Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Standards-based grading coming to Joplin High School, entire district

(From Oct. 20, 2013) Parents hate it, teachers hate it, heck, even the Joplin R-8 Board of Education members have talked about it in negative terms and they are the ones who are supposed to be running the school district.

So naturally, there can'be any possibility that standards-based grading will ever take hold in the Joplin R-8 School District.

The board reluctantly allowed pilot programs of standards-based grading to be used at East Middle School and two elementary schools. While I cannot say for certain that all of the teachers at the elementary schools are doing it, I know the order was given at East Middle School- all teachers are to use standards-based grading.

Parents have complained about it, teachers haven't as far as I know (they like being employed), but most of the ones I have talked to about it have complained bitterly because they do not think it is the best thing for students.

If so many people are against it and the board has expressed dislike, then why is it being done.

And why did East Middle School Assistant Principal Jason Weaver tell East teachers at a meeting earlier this year that standards-based grading would be implemented at all R-8 schools next year, including Joplin High School?

One reason and one reason alone, Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer wants it that way, so that is the way it is going to be- school board be darned.

The revelation about standards-based grading was made Saturday night at the informational meeting on Common Core Standards held at the Mills Anderson Justice Center on the Missouri Southern State University campus.

"I was told this would not happen without a board vote," Missy Braun, the mother of two R-8 students said. Apparently, at some juncture R-8 Board of Education members came up with the silly notion that they were in charge of educational policy in the school district just because the people elected them to be in charge of educational policy.

"The East teachers were told that standards-based grading will be brought to the entire district next year, including the high school."

Under standards-based grading, traditional letter grades for a subject like communication arts (English) are replaced by a notation that a student has met a certain standard like, for instance, he has mastered proper citation of sources in a research paper. As Ms. Braun noted, a student can fail to do that five times, get it right on the sixth, and be considered to have mastery.

Deadlines are also problematic under standards-based grading. If a teacher assigns a paper for Wednesday, since the student already knows that he does not have to turn it on Wednesday to get the grade, it might be several weeks before a teacher will receive an assignment. Meeting the deadline can be included in a separate category, but it is not the one that parents will seek out.

Students no longer will receive zeroes for not completing assignments. If they do not turn in anything, they will receive a "no evidence" notation, but otherwise they can turn in things whenever they want and they will be still be accepted at full credit.

There has also been concern expressed about using the grades at the high school level, where they would replace grade point average.

Proponents of standards-based grading say it gives a truer reflection of what a student actually knows rather than just giving a B for history for instance and not knowing what specific skills the student has mastered.

This is the first public meeting where the information on the expansion of standards-based grading has been mentioned, but it was first revealed in an August 17 article on the Inside Joplin website, in which I wrote the following:

The parents who protested the use of standards-based grading at East Middle School last year knew it was coming.
So did the teachers, who were told, “Oh, we’re not going to force anyone to use it.”
Reportedly, Assistant Principal Jason Weaver told EMS teachers this week they would all be using standards-based grading as East Middle School, isolated and alone in an industrial park by a dog food factory, continues to be a laboratory for Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer’s concept of 21st Century Learning.
Whether it works or not (all experiments seem to continue in the Joplin R-8 School District), it will be coming to the other middle schools and Joplin High School during the 2014-2015 school year.
Teachers from the other middle schools are already expecting it. During a professional development day last year, I attended a session on standards-based grading given by Weaver and Principal Bud Sexson. The teachers from North and South Middle School were there because they understood that it was coming, whether they wanted it to or not.
The basic concept behind standards-based grading is that the grades show if students have mastered the standards, such as the Common Core Standards that are headed our way. Instead of an A or B (or an F) that mean nothing, according to the backers of the new grading system, you know exactly what concepts your child has mastered. Instead of A, B, C, D, or F, under the East system that was in use when I was there last year, students made Exceeded, Met, Emerging (don’t you just love it) not met, and no evidence, which is reserved for those who did not bother to do their papers.
One of the ideas is to get away from having students receive zeros. Instead of having to turn in every assignment, all the student has to do is provide evidence that he or she has mastered the concept.
As a writing teacher, this bothered me. Writing is a process that builds as you go along. A student might be able to successfully write an engaging opening to a paper three or four times at the beginning of the year, but then lose track of the concept as the year progresses. I was told of course, that I could simply set the standards higher as I went along if I went to standards-based grading. I suppose I could have
But the idea that R-8 administrators seem to be ignoring is the importance of the work ethic. At East, all students had seventh grade teachers who were using standards-based grading. When the students came into my classroom at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, the ones who had been taught solid work ethics at home had no problem, but some others were simply not turning in papers. When I asked the students about it, invariably their response was they had not had to turn in every paper the year before; they only had to turn in enough evidence to get the grade. It took me nearly a quarter before they realized that things were different and they were expected to do the work. (And this is not a knock at the teachers who were using standards-based grading.)
In a school district where the administrators are saying over and over how their goal is to make students college and workforce ready, how can that happen when they are clearly given the idea that you don’t have to do all of the work, just the minimum you need to get by?
I was told that throwing in concepts like whether students are working in class or contributing to the class simply made the grade card more confusing and parents did not know what their child had really learned.
I was told there could be a separate group of grades that would include work habits and other such things, similar to what is done in elementary schools.
Who would look? After you got past the mets and emergings, you have had enough of that grade card.
I am not totally against the concept of standards-based grading, if there was an enforcement aspect in which administrators would crack the whip and get most of the kids to turn in their work, standards-based grading would be workable.
That, however, would take a strong discipline concept, one that will not be there as East Middle School’s teachers and students continue to play the role of guinea pigs.

Is this how Joplin R-8 employee took pornographic photos of students?

(From Oct. 16, 2013) The issue has still not been addressed by Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff, though court documents indicate he has been aware of since February, but how did former Joplin R-8 technology department employee Ronny Justin Myers end up with pornographic photos of 10 Joplin students on his laptop.

Myers admitted to authorities that he had the photos on February 15. Four of the students were subsequently identified, according to a sentencing memorandum, which indicates the police were working with R-8 officials.

One of Myers' responsibilities was monitoring the laptops that are given to all Joplin High School students, Though no specifics were mentioned in the sentencing memorandum on how Myers obtained the pornographic photos, this video from today's Katie Couric show reveals how easy it is for someone who knows technology (and Myers was receiving $67,000 a year from taxpayers for that knowledge) to take control of the webcam on a computer.

Sentencing memo: Joplin R-8 tech employee should not receive 25 years

(From Oct. 16, 2013)
In a sentencing memorandum filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, federal public defnder Ian Lewis said former Joplin R-8 technology employee Ronny Justin Myers should not receive a longer sentence just because he had pornographic pictures of Joplin students on his laptop.

Myers sentencing has been scheduled for 11:15 a.m. Thursday, October 24, in Springfield.

The memorandum was a response to one filed Sept. 11 in which the U. S. Attorney asked that Myers be sentenced to 25 years in prison for sexual exploitation of a child.

That memorandum was noted in the Sept. 11 Turner Report:

Assistant U. S. Attorney Abram McGull says that during a three-hour interview "defendant admitted that he has secretly stored child pornography on his computer. He stated he had approximately 10 child pornography images of Joplin School District co-eds on his laptop. Four of the girl have been positively identified as D. F. (age 15), LS (age 16), GS (age 16) and NC (age 15)."

The sentencing memorandum later says, "The defendant admitted he secretly recorded a 17-year-old engaging in sexual activity and covertly retained child pornography of Joplin School District co-eds who ranged in age from 15 to 16 years old."

The document does not indicate whether the laptop belonged to Myers or to the school district.

The sentencing memorandum includes a long list of transgressions by Myers and a request that the judge sentence him to 25 years in prison.

During the three-hour interview, Myers admitted to having sex with the nine-year-old daughter of his girlfriend five years ago and to setting up a meeting at Northpark Mall with the girl February 15 during his lunch break. However, it was not the girl, but a member of the Cyber Crimes Task Force posing as her who had set up the meeting.

Realizing that he was about to be arrested, Myers took off and was involved in a high-speed chase before being captured.

Myers also admitted that he had sex with his new wife's three underaged daughters.

"The defendant was very candid and forthcoming about his sexual attraction to little girls less than 12 years of age."

The fact that he would admit to having pornographic pictures of Joplin students, having sex with his stepdaughters, and being attracted to underage girls should not be held against him, Lewis said.

Defendant asserts that punishing a defendant for being open with police officers runs counter to our goals. Society wants confessions; confessions lead to undiscovered crimes, and ultimately closure for victims. 

To punish those for merely speaking freely to the police runs counter to this goal. Why punish defendants for speaking, and then not punish those who have committed additional crimes, but have hindered law enforcement? Let us be clear, Defendant is not saying punish those who remain silent, rather the Court should take into consideration the lengths of acceptance of responsibility the Defendant has undergone in the case, and give him credit towards his sentence for such atonement. 

Lewis also argues that Myers should not be sentenced to extra time for crimes for which he may still be charged.

In the government’s motion, there is a focus on alleged, uncharged conduct. However, to punish Defendant for this uncharged conduct invades the purview of the State of Missouri and the State of Kansas. These states are not out of time to charge the alleged conduct. According to the PSIR, there is a pending warrant out of the State of Kansas for Aggravated Criminal Sodomy, with the date of arrest being May 14, 2013. If Defendant has committed additional criminal acts as described in the government’s motion, it is well within the jurisdiction of the various states to bring an action against him in their criminal courts.
If this Court uses this uncharged conduct as a basis for an upward variance it certainly would cause a double punishment scenario (especially in the already filed Kansas case), that may hinder the state courts’ ability to render a sentence. Defendant would ask that this Court allow the state courts full discretion in sentencing their cases, without the specter of possible double punishment. The state criminal justice systems can justly 
punish Defendant for any wrongs he may have committed within that state. 

Lewis also argues that Myers should be given credit for admitting what he has done.

As a policy, society wants defendants to accept responsibility; by doing so, defendants save the Court and the government a vast amount of time and resources. Furthermore, especially in cases that involve minor children, by entering into a plea of guilty, the government is not forced to put minor children on the stand, nor are these minor children subject to cross-examination in front of a jury. 

What the Joplin R-8 Administration is not telling you- part three

(From Oct. 15, 2013) Thirty-four people working in the central administration office pulled down more than $50,000 during the 2012-2013, as noted in a Turner Report post earlier today.

That amount does not even include the teaching/learning or 21st Century learning coaches, who as I have noted in past reports, spend more time attending meetings or serving as the "eyes and ears" of administration in the buildings than they do coaching struggling teachers.

The positions were added several years ago under a grant, but as so often happens during the Huff-Besendorfer reign, once the grant ended, somehow money was found to continue the positions- even at the expense of personnel who were actually in the classroom, making a different in the children's lives.

Millions have been spent on administration, technology and non-classroom expenditures during C. J. Huff's six years at the helm and judging from the district's 2012 Race to the Top application filed with the U. S. Department of Education, that is still the way the district leadership is thinking.

District officials asked for nearly $10 million for technology, more 21st Century Learning coaches, software, hardware, and another few million for items that would bolster Huff's Bright Futures initiative.

One item was included in the application that would have brought money into the pockets of some of the teachers, 200 of them, who would have added a couple of hours of time to their day for mentoring.

In the application, district officials said they would find money in the budget to continue everything they were asking for...except for the money for the mentoring. Less than six months after district patrons passed a $62 million bond issue, the largest in the district's history, C. J. Huff and Angie Besendorfer were already ready to go back to the taxpayers for a levy increase to pay for the mentoring program.

Room would be found in the district's already tight budget to pay for seven more 21st Century learning coaches and all of the other items on the administration wish list.

The district requests $9,998,737. The major cost items in the budget are:
Project manager – $313,000
7 21st Century Coaches - $2.2 mil
5 Career Pathways Coordinators to manage development and implementation of new pathways - $1.6 mil
Stipends for Academic Advisors - $3.5 mil (1 hour a day for 170 days for 200 teachers x 4 years)
Data manager to oversee development of new system - $312,000
Data management system - $425,000
1:1 iPads for middle school - $1 mil
3 Additional tech support personnel - $414,000

The items listed above were in the regular part of the application and included money to hire 17 people, none of whom would be in the classroom and would include at least 14 people who would add to the already bloated Joplin R-8 Administration. (Of course, if you remember, in her e-mail to the teaching/learning coaches after the Turner Report revealed a state investigation of the Joplin R-8 School District and noted that state officials had been provided documents that indicated some of the coaches may have been paid illegally out of  TItle I and IDEA funds, Besendorfer told the coaches they were not spies and they were not administration...just in case anyone asked them, like say, an investigator.)

The application was rejected, but the learning coaches and pathway coordinators have been added, at a time when the district's funds are at a dangerously low level and no one has yet explained how it could be afforded.

In the district's bid for supplemental funding, the reviewers were unkind to two Bright Futures projects, Operation College Bound and the Reading Initiative, saying they were not innovative.

Joplin seeks $1,892,643 to expand and implement Operation College Bound and to implement a Reading Initiative, both in partnership with Bright Futures Joplin.

Operation College Bound is designed to support a college going culture starting in elementary school. Joplin and Bright Futures have launched in one elementary school an effort that includes annual college visits, research on college and career opportunities, and information on the college application process. The grant would fund expansion of the program to other elementary schools and ultimately to middle and high school.

The budget would fund curriculum development, support for school implementation, and a transition coordinator who works with counselors and post-secondary institutions, among other costs.
The Reading Initiative, scheduled to launch in 2013, will strengthen elementary reading through parent engagement, improved assessment, new instructional models, digital learning tools, and volunteer tutors for struggling readers. The grant would fund 5 staff to carry out assessment, engage the community, and recruit and support tutors, and purchase 2,581 e-readers and digital content.

The proposal does provide a basic rationale for focusing on early reading and on college awareness starting in elementary school. However, the proposal is not highly rated for the following reasons:

Based on the limited description of the project that the district provides, it does not appear to be an innovative solution; There is no evidence that the proposed solutions are being designed with replication in mind or would produce tools, documentation, software, curriculum that would support replication;
There is no plan, or even reference to, how this would be co-developed and implemented across two or more LEAs. The budgets, while reasonable for what the district is proposing,do not support the over-arching goal of the budget supplement to create innovative solutions that can be replicated.

That proposal received just one of a possible 15 points.

The reviewers did not think much more of Huff's signature achievement, the Bright Futures program:

In 2010, Joplin partnered with the community to create Bright Futures to connect community resources with students and families in need. In 2011 a non-profit was established to work with Joplin and 5 affiliate communities that were using the framework first developed in Joplin. Details of the framework are not provided in the proposal.

Joplin seeks $454,972 to complete development and implementation of an on-line software that catalogs local community resources, allows listings to be regularly updated by community providers, and allows staff to connect student needs to readily available resources. The application includes a detailed budget which appears reasonable and sufficient.

While it is likely that an easily accessible compendium of community resources would be useful, the proposal is not highly rated for the following reasons:

Based on the limited description of the project that the district provides, it does not appear to be an innovative solution but rather merely placing a typical catalog of resources on line and allowing providers to update. The district does not explain how the solution is linked to the academic outcomes outlined in the Absolute Priority, and on its face there is not a tight connection.

The 2012 Race to the Top application was soundly rejected, but most of the things on the approximately $12 million wish list are now firmly in place.

The eighth graders have IPads, the 21st Century learning coaches have been added, the pathways coordinators are in place. Operation College Bound and the Reading Initiative are going full force.

It's just money, after all, and it is not C. J. Huff's money and it is not Angie Besendorfer's money.

It is our money, millions of it, being used in what looks, to all intents and purposes, like an educational pyramid scheme.

Video: C. J. Huff: What a conservative has in his closet

(From Oct. 15, 2013)

C. J. Huff gets $175,000 a year, child sex criminal $67,000

(From Oct. 16, 2013)
The salaries for Joplin R-8 Central Administration shows 34 people who made $50,000 or more during the 2012-2013 school year led by Superintendent C. J. Huff’s $175,000. The 10th highest salary at 32nd and Duquesne belonged to technology employee Ronny Justin Myers who was paid $67,069 for duties that included monitoring high school students’ laptops and resulted in pornographic photos of 10 Joplin students winding up on his laptop.
Myers pleaded guilty earlier this year to child pornography charges and is awaiting sentencing.
Joplin R-8 Central Administration Salaries for 2012-2013
(taken from the central database set up by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
HUFF, CHARLES Central Office Administration JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 1 $175,000
BARLASS, MARK Central Office Administration JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 1 $99,981
CRAVENS, JASON Central Office Administration JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 1 $99,603
OREM, LISA Central Office Administration JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 1 $99,360 
BOYER, AMANDA Central Office Administration JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 0.5 $75,566
ALEXANDER, MARY Central Office Administration JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 1 $72,068
HART, TERRI Central Office Administration JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 1 $65,287 
JARRETT, JANIE Central Office Administration JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 1 $56,457

HEILBRUN, MELISSA Guidance Personnel/Placement Specialist JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 1 $54,688
PARKS, CHRIS Guidance Personnel/Placement Specialist JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 1 $54,688
WEEKS, CANDICE Guidance Personnel/Placement Specialist JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 1 $54,688
TAYLOR, RAYMA Central Office Administration JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 1 $54,479
BELL, ADAM Aide/Paraprofessional JOPLIN SCHOOLS CENTRAL OFFICE 1 $50,616

Fun fact: Springfield superintendent with more experience than C. J. Huff makes less

(From Oct. 15, 2013) The search begins today for a superintendent for the Springfield school system, one of the largest in the state.

Norm Ridder, who has been superintendent for the past nine years, announced recently that this would be his last year.

Ridder's salary after nine years was $159,333 per year, according to DESE. C. J. Huff, after his first five years in Joplin, made $175,000 annually.

What the Joplin R-8 Administration is not telling you, part two- discipline

(From Oct. 14, 2013) Discipline problems are down in the Joplin R-8 School District.

If you don't believe it, just check the statistics. Of course, as those of us who work or have worked in the school district know, statistics mean what you want them to mean.

If you want the suspensions and referrals to go down, you change the way you handle discipline- if you handle it at all.

The improvement in discipline was cited in the Joplin R-8 School District's Race to the Top application and is noted in the U. S. Department of Education's critique of that application.

One way those statistics go down is to encourage teachers not to write referrals, not matter what the provocation.

If a child is out of control, the new way of thinking goes, it is not the child's fault, but the teacher's.

We learned at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year what kinds of things were no longer sufficient to send someone to the office at East Middle School. We were given a list of offenses that were to be handled in the classroom or by the grade level teams. Those behaviors, which not too long ago would have brought an immediate trip to the office included the following:

-Disruptive behavior
-Misbehaving for a substitute teacher
-Throwing objects (unless there is an injury. It is no longer you could put someone's eye out; you actually have to put the eye out)
-Searching pornographic sites on the internet

Check the list on the accompanying photo. There are many more.

The actual discipline was thrust upon the grade level teams. This was what we had to go through to be able to send a student to the office during the 2012-2013 school year:

1. After the third classroom referral (those do not show up in the statistics), the students were called in to the meet with the eighth grade teachers.

2. The fourth one is a freebie.

3. After the fifth classroom referral, we were required to call the student's parents and let them know there is a problem.

4. The sixth one is a freebie.

5. After the seventh classroom referral, the student was sent to the office.

When we talked with the students and their parents, we let them know that after that seventh referral, the punishment would be strict since they had used up seven opportunities.

When people finally started teaching transgression number seven, we discovered we had unknowingly been lying to the students.

The students were not receiving any serious disciplinary measures at all, though they had received seven classroom referrals. Sometimes it was a one-hour detention; sometimes it was just a friendly conversation.

The matter was addressed in an October 2012 e-mail to the assistant principal from eighth grade team leader Brian Neugebauer:

A few of our students have been given office referrals once they have had 7 classroom referrals and sent to you as a result.  I feel the need to tell you that the 8th grade team is dissatisfied with the results of those office referrals from the office.

Last year we agreed to take on the task of extra task of managing MIR's, now classroom referrals, so long as once we sent student to the office they received a formidable consequence.  However, we have received a few referrals back with "One hour ASD" assigned as the consequence.  Our team finds this unacceptable.  Last year we agreed to have the first office referral result in a 3 hour ASD or similar consequence, why this year has it been downgraded to a One hour ASD?  When we talked at the start of year I recall agreeing to the same terms as last year.

If the teachers have taken on the extra task of managing the classroom referrals, talking with students, talking with parents, setting up conferences and the like, the first office referral warrants more than a One hour ASD.  We have been telling the students that once they get 7 classroom referrals they will receive a major consequence if the office gets involved as a deterrent, but now we have been made to look foolish as students tell their friends they only received one hour ASD.

If we need to talk more we can, but for not we really need to upgrade the 1st office referral and the following referrals to a more severe consequence otherwise we question if the time we are putting into this is even worth it.  After all, in this system students have already been warned several times by teachers before they get to you, which needs to be kept in mind when assigning consequences.  

At that point, we had been told that once the student had received that seventh referral, that on each subsequent referral, the student would be sent to the office. That also changed. We were notified that we had to give whatever "the intervention" was time to work. If a student was sent to the office in the third hour, and then received classroom referrals for disruptive behavior in the fourth, fifth, and sixth hours, there would be no office referral- we had to give the principal's intervention time to work.

It did not take long for the students to learn that being sent to the office wasn't any worse than receiving a classroom referral. Neither had any teeth.

It made things tough for younger teachers and it made it a nightmare for substitute teachers.

We were all told that if someone was out of control we could send the person to the office, Some teachers became frustrated when the students were back in the classroom before the hour ended. Before long, the number of those students being sent to the office began to decrease and teachers were forced to spend more time trying to deal with situations that would never have been tolerated in years past.

My last year, before it was so rudely interrupted, was a good one. I had not written an office or a classroom referral. The only referral I wrote came as a result of an after-school incident. I was in the hallway when I saw a seventh grade girl walk up to another seventh grade girl and without any provocation, slapped her in face, a slap I could hear all the way down the hall. I stepped in, took down the information, made sure the two girls were not going to be on the same bus headed home and then did the paperwork.

That was probably an error on my part since the referral showed up on the school's statistics. I am glad I did it though, so I could take a stance against teenage bullying.

I am sure the one-hour lunch detention the girl served put her on the right path.

This obviously has been geared to the discipline at one school, East Middle School. I would be interested in hearing the experiences parents, students, and teachers have had at other Joplin R-8 schools (teachers, remember to remain anonymous), or in other school districts.

What the Joplin R-8 Administration is not telling you, part one

(From Oct. 13, 2013) C. J. Huff was frustrated.

The Joplin R-8 superintendent was not getting what he wanted and it was such a simple request. He was days away from the deadline to submit the school district's proposal for 2012 Race to the Top funding from the federal government and he could not get the head of the Joplin NEA chapter to sign off on the request.

At stake was more than $10 million in possible funding for the school district. Huff dashed off an angry e-mail to the local NEA chapter president:

 I'd like an explanation as to why you are refusing to sign off on our application for much needed Race to the Top funding to support the work with our kids in a time of limited resources. Is this your position, a JNEA position, or is this a NEA position that is being taken state/nation-wide. Without your signature we cannot apply. CJ

The JNEA president sent Huff this response:

I was not even given an opportunity to read the aforementioned document. The one page of the application that I was allowed to see states that:

        *To the best of my knowledge and belief, all of the information and data in this application are true and correct.
        *I further certify that I have read the application, am fully committed to it, and will support its implementation.
        *I am aware that any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or claims may subject me to criminal, civil, or administrative penalties.

I have not been included in any of the planning, even though it is my understanding that this grant application has been in the district since August, and I have not been given a full copy of the application or budget to review. I have not said I would not sign it. What I have said is that I am not comfortable signing something I have not read and could be held liable for. I'm sorry for the confusion.

The Joplin NEA chapter never signed off on the Race to the Top application, nor did any other representatives of the local faculty.

The JNEA president sent the following message to chapter members:

I have been asked to sign Joplin Schools RTTT Grant. I was only given one page of the grant, the one I was asked to sign, and asked to return it today. The full grant application should be around 130 pages and include a budget. I cannot in good faith sign something I have not read and that I know includes things we do not agree with. 

When R-8 Administration sent no further information, the JNEA president sent the following e-mail to C. J. Huff:

In response to the request that I sign the Race To The Top Application Assurances as President of the Joplin NEA, I am respectfully declining.  The application states that my signature verifies that to my best information and belief all statements in the application are true and correct, that I have read the application, that I am fully committed to it and that I will support its implementation.  I cannot sign because I have not been given the opportunity to read the complete application and therefore have no idea whether the statements are true and correct. Even if I did receive the complete application, my lack of involvement in the development of the proposal prevents me from attesting to the accuracy of statements in the application. Further, I cannot state that I am fully committed to it and will support its implementation when I have not been given the opportunity to engage my members and include their input into the proposal.  I am sure you will understand why I cannot subject myself to the civil, criminal and/or administrative penalties that could occur by my making a false, fraudulent or fictitious statement or claim, as detailed in the application assurance.

The district's Race to the Top application was eventually rejected by the U. S. Department of Education and much of what is included in that application can be found in its critique on the department's website.

Much criticism was based on the district's lack of openness with the public and the lack of support shown by faculty for the initiatives outlined in the grant request.

In the August 18 Turner Report, I noted a part of the grant application that would have drawn questions from teachers and from patrons had it been revealed before the application was submitted:

Less than six months after Joplin R-8 patrons, by a 45-vote margin, passed a $62 million bond issue to rebuild Joplin High School, Franklin Tech, East Middle School, and two elementary schools, the largest bond issue in the district’s history, administrators were already back at the drawing board working on plans to ask voters for a tax levy increase.
The increase, according to the district’s federal Race to the Top application submitted to the U. S. Department of Education, would have been used to pay “academic advisers,” teachers who would work an additional hour at the end of each school day.
Initially, the advisers would have been paid as part of the Race to the Top grant, according to the application, which was submitted in October 2012, but was rejected by the Department of Education.
The district proposal, included a budget of $9.988,737, which would have paid for the following:
-Project manager $313,080 (for four-year period)
-Seven 21st Century learning coaches $2.2 million
-Five Career Pathway counselors to manage development and implementation of new pathway $1.6 million
-Stipends for academic advisers, one hour a day for 170 days for 200 teachers, $312,000
Data manager- $312,000
Data management system- $425,000
I-Pads for middle school students $1 million
Additional tech support personnel $414,000
The items that would have been paid for through the grant, had it been successful, would have bolstered administration’s current path, including the career pathways and 1 to 1 technology for students.
Interestingly, though the extra pay for teachers would have only continued via a tax levy increase under the plan submitted by R-8 administrators, the rest of the programs would have continued with the costs being absorbed by the district, according to the grant proposal.
The district's application was rejected, but somehow R-8 Administration has been able to fund much of what it was asking the federal government to pay. Eighth graders have IPads, the 21st Century learning coaches were added, the academic advisers (the ones that a tax levy would have been needed to fund on a permanent basis) are being added, the pathway counselors are on board, and much of the rest of the plan has been put into effect.
Where did the money come from?
The deadline for submitting an application for the 2013 Race to the Top was October 3. I do not know if a plan was submitted, but district officials were working on one. A parent, Melissa Braun, wanted to know what was included in that application and filed a Freedom of Information request for the document. Since it was not ready at that point. C. J. Huff sent Mrs. Braun the following response (in the accompanying letter), saying it would cost her at least $150.
Why the information would cost $150 when an application would be complete and not require any extra time for clerical help to put together, he did not explain.
He also did not offer her the option of having the document delivered to her electronically and considering the emphasis that district officials have placed on 21st Century learning, it seems hard to believe that these public documents would not be available in an electronic format.
The government critique indicated that community support was important in the Race to the Top selection process, so why was the application never discussed at the televised board of education meetings where the application would have been submitted to more district patrons. Or better yet, put it on the district website where everyone can take a look at the district's vision for the future.
In upcoming reports, I will examine the 2012 Race to the Top application to try to reach a better understanding of why the R-8 administration has kept these applications under wraps.

Joplin R-8 Administration to employees: Every move you make, we'll be watching you

(From Oct. 9, 2013) Big Brother is alive and well in the Joplin R-8 School District... and our tax money is paying for it.

In a document, "Social Media Guidelines for Employers" issued by HR Department Director Tina Smith, the R-8 Administration let teachers and staff know that anything they do online will be monitored, adding that even private messages may not remain private.

Teachers have told me that after the release of these social media guidelines, one teacher organization warned its members to be extremely careful about anything they say that could be construed as a criticism of the administration.

The guidelines are printed below

Social Media Guidelines for Employees

Joplin Schools realizes that part of 21st century learning is adapting to the changing methods of
communication. The importance of faculty, staff, students, and parents engaging, collaborating, learning, and sharing in these digital environments is a part of 21st century learning. To this aim, Joplin Schools has developed the following guidelines to provide direction for employees,students, and the school district community when participating in online social media activities.

Whether or not an employee chooses to participate in a blog, wiki, online social network, application (“app”) development, or any other form of online publishing or discussion, it is his or her own decision.

Free speech protects educators who want to participate in social media, but the laws and courts have ruled that schools can discipline faculty and staff if their speech, including online postings, disrupts school operations. Joplin Schools social media guidelines encourage employees to participate in online social activities. However, it is important to create an atmosphere of trust and individual accountability, keeping in mind that information produced by Joplin Schools faculty, staff, and students is a reflection on the entire district and is subject to the district's Acceptable Use Policy. By accessing, creating, or contributing to any blogs, wikis, apps, or other social media for classroom or district use, you agree to abide by these guidelines.

Please read them carefully before creating or participating in any online content. Examples of social media include but are not limited to the following: blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.

Be Transparent

How you represent yourself online is an extension of yourself. Do not misrepresent yourself by using someone else's identity or misrepresenting your identity. Be honest about who you are, where you work, and what you do.

Personal Responsibility

● Joplin Schools employees are personally responsible for the content they publish online. Be mindful that what you publish will be public for a long time—protect your privacy.

● Be aware that even with the strictest privacy settings what you ‘say’ online should be within the bounds of professional discretion. Comments expressed via social networking pages under the impression of a ‘private conversation’ may still end up being shared into a more public domain, even with privacy settings on maximum.

● Your online behavior should reflect the same standards of honesty, respect, and consideration that you use face-to-face.

● Comments related to the school should always meet the highest standards of professional discretion. When posting, even on the strictest settings, staff should act on the assumption that all postings are in the public domain.


● Remember that online posts and content are an extension of your classroom or the workplace. What is inappropriate in your classroom or the workplace should be deemed inappropriate online.

● When contributing online do not post confidential student information. ● If you want to have a professional presence online through social media, developing a profile on a site like LinkedIn or something similar might be a great practice.

● If you would like to communicate through social media to a group of students, developing a group or page would be the recommended practice.

Always A School Employee

The lines between “public and private” & “personal and professional” are blurred in the digital world. Even when you have a disclaimer or use a different user name, you will always be considered a district employee. Whether it is clearly communicated or not and even if it is not your intent, you will be identified as working for and sometimes representing the school in what you do and say online.

When writing personal posts, always write in the first person (I, me, we, us) and make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of the district.

Use a Disclaimer

● Include a disclaimer on your social media site which says something like this: “The opinions and positions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect my school district’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”

● This standard disclaimer does not exempt employees from their responsibilities as explained in these guidelines. If asked by media to comment on a school-related issue, refer them to the Communication Specialist. When in doubt, contact the Community Development department for assistance. Classroom sites do not require a disclaimer.

Be Respectful and Responsible

Employees, parents, and students reflect a diverse set of customs, values, and points of view. Be respectful for the opinions of others in your posts or comments. You are responsible for the content you post. Consider the words used to tag content in a social bookmarking site. Consider the profile picture or image you select. Do your tags, descriptions, and your image portray you in a professional manner?

Own and Correct Mistakes

If you make a mistake, admit the mistake and correct it quickly. Clearly state if you’ve corrected a previous post. Even though damage may be done, it is best to admit your mistake and correct it.

Apologize if appropriate.

Confidential Information

Online postings and conversations are not private. Do not share confidential information whether it is internal school discussions or specific information about students or other staff. What you post will be seen by others and will be online for a long time. It can be forwarded or shared in just a few clicks. Do not write about a colleague or student without their permission.

School Crisis Situations

During a school lockdown, secure mode, or crisis, employees should not be posting or asking for information online or through other forms of communication (texts, phone calls, etc.). During these situations, rumors can spread quickly and employees should be using this time to make sure that the safety of those in their charge/care is their top priority.

School/District Logos

Do not use any school logo or image without permission and adhere to the district logo usage guidelines. Contact the Director of Community Development for permission on logo usage.

Posting Photos or Movies of Students And Staff

When posting photos or movies of fellow employees, it is always best to obtain permission from that employee.

Do not use photos or movies taken at school without permission. Do not post photos or movies that contain students if those students are on the district’s “opt-out” list for directory information.

No photos should be posted if it would violate FERPA or HIPPA or identify a student as a special needs student. This includes an employee’s school and personal online accounts, text messaging, or the physical posting of a photo in a employee’s classroom or home.

Using Content That Isn’t Your Own

Do not utilize protected works. Just because an image, song, movie, etc. comes up in a search online does not mean you can use it freely. Documents found online should be available under Creative Commons (see info below) or your own if you plan to reproduce them in any way. Also, make sure and give credit to the owner of the work when necessary.

A hyperlink to outside sources is recommended. Be sure not to plagiarize and give credit where it is due. When using a hyperlink, be sure that the content is appropriate and adheres to the Joplin Schools AUP.

Creative Commons is a way that allows you to use certain photos without getting written permission from the owner. Check out http://creativecommons.org/about for more information.

Responding to Negative Comments and Criticism

How you respond to negative comments or criticism will say more about you and your character than what you post. If you delete a negative post, it discourages open communications. When publicly criticized or receiving a negative comment, first, stay cool and don’t reply in haste.

Express your view in a clear, logical way. Don’t get personal, and, if you made a mistake, admit it, and move ahead. It is not uncommon for a negative response to be answered by some other person, who supports your view. When in doubt, it’s best to ignore a comment and not give it credibility by acknowledging it with a response publicly; perhaps a face-to-face meeting would be more appropriate.

Regular Postings On School Sites

All sites should be updated regularly throughout the school year. The purpose of social media is two-way communication and you cannot be a part of the discussion if you do not post regularly. Comments should be monitored and responded to multiple times a week.

Requests To Use Blocked Social Media Sites

Joplin Schools understands that 21st century learning is constantly changing and that many sites currently "blocked" by the District's content filter may have pedagogical significance for teacher and student use.

If you would like to request another online site be accessible to use for teaching and learning, contact the District’s technology’s department . Requested sites will be reviewed and, if approved, the district’s content filter will be updated accordingly.

A description should be provided of the intended use of the site and what tools on the site match your needed criteria.

A link to the site's privacy policy should be included if possible.

Request To Start and Maintain A Social Media Account For A School Program/Activity/Sport

Joplin Schools understands that having a social media presence for a school program, activity, or sport can be a great method of communication and a promotional tool.

Before a program, activity, or sport can start a social media presence, the principal or director must approve the account the staff member wishes to create. Employees should fill out the Social Media Account Request Form and submit it to their supervisor for review and approval. The request form will then be forwarded to the Community Development Department and the Technology Department.

Any social media account that has been established prior to this procedure must still to be approved by the principal or director.

Any account not approved by the district but is deemed to represent or seem to represent the District in an official manner will result in the district pursuing the removal of the account.

Social Media for Instructional Use

Employees shall have access to social media tools at school through the district network for instructional uses. All social media activities will comply with district policies and administrative rules and regulations. Instructional uses are those that support student learning and communication about that learning to appropriate parties such as parents and other educators.

Instructional uses may include: use of a classroom 'fan' page for sharing class information, assignments or news; connecting with other classrooms or experts for collaboration; other uses that support learning goals and are approved by administration. It is recommended that students' first names only be used and identifiable information about the school be limited.

All staff members who utilize social media to support instruction will assume responsibility for proper use, including:

-Staff member will not violate conditions of existing board policies.

 -Staff member will obtain approval prior to set up of any school/district related social media account and will follow the published procedures. · Staff member will actively monitor use by students, parents or others who interact with the tool.

· Staff member will bring concerns regarding misuse to the attention of their administrators immediately. · Staff member will limit their use of all social media tools to instructional uses during contract hours. This provision includes access to social media through personal devices used during work hours.

Violation of these guidelines and any corresponding Board Policy are cause for disciplinary action.

· I have received and understand the guidelines for responsible use of social media.

Acknowledgement of Understanding

_____________________________ Employee Name

_____________________________ _________________________ Employee

Signature Date

August 2013

C. J. Huff: I have a pitchfork and a torch in my closet, just like other conservatives

(From Oct. 7, 2013)
Too much information, C. J.

Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff during an extended version of KZRG's Morning News Watch today, explained why he favored Common Core Standards, but was still a fervent proponent of local control of schools.

"I was born conservative," Huff said. "I lean right and I certainly have a pitchfork and a torch in my closet just like so many other conservatives out there when you talk about local control and reducing government involvement in our schools and government."

He did not explain what he meant by reducing government involvement in our government.

In addition to his condescending reference to the people who are supposed to be his fellow conservatives, he made references to people being "confused" about Common Core Standards, saying that Common Core is standards, not curriculum.

Huff also rebuffed one caller who quoted some independent researchers about Common Core by questioning whether the researchers were independent and by opining that perhaps a critic of the math standards just wanted to write a textbook for it.

At one point, Huff reaffirmed his political leanings, saying, "This is me being conservative."

He also revealed that he did not get along well with the other children when he was in kindergarten.

You can listen to the interview at this link.

C. J. Huff to Board: Relax, we're not in trouble

(From Oct. 6, 2013)
One day after the Turner Report revealed that DESE is looking into problems in the Joplin R-8 School District, Superintendent C. J. Huff and top administrators at 32nd and Duquesne circled the wagons and began a spin offensive.

In an e-mail to Joplin R-8 board members obtained by the Turner Report, Huff said there was nothing to the report:

Checked it out with Ron Lankford and Ron Wilken, DESE area supervisor. I know you will find it a shock that there was nothing to it. No complaints...no investigation.

Lankford, of course, is the former superintendent of the Webb City School District and is now a top official at DESE.

In that Sept. 19 post, I wrote the following:

The Joplin R-8 School District has spent more than $2 million over the past four years for teaching/learning coaches.

The use of Title I and IDEA funds to pay for the salaries of people who have been serving more as administrators-in-training and as the eyes and ears of upper administration in the district schools, appears to be coming under state scrutiny.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is reportedly taking a close examination of how the Joplin R-8 School District is operating.

Jefferson City sources told the Turner Report that DESE is investigating the district after receiving complaints, from patrons, from legislative sources...and from within administration.

While the specifics of the investigation are still being kept hush-hush, people who have taken their concerns to the state department say state officials have examined documents that raise questions about the administration's use of Title I and IDEA funds, both federal programs, but both of which also operate under strict state guidelines.

One concern, a source close to administration told the Turner Report, was the use of Title I funds to pay for the teaching and learning coaches. State department officials say there would be no problem with the coaches if they were helping teachers who were working directly with students. The problem has been that the coaches have been told their job is to work with principals, not teachers, and the coaching positions, which have become a training ground for open principal positions in the district, have all of the appearances of an additional layer of administration. Coaches have also been told that their job is to be the eyes and ears of administration in their buildings.

The payments for coaches from the Title I program also led to the elimination of reading teachers... who were working directly with the students.

If the state is examining the payment of coaches from Title I and IDEA funds, it will also be looking at the question of whether coaches who work at non Title I schools have been receiving funds, a violation of both state and federal laws.

Joplin High School, for instance, is not a Title 1 school.

During fiscal year 2013, $182,495 in Title I funds have been spent on teaching and learning coaches, while local taxpayers are paying $415,649 for a total of $598,145.

Fiscal year 2012 is also being scrutinized since $187,480 of the coaches' salaries comes from Title I and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) funds. IDEA funds are strictly designated only for use with those working directly with students who have IEPs (Individual Education Plans). Local taxpayers paid $355,224, while another $45,547 came from Title II A, a program that is designed for use in improving teacher quality. The total for 2012 was $589.251.

The transferring of hundreds of thousands to local taxpayers to pay for the extra layer of administration came only during the last two years, according to district documents. During fiscal year 2011, $314,885 came from Title I and IDEA, while Title II A funds covered the remaining $142,941 in salaries. The total for the year was $457,806.

Fiscal year 2010 documents show $38,372 in local funds, with $236,655 from Title I and IDEA (the district documents that I have do not separate how much funding came from either) and $248,421 from Title II A, for a total of $521,448.

As Huff was reassuring the R-8 Board of Education that everything was all right, his top lieutenant, Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer was already telling those teaching/learning coaches how they were to respond if anyone questioned them about the items that were mentioned on The Turner Report.

In an e-mail sent out the same day to the teaching/learning coaches, Besendorfer wrote the following:

I wanted to provide you with a few talking points just in case you are asked about the facts in the article posted in a blog regarding Joplin Schools coaches. I've copied the article below. I want to be sure that if you are approached you have factual information.

*Joplin Schools have not been notified of any complaints or concerns shared with DESE. We have reached out to our state supervisor to confirm nothing exits (sic).

*The financial information is likely to be factual regarding numbers but it misrepresents many things and implies wrong information.

*We originally had ARRA (Stimulus funds) to pay for the TLCs; however, we didn't have that when the original decision to use a coaching model was adopted. At that time we planned to use Title I funds and some local funds that were repurposed from secondary dept. specialists. We were able to use ARRA funds instead.

*Elementary coaches can be paid from Title I since ALL elementary schools are Title schools. In fact, Title I requires a specific amount of money to be allocated to PD. We choose to use this model for daily job-embedded PD.

*Secondary coaches have been appropriately paid from other sources, including local dollars. Title 2 is also an acceptable source because it is exclusively designated for PD in order to improve teachers.

*The numbers reflect an increase in coaches which was due to the addition of 21st Century coaches paid from local dollars.

*Bottom line is that Joplin Schools follows federal guidelines. We have annual audits and federal funds is a big part of those. We always get clean reports including the 5 previous years.

*There is no need to address to this group that our coaches support teacher AND principals. You are not administrators or spies, etc.

I hope you won't worry about this. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

The information that I used in my initial story about the source of funding for the teaching/learning coaches came from a Sunshine Law request made by someone else that was later sent to me. When that request was initially made, though the information is public, Huff took the unusual step of letting all of the teaching/learning coaches know that someone was looking into the funding and was seeking personal information about how much these people were making. The request, though there is nothing in the Sunshine Law that requires this, was held up while Huff told the employees that someone was looking into their salaries (which is information the public has every right to know).

The teaching/learning coaches also received an e-mail that day from Sarah Stevens, the district's director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment (and a former teaching/learning coach):

Hello everyone,

I just wanted you to be made aware that the sunshine law request that was made this summer has gone public.

The article that was sent to me did not have our names or individual salaries, but rather an article on how the district paid for our salaries and the total amount of money spent over the years.

There are several misrepresentations and accusations that are not true.

Angie will be sending out an email later tonight with the facts and some talking points to help you if you are asked or confronted about it.

Thank you!


Certainly C. J. Huff, Angie Besendorfer, and Sarah Stevens must be happy that they are under the belief that no one is investigating the Joplin R-8 School District. Otherwise, the word obstruction would certainly come to mind.