of my childhood.

I want all mamas that might read this to know that often it is the little things you do that get remembered the most. It is quite often the little things you say, the little gestures you make that mean the most. Sometimes, all we need is our mama to believe in us. Sometimes, all we need is our mama to help us gain confidence. Many times, mamas give up on their happiness to ensure the happiness of those they love. I know my mama did this on a regular occasion...talk about selfless!

I've blogged before about how special mamas are and I will probably do so again in May near Mother's Day. I'm lucky to know so many fantastic mamas. They are an inspiration to me because I see the numerous sacrifices they make for their families. My own wife is a great example. She keeps our family in sync. She provides our four kids with the support and love they need to keep going. She believes in them more than they believe in themselves in many instances. Mamas make the world go around!