Sunday, November 14, 2010

Iowa Supreme Court Vote: The Silent Majority Speaks

Last year the Iowa Supreme Court penned a unanimous decision interpreting the state constitution as permitting same-sex marriage.  I read the opinion and found no historical or legal basis for the curious holding that embraced such legal scholarship as referring to Iowa's state motto ("Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain").

The ensuing firestorm was predictable.  Gay marriage supporters praised Iowa's "enlightened" approach while opponents feared the Hawkeye State would become the next Sodom and Gomorrah.  Also predictable was that the next judicial election would set the stage for what amounted to a  surrogate gay marriage referendum.

Iowa does not elect judges.  They're appointed.  But there are periodic "retention" elections where voters get to say "yes" or "no" on whether a judge is retained in office.

Bob Vander Plaats, a Republican who lost a bid to be Iowa's governor, spearheaded the effort to oust three of Iowa's seven Supreme Court justices.  His campaign prediactably got a chunk of right-wing campaign change.

On the flip side, a counter-campaign endorsed by former Gov. Bob Ray, a moderate Republican and friend of mine, expressed concerns that failure to retain these justices would set the stage for more politicized judicial elections and interfere with judicial independence.

The truth is that both sides had meritorious arguments.  The controversial decision was flawed.  Despite the contortionist efforts to weave the Iowa constitution to support same-sex marriage, one is hard-pressed to envision how the framers of that constitution would have envisioned it embracing gay marriage in 1846.

On the flip side, concerns over judicial independence are not entirely without merit.  Judicial elections here in Wisconsin have become increasingly politicized.  Concerns over special interest groups being able to hijack an election are generally justified.

At the end of the day, however, Iowa voters bounced the three justices out of office.  Iowa voters did this,  not out-of-state special interest groups.  Lest anyone think this is anything other than Iowa common sense pulling in the reins on judicial activism, this is the same state that boosted a guy named Barack Obama on his way to becoming president in 2008.

While I'm conceptually sympathetic to the concerns about special interests frustrating judicial independence, the retention election exists for a reason.  All Iowans did was exercise their right to vote on the performance of their judiciary. 

For their part, the ousted justices essentially didn't campaign.  That's too bad.  If there was a sound basis for the same-sex marriage decision, then they should have been proud to defend it against a political challenge.  Did they seriously think there would be no fallout?  Perhaps voters saw more than just a controversy over same-sex marriage -- judicial arrogance on top of judicial activism.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A huge change in Kenosha County?

For decades being a Republican in Kenosha County was an exercise in futility.  Democrats had a lock on things, except perhaps in the rural Assembly district where Samantha Kerkman, despite an aggressive challenge from Democrat Steve Brown, easily won reelection. 

That was then.  Take a look at "now."

The Republican hurricane hit Kenosha County, to be sure.  Look at the race for governor:

Candidates Votes %


Walker/Kleefisch (REP) 24246 50.92%

Barrett/Nelson (DEM) 22835 47.96%

Not only did the GOP carry Kenosha County in the governor's race, it also picked up the bulk of the votes for U.S. Senate despite the fact Senator Russ Feingold's sister in a Kenoshan:

Candidates Votes %


Ron Johnson (REP) 24596 51.55%

Russ Feingold (DEM) 22514 47.19%

Now I've always felt that people who cast straight party ballots in rote fashion have succeeded, at a minimum, in checking their brains outside the door of citizenship but the tale of straight party ballots in Kenosha County is telling:

Candidates Votes %


Democratic (DEM) 11197 49.88%

Republican (REP) 11113 49.51%

While Democrats still outpaced Republicans in terms of straight ticket ballots in Kenosha County, the difference is statistically miniscule.  Granted the GOP picked up a boost from protest votes -- the extent of which can't be assessed now -- but for a county where the GOP for so long was a virtual non-entity, these numbers suggest that the union-sustained lock on Kenosha County voters may well have been broken.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

FLASH: Eugene Kane gets it (really, sorta)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Eugene Kane, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's resident purveyor of "victim mentality" broke with tradition today and offered significant insight on Milwaukee's dubious distinction as the nation's fourth "poorest city."

Kane correctly laments why aren't more people outraged over this and then embraces this cogent analysis:

Years ago in Milwaukee, a high school graduate - or dropout - could get a good manufacturing job at any number of plants in the neighborhood. The factories had lots of jobs, all in support of a thriving national automobile industry, and some plants often ended up employing several members of a single family.

During those times, the take-home pay was so good - with overtime - that many workers managed to purchase their first homes and raise stable families with children who also looked to the factories for future employment.

Of course, it didn't last forever.

The decline of the industrial economy - with factories closing or moving away - spelled bleak times for a significant part of the working population, particularly in black Milwaukee, for decades to come.

Then Kane points out that the answer to the problem is jobs. 
 
He's right.  And he's also right that both major candidates for governor have given lip service to the need for more jobs.
 
I used to live in one of the nation's most impoverished, challenged and segregated cities in America: Benton Harbor, Michigan.  Unlike many other challenged cities Benton Harbor's plight was not ignored by the more affluent who for over four decades poured millions into special programs -- private as well as government funded -- to rescue the city with negligible results.  Since then I've oft lamented that perhaps the best thing Whirlpool Corporation, the city's major benefactor, could have done is to have simply continued to make washers there.
 
Where Kane misses the boat is that he hasn't gone far enough.  Milwaukee must rely on its own people and resources to solve these peoplems.  Madison can't.  Washington can't.  It's the people of Milwaukee who must take control of their own destiny.  The battle to overcome poverty, crime, illegitimacy and other social ills starts one person, one family, one block at a time.  Waiting for someone else to solve a problem would be like me waiting for Congress to find a way to make me thin.
 
The leadership must come from within.  Sure, we can help the process but it must start with the people living in those challenged communities.  They must be the catalysts for change.  The cycle of dependency must end before real change can occur.
 
Perhaps the best thing would be a public-private partnership where enhanced resources would be provided for a limited time. We must be focused on the fact that the old industrial jobs aren't coming back and thus an educated workforce is the only way to go.  However, Milwaukee has had educational opportunities but if people don't use them they are meaningless. 
 
As I said, change comes first from within. 
 
 
 
 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Goliath (Walgreen's), meet David (Ald. Ted Ruffalo)

Politicians are expected to do things to make themselves look good to constitutents, particularly when citizens are fired up over something.

A good example is the lawsuit Milwaukee County filed against the Milwaukee Braves when the team's new owners announced it was being moved to Atlanta.  A hometown legal victory allowed the fans to blow off some steam but the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled baseball is exempt from antitrust laws and the rest is history.  But, hey, we got another year of baseball in Milwaukee and the locals at least scored a moral victory.

Fast forward 45 years to Kenosha where Walgreen's, the drug chain giant, abruptly closed its downtown store which had been at its present location for nearly a half-century.  A corporate p.r. moron had the audacity to suggest that the brand new Walgreen's store at 75th Street and Sheridan Road could serve the needs of downtown shoppers. 

The new store, of course, is 1.6 miles south of the one that was closed last week and by no means even remotely conveniently to those who live and work in the downtown area.  But that's not the point.

Rookie Ald. Ted Ruffalo, a young ex-Marine whose district includes downtown Kenosha, is floating a proposal to pull city approval of licenses and permits that allowed constructing and occupancy of the new Walgreen's. 

Ruffalo's proposal documents how Walgreen's officials during the licensing process for the new store led the city to believe that the downtown store would be kept open.

Of course the David vs. Goliath images Ruffalo's campaign conjures up are likely to endear him to a lot of voters, once the testoserone levels stabilize Ruffalo's idea actually is worth a shot.

Ruffalo suggests, probably correctly, that the city gave its approval for the new store on the condition and with the understanding that the old one -- which by no means suffered from a lack of patronage -- would be kept open and so by Walgreen's breaking its promise the city should be able to revisit the propriety of the new store.

He has a point.  Whether it would survive a legal challenge down the road is anyone's guess -- Walgreen's may be a corporate Goliath but it isn't major league baseball -- but in this case it appears city fathers were misled and, at a minimum, the remedy might be taking the approval process back to square one.

Of course there are those who will point out, with some merit, that the city shouldn't pit one neighborhood against another but that's not Ruffalo's idea.  Standing up for honesty and fair dealing is.

Yes, our David could be considered a brash young man not savvy to the all of the ways of city hall but, on the flip side, if the growing number of empty storefronts across the city -- even in prosperious neighborhoods -- is any indication, the ways of city hall haven't been very effective.

You go, Ted! Semper fi.




Thursday, September 9, 2010

Scott Walker a RINO?

Good question.

For several weeks it seemed that Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker was steamrolling his way to the Republican nomination for Governor. 

With momentum behind him, however, it seems odd that Walker would take public digs into opponent Mark Neumann.

Walker's current campaign ad compares Neumann with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, an insulting buzz phrase for right-wing Republicans.

But the accuracy of that ad and the inferences flowing from it have come into question: http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2010/sep/09/scott-walker/scott-walker-says-mark-neumann-nancy-pelosi/ and Neumann came out with a positive response, noting Walker's own support for federal transportation funding.

All of this calls to mind Ronald Reagan's Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."

In light of this transgression and the tenor of Walker's campaign, the question is begged:  Is Scott Walker a RINO? 

For the record, I am undecided, but this swipe against Neumann could well backfire.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stop the presses! UAW and WEAC endorse Democrat!

Newcomer Steve Brown, college professor and radio geek, is waging a feisty campaign to unseat Republican incumbent Samantha Kerkman in the 66th district Assembly race.

Like any candidate, especially a newcomer, Brown obviously wants to get his name out as much as possible and his campaign keeps on cranking out news releases, many of which hammer at Kerkman's voting record.  Some are becoming a little repetitive, to say the least, but the two most recent are hardly show stoppers.

Brown wants you to know he's pleased that the United Auto Workers and Wisconsin Education Association Council have endorsed his campaign.  That news is hardly equivalent to walking into a microwave cookoff wearing a pacemaker. 

There's an old saying in journalism:  If a dog bites a man, that's hardly news but if a man bites a dog, that's news.

If the UAW and WEAC endorsed a Republican in a contested election that would be news.  But for now, it's just a big yawn.

Don't look for Brown to be yawning much, though.  His repetitiveness may be narrow and myopic but it's not inappropriate to question Kerkman's voting record.  For all we know, Kerkman may have good reasons why she voted the way Brown says she did on the issues that matter to him.  Hopefully she'll step up to the plate and tell her side of the story.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let's kill all the lawyers.

I received a peculiar comment to the preceding commentary. It came from a well-known self-described “conservative” who ordinarily argues against government intrusion into individual rights. Yet, when it comes to the proposed Cordoba Center, the controversial Islamic cultural center planned a couple of blocks from the downed World Trade Center in New York City, this is what he wrote:

“And common sense, or sensitivity, is a law which ALSO should be equally distributed. The Constitution does not condone ‘up your ass!’ positions. That is, what is legal is not necessarily right. Only lawyers would believe otherwise.”

My correspondent is correct in saying that what is legal is not necessarily right. For example, many would argue that the civil law permits abortions contrary to moral law. But he’s dead wrong that the Constitution does not condone “up your ass” positions.

The civil rights movement was founded on moral authority but certainly whenever those who sought to enforce segregation were challenged they must have felt he protestors were taking an “up your ass” position. In fact the First Amendment guarantees those who wish to peacefully protest the right to advocate “up your ass” positions.

My correspondent also wrote that New York’s governor made the magnanimous gesture of offering to find another location for the cultural center. In no way, shape or form does this make the situation any better.

What if the members of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which was blown up Ku Klux Klansmen in 1963, killing four girls inside the ladies room, wanted to rebuild it across from the courthouse. What if the city fathers told them, “We don’t want you to build it here” but offered to find another location? Would that be religious freedom?

And the lament that “only lawyers would believe otherwise” is a curious but all too typical knee-jerk reaction. At least it’s a little bit original and not the usual quote from Shakespeare vowing the “kill all the lawyers.”

“Let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Lay people and comics like to use this gag line. More often than not this Shakespearian “sound byte” is uttered without a basic understanding of the context or meaning of the quote. It’s like selectively quoting scripture. For instance, by selectively piecing quotes together, we can find biblical authority for committing suicide -- “And Judas went out and hanged himself . . . and Jesus said, go ye and do likewise.”

As we review Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part two, we find at this juncture in the story Jack Cade’s rebellion was picking up steam. Dick, the butcher, was a member of this rebellion. As Dick utters the famous words “first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” he was referring to ways that the rebellion might be successful. They recognized that to succeed, they must get rid of those who knew and enforced a system of laws. They did not want any learned and informed opposition to the rebellion they had planned against the government. This makes sense.

If you are tempted to create anarchy through rebellion, the first objectives will be to get rid of legal process, individual rights, and the truth. The members of the rebellion realized it would be the lawyers that would stand up and identify how individual rights were being abused and due process was not being afforded. It was the lawyers who would recognize that rebellion sought to take away freedoms rather than grant them. This concept that the lawyers would recognize was later put in context by Daniel Webster who stated, “liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint.”

Regrettably, lawyers have not aided in the proper interpretation, particularly those hired guns who promise they’ll win your personal injury case. Lawyers, however, occupy a very important position in our society. As officers of the court, it is a lawyer’s responsibility to uphold the Constitution and be instrumental in ensuring our system of justice is efficient and effective. Without that kind of leadership, lawyers cannot live up to the accolade which Dick, the butcher, gave to the profession when he said, “first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” I say accolade because it was recognized that the law and those that were sworn to uphold it were direct obstacles and impediments to those who would seek to take away our freedoms and liberties.

As Americans we have the same responsibilities as a part of the stewardship of our citizenship. As Thomas Paine stated, “those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must like men undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

As a nation, we have adopted and applied the rule of law as the foundation of our system of government and the vehicle through which individual rights are protected. We all have the responsibility of ensuring its continued existence.

So, the next time you hear someone offhandedly quote Shakespeare (maybe the only quote they know of Shakespeare) as stating “the first thing we do, is kill all the lawyers,” take the time to provide them the context of the statement and fill in with the rest of the story. And, give thanks when someone challenges the application of the law because that is a part of the meaning of freedom in this great nation.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

We are better than that, aren't we?

Plans to built an Islamic cultural center, including a mosque, two blocks from the former World Trade Center attracted national attention.  Despite the broad controversy -- with even President Obama weighing in -- it's important to recognize that it's first a local matter -- not exclusively a local matter, but primarily one.

City government cleared the way, appropriately, recognizing that despite opposition to the project being built so close to Ground Zero, the Constitution nonetheless would be meaningless if the freedom to worship was curtailed.  Actually, I should have said Constitutions in the plural.

As a local issue first, the primary guidance comes from Article I, Section 3 of the New York Constitution which begins: "The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed in this state to all humankind."  State constitutions are often overlooked but they are actually our primary sources of freedom.  The New York Constitution is more emphatic in many respects than the United States Constitution.  The First Amendment begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The phrase "without discrimination of preference" in the New York Constitution is instructive.  It's the state's policy that one religion should never hold preference over another nor should the state sponsor discrimination against any religion.  Further, the free exercise and enjoyment of religious worship "shall forever be alllowed in [New York] to all humankind." 

This left the city no choice but to approve plans for the Islamic Cultural Center so long as it complied with all other zoning and building code requirements.  As Americans we can have it no other way without sacraficing our own liberties. And if we do, then terrorism won.

William Allen White, the sage of Emporia, said it best: "Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others."  The fact that one of our great cities will not stand in the way of an Islamic Cultural Center two blocks from Ground Zero shows the world that we are better than those who will not grant the same freedom to others.

Quick, where is the Buddhist shrine in Baghdad?  The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Tehran?  The Mormon Temple in Damascus?  The Unitarian Meeting House in Kandahar?

That an Islamic Cultural Center would be built two blocks from Ground Zero shows the world two things:  First, we are better than that.  The beacon of hope this nation was for oppressed people shines as much today as it has for more than two centuries.  Our forefathers came here seeking religious freedom. Is it any wonder that the first part of the First Amendment addresses freedom of religion?

Second, the greatest antidote to terrorism is freedom.  Freedom, freedom, freedom -- more, not less.  When freedom is curtailed -- and when fear and prejudice gain dominion over us -- terrorism wins.

By granting freedom to those we may not like we gain more for ourselves.  William Allen White was right: Liberty is the only thing we cannot have unless we are willing to give it to others.

And when we do, we show the world -- including those who would love nothing better than for there to be no religious freedom -- that we are better than that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Welcome, Dr. Hancock

Michelle Hancock has been on the job for a month or so as the new superintendent of the Kenosha Unifed School District.  So far she appears to be doing a decent job and every district resident and staff member should be enthusiastic about helping her.

This was the place where Kenosha learned that there was controversy surrounding Dr Hancock when she was a school administrator in Rochester, New York which our school board (and local news media)  failed to uncover in its vetting process leaving many potential questions unanswered.  Nonetheless Dr. Hancock is here and things seem to be going well.

We're all aware of the rtetorical question of whether the glass is half empty or half full.  Unless and until proven otherwise, let's wish her well and hope that maybe part of the reason she came here is to get away from the controversy surrounding management of the Rochester district (which has a high graduation rate of 46%, far less than Kenosha's 84.1%). 

Of Walgreen's, an indifferent city management and downtown Kenosha

Walgreen's has been a fixture in downtown Kenosha for much longer than 1962 as the Kenosha News reported (1962 is when it moved to its present location).  The mammoth drug store chain plans to shutter the cramped store in September, offering up a lame excuse that the new Walgreen store at 75th Street and Sheridan Road will better serve the area. 

Who are they kidding?  And why isn't city hall reacting?

A lot of folks are working hard to breathe new life into downtown Kenosha.  Bistros, galleries, shops, condos are adding some life into the otherwise moribund patient.  Add the museums, trolley and lakefront and it's curious why our city fathers -- and the school district, for that matter -- aren't more concerned.

Walgreen's was the last general retail establishment in downtown Kenosha.  It's more than a pharmacy, as are most Walgreen stores around the country, but in an area with no other sources for a loaf of bread, cough syrup, Kleenex or panty hose you'd think Walgreen's would be looking to expand, especially with new residential development.  Shame on them.

And city hall?  They probably need to buy another ream of paper to keep up with the list of shuttered storefronts in this city.  Shame on them, too.

If city hall hasn't been on the phone with CVS, what's taking so long?  The downtown area needs a modern drug store, among other things.  Or will the old Walgreen's become an unwelcome city landamark: another shuttered storefront?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

OMG! What an election!!

Today was not a good day to be an incumbent in Kenosha County.

Five incumbent county supervisors got the boot from voters: Anita Faraone, Mark Modory, Roger Johnson, Jennifer Jackson and Jim Moore.  Erin Decker, a Republican activist, beat Johnson by just three votes.  Expect a recount there.

Kenosha County GOP Chair Kathy Carpenter, a fellow blogger, lost her nonpartisan bid to be reelected to the Kenosha Common Council.  Katherine Marks, who tried to retire from the council but announced as a write-in candidate when nobody filed for the seat, won re-election.

Incumbent Kenosha Unified School Board member David Fountain lost to David Gallo.  Rebecca Stevens won re-election over challenger Robert Nuzzo.  Fountain was on the board when it voted to invest taxpayer money in now nearly worthless investments.  He, like Stevens, voted to hire Michele Hancock as the new superintendent without fulling vetting Hancock's background.

Some good public servants were booted out today.  This may be a sign of what's to come this fall when state and national races are on the ballot.  Perhaps the so-called "silent majority" has just been awaken.

Didn't vote? Don't bitch!

It's election day.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Thanks, Village People -- and the inside scoop

A fellow blogger and Pleasant Prairie resident commented on the controversy surrounding the vetting of Kenosha's new school superintendent, Michele Hancock, by observing that he hopes for the sake of the children of the school district that the critiques of Hancock's administrative performance are wrong and that she turns out to be the best superintendent the district ever had.

Amen.  Not only do I wish her well, but, as stated previously, it's too bad that the vetting occurs after she was hired.  It's a shame that our school board didn't do its homework before making the contract offer.  This is exacerbated because board members had the opportunity to publicly and privately interview Hancock and some board members even went to Rochester to check her out.

What's obvious is that they didn't do a very good job of checking.  Nor did the Kenosha News or any other media outlet.  As reported here, Hancock was an oustanding teacher and elementary school principal whose performance appears to have gone south when she became a central office administrator.  That's a critical point which needed further investigation before she was hired.

Any sports fan knows that the best managers weren't always the best players and the best players aren't always the best managers.  This is true at least for no other reason that the two roles are different.  The job of a player is to get the job done.  The job of a manager is to get the job done through others and, concurrently, the duty of a manager is to provide the resources and support necessary for the players to get their jobs done.  This isn't rocket science.  It's Management 101.

Hancock was a great teacher and an award winning principal who literally invested her own sweat and paint into cleaning up a troubled Rochester, New York grade school.  Then she turned to staff and student performance and turned that around to the point where her school won a National School Change Award.  Here's a summary of why that happened:

The first thing that Michele Hancock did when she was appointed a new principal in June 1999 was to bring together her family to paint the uninviting elementary school she inherited. Michele's new message was that expectations had to be high for the students in this urban high poverty area and, with hard work, school improvement was possible. Over the next four years, the grade 4 English Language Arts (ELA) passing scores went from 13.3% to 63.2% while the math scores rose from 30.7% to 78.8%. Science scores jumped 39 points to 70% and 83% passed the new social studies exam. Now a poster hangs outside each teacher's room announcing the instructional specialty, such as cooperative learning, that teachers can model. Michele covers classes so teachers can observe other classes and discuss those instructional specialties and best practices with their colleagues.
This is great stuff and the kind of achievement we want to see not just in Kenosha but everywhere.  The story, however, soured when the Rochester District plucked Hancock out of her school and made her the district's diversity chief.  It was during her tenure in that job that she attracted criticism for encouraging the use of Black English Vernacular (Ebonics) in school to communicate with some black students.

Shortly thereafter, with no human resources experience (other than at the building principal level), Hancock was promoted to be the district's personnel director.  Her performance in that job was controversial as well.  You've read about the allegations that she called teachers at a Rochester schoool on the carpet after they voted "no confidence" in their principal (who was then reassigned).  Even her boss, who was part of that conversation, said that Hancock told the teachers that there was a "perception" of racism in their actions. 

And then Hancock helped stage a two-day resort retreat for Rochester district administrators to the tune of $18,000 when the district's finances were over $60 million in the hole.

Further, while Hancock did a great job with her school when she was a principal, did that success infect the Rochester district?  Apparently not.  The latest high school graduation rate there was reported at 46%, down from 52% the year before.  (Kenosha's is 84.1%.)

So we have two portraits of Michele Hancock: outstanding teacher and award winning principal vs. inexperienced controversial administrator of an academically and financially troubled district.

This is precisely the contrast that our school board (and the media, for that matter) should have picked up on and further vetted.  They didn't hire Hancock to be a building principal or curriculum coordinator.  They hired her to be the superintendent -- top dog over all the other administrators, educators and support staff.  The question we're all going to be waiting to have answered is which Michele Hancock did we get -- the outstanding teacher and award winning principal or inexperienced controversial administrator?

This is by no means an insignificant question in this school district where many superintendents have had a rocky road.  Local talent Joe Bisciglia took the job on a divided vote and it wasn't that long after that the board was looking to dump him.  Then came Michael Johnson, an "outsider" with new ideas every day but academic achievement and staff relations issues clouded his tenure and he took another job.  Then local boy R. Scott Pierce came back to Kenosha but it wasn't that long afterward that he, too, had strained relations and moved on.  Throughout much of this Joe Mangi held things together reasonably well and deserves credit for doing so.

Both Hancock's background and the district's made it compelling for the school board to have made the right choice the right way.  Even the Kenosha News complained of the lack of transparency in the process. 

At the end of the day, Village People pegs it when he says that he hopes that Hancock turns out to be the best superintendent the district ever had.  Amen to that.  It's unfortunate that the school board failed to clear the debris from the road before her arrival.

And now, for the rest of the story. 

I admit that I hadn't paid much attention to the school board's selection process but, after reading that Hancock got the nod, decided to see what I could learn about her.  A simple "Google search" led to the various news articles both about her successful career as a teacher and principal and the questions about her administrative performance.  That initial search took perhaps a minute and not more than two.  In other words, I pretty much stumbled onto this information.  That's exactly what the school board -- and the news media -- should have done.  After all, we bought the board members laptop computers.  How hard would it have been for them to use them?

Did Pam Stevens miss the point?

The Kenosha News -- which did a hasty and incomplete attempt to catch up with the blogosphere in its story today over the hiring of Michele Hancock as the new Kenosha school superintendent -- has an interesting take in the story from board president Pam Stevens:

Unified School Board President Pam Stevens said she’s disappointed some would denigrate Hancock before she even had a chance to start her job. Stevens said the candidate vetting process was consistent. Stevens said all the candidates were given the opportunity to explain their education philosophies during closed-session board interviews and at the community forum in February.
If this is an accurate portrayal of Stevens' position, she's obviously missed the point:  The criticism wasn't about Hancock as much as it was the school board's failure  -- and that of the headhunter firm it hired -- to perform due diligence in investigating Hancock's background. 

And, if the newspaper's story is correct, then Stevens is either ignorant or incompetent or both.  "Vetting" isn't just about a process being "consistent" or giving candidates an opportunity to explain their educational philosophies.

Consistency is a baseline principle but, if followed strictly, is myopic and can lead to an incomplete and inaccurate picture.  On the other hand, vetting is a process of examination and evaluation, generally referring to performing a background check on someone before offering him or her employment. 

Stevens may be partially correct in that in the hiring process it's not unusual to have a standardized series of questions to pose to each candidate and to that extent consistency has some purpose -- but that's just the beginning of vetting.

Stevens, who I philosophically agree with much of the time, nonethtless misses the point in this quote: “Just because an African-American female walks into a room, all of the sudden we’re going to change our list of questions and ask, ‘Since you’re an African-American female, are you going to teach ebonics?’”

Of course Stevens is correct when she predicates the question of "Are you going to teach ebonics" with "Since you are an African-American female" which is an apparent reference to Hancock's ancestry.  But the issue isn't Hancock's ancestry, it's the controversy over her purported acceptance of the use of Black English Vernacular in school, regardless of the extent she thinks it's appropriate.  More important is the issue that the school board didn't investigate it before hiring Hancock. 

In fact, the first story here about Hancock quoted extensively from the newsletter she wrote and included her philosophy on the use of BEV (ebonics):

The newsletter, Diversity Dialogue, suggests teachers use BEV to communicate with students. It says teachers can: 
• “Switch into BEV in specific situations or informal discussion.”
• "Translate common phrases in Standard English into BEV.”
• “Read and retell stories in both BEV and Standard English.”

“We need to embrace the diversity they bring into our schools,” said the district’s Chief of Diversity and Leadership, Michele Hancock.

Hancock and Tyra Webb-Johnson, Director of Coaching and Leadership, wrote the newsletter. They are both former elementary school principals.

“We want (teachers) to have a better understanding of what BEV is so they can incorporate it into their teaching. That way, they're not alienating the students who are speaking the vernacular and degrading them,” Webb-Johnson said.

Ebonics was debated nationally in 1996 when the Oakland, California school district proposed using it in the curriculum.

Ebonics is defined as a speech pattern used by some African-Americans that does not follow standard grammar.

“No matter how you speak, you do need to learn the standard form so you can embrace the larger audience of people,” Hancock said. “But you can hold on to the richness of your family environment and not feel that is beneath any standard of living.”

Hancock says many people, including her own son, who graduated from college, know how to "code switch" between Standard English and Ebonics. She said students must learn to be proficient in Standard English.

“Many African-Americans are bi-dialectic in their speech patterns. I think it's critical teachers understand those speech patterns so they can effectively, visually show children how they are speaking, but not to denigrate it, but to celebrate it,” Hancock said.

Nowhere here was it said that Hancock advocated teaching Ebonics and, in fact, Hancock's own words clearly show that she believes students must learn to be proficient in Standard English.  Nonetheless she also supported the limited use of BEV in school and that, according to the Rochester television news report quoted here, brought critcism from many segments of that city's black community, including a school board member, former mayor and parents and students. 

As for Stevens' comments about consistency, that's a smokescreen.  Consistency is a minimum across-the-board baseline.  Had the school board or its consulting firm performed due diligence and uncovered this information, the board, if it had done its job, would have asked Hancock about it.  Stevens admitted that the board had closed door interviews of the candidates.  The questioning could -- and should -- have happened there.  Stevens and her fellow board members dropped the ball, plain and simple. 

The board's failure to do its job shortchanged constituents and Hancock.  As noted here, it would have been preferable for the new superintendent to come in on a wave of optimism, not under a cloud of controversy. 

Further, the "Ebonics" controversy is one that is likely to be inflammatory and incite prejudices in quarters other than here.  That's unfortunate because the issues surrounding Hancock's fitness for her new job go well beyond that.

For example, the recent controversy in Rochester where elementary school teachers at a school that voted "no confidence" in their principal (who was reassigned) felt intimidated by Hancock and her boss over the suggestion that the vote may be perceived as racially motivated also deserved vetting.  The Rochester Democrat-Chronicle reported that the Rochester Teachers Association said that Hancock and the Rochester superintendent berated staff and then launched a retaliatory investigation of three teachers at the school.  While denying the union's allegation of retaliation, Superindent Jean-Claude Brizard confirmed that Hanock "said there was a perception of racism in the school."

By itself this tiff may not be terribly significant and could be dismissed as union-management sniping.  But the Rochester superintendent, who is also black, confirmed that Hancock did raise the issue of race with the teachers.  Further, as noted here:

On May 21, 2008 WHAM's veteran education reporter, Rachel Barnhart, wrote that Hancock was named the new human resources chief (later morphed into "Human Capital Initiatives") for the Rochester district although Hancock "doesn't have a background in human resources."

Less than two years later Hancock -- who received $36,000 from the Rochester district toward her doctoral degree studies -- was applying for and ultimately accepted the Kenosha job although she has no experience as a superintendent or even an assistant superintendent. 
Had our school board had done its homework and asked the right questions, perhaps there wouldn't be as many now -- or at least there'd be better answers.

Hancock is being paid a starting salary of  $195,000 -- $45,000 more than the current superitendent, Joe Mangi, a veteran educator.  Yet she has never been a superintendent -- or an assistant superintendent -- of any district and has less than two years of experience in her current personnel position, one which she came into without human resources experience.  Add that to the Ebonics controversy and the flap with the teachers and you don't think that there are things that Hancock should have questioned about?  And let's not forget the $18,000 two-day resort retreat Hancock organized for administrators of a school district that's over $60 million in the red and has a graduation rate of 46%, down 52% from the previous year.

Today's newspaper story drivels on about how Stevens says the board wouldn't think of supporting an Ebonics curriculum and anyone who would suggest it is misinformed.  She's right.  Anyone who would suggest it is misinformed -- even her.  The issue isn't Ebonics -- it's the board's failure to properly check out its choice to be the new superintendent. 

The story goes on to say that Stevens takes "with a grain of salt" what Hancock's detractors say about her.  Then Stevens is quoted as saying, “I really thought some people in Kenosha were above that."

Time out for a reality check.  Get the message, Pam: It's not about "Hancock's detractors" but rather the failure of the board to do its job.  As noted here, Hancock was an outstanding teacher and elementary school principal but her performance came into question when she became a central office administrator.  The board's woefully inadequate vetting of Hancock not only was a disservice to the taxpayers but to Hancock who, if she truly is the best choice for the job, should be able to come on board with full support and confidence, not unanswered questions.  As written here:

That research should have prompted other questions, such as why would the Rochester district take a successful principal away from the job she did so well and move her into another in which her performance was controversial? Why with no personnel management experience (except as a building principal) was she shortly after arriving at the central office put in charge of human resources? Why, if the Rochester district is managed so well, does it have a high school graduation rate of 46%, down from 52% the year before?

Second, the failure to get these issues out in the open and, hopefully, resolved before hiring Hancock is no favor to her.

Incoming chief executives typically have a "honeymoon period" but Hancock's may be short-lived, if she gets one at all.

For example, her controversial advocacy of using Black English Vernacular (Ebonics) in her stint as diversity chief might have been explained better had it been placed on the table sooner rather than later. "Hindsight being 20-20" I suspect many of us have done things earlier in our careers that upon reflection we wish we might have done differently. If, for example, Hancock were to offer that explanation now, wouldn't folks be skeptical?

Our school district has its own set of issues. Relocating, becoming acclimated to this community and getting down to solving the district's problems are enough to keep anyone busy. If Hancock truly is the best choice for Kenosha's new school superintendent, she deserves to come into this community on a wave of optimism, not under a cloud of controversy.
Once again, this isn't about taking a slap at Hancock but rather about the school board's failing to properly exercise its responsibilities.  It's difficult to embrace Hancock as the best choice for the position when the issues come up after the board made its choice.  The board created this controversy -- not anyone else.  Even Hancock noted the legitimacy of a proper inquiry: "I think it’s great they’re questioning. And I can say I have answers because I know me. But I hope people give themselves a chance to know me and it not be generated by misunderstanding." 

Exactly.

You'd have to be naive or incredibly stupid (or both) not to recognize that achieving success rarely comes without some controversy.  That controversy can be misinformed, mean-spirited or just plain ignorant.  But it can also have varying shades of merit.  Regardless, it doesn't go away unless it's addressed fully and honestly and even then you won't be able to please everyone.

Finally, a few words about race.  Frankly, as an old civil rights advocate, I cringe at the thought because in today's world there should be no place for bigotry and racism.  Nonetheless I sadly realize that for some people it is an issue.  Not for me. 

I don't particularly care if Hancock is black, white, yellow, brown or some mixture of whatever.  I only care about if she's the best person for the job.  That said, I must confess that I nonetheless find value in diversity but, as diversity happens, that value should necessarily depreciate.  After all, shouldn't the ultimate goal of the NAACP (or, similarly, the American Cancer Society) be to put itself out of business?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Maybe a dart isn't enough

The Kenosha News each Sunday devotes its editorial to a series of "laurels and darts" (I like to call them bear hugs and moose droppings) and just last month printed this one:


DART — To the Kenosha Unified School Board, for delaying the announcement of its choice for superintendent. The board was very forthcoming in announcing the selection of three finalists and it narrowing of the field to two final candidates. Unfortunately, after meeting this week to select a candidate of choice, the board got very quiet. At a time in which government bodies from school boards to Congress are being criticized for a lack of transparency, our board decides not to makes its choice public to allow attorneys to begin initial contract discussions and ensure those talks will go well. There is keen interest in this community about who will become the leader of Kenosha Unified. Delaying an announcement to ensure every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed was a poor decision by the board. Fortunately for the voters in the school district, the Kenosha News was able to confirm negotiations have begun with Michele Hancock of Rochester, NY.


So, folks, while the newspaper justifiably complained about the school board's secrecy in the superintendent selection process, what of its own lack of due diligence?  Over the past week or so readers here have learned of a series of potential "red flags" surrounding the school board's choice.  The newspaper is aware of them.  It has chosen to do nothing with this information.

Nothing as in not reporting a word.  Nothing as in not doing its own investigation.  Nothing as in not questioning the school board candidates for next week's election about their take on this situation.  Nothing as in not questioning the present seven school board members over their lack of due diligence.  Nothing as in not questioning why the headhunter firm, Ray and Associates, hired by the school board failed to find out this information which is in the public domain.  Nothing as in not questioning the board members who went to Rochester about why they didn't have this information -- or did they and chose not to share it?  Nothing as in not questioning Hancock so that she can tell her side of the story. 

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Darts?  Nah.  Maybe the school board and the newspaper are candidates for Patriot missiles.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Does it matter? You betcha!

The discovery of unexplained baggage by Kenosha's newly appointed school superintendent is disturbing for many reasons.

First, it demonstrates that there were serious gaps in the vetting process by the Kenosha Unified School Board and its superintendent headhunter, Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

If the various controversies involving Michele Hancock as the diversity director and human resources chief of the Rochester, N.Y. city school district were discovered with a simple Google search, it's simply appropriate to wonder why board members weren't able to do the same?  And, if they didn't, why didn't the district's consulting firm? 

It's not rocket science to figure out that the ball was dropped.  And it gets worse.

Three board members traveled to Rochester to check out Hancock.  Did they only hear good things about Hancock, such as her oustanding performance as an elementary school teacher and principal?

If they did, then they didn't learn that things went south when Hancock went to the central office, first as diversity director and then as human resources chief, a position for which she had no prior experience. Did they know that Rochester district taxpayers shelled out $36,000 to help Hancock get her doctorate, only to have her go job hunting elsewhere?

Was it a lack of diligence or is it possible -- just possible -- that maybe some folks in Rochester intentionally may have concealed important information?  Or maybe both?

That's why it would have been critical for board members and their consulting firm to have done a simple Google search and followed by contacting the right folks in Rochester.

That research should have prompted other questions, such as why would the Rochester district take a successful principal away from the job she did so well and move her into another in which her performance was controversial?  Why with no personnel management experience (except as a building principal) was she shortly after arriving at the central office put in charge of human resources?  Why, if the Rochester district is managed so well, does it have a high school graduation rate of 46%, down from 52% the year before?

Second, the failure to get these issues out in the open and, hopefully, resolved before hiring Hancock is no favor to her.

Incoming chief executives typically have a "honeymoon period" but Hancock's may be short-lived, if she gets one at all. 

For example, her controversial advocacy of using Black English Vernacular (Ebonics) in her stint as diversity chief might have been explained better had it been placed on the table sooner rather than later.  "Hindsight being 20-20" I suspect many of us have done things earlier in our careers that upon reflection we wish we might have done differently.  If, for example, Hancock were to offer that explanation now, wouldn't folks be skeptical?

Our school district has its own set of issues.  Relocating, becoming acclimated to this community and getting down to solving the district's problems are enough to keep anyone busy.  If Hancock truly is the best choice for Kenosha's new school superintendent, she deserves to come into this community on a wave of optimism, not under a cloud of controversy.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Superintendent hiring: Why didn't Kenosha school board check out its choice?

A few years ago Kenosha Unified School Board members got laptop computers.  The current board sure needs a crash course on how to use them.

Had the school board performed due diligence it would have discovered that less than three years ago its newly hired school superintedent, Michele Hancock, was the center of controversy in Rochester, New York when she was the school district's diversity chief, over her advocacy of Black English Vernacular (Ebonics) in school -- an idea wisely flamed by many Rochester African-American community leaders, parents and students. 

They would also have found out that while they were cutting a deal with Hancock she was embroiled in a battle with teachers at a Rochester school (blandly called School #41) who recently staged a "no confidence" vote in their principal, Roschon Bradley.  According to WHAM-TV in Rochester:

Teachers say Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard and Chief of Human Capital Initiatives Michele Hancock held a staff meeting earlier this week and implied the teachers at School #41 are racist for banding against Bradley, who is black.

Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said teachers who attended the meeting said Brizard and Hancock “berated them and lectured them. Teachers were shocked and hurt and disappointed that the district seemed to suggest that the problem wasn’t with the principal, it was with them.”

Urbanski said Hancock told the teachers their vote of no confidence was perceived as racist and as a bullying tactic.
Further investigation shows that these aren't the only two storms of controversy surrounding Hanock, who will be paid $195,000 -- $45,000 more than current superintedent Joseph Mangi, a career Kenosha Unified educator.

On May 21, 2008 WHAM's veteran education reporter, Rachel Barnhart, wrote that Hancock was named the new human resources chief (later morphed into "Human Capital Initiatives") for the Rochester district although Hancock "doesn't have a background in human resources." 

Less than two years later Hancock -- who received $36,000 from the Rochester district toward her doctoral degree studies -- was applying for and ultimately accepted the Kenosha job although she has no experience as a superintendent or even an assistant superintendent.

Last year Hancock's name popped up again in another WHAM report, this time defending the $18,000 taxpayers shelled out for a retreat attended by 29 Rochester school executives at a swanky resort:

The cost was $18,000. The trip took place from January 29 to January 31. The district said 29 staff members went on the trip, although the district paid for 40 to attend.

According to documents obtained by 13WHAM News, the district’s Chief of Human Capital Initiatives, Michele Hancock, booked the retreat in November. The trip was approved by Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard in December.

The purpose of the trip was to “enable team-building” among the district’s Dream Schools, according to Hancock’s request for a contract with Beaver Hollow. “The retreat will include instructional leadership, learning organizations, adult growth, and professional development.”

The menu for the staff members included Jack Daniels marinated steak with tobacco onions, shrimp fritters, cheddar corn muffins, and “enticing desserts.”
The district budget deficit at the time of the retreat was about $60 million. The school board recently approved cutting more than 200 teaching positions.
The $18,000 two-day retreat was just the tip of the iceberg.  Barnhart's investigative reporting last year showed that the financially strapped Rochester district spent $240,000 on catered meals since 2007 without school board approval. 

So, what does this have to do about Kenosha?  Plenty.  Just look at what Kenosha Unified's superintendent search job posting listed as criteria for the new superintendent:

KUSD seeks a superintendent who:


• Is strongly committed to a “student first” philosophy in all decisions.
Will inspire trust, has high levels of self-confidence and optimism, and models high standards of integrity and personal performance.
Possesses excellent people skills and presents a positive image of the district and will commit to community visibility with high interest in a broad range of community groups, organizations, and unions.
• Willing to listen to input, but can make a decision when necessary including appropriate participation of others in planning and decision making.
• Demonstrates effective communication skills to include speaking, listening and writing.
Has demonstrated the ability to enhance student performance, especially in identifying and closing or narrowing the gaps in student achievement.
• Can delegate authority appropriately while maintaining accountability.
• Possesses the leadership skills required to respond to the challenges presented by an ethnically and culturally diverse community.
• Work cooperatively with the board of education.
• Is able to identify and select building and central office administrators who are capable of advancing the district vision.
Has knowledge of and successful experience in sound fiscal practices and management of district resources.

Hancock's lame defense of an $18,000 resort tab for a two-day conference for 29 administrators in a school district more than $60 million in the hole hardly qualifies as someone successful in sound fiscal pratices and management of district resources.

Although Hancock was a nationally recognized elementary school principal who successfully turned around a decaying and underachieving grade school, the Rochester district's most recent high school graduation rate was only 46%, down 6% from the previous year.  By contrast, Kenosha's most recent graduation rate was 84.1%.

As for inspiring confidence and improving the district's image, advocacy of Ebonics, defending wasteful spending and berating teachers doesn't bode well and the latter brings into question her "people skills."
This brings us back to the original point: where was the due diligence in the superintendent selection process?  Maybe our school board members aren't computer literate despite the investment in their laptops, but then why didn't Ray and Associates, the Iowa consulting firm hired to conduct the nationwide superintendent search, pick up on these red flags?
 
Clearly, the ball was dropped.
 

Officers: Keeping the streets safe starts with safe streets

I realize it's probably annoying at times for the police officers I work with to hear me say, "When I was a cop" followed by some anecdote of keeping the peace in the mid-1970's.  There are times, though, when these discussions are necessary.  This is one of them.

Truth be told -- "Radar" was said to be my middle name (and it had nothing to do with the character in M*A*S*H).  Former Grant  County Deputy Jim Stark used to remind me, though, that there was more to being a cop than "running radar."  Of course he was right.

Much of what police officers do is geared to keep our streets safe.  That said, keeping the streets safe starts with keeping safe streets. 

I am appalled each day when I drive around and see the many pot holes, worn out signs and decayed roadways.  When I was a cop we took note of these deficiencies, called them in and, unless an immediate response was in order, the dispatchers presented a list of the needed repairs each morning to the appropriate crews.

Why isn't this being done now?  And if it is, then why aren't the repairs happening?  How much time and does it take to call in a pot hole or a burned out street light?  As for deficient signs, state law requires all traffic signs to conform to the Uniform Manual of Traffic Control Devices.  How hard is it to pick up a microphone and call in a sign that needs replacement or repair?

Not very time consuming.  Not very hard.  And there's no excuse -- none -- for officers failing to comply with the time-honored community caretaking function of American law enforcement.

I love our officers dearly but there are some who need a reminder that there's more to the job than making arrests.




Friday, March 26, 2010

Incompetence at all levels

It was reported here -- from credible sources -- that Kenosha's new school superintendent, Michele Hancock, comes from Rochester, New York with a host of issues including:

  • Promoting the use of Black English Vernacular ("Ebonics") in school.
  • Allegations that she recently intimidated the staff at a Rochester school that voted "no confidence" in the school's principal.
  • Hiring her at $195,000 -- $45,000 more than the present superintendent -- when she has never been a superintendent, even in a small district.
The first two bullet points were previously discussed.  The third points out that Hancock's management experience was as an elementary school building principal, diversity director for the Rochester schools and then director of human capital initiatives (which, from reading the school district's web site, appears to be an amalgamation of a personnel director and diversity director).

This is not to say that Hancock hasn't had some successes.  Her work as an elementary school principal in one of Rochester's worst schools included literally cleaning and painting the building, uplifting educational test scores and engaging parental involvement.  Building diversity and being an effective personnel manager are also important goals.

But the job that was open in Kenosha was the top dog's.  The third largest school district in the state should command talent that has experience running a school district, and perhaps preferably one in Wisconsin.  Why did the school board hire someone without that experience?  And what about the new superintendent's controversial background in Rochester, which included criticism from the black community?

The lack of public dialogue about the school board's failure to perform due diligence here is astounding.  Even Lenny Palmer at WLIP says he's given up on the board which seems immune to public input.  The Kenosha News has simply ignored the controversy.  Ditto for WGTD.  And WLIP?  They gave up their news department years ago and rely on stories taken from the newspaper.  This isn't rocket science. A simple Google search would have provided the basis for further inquiry.

In all of this I feel a bit for Hancock, though it's hard to effectuate much sympathy when she's being paid substantially more than an experienced incumbent.  Coming into a new job with unexplained baggage helps nobody, including Hancock.  She could turn out to be the best superintendent we've ever had but this is a job that requires an experienced person who can hit the ground running.  Can that happen when there are clouds over her?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The incredibly shrinking newspaper

Not only did the Kenosha Unified School Board flub due diligence in failing to flesh out newly hired superintendent Michele Hancock's controversial background, but the Kenosha News was just as guilty.

Our local newspaper, like so many across the nation -- including big dailies such as the Chicago Tribune -- has been shrinking its size -- literally -- as well as content.  Some of this is inevitable as alternate delivery mechanisms have struck a hard blow at traditional newspapers, radio and television news.

One would think, though, that in a competitive environment the news content would be increased, particularly local news content. 

Today's Kenosha News story on the hiring of Dr. Hancock touches the surface -- her salary and praise for her from the board that hired her as well as the superintendent she'll replace -- but where is the background?  Had someone done a Google search a couple of weeks ago maybe they would have uncovered the WHAM-TV report on the Ebonics controversy or last weekend's Rochester newspaper story on allegations that Dr. Hancock intimidated teachers who gave a "no confidence" vote in their principal.  Maybe then the school board and the community could have "vetted" this candidate more comprehensively.

Vetting isn't completely a negative process, either.  There are positives in Dr. Hancock's experience, such as how she and her family invested long hours into literally cleaning and painting the rundown Rochester school where she became principal.  

Nonetheless the WHAM-TV report about the Ebonics controversy quickly deals the race card away.  All of the critical comments came from black students, parents and community leaders.  

True, the newspaper expressed concerns about the lack of openness in the superintendent selection process, but at the end of the day what would be so difficult about a one minute Google search or calling the Rochester newspaper and asking, "You know one of your school administrators is a finalist for superintendent here.  What do you know about her?"   That's basic journalism. 

It will be interesting to see if the newspaper follows up on this, even at this late date.  More interesting, though, is a reader comment on its web site: "I went to the websites that were referred to early in this blog and read them carefully. They were ALSO blogs, meaning that they were based on OPINIONS, not facts."

That's not always an inaccurate assessment as a general statement but in this case, if the writer was referring to this blog, the commentary was completely separate from the WHAM-TV reporting which was reprinted verbatim.  WHAM-TV is a well-regarded broadcast news operation.  The source of the story, including the reporter's name, was clearly stated here.  Hard to see how that could have been missed.

As for blogs, yes they are mixtures of opinion and fact, some more so than others.  But as traditional media sources increasily fail to do their jobs it's probably better that there are these outlets for opinion and information to fill the gap.

This nation has a rich history of blogging.  Except in the old days before computers and electronic communication the functional equivalent of blogging was practiced in public speeches and writings by the likes of Patrick Henry and in Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack.  In the words of the late William T. Evjue, activist newspaper publisher, "Let the people have the truth and the freedom to discuss it and all will go well."


Monday, March 22, 2010

Kenosha's new school suprintendent cited in newspaper editorial over Ebonics

School Daze -- Is English Degrading?

Daily News-Record, Harrisonburg, VA, April 2, 2007



Administrators in this nation’s public schools, we feel certain, wonder why they, at times, come under fire from those whom they serve. This latest gem emanating from the Rochester, N.Y., school system should provide an inkling.



In a recent newsletter sent to teachers and staff, two district officials — Michele Hancock, chief of diversity and leadership, and Tyra Webb-Johnson, director of coaching and leadership — warmly approved of the use of Black English Vernacular (Ebonics) in Rochester’s classrooms. Among other things, the two women said, teachers should feel free to “translate common phrases in Standard English into BEV” and “read and retell stories in both BEV and Standard English.”



Their rationale for marginalizing Standard English is stunning. “We want (teachers) to have a better understanding of what BEV is so they can incorporate it into their teaching. That way, they’re not alienating the students who are speaking the vernacular and degrading them,” Ms. Webb-Johnson said.



So, expecting kids to use Standard English — once called the “King’s English” — is “degrading”? What’s “degrading,” in our mind, is the message conveyed by these alarming sentiments — namely, that African American students are unable, for some reason, to learn the communication skills needed to succeed in life’s marketplace.



What a disservice this is to children whose very future will — not may, but will — be determined by how well they are educated. Giving them a pass on the employment of good grammar is akin to handing them a ticket to permanent underclass status. Schools are supposed to be oases of enrichment, not wastelands of hopelessness.


My take is that our new superintendent perhaps meant well but failed to grasp the bigger picture.  There's often a huge gap between being educated and being smart.  Perhaps Ms. Hancock meant well but the road to failure has all too often been route directed by those who mean well.  We have long decided that racial equality is the public policy of this great nation.  It is insulting to suggest that standards somehow need to be lowered.  To be fair, an unacceptable number of American young people of all races in college and the workforce lack basic linguistic and math skills.  We ought to be raising the student to the standards, not lowering the standards.  To do otherwise is a cynical insult to our youth. 

Kenosha Unified: Who the Hell did the background check here?

Michele Hancock, Kenosha's newly minted $195,000 school superintendent (up from Joe Mangi's $150,000) caused quite a stir at home in Rochester, New York.  Amazing how parents and students have more common sense -- and how our school board failed its due diligence in checking this out.  But what else is new?  Read on...


Rachel Barnhart/13WHAM (Rochester, N.Y.) – It’s called Black English Vernacular – or more commonly – Ebonics.

In a newsletter to staff, Rochester City School District officials say it is OK for students and teachers to speak Ebonics in class.

The newsletter, Diversity Dialogue, suggests teachers use BEV to communicate with students. It says teachers can:

• “Switch into BEV in specific situations or informal discussion.”
• "Translate common phrases in Standard English into BEV.”
• “Read and retell stories in both BEV and Standard English.”

“We need to embrace the diversity they bring into our schools,” said the district’s Chief of Diversity and Leadership, Michele Hancock.

Hancock and Tyra Webb-Johnson, Director of Coaching and Leadership, wrote the newsletter. They are both former elementary school principals.

“We want (teachers) to have a better understanding of what BEV is so they can incorporate it into their teaching. That way, they're not alienating the students who are speaking the vernacular and degrading them,” Webb-Johnson said.

Ebonics was debated nationally in 1996 when the Oakland, California school district proposed using it in the curriculum.

Ebonics is defined as a speech pattern used by some African-Americans that does not follow standard grammar.

“No matter how you speak, you do need to learn the standard form so you can embrace the larger audience of people,” Hancock said. “But you can hold on to the richness of your family environment and not feel that is beneath any standard of living.”

Hancock says many people, including her own son, who graduated from college, know how to "code switch" between Standard English and Ebonics. She said students must learn to be proficient in Standard English.

“Many African-Americans are bi-dialectic in their speech patterns. I think it's critical teachers understand those speech patterns so they can effectively, visually show children how they are speaking, but not to denigrate it, but to celebrate it,” Hancock said.

13WHAM News showed the newsletter to several black leaders in the community.

“Anybody who suggests that these kids will lose their identity because they cannot be, should not be encouraged to speak Ebonics is wrong,” said school board member Van White, who is pushing to create an African-American studies department in the district. “We are not African-Americans because of how we speak, but who we are as a people.”

“I understand there's a need for teachers and students to meet on some common plane, but I'm not sure expressing that as Ebonics as that plane is a way to go,” said City Councilman Adam McFadden.

“It's acceptable in hip hop culture, but I don't think anyone would suggest the way forward for students already coming to school with severe educational deficiencies is to maintain a deficient language pattern,” said former Mayor William Johnson.

Johnson and then-Police Chief Bob Duffy fired a white police officer for writing a memo called “Ghetto Lingo,” which claimed to translate English phrases into African-American vernacular.

Hancock and Webb-Johnson say many white teachers come to them for help communicating with students. The BEV suggestion is not a mandate, they said.

“It doesn't hurt the kids. What we're saying to the children is we value what you bring. You have value,” said Hancock.

"What if one of your teachers started speaking Ebonics to you tomorrow? I would think they were crazy!" said Jada Scott, an 8th grader.

"I just think that's outrageous. Ebonics, that's something that kids speak out in the street with their friends, it's not something to be encouraged in the classroom,” said Maxine Humphrey, a high school senior.

“I think it's not a good idea,” said senior Candice Scott. “If we learn to speak Ebonics and we get into the real world, I don't think it's going to be of any help to us."

"I don't think it's a very good idea. I think it's more important for the kids to reach up to the school standards, instead of the school coming down to the kid’s level,” said parent Melynda Scott.