Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Close Only Counts In Horseshoes And Slow Dancing

Yesterday, the tax levy Proposition 3 went down to defeat in the Wentzville School District by a VERY small margin.  It happened despite an all-out community blitz promising that kids would have nowhere to learn, property values would fall, the terrorists would win, and the lack of money would cause kittens to die of cancer.  (OK, I made the last two up... sorry!)

There were signs everywhere, radio ads, mailed fliers, and I even got a personal visit from a Wentzville School Board member one Saturday morning!  (Wow, was that the wrong doorbell to ring or what?!?  BTW, Ms. Board Member, I'm still waiting on that promised phone call.)

Now, I don't intend on playing the "sore winner" card, since there aren't any real winners here.  Heck, my kids are in this district, and will be for years, so I do have an interest in the well-being of the school system.

But I would like to say that the Wentzville School District's arrogance caught up with them yesterday.  How did they expect a whole community to support their request for more money on Tuesday, when they treat half of us like ignorant pests the rest of the time?

The problem isn't that the Wentzville School District doesn't tell us what they need (District Spokesman Matt Deichmann will tell you how good a job he does.... just ask him!), it's that they don't communicate - sitting down and exchanging ideas, working through problems together... you know, "talking".  If they would make it a priority to take fifteen minutes to talk to parents with district-level issues, they might have persuaded 507 of the people that voted "no" to vote "yes" (I know two of them), which would have saved them a lot of future financial headaches.

But, as it stands, I'm sure they're all scratching their heads wondering how they lost the vote.  "How could just over half of the voting community not support it?"  I'm sure someone is out there trying to tell them... if they'd just return the phone call.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Whoops, Wentzville!

First, let me say hello to everyone again.  Its been several months since I've blogged about the Wentzville School District, but I decided to let sleeping dogs lie for awhile.

Yes, I could have shared a dismissive (but grossly fascinating) email exchange with Matthew Diechmann, the district's "public relations" person, in which a publication parent attempts to meet the district halfway by organizing meetings to create a policy that works for everyone.  (The District would have none of that... dang uppity parents!)

And sure, I could have shared the fact that the Wentzville School District went ahead and changed their publication policy - without any publication parental input - so that Assistant Superintendent Melody Marcantonio has final say on what gets censored. 

And, I could have mentioned that the Wentzville School District decided to fund the publication budget, instead of allowing the publication to conduct ad sales (as it has done for years prior to Principal Winston Rogers and Marcantonio), in order to remove the legal defense of the paper being an "independent forum".

I could have also complained about the inexplicable, punitive and dubious reasons that the Wentzville Administration had for cancelling the publication's award trip to Kansas City. (And before someone starts yelling "budget cutbacks", this trip is FULLY funded by publication parents and students... unlike the tax payer money now being used to publish the paper due to removal of ad sales.)

However, I just couldn't resist speaking out any longer, given yesterday's developments.  But, I think a little background recap is needed to better understand what has happened...

If you recall, much of the turmoil from last year's censorship debacle came from the attempted publication in Timberland High School's newspaper of an article about tattoos.  In particular, there were photos that Principal Winston Rogers and Assistant Superintendent Melody Marcantonio found offensive.  (Click here to view the original Timberland High School article.)  Winston Rogers has argued that he tows a zero tolerance line on tattoos, which the Wentzville School District has implicitly backed by their non-action on the subject.  They had also argued that the harassment against their publication faculty sponsor was based on the zero-tolerance tattoo policy, and not an attempt to drive her from the school (for whatever reason.)

Now, let's fast-forward to yesterday, about one year from the tattoo article's attempted publication.  In the Wentzville Middle Schools, school administration handed out temporary tattoos to students in recognition of "red ribbon week", part of the school district's anti-drug education.  Students were given the "red ribbon" tattoos, and were encouraged to wear them at school.

Uh... Seriously?!?

With my whole being, I hope the district is getting an earful from the same parents that defended Rogers, and thanked him for "saving their children from tattoos."  But since I'm certain that promoting a tattoo culture in middle school is somehow "different" from printing educational articles about tattoos in high school, the mighty-morals will be nice and quiet.

My belief is that by actually using tattoos as an educational tool, the Wentzville School District has shown their hand from the game they played last school year.  The issue wasn't about anti-tattoo policy, or about censoring inappropriate material, it was instead the personal vendetta of a school administrator against a journalism teacher that embarrassed her years earlier.

Unfortunately, those that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
...or should that read, "Those that spout zero-tolerance on tattoos shouldn't promote tattoos?"

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Publication Parents Welcome the Choir Parents to Wentzville School District Policies

Last week, KMOV ran a news story describing an incident that occurred during a Choir trip to Six Flags.  The incident involved students bringing and consuming alcohol during the trip, some of whom arrived back at the school visibly drunk.  The incident resulted in the suspension of six students from attending graduation.

The policy for possession and consumption of alcohol is very strict, as it should be.  Such misbehaviour is rightly banned, due to the illegality, risk of harm, and liability to the chaperons and the school district.  If a student abuses that policy by consuming or possessing alcohol, then let the consequences fall where they may.

However, we're talking about simple implementation of policy at Timberland High School... so something must have gotten screwed up.  As it turns out, two of the suspended students didn't consume or possess alcohol.  They were suspended for just "knowing" that other students had the alcohol at the event.  They are being punished after making a personal choice to not consume the alcohol, or even possess it, because they knew there would be consequences.  However, they didn't realize that this was the Wentzville School District, and that means (say it with me)... "flexible policies"!

These students fell victim to two unwritten policies in the school district.  The first unpublished policy must say that if a student makes a personal decision to refuse to participate in an inappropriate act offered by another student, they then must report that to administration.  I've looked for the "big brother" policy on their website, but have failed to find it (rumor has it that its located in a safety deposit box somewhere in Arizona).  If the students were made aware that such a "snitch" policy existed, they would have been able to make an informed decision to tell the chaperons, and avoid any punishment.  Instead, they are now at the whim of Winston Rogers' snap judgements, and the blind eye of support he enjoys from the Wentzville School Administration.

The second unwritten policy (which was given to me as a draft from the District entitled, "F*** Off, but Thanks For The Tax Money") is that parental involvement in issues involving Timberland High School students is not acceptable.  A report from a parent involved in the issue describes that they were not made aware of the issue until after the students were interrogated by Wentzville School administrators.  Additionally, when the students were picked up by their parents after the event, no administrators were on hand to discuss any issues.  To date, Winston Rogers and the rest of the Wentzville School district administration have failed to return calls and emails to the Choir parents.

These are the same policy and communication issues that the parents of the publications staff have come to expect from the Wentzville School District, Wentzville School Administration and Winston Rogers.  So, as a Wentzville School District parent, I would like to welcome the Choir parents to the realization that the Wentzville School District has no interest in parental involvement, and to personally wish them good luck in dealing with Winston Rogers and the mindless support he enjoys from the district... you'll need it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Quagmire of Flexible Standards

Recently, news has surfaced that MTV has visited Timberland High School.  Reportedly, the visit was to feature a THS student in MTV's show "Made", a show about helping teens learn what it takes to achieve their goals.

As altruistic as this show sounds, MTV is not exactly a network that promotes sound family values.  For example, here are some of MTV's other shows...
  • Jersey Shore: The current "standard" (should I say "sub-standard"?) in inappropriate role models.  Bar brawls, constant swearing, even more constant conversations about sex, cast members "hooking up", and excessive drinking -- which often leads to throwing up and/or promiscuous behavior.
  • 16 & Pregnant: This reality series attempts to highlight the difficulties associated with being pregnant and becoming a young mother. However, the show is light on education ("doing the hokey pokey" and other metaphors are used), while spending most of its time focusing more on relationship drama than issue-related content.
  • My Super Sweet 16:   The show highlights the "sweet 16" parties that are thrown by affluent parents.  Parents act like jerks.  Kids act like spoiled jerks.  This show sets unrealistic aspirations for teens.  The messages that this show sends to teens include; "my daddy will get me anything I want"; teen's goals should be to make their friends jealous; material rewards at any cost; feeling entitled is acceptable.
  • I Want A Famous Face:  What better message to send to your teen than, "if you don't like the way you look, then expensive and risky surgery is for you!"
There are numerous other examples of MTV's glamorization of teen angst and misbehavior, but I don't have that much time (or patience) to write about them all. 

So, here's the quandary - If a school district finds it so morally reprehensible to show a photo of a tattoo that memorializes someone that died from breast cancer, how can it then turn around and allow a TV network into the building that glorifies teenage misbehavior... including tattoos?  Even though the show "Made" has a positive message (that achieving any worthy goal takes commitment and hard work), it's aired between shows like "Is She Really Going Out With Him" and "Disaster Date".  To put it simply - even if you put healthy, lean turkey on a turd sandwich... it's still a turd sandwich.

So, if I might reference one of Winston Rogers's supporters that helped to silence the parents at March's Wentzville School District board meeting:  She thanked Winston Rogers for saving her child from having to view tattoo related material.  Now, I'd like to thank Winston Rogers and the Wentzville School District for exposing my children to an entire TV channel dedicated to the glorification of the worst influences of teen life... sex, drugs, and the pursuit of immediate gratification at any cost.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More Media Coverage of Wentzville School District Censorship

Hi All,

The internet news buzz continues to grow about the Wentzville School District and the ongoing issues of censorship and parental communication...

Kalen Ponche of the Suburban Journals - a subsidiary of the St. Louis Post Dispatch - wrote a followup article highlighting the continued frustration felt by parents and students alike.  Of interest in the article is the comments made by the current Wentzville School Board President Dale Schaper. 

First, Board President Dale Shaper stated that they "simply followed district policy" in only allowing 15 minutes to speak.  What he fails to say is that nowhere in the policy does it state that public comments are limited to 15 minutes.  Instead, the policy states:
5. Due to the possible number of speakers during the public forum, the Board President may limit or extend the speaking time.
Since Board President Dale Schaper had the perogitive to adjust the speaking time, I want to make sure that it is perfectly clear that the 15 minute limitation was his personal decision

Board President Dale Schaper also stated that parents and students can "request a spot on the agenda in the future. The request must be made in writing five days before the meeting."  Unfortunately, this again illustrates that the issue has no importance to the Wentzville School Board, since they don't deem it necessary to proactively address it by adding it to the agenda themselves.

Lastly, board member David Hurst added yet another example of the Wentzville School District Administration being out of touch with their own policies.  Mr. Hurst stated that "he didn't know all the details about what was not allowed to go into the newspaper or yearbook."  However, per the Wentzville School District Student Publication policy...
The building principal shall forward the statement and copies of the article to the Superintendent and the Board of Education for their information.
Obviously, this never occured, or Mr. Hurst and the rest of the Wentzville School Board would be better informed on what was going on.

A letter was sent to the Wentzville School Board and Administration from the Society of Professional Journalists.  According to their website, the SPJ is a "broad-based, national journalism organization founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi. SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press."

The letter condemns the Wentzville School District for allowing censorship, and illustrates the damage they have done in allowing it to persist. 

And finally, one of my favorites...

Frank LoMonte, the Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, posted a scathing editorial on the latest activities of the Wentzville School District.  Mr. LoMonte's blog entry, dated March 29th, does an excellent job of highlighting the irony of the Wentzville School administration practices.

And on a final note.... Please read the "Call To Action" notice on the left, and remember to vote next Tuesday, April 6th!  Change happens... but only if you want it to happen!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Great Wentzville School District Communication Experiment

Hello all,

As you may know, election day in Wentzville is April 6th, and is right around the corner.  There are two seats up for election on the Wentzville School Board.  The incumbent school board members are Dale Schaper and Joe McDonald.

As you may also know, Dale Schaper's use of "arbitrary" policy managed to censor the parents of Timberland High School journalism students at the March 18th board meeting. 

What you may not know, though, is that ongoing attempts at communication with the district since that incident have produced nothing.  As a matter of fact, we've been effectively told that parents aren't welcome in the district if you have a problem.  If you have something to say, you only get three minutes a month... if we let you.

So, if you have been following this blog, and have any doubts about why this district needs to change, I'm proposing a little experiment... and all it will take is the time to send one email.

Step 1:  Choose. 
You can send an email to any one address, some of them, or - if you're feeling saucy - all of them! 
Board Members:
Dale Schaper,
David Ness,
Sherry Cox,
David Hurst,
Joe McDonald,
Michael Cecil,
Terry Ratcliff,

Superintendant - Dr. Terry Adams,
Assistant Superintendant - Dr. Melody Marcantonio,
District Spokesperson - Matt Deichmann,
Step 2: Ask a question.
Ask anything!  You can ask to be pointed to statistics for the district, or past performance in achieving "adequate yearly progress" (AYP).  Or for bonus points, make the question about something semi-controversial or topical.  Examples of some topics could be:
  • How is the district going to pay for full day kindergarten after two years?
  • Why are parent/teacher conferences at the high school conducted in public, in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974?
  • Would the district be willing to consider a dress code for students?
  • Why do kids need to spend so much time "MAP test prepping"?
  • Why can't my kids sell brownies/cookies to raise money for their activity?
  • Can gays/lesbians go to prom in the district with their dates?
  • And, or course, you can ask any questions about the censorship issues I've been covering as well.
Step 3: Wait
Did you get a response?  We can wait....
What about now?  Still no.... I hope you're not holding your breath!
....On the odd chance you did get a response, was it respectful?  Or was it dismissive?  Hmmm... thought so.

Step 4:  Send me your results.
Drop your results in a comment to this blog post.  I'd love to post some of the questions and responses - if any.  (If you wish to remain anonymous, please edit all of your personal info from the comment!)

Step 5:  Vote
Okay.  You caught me!  I did say that all you had to do was send an email, but bear with me for just a couple more moments...

Now that you have witnessed the root of the issue that the parents of the Wentzville School District have been struggling against, you now have the great gift of being able to make an educated decision.  It's obvious to many of the parents that the Wentzville School District board members need to enforce a pro-parent, pro-communication policy within their ranks, and within the Wentzville School administration as well. The only way to do this is to put in place board members that support this approach... and the only way to do that is to vote!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Media Coverage of March 18th Board Meeting

Hi again,

After waiting a few days for the coverage to spread, I think its time to collect a list of links to the media coverage that the Wentzville School Board meeting on March 18th garnered. 

  • Two local TV stations provided coverage of the incident.  KMOV, Channel 4's report can be found here.  KSDK, Channel 5's report is here.
  • The Post Dispatch was in attendance, with the subsequent news article found here.
  • SCC Worlds, a community news organization for St. Charles County, was in attendance as well.  Their report, along with video of Dr. Terry Adams' statements after the meeting, Wentzville School Board statements during the meeting, and parent and student comments can be found here.
  • The Student Press Law Center posted an article as well, located here.
  • JEA Scholastic Press Rights Commission covered the incident, as well.  The article can be found here.

 More as it develops....