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Letters to the Editor – July 2010

July 9, 2010

DIRECTION 38! welcomes letters to the editor on topics relevant to this website. Please submit letters to editor@lpd38.org. Letters must come from the original author and are posted with their approval. Authors can request their letter be posted “anonymously” or under a “group name.” As long as the original author can be contacted by the editor for corrections, verification and final approval, the request for anonymity will be respected.
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Opinion

July 7, 2010

I’d like to make some comments on why ending the contract with Dr. Blanch was the right thing for Lewis Palmer School District. I have been a community member for 19 years who has had four sons go through D 38 schools and have been a teacher at both Lewis Palmer and Palmer Ridge High Schools. Dr. Blanch was a tireless worker. He made himself available to the community through various meetings, and attended many events both in the evenings and on weekends. Unfortunately, he was not well versed in budgetary concerns, long term vision and planning based on the combined ideas and values of all elements of the community and available data.

When Dr. Blanch became superintendent, there was a $10 million surplus (in reserves). The question remains unanswered regarding how we went from this kind of surplus to the desperate straits we find ourselves in today. The answers given were almost solely pointed at the cuts in funding from the state of Colorado as well as a decline in enrollment.

As a leader, D 38 needed vision; someone who was able to see the big picture and be able to respond to the events outside of their control. First, when the bond passed to build the new high school, but the MLO to provide funds to operate it failed, he should have gone back to the drawing board in response to the community’s decision. One obvious idea would have been to reconsider a 9th grade center at the current LPHS location. The district’s elementary enrollment had already begun to decline and this possible solution could have been more thoroughly investigated and developed with greater community involvement for financial viability and future flexibility regarding enrollment.

Under his leadership, the district moved forward and built the second high school and opened it without the funding to operate it. Dr. Blanch led the district to place another MLO on the ballot and it was worded in a way that tied teacher wages (becoming more competitive) to funding Palmer Ridge High. This second MLO was also defeated. I believe that the community would have voted for competitive teacher wages had it been properly presented. The community’s distrust of D38’s administrations ability to be fiscally responsible and transparent effectively killed the MLO funding requests. Dr. Blanch ignored the results and continued to fund the operation of the school by freezing wages.

Teaching is a second career for me. Prior to obtaining my Master’s degree and teaching license, I retired from 32 years in commercial construction management as a consultant, an operations manager and a superintendent. Most of the large facilities I was involved with were public institutions either funded by the state or federal government. Many of these were public schools, primarily high schools along the Front Range (two of the largest in Colorado). I believe the design of Palmer Ridge HS was put in the hands of an architect with little input from the owner (D38 administration). The high school has many design flaws that will continue to make the functioning of the school difficult and expensive. A few examples of the design flaws are the four foot wide stairwells in the academic section, as well as the narrow hallways. Another example is that there is only one student rest room per floor to serve the entire academic side. In addition, most teachers will be traveling from classroom to classroom throughout the academic day. Although this was the intention, it is flawed from a teacher’s point of view. Imagine, if you work in an office and every hour and a half you must move your lap top and all your working materials and resources to another room. On top of that, how will students be able to track you down during the school day for assistance or for missing assignments? Keep in mind that any assignments, tests and materials students needed from previous days will be in your office area – separate from the classroom.

Why the lack of attention to these important building details? Dr. Blanch’s focus was on obtaining state of the art technology that included large flat screen televisions in every classroom and a large space devoted to distance learning (an unproved and undeveloped idea). At PRHS, the distance learning lab, which utilized a large investment of funds, has mostly been used for the once a month staff meetings. Its future use will be as a study hall. Education is greatly enhanced by the use of technology; however, thorough planning must be done to ensure these very expensive investments are done in a responsible and functional manner. The notion that spending money on technology over the basics like classroom size and quality teachers (the number one most effective aspect in a student’s education as overwhelmingly proven in research), is misguided and not correspond with recent research.

Finally the reconfiguration that Dr. Blanch recommended to the BOE last fall has cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time we should be frugal with expenditures. The plan has no future beyond the now current school year (10-11). Looking to the future, if the economy comes back and homes are built, will D38 spend the money to return Creekside back into a middle school? If the economy does not revive for the next four to five years, as many economists predict, we will have no choice but to close several elementary schools and turn Creekside into a mega-elementary. Next year, Lewis Palmer Middle School, operating at full capacity, will experience various problems dealing with transportation, class size, hallway crowding, disciplinary problems, and consequently, the students’ academic achievement will suffer. If this continues, the district may look at turning PRHS or LPHS into an 8th – 9th building and the other high school into a 10th – 12th.

The mistakes made today will have a very long term effect on our district. Simple boundary changes could have alleviated the budget problems without the catastrophic changes to program and offerings for our students. These current plans will require open minds, creativity, and transparency to undo.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that the termination of Dr. Blanch is the best thing that has happened to this school district in the last 3 ½ years. Although I no longer have children in the district, I have an affection and investment in our D38 schools and hope that our current school board will gain the understanding of what the community wants and needs as well as what is required for a new superintendent/leader to be successful. Instead of blaming Direction 38 for the demise of our latest superintendent’s tenure, I congratulate them for spending the time and hard work it has taken, the hours spent at BOE meetings, requesting information, pouring over reports, and being persistent in order to help our BOE make an informed decision.

It is my hope that the community, including teachers, parents, and other voters will get involved and will demand that decisions for our future are based on facts, accurately and transparently presented, and not emotion.

Sincerely,

Stephen Boyd

Social Studies Teacher

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