Thursday, May 29, 2008

Our Friendship Can Get Its Own Drivers License

I was putting together a document for my best friend today, and I realized my best friend and I have been friends for SIXTEEN YEARS in August. Which I know is not a lot for some of you people who've had best friends since kindergarten, but the Illinois school district people unfortunately did not draw the district boundaries to put us in the same school until we went to high school, where we met on the VERY first day of school, on the bus, because we both loved the song "American Pie." And I mean, that was pretty much it, instant best friends. Like the way you are in kindergarten when you're both wearing purple shoes.

It something of a mismatch of opposites -- she's a fairly secular Jew, I'm a fairly devout Catholic; she's an only child, I'm one of four; one of us is big on the bottom and one is big on the top so we could NEVER share clothes; I was a band geek, she was a cheerleader (the least perky cheerleader EVER; she's generally a happy person and it was like she put on the uniform and started hating humanity, like it was an evil magic uniform or something); and despite four years of trying, she could NEVER teach me to shimmy. I mean, seriously, how hard can it be???? But I can't do it. At all.

I went on my first date with Mr. McGee on a Saturday, and she was the one I e-mailed on Sunday to tell her I was going to marry him, because only crazy people decide to marry someone after one date, so I certainly wasn't going to tell HIM that, or anyone ELSE that, but if you can't show your crazy to your best friend, who can you show it to?

So I IMed her to tell her our friendship would be 16 in August and old enough to get its own drivers license. (When we were 16, we were busy driving around town in my grey Olds Cutlass Ciera we'd nicknamed the "mirthmobile" and asking random motorists at stoplights if they had Grey Poupon. Why? Because we were idiots, like all teenagers, that's why.)

"I hope our friendship doesn't crash the car," quoth she.

I think it'll be okay, because it's been pretty responsible so far. But we probably shouldn't let it sing any more karaoke, because only bad things came of that.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nerd Girls: Go Read Now

I have spent much of the afternoon reading "Fine Lines," a feature at Jezebel where the author reviews/reminisces about/analyzes the must-read novels for any chick bookworm growing up in the 80s. All afternoon I've been laughing out loud and going, "OMG, I totally thought that too!"

I love YA fiction generally, so this has been fantastic fun for me. Among my favorites as a child was The Girl with the Silver Eyes; one of my favorites still is Alanna: The First Adventure. Yes, I go buy every Tamora Pierce novel as it comes out, you wanna make something of it? (In fact, one of my friends who just finished a Ph.D. in children's lit went to an academic conference where Pierce was speaking and she's so super-cool she took my favorite book by Pierce (Squire, from the "Protector of the Small" series) and got it autographed for me. Tamora Pierce autographed it in purple ink, which is also super-cool.)

But one important question reading these Fine Lines raised for me, and for half the commentors on the post, and I expect for all my female readers of about my age, is: WHY THE HELL WERE OUR MOTHERS LETTING US READ V.C. ANDREWS AT AGE 12? That shit's DISTURBING. Of course nobody much over the age of 12 is interested in reading V.C. Andrews because it's absolute trash -- entertaining, fast-reading, titillating trash, but still trash, and of course adults have access to higher-quality trash. (And reading V.C. Andrews in junior high doesn't seem to have done me any lasting harm, other than a continuing dislike of codicils since they lead to children being locked up in attics and poisoning people with arsenic-topped doughnuts.)

Mr. McGee's comment upon my questioning why everyone reads V.C. Andrews at age 12 given its disturbing content was something to the effect of, "There's plenty of disturbing content in things children read, like the Iliad and the Odyssey."

Which makes me think I didn't adequately explain how V.C. Andrews works, because there's not really a universe in which V.C. Andrews should be mentioned in the same sentence as Homer. Aw, crap, now I went and did it too.

I'm slightly tempted to go read Flowers in the Attic now, but I think The Witch of Blackbird Pond is calling my name. (Did anyone else read that other colonial young adult novel, the one where she lives in this Puritan settlement and gets kidnapped by Indians and escapes to Quebec or somewhere and becomes a dressmaker and gets all interesting and lively and is going to marry this wealthy French-speaking guy and then her Puritan boyfriend shows up to take her home and turn her into a dull-ass, black-wearing, fun-hating Puritan, and in the most disappointing YA novel ending EVER, she totally goes with him? What was that book?)

(Oh, wait, the internet says it's Calico Captive and it's by Elizabeth George Spears too, which is probably why I thought of it. So don't read that one.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Like a Girl

"Wednesday morning?" says I.

*Hysterical laughter*

"....."

"I'm sorry, we're having a terrible thunderstorm." *Giggles*

"Right, I'm having it too."

"Well, we just had a lightning strike right outside the garage bay. One of the technicians screamed like a girl." *Hysterical laughter*

"AWESOME."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mr. McGee in PJ Star

There's a nice interview with my husband in the Lawn & Garden section of the Peoria Journal-Star today, talking about our reel mower. Jenny Davis did a great job, as usual! It doesn't appear to be up on the PJS's website, or I'd link to it.

Oh, PS -- we'd appreciate a couple of extra copies so we can mail one to his mom if anyone has the section lying around. :)

Update: Thanks Dewayne -- he caught it online so you can check it out if you want!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

District 150 Needs to Change

As every single one of my Peoria readers knows, District 150 wants to cut 45 minutes out of the elementary school day to save $645,000ish, or 1/2 of 1% of their budget. Not a big impact on the budget, but obviously a huge impact on the children of Peoria. (See Diane Vespa's ongoing coverage.)

District 150 is wickedly difficult to run. I get that. It's operating under catastrophic budget issues left to it by Kay Royster and the Aaron Schock-led school board. (Seriously, people, do not give him power over federal taxing and spending. SERIOUSLY.) There's a shortage of qualified superintendents in Illinois, and nationwide. (If Paul Vallas is available, Peoria, GRAB THAT MAN WITH BOTH HANDS AND DON'T LET GO.) Almost 3/4 of District 150 students -- 69.3% in 2007 -- are low-income. A third of them (30.1%) move every year. Out of 14,000ish students, 686 are reported as chronically-truant, but I don't think that number tells even half the story: You talk to teachers in the district, and you hear kindergarten teachers talking about KINDERGARTENERS who are truant because they're at home caring for even younger children! These are problems the district can't do much about, other than the legacy budget issues.

But District 150 is making a botch of it left, right, and center. It would help immeasurably if the School Board and administration of District 150 would address the following issues:

OPENNESS: Operate under an openness policy. It seems to me that the District leadership has developed a defensive posture, which appears to be a combination of 1) a desire to discuss sensitive (but public) matters behind closed doors to avoid controversy; 2) a sense that, because sensitive issues are kept private, citizens "don't understand" the issues and so should accept the leadership at its word; and 3) a dislike of coming under criticism. There's also a history of crap PR-driven "justifications" for decisions the District leadership has made. As many have cited, the District in the past claimed we needed to spend more to expand the elementary school day to achieve educational excellence. Now the District claims we need to contract the elementary school day to achieve educational excellence. And that whole Glen Oak Primary debacle was full of misdirection and confusion.

Solutions: Bring it all out into the open, kiddos. District 150 is a public body and the public has the right to run it. LET US. Be honest. Don't feed us a bullshit line about shorter school days leading to educational excellence. Tell us the budget is in dire straits and we have to make tough choices -- whether that choice is a tax referendum, closing certain schools, jettisoning administrators, shortening the school day, or just fiddling while Rome burns. That choice is OURS, not yours, and you might be shocked how many District 150 parents and taxpayers understand the concept of "tough choices."

Understand that your history of closed-doors and misdirection and PR-babble is going to take time to overcome, and only openness, forthrightness, and honesty will do that -- and that includes making a SHOW of honesty as well as actually being honest. You must avoid even the appearance of half-truths or secret knowledge or generalized obfuscation.

(Also, if criticism makes you publicly defensive, neither school administration or public office is the proper place for you to be. Be defensive at home to your spouse or dedicated sounding board. You answer to the public at work, and the public is critical. Which brings us to:)

ANSWER THE PUBLIC: There's enormous frustration in Peoria about the refusal of the School Board and administration to address issues of public concern, instead focusing on the leadership's latest concern -- which has come to mean, in the public mind, the leadership's latest harebrained scheme. Administrator top-heaviness is one notable issue; the entire Glen Oak debacle was another.

Solutions: Answer public concerns. If that means you have to hold an extra school board meeting, or Hinton sits down at a "listening session" every month for a year, then that's what it means. We employ you. We have a right to answers to OUR concerns. Hinton made $202,390 for 2006-2007; the median household salary in Peoria is $40,276. We have two associate and one assistant superintendents. ALL of our high schools have failed NCLB's Adequate Yearly Progress measures. ONE THIRD of our schools are in school improvement status under NCLB (9 of 30: Manual High School; Sterling, Trewyn, and Lincoln Middle Schools; Loucks-Edison, Tyng, Harrison, and Garfield Primary Schools; and Roosevelt Magnet). It's not unfair for parents and taxpayers to demand justification for the administrative salaries and the number of administrators in District 150 when our district is failing so badly. Are all those administrators worth their feed? I realize school administration, particularly in a district with the challenges District 150 faces, is a complex and difficult job. However, it's up to the administration to make its case persuasively to parents and to answer their concerns. When we're down to cutting 45 minutes from the elementary school day to save a paltry $645,000, when we've come to the point where we can't even afford educational TIME, I think whether we can afford our present administration is a totally legitimate question, particularly when the administration has failed to deliver important objectives.

CONSULTANTS AND OTHER ODD EXPENSES: How many do we need, seriously? Isn't making educational decisions what we pay four superintendents for? Haven't the past several basically told us things that were either common sense or that we already knew?

Solutions: Consulting itself is an issue, but it also stands in for a larger issue of non-instructional expenses not directly related to running the school's physical plant, and the need for those expenses to be justified to taxpayers.

If the consultants are adding value that justifies what we're paying them, the district needs to make that case persuasively to parents and taxpayers. And for the consulting that's necessary, couldn't some of it be provided pro-bono locally? We have multiple colleges locally with education departments with talented professors with a lot of expertise in these problems. We have the Great Yellow God (I say that affectionately), Caterpillar, which has Six Sigma experts out the wazoo and has shown willingness in the past to work with local governmental bodies and lend its expertise and/or snowplows. Heck, we have at-home moms with kids in the district who were high-powered attorneys, PR professionals, consultants, corporate planners, accountants, etc., before opting to stay home. Why aren't we drawing on that resource? We have retired professionals invested in the community. What about them? And for consulting that must be outsourced to specialists, how much of the work (data gathering, etc.) can we do in-house? Will they work with us to cut those costs to the bone?

BOTTOM LINE: The bottom line is this: I don't want to move. I like living in Peoria. I like living south of War Memorial, where there are sidewalks (in questionable repair, but sidewalks) and neighborhoods and I can walk to most things, instead of up north in car-focused subdivisions (not neighborhoods) where you must drive everywhere. I believe in public schools; I don't want to have to opt out of the public system or move to get my hypothetical children an adequate education.

There are great teachers in District 150; I serve with some in the Junior League, I know others socially. There are great students in District 150, too: I get them in my classroom at ICC, so I feel uniquely well-suited to say, "Heck yes, District 150 can provide a great college-prep education." But what we don't have is a great District, and I'm so afraid that the failing District will drive out the great teachers and take the great students down with it. It's time to stop rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It has to change. It's time to change.

And if they won't change?

Throw the bums out.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Finals Grading: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

It's that time again -- well, it's been that time for the last week and a half, and yesterday I posted two sets of grades, so I have two left (my biggest class and my smallest class). Lots of eyestrain, lots of Euro-trance music for motivation (DJ Tiesto FTW!), lots of pounding the desk with my head in frustration.

Good: So-so student who showed up, did the work, but never seemed to really "get it" and her grades reflected that. I helped her pick a book I thought would interest her for her term paper, which it did, and she knocked that sucker out of the park, so far out on to Waveland that she pulled an "A" for the class. Woohoo!

Bad: Take-home final so dog-eared (after a long weekend in the student's possession) that it was falling apart as I graded it. It also reeked so strongly of smoke that I had to air it out before I could stand to grade it. Sign you smoke too much: When your professors can't grade your papers without coughing fits.

Ugly: When it says in all caps on the instructions for the paper "NO FIRST OR SECOND PERSON," I wasn't actually kidding. Hence the all-caps.

When I said, "You may not cite to Cliff's Notes or SparkNotes," I wasn't kidding about that either. Hence the italics.

"Everybody's immoral in America today," is actually an assertion, not a fact that backs up your thesis that some philosopher was right about moral decay.

Inserting random numbers in your text is not actually "citation." (And you thought I wouldn't check, ha!)

Britney Spears does not work for Disney; Jamie-Lynn worked for Nickelodeon and is the one who got pregnant at 16. (At least get pop-culture references correct! And it's "Britney," not "Brittany.")

Eight pages describing the plots of random Japanese movies I have never heard of is not actually a thesis, particularly when the paper never even mentions the book it's ostensibly about.

On a final note: Staplers are not strange and exotic creatures that can only be captured by the light of the full moon in the deepest forests of Borneo. You can actually purchase them at the grocery store. Maybe even a red Swingline. For the love of God, students, BUY STAPLERS AND USE THEM.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Objection! Objection!

Some lawyers think if they just object to everything, whether their objections have any merit or not, they can win by turning every hearing into a war of attrition. My husband's analysis of a recent frustrating hearing he had:

"Objection, your Honor! I think I heard some argument in his argument!"

"Sustained."

"Objection, your Honor! He's citing to case law!"

"Sustained. Counselor, please restrain yourself."

Extension Regains 2008 Funding

(Note: I tried to format this thing three times. It is determined to be ugly.)

Press Release from the U of I Extension:


Fiscal Year 2008 Funded for U of I Extension, Focus Shifts to 2009

Contact: Gary Beaumont, 217-333-9440, beaumont@uiuc.edu

Urbana -- On May 2, 2008, University of Illinois Extension received the memorandum of agreements from the Illinois Department of Agriculture for fiscal year 2008 funding. Two line items have been in question, County Board Match funds ($12.8 million) and the Cook County Initiative funds ($5.055 million). These two line items were included in the FY08 State of Illinois budget that was signed into law late in August 2007, but the distribution of funds was held up until now.

County Board Match funds are provided by the State in support of Extension programs at the county level. All counties provide funding for their local Extension offices. The state, in turn, matches this funding.

The Cook County Initiative is targeted funding for Extension to address the critical needs of audiences in Cook County . Funds have been appropriated annually since FY06.

"Since the receipt of the memorandum of agreements, they have been under internal review and the signature process is underway at the university level," said Dennis Campion, director of University of Illinois Extension . "After all the university signatures are in place, the agreements will be returned to IDOA for signature and processing, so it may still take one or two weeks before payments arrive."

Campion expects two payments, one to catch up through the first three quarters of the fiscal year and then a final payment expected to arrive sometime during the fourth quarter. The State of Illinois fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.

Also, a sum of $33,900 will also be received for U of I Extension's 4-H Youth Development program.

"At this time this is the only amount that we have for this purpose. We continue to seek clarification regarding the intentions of the legislature regarding these funds," said Campion.

In August 2007, Governor Blagojevich line-item vetoed funding for 29 youth development educator positions from the FY08 Illinois budget. Last year, Extension issued notices of non-reappointment for people in these positions.

There are bills in the House and Senate to reinstate 4-H youth development funds. SB1921 and HB4228 are posted for hearing by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, May 8, 2008. Extension Partners (extensionpartners.org) will continue to work for youth development funds with a goal of having an Extension youth education position for every county in Illinois .

U of I Extension was in unprecedented territory with the threat of total rescission of its funds. Typically these funds are delayed in arriving on time, but have never been rescinded.

Extension is now turning its attention to fiscal year 2009.

"While there are good intentions, we have heard a variety of budgeted amounts for County Board Match, Cook County Initiative and youth development funding. With this amount of uncertainty in the system, we continue to review plans to protect the overall financial health of our organization," said Campion.

"Until a more thorough organizational outlook is undertaken, existing terminal contracts and layoff notices will not be rescinded at this time."

-30-

Monday, May 05, 2008

Students Do the Darndest Things

The reason syllabuses (syllabi?) grow every year is that students constantly come up with new ways to do things wrong that never occurred to you when you wrote it.

I just read a term paper from a student, a research paper, where the student clearly just typed up her lecture notes from my lecture -- complete with random digressions into totally unrelated topics where a student asked a question or I started making a comparison to something else to clarify a concept. I'm reading along going, "This is oddly organized for a research paper" and "This seems familiar." Eventually it dawned on me that it was a lecture I just gave, complete with sentence fragments that I realized were the section headers I write on the board to keep myself on track!

D'oh.

I suppose it's at least a couple steps up from last semester when I had a student plagiarize SparkNotes (I mean, seriously? SparkNotes?) and then get VERY INCENSED when I called her on it.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Cleaning Out My Purse

I changed purses for spring, and cleaning out my last purse I ended up with an entire desktop full of crap. Huge variety of bizarre stuff, but the weirdest thing hiding out in my purse was not one, not two, but THREE screwdrivers:

A pocket screwdriver.

A Leatherman.

And a full-sized phillips-head.

I mean ... whiskey tango foxtrot?