Tuesday, April 28, 2009

McArdle Firing

I know exactly as much as everybody else about the McArdle firing, as I'm not privy to private Board info until July 1. Peoria Pundit broke the story and has done a good job reporting it.

My thoughts are:

Proximity of firing to whistleblowing does not prove retaliatory firing; I can imagine a dozen scenarios in which the firing was justified, and a dozen scenarios in which it was retaliatory. The Board has information we do not have. Whether that information justifies firing McArdle independently of the whistleblowing on financial misconduct -- well, I imagine we'll all get to see it all during the lawsuits that are doubtless on the way.

If in fact McArdle WAS wrongfully terminated as retaliation for bringing up financial misconduct, I am absolutely furious and that is absolutely unacceptable. And regardless of whether McArdle's termination was justified, I certainly expect the Board and administration to act with the same speed and alacrity to fire those engaged in financial misconduct, as that misconduct is proved, as they have acted with in firing McArdle.

If, as the Journal Star is reporting, the District was first informed of the financial shenanigans six months ago and has failed to take action until now -- that in itself is appalling.

Journal Star coverage is here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Things You Wouldn't Think Would Be Difficult

So I was looking for a simple countdown timer for the left column there to count down to the due date, now that the question I get most often is, "What's the due date again?"

Simple turns out to be impossible. So if anyone knows of a widget that doesn't flash, doesn't count down in seconds, and doesn't involve a semi-creepy bouncing fetus (like the one I ended up picking) AND fits in the left column, I'd be much obliged.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cats & Pregnancy

Things Cats Dislike about Pregnancy:

*The disappearance of my lap.

*The appalling number of times I get out of bed in the night that does NOT result in someone feeding them (everyone knows the only reason people get out of bed is to feed the cats). The first couple times they patiently follow me to the bathroom, figuring it's a pitstop on the way to the kitchen. By time number four, they're vocally expressing their irateness.

*Rearrangement of furniture.

*My inability to refill their water bowls. I can no longer get down there and back up. I have to pour water from up high and hope my aim is good; they HATE this and refuse to drink out of them for a good ten minutes, just in case the terrifying waterfall comes back.

Things Cats Like about Pregnancy:

*The sheer quantity of things I drop, some of which are food.

*The space heater appended to my belly. I'm super-warm! They love to lean against me.

*Pregnant-lady-hormone-smell, apparently.

*My total inability to catch them. They're too fast and I'm too clumsy. There's no rule enforcement regime in this house anymore other than shouting "NO!" And definitely no vet trips.

*Morning sickness. I don't know why, but they seem to find this entertaining. I'm delighted I could provide this service for them throughout the ENTIRE pregnancy instead of cutting off the show after three months.

*Extra people naps.

*Boxes! Baby stuff comes in boxes! Cats love boxes!

Things I Dislike about Cats During Pregnancy:

*The underfoot game. I cannot step over them. I have to wait for them to move.

*Tails. See above. I step on them a lot. I miss Orange Cat, the tail-less.

*The smell of cat food.

Things I Like about Cats During Pregnancy:

*Purring and kicking. When they lean against my belly and purr, Flippy kicks like crazy towards the purring. I don't know if this is, "Get that thing away!" or "Ooooh! Neat sound!" but it amuses me every time.

*No litter for months and months and months. Thanks, toxoplasmosis!

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(Yes, I have successfully combined catblogging and mommyblogging. Yay me!)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stupid Fur-Having, Live-Bearing, Milk-Making Animalia

My primary objection to pregnancy is that it's just so mammalian. With the carrying around a live fetus for a ridiculous period of time and the LIVE-BEARING THE YOUNG, which is appalling no matter how you look at it, and then the milk-producing and breast-feeding, and the hormones -- oh, the hormones. Ugh.

I would be much happier if we could just lay eggs and be done with it. People keep telling me that sitting on an egg for nine months would be boring, and I agree that 50 years ago it would have been, but now we have the internet. I could sit still for 9 months and surf the web ... you could even telecommute!

When I told my husband I wished I'd laid an egg and how I'd be happy to sit on it for 9 months as long as I had internet access, he pointed out that if humans laid eggs, we would have been putting them in incubators for 50 years now. And I said he was probably right, except now there'd be a cadre of judgy upper-middle-class mothers who would insist that if you didn't sit on your egg 24/7 for nine months, you wouldn't be properly bonded to it and be simultaneously all holier-than-thou and martyr-y about it. And they'd make the rest of us feel like bad mothers and guilt us into feeling like we had to egg-sit whether we wanted to or not. But at least in our modern egalitarian society we could split the egg-sitting duties between parents, and we could be judgy at fathers who didn't do their share of egg-sitting.

Anyway, now every time I walk in the house, I'm trying to decide where we'd put the incubator if humans laid eggs. Would you put the incubator in the living room so everyone could admire the egg and you could keep it company? Or in the nursery so it had quiet and its own space? Or would the incubator go in the kitchen, because, well, that's where one keeps eggs?

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*Yes, I realize monotremes lay eggs. But it's a less-amusing post if I'm busy specifying placental mammals and marsupials for all you overspecific people out there.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It Just Isn't Dignified

I've passed the point in pregnancy where I can look sharp-dressed or dignified. I can still look cute, but courtroom dignified is now beyond me. I can look comfortable and pregnant or cute and pregnant or slobby and pregnant, but those are pretty much my only options at this point.

Also not contributing to my appearance of dignity: The old-man noises I make getting in and out of chairs, and the crumbs all down my front every time I eat.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

What next?

So, woah, I seem to have won. My super-exciting celebration involved reheated pizza on the couch with my husband and then bed. Flippy's celebration involved a 4:30 a.m. dance party in my uterus, which is why I'm posting so early. I gave up on getting back to sleep.

So what next? Well, I cannot attend the April 20 school board meeting -- I have Lamaze class. I'm hoping to spend this month and next month meeting people, particularly those of my new counterparts whom I haven't met, talking to people, reading and studying up like crazy, etc. I'm hoping to do most of this quietly and behind-the-scenes, as I've never been 9 months pregnant before or given birth before -- Flippy's due May 29 -- so I'm a little hesitant to make firm plans for May or June. (I'm told fetuses are quite bad at reading calendars and showing up as scheduled.) But I'm going to do everything I can to be ready to hit the ground running July 1. (Edited to be clear: The term begins July 1. This is about my plans until that time.)

If you'd like to talk with me, you can reach me via e-mail (lpetelle AT gmail DOT com), twitter (on the left there), even instant messenger (PetelleLaw on AIM), or by that dinosaur, the telephone.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

VOTE!

Don't forget to vote today! Ideally for me.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Honesty, Transparency, Accountability

Tomorrow, April 7, is the big day -- municipal elections, where I get to punch my own name on the ballot, which I'm anticipating will be kinda cool. I've been endorsed by the Peoria Journal-Star (endorsement). I just wanted to reiterate, briefly, some of my primary campaign positions. (Much of this comes from my prior post, here.)

The most crucial thing that I would like to focus on, if elected to the school board, is student achievement. That's a broad topic, and an easy thing to say, but it's clearly at the heart of what we all want for the students of District 150, and it's the purpose of the system. It's why we pay the taxes into the system. The District isn't a babysitting service. It isn't a jobs program for administrative cronies. It isn't a feeding trough for consultants. Its purpose is to educate, and District 150 should be a first choice, not a last resort. We have excellent students -- I teach some of them at ICC. We have excellent teachers. These students can achieve if we can only create the environment for them to do it. Some of the policies I would pursue include:

Free teachers to teach, as much as possible. Miring teachers down in red tape or forcing them to spend more time administering discipline than teaching is not a recipe for achievement. Obviously, there are constraints that neither the schools nor the district can change -- NCLB, for example. But within those constraints, the Board should do everything possible to create an environment where teachers can teach with a minimum of interruption and distraction and a maximum of support from principals, administration, and the Board. Micromanaging the classroom, however, is an inappropriate behavior from the School Board; teachers are professionals whose professional competency should be respected.

Create an alternative school for disruptive students. The small number of students who create real disruptions and discipline problems should not be allowed to continue disrupting the learning of those around them. At the same time, expulsion is an unattractive option, as it leaves students who are most in need of education and direction without resources to improve their lives. An alternative school -- a good alternative school, whose focus is to reintegrate the student into the mainstream and provide an excellent education until that's possible -- is necessary. Removing these seriously problematic students from the classroom will allow them to get the focused attention they need, and the other students to focus on their studies in a safe environment conducive to learning. This would be a high-cost initiative, but providing the high schools and junior highs the ability to staff a room five days a week for an "in-school suspension" as a first step is NOT a high-cost initiative, and can be effective intermediate step -- we can create one room for the high schools, one for the junior highs, at a centralized location for the cost of one superintendent salary.

Focus on "the next step" after high school. I've heard a lot of enthusiasm from current and retired teachers about improving both college prep and vocational education opportunities. Specifically, create a comprehensive college prep curriculum open to all high school students (if located at one school -- Richwoods has the most comprehensive current program -- we can cluster APs and college prep classes in the mornings and emulate suburban Chicago models where students are bussed to one school for morning APs and then back to their home school for the afternoon) and work with the unions to create a direct-entry vocational program for the skilled trades. The trades are graying, Peoria has great skilled-labor jobs available, and my plumber makes more than I do. This wouldn't be a throwaway voc-tech program, but a serious academic endeavor preparing students for demanding skilled jobs. (Bonus: Plumbers and electricians can't be outsourced or off-shored.)

However, we need to commit to programs and stick with them -- District 150 has done quite a bit of "we'll try this, no wait, now that," picking up programs and discarding them before they have a chance to work. There is no perfect program, and there are probably a variety of methods that will work to improve student achievement. But none of them will work if they're implemented for a year and then dropped; this creates confusion and waste.

A second set of issues, and ones that the Board is probably able to influence more directly, revolve around governance and communication. In recent years, there hasn't been a great deal of openness and communication from the School Board or the administration about various decisions. Stories change constantly -- "A longer school day is good for students, except when it isn't." I don't think anyone in Peoria is under any illusions about the financial status of the District, and that that constrains the District's options. It's up to the School Board to be open and honest about that, to set priorities, and to say, "Yes, that would be nice, but we can't afford it." It's up to the Board to be a voice for taxpayers and to demand accountability from the administration -- and that includes justification for expenses such as four (now three) superintendants and various consulting fees.

The simplest way to begin with the dire budget situation is to divide expenses into three tiers -- Tier I is everything that directly affects students and their education (instructional time, classroom size); Tier II is anything with indirect effects on students; Tier III is everything else. Tier III gets cut first, end of story. Tier I is cut last, if at all. Any expense on Tier II or III that wants to stick around is going to have to provide massive justification for its existence at the expense of any Tier I core functions.

The picture is less clear and less easy for buildings and maintenance, but a similar scheme can be considered. I also believe the District should consider performance contracting, a state program which updates buildings to increase their energy efficiency with no capital outlay -- the outlay comes from the state and the contractors, who are paid back out of the energy savings over time. The cost-savings take some time to appear (as they're initially paying back to capital outlay), but there is no capital outlay and the program is particularly effective with older, historic buildings that tend to be well-build, well-insulated, and nicely adaptable to modern energy efficiencies.

The closed culture of the Board and Administration has created an atmosphere of distrust. There are issues where the Board and District are legitimately constrained from public discussion -- issues that fall under FERPA, or various personnel matters that are legally private -- but this constant refusal to openly discuss issues that are open has created a situation where Peorians are no longer willing to believe the District when it says, "Trust us."

While one vote on the School Board can't change District policy alone, one person on the Board CAN communicate directly and honestly with constituents, and that would be one of my primary aims.

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On a personal note, regardless of the outcome of tomorrow's vote, I've really enjoyed running for the Board -- meeting so many people in Peoria who are so deeply invested in the future of our city, talking with my opponents, and really learning how much local democracy matters. It's been a real education for me, seeing this part of a functioning democracy from the inside, and by and large it's been a heartening experience -- watching America work the way it's meant to work, with people of good will working hard to improve their communities. Whatever the outcome, I am enormously grateful for that experience.