Thursday, October 16, 2008

Witness the anger and bitterness

Here are two letters that appeared in response to my recent opinion piece in the Rochester Eccentric that called for a community dialogue on student behavior as it relates to drugs, alcohol, fighting, and theft.

Rochester Eccentric: Letters (10/16/08)

To put these letters in context and perspective, I’d encourage you to read my article again first (found by clicking here), and then read the letters.

I've spotlighted these letters because they demonstrate the bitter, reflexively defensive tone that too often obstructs civil dialogue on the thornier issues facing our schools.

I've inserted comments in the middle of their letters to illustrate how they’ve twisted things.

Keep in mind that the primary focus of my article was to call attention to the difficult, yet important issue of student safety and behavior regarding drugs, alcohol, and theft. The only thing I encouraged was a wider community dialogue. Yet for some unknown reason these parents seem to be fixated on discouraging video surveillance.

So, as you read these letters, ask yourself what sort of message are these parents trying to send to me by responding so angrily to my opinion piece? Are they saying that school safety and student behavior is fine, and doesn’t require any attention? Or are they saying, “Don’t mention this in public?”

==> Mike.

P.S. For the record, Ms. Thomasson was one of the speakers at the September 22 board meeting that is discussed in my opinion piece and the letters below.


The real disconnect

In Mr. Reno's quest to install video surveillance in the Rochester Community Schools, [What quest is that? I think VS would be worthwhile, but I never once mentioned it my article.] he has misrepresented the facts and disrespected the school community. Data does not support his claim that video surveillance is needed in our schools. [What data? What claim?]

While Mr. Reno claims that there is a disconnect between the school community and reality, the disconnect is between Mr. Reno and the school community. He shows his disconnect when he refers to the building security strategy as merely pep assemblies promoting safety. [Exactly what strategy does Ms. Johnson believe is in place?]

Since Mr. Reno is totally lost when it comes to understanding our school community and how it works, I suggest he stick to his responsibilities as board member. [I believe safety is indeed a board responsibility.]

Melanie Johnson
Rochester Hills

Reno is wrong

I am writing in response to Mr. Reno's opinion piece in (the Oct. 5) Eccentric titled "Focus on facts in school safety debate."

In yet another effort to advocate for video surveillance, [Read my article… I advocated for a “reality check”, not video surveillance.] it is unfortunate that Mr. Reno failed to mention any of the other important items that are included on the list of more than $5 million of high-priority, unfunded items for the coming school year, including curriculum and technology updates and required maintenance of Rochester Community Schools' facilities. [Entirely unrelated to my opinion piece. It’s a completely different discussion, which I’ll explore soon.]

In his opinion piece, Mr. Reno belittled school culture-changing initiatives such as Challenge Day [False: I participated in one of these events, and clearly see benefit in them.] and presentations by nationally known diversity speaker Michael Fowlin [The board has never been invited to a school to hear him. Would love to go.] , by calling them "pep assemblies promoting safety." Well, he is wrong. [Never belittled them… in fact I mentioned they were a key component. What I clearly said was that they should not be the ONLY component.]

These programs are part of a district-wide strategy focused on prevention. [Exactly what strategy is that?] We do have pep assemblies at Rochester High School and they are awesome, but they are all about and only about school spirit!

But, speaking of school spirit, Mr. Reno dismissed public comments made at the Sept. 22, 2008, Board of Education meeting by Rochester High School parents and students, as merely "an admirable showing of school spirit." Either he wasn't listening or he didn't understand the comments that were made.

In response to remarks made by a police liaison officer at the Sept. 8 board meeting, that made every day seem like "Fright Night" at Rochester High, more than 30 students and about a dozen parents came out to tell the Board of Education and the public that Rochester High School is a safe place to go to school. [Nobody said it is not safe.]

No one said that there aren't problems. [Not true… several students said there were no problems. And more significantly, board members said that as high school parents they do not see these “situations”.] But as a diverse community of nearly 1,800 students, it is very similar to other high schools in our area, particularly when it comes to school safety issues. [The Deputies and I both said the very same thing.]

Mr. Reno is now asking for an exploration of safety and security facts, saying that our Rochester public schools are out of touch with reality. That is not the case. In fact, we have had frank discussions about safety and security concerns. [Who exactly is “we”? These discussions have not happened at the school board level, which was my entire point.] A parent and community forum sponsored by the Rochester PTA Council called Rochester Unplugged addressed many of these issues. It included a panel discussion with members of law enforcement, our judicial community and the media. [Why is it OK for the PTA Council to have a discussion, but not a Rochester board member?] The District Student and Staff Safety and Security Committee, of which I was a member, did discuss and take into consideration school safety facts before making safety and security recommendations to the Board of Education in 2007. [That is incredibly misleading. The superintendent has clearly said that the purpose of that committee was to consider how to protect students against aggressive attacks on the building, and specifically did not address student behavior issues like drugs, alcohol, or theft in any way whatsoever.] But those recommendations were made by the committee without regard to budget constraints.

Given current budget constraints on our general fund and a limited fund balance, the Board of Education will need to make some difficult choices in the coming months. Mr. Reno believes the board could choose to do them all, meaning fund all of the $5 million of high-priority unfunded items in the next school year, including more than $1 million in video surveillance equipment. [That is completely wrong in several ways. I don’t agree that the list is complete, nor do I believe the district needs to do the complete video recommendation. Ms. Thomasson is simply making this up.]

I personally do not believe it would be fiscally responsible to fund them all by spending down our fund balance in such uncertain times. The Board of Education must prioritize these items and I believe the items that directly impact student learning should be at the top of the list.

Sue Thomasson
Rochester Hills


Anonymous said...

For a mature take on how Rochester school security could be better addressed - if we only had a brain - check out our responsible neighbors in Waterford:

Federal Funds to Boost Security in Waterford Schools

Thursday, October 16, 2008 5:35 AM EDT
Special to The Oakland Press

Waterford schools will benefit from an influx of security equipment and programs districtwide, thanks to a recent grant award.

The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) announced that the Waterford Police Department and Waterford School District are the recipients of a $267,410 grant via the COPS Secure Our Schools Program.

The Secure Our Schools Program provides funding for security equipment such as locks, lighting and other items to help deter crime.

In addition, funds will be used for security assessments, security training and a host of other measures that will result in significant school security upgrades.

Some specific security enhancements will include motion detector lighting on the exterior of all district buildings, portable lighting for use at athletic events and other school functions, digital bus cameras and a “swipe” entry system for all 14 elementary schools in the district, said district spokeswoman Rhonda Lessel, who was the lead in writing the grant application.

Other likely security upgrades that will be added with the COPS money include critical incident room equipment for police for use during a potential school-related crisis, wireless hot spot computers, and in-dash cameras for police liaison patrol cars. A reverse 911 system is expected to be created also, to allow improved mass communication with parents. A two-way radio communication for police liaisons and key district officials also will be installed, Lessel said.

“We’re extremely excited to be a recipient of the grant and are pleased to continue our work to improve safety on Waterford School District campuses,” said Waterford Township Police Chief Dan McCaw.

The school district and township police meet regularly to discuss safety and security issues within the schools and community, Lessel said.

The Waterford Police Department is the financial holder of this grant and therefore will oversee all projects to completion.

“There is a strong partnership between us and both entities have a long history of working together from police liaison programs to emergency drills to regular meetings to promote updates,” Lessel said.

“All of these projects are proactive preventative measures that will be put in place to deter any potential hazards or emergency situations that could possibility occur within the district.”

Over the past few years, the Waterford district has received various grants that focused on safety and security-related projects, such as Emergency Response and Crisis Management grants in 2004 and 2006 and a Safe Schools/Healthy Students Grant in 2008.

The combined value of those grants was about $500,000.

“This Secure Our Schools Program grant will allow us to further develop our safety and security without spending money from the general fund,” Lessel said.

“Receiving this grant is a testament to our partnership with the Waterford Police Department and the collaborative work that we continually pursue to ensure the safety of our students, staff and community,” said Waterford School District Superintendent Robert Neu.

The U.S. Department of Justice awarded 143 Secure Our Schools grants in 34 states, with Waterford being one of seven communities in Michigan, and the only community in Oakland County to be awarded the grant.

Anonymous said...

Sue Thomasson is just filling Marty's role, now that he's been silent for a while.

Is she trying to start a revolt, to get people mad at you for being concerned about safe schools?

Gimme a break!

She looks foolish.

Observer said...

Mad "because" he is concerned? Get real!!

How about fed up with all the years and opinion pieces full of "pumping up the choir" with no constructive content? Rev up a bunch of anger and point it at what? The unions? The Democrats?

I have absolutely no doubt that Mr. Reno is concerned about school safety.

He got the bus cameras but we ran out of money for the full monte. We are forced into a decision on excatly what we will spend limited cash on. So now I ask.

Have any of the 12 Reno supporters out there ever considered that a ground-swell of animosity could be building toward him? His actions? His inaction? His lack of results? Sure the claim can and has been made that "THEY" won't let me.

I say that a truly good idea will gather a ground swell of community support. This potential overwhelming support will then impress upon the "others" (Lost term) to act in the direction of Mr. Reno's idea. This is called leadership. Whine served after the board vote is just that.

But... Mr. Reno has this all-or-nothing stance on just about everything.

Thus no overwhelming community support. No support except from one or two other board members.

No results.

Lots of whine.

Mike Reno said...

Hi Marty... welcome back.

While I appreciate your concern about growing animosity towards me, don't worry. I don't feel it, except from a handful of the usual suspects.

Sure, there are those that would prefer that school issues remain quiet, and those that may not agree with me. They certainly don't like what I do. But I get far more feedback from those who do appreciate my efforts.

Frankly, I'd be much more worried if everyone agreed with me, because that would probably mean that I was standing for a bunch of watered-down nothing!

Anyway, let's look at this specific matter. All I did was ask that we consider having a community dialogue on safety and security. This board has never comprehensively discussed the topic.

Why would you not consider that suggestion to be constructive?

Instead of even considering the idea, I was told that there are 7 board members, 6 of which have high school children, and because they don't experience these situations, there is no point in discussing it further.

How can you not think that using anecdotal excuses to dismiss my idea is not ridiculous ?

Anonymous said...

Taking his role as an elected official seriously enough to examine taxpayer-funded education services and related concerns independently & objectively, hardly constitutes revving "up a bunch of anger".

In recent weeks our nation has witnessed the fallout of elected officials leaving oversight to others.

We are all paying a price for the neglect of our elected officials.

Local governments, including school districts, are no different.

Some elected officials -like Mike Reno - do the heavy lifting - with inquiry, analysis and an open invitation to deliberate issues on behalf of students & taxpayers.

This is obviously a big problem for some folks.

Ben Giovanelli, CPA said...

I feel your pain Mike. People who feel threatened or worse refuse to hear another side of a story that doesn't reconcile with their view of how things are, would rather work to discredit than engage in meaningful debate.

Rochester government it seems has this parallel universe where the World According to Garp is one dimensional and anyone who dares challenge the status quo are deemed idiots. Hang in there and fight the good fight. They know you are right and refuse to own the possiblity that they are wrong. Reasonable people engage in meaningful debate. Unreasonable people seek to discredit.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how party affiliations and unions have anything to do with student safety. It is not about "us."

Are we so caught up in which side we are on that we can't step back and see safety should be a real concern for our community? It is not a scarlet letter around one's neck, but a condition of the the world we live in today.

Our children deserve to be safe and they deserve to know that we as a community are looking at every possible way we can to make that happen. As infants we hook them up to monitors, put them in safety seats, and make sure they eat correctly. We monitor every part of their lives because that is the responsibility we have as their caretakers. We are still that and we cannot ignore the world they are growing up in.

Why are we ashamed to admit that more than a few students are very uncomfortable in their school surroundings? Why are we ashamed to admit that drugs, bullies, gambling, drinking and more is going on in our schools? Why are we ashamed to admit that it is not just that "thug" but many children from "good families" who are involved in these activities?

Mike Reno is not the enemy here in suggesting we talk as a community about these problems. Attacking him will not make this issue go away. Why must it always be one side against the other? The very anger I read in some responses on this site causes me great worry for our children. Must we keep our heads in the sand until yet another student dies, or a child harms them self because they cannot take what is happening to them at school?

The car seats we so carefully selected have been replaced with cars, the toys we chose with great care have been replaced with weapons and needles, and the food we lovingly prepared has been replaced with alcohol.

These kids need us more now than ever before. If cameras deter them from making a mistake then put them in, what are we afraid we will see? If locking doors and installing more lights keep that one child safe in the building and in the parking lot then install them. Can we at least talk without hate and accusations? No one has to be right we just have to be united.

This is not Mike Reno's problem and he is not the "bad guy" on this issue. I'm certain he will create many issue to spar about, but this is not the one.

Anonymous said...

From today's Rochester Eccentric:

"Good ol' Rochester schools, where united we stand with our heads in the sand".


Anonymous said...

Hey Loverboy,

Get a grip. If you're a true reformer, get busy about true reform and stop crabbing about politics. Offer something up that has to do with kids, and saving them, rather than your political rants. Reform is not politics - it's tranformations that need to happen in the system, beyond your incessant diatribes against the union and board members. You're elected, but can be replaced. Pick a positive topic, inspire others to listen, and lead rather than posture. You're wasting your [potential] positive energy. As a board member, you have an obligation to serve the children who are growing up under your watch and need your support, rather than a condemnation of those whom you choose to assault on your watch.

Pick a topic of worth. Dispense with the brow-beating. There is so much to do to adapt or revolutionize this system, and we seem to be stuck on holding someone accountable for a faux paus.

Please pick a meaningful topic!

Time's a wasting. Otherwise, go back to fronting Eddie Money concerts.


Anonymous said...

Dear Angry,

Get a doctor. Preferably one with a license to prescribe controlled substances.

Your rant indicates an urgent

Mike Reno is a long overdue sign of intelligent life on Rochester's school board.

His tenure has been refreshing, marked by consistently thoughtful
efforts to engage his fellow board members in an exchange of ideas. He more than keeps up his end of the bargain on behalf of students, employees and taxpayers.

On good nights the rest of his colleagues sit there. On not so good nights, they snipe.

Just like you.

Trust me. Zyprexa would work like a charm.

Mike Reno said...

Dear Angry:

I believe your anger stems from a casual glance at board dynamics, and you might view things differently if you were to watch things more closely.

You seem to focus on the end of discussions, and completely disregard the beginning.

I have picked a number of topics that are worthwhile. Advanced Placement; Balanced Budgets; Forward Planning, Responsible Compensation Reform, World Language in Elementary, Eliminating No-Bid contacts, Weighting Grades, Online Checkbook Registers, "Customer Friendly" policies, Meaningful Strategic Goals, Nationally-Normed Testing in Elementary, Full Utilization of Pearson Learning, Ability Grouping, School Safety, and so on. Every one of the things I've mentioned -- and there are many more beyond that list -- were all initially raised in a polite, respectful, professional way.

Even this very thread began as a reasonable and responsible attempt to discuss school safety and student behavior. I suggested that we discuss it objectively. The response from board members was an emphatic, "we have high school children, and we just don't see any problems." How exactly am I supposed to "inspire others to listen" when they move to that sort of position?

Nearly every one of the suggestions I make gets met with some equally absurd obstacle.

Having said that, I am certainly open to self examination.

Please share some examples of where I did not initially raise points in a respectful and logical way. Or, perhaps you can point to some example of where I refused to compromise.

I'm quite serious. I'd like to understand why you believe I'm the problem.

Angry said...

Ironically, I truly believe that you have the potential to be a significant part of the solution.

That said, I apologize for the bad form I presented earlier in my posts...truly. I don't need to be medicated, as suggested by other friendly posts. My initial post was no less friendly, but I honestly expected no reaction. Again, bad form.

I don't believe you are the problem. I believe you are the antagonist. I have followed your posts for some time now, and I simply believe that you are getting nowhere by assaulting the system. The system is obviously faulted, but I don't see you building any [influential] coalition to rise above the patter. I've seen the offers by you to engage any challengers, but no ambitious takers. While refreshing insight may be a balm to anxiety, positive proposals to progress beyond status quo are much harder to refute, or implement with consensus. (Sorry, nothing poetic intended.)

Raising (and subsequently refuting)faults or proposing compromise are not my idea of radical leadership. If you succeed, build. If you fail, change gears. There is very little that you discuss that is not rational or reasonable.

I'd ask you, as a board member, how many students in the district you represent praise your efforts on their behalf? If that's not the goal, .....?

WeLikeMike said...

Dear Angry,

With all due respect, it seems to me that your questions should be directed to others on the school board, who appear woefully incapable of entertaining, much less advancing constructive dialogue with Mr. Reno.

After four years, the rest of the board remains dismissive or openly hostile to Mr. Reno's always civil questions, suggestions and overtures.

Mike Reno is clearly a leader who can help guide Rochester schools through the rough seas ahead, yet his colleagues refuse to acknowledge his ability and commitment because he dares to question education's sacred cows.

This speaks volumes about them, not him.

Unfortunately, much of the community, outside of those on the district payroll, knows little about the school board. Mike Reno is a hardworking trustee who takes the job seriously and obviously makes an extraordinary effort on behalf of students, staff and this community.

Me Too said...

If only we could clone six more just like him!

Anonymous said...

Our district just put in cameras in the high schools and caught 7 drug transactions..... Hmmm How is this a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Not a bad thing.

A very good thing, in fact.

Unless your goal is to keep drugs and druggies out of the public eye, where you might be forced to admit that you've got a drug problem, which means you'll need to find a solution.

No cameras, no evidence.

No evidence, no problem.