A Brighter Outlook for Whitewater High

The Scene from Whitewater, WisconsinWhitewater High School has the advantage of a new principal and assistant principal. I’ve written before that I’ve no particular advice for Messrs. Lovenberg and O’Shaughnessy.  See For Your Consideration, Dr. Jonas Salk. (Indeed, in that post I offered only a question, but – to be sure – one that implied how very much their efforts are needed and welcome here.)

For general views on education in this community and elsewhere, see An Opportunity at Whitewater HighAn Opportunity at Whitewater High (Part 2), Mentoring, and The Erosion of Political Norms (Part 3 in a Series).

An optimistic view of recent administrative changes is widely shared in this community. There’s undoubtedly satisfaction – and for some outright & legitimate relief – that Whitewater High has a new team.

An addled nostalgia for the past shows either ignorance of actual conditions or a preference for inferior ones. 

Those committed to high standards and fair practices should expect from a collectively-run school board a collective commitment to Whitewater’s current team. There’s something particularly risible about a single member whose candidacy was based on ‘planning for the future’ but whose outlook is to the past and whose direction is one of retrograde motion. In any event, one could confidently refute each and every contention that single member might make in this regard; it’s no more than a reckless presumption that invites such a refutation.

Longtime readers know that – to be mild – I’m not without occasional words of criticism. (Nor, in now saying so mildly, without a sense of humor and awareness.) And yet, and yet, one criticizes truly from love and hope. It’s this community one loves, this community to which one is forever committed, and this community for which one is hopeful.

We would do well to put nostalgia aside.

To move backward will prove quickly destructive, to remain motionless slowly debilitating, but forward – of all other directions, however unfamiliar by comparison – alone offers a hopeful future.

A Worthy Achievement for Whitewater: A National Blue Ribbon School

local sceneOne sometimes hears good news, but occasionally, through others’ hard work, one fortunately hears the very best news. Today, for Whitewater, there’s the very best news:

National Blue Ribbon Honors Announced for 342 Schools

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos today recognized 342 schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2017. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. Whitewater’s Washington Elementary School has been named as a 2017 National Blue Ribbon School. In a statement after being notified, Principal Tom Grosinske commented, “This is a very special day for our students, their families, and our staff.  To be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education is amazing.  This award is a testament to our school family’s energy and dedication in building a school culture that embraces all students and helps them achieve success.”

“National Blue Ribbon Schools are active demonstrations of preparing every child for a bright future,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to the honorees. “You are visionaries, innovators and leaders. You have much to teach us: some of you personalize student learning, others engage parents and communities in the work and life of your local schools and still others develop strong and forward-thinking leaders from among your teaching staff.”

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students achieve very high learning standards or are making notable improvements in closing the achievement gap.

This coveted award affirms the hard work of educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content.

Now in its 35th year, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has bestowed recognition on more than 8,500 schools. On Nov. 6-7, the Secretary and the Department of Education will celebrate with these honorees at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

All schools are honored in one of two performance categories, based on all student scores, subgroup student scores and graduation rates:

  • Exemplary High Performing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.
  • Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schoolsare among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s subgroups and all students over the past five years.

Up to 420 schools may be nominated each year. The Department invites National Blue Ribbon School nominations from the top education official in all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Department of Defense Education Activity and the Bureau of Indian Education. Private schools are nominated by The Council for American Private Education (CAPE).

Se anuncian honores nacionales de Blue Ribbon para 342 escuelas

El Secretario de Educación de los Estados Unidos Betsy DeVos reconoció hoy a 342 escuelas como Escuelas Nacionales de “Cinta Azul” para el 2017. El reconocimiento se basa en el rendimiento académico general de la escuela o el progreso en el cierre de las brechas de logro entre los subgrupos estudiantiles. La escuela primaria Washington de Whitewater ha sido nombrada como una Escuela Nacional de Cinta Azul (Blue Ribbon) del 2017. En un comunicado después de haber sido notificado, el director Tom Grosinske comentó: “Este es un día muy especial para nuestros estudiantes, para sus familias y para nuestro personal, al haber sido reconocidos como una Escuela Nacional Blue Ribbon por el Departamento de Educación de los Estados Unidos. Este reconocimiento es testimonio de la energía y la dedicación de nuestra escuela hacia la construcción de una cultura escolar que abarca a todos los estudiantes y les ayuda a alcanzar el éxito.”

“Las wscuelas nacionales de Cinta Azul (Blue Ribbon) son demostraciones activas de preparar a cada niño para un futuro brillante”, dijo el Secretario de Educación de los Estados Unidos, Betsy DeVos, a los homenajeados. “Ustedes son visionarios, innovadores y líderes. Tienen mucho que enseñarnos: algunos de ustedes personalizan el aprendizaje de los estudiantes, otros involucran a los padres y las comunidades en el trabajo y la vida de sus escuelas locales y otros desarrollan líderes fuertes y avanzados de entre su personal docente “.

El programa nacional de escuelas de Cinta Azul (Blue Ribbon) honra a las escuelas primarias, secundarias y secundarias públicas y privadas donde los estudiantes han alcanzado estándares de aprendizaje muy altos o están haciendo mejoras notables en el cierre de la brecha de logros.

Este codiciado premio afirma el arduo trabajo de los educadores, las familias y las comunidades en la creación de escuelas seguras y acogedoras en donde los estudiantes dominan contenidos desafiantes y atractivos.

Ahora en su año número 35, el programa nacional de escuelas de Cinta Azul (Blue Ribbon) ha otorgado reconocimiento a más de 8.500 escuelas. El 6 y 7 de noviembre, el Secretario y el Departamento de Educación celebrarán con estos homenajeados en una ceremonia de premiación en Washington, D.C.

Todas las escuelas se honran en una de dos categorías de desempeño, basadas en todas las calificaciones de los estudiantes, en los subgrupos de los estudiantes y en las tasas de graduación:

  • Las escuelas ejemplares de alto rendimiento están entre las escuelas de mayor desempeño del estado según las evaluaciones estatales o las pruebas nacionales. ·
  • Las escuelas ejemplares de cierre de la brecha de logro están entre las escuelas de mayor desempeño del estado en el cierre de las brechas de logro entre los subgrupos de una escuela , y todos los estudiantes durante los últimos cinco años.

Hasta 420 escuelas pueden ser nominadas cada año. El departamento invita a las escuelas nominadas para la premiación nacional de Cinta Azul a todas las escuelas de todos los estados, del Distrito de Columbia, de Puerto Rico, de las Islas Vírgenes, del Departamento de Educación de la Defensa y de la Oficina de Educación Indígena. Las escuelas privadas son nominadas por el Consejo para la Educación Privada Americana (CAPE).

See http://www.ed.gov/nationalblueribbonschools.

The Erosion of Political Norms (Part 3 in a Series)

local scene

Consider the childhood experience of Kristina Rizga:

When I was about 10, a classmate in my small-town school in Latvia liked to tell me in between classes that he hated Jews. I was the only Jewish kid in school, and one day as I walked home I heard steps behind me. My eyes caught his, and we stood there for a moment. I still remember his face—hazel eyes, closely cropped blond hair—and his navy uniform jacket over a white shirt. Suddenly, I heard a crunch as his fist landed on my left cheekbone, and I fell backward on a sidewalk damp with melting snow. I still remember the hollow ringing in my left ear. I looked around to scream for help, but the streets were empty. I’ve never felt more terrified and alone.

“There is nothing we can do to change him,” my father said in our garage the next day. He wore a large black boxing glove on his left hand that he made me practice hitting late into the night. “You have to throw the punch from your shoulder, and pack the weight of your entire body into it,” he said. “As soon as you show any fear, you’ve already lost.”

My mother and I eventually left Latvia, and bullying was a big reason for me. It’s been 22 years since I’ve thought about this particular incident—but the recent surge of media reports about xenophobic language and harassment across the United States brings those old fears roaring back. And now that we have an administration that has welcomed into the White House advisers with a long history of promoting Islamophobia and boosting white nationalists, I find myself wondering what that means for today’s bullies and their victims….

Via Why Teaching Civics in America’s Classrooms Must Be a Trump-Era Priority
(“The testing craze and resegregation stripped schools of a key mission: creating engaged citizens”).

Rizga goes on:

Such behavior is a far cry from the ideals of American public schools, which were founded to maintain a pluralistic democracy and protect citizens against the tyranny of the majority. Advocates for the public education system argued that the unique American experiment wouldn’t work without it—that schools were the most effective mechanism for instilling civic values such as abandoning unrestrained self-interest and opposing bigotry.

Until the late ’60s, three different courses in civic studies were common in American high schools, and they often focused on helping students apply the dry mechanics of government to solving problems in their own communities. Many social studies classes also aimed to highlight the fragility of the democratic process and the historic importance of civic engagement….

I’m neither Latvian nor Jewish, and I never had the experience of bullying in school. On the contrary, like others from my childhood, I grew up in an old family, with the kind of positive American schooling that Rizga describes (what one might call a good-government curriculum).

It was the right sort of curriculum, but we were naïve to think that – without constant vigilance – it would carry the day against narrower, alternative views. We failed to protect this society against dangerous forces within and without.

[Consider, even, the matter of standardized scores. I’ve written more than once about touting scores of a few – as this district’s former principal and former district administrator did – while concealing a lower participation rate in Whitewater than that of other communities.

The participation rate always mattered more, fundamentally – (1) as a commitment of a public district to reach all students (teaching subjects not just as a college preparatory exercise but as a measure of informed citizenship) and (2) as the commitment of administrators to present accurately the measurement of their students’ progress, without concealment for marketing purposes.]

Before scores, participation; before accomplishment, inclusion. That’s the foundation of a commitment to American civics in a public program. Although one may happily have a  mix of public schools and private alternatives, it’s self-evident to me that public institutions should – indeed, must – function inclusively.

When I have sometimes mentioned a consideration of the curriculum, I’ve always considered it the way Rizga does, broadly. Broadly, twice over – as civics added to other substantive subjects, and as a foundation for the many, not merely the few.

Previously: The Erosion of Political Norms, Parts 1 and 2.

Tomorrow: The Erosion of Political Norms, Part 4.

Priorities: Fighting Bigotry Over Babbittry

local sceneCommon men and women can learn from the examples of great men and women. In this way, one can learn how to prioritize between concurrent challenges, applying lessons from a prior and intense conflict even to present but lesser conflicts. Some threats are worse than others, and so our it’s reasonable that one places more effort there.

It makes sense to me that the most intense focus should be on the most intense challenges, and that those challenges are national ones first, local ones embodying national ones second, and purely local ones third.

The national challenges of Trumpism (viz., authoritarianism, bigotry, nativism, mendacity, conflicts of interest, ignorance, and subservience and dependency on Putin’s dictatorship) are a greater threat to communities than purely local buffoonery and grandiosity.

In this way, one would, so to speak, prioritize the fight against bigotry over babbittry. (One sees well, to be sure, that years of local babbittry erode the standards of a community, making it more susceptible of national illnesses. Only scorn is owed to those who wasted a generation glad-handing through town.)

Three confident assumptions undergird my thinking —

First, Trumpism should go, consigned to a political outer darkness, and the ruin of that way will be a thorough good. The next generation will ask: What did you do to oppose Trump? Those who supported him will then be silent; those who were silent will then be ashamed. Those who openly defended centuries of liberty and constitutionalism on this continent, however small their own efforts, will enjoy settled consciences and the thanks of a free people.

Second, there will still be time, during this national conflict, to combat local embodiments of the national challenges that face us. There are, for example, lumpen nativists, local show-us-your-papers men,  who deserve more criticism than they’ve yet received. That’s a fight worthy fighting, and one happily joined.

Third, most of those responsible for our local challenges have no future in any event — they were irreversibly in decline in Whitewater even before Trump came to power. If the pharaohs, with all their wealth poured into the pyramids, could not thereby prevent the decline of their way of life, then one can be sure that today’s local grandiosity and boosterism will not do the trick.

Fight and prevail through collective, nationwide efforts in the greater challenge, and the local challenge will be even more easily won.

For Your Consideration, Dr. Jonas Salk

local scene Each year, newcomers arrive in Whitewater to take positions of one kind or another. Two weeks ago, in Welcome to Whitewater, I posed this question to new residents: “If Whitewater were perfect – that is, complete and lacking nothing – would anyone have needed you?”

Beyond that question, with its interpretation and answer left to others, I’ll offer no personal checklist, no set of rules for “how people talk around here,” no indulgent reminiscences, no cautionary words or sly advice.

Instead, I’ll offer the example of a great man, who remained to the last an industrious and humble man. Dr. Jonas Salk introduced his polio vaccine in 1955, saving the lives and health of people around the world. He worked until his death in 1995, his last project an attempt to develop a vaccine for HIV, a goal that others are yet pursuing even today.

Around the same time as the Salk’s vaccine was introduced (and after trials that assured him it would work), Salk wrote a letter offering an internship in his laboratory. The letter is a model of simplicity and humility. Salk writes kindly and directly, making no reference to his own accomplishments either in the text or below his signature.

His work was its own reward, requiring not the slightest ornamentation.

For your consideration, Dr. Jonas Salk —

Mentoring

local scene I’ve long held that Whitewater’s Major Public Institutions Produce a Net Loss (And Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way). This contention is true for several reasons, all leading to this result: “Whitewater’s major public institutions – her city government, school district, and local university – produce this unexpected result: although members of the government are certainly also sharp and capable individually, they often produce collectively a product that’s beneath their individual abilities or that of other competitive Americans.”

Why is this so? I’d suggest that in the breadth of these institutions, across all members, mentoring is weak. In a well-ordered and competitive profession or institution, a mentorship between an experienced leader and a younger work is a long process, lasting somewhere between five and ten years. There’s always particular to learn procedurally, but it’s just as true that the application of substantive, field-specific knowledge (medicine, law, finance, engineering) to particular circumstances is a gradually-acquired skill.

Some might suggest that a gifted young professional should advance more quickly than this, that someone in this position shouldn’t need a mentor for so long. I’d answer with two points: (1) some mentorships can productively last for decades, as a valuable if in later years less-used resource, and (2) it’s the most gifted young professionals who will gain the most from a long mentorship under a talented older colleague.

Ordinary grapes don’t take long to become juice; fine grapes slowly develop into excellent wines.

Mentorships in these local institutions probably go poorly because (1) the mentors are themselves weak or bad examples, and (2) younger workers are impatient to assert abilities that are, in fact, not nearly so developed as they would be in a truly nurturing environment.

Whitewater’s public institutions have particular public departments or administrative branches in which there hasn’t been a competent, capable leader for decades (literally, a generation or more). Each and every one of the employees who has come up in conditions like that has been cheated from a proper coaching and proper maturation within his or her field.

It’s worth stating what I believe to be a cold truth (almost always applicable): if an early professional’s development (the first five to ten years) is poorly guided, his or her whole career thereafter risks being markedly less than it might have been under sound guidance. Often the younger worker won’t even be able to discern the difference between his or her mediocre development and a competitive professional’s training.

Even someone with many developmental gaps can be brought to a sound professionalism if one begins early enough, and has the chance to guide positively, nurturingly. A younger professional who doesn’t have that experience is harder to guide positively, and (if there’s any chance of success) the task often requires more correction and discipline than anyone might wish.

A community that does not provide good mentors will not develop good professionals. It will find itself stuck with those who don’t know what they don’t know.  Good mentors need to be those with both practical and substantive knowledge in the younger employee’s field. General guidance and how-tos are not enough: a doctor could show a young lawyer around town, but that ordinary information isn’t why anyone consults with a doctor or a lawyer. A solid mentor, by the way, should himself or herself be reading field-specific material (e.g., as a physician with new procedures, new medicines, new approaches, etc.) or considering practical techniques (e.g., as a designer with new construction techniques, equipment, materials, etc.) each day. If one’s not thinking each day about one’s field, one needs rethink one’s line of work.

Someone who has gone nine or ten years without good guidance (e.g., no mentor, a weak mentor), is troublesome both on his or her own and to others. It’s an imposition on private time and resources to expect that private citizens to tolerate those who have wasted their own years and done little or nothing to help younger colleagues, colleagues who by then are simply a burden or risk to others.

A small town like Whitewater only makes matters worse when leaders insist all is well, all the time. Positive coaching should be a private matter. When accentuating the positive becomes the public ethos, younger workers will place public relations over the substance of their fields. Looking good as a goal impresses only the vain or weak-minded.

The public ethos should rest on the claim that whatever one does can be improved and advanced, internally through proper mentoring and externally through the adoption of best practices wherever they may be found.

 

Construction Updates

How much time should a school district spend describing the stages of an ongoing construction project?

My answer would be that very little time should be spent on the subject, with a summary of perhaps a minute or two, a more-detailed written description for reference and transparency, and brief time for pertinent questions.

That’s all.

This is not an argument against construction – it’s an argument against preoccupation with it. There are far more signficant educational topics than a discussion of who’s pouring the concrete, etc. Time spent on these updates distracts and diverts from more important subjects. There’s something risible, and so something unpersuasive, in the time that local publications spend on construction bulletins.

When the Daily Union devotes the majority of its coverage of a school board meeting to construction, it both insults serious readers and reveals how few serious readers it has. See, District building updates shared (http://www.dailyunion.com/news/article_7983d1f2-7148-11e7-a005-0362127fd67d.html).

What’s being taught, how it is being taught, how the district treats all its students (in schooling and in discipline), what the faculty know about contemporary educational standards, whether the faculty and administration consistently and thoroughly apply those standards: these are far more important questions that should occupy the overwhelming majority of one’s time.

Construction updates are like fishing lures, drawing attention away from livelier and more complex matters, toward something lesser (and drawing one away from a sustaining focus to one that its debilitating by comparison).

It’s easier to talk about construction, of course, but this easier topic is a lesser one. In the same way, it’s easier to eat from a can of Spam than to cook a proper meal, but then it’s surely worse for one’s longterm health.

It’s a diversion from serious scholastic standards to spend more than a small amount of time on construction; to do so does not advance education, but rather distracts from the importance and complexity of meaningful, substantive learning.

It’s What’s Inside That Truly Matters

 

For years, Whitewater has seen construction project after construction project: a new high school, remodeled buildings, a Bridge to Nowhere, a roundabout, an Innovation Center, a Starin Road extension, an East Gate project, etc.

 

And yet, and yet…it’s what’s inside that truly matters.

While many a formerly-fine church has come to ruin for its neglected teachings, still house churches of true devotion emerge across the planet.

Old Whitewater – a state of mind, not a person or chronological age – loves nothing so much as a big project & a big show.

For it all, shovels, construction helmets, ceremonies, contractors, architects, politicians, and photo opportunities will instruct not one student for even one day.

Update 2: See in the comments section below insightful comments from George Bailey and J, and my reply.

An Opportunity at Whitewater High (Part 2)

I posted before on the impending departure of Whitewater High’s principal, as he will be leaving the district for another job. (See, An Opportunity at Whitewater High.)

Three points deserve follow-up.

First, one judges a process – in this case a hiring process – through both its fairness and its efficacy. Of course the district will post for this position (and it matters how it’s posted) but that’s a mere beginning. A result that drives for mere expediency is an unworthy process.

Second, I’ve mentioned before that the former administrator was well-liked (he was congenial) and that he kept labor disputes from being worse than they might have been. Those were both accomplishments (although the second mattered more than the first).

For it all, quick institutional choices saddled others with undesirable results. It’s also true that our last administrator was sometimes surprised at how news actually flowed in the community.  He would be caught off-balance when awareness was predictably more widespread than he understood from the small circle with whom district leaders habitually deal.

(Watch, from 2.2.16, at 14:10 on the video, as then-District Administrator Runez and Director of Business Services Jaeger receive a question about ACT scores, are apparently surprised and unaware how widespread the community discussion on the matter had become, and thumb unavailingly & with unfamiliarity through their own document to find an answer, only to guess wrongly at a number on the district’s participation rate.)

Third, Whitewater’s current district administrator is new, but it’s true of all people that they are asked to make decisions in conditions not wholly of their choosing. A past forbearance in assessing some of these matters was too generous, as it was detrimental to sound practices.

There’s a great deal of good work to be done here; those who choose well will find valuable support for their efforts.

An Opportunity at Whitewater High

In most communities – and certainly small towns with fewer large institutions – the events at the local high school count for a great deal.

In Whitewater, the high school principal has accepted a job at nearby Bigfoot Union, in Walworth, WI, as district administrator. That district scheduled a public meeting on Sunday afternoon to make final their selection, and posted online their announcement yesterday, but the combination of relevent agendas (and community discussion in Walworth) made the selection evident before the announcement.

The choice of a new principal for Whitewater is a significant matter: a choice of mere convenience or institutional bargaining would be an unsatisfactory choice. Whitewater as a community has had the poor habit of choosing on one of these lesser bases (with too few exceptions). Years of this have been too many, and a test of patience. If there has been a mistake in the face of this, it has been one of unmerited forbearance. No student should have to struggle to receive the courses of his or her ability; no student should have to struggle for acceptance.

This small & beautiful city deserves for her principal a worthy mixture of intelligence, knowledge, scholastic encouragement, and fairness – to fulfill this district’s promise of Every Graduate an Engaged Lifelong Learner.

Whitewater High School, Monday Morning, 2.27.17

Update, 12:25 PM: Two suspicious packages were located and analyzed and were subsequently determined to be non-threatening. The interior of the buildings have also been search for any suspicious items. No additional suspicious items have been located in or around the buildings. 

Students and families will be notified via Infinite Campus once the building has been re-opened. Classes will resume on Tuesday, February 28th.” Via http://www.whitewater-wi.gov/residents/recent-news/3262-suspicious-package-found-at-whitewater-high-school.

Original post: 

There’s news about a Whitewater school this morning – Whitewater High School was evacuated this morning because of a suspicious object. For an account from Channel 3000 WISC-TV, see Whitewater High School evacuated because of suspicious package:

WHITEWATER, Wis. – A suspicious package found outside Whitewater High School prompted the evacuation of the school Monday morning.

A release from the school district said the package was found at 7:55 a.m.

The school was put on lockdown and students were moved to the school’s auditorium before they were moved to Young Auditorium on the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater campus.

The Whitewater Aquatic Center was also evacuated and nearby residents were notified.

The Kenosha Bomb Squad was called to the scene.

Students can be picked up at Young Auditorium and vehicles can be picked up after the site has been cleared.

Any residents looking for a place to stay can go to the municipal building community room or the Irving Young Library.

Borsuk’s Annual Education Awards

Alan Borsuk, Senior Fellow in Law and Public Policy at Marquette Law School, recently published The year’s education winners and losers (12.31.16) and More winners and losers in education awards (1.1.17). He expresses his gratitude: “Thank you to all the people (especially politicians) who give me so much material. This is not necessarily a compliment, but you keep me well-supplied. I am in your debt.”

Of his winners and losers (combining both lists), these recipients seem especially noteworthy:

Schools of the Year: Milwaukee College Prep. Five schools in Milwaukee earned the top rating when the state’s new school report cards were unveiled recently.  Four of them were the four Milwaukee College Prep charter schools on the north side. They earned the ratings by doing a thousand things that make schools outstanding, starting with a strong commitment to excellent leaders and teachers….

Book of the Year: “Evicted,” by Matthew Desmond. The book has made several national lists of best books of the year, including the one in the New York Times. The book is not directly about schools. But it is all about Milwaukee and you can’t read it without seeing how much the unstable lives of children here affect their education. Desmond says that if you lose stable housing, everything else falls apart. This is a major truth that needs to be kept in mind….

The Stuck Needle Award: The state’s new accountability systems. The first results of the Forward test were released in 2016, along with the first round of revised school report cards. The results were not much different from those using the old tests and report cards. Overall, fewer than half of the state’s third- through eighth-graders were rated proficient in reading and language arts. Is this satisfactory? Tell me again, how are we going to move forward in 2017 and beyond?….

The Quiet Giant Award: Is it just me or did the Common Core learning standards controversy sort of fall off everyone’s radar in 2016, even as the implementation of the standards generally proceeds? Maybe they were actually not such a big and terrible thing.

It’s worth noting that no one who committed to a marketing-first approach won from Borsuk even a single laudatory mention. There are two reasons for this: (1) no one who commits to a marketing-first approach deserves to win praise for his or her work, and (2) Borsuk has the good sense to see as much.

Update: James Surowiecki on What the Press Missed About Trump’s Win

I posted yesterday on James Surowiecki’s contention that Trump’s success with non-college whites was predictable, but that Trump’s better-than-expected success with college-educated whites is what the press missed. SeeJames Surowiecki on What the Press Missed About Trump’s Win.

Surowiecki makes a few follow-up remarks to his tweet-stream of yesterday. First, Surowiecki is not saying that college makes whites more liberal: “I’m actually not saying anything about education making people liberals. I understand why college-ed. whites voted for Romney.” (6:03 PM – 5 Jan 2017.) On the contrary, he contends that “I don’t agree with them [Romney voters]. But I can see why they did it. Romney was a rational, experienced politician who would protect their interests.” (6:06 PM – 5 Jan 2017.)

It’s Trump’s better than expected showing with college-educated voters that surprises Surowiecki: “Trump is irrational, has no experience, ran an avowedly racist and nativist campaign and acted horribly toward women” (6:08 PM – 5 Jan 2017) “[s]o yes, I did assume that would make him much less popular with college-ed voters, who have a lot invested in keeping the system stable.” (6:09 PM – 5 Jan 2017.)

But Surowiecki acknowledges that some college-educated communities did abandon Trump, and Trump fared poorly with them as the press expected: “This seems exactly right. In places like Westchester and Fairfield County, Boston suburbs, college-ed whites did abandon Trump.” (6:54 PM – 5 Jan 2017.)

Surowiecki’s tweets from yesterday seem right to me: (1) Trump did predictably well with non-college whites, (2) college-educated voters aren’t necessarily more liberal, but they are stability-oriented, even so (3) Trump did better than expected with college-educated white voters, but (4) still did (predictably) poorly in some college-educated white communities (e.g.,Westchester and Fairfield County, Boston suburbs).

There are no local data to show how college-educated whites (here I mean those already graduated) in the Whitewater area voted. It’s an interesting question: did they vote for Trump in relatively-low numbers like college-educated whites in the suburban areas Surowiecki lists, or did college-educated whites in this area vote for Trump in greater-than-expected numbers?

I’ve written before that Whitewater seems a community divided by college and non-college educated residents.  See, One Degree of Separation. They are, though, perhaps not so divided in their votes (or as different as they might wish to think) this last election.

Design, Late 2016

Whitewater’s local public school district held a board meeting last night, and one of the topics was physical change to the schools following a successful construction referendum in November.

The district administrator gave an overview of some design possibilities, that one could characterize into two broad categories: design changes for students’ safety (e.g., more secure entrances) and everything else. Of the changes for security, there’s not much to suggest, as one supposes that those prudent alternations have been well-reviewed.

For the other changes, there’s far more play between form and function, so to speak. One has more room to choose between one style or another, and this seems especially true as one departs from elementary school choices. Watching the presentation (with illustrations showing what other schools have or will soon do), I thought that I might comment on the aesthetic of the possibilities.

Thought, but only for a moment: does one aesthetic or another make that much difference now, to America, in late 2016? Will light or dark, or eastward or westward facing objects matter now?

Perhaps so, but not so much as many other choices: a day learning principles of liberty in a shack is preferable to a year ignoring them while in a palace. I see, of course, that one can have both, but we have over-emphasized the material over the ideal (security being the prudent exception).

I’m reminded of a scene from one of Orwell’s essays, where a man facing tragedy still takes a moment to step aside from a puddle. In this, Orwell saw a common humanity between himself and the man, and I’ll surely not disagree.

Yet where Orwell’s account led to only one outcome, we have even now – as a society – more than one possible future, some being destinies, and others mere fates.

The place or size of the puddles before us surely isn’t our principal concern, however much we might wish it to be otherwise.

On Lake, McHenry, and Walworth Counties

In August, I wrote that dorm-construction wasn’t the big story at UW-Whitewater, but rather it was the federal lawsuit against former Chancellor Telfer and [then-current] Athletic Director Amy Edmonds.   Even in her mundane story of residence-construction, the Journal Sentinel‘s Karen Herzog got it wrong: the bigger story was an increasing number of out-of-state students (now about 1-6 of all students), including many from Lake and McHenry Counties in Illinois.

Why does that matter?  Because many of those students are coming from out-of-state counties more affluent than Walworth County.  They and their families are likely to have different expectations.

The figures on median household income and poverty are striking.

For median household income (in 2015 dollars), 2011-2015: Walworth County $53,445, United States $53,889, McHenry County $77,222, and Lake County $78,026.  For persons in poverty, percent:  McHenry County 6.9%, and Lake County 9.5%, United States 13.5%, Walworth County 13.7%.

The superficial answer (one that Whitewater has tried for a generation) would be to use public money to build more, in the (false) hope that the town will look better, and so be more attractive to outsiders.  (That’s been mostly the search for young families, but some of the same standards apply to young, non-married residents.)

That’s not, however, the solution if one wants to keep attracting this kind of student, or successful families. (One knows public-funding of construction isn’t the solution; if it were, Whitewater would already be Brentwood.)  The expectations and gap from them are cultural, and only a change in campus & community relations – especially in the attitude of those in authority – will assure Whitewater is a desirable destination for those accustomed to a different level of care and opportunity.

How Big Averts Bad

If it should be true that small-town Whitewater faces a choice between difficult times now or an extended decline before an out-of-town-led gentrification, that her decline will otherwise be slow but no less signficant as a result, that stakeholder (special interest) politics grips the city, and that this stakeholder politics is really an identity politics that offers no uplift, then what is to be done?

(On identity politics – it’s comfortable for a few, but only in the way that it’s comfortable for a pig to sit in the mud: the animal’s momentary ease won’t forestall a trip to the butcher shop.)

There’s the possibility of restructuring committees and city functions to assure a streamlined – and unified – direction, but the effort presents some legitimate policy questions, and more relevantly would require additional work from some who just don’t want to expend that effort. (Although I share policy doubts about the idea, if I can guess the motivation correctly – and it’s just a guess – I would say that the idea seems born of a desire to motivate the city in a positive direction. One can be opposed to an idea yet sympathetic to a perceived, underlying goal.)

Unfortunately, an alternative to streamlining is even more difficult – far more difficult – to do: the city could undertake a comprehensive review of its entire political culture, setting aside much of the last generation’s approach, in citywide meetings and supporting referendums. (Think of something like a broad-based convention and the resolutions that might come from it.)

Because this approach would require setting aside most of what has been tried ineffectually, and stubborn pride abhors a new course, the likely acceptance of this approach is about the same as convincing wolves to eat broccoli. (They might be persuaded to try some, but they’d be more likely to eat a person’s hand or arm during the effort.)

The scene: Whitewater’s local government advanced a resolution on Citizens United, but the community lacks the unity to advance a series of broad resolutions or votes on reducing local government’s size and thirst for revenue, ending government-goosed business deals, paring back even further zoning restrictions that are still too burdensome, a genuine community relations to replace adversarial enforcement, ending the transparently deceptive practice of publishing cherry-picked data and dodgy studies (a problem for the city, school district, and local campus), rather than honestly presenting the city to all the state not as a paradise but as a work-in-progress that could use every last talented newcomer we could find.

This would be a big project, but the city’s in a spot where, to avoid an extended period of relative decline, Whitewater needs big to avert bad.  The long-term future of this city will yet prove bright, but why delay for many years that better day, for the sake of a few officials’ selfish pride?

Plain-Spoken in a Small Town? Not Most Leaders

localThere’s a quaint – but false – notion that people in small towns are uncommonly plain-spoken, even blunt.  One sometimes sees examples of this in films or books, where residents are depicted as folksy straight-talkers (“shucks, I don’t cotton to no one abusing nobody,” etc.).  I’ve never heard anyone in Whitewater speak so colorfully, and I’ve doubts that anyone not on a Hollywood set actually speaks like this.

Most people – and certainly most leaders – in this small town don’t often speak bluntly and openly.  On the contrary, there’s bias against mentioning problems publicly, even if they stem from intentional, grievous misconduct.

Now, and in the years ahead, one can expect that a multi-ethic community such as this one will see heightened slurs and abuse, overuse of force against a few, and (much) official quiescence in the face of it. (Some will even encourage this, convinced that pressure is justified against others and feeling that it is cathartic for themselves.)

Early on, perhaps a few officials will try to stress the positive, hiding others’ wrongful conduct from view, on the theory that the worst of all this will go away.

It won’t.  Those who keep their heads down may later find that they’ve no longer the strength to lift them up again.  A difficult near-term for Whitewater is likely to get worse.  These actions will prove wrong in-and-of themselves, and secondarily will prove an effective retardant against discerning, prosperous newcomers. Such newcomers – much sought by local development officials – will go elsewhere.

No matter, sadly: most locally will carry on as they have been.

For communities choosing the quieter response, including this one, the die is cast.

That From Which Dreams Are Made

local Wisconsin, like most states, publishes sets of scorecards measuring students’ progress. (The overwhelming majority of school districts – 91% – at least meet expectations. Our local district falls within this common group; a few particular schools are admirably above it.)

Yesterday, the district announced the latest results, after the state’s Department of Public Instruction made them public twelve days earlier. The district announcement brings two points to mind, one small and one large.

First the small: an obvious coordination in the announcement on the same day (district news release, district automated calls announcing the release, and school board member’s use of his ersatz news site to promote uncritically that same release) offers yet another example supporting my view from yesterday on conflicts of interest (seeConflicts of Interest Don’t Explode, They Corrode).  I almost feel as though I should offer my thanks to all concerned.

And yet, and yet, there’s a second, larger point: these state scores are not the substantive learning – often immeasurable – on which hopeful adventure and exploration depend.  Last month, I wrote about James Fallows’ Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed, and his eighth sign seems especially relevant:

8. They have unusual schools. Early in our stay, we would ask what was the most distinctive school to visit at the K–12 level. If four or five answers came quickly to mind, that was a good sign.

The examples people suggested ranged widely. Some were “normal” public schools. Some were charters. Some emphasized career and technical training, like Camden County High School, in Georgia. Some were statewide public boarding schools, like the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, and the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Sciences. Some were religious or private schools. The common theme was intensity of experimentation.

(See, from this website, James Fallows on ‘Eleven Signs a City Will Succeed’ (Part 1) and (Part 2).)

There it is, honest to goodness: success for students – and so for a community – comes from distinctive programs and distinctive study, from which particular scores are merely imperfect (sometimes misleading) measurements.

This community – like countless misguided communities – mistakes the map for the terrain. People don’t walk through a map, of course: they walk, variously, through woods, fields, mountains, or beaches.

Scholastic scores like these are touted in communities either through ignorance, a pandering to the ignorance of others, or for futile competitive advantage (which often combines the first two reasons).   Whitewater’s been using this public-relations approach for years, to no clear advantage for students or the community.

There are so many subjects, considered so many times, that are more important than a few charts from a state agency.

The academic exploration that underlies a mere chart is that from which dreams are, truly, made.

Conflicts of Interest Don’t Explode, They Corrode

local Akin to fake news at the local level are myriad conflicts of interest tolerated in struggling communities. Like fake news, they often take their toll slowly.

Conflicts of interest, in small towns as elsewhere, seldom lead to sudden fiscal or economic changes. Neither government (fiscal) nor a community (economic) is immediately touched. Local conflicts of interest, for example, don’t cause explosions; they cause a slow corrosion of quality, leading to an equally slow decline in fiscal policy and of a community’s economy.

A house fire, a flood, or a violent crime is sudden, with immediately obvious and tragic results. That’s not true for conflicts of interest – they degrade slowly, as rust relentlessly eats through even the strongest iron.

Consider the following example, from Whitewater’s local school district. The district administration wanted a referendum, and in support of that referendum, placed links on its website to local sources of information where one might learn about the proposal. One of those links was to a self-described local news site (whitewaterbanner.com) whose publisher is a very member of the school board that voted unanimously for the referendum:

referendum-2016-whitewater-unified-school-district
Via http://www.wwusd.org/page/3039.

The district might as well have simply linked to its own referendum materials, over which its school board member had responsibility, rather than to his publication.

There is this difference, though: had the district used its own site, it would have presented these materials honestly, at the institutional site that created them.  Using additionally a school board member’s site gains nothing in original content, and offers only a false pretense of independent, conflict-free publication. (Other, nearby publications are little better, but at least their ‘correspondents’ are not simultaneously officeholders.)

I’m sometimes asked if this sort of conflict concerns me. When I am so asked, I’ll answer that it does concern me, but not in its immediacy. The damage from conflicts is like corrosion, leading to a stagnating economy, and to a relative decline.

That’s where Whitewater now is, and the acceptance of lesser standards is one reason for it.

At Whitewater’s Common Council Meeting, 10.4.16

There are a few moments from last night’s Common Council meeting that I’ll consider briefly today.

Budget.  It’s fall, and so for Whitewater’s local government that means a proposed budget rollout, and  Council sessions principally occupied with that subject through November.

On efficiency of government services, City Manager Clapper remarked that one can expect municipal services to cost more each year, in the way that Christmas presents for his children seem to cost more each year.  The two are not analogous, of course: city work is a day-in, day-out provision of services, unlike holiday-season demand for retail toys.  It’s an inapt comparison.

In any event, a successful, functioning market produces lower-cost, higher-quality goods and services year over year.  America’s most competitive industries function this way, in goods or services (cheaper data storage, increased computing power, improved call quality, more advanced automobiles, etc.).

What City Manager Clapper is contending is that Whitewater’s local government will not, or cannot, meet the standards of the most productive private enterprises, but will look more like toymakers who rely on higher prices through seasonal demand.

It is, if nothing else, an honest admission.

There’s also something odd about reliance on efficiency comparisons to cities of similar size when some – but not all – of those cities receive vast sums of public money for infrastructure, operations, etc.  It’s easy to claim local government functions at relatively lower cost when one’s city is awash in public money, to subsidize city government or to support a public university.

Our full-time staff might reply that they need some measure of state subsidy to function in a city that has a university that places infrastructure demands on local government.

Fair enough.

Would municipal officials live with the need for a subsidy while there is a university in town, or forgo the subsidy and ask UW-Whitewater to leave?

It’s a rhetorical question:  if UW-Whitewater became UW-Palmyra, so to speak, this city’s economy would collapse.  Crying about the need to maintain a university amounts to crocodile tears; the university gives more than she takes from Whitewater.

There’s also the question of Mr. Clapper’s search for revenue (fees, charges, surcharges, tipping fees for imported filth) to keep city government functioning at the ever-larger level he’d like (money for chosen businesses, running an aquatic center, spending big – millions – on infrastructure).

Over two million for the East Gateway project – do you feel two million better off?   (Funny, then-councilmember Kidd wanted hundreds of thousands more for buried wires along the project site.)

If Mr. Clapper didn’t spend so much, and didn’t seek to acquire so much under city control, he wouldn’t need so much.

As for supposed revenue streams, there’s still a lingering, eighteen-month window to find a partner to deliver waste into Whitewater, in the absurd theory that the tipping fees would make Whitewater better off.  Lynn Binnie helpfully turned out a majority for Clapper to continue along this path (Binnie, Kidd, Wellnitz, Grady).

There was no duress in any of this, of course – politicians choose freely, sometimes well, sometimes poorly.  There are those who, no doubt, experience duress in life, but that unfortunate pressure doesn’t weigh on middle-aged men while sitting on Whitewater’s Common Council.

The Schools Presentation.   The session last night began with a presentation from the Whitewater Schools’ new district administrator, Dr. Mark Elworthy, and Director of Business Services Nathan Jaeger.

It can’t be an easy time to arrive – Dr. Elworthy started this summer, with a construction referendum in the works, and a Board that went out of its way to mention at Dr. Elworthy’s introduction that he had been successful with prior referenda at other districts.  One day, this district and her leaders (and other districts) will be able to lead with something other than the budget.

Honestly, I wish that had happened last night.  There’s value in a PowerPoint for Council, but I think it would have been even more effective to listen to Dr. Elworthy alone, without a presentation, simply talking about what he wanted to accomplish (operational, capital, curricular, all of it).

Finally, there’s Business Director Jaeger’s reliance on a school construction survey from the spring to consider.

I’ll take two days next week first to discuss the survey and then to show, apart from the survey but relying on better information, that the referendum is likely to pass.

Lock Box.  Better to place the matter – new ordinance, repeal of old, etc. – on an upcoming agenda.  The friction over this issue shows that full-time municipal staff have a problem listening to merchants and appreciating their concerns.  It also shows that full-time municipal staff think that it’s legitimate to circumvent those concerns through an ad hoc committee composed of obliging insiders.

All in all, we’re a small town, but never a dull one.