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Were You There?

By Greg L | 4 March 2009 | Prince William County | 34 Comments

UPDATE: Parental choice fails on a 4-4 vote with Otaigbe, Richardson, Lattin and Ramirez blocking the opportunity for parents to decide how their children should be educated.  Thanks to Gil Trenum, Milt Johns, Julie Lucas and Betty Covington for their efforts to allow parents to have a voice.

I wasn’t able to attend tonight’s meeting of the Prince William County School Board and there’s no information out there yet on what happened.  If you attended, I’m sure I’m not the only one eagerly waiting to find out what happened…

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  1. KFD said on 4 Mar 2009 at 11:23 pm:
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    Hi, Greg. I just posted on Virtucon.

  2. Steve Santee said on 4 Mar 2009 at 11:59 pm:
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    The opt-in motion failed by 1 vote; the board was split 4-4. The “blended” motion passed 8-0 after being amended to be virtually worthless. It too bad that the opt-in motion went first, because it had to be obvious to the board by the end of their deliberations that legislating “blended” isn’t possible.

    The big point to give the motion some teeth was #3 (calling for teachers and all students to have both MI and traditional materials available to them). Of course, this is extremely expensive and is the main reason the opt-in made so much more sense. Eventually the all important word “all” got struck from that point, leaving it up to the principal and staff to determine what math materials to purchase for the school. That might work for schools with teachers and administrators who are not wedded to MI, but those schools generally aren’t the ones that have issues. So the end result is principals and staff will only have funds to buy one set of books and that will become the defacto “text” that is followed.

    On the plus side, the petition now has 1593 voters on it who know who not to vote for in 2 years!

  3. Steve Santee said on 5 Mar 2009 at 12:36 am:
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    Just to correct a few claims that the math department made.

    1) When trying to dismiss the peer-review study that showed MI was the worst of 4 curricula, Carol Knight claimed that there was no training (professional development). In fact the report has an entire section (pages 24-28, and allusions elsewhere in the study) devoted to the curriculum-specific training provided.

    2) Also when trying to discredit the claim that this recent study was the first independent peer-reviewed MI study, Carol Knight alluded to a big study that was not done by TERC. Although she didn’t name it, she likely was referring to the ARC Study that was long promoted as the best research supporting MI’s efficacy. While technically true that the study wasn’t done by TERC, it was done by the ARC Center which was a consortium of 3 fuzzy math program developers (MI, Everyday Math and Trailblazers), so it was far from an independent, unbiased study!

    3) When discussing the “Success Stories” districts, she claimed slightly different numbers than the 36 dropped of 62 districts that parents fighting MI have claimed. Her numbers had 25 dropped and 6 more dropping this year (31 vs. 36). Since she only gave summary statistics, we can’t determine which districts we disagree on, but it is suspected that we considered districts as having dropped MI if they stopped using it as their primary resource. That we considered fair because if the program isn’t your primary resource, you can’t really claim that any test success your district has to be a result of the curricula.

  4. AWCheney said on 5 Mar 2009 at 12:53 am:
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    In a time of extreme budget concerns, it appears to me that this would be an excellent time to shake up the School Board Administrative Staff…particularly in the math department. Sounds to me like some of those folks are products of the the “New Math” debacle of the 60’s…you know, where 2+2=3…

  5. Julie Lucas said on 5 Mar 2009 at 1:59 am:
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    Greg, this is the link to our meeting tonight.


  6. Parent said on 5 Mar 2009 at 3:31 am:
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    Excellent recap here:

  7. anon said on 5 Mar 2009 at 8:13 am:
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    I’m still suffering from the headache I got last night watching Mr. Latten take twice the amount of time the pro opt-in board members took. He used some of his time to ask obvious softball questions to Carol Knight from the math department. She proceeded to try and discredit the recent information about all the school districts that have thrown out math investigations. Then he took up another hour wasting people’s time talking about how awful it would be to get rid of Math Investigations. Why?? I never heard any board member propose to get rid of it. Mr. Latten was long winded and his comments were a complete waste of time.

    I was also irritated by the members who voted against opt-in because they don’t want to take traditional math away from teachers? What the heck are they talking about? Who said that anyone wasn’t going to let MI teachers not teach traditional math?

  8. FOIA said on 5 Mar 2009 at 8:27 am:
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    Lattin must go, he is a lackey for the vendor of MI. BTW, the Board should get rid of all Assistant Principals in the elementary and middle schools, saving about $15 million after salary and benefits, these are generally peter principle people who were failures in the class room, got a masters degree and were moved up to avoid having children exposed to them on a daily basis.

  9. blah blah blah said on 5 Mar 2009 at 8:58 am:
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    I am not surprised by the outcome of last night’s board meeting. I figured the vote would be 3-5 instead of 4-4. I was surprised that Lucas voted in favor of the opt-in approach. I’m glad that she has taken the time to research this remedial math program and to listen and respond to parents.

    I have to agree with FOIA, Lattin must go. He made himself look like a fool when he asked if someone from the audience could answer his questions. Carol Knight goes to the podium and answers their rehearsed question and answer series. This happened at the last board meeting as well.

    Both Lattin and Richardson are very stubborn and have no intentions of genuinely listening to parents. Richardson needs to step up his game and listen to his voters.

    As for Ramirez, wow was I surprised that she would tell the public that her schools have benefited from this program. Have any of you looked at the SOL scores in her district lately? She completely mislead the public.

    Johns, Covington, and Trenum, thanks for trying your best to get traditional texts in the hands of all teachers. The public took notice. The three of you kept fighting for that type of wording in the motion as it was torn apart.

    I know Dr. Otaigibe had good intentions, but I don’t think he had any idea that his motion would be ripped to shreds.

    In the end, we are right back where we started. Walts and the math department got exactly what they wanted. It was obvious that Lattin had spent time behind closed doors with Knight and helped them get what they wanted. Lattin makes me sick.

  10. KFD said on 5 Mar 2009 at 9:06 am:
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    Lucas was the example to be followed last night. She took an issue she had questions about, didn’t really feel like was a problem for her area, but she researched it and came to the common sense, obvious conclusion that choice allows access to all students and families and puts the power of decision with the parents, where it belongs. I’m proud of her.

  11. Hmmm... said on 5 Mar 2009 at 9:20 am:
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    In terms of eliminating Assistant Principal positions, do you realize that many of our Elementary and Middle Schools are the close to the same size as our high schools? The schools along the Linton Hall corridor have elementary populations near or over 1000 students (K-5) and typically have one Assistant Principal. Marsteller Middle School has 1,600 students (6-8) and two Assistant Principals. For reference, Brentsville District High has just over 1,500 students and two Assistant Principals.

    So, what’s the rationale for keeping Assistant Principals at the High School level but dropping them from Elementary and Middle School? I think you’re working under some false assumptions.

  12. FOIA said on 5 Mar 2009 at 9:44 am:
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    Hmmm, we’re cutting the guts from the schools, let’s cut the overhead first, as I stated and you ignored the assistant principals are in their positions because they were incompetent teachers who needed to be moved out of the classrooms, it’s the peter principle at work, make the principals actually do their jobs in the elem and mid schools. I agree if we eliminate the assistant principlas in elem and mid schools we should also look at the positions in the High schools as well. Good suggestion to get rid of the HS assistant principals, thanks for the recommendation.

  13. Hmmm... said on 5 Mar 2009 at 10:27 am:
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    Your assumption that Assistant Principals are only in those positions because they are “incompetent teachers” and a result of the “Peter principle” at work are flawed. These are the false assumptions I referenced in my response to you.

    In many cases, Assistant Principals are actually on a career track to become Principals (and many of our current school Principals served some time as Assistant Principals). They are in the Assistant role to gain experience *prior* to being being burdened with the full job of Principal and having to learn “on the job.” This, to me, seems like a prudent way to develop competent leaders for our schools by providing them the opportunity to gain experience and knowledge in partnership with an experienced Principal who can serve as a mentor. Further, given the size of many of our schools (in both student populations and teacher staffs), the job is too big for one person to handle and there needs to be someone to delegate to so that the Principal can get it all done. In the case of a school like, say, Marsteller Middle School, there are 1,600 students and 110 faculty positions (that doesn’t include support staff–cafeteria workers, janitors, office staff, etc.). I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any effective manager that could handle 110+ direct reports not to mention the students (and their parents) as well as the day-to-day operations of a school. I think you really need to get a clue about what Assistant Principals do and the role they play in the schools.

    If you want to look at cutting “fluff,” there are probably some places to start in central office staffing (though even there some of the positions are the result of unfunded Federal and State mandates–the testing and assessment group is so big because of “education reform” programs like No Child Left Behind).

  14. cprofits said on 5 Mar 2009 at 2:18 pm:
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    I sent my emails…repeatedly. Ms. Covington sent me a personal response, Dr. Otaigbe sent me a form letter response and I received no response from any of the other board members. I’ve watched all of the televised meetings since the beginning of the school year. I too appreciate Ms. Lucas thinking it would behoove everyone to have a choice although she feels her district embraces MI.

    I have three children in PWCS who are overachieving and in start and signet. I truly wish they could have daily exposure to traditional math instruction. Drawing animals and making long and involved graphs and charts to do simple arithmetic problems is tedious and repetitive for them. PWCS is doing them a disservice. They are being put on the slow track so that others who are struggling can try to grasp the concept. I’d like to demand individualized instruction for my children so they can learn to the best of their ability. Oh wait…they already have that in their start and signet programs. Too bad it’s only for 45 minutes a week! I was so looking forward to writing my letter and requesting to opt in to traditional math in September. I guess I’ll be buying more workbooks online and trying to persuade my second grade daughter that’s it’s not against the law to ‘carry and borrow the one.’

    The blended approach is a sham. It’s supposedly what we have now. Thank goodness for last year’s first grade teacher who was a 30 year veteran and took it upon herself to quietly buck the system and teach the children ‘her way.’

    How can we demand accountability and rely that next year’s curriculum will include a truly blended approach? Everything is totally at the teacher’s discretion. My children finish their work in a few minutes and are left to independently read or stare out the window waiting for everyone else to finish drawing their squirrels. The children who make no waves, need no extra attention and quietly do their work are the overlooked ones.

    All of this makes a very strong case for private schools….yet there are none here that are worthwhile and geographically feasible. I am a product of PWC schools as are my parents. We’ve lived here forever. This is the first time I’ve ever had a major concern with the eduction my children are receiving. They are not being challenged in math and I am very angry that the choice was taken away from me to give them appropriate math instruction by board members Ramirez, Lattin, Richardson and Otaigbe. So much for teaching ‘all the children.’

  15. pwceducationreform said on 5 Mar 2009 at 2:56 pm:
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    The meeting was entertaining,to say the least. I love the comment that 31 of our schools saw declining SOL scores because they haven’t embraced MI! Duh! They think MI is miserable - that’s why their parents support the Opt In!

    Apparently we all need to feel the love for MI……

    I was impressed with Ms Lucas - she asked well researched, valid questions and made critical points. She got the superstar award last night.

    I was astounded at how willing staff were to misrepresent information - especially with regards to state statutes. Yes, state statutes allow school districts to select non-state adopted texts, provided the criteria they use to evaluate that text and all other texts is disclosed to the school board and officially approved by the school board, BEFORE the text is selected.

    That never happened. The PWC school board was never approved the textbook evaluation criteria. The requirement makes sense when you consider why such a step would be necessary. The school system is considering a text which the VA DOE has determined does not meet it’s standards for various reasons. In an open society, the school system has to disclose those reasons to the appropriate public officials so that they can discuss and debate those reasons.

    Of course - the school system claims that they selected a newer version of that text as a defense. The state is silent as to what procedure local school districts should follow when selecting a subsequent version of text. But PWC isn’t. PWC, in regulation 653, SOP 6 - 15, states that schools can select a newer version of previously approved text provided they review the text for content match with the SOLs. Check out the first few words - of a previously approved text. MI was never approved and has not subsequently been approved for Grade 5 or as a K - 4 or K - 5 series. So this regulation doesn’t apply.

    PWC regulations are equally clear about non-state approved texts (same regulation - 653). They can only be used as supplemental material.

    I do wonder whether anyone on the board will challenge the math department on this point.

  16. Anonymous said on 5 Mar 2009 at 3:10 pm:
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    I was a little surprised that Mrs Ramirez stated so emphatically that her district has benefited from MI. Only two schools in her district saw their pass rates go up under MI (Porter and Belmont). All of the other schools in her district had declining pass rates:

    Vaughan - down 4
    Featherstone - down 2
    Leesylvania - down 3
    Marumsco Hills - down 4
    Porter - Up 2
    Potomac View - down 2
    Kilby - down 11
    River Oaks - down 10
    Belmont - up 1

    I’m also not sure where she got her data about the achievement gap because, based on the SOL, the achievement gap has increased since MI was mandated. The SDMT was never given to county students before MI was mandated and any conclusions citing it as evidence of MI’s superior performance can’t be substantiated because there is no SDMT baseline from the old program to compare against.

    It’s actually kind if sad. Mrs Ramirez’s district does have a high number of title 1 schools and district desperately needs the best program possible because those are the families least likely to be able to afford private tutors and who have the least free time to teach their kids at home. It was disheartening to see her so willingly parrot statements from the math department without taking the time to check their accuracy. Her district, of all the districts, needs choice.

  17. What I know said on 5 Mar 2009 at 5:03 pm:
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    Let it be said here that Ramerize needs to go. She is all for Dumbing down our schools.

    If you notice she always picks up a thought that is the same as one before her.

    She’s trying to make a big play,as her Husband tried to run for Supervisor last time ,so they are gearing up for the next election.
    Hear Principi wants to go for Delegate. Wow. Are we in for a treat.

  18. Anonymous said on 5 Mar 2009 at 5:09 pm:
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    I did notice at one point that Chairman Johns asked for nods from the board members to indicate that they were OK with some revision or another, and Richardson looked at Lattin and waited for him to nod before he would nod. It was kinda comical…….

  19. blah blah blah said on 5 Mar 2009 at 6:30 pm:
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    Thank you for bringing up Ramirez’ SOL scores. The public needs to know that she is full of it. Where are the people in 22191? Are they not paying attention. I will let you know that I am. I am a voter in 22191 and I’m most certainly paying attention. I’m definitely not voting for her in the next election. I’ll be sure to let all of my friends and neighbors in 22191 know that we should not support someone who is closing the gap on our children. I’m furious with her! What was she thinking? She needs to go.

  20. Anonymous said on 5 Mar 2009 at 10:44 pm:
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    Obambi lied, the economy died!

  21. Johnson said on 6 Mar 2009 at 7:55 am:
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    His Obama-ness is already being attacked by his once-loyal groupies. This will become more common as every issue becomes a dire emergency and requires immediate obedience to his wishes. OR THE WORLD WILL END!!!!!

  22. pwceducationreform said on 6 Mar 2009 at 9:13 am:
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    Blah blah blah - I suspect many of the residents of Mrs Ramirez district either fear retribution if they speak out, aren’t aware of the issue, of come from culture’s where questioning authority - like school system employees - is unheard of. As aware as some of us are of it, unless you watch school board meetings and read the blogs, you may not even be aware that there is a controversy.

    I say that not to slander the residents of her district, but as a comment on how difficult it is to spread the word. Just a few weeks ago I ran into a father at a bookstore in the west end of the county digging though the math study guides. We got to talking and he said he hated the math program but had no idea there was an effort underway to get rid of it.

    I believe that if a choice were given to parents in an unbiased, non-judgmental manner, that more than half the county parents would prefer a more traditional instructional program for their children. That’s part of what was so disappointing in the vote - it didn’t have to be either or. The balanced approach is valid and the objectives set forth in the motion would apply to any program - whether based on a traditional or a constructivist program.

    Two tracks wouldn’t have destroyed the school system - we could have had two different programs which provided a balanced approach to mathematics education - one which used a classical text as the core text and another which used a constructivist text as the core.

    That 4 of our school board members were so short sighted that they couldn’t imagine that is shocking.

  23. anon said on 6 Mar 2009 at 12:19 pm:
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    What I found to be the most disappointing was that all the excuses given by the 4 voting against opt-in weren’t really legitimate reasons. The comments regarding that opt-in would mean MI teachers couldn’t use anything traditional (wrong!) or that traditional teachers couldn’t use anything MI (wrong!) or that it would be throwing out MI (wrong!) or that schools that loved MI would no be forcing some kids or teachers into traditional (wrong!) or that it would be a huge cost (wrong!) or that it would be a logistics nightmare (wrong!). All of these could have been disputed and I think the ones who gave lame excuses know that.

    I guess official boards have to meet in that style of formality, but if I had been up there I would have wanted to correct and argue back the incorrect arguments instead of speaking one by one. It is frustrating to watch.

  24. Jane Doe said on 6 Mar 2009 at 5:22 pm:
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    It is frustrating - especially when staff and board members parrot information you know is untrue. Dr Walts, Mrs Ramirez, and Mr Lattin have all stated that he achievement gap has closed since Investigations was implemented. This is absolutely not true. The only comparative test which was given both before and after Investigations was mandated is the SOL, and, based on the SOL, the achievement gap has increased. The population of students which seems to have suffered the most under Investigations is our Hispanic students. At Vaughan, pass rates for Hispanic students are down 10 points in ONE year.

  25. Anon2009 said on 6 Mar 2009 at 8:45 pm:
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    I watched the board meeting and was flabbergasted by some of these members. My thought was that the top performing countries in Math/Science probably do not use math investigations! For an engineer which I believe Mr. Richardson is to promote MI is unbelievable. I know several engineers who are thoroughly against this program and are supplementing their children’s math at home. It is kids whose parents can’t afford or are not able to supplement their math at home who will be damaged by this program.

    I do believe the test scores for MI will be skewed by these kids who are being supplemented at home — it will keep the scores at a decent level. I bet the scores will plummet without these students. Frankly, if I still had a child in elementary school we would opt out of taking the SOL. I would like to see the SOL scores of students just taking MI without any supplementation from their parents that would give a true picture of what is happening in the schools.

  26. AWCheney said on 6 Mar 2009 at 9:12 pm:
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    Well Anon2009, my understanding from what I have read from the parents who have taken an active interest in this is that Mr. Richardson and Mr. Lattin are accusing them of INTERFERING in their children’s education…and that they should leave it to the professionals. It seems to me that what I always understood to be the foundation of a strong education for a child, parental involvement, is not only unwelcome by our current educators but actually discouraged. These people need to be replaced, along with the administrative personnel and those on the Board who are their accessories. With so much unemployment, and far more to come, I’m sure that it won’t be a problem to find replacements. It’s time for action.

  27. Jane Doe said on 7 Mar 2009 at 10:58 am:
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    FYI - Mr Richardson isn’t an engineer - he has a degree in History.

    Anon2009 - parents do have the right to refuse to allow their children to sit for the SOL. The SOL is a state mandated test designed to assess and evaluate school performance against state standards. School districts are required, by state statute, to have every child tested (this requirement was put in place to prevent school districts from only testing carefully selected students). There is no statute prohibiting parents from pulling their child from the test.

    At the elementary level the SOL is used solely to assess school performance. It isn’t used to determine inclusion into gifted or other programs. In High School students must pass a certain number of SOLs to graduate, but there are no such requirements at the elementary level.

    Your school Principal may not be too happy if you don’t allow your child to be tested, because that might reflect poorly on her, but you have a right to refuse testing for your child.

    The SDMT is another optional test. It’s not even state mandated. The SDMT is given in 1st and 2nd grades and has only been given since Investigations was mandated. It’s sole purpose is to monitor student achievement under Investigations - it has no other purpose. Parents of 1st and 2nd graders who teach at home are within their rights to refuse SDMT testing for their child. We wouldn’t want to corrupt the data set, after all!

    Interestingly, the SDMT is a Pearson product (Pearson being SFAW and Investigations publisher) and is generally used by school districts which use SFAW or Investigations. So you have the textbook publisher providing the tool school districts use to assess student achievement for textbook they publish. Can anyone say conflict?????

  28. No name said on 7 Mar 2009 at 11:10 am:
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    One of the more enlightening comments regarding Investigations selection came from Mrs Ramirez.

    “Most of you know that the population that is in my district is a heavy population of low income, African-American, Hispanic-American children. And when we talk about closing the achievement gaps in math and sciences that is why M.I. was put in place. That really was the reason; I kind of recall that.”

    Coming on the heels of another board member reporting the Investigations is needed because NCLB requires school districts to demonstrate improvement in the AYP ethnic and social groupings, her statement is indeed enlightening.

    It seems to me that the school district is stating that they selected Investigations because it might help minorities and disadvantaged students achieve higher SOL test scores. I think that’s a wonderful objective, but wonder about the rest of the students. Apparently, they don’t matter.

    The comments are even more enlightening when you look at performance of the AYP groups since Investigations was implemented. For 2/3 of our minority students and all of our disadvantaged students, pass rates are down, considerably. And rather than shrinking, the achievement gap for that same group has gotten larger.

  29. freedom said on 7 Mar 2009 at 4:41 pm:
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    Anyone out there interested in the Occoquan District School Board seat?

  30. fprichards said on 8 Mar 2009 at 7:29 am:
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    What kind of political statement is being made in all of this? 6 out of 8 Board members are proud members of the PW Republican Party - Johns, Trenum, Lucas….and Otaigbe, Richardson, Lattin.

    By the voting what can we surmise…using a little basic mathematics? Only 50% of the elected Board officials in the PW Republican party are supportive of choice in our schools and adherence to the letter and intent of state law and local regulations that govern our public school system. An absolute disgrace!

    Lattin and Richardson are the worst offenders - I’ve watched them attack parents in public (January 21st Board meeting), pontificate endlessly about the virtues of a hollow educational program…that they have no fear of having inflicted on THEIR CHILDREN, and back a group of zealots on the PWCS Superintendent’s staff who clearly have ulterior motives to further their own association with a radical anti-math cult that’s wreaked havoc in every district and state across the nation.

    This is now a referendum on THIS SCHOOL BOARD and Republican Leadership in PW County! Remove and replace this Board. This issue has handed the next election over to any group of Democrat candidates that have the sense to simply run on the promise of supporting parents and following the law. And parents deserve ANYONE other than Lattin, Richardson, and Otaigbe if this is the best the Republicans have to offer!!

  31. KFD said on 8 Mar 2009 at 7:47 am:
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    While your comments are interesting ideological observations around the question, “What is conservativism”, they must stop there as school board members do not run as representatives of any political party and are not serving in a partisan capacity.
    There are definitely some assumptions that one should be able to derive based on their political affiliation, and those assumptions do not fit here, as you pointed out, but I’m afraid that if we start labeling our school board officials along party lines that we will do ourselves a disservice. And…if they were to lead with “party” expectations in mind, that’s just one more thing for them to place in the hierarcy of concerns that are more important than parental input and influence.

  32. AWCheney said on 8 Mar 2009 at 9:31 pm:
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    “6 out of 8 Board members are proud members of the PW Republican Party - Johns, Trenum, Lucas….and Otaigbe, Richardson, Lattin.”

    As KFD suggested, they are not Republican elected officials fprichards…they are, by State law, INDEPENDENT elected officials. Although the Republican Party has foolishly attempted to “endorse” candidates for School Board office, as have the Democrats, few abide by the decision of endorsement making it rather irrelevant.

  33. sceptical said on 9 Mar 2009 at 5:56 am:
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    I like Ramirez saying “and when we talk about closing the achievement gaps in math and sciences that is why M.I. was put in place. That really was the reason; I kind of recall that.”

    She was told that recently ‘cos when they put in place, they didn’t give a reason. It was just the result of a biased adoption process.

    When we started asking questions, they said it was middle school SOL scores. When we proved they were not in crisis, it was “high schoolers can’t think”. Now they say it’s NCLB and we have proved that to be false, they’ll blame someone else.

    You may as well blame Santa Claus; just get rid of Math Investigations.

  34. GainesvilleMom said on 17 Mar 2009 at 1:07 pm:
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    Wednesday, March 11, during a budget work session the school board voted along the same 4-4 lines with a result of continuing to roll out Math Investigations into 5th grade next year. Yes folks, one more year gets added to the list of wasteful spending on a program that ill prepares our children for the future. The vote was along the same lines as the vote on Traditional Opt-in at the March 4 meeting with Richardson, Lattin, Otaigbe, and Ramirez voting with Math Investigations.

    Please make sure that your school board members know how unhappy you are with their decisions for your children. They need to hear from the public that this is not over. Don Richardson said on March 4th “When you have a 2 year old car, and maybe it’s sputtering a little bit, you don’t get a new car. You get a tune-up.” This “car” happens to be a lemon.

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