Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Midweek Meanderings 

It is midweek and it is Halloween! Scary eh?

I think Aubree is forgoing her planned trip to France in order to visit her mother in England instead. She wants to go to Paris, but not at the expense of not visiting her mom in England. So it looks like she and Patrick will be flying to England this summer. The challenge? Finding a nonstop flight to London that originates somewhere within a reasonable drive from here.

A high school student carrying $600 with no job and no parental knowledge of access to that kind of money? Lets just say I was highly suspicious.

The gym restoration at my school is coming along nicely. A large crew has been working like crazy in there and are doing a great job.

The newest signature line in my work email is from John Gardner:

The cynic says, "One man can't do anything." I say, "Only one man can do anything."

I like that.

One of my class assignments is to go see this movie, King of the Mountain. This film is based on the two largest football powerhouses in this state and how they build their teams and compete for the state title every single year. The relevance to a personnel class? It is the idea that they identify, recruit, nurture, retain, and promote talent from the earliest ages. How do we do this in our school organizations?

One of those two teams wins the state title almost every single year. When they play each other they draw more fans than many college games. The rivalry is fierce and intense. A coach that loses a game or two at one of those schools is in big trouble. The expectations are enormous. Their secret? A program of nurturing and developing young football players and inculcating in them the dream that it will be them on that field some day, thousands of fans cheering, college coaches beating a path to their door.

A high school football coach once told me, “I have to be insane. My whole career is based on how well temperamental teenagers throw a funny shaped ball around a grass field.” I enjoy football as much as the next guy, but the importance of high school football in this state is just too much.

If you look at the state rankings regardless of class my school ranks third in the state behind those two powerhouses.

Patrick just isn’t in to trick or treating this year. He’d rather pass out candy at the door.

So how is YOUR week going?


Sunday, October 28, 2007

You're Fired! 

I spent most of the afternoon today listening to an attorney discuss how to fire school employees without getting into trouble. I have heard all of this before, but a refresher in school law never hurt anyone! Firing a teacher or even a bus driver can be tricky and you can mess yourself up if you are not careful. Hopefully this is something I will rarely have to do, but you never know!

The attorney told us that the big problem was inaccurate evaluations over the years. You have a principal or superintendent who wants to be liked by the staff and fluffs over obvious problems during the evaluation process. At some future point a new principal comes in, sees the teacher in action, and moves to get rid of them. There are years worth of positive evaluations and now here comes a bad one. The teacher can make a case in court that the new principal is biased for some reason. After all, they have all these years of good evaluations and now one bad one.

It is challenging to fairly but rigorously evaluate people. I view it is a professional responsibility I have to the teacher and to the students. The teacher cannot improve if I do not give them objective feedback on their performance. This can also cause a morale problem with other teachers if they see someone not doing their job properly and nothing being done about it. Many times the problem is that administrators want to be liked, don’t want to cause waves, and gloss over obvious problems. If a teacher has been performing poorly for years it is just as much the administrator’s fault as it is the teacher’s. Part of my job is to honestly evaluate teacher performance. I have a duty to correct poor performance. The evaluative power can be abused, either by not critically evaluating poor performance or by a negative evaluation of someone with whom the administrator has personal disagreements. Neither one is the right thing to do.

The biggest challenge for anyone doing evaluations is to set aside the personal and focus on the professional. You may really like someone as a person but their performance is not up to snuff. You may dislike them personally but they do a great job in the classroom. You have to set aside your own personal biases and focus objectively on what you see. I’m sure this is true in any profession.

This brings up an old question. Can you be friends with someone who works for you? Can you go out for beer with them on Saturday night and professionally evaluate them on Monday morning? Will it damage the friendship or mess up the professional relationship? Can one truly separate the personal and the professional side of their lives? How about the perception from the rest of the staff? Will they think you are playing favorites? I have seen such issues crop off before.

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend!


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Midweek Meanderings 

It is midweek and the weather is changing.

It has been cooling down and fall weather is upon us. A couple of days ago it was rainy and cold. There is definitely a chill in the air just in time for Halloween and the end of football season!

I start my next class this weekend. The subject? Personnel administration. I do have a lot of personnel to administrate. Even with teacher evaluations divided up three ways, I still have over thirty evaluations to do. I actually really enjoy doing the classroom observations. It is amusing the way people react when I come in. Sometimes the teacher ignores my presence (which is fine…I want them to carry on with what they are doing) and sometimes they greet me and engage me in conversation. One of the math teachers drew a stick figure on the board, labeled it with my name, and used it as the example in a calculus problem. The kids thought it was funny and so did I!

Aubree is now enrolled in dance classes. She is already taking singing/piano lessons, so now she’ll be able to sing AND dance. I wish I could do either!

Aubree really needs to stop answering the phone when telemarketers call and making funny little noises until they hang up. When I tell her that she tells me I’m no fun.

Our school was struck by fire last week. No kids were present and no one was hurt, but the gymnasium suffered extensive damage. The metal roof got so hot that it melted and dripped on the floor. One restoration specialist told us that it would take 40 people working ten hour days for 45 days to get it back in shape. The smoke damage is everywhere…walls, ductwork, banners, bleachers. It apparently very labor intensive to get rid of it.

My niece’s school was also struck by fire. The elementary school, gym, and cafeteria burned down. She is out of school all this week while they make plans to have class.

Speaking of fires….my thoughts and prayers go out to those in California who are being forced to leave their homes because of the fires. I pray that the fires will be put under control soon and that the rebuilding process may begin.

I thought of my friend Rain and have worried about her a lot. The fires are currently only a few miles from her home. Please keep her and her family in your thoughts and prayers.

So how is YOUR week going?


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Road Trip 

I decided to take a mini-vacation, combining fall break with this weekend. The four of us piled in my little car and drove south, the kids not knowing where we were headed. I kept it a mystery to them, something that drove them crazy!

We headed south and stopped by Robber’s Cave, somewhere I have been many times but the kids have never visited. Aubree loved climbing the rocks and squeezing through the cave crevices. Patrick? Not so much. Trying to follow Aubree through one of the crevices he was overheard saying, “people must have been a lot smaller back then!” It was a beautiful fall day and we enjoyed hiking up the trail and just being out there.

We then drove to Talihina and headed into the Talimena Drive. Oklahoma may not have mountains in the sense that some of the rest of the country thinks of mountains, but the Ouachitas look like mountains to me, especially when you’re driving up and down them! The scenery was spectacular and we enjoyed stopping at the scenic vistas and just soaking in the feeling of being in such a beautiful place. From there we headed north to Springdale, Arkansas and spent the night.

This morning we got up and headed out to the War Eagle Crafts Festival. We walked a lot, shopped a lot, got some sun, and then headed back home. Patrick is in proud possession of a wooden dragon sword and shield set and Aubree scored a wooden train. It is nice to see that the kids still appreciate simple toys in the age of video games and electronics.

I think the kids enjoyed the trip but you wouldn’t know it by the complaining they did! Aubree was out of cell phone range and you would have thought the world was coming to an end. No phone! No friends! No drama! Cut off from the group of friends she calls her “posse”! I asked her in all seriousness if she appointed someone to be in charge while she was gone. It turns out she had but she was concerned the friend wasn’t up to the job. I tried to reassure her that somehow the world would survive if she went a day without talking to the posse, but she never seemed quite convinced.

Patrick? He complained about being cramped in the car, all the driving, and all the walking he had to do. Terri and I may appreciate scenic vistas, but as far as Patrick was concerned when you saw one you had seen them all. After a few of those crafts booths he thought the same thing about them. He kept reminding me that I was not to take any scenic bypasses on the way home. “One word for you dad…Highway! Highway!”

Remember of course that these are the same kids who have been known to say, “we never go anywhere!” Sometimes the little darlins just can’t be pleased! In spite of their complaining I know that they had some fun this weekend.

So did I. Sometimes it is just really nice to get away even if for a short time. Standing in the mountains, breathing the air, and looking at a sun beginning to set on gorgeous valleys gives one a sense of perspective that can get lost in day to day life.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Absolute Power 

A local lawsuit which has grown into a national story contains allegations of impropriety against Oral Roberts University president Richard Roberts and his wife. The allegations range from using university funds for their daughter’s senior trip on a private plane, to extensive home remodeling, lavish clothing purchases, and other financial improprieties at university and ministry expense, to semi-lurid accounts of Mrs. Roberts’ friendship with an underage male. Local papers and radio have been all over this story as new details continue to leak out.

I don’t know if any of the allegations are true, although I’d be surprised if at least some of them aren’t. Richard Roberts has near absolute power at that university and in that ministry, and you know what they say about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Human nature is open and vulnerable to temptation, especially when you think there is little or no risk of being caught. Who is going to question you? Who is going to say, “umm…I don’t think the university should be paying $15,000 for a kitchen range for your house. Isn’t that a bit extravagant?” Who is going to say, “uh, Richard, I don’t think you should be taking your daughter and her friends to the Bahamas on the university dime. I think YOU should pay for it if you want to take that trip.” Everyone there counts on his benevolence for their livelihood.

There you are. You are admiring this state-of-the-art kitchen range that can do everything but slice the meat for you and wash the dishes afterward. Hmm…$15,000? I can write a check or put it on my Visa card OR I can bill it to the university as a housing expense. Hey, I work hard, lots of long hours, put everything into this job. I deserve this, and what is a measly $15,000 when millions of dollars are flowing in and out. Work hard enough at it and you can justify it in your own mind. How many of us could resist that kind of temptation over the years?

The point is that we shouldn’t have to. All of us are fallible and vulnerable to temptation. Most of us, if left totally unchecked and unchallenged will make errors in judgment that could turn into downright theft. How many could resist dipping into the multi-million honey pot if no one could tell us no? The human capacity for rationalization and justification is quite large. I should know…I’ve done my share of rationalizing and justifying.

When I first started teaching it was not uncommon for the superintendent or principal to carry a big wad of petty cash around in their pocket. Need some toilet paper for the junior class float? They would peel off a couple of bills and send you on your way. I’m sure that most were honest, but how many might’ve been tempted to pay for their dinner with a chunk of that cash? After all, they work hard and perhaps they were thinking about school business while eating filet mignon. Now there are tight controls over how money is spent, with even small expenses going through several layers of approval and no one carrying cash around. Its better that way. Expand that small wad of petty cash to millions of dollars and you have the situation at O.R.U. There is indeed a fine line between personal and business expenses when you are the president of the school and the son of the founder. The question is……who draws the line and who holds the line drawer accountable?

There are little old ladies sitting in their homes and sending a check from their meager retirement checks to help fund that university and ministry. There are parents scraping every last dime together to pay tuition. They aren’t doing that to buy trips to the Bahamas or fancy clothes for the president’s wife. They believe in the university or ministry and want to support them. Someone should ensure that their money is well spent and one man or woman simply can’t do that, especially when they have a self interest. After all, absolute power really does corrupt.



Sunday, October 14, 2007

Date Night 

I am embarrassed to say how long it has been since I took Terri out for a “date night”. Despite both of us acknowledging how important such nights are, a combination of my weekend classes, school events, fatigue, child care, and just plain laziness have kept us from spending much time out of the house and away from the kids. We had to make up for some lost time last night!

We decided to spend the evening at the Riverwalk in Jenks. Now granted, it isn’t exactly the San Antonio riverwalk or even the Oklahoma City “Bricktown” area, but it is on the river and there are a number of restaurants and shops to peruse. It was a beautiful fall evening, a gentle cool breeze making it a perfect night to stroll along the river. We sipped margaritas and munched on chips and salsa while waiting for a seat in Los Cabos, had a delicious meal there (Terri loved the ceviche and bacon wrapped shrimp!) and more margaritas,. I tried not to look over her shoulder TOO much to see the score of the Oklahoma-Missouri football game! Then we strolled back outside to hear a band doing covers from the 70’s/80’s. We sat down, enjoyed the music and the good company, watched the cute kids dancing in the aisles, and just reveled in the fact that it was just the two of use enjoying each other’s time. We were also amused that most members of the band were probably not even alive when many of those songs came out.

We eventually meandered down to the theater to watch “The Kingdom”, a movie that was disappointing, given the interesting story that could be told about the United States and Saudi Arabia. Still, it didn’t spoil our evening and it was nice to sit in comfortable chairs and relax after our big night.

Every time we do this we always say we need to do it more often. I think it is important for couples not to get entirely consumed by work, home, and kids and to preserve an identity with each other outside of those roles. I work long days and often long nights and I also take weekend classes. It is too easy for moments like last night to become all too rare. Perhaps I need to break out the calendar and set some dates in concrete!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend!


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mid week Meanderings 

It is midweek and the winds of autumn are blowing.

The mornings have been cool here and the afternoons have been beautiful. I so enjoy this time of year.

I have spent the past two weeks working on my school’s “Site Improvement Plan”. I could’ve made this a lot easier on myself, but perfectionist that I am; I want it to be just exactly right. I’m a little bleary eyed from writing goals and action plans, but I’m sure I will recover soon enough!

Was that Monday Night Football game a crazy one or what? I almost turned it off with a few minutes left and I’m glad I didn’t.

I am mentally tired after a weekend of doing statistics in class sandwiched by writing a 100 page plan for the school. Can you say…..brain drain?

Isn’t my daughter too young to be feuding back and forth with one of her friends over a boy? I sure think so.

This week is homecoming at my school. There are a lot of things that go into making a homecoming event successful and fun for the kids. I’m sure we will have a good time, but I’ll be glad when it is over!

Every morning when I pull into the school parking lot the band is practicing on the field and playing “Mr. Roboto”. A side effect of this is that it often leaves me humming and singing the song all day long.

So how is YOUR week going?


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Award Winners 

The 2007 Okie Blogger Award winners were announced this evening and I am humbled to be among the selections. Stop by and check out the entire list here.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners, and a special thanks to Mike at Okie Doke who gives of his time each year to coordinate these awards on behalf of all Oklahoma bloggers. I am proud of the community of bloggers in this state which continues to grow both in number and in quality.

I wish I had been able to join the gang at the roundup tonight, but my quantitative research class had the nerve to be scheduled at the same time. While they were eating pizza and having a grand ole time I was staring at a book and trying to understand "analysis of variance". Maybe next year!

Update: This weekend also marks my fourth blogiversary. Four years?!!! Has it really been that long? The past four years is a testament to the fact that life can change quickly, that there are many good people out there, that a community of people online or off can make a difference, and that learning and growing never stops. Thanks to all of you who take the time to make my little corner of the online world one of your pit stops and many thanks to those who have been my friends over these years. You mean a lot to me.


Friday, October 05, 2007

The Bees 

I received word that one of my students from last year was killed in a drive-by shooting. This saddened me a great deal as I knew this young man quite well and had frequent conversations with him. He wasn’t a bad kid, but he lived in a bad situation and spent way too much time on the streets. There was always an argument, a grudge, something going on, and he lived by that creed. It is such a shame.

I was thinking about this after I dropped Aubree off at school and drove through my old neighborhood before getting on the highway and speeding off to work. I passed a block where new houses where springing up on a city block that was once a baseball field with a large empty field.

We used to frequent this area often, climbing over the fence to play baseball and horsing around in the bleachers. In the summertime the large empty field was often overgrown and seemed to be a magnet for every bee in the neighborhood. When you walked or drove your bike through the field you often got stung. Yes, we could always just walk around, but it was a testosterone test of manhood to go through the field. We used to line our bikes up at the edge of the field and race through it, our theory being that if you rode fast enough the bees couldn’t sting you. You just had to be faster, stronger, smarter than the bees. It didn’t always work out….one of my friends was riding his bike through there, a bee flew into his open mouth and stung him on the roof of his mouth. Still, we persevered, always convinced that we could beat those bees.

My young student had his own bees, but like us he didn’t think he would get stung. He chose to ride through the field, not being able to see another way. He got stung and a promising young life was snuffed out in an instant.

I was talking to another student a couple of weeks ago who is still wearing bandages from being shot this past summer. He was running away and the bullet passed through his ribs and went into his hand. But for a precious inch or two he would have been a statistic as well. He was somewhat fatalistic, shrugging his shoulders and saying, "I got lucky. It just wasn't my time." He is still just dodging the bees.

I hope he doesn't get stung too.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Midweek Meanderings 

It is midweek and we’re just rolling along.

I attempted to mow my lawn this past weekend, but the deck drive belt was damaged and needed to be replaced. I visited three stores here in my little hamlet in search of a belt. None of them had it. I ended up having to order it directly from the manufacturer. Luckily, one of my brothers came by and mowed right before the big rainstorm last night.

It started pouring down rain when we were halfway to the fair. We have been cursed so far in our attempts to go to the fair. We are trying again tomorrow night..*fingers crossed*

We had a blood drive at school today and I gave blood for the first time in several years. I was proud to see so many of our students giving blood. A lot of them got a kick out of seeing me sitting there giving blood.

I have a framed letter from a student in my office, written some years ago. A lot of the students like to read it and comment on how nice it is. I always ask, “when is the last time you wrote a letter like that to someone? You can tell by the fact that I’ve kept it all these years that this one made a difference to me. You should think about it.”

We had a student who has been skipping math class for almost two weeks because she did not have money to buy batteries for her calculator. She is essentially living on her own and has no money for things like this. During a momentary lull in the action today I drove down the street and purchased a package of batteries. Tears formed in her eyes when I gave them to her. Sometimes it is small things that make all the difference.

Patrick is only two days away from his first ever paycheck and he already has it spent in his mind many times over. Remember your first paycheck? Mine was for about $50.00, a sum earned busing tables at a steakhouse for $2.30 an hour. I’d never before in my life had so much money all my own.

My friend Carol is challenging other bloggers to help raise money for classrooms in her area. Read all about it here. It is a worthy cause, and if you can help out please stop by, read her post, and toss a little money into the pot. I am.

So how is YOUR week going?


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