Sunday, December 18, 2011

Anonymous Myths on BOCES Debunked

"The Board of Ed does not even understand the BOCES fees and charges..."

First, participation in BOCES is a state mandate.  Back when BOCES (Board of Cooperative Education Services) were first formed in the 1940's, the big 5 cities were excluded and districts were given a chance to opt out.  Only one district in Westchester, Mamaroneck chose to opt out.  Once that initial decision was made some 70+ years ago, BOCES is like a roach motel.  You can check in, but you can never check out.

The Board knows full well about BOCES charges.  I am not so sure that NCN did an adequate job explaining them as many comments seemed to be based on either incomplete or inaccurate knowledge.  BOCES charges are in our budget every year.  BOCES is used for many different reasons.  One, obviously, are the on-site educational services.  They are invaluable to the students and save the district significant amounts of money versus creating our own program for a handful of students.  In fact, that is the point.  BOCES was set up to be a more efficient and cost effective way to handle certain types and parts of the FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education).

There appears to be some confusion regarding the annual costs.  We are not being charged $2 million (or close to that) for sending a 12 students there.  The charges for the 12 students are only part of the overall BOCES costs.

We also currently use BOCES for their expertise in certain areas as well as their ability to coordinate and share services inter-district.  For example, we are working through BOCES to develop on-line learning opportunities.  Through BOCES several Westchester districts are developing on-line courses that will allow districts to share the resources and the expenses of developing the resources.  We anticipate being able to increase our course offerings in the future to include on-line classes developed through BOCES that would not otherwise be economically feasible to develop and offer on our own.

BOCES is also used as a purchasing co-op for its member districts.  We use them to lower the price of certain items and services for the district.  In addition, we are able to use (purchase) certain administrative services that we would otherwise not have the need for a full time staff member to do.  These purchasing costs are a pass through from BOCES.  They will appear on the BOCES expense line because we are being billed by BOCES to pay the vendor, but they are not necessarily BOCES services per se.

The district is charged in two ways from BOCES.  One, we are charged an annual allocation of administrative and operational costs.  Two, we are charged directly for the services we use and the co-op purchases we make.  The latter is obvious and easy to appreciate.  The former is less obvious.  We are required to be part of BOCES.

Looked at another way, what would be the affect on the district's budget if there were no BOCES?  Would we spend the same, more or less?  As I have been told, Mamaroneck's analysis of not being a member is that it is about the same in annual costs to the district as if they were a member.  They purchase services a la carte from the Northern and the Southern Westchester BOCES.  It is my opinion that you would have to break down the expense into its components.

For example, we would clearly spend more on the goods and services we use/buy as part of the co-op buying service.  The only time we use BOCES for that now is if it would save us money vis a vis purchasing it on our own.  For the educational services provided to the students we send to classes at BOCES, we would spend considerably more without BOCES.  Educating one student versus spreading the cost over several or many similarly situated students is prohibitive.  The question becomes, does the cost savings from co-op purchasing whether it is goods and services or education related classes out weigh the expense of simply being a member and getting an allocation of annual administrative /operating expenses.

There are other costs associated with BOCES that don't show up in the BOCES lines on our budget.  For example, the cost of transportation to and from BOCES for our students is part of our transportation costs.  And there are cost savings we accrue by being an inclusive district that otherwise would likely be part of BOCES.  Educating our students in district within the general population not only is a significant benefit academically and socially to both the students in need of services as well as their classmates without, it is cost savings to the district.

The BOCES budget itself, is very similar to its component district's budgets.  Most of the cost are personnel related for salaries and benefits.  It cannot borrow money itself, so it has not debt service.  As a member district, we act as our taxpayers act in relation to our district/board.  We can and do demand efficiencies, we expect them to reduce administrative head count in order to lower benefits expense, we expect them to keep plain old administrative operating expenses in check, and we question what are appropriate course offerings.    But we are only one member district and our opinion does not always rule the day.  There are clearly districts that are much heavier users of BOCES services that derive a much larger benefit from being part of the co-op.  Just like Westchester County does not get back tax dollars from the state in the form of services that it pays in taxes, some districts like the CCSD do not benefit as much as others.  But, we are mandated to remain part of the system just like residents of Westchester cannot opt out of the State tax system.

I don't want to mislead anyone and say that if we were not required to be part, we would withdraw.  That decision would take a lot of analysis and prioritizing of what it is that the district wants to provide its residents.

The difference though from a non-member and a member in terms of cost really comes to the forefront when there is a cash call for facilities improvements like we are faced with now.  Whereas non-members are faced with higher user fees than members for services, non-members are not being asked to help defray the cost of the facilities upgrades and repairs.  It is no different than owning an apartment in a co-op building.  There are occasionally capital repairs that require the building board to issue a one-time assessment.

The Board is certainly aware that our annual administration charges are based on a formula that is 50% a measure of wealth as defined by property values and 50% by number of students in the district.  This is actually a change from 100% based on property value wealth that used to be what the formula used.  NWBOCES applied for and got an exception from the State of NY to change the formula to 50-50.

As part of the annual allocation of expenses, there is a capital cost included.  That is supposed to be used for facilities maintenance and the like.  I believe that last year we paid $70,000 toward that.  It is clear that BOCES has not been doing proper maintenance or proper planning.  The majority of what they are asking for is for structural repairs (flat roofs need replacement).  This capital call raises many questions independent of how BOCES is operated and expenses shared on an annual operating basis.

What was our capital costs used for all these years if there are still millions of dollars in repairs needed?  Why weren't these repairs or replacements done periodically to avoid this sort of one time expense?  Why was there no replacement plan that could have been discussed with member districts so that we could properly plan ourselves for upcoming costs?  Finally, who should pay for facility repairs and upgrades, users, member districts or some combination?

Simply put, on a relative basis, relative to other members of the BOCES and relative to our own local education usage, we do not use the facilities anywhere near what most other districts use.  Our ~12 students are not a material part of the wear and tear on the buildings.  Asking the CCSD to pay for the repairs based on property valuations and wealth vis a vis other districts is a regressive tax on our community members.  One suggestion to BOCES at our meeting was to charge users a prorata cost, not member districts.  Districts that use services but are not part of our BOCES are not being given an allocation of these costs.

Know too that we are not the only district grappling with this issue.  A majority of the districts have questioned the surprise nature of the critical need for repairs as well as BOCES costs structure in general.  I know of several districts that are meeting again with BOCES prior to their vote to express their displeasure with this situation.  One suggestion that seems to be gathering momentum is to reduce the size of the capital request to a bare minimum level needed to keep the facilities operating without upgrade.

To clarify, while our district's allocation is about $1.5 million, we would borrow the funds and repay them over time.  The annual cost to the district would be around $90,000 according to the administration.  If the proposal is voted down by the member districts and we are forced to pay for this on an ad hoc emergency basis, the costs to the district would likely be higher.  In fact, Bedford voted yes because of its fear that a no vote would cost more.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In Honor of and In Tribute To

I have three children in the high school.  While that has many implications, it primarily means that I make many trips to the high school each week.  One week, I counted 21 individual round trips to the high school.  If you drive to the schools enough, you start to notice subtle changes.  Since the beginning of the year, I have noticed the flag flying at half-staff almost every time I went to the school. I made a mental note to myself as part of the Facilities Committee to ask Joe Gramando if the flag pole was broken.  I just assumed it was as the flag was flying at half-staff nearly everyday.  When I finally got around to asking Joe if the flag pole was broken, he told me why the flag is flown so often these days at half-staff.

The flag has been flown at half-staff in order to honor the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country.  Other than federal holidays and federal decrees, the flag is flown at half-staff at the order of the Governor.  Governor Cuomo, in a change from the prior administration, has ordered state government and school flags flown at half-staff in honor of and in tribute to soldiers, either from New York or stationed at a base in New York, who have died in the line of duty.  Unfortunately, there have been many of them lately.  Obviously, one is too many, but there have been more than that.  The Governor's office sends an email to the district to notify us when to fly the flag at half-staff and why.

The emails from Albany include a brief description of the deceased soldier and the action that lead to his or her death.  It is quite sobering to read them.  If you ever want to know the particulars, you can go to the Governor's website or ask me, I now get copied on the emails.

Here is what was written in the email sent to the district on November 28th for flying the flag at half-staff on the 29th of November:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has directed that flags on state government buildings be flown at half-staff on Tuesday, November 29 in honor of a Fort Drum soldier who died in Kandahar province, Afghanistan on November 21.

Private Jackie L. Diener II died of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire. He was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum. Private Diener was from Boyne City, Michigan.

"I join with all New Yorkers in mourning the loss of Private Diener and I send my deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and fellow soldiers," Governor Cuomo said. "We will honor the service of this Fort Drum soldier and we will be forever grateful for his dedication to our nation."

I join with the Governor in mourning the loss of Private Diener and in sending my deepest sympathies to his family, friends and fellow soldiers.

Now, when you drive up to any of the schools in the district and you see that the flag is at half-staff take a moment to remember why it is flown that way, to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices made daily by our soldiers for our country, and to hug your school-aged child who might one day be a United States soldier.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Does Bill Clinton Read His School District Website?

In the news today, former President Bill Clinton in a joint press conference with President Obama talked about retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency.  It is part of President Obams'a "Better Building Initiative". This article states,
Noting rural communities like his new hometown of Chappaqua, N.Y., Clinton added: "Every little county has got one bonded contractor. That bonded contractor can guarantee to every public school, every state, county and local building, every little office building ... what the savings are going to be."
All the former President has to do is go about a mile down the road from his house to Horace Greeley High School to see this in action.  The district recently signed an Energy Performance Contract with Johnson Controls that guarantees that the cost savings from the upgrades to district facilities will pay for the cost of the improvements themselves.  Or, over the term of the agreement, there is no net cost to the taxpayer for significant improvements to the district's infrastructure.

Maybe President Clinton reads the Chappaqua Central School District website.  If he does, he would have seen this article posted to the CCSD site on the energy performance contract.  Right here in his adopted hometown we are going green and according to his analysis helping to create jobs!  Too bad he doesn't give Joe Gramando, John Chow and the district credit for being an early adapter and proactively green.

Energy Performance Contract - Phase 1 Project Timeline


To support the administration and faculty in their efforts to create a rich and dynamic learning environment that will prepare students to be productive members of an increasingly global community of limited natural resources, the District entered into a long-term Energy Performance Contract with Johnson Controls in July 2011. 

Basically, an energy performance contract is a financing tool that utilizes cost savings from increased building efficiency and reduced energy consumption to pay for the cost of installing new energy conservation measures - without any up front capital expenses.  

The contract agreement is for Johnson Controls to guarantee that the savings (plus building aid the District receives from the state) will meet or exceed the annual payments to cover all project costs, and that Johnson Controls pay the difference if at any time energy savings do not materialize.

Phase I of the energy performance contract brings improvements to all 6 school building, the Education Center and the Chappaqua Public Library. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Anonymous Comments Revisited. Again.

This weekend, The Journal New's online site,, informed its readers it would no longer be allowing anonymous comments.  Here is a link to that article.  Essentially, LoHud concluded that anonymous comments do not work.  They do not lead to a civil dialogue among community members.  They even cited the fact that the same person often comments under different names in the same article.

I wrote two posts about anonymous comments, linked here and here.  I do not allow anonymous comments on this blog.  I encourage comments from anyone who wants to post, just not under the anonymous tag.  It is my strong belief that every community, including ours, should have an open and continuous dialogue about the issues it faces.  Anonymous comments do not contribute to that dialogue for the most part.  I recognize that there may be reasons why you would want to keep separate your professional and private lives, but, for the significant majority who have nothing to hide, associating your name to a comment leads to civil dialogue.

It is worth reposting this link from one of my earlier posts.  In it Jeffrey Weiss does a terrific job explaining the pitfalls he encountered moderating anonymous comments and why his newspaper blog switched to signed comments.

I am asked occasionally how I, as a member of the CCSD Board of Ed, could not put much credence in anonymous comments in local blogs.  Putting aside any content in the comments, how do I know that the person commenting even resides in the CCSD?  How do I know that folks aren't posting multiple times under different tags in order to make it seem as if what their point of view is more prevalent than it actually is, essentially, having conversations with themselves in the comment section?  If the posts are edited or moderated, how do I know if comments made are even getting posted?  If all comments are not posted as written, am I relying on the biases of the person doing the moderating to determine what it is I do and do not see?

John Hatcher on brings up a very good point.  He writes, for you, "the reader, knowing who I am helps you decide both if you want to spend your time reading what I have to say and whether you think I know what I’m talking about. You want to know if I have credibility."  For me, it is important to consider the source when evaluating the value of a comment or statement.  It goes to expertise and credibility.

A byproduct of disallowing anonymous posts means there is less need for moderation in terms of checking comments before posting.  It would allow for moderation to be done after the post, thus allowing for posting on a real-time basis and essentially creating an actual community dialogue.

As for the tone and civility of anonymous comments, that is for a different post.  I happen to come from a point of view that appreciates civility and a collegial tone even if I disagree with what is being written.  I know there are a lot of ways to provide constructive criticism, to argue against ideas and to disagree in general and still remain respectful and civil.  After all, aren't we all neighbors?

Good on you (Gannet) for recognizing that civil discourse is more apt to occur without anonymous posting.

Monday, November 21, 2011

2008 Greeley Grad Earns Rhodes Scholarship

Edit:  Here is a link to the district website story that is much better written and more complete than below.  Again, congrats to Brett!


Brett Rosenberg 2008 Horace Greeley graduate and current Harvard University student was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship on Sunday.  At Harvard, her focus/concentration is history.  At Greeley she was an all-around terrific student (natch), star of the cross-country team and wonderful person/friend according to several people I spoke to today.

HGHS principal, Andrew Selesnick said, "You could not ask for a nicer, more deserving young woman to win such a prestigious award."  Her father, Marc Rosenberg, quoted in the Daily Chappaqua said, "She was extremely excited when she called us."

Brett is also a writer.  A good writer with a sense of humor.  Here is a link to some of what she wrote for the Harvard Magazine.  I particularly like the "Black and White—and the Red, White, and Bluearticle.

Congratualtions, Brett!  Off to Oxford University.  Cheers, mate.

The Daily Chappaqua posted this article late this evening. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Idea/Experiment to Try to Facilitate Communication

I set up a new blog, CCSD Community Comments, ( so that anyone who wishes to comment to me on School Board subjects, anonymously or named, can do so. This idea came about when an anonymous commenter on NCN complained that we as Board of Ed members may not be reading NCN on a regular basis.  The new site will serve as sort of a public wall where anyone is free to post comments with the expectation that I will read them all.

The way the new site is setup, there is no need to wait for a post (or in the case of the Patch or NCN a story) about a specific topic.  I posted three blank posts, title only with a one sentence body explaining the subject,  that will allow for comments to be posted immediately without moderation.  (I reserve the right to delete spam, personal attacks and inappropriate comments.)  Also, NCN does not post comments on a timely basis which is a significant hindrance to having an active conversation with your neighbors.  This addresses the time lag which often leads to people talking over one another or at one another, not with each other.  With this new site, comment any time on any subject and I will read it.  Your neighbors can also read all the comments and can comment themselves.  Real time.  The three comment areas are: 1) General Comments, 2) Middle School Schedules and 3) the Budget.  I will add topics as warranted.

I will continue to make this the site where I post my content.  You are still welcome  to post comments here, although I do not accept anonymous comments on this site.

I must disclaim that this new site (and this one you are reading now) is a personal site of mine, has nothing to do with the district or the district's site or any other Board member.  Of course, anyone is free to read it and post on it.  If it turns out to be a civilogue (civil dialogue on the important relevant issues the CCSD is facing), maybe the district and the town could find a way to host their own discussions.

Censorship Sucks

Today is American Censorship Day.  Congress is holding a hearing starting today on the first American Internet Censorship System.  If this passes, it will be a blow to free speech and privacy.  Let your representative know how you feel (either way) about this.

Today is American Censorship Day.  Congress is holding a hearing starting today on the first American Internet Censorship System.  If this passes, it will be a blow to free speech and privacy.  Let your representative know how you feel (either way) about this. (Click black censorship banner for details.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Middle School Schedule

A few residents have asked me about my thoughts on the middle school schedule and middle school consolidation.  I apologize, but I have no comment on the middle school schedule at this time, not because the cabal  Board is secretly debating this and will present it as a fait accompli, but because the Board has not yet seen the presentation, the details or the data.  (I have seen the data on consolidation --enrollment and facility capacity -- and I am convinced that it is not feasible to close/sell one middle school at this time.  That should be a dynamic decision, considered yearly.)

In a tip of the hat to Superintendent Dr. Lyn Mckay, she has decided to go out to the community, to seek input from residents, staff and education experts before presenting her findings and thoughts to the Board of Ed.  While Dr. Mckay did make the Board aware of the outline of what was going to be presented at her Knowledge Cafe, I was unable to attend the Cafe itself so I do not have the level of detail that was presented.  I expect to have it presented to the Board at our November 15th meeting.  If you missed Dr. Mckay's presentation and discussion with the community, attend the Board meeting or watch the video embedded below from NCCMC or a video of the upcoming Board meeting.

Also, for those of you who did attend or who have specific knowledge, an expertise or an opinion, please come to the November 15th Board meeting and make yourself heard.  At the last meeting, at the end when we announce future meetings, Board President Kiesel indicated that we are prepared to move our meeting from the academic commons to the auditorium if there is an expected high turnout.

There are two things I can (and should) say at this time. One, as full disclosure, prior to my service on the Board, when Seven Bridges was first being built, knowing only a parent's instinct, I was in favor, if there was going to be an additional middle school, of having one school be a 5-6 and the other a 7-8.  Second, at this point in time, for me, the decision will be a trade-off between educational merits and cost.  That is, all things being equal on the educational alternatives, we should make cost a significant driver of the final decision.   Of course, if there are appreciable differences in the educational outcome from the alternatives proposed, then we need to consider that first.  But, we are at a point where cost, or cost savings, should be considered strongly.

Any and all feedback is welcome.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Proud Resident of New Castle and CCSD

Photo By Larry Clark; Muscle by HGHS Varsity Football
Varsity Football players pushing cars on 117 on way home from game.
Link to other photos from Larry Clark

Below is an edited version of an email I sent to my fellow Board members and the administration late on Saturday night.  Turns out, that because of the power outage at the Ed Center, it did not go out until later.  I altered the letter for publication, to remove any personal references, and to make it more blog readable.  As 97.3% of it is unedited, you get the point.  I also apologize for the length and stream of consciousness style, but for anyone who knows me well or whose child has had me as a coach, you know I tend to rant and ramble in my emails.  And with special thanks to the parents on the New Castle Knights/Hornets+, I now try to give the important stuff in paragraph one (I'm Ok; the bull is dead.)  and the rest is the details.

Alyson, Randy, Vicky, Karen, Lyn, John, Eric, et al:
I am writing to tell you all how proud I am of the district and our community after watching some events unfold today.
First, at 9:00am, I watched our JV Football team beat, crush actually, Spring Valley on a cold, windy and begining to snow field here at HGHS.  The Varsity team was to play at Spring Valley at 1:30.  The team left for SV on two buses at 11:30ish.  I left at noon.  It was snowing hard when I left and the roads were trecherous.  Quite frankly, as a parent I was concerned about the buses crossing the Tappan Zee and heading deeper into the storm, but not wanting to be the paniced parent or the over protective one, I grinned and bore it.
Just past the Tap, hard to see, but by the side of the road was a Chappaqua Transportation bus.  I recognized the number 390 as one that had left with the football team.  (I am weird that way with bus numbers, license plates and other random numbers.  Weird in other ways too, but that is another email.)  It is slippery and slow going, but I manage to pull over about 20 yards in front of the bus.  I figure as a parent and BoE person I should check on the kids' well being.
It was hard to tell about the boys because they were not on the bus.  They had all immediately piled onto the other bus and continued on their way.  I found out later that the entire bus started smelling an odor and the driver determined the bus was overheating, contacted the other driver and they arranged to make the transfer.  I get back in my truck and continued to the field.
By this time, it is blizzard like conditions when we arrive at the field.  I talk to the bus driver who made it and he tells me that Joan is sending a mechanic and another bus.  I am a little amazed.  Sending the third bus to replace the broken one would be the proper thing to do most any day, but today, it sort of seemed like throwing good money after bad.  It was so hard going on the roads that I did not think it safe to have him drive.*
Anyway, I walk to the field and it is covered, really covered in about 4-5 inches of snow.  You cannot see the field at all.  The refs are up to their ankles in snow.  At this point, there were only two other people in the stands.  Of course they were Chappaqua parents!  If you know the football team and its fans, you knew that more would show too.  They did.
The whole thing is surreal.  The players are taking running slides in the snow having fun.  They decide that since we are there, we should play the game.  I think if they had had some foresight, they would have called it off early in the morning.  Of course, to top off the crazy scene, when they start the national anthem, I guess for all 5 of us in the stands and the two teams, it is James Marshall Hendrix (aka Jimi) playing the anthem on his heavily distorted guitar.
The game starts and it is what you would expect from a game played in a literal blizzard.  Neither team can move the ball, neither can punt it nor place kick it.  But boy do the boys look like they are enjoying themselves!  By now, an additional 10-15 Greeley parents (and brothers AJ and Koby!) have shown up.  Mostly the regulars who support the players regardless.  There were two SV parents there the entire time.
Since we decided to stand in front of the press box where there was an overhang and where we figured we could hear what the coaches were saying since we could not actually see the field if we looked left into the storm, we found out that a lot of the families in SV hail from the islands and there was no way they would be out in this.  Interestingly, both my sons told me that the other team's players were real nice, real funny and complaining about the cold the entire game. 
At half time the score was 0-0.  It was obvious that if any team found a way to score, it would likely be the winning score.  It took until midway through the fourth quarter, but we finally managed a touchdown!  The game ended 7-0 Greeley!!
But there was still the problem of getting home and doing it safely.  At that point we did not know the 2nd bus had arrived.  The few parents had already taken count and were prepared to take 3 or 4 players in their cars to get them home safely.  Normally, Coach T requires that the players all take the team bus to and from every game.  None of hopping a ride with mom or dad like they do in middle school.  Today, as we all gathered at the buses in the lot afterwards, Coach T, unhesitatedly made the announcement that parents could take their kids.  I guess it was sort of a reward for the families that traveled and supported the teams - if having a cold, wet and smelly football player in full pads in your car is a "reward". 
These boys were exhausted and COLD.  Most had on an Under Armour shirt of some sort and not much else besides their pads and uniform.  They were wet too!  The boys got on the buses with the parents and some support staff following behind caravan style.  Immediately, within a 1/4 mile of the lot, we were stuck in a mess of cars slipping and sliding. 
The drivers did an amazing job being cautious and persistent with the buses.*  It took about two hours to get to 117 in Pleasantville, normally a 30-35 minute ride.  But we were stuck once again on 117.  A lot of cars were sliding and spinning their wheels.  So what did our cold, wet and tired players do?  They got off the bus and started to help push cars out of the snow or to the side of the road. They saw a problem, and they presented and executed a solution.  Critical thinking in action!
Photo By Larry Clark
Muscle by Greeley Football team
I am quite sure that first, we should not have had those buses running at all today.  But the boys loved playing and I can tell you that they will all be talking about this game when they are our age.  There might be more like 2 feet of snow in the retell and the ride back will have taken 6 hours, but it was one for the ages.
I am also quite sure that letting kids off the bus on 117 is not something we normally would do. If we search long and hard enough for a policy, I am sure we can find one that prohibits it.  But, it was the right thing to do.  To see the boys, in their depleted state being part of the Chappaqua community was awesome.  The driver and the coaches who let them off the bus should be commended.  Being a good citizen sometimes means doing what is right, not what is written in the rule book.
When they finally did get to the high school, it was amazing to watch them all arrange rides and make sure that no one was left at the HS.  These are kids helping kids, no parents involved.  Football brothers not leaving anyone behind.  Maybe it is limited to the football team and is a testament to the coaches, but I would like to think that it is really a testament to the whole district and the staff.  When I go to games, all the staff know me and say hello.  I know they are watching out for the kids, even Joe's [Gramando] staff whose primary responsibility has nothing to do with the kids directly. 
Although I have really gotten to my point, I add the following addendum to the story.  If you have read this far already, I thank you as I know many of you, like me, have no power.  I am not trying to drain your cell batteries, just making a long winded point.
On the way home in my truck, not knowing the extent of the damage in Chappaqua I agreed to head to the high school before going home.  One of mine left this or that and claimed he really needed it.  Ok, let's go.  So I am heading down the big hill on Roaring Brook just before the light with about a 67% chance of making the turn and then being able to stop at the bottom when I am flagged down by a couple who appear to be in their late 60s or early 70s.  (I have no ability to judge or guess age anymore.)
I stop.  Their minivan is clearly in the wrong place and I see no hope of it getting in the right place by anything we or they could do.  They tell me that they called AAA who told them sorry, ain't happening tonight.  They then called 911 who pretty much blew them off too.  They were told to go to the Holiday Inn.  Sounds great, but these are two older folk, lost, without any way to do anything.
"Get in" I hear myself saying.  I tell them I will take them somewhere, not sure where just yet, but first I need to stop at the high school.  They get in and start telling us their tale.  Turns out they had a heavy accent and their english was not so good.  (I think they were speaking german, but it was all greek to me.)  After the high school I need to stop across the street so the boys can get something or other there too.  Now I leave this old couple in my truck as all of us go inside to figure out what to do with them.
I end up driving them to the police station.  The police officer on duty btw was not very nice nor very helpful, but I am sure he was having a long hard day.  He told me to drive them to the Holiday Inn.  I told him, no thanks and we are leaving them here in your capable hands to discuss the slogan, "To serve and protect".  The nice couple who told us all about their dog who got lime disease and died while we drove to town, tried to thank me by reaching into his pocket.  No, it is what we do here in Chappaqua, we help each other out in time of need I told them.  I was even prouder when my boys were thanking me for helping them and telling me I did the "right thing" even if it took them another extra half hour to get out of their wet cold clothes.  
But it does not end there.  I realize it is now close to 6:30 and we have not eaten and I am not going to cook tonight.  I wish I could plan my meals months in advance like Karen, but if I were to do that, there would be a lot of pasta and Rocky's on the menu.  So we stop in Pizza Station.***  In there is John Buckley from the Town Board and a few tables of customers.
I say hello to John.  I commiserate with him and tell him at least the BoE members recognize that an October snow storm must be a budget buster.  He asks why I am out and I give him the Reader's Digest version (see what I did there?).  He then tells me that he stopped at Quaker Hill making his rounds to local businesses and there is a newley wed couple, married earlier today I think, stranded at QH.  "I never want to make calls and ask for favors, but for once I called a buddy on the FD and asked him if he could grab a 4 wheel drive vehicle, come to QH, and take this young couple to the Holiday Inn on their wedding night." he told me.  Another community member just trying to do the right thing.
Then, this one table consisting of a grandmother, mother, and young boy who had overheard our entire conversation asked me "who we are".  I tell them we serve on the town council and school board.  They are amazed.  Turns out they live in NYC, their car had some sort of glitch (wipers stopped?) and since the trains were not working they were stuck here in the pizza place. 
Next thing I know, I am on the phone with her husband who has decided to drive up from Manhatten to rescue them but is lost as they had closed part of the Saw Mill and his gps was taking him in circles.  I direct him to the Pizza Station.  The woman told us that they were looking at houses in Westchester (not today, but in general) and had not looked in Chappaqua "yet".  She told us that she would not consider buying in another town now after hearing and witnessing all sorts of good deeds today.
I tell you all this to point out that most of the town never hears about all the good people do around here, about the spirit of volunteerism, about the good that we do as a board.  Why?  Because good news does not sell, controversy does.  Unfortunately, most of the town only knows of us through what they read in the blogs.  If only they knew of the extraordinary things done in the district every day.**
As Gregg said last year on his way out, it is only a thankless job if you are looking for thanks.  I tip my hat to you all fellow volunteers who do this for some reason I am not sure even we know, but do it nonetheless.
The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.
Stay warm, stay safe and stay home,

* I had a chance to meet Seth from Chappaqua Transportation on Monday at a meeting where opening of school was discussed.  I thanked him for the terrific job that his drivers did Saturday and let him know that the Coaches had also written to the AD and Board pointing out what a great job his drivers did.

**As an example, on Monday (Oct 31st) while driving around the district facilities in my role as Co-Chair (with Randy K) of the Board's Facilities Committee, I happened upon Joe Gramando working hard to get things back up and back to normal and then a meeting in the high school where all the district administrators (Ed Center and building principals) lead by Lyn McKay were meeting to discuss and finalize a plan for opening schools and communicating with the community to keep them up to date on the situation.  They had developed plans A, B and C depending on power restoration, bus safety and facilities availability.  I was impressed not only with the operational planning, but with the attention to detail going into communicating efficiently and clearly with the community on a timely basis.

Also, I want to recognize the extraordinary level of cooperation between the Town of New Castle and the CCSD.  I know there was communication at all levels of the two entities.  The BoE communicated with Barbara Gerrard and she with us, as well as Superintendent McKay and Assistant Superintendent Chow (and Joe Gramando) in constant contact with Penny P and other members of the Town staff sharing information, finding ways to help each other out, etc.  Two simple examples of cooperation would be the Town in a time crunch and while being burdened with so many other logistical items managed to pull off a Halloween celebration for the kids at the community center and in town that probably should be the template for Halloweens to come.  The district opened HGHS as a warming center and place to shower for residents of New Castle.  

*** As another totally "only in Chappaqua" moment and as a testament to our merchants, I was in Pizza Station again on Monday early evening (I still had no power) when in walked a young trick or treater.  Unfortunately, PS was all trick or treated out.  The owner, whose name I do not know, shrugged and ask if he wanted a slice instead of candy.  I big shake yes of the head and two minutes later off he went with his free Halloween slice.  (When it came time to pay for my slice, I said, "Trick or Treat?, but I guess that does not work for big kids.)

New Castle Hornets 2009-10


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

(Snow) Board Appreciation Week.

I think it is safe to say that two days off for the students has given them a new appreciation for the board!

Looking for a way to celebrate?  Anonymous comment 7 day cease fire on local blogs!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

First Snow Day Ever in October!

Taken on Sunday October 30th
Hardscrabble just off of 120 and just past the gargoyle bears.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Homecoming and...well...more Homecoming

First, congratulations to all the fall student-athletes for their participation and dedication to their teams.  Although the season is not over yet, I congratulate you all for your individual and team successes.  Some highlights include the girl's undefeated swim team winning their title, the girl's Varsity Soccer team going 12-1-3 and winning the championship, Girl's tennis undefeated and champs,  Boy's Varsity soccer playing in the sectionals, the Boy's Varsity football team raised in excess of $8,000 for charity, the girl's field hockey team having their most successful record in recent memory, the cross country team continuing their runaway success (couldn't help myself) -- Girl's CC league champs, etc, etc.

Homecoming started off with a bang (again couldn't help myself) and the Friday night fireworks presented by the Sports Boosters.  As far as fireworks go, they were terrific.  I heard SAT/ACT words like "Awesome!" "Wow!" "Cool!" and from an older kid about 65, "Groovy!"

In addition to the actual explosions lasting 10 minutes, special thanks to Jim Nottingham, President of the Sports Boosters, for organizing, publicising and paying for the event.  Friday night was a terrific culmination of a busy day of games, team dinners, and furious spectating.  I hope that this year's event becomes the template for all years to follow.  The spirit displayed on Friday night at the football field with the announcement of the teams, the Capell singing of the National Anthem and the great attendance was inspiring.  I was so glad to see the entire community and folks of all ages, from 6 to 60+ watching in awe.

I wish I could say that it carried over to the weekend.  All the teams played with heart, but alas, not all won.  For me, Saturday had me going to Harrison in the early morning to watch the JV football team beat the Huskies at McGillicuddy Field.  The JV football team, known by its avid traveling supporters as the Cardiac Kids, continued their winning ways with a convincing victory.  The team is now 5-2.  Three of their victories have come down to the final play.  Two were great defensive stops and one was a pass play from inside the 10 yard line after the team held the ball the entire 4th quarter and methodically marched down the field to claim victory on the final play.

The afternoon saw me return to the High School to watch my other son play football for the Varsity.  It was not the football team's day.  They lost to Harrison.  Harrison showed up with six buses of players, fans and a marching band.  While our crowd was large, the spirit seemed lacking.  Maybe it started with the inadvertent skipping of the national anthem?  For some reason,  it was not announced and played.  Maybe it was that the team got down 6-0 early, but the crowd seemed to be focusing on other things than football. Perhaps next year we could have some sort of spirit building event on Saturday right before the game.

I did notice as I walked around before the game that almost every team had their parents organize a team tailgate or gathering.  The spirit seemed to be spread out.  I also met several returning alumni at the football tailgate by the shot put area.  A woman from Croton with her two children readying to attend the Class of 1986 reunion that evening and another member of that class remembering about the football team in his day.

The weekend was capped off by the annual Homecoming Dance.  It was a Tale of Two Cities.  It was the best of times and the worst of times.  First, I acknowledge that the ticket sales for the dance was handled poorly.  I wrote this post last year after the dance and would have liked to see it go smoother.  Whatever the details, the district is responsible for the decision to limit the ticket sales to 700 so whatever fallout that came from the limited tickets is our fault.

With respect to ticket sales, having been on the Board for four+ years now, I can say unequivocally that we will never please everyone no matter what we decide.  But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try or that we should be uncaring about those who are unhappy.  As a Board member, parent, and father of a student council senior, I have heard and relate to all three (admin, student and parent) viewpoints.

I love that the administration tried to have the students make the decisions about how best to address the scarcity of tickets, but we cannot and did not blame them for the problem.  They were given one option of trying to hold two dances, but they felt that two dances would create different problems.  It is not as clear cut dividing the school by class year.  Sophomores are friendly with Juniors, Seniors know Freshman etc.  Also, logistically, the option was presented late and to run two events at different locations on the same night seemed like we would be biting off more than we could chew.

As a Board member, I would like to see everyone who wants to participate have that option.  But, I am also cognizant of safety implications and the limitations the chaperones have inside a large dark loud gym.  It may sound like to some that we are trying to cover our ass and avoid lawsuits, but the truth is that we are trying to make sure not one student gets hurt.  Quite frankly, there is no acceptable level of casualties.  It is a dance for goodness sake, no one should get hurt.  And, we expect that students will act within district policies and within the student handbook.

As a Board member, this dance is really not our issue.  How this would relate to the Board would be if we want to establish some sort of policy that says open school wide events such as the Homecoming Dance may only be held if there is access for ALL students.

Should we limit tickets sales to school wide events?   I have to be honest and say I am torn on this issue.  As I said, I would like to see everyone who wants to participate have that option.  That would be in a perfect world.  But, we don't live in SIM City or Theoreticalville.  If it comes down to one of three options, let everyone attend and take safety risk, limit tickets and mitigate that risk or eliminate the dance and eliminate the risk, I am voting for limiting tickets.

Other questions have arisen from the recent experiences with the dance.  Some have questioned the "fairness" of punishing "everyone" over the acts (drunkeness and shoving on the dance floor) of a few.  That is a valid question.  On the one hand, if one of my children broke a household rule, I wouldn't punish them all would I?  On the other hand, when I coached basketball I wanted them to consider themselves as a team, as one unit, not 12 individuals.  If one player screwed around in practice, I likely would have made the entire team run.  Do we want our students to look at themselves as part of a larger community of classmates and school mates or do we want them to just look out for #1?  Again, the answer lies somewhere in between the two.

Going forward, what to do about school wide events, be they dances, night athletic events or arts performances, we as a community need to discuss expectations and work out solutions together.  The administration, the students and concerned parents need to have a dialogue in order to understand each other's concerns, to discuss possible solutions and to establish expectations going forward.

We need to have a civilogue (civil dialogue).  Isn't that exactly what Principal Selesnick was suggesting in his letter to the community?  I want to thank those of you who took the time and made the effort to write to the administration and/or the Board of Ed to express your thoughts.  To be quite frank, many of the letters (emails) did not pull punches and were very clear about where they stood on the events of last week.  I know that the Board and the administration will/has read and considered every letter sent to us.

We especially appreciate the letters that not only tell us how we erred, but that also made suggestions on possible solutions.  It is easy to point out mistakes, it is harder to make suggestions on how to fix whatever mistake you think we make.

Although I do not speak for the entire Board, I think it is safe to say that all five of us will respond to emails and are willing to have a dialogue with residents who want to express their concerns, opinions, criticisms and of course compliments.  For those of you who have read this far and/or have written me emails, you know that I will try to make a thoughtful response to any and every civil email sent to me.  Pretty much the only thing I won't respond to are people who make anonymous comments, folks who make personal attacks without addressing an issue and people who tell me where I can go or suggest I do things that are anatomically impossible.

Oh, my compliments to the students responsible for the dance.  Putting aside the whole ticket issue, I am told that there were no incidents at the dance and that a good time was had by all.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Horace Greeley Cum Laude Society Induction Ceremony

Today was the annual ceremony inducting the seniors who qualified for the Cum Laude Society. Congratulations to all!  Congratulations to the Valedictorian, Kamil S. and to Davis W., the Salutatorian!!

While the students are of course the "star of the show", Josh Block gave an amazing keynote speech. (I attempted to record it, and will post what I have, but my camera skills are lacking and my camera is an iPad so...)

Edit: Here is what I have with apologies to Andrew Selesnick who was sitting in front of me and the students to my left.

Mark Bayer, the Class of 2012 Assistant Principal, also gave a great speech. His ability to recover from a sound snafu and do his best Steve Jobs imitation was also appreciated.

These are the events that make being a Board member worthwhile! It was especially nice for me as I have known many of these students since their days playing CYSC soccer or softball.

Below is a few minutes of musical interlude by the stage band. (Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy in Company C?)


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

CCSD News Coverage Today

Some articles from local sites today:

The Patch wrote a summary of the Knowledge Cafe and the discussion of middle school configuration.  There is also a discussion in the comments to the article.

Elizabeth Ganga from LoHud (the Journal News) wrote on the education blog about Project Adventure at Seven Bridges.

The Daily Chappaqua wrote about the middle school tradition of painting merchant windows in Halloween themes.

NewCastleNOW republished Principal Selesnick's letter to the community regarding the Homecoming Dance.  Many anonymous comments follow.

The CCSD listed news including the meeting at Seven Bridges tomorrow October 26th at 9:30am to talk about  the 2% tax cap.  Tomorrow is also the Cum Laude ceremony at the HGHS at 3:30.

Other links:

Horace Greeley Scholarship Fund (Annual Spelling Bee November 10th @HGHS)
Chappaqua School Foundation (Guys Night Out November 7th)
Chappaqua PTA
Friends of Greeley Theater
(Chappaqua) Greeley Sports Boosters (Responsible for the Homecoming Fireworks last week!)
Chappaqua Turf Committee  got turf?
Horace Greeley HS Alumni site

(If I left off your organization and would like to be listed or if I listed you and you would like to be removed, send me an email:

Monday, October 24, 2011

What's the Difference?

The school board recently received a rebuttal/response from Christine Yeres regarding my post of October 2nd.  One of the responses regarded my use of the term "blog" to describe NewCastleNOW.  Christine prefers to use the term "online newspaper".  Christine and I have had a good natured running disagreement on this since, well, for a while.

What is the difference between an online newspaper and a blog?  Is there a distinction?  Does it matter?  Why do I insist on calling NCN a blog not an online paper?  Why does Christine insist on calling it an online newspaper?

Does it matter?
Six of one, half dozen of the other.  It does not matter to me what you call me, but it does matter to the reader.  It is a signal to the reader of what expectations to have about the posts. While I believe there is a distinction (more on that below), I don't care what you call me (blogger or reporter or SOB. Sort of like Razzles.  Are they a gum or a candy?  -- candy first then a gum imho, but irrelevant.  Eat or not.)

Why does Christine insist on calling it an online newspaper?
I have no direct knowledge of why, but I speculate that she believes an online newspaper is more important and relevant than a blog.  Maybe it has to do with their start-up funding?

If you research the history behind the founding of NewCastleNOW, you are led to a website, that has a brief history of Christine Yeres, Susie Pender and Ann Marie Fallon founding the site.  J-Lab provided the initial $50,000 (I have also seen a conflicting number of $17,000)  in start-up capital.  I am pretty sure that they are not looking to provide funding for blogs, but do want to facilitate the start-up of online newspapers.

The article also indicates that the advertising revenue is about $90,000 after 10 months of their third year and they pay out 20% to the person selling the ads.  $72,000 net to NCN as a start-up!!  Great job building the small business! Very impressive indeed.

(Local businesses must believe advertising on their site is worth its cost.  It certainly hits a very targeted audience of local older people with disposable income.  Both NCN and the Patch have an economic incentive to drive readership.  Controversy sells.  There is a financial incentive to negative reporting and to "gotcha journalism".  But sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar and there is no gotcha there, just a feel good story about whatever subject is being covered.)

It seems as if their mission in founding the site was accountability.  A noble mission indeed.  Here is a link to a case study on the founding of NCN. (Scroll down, it is the second one on the page.) Pender describes in part the mission behind NCN:
Pender says she wanted, in part, to hold public officials more accountable.
“I was shocked at how much people in a small town like this were willing to say, ‘Those people know what they’re doing, there’s no reason to question the superintendent of the school board,’” she said by way of example. “The problem is there are things that need to be investigated.”
Later in the article, the author seems to be implying that NCN has affected local elections.  NCN seems to get or take credit for Gregg Bresner's victory 3 years ago.

The news site has had a discernible impact on the area. Since it launched, a challenger has successfully unseated an incumbent in the local school board election - an unheard-of scenario in a town where elected school officials typically serve until they decide to step down.
I have not been able to find causal effect or make the leap in analysis that because there was a new site writing posts in New Castle that an incumbent lost his position to a new comer.  Another problem with that statement is that in every election since Bresner's when an incumbent ran against a challenger, the incumbent won.  Yet another problem is how they measure their impact on an election.  What were the polls saying before they got involved?  Are they implying that they are trying to affect local elections for their candidates and that they are not impartial reporters?

In another interview, Yeres takes part responsibility for the changes made to the HS schedule the second year.  Apparently, the district's analysis and internal review were secondary.  The fact that the district said before the schedule was implemented that it would be reviewed after the first year meant nothing I guess.

New Castle NOW’s coverage of a controversial high school schedule change “had much to do with its modification a year later,” said managing editor Christine Yeres.  But if the site had been operating before the controversy began, “we could have helped people to know the details of the largely hidden decision process of the Board of Ed ... and residents could have expressed their opposition more effectively,” she said.
Here is a case of NCN pressing their own personal agenda.  Transparency goes to both sides of an issue.  A newspaper's mission is not accountability.  It is to report the news, good, bad or indifferent.  Accountability comes from the reporting of the news and asking questions.  Part of reporting as a newspaper is to bring information to the community.  The dissemination of information in itself leads to transparency and accountability.  News can be "good" news as well as "bad" news.  If your goal is only accountability and not reporting, your are a niche site that is a blog not an online newspaper.

I also have to digress for a moment here and tell you that the most effective way of expressing an opinion to the Board of Ed is through direct contact.  Sending an email, writing a letter, calling a Board member, going to a meeting and voicing a concern really does have an impact on our decision making.  Writing anonymously to a blog (or online newspaper) is not that effective.

While their mission is certainly a laudable one and one that I support, it seems to me that they sometimes get lost in the mission.  Can't see the forest through the trees so to speak.  Too often they are looking for the "gotcha" story, the "Watergate journalism" instead of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.

For example, one real story about the schools is the terrific work being done in the classrooms by the students and for the students.  Pender is quoted in the case study as wanting to recognize when it is appropriate to report and when not to.  When it is appropriate to report feel good stories and when to hold  feet to the fire.
 “Sometimes we want to be The New York Times and sometimes we want to be the church bulletin,” Pender said.
Yes, we as publicly elected officials should be held accountable. Accountable to all the community, not just a loud subset.  We should be transparent.  Sometimes, take yes for an answer and recognize that we are trying and that there are some terrific things going on in the schools.  Or at least do both.

You as a member of the community are short changed and are not getting transparent coverage when it is selective.  How do you even know what to question if you don't attend meetings, watch them on tape or have someone covering the district and the Board more completely?  You will read below the contrasts in coverage of our last meeting by the two local sites covering the meetings on a regular basis.  (A third local blog, The Daily Chappaqua is a recent entry into the micro news coverage business. The Examiner is a weekly print publication. Here is a link to their archives.)

What is the difference between an online newspaper and a blog?
I think there is a distinction to be made.  That distinction is for the reader.  I write and post to a blog.  I do not see the term "blog" having either a positive or negative connotation.  Interestingly, while I cannot speak for Tom Auchterlonie of the Patch, I did have a brief conversation with him about it once and he refers to the Patch as a blog, although it appeared to me that he never really thought it important to make a distinction either way.

In fact, the Patch solicits blog posts from locals to expand and enhance their coverage of local happenings.  I have made several posts on their site.  (I have offered to make posts on NewCastleNOW, but they refuse to yield me editorial control over my own opinion pieces and refused to post a link to my (this) blog.  The Patch does both.)

Here is what the Patch says about it:


What is Patch?

Simply put, Patch is a new way to find out about, and participate in, what’s going on near you.
We’re a community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage for individual towns and communities.
We want to make your life better by giving you quick access to the information that’s most relevant to you. Patch makes it easy to:
  • Keep up with news and events
  • Look at photos and videos from around town
  • Learn about local businesses
  • Participate in discussions
  • Submit your own announcements, photos, and reviews
They call what they are doing a platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage.

The distinction I make between an online newspaper and a blog is the content of the articles published or posted.  While every newspaper has a bias (try reading the NY Times and the NY Post when they cover the same story about the President for a good example), news stories are intended to be factual accounts of the events while opinion and editorializing is done in separate articles or posts with such caveats as "news analysis" or "op-ed" or "editorial" or several other distinctions.  For the most part, reporting is distinct from opinion or editorializing.

NewCastleNOW does not make that distinction.  They intersperse the two on a regular basis and also use the editorial process of writing to editorialize in the general sense.  For example, when reporting on school board meetings, they leave out reports on many parts of the meeting.  Or, when there is no issue that appears to be controversial, they do not attend at all. The most recent specific example would be from last Friday, October 14th.

Here is a link to their coverage of the Tuesday the 11th meeting.  As Yeres points out in her post, they "covered" the meeting via watching the video tape.  They did not attend the meeting live.  (I am actually ok with that if they have a conflict on Tuesday nights.  And currently, Yeres is covering both Town meetings and school meetings that are in a schedule conflict.  Remember, I pushed for moving the meeting to avoid conflicts.)  Below is the actual complete text of the NCN post.

Yeres lists two important updates from that meeting.  One, an update on "random" survey, and two, President Kiesel announces that advisory committees are not required to be public.  Both statements are factually accurate.  But, by leaving out many other significant items from that meeting, they are editorializing by not reporting.

Interestingly, the Patch, that did attend the meeting live, wrote two articles about substantial items that were part of that meeting that were not reported at all by NCN.  But, they did not "report" the NCN items.  The Patch articles follow the NCN article.

NEW: Updates from Board of Ed meeting Tuesday, October 11

October 11, 2011
by Christine Yeres
• Random survey taking place now; finished by next week
• Kiesel announces that advisory committees are not required to be public
Survey is afoot
Board President Alyson Kiesel announced that the district’s telephone survey of 250 randomly chosen residents is currently taking place and will be finished at the end of this week or early next week. “Once we have the data,” she said, “we’ll have a report analyzing the data, then a presentation to the board and community from the survey company.”
District committees are not required to be public
Yesterday afternoon, Superintendent for Business John Chow declined to respond to the question of whether the meetings of the budget advisory committee will remain closed and the committee members remain unnamed, referring NCNOW to the video tape of Tuesday’s board meeting.  See “New schools budget advisory committee up-and-running; meetings will be closed,”, 9/30/11.
On that tape, without referring specifically to Chow’s budget advisory committee, as part of her President’s Report Kiesel stated that “the district has a whole variety of committees, some board committees, some administrative” that are “not called for by statute or regulation, and are not required to be public meetings.  They may be put together for any variety of reasons by administrators for any purpose and unless two board members or more attend, they are not considered board meetings or board-sanctioned meetings.”

Here is a link to a Patch article on the same meeting.  And here is a separate Patch article on a different subject from that same meeting.

Harvard Project Gets Good Marks from Chappaqua School District

EcoMUVE, a virtual immersion and assessment technology, has been tried out with middle school students in the district, as an alternative to convention learning.
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Avatars in virtual reality are no longer just for movies and video games. Thanks to researchers at Harvard University, they are now being used by middle school kids to learn things in creative and immersive ways.
The result of this is a virtual reality program called EcoMUVE, which students at Seven Bridges and Robert E. Bell middle schools have been trying out since last year. The program has received positive feedback from Chappaqua teachers, according to Harvard professor Chris Dede, who gave presentations on the results at this week's school board meeting and at a PTA event held at Bell.
The program was given good reviews by teachers for being engaging, in science content learning, complex causality and inquiry.
The intent of EcoMUVE is do encourage immersion in course subject matter, on "situated learning," which focuses on how people learn in life, as opposed to a conventional classroom.
“No longer do classrooms have to be isolated from the real world," Dede was recorded as saying in his board presentation (click here for it on the NCCMC website).
For example, in EcoMUVE, students using their avatars can learn about complex problems, such as how fertilizer dumping impacts a pond's eco system and harms fish in the span of about a month. Students can also drag their avatars into different terrains, and shrink down to the atomic level, like in the TV show The Magic School Bus.
Assessments done under EcoMUVE allow for teachers to grade students on how they handle inquiry and the various step they take in solving problems, as opposed to just having a simple answer from a test. The program leaves an audit trail that shows what students looked at in the program in the course of their problem solving. The virtual system that focus on assessment are compressed on-spot problems.
The program, the product of three years of research and federal funding, could be commercialized by Harvard, according to Dede, either given to a publisher ot given away free to schools if a publisher isn't found.
The next big step will be next spring, while a mobile version of EcoMUVE is introduced to students, made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation. This will allow for kids to engage in what is called augmented reality, which Dede said “will open up a new form of education.” An example of augmented reality, Dede explained, would be to a sign in a foreign language and point your phone at it, which would translate the signage into English. This technology could be applied on a personal level, according to Dede, with students using it around town to learn local history.
Board members were impressed with the results.
“I just think it’s interesting to see how we can get a handle on that," said Victoria Tipp, pointing out its usefulness in teaching critical thinking, being creative and problem solving.
School board President Alyson Kiesel noted that if the students feel the learning environment feels like play for the students, “It’s just a beautiful thing.”
Going forward, the technology could progress to the point where teachers and even students can create their own augmented realities for the curriculum, Dede explained.

Greeley to Get Fireworks for Homecoming Rally

Revamped pre-homecoming event is intended to cater towards families and make the Greeley Sports Boosters a more vital organization, its president says.
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Next week, students at Horace Greeley High School, along with their families, will have a chance to watch fireworks, partake in athletic clinics and root for their teams at a revamped homecoming pep rally.
The new lineup got approval from the school board at its meeting this week and will be held the evening of Oct. 21, the night before the Oct. 22 football game against Harrison. It will also include recognition of all fall sports teams.
The changes, backed by the Greeley Sports Boosters, will serve several purposes, according to Boosters President Jim Nottingham. They include making homecoming more of a community event, which will include students' parents and siblings, and to make the Boosters "much more of a go-to organization" than it has been before.
A format including fireworks is uncommon in area, although Armonk's Byram Hills High School holds them, according to Nottingham.
Preparing for the event, Nottingham consulted Assistant Superintendent for Business John Chow about insurance logistics, as well as the Chappaqua Fire Department's second assistant chief, Russell Maitland.
Maitland came to the board meeting to assure the members of the event being safe. The fire department will be there with a presence.
School districts officials were receptive to the goal of the revamped pep rally.
“I think it could be very exciting," said school board President Alyson Kiesel.
Greeley Principal Andrew Selesnick was supportive of making the pep rally a family oriented event.

It is almost as if they attended or watched two entirely different meetings.  It is pretty amazing actually.  Here is a link to the video of the meeting itself.  [Careful: 3 hour meeting.]

(Special shout out to the New Castle Community Media Center for hosting the videos of school board meetings and for generally, as it says on the tin, building a community through media.)

So why is the Patch a blog and why does it consider itself such?  They have not chosen to report on all the  details of the meeting, instead they chose to report in detail on two interesting stories that are happening in the community and in the district that was discussed at the Board meeting.  They left out a mention on the update to the survey and the explanation of the advisory committees likely because they did not deem them to be significant items.

NCN, while wanting to be called an online newspaper and called reporters which would presume that they are going to report the material events of a meeting, chose to focus on only two items from that meeting and those two items were in my opinion smaller items that specifically eliminated some of the positive things being done in the schools and the community.   (In fairness, they did report the fireworks item in a separate post not having to do with the meeting.)

If you intersperse opinion with fact, if you editorialize through omission or exclusion without making it clear to the reader that you are doing that, then you are blogging, not reporting.  If your mission is solely accountability without wanting to cover the issues that do not provoke a healthy skepticism, you are blogging.  Not a big deal, just a distinction.

Back to "Does it matter?"
Again, to me there is no negative or positive connotation between the two terms, but there is an important distinction that needs to be made to the reader.  Accuracy is only one part to being a fair and honest reporter of the news.  Completeness of materiality is another.  Readers of NCN are making the assumption that what NCN reports is accurate (certainly NCN's intention) and complete.

Let's face it, 99% of the folks in the CCSD do not attend the typical board meeting nor do they watch them on TV or online.  They are relying on either word of mouth or local publications to either summarize, highlight or report on the meetings.  (Or they just don't much care.)  NCN is doing an injustice to the community by being selective about what it reports if it is indeed an online newspaper.

Quite frankly, I do not know if there is enough time in the day for one person (Christine Yeres) or hopefully soon two people (Susie Pender)  to be able to report completely on all the town and school happenings twice a week.  I applaud her for her efforts while her partner  is unavailable.  Lord knows she tries. But, let the community know that you are blogging what you want the community to know or what you have time to report.  Sometimes priorities have to be made and the school board falls low.  I get that.  Ok, but let the reader know.


Bonus video: Interview with Christine Yeres and Ann Marie Fallon regarding  This video was posted originally by J-Lab.  The sound levels are low.  You can adjust them higher by using the leveler on the lower right.  Also, the complete interview is not available as far as I can tell.  The edits are all J-Lab's, but it is good background info re: NCN.

NewCastleNOW from J-Lab on Vimeo.