Column's headlines inspire him
The titles of Dr. Joe Puglia's columns catch my eye. A few years ago he wrote of his boyhood nun, Sr. Jean, and it reminded me of my 8th-grade nun Sr. Jean Dolores. Dr. Joe's article spurred me to communicate with her and tell her how much she had inspired my life and the Valley Sun published my thoughts about her.
On a recent week Dr. Joe wrote about his travels along America's Blue Highways. That title caught my eye too, because in the early '80s I read book named "Blue Highways" by the author, William Least Heat-Moon.
I discovered the book because it was on the N.Y. Times best-seller list. An excerpt revealed least Heat-Moon's travel to St. Martinville, Louisiana, the site of my paternal ancestors' home before many of them came to California. After reading of the Creoles and Cajuns of the area I was curious to learn more. I found that the Evangeline Tree was there as a reminder of the trek of the Acadians from Canada made to escape persecution. I found that my great-grandfather built the first U.S. replica of the grotto in Lourdes, France, at his parish church. Delving further into my heritage, I found that my great-great uncle, Louis A. Martinet, a freeman of color, a lawyer, a physician, a publisher, teacher and legislator, coaxed his friend Homer Plessy to ride on the "white only" Louisiana train car. He and his collaborators shepherded the Plessy vs. Ferguson case to the Supreme Court.
It's amazing to me that printed column titles can bring to life distant adventures and travels to places on Blue Highways and into personal, and sometimes important, history.
Value-added data could be helpful in LCUSD
Thank you to the Valley Sun for opening the local discussion on value-added test data and teacher evaluation. In the Aug. 19 issue, the comment was made that the La Cañada Unified School District contract with the teachers' union prevents the release of standardized test scores by teacher.
As a school board member, I have read the union contract and didn't recall seeing this prohibition. In a phone conversation with an assistant superintendent, I confirmed that the standardized test data for individual teachers can be released and published.
To clarify, La Cañada Unified receives the standardized test results for our students and the data is made available to the teachers. The data can be organized by teacher, grade-level and subject.
However, the District does not calculate the value-added data for teachers. Although this probably requires additional software, value-added data could be very helpful to teachers, administrators and the school board.
One of the major roles of a school board is accountability. During my six years on the board, test data for individual teachers has not been available to us. Last year I asked to receive detailed data for Algebra II. The board did not concur, so we, the board, did not receive the data. (After a downward drift over six years, Algebra II scores have improved during the last two years.)
If you agree with me that it is important for the board to review individual teacher accountability data on behalf of the community, please talk to school-board members and join in advocating for all kids.
The current contract includes a relatively new evaluation format that encourages individual teachers to improve academic outcomes using a variety of test data. (Union Contract, Appendix G5A, page 2.) In my opinion, this is important progress, but does not replace school-board review of individual teacher test data.
We have many superior teachers. As the Valley Sun noted, high test scores have been maintained over the years, and in some subjects, the test scores are significantly better for 2010. I agree that we need to celebrate our great teachers and find a way to pay them more.
I am a member of the La Cañada school board, speaking for myself only and will provide further comments at http://cindywilcox.net. You can reach me at email@example.com or (818) 952-0345.
Resurface, don't wall 210 Freeway
I see from the Valley Sun that the La Cañada Flintridge that city staff is all excited about "a huge step forward" for sound walls along the 210 Freeway through our community. An agreement with the Metro Transportation Authority would result in getting $2.8 million through Measure R plus $250,000 in federal funding for designing about 20 sound-wall segments. It was a little disappointing to read that it will take three years to design a simple sound wall. With Caltrans having better than a decade of design experience, I was hoping for six months.
Well, all this may sound good when you say it fast, but the big question is: What are they designing? When the addition of sound barriers was first brought up, it was clearly stated that what we needed was sound-absorbing walls. With the valley-type topography we have in La Cañada, sound-reflecting walls of the type typically erected by Caltrans would bounce traffic noise off a north wall up into the Flintridge hills, and noise from the south wall up into the hills of upper La Cañada. We need walls that absorb noise, not reflect.
When the city five years ago gave a Pasadena firm a sound-study contract, the resulting report was of questionable value. Not surprising, since this firm had limited acoustic-design experience. Sound-absorbing materials/configuration was not addressed, only how high reflecting walls would have to be. But worst of all, they did not address where the noise was coming from. Cars, of course. But was it from engines, exhaust, or tires? Any half-alert motorist can tell you that tire noise on high-density concrete is a multiple times higher than when driving on fresh, lower-density asphalt. So why don't we address the most serious part of the noise problem and look into resurfacing 210 through our community with one of the many sound-absorbing, composite materials now available? It would be very effective, cost a fraction of sound walls, and best of all, we would not have to wait into "the distant future" for funding, probably with a tab closer to $100 million than the current $50 million estimate.
Retired teacher sends thank-you
It's now "back-to-school" time, though not for me. After spending every year since I was 2 ½ going back to school, I have retired. I spent my whole adult life following my calling and passion, teaching in LCUSD for 38 years.
These days I find myself going from ecstatic to very sad. I will certainly miss my students and my colleagues; but I will not miss 5 a.m., paperwork and such. On the other hand, there are so many new opportunities ahead.
I wish to thank this community for a truly wonderful life — it has been exciting, fun, and inspirational. All in all, my students have taught me far more than I ever taught them. I was incredibly blessed to have the unique, awesome opportunity of touching the future each day.
One of my eighth-grade students wrote on an evaluation of me this year: "Mrs. Fuhrman was very nice, and talked with us like we were just as smart and normal as she was." This is one of the best compliments I've ever received; and, remember, it was from a 14-year-old. I must have done something right!