Tuesday, September 29, 2015

We have some great sunsets lately

The last few days we've had this flying, fluffy stuff called "clouds" in the sky which makes for very pretty sunsets.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Superbloodmoon ... not

We went to see the Superbloodmoon rise in the East tonight. It was overcast and a bit foggy, so no moon for us, but there were lots of others doing the same thing in Santa Teresa County Park with clear skies in the wrong direction ...

We also had a very nice sunset a little bit earlier.

An open letter to the Morgan Hill Unified School District Board of Trustees

I rarely take political positions in public, in particular not on this blog, and I do so for good reasons... This one is different, and an issue I deeply care about. Apologies to my regular readers.
On Tuesday evening, the Morgan Hill Unified School District Board of Trustees will vote on whether to extend the charter for the Charter School of Morgan Hill (CSMH) for another 5 years. CSMH has now been operating for almost 15 years. All 3 of our children are -- or were -- students at CSMH and have been happy and successful at the school.
While the relationship between the District and the school has often been a little bit rocky, this time the district staff is going too far by asking the Board of Trustees to extend the charter only with onerous and questionable conditions attached.

I took a close look at the report prepared by District staff outlining their concerns regarding the CSMH charter extension petition. While the report raises some valid issues, none of them rise to a level that would be reason for not extending the charter. Thus I emailed the following letter to all trustees.

Dear MHUSD Board of Trustees,
I have read the staff report on the CSMH charter renewal petition and generally take issue with the underlying tone of the report, which consistently implies that CSMH somehow does a bad job in educating our children.
However, let me address a few specific details that stand out in the staff report.
Since one of the primary factors for granting petitions to charter schools is student achievement, let's look at the data presented on page 8 of the staff report.
The staff report claims that "The highlighted cells demonstrate that in most grade levels MHUSD schools are outperforming CSMH".  The report bases that statement on results in Math testing, a useful, but not necessarily complete evaluation of overall student performance.

Another argument in the staff report is as follows:
"In a number of references throughout the petition, CSMH referred to exceptionally high student achievement based on standardized test scores. These claims have the effect of distorting the public perception of actual student achievement relative to similar students in local public schools due to the demographic exclusivity of student enrollment at CSMH. When the data is broken down by subgroups, it is apparent that the differences in school comparison performance on exams contradict overall student achievement levels in many circumstances."  [highlighting mine]
Since CAASPP scores are the best data available to measure student performance, staff chose to base their argument on disaggregrated CAASPP scores. A sensible choice.

A more detailed look at the table for non-SED Latino students on page 8 reveals that out of the 8 schools listed CSMH ranks as follows:
   3rd grade: 2nd @ 2453 (spread: 2383 - 2491)
   4th grade: 3rd @ 2496 (spread: 2449 - 2508)
   5th grade: 1st @ 2529 (spread: 2437 - 2529)
   6th grade: 2nd @ 2546 (spread: 2442 - 2559)
I.e. non-SED Latino CSMH students are outperforming their peers in most MHSUD schools. Nice.

So the "demographic exclusivity" CSMH apparently serves badly must be in the white population, since that's the other table presented in the report! 
Let's take a look how CSMH ranks among Morgan Hill schools for non-SED Whites in Math:
   3rd grade: 5th of 6 @ 2472 (spread: 2463 - 2500)
   4th grade: 1st of 7 @ 2531 (spread: 2464 - 2531)
   5th grade: 5th of 7 @ 2520 (spread: 2477 - 2557)
   6th grade: 1st of 8 @ 2586 (spread: 2489 - 2586)
   7th grade: 2nd of 4 @ 2617 (spread: 2586 - 2630)
   8th grade: 1st of 4 @ 2614 (spread: 2594 - 2614)
So, with exception of 3rd and 5th grade results, even for non-SED Whites CSMH Math scores compare very well to schools in MHUSD. I find it more believable to treat the latest 3rd and 5th grade results as a fluke than a consistent pattern of bad performance.
In light of above data the quote in the staff report should actually read:
"The highlighted cells demonstrate that in most grade levels some MHUSD schools are outperforming CSMH."

Phrased another way:
CSMH outperforms Nordstrom and Britton in most grade levels.

Nordstrom and Britton are both excellent schools within MHUSD and I wouldn't be surprised if they have similar demographics as CSMH.

Unsurprisingly as a high performing school, CSMH has a wait-list (to my knowledge at every grade level). Thus, the school can address any demographic imbalances primarily through new students in K, as well as to a lower degree when existing students leave the school.

The staff report claims CSMH lottery information is misleading with regards to school admittance.
In particular, on page 15 the staff report claims "In addition to the preference above, CSMH employees and siblings of CSMH current students have been admitted early and therefore exempted from public random drawing since the opening of the school.[...]
Each year, about 50% of the available kindergarten seats are filled with students exempt from public drawing, leaving about 50% of the spaces available and open for students who reside in the district, students who qualify for free or reduced price meals, and any other applicants. The admission process could be misleading to families who believe that their application will be considered based on a lottery."

An unsuspecting reader of the staff report might get the impression, that 50% of the spots are given to students that have not gone through the lottery.

In fact, many of those early admission students have gone through the lottery in previous years and were added to the wait list, as is clearly laid out on the CSMH web site (http://csmh.org/enrollment/faq.html):

"Q: What are the Charter School of Morgan Hill Admission Lottery Preference Categories? Enrollment preferences shall be given in the following order:
  1. Children of Launch Team members residing in the District, and children of Charter School staff working 50% or more who also reside in the District.
  2. Siblings of existing Charter School students
  3. Children of CSMH staff working less than 50% residing in the District
  4. All other residents of Morgan Hill Unified School District


"Q: If I am a prior year applicant who is still on the waitlist what is the status of my application for next year?
A: Your status needs to be updated. You will need to re-apply by submitting another complete application. The good news is that as a prior year wait-list individual you will not go through the lottery again, you will get carried over on the list in your order. Please note Kindergarten applicants are not eligible for prior year's waitlist carryover, even if they applied the prior year. "
As a side-note, we have gone through this exact process 9 years ago when our daughter was admitted to CSMH in 4th grade. The process as outlined above has been in place for many years.

The staff report notes a special section on the CSMH budget. In particular "the reliance on donations to balance its operating shortfalls is troublesome".

As everyone working in public education knows it is very hard to do multi-year projections for school funding. The staff report points this out and notes that "the [CSMH] organization has fifteen years of successful operations including recent experience during a period of unprecedented reductions in State funding for education. CSMH has a strong finance team who have demonstrated credibility in managing the organization's finances."  and "the apparent deficit is the result of expenditures included in the operating budget which would only be incurred if funding is available from the Foundation".
As clearly noted in the staff report, CSMH does not use funding from the Foundation for ongoing operational expenses, but rather for major capital expenses, field trips, class room supplies, etc.
The staff report also clearly notes that detailed budget information was not included in the petition. Instead Staff relied on other sources of financial data to go on a fishing expedition to find *anything*. ... and then goes on to tie future budget projections to a doubtful note "that reducing expenses would likely affect the ability of CSMH to support the education program described in the petition".

I very much appreciate sound skepticism when looking at financial numbers, but the tone in the "Supplement Information: Budget" section goes way beyond skepticism and borders on paranoid.
With that said, the financial viability of a charter school, while important, is not part of the five facts to support a charter petition.

In summary:
Yes, CSMH can and should continue to increase their outreach to under-represented demographics, as well as address certain short-comings around EL teacher certification.

However, these are not grounds for placing onerous conditions on a charter renewal petition.
CSMH continues to excel at educating students that go on to be successful in MHUSD high-schools. This is by far the most important aspect of a successful charter school.
CSMH has a fair admittance lottery system.

CSMH has demonstrated financial stability even with extreme state funding reductions.

Therefore, I urge you to unconditionally approve the CSMH charter renewal petition.

Thank you for your consideration.

Update 2015/09/29:

At the board meeting tonight the charter extension was approved with no conditions, and the whole board voting in favor of a revised resolution that had several unlawful recommendations in the original resolution dropped, and others brought to reasonable levels. Both CSMH and the district pledged to work together on a memorandum of understanding structuring closer collaboration.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Coast Line at Bernal Rd in the Morning

Northbound Caltrain 217 this morning at the Bernal Rd overcrossing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

At night

South Station has some neat light effects. The Barking Crab is a Boston seafood institution located in a tent at the water front, and they are very specific about alcohol consumption ...

The lobster roll was excellent.

Boston skyline on the way back to South Station.

My way to the office this morning

The hotel is behind me. The office is behind the trees of this garden on top of a parking garage.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Beer Selection

Sunday evening I had a Wormtown Hoppy IPA at Za.

At Meadhall on Monday evening, Naked Elf was unfortunately out, so I ended up with a Golden Monkey Triple, followed by a Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA.

All good choices.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

On to Boston

The plane just arrived. We are all set for on-time departure to Boston.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Physics Show at Foothill College

The Physics Show is a regular (and popular) staple at Foothill College. We got tickets and today we learned about electricity, magnetic fields, Faraday, atoms, electric charges, conductivity, temperature, and pressure.

The show was very well done, most of the experiments worked, but -- not surprisingly -- the presenters had a bit of trouble when they were trying to demonstrate electric charge on this relatively humid day.

Hey look, you can make electric arcs yellow by coating the copper rods with salt.
The definite crowd pleasers were the air-pressure driven T-Shirt cannon ...

... and shattering a cinder block with a sledge hammer ... on top of a human ... who is sandwiched between two nail boards.

Lots of very educational fun designed to make children (and adults) curious to learn more about Physics. It worked for us.

Shows with new content typically debut in January. Get there early (>30 minutes before show time) to get in line and score front row seats.
There are still tickets available for one show tomorrow morning.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Destruction before Construction

Tonight I disassembled the push button control panels for the former Hallelujah Industrial Area and recovered a whole bunch of cabling, LEDs, and push-buttons. Since the club is moving to soft panels on fascia mounted tablets, I can install the NCE Switch-its in locations that are more accessible than under the upper level.

And yes, near the chemical tanks that's a glass of one of Murf's fantastic wines. Thanks for bringing it down and sharing!

Evening Sky

Very cool evening sky tonight. The straight lines are not on the lens of my camera ...

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

31 thorns

The drought has not been gentle to the tires on Pascal's bicyle this year. Today we pulled a total 31 thorns from the mantles of both tires, many of which had penetrated the inner tube. This was the first time we had to replace the tube on both wheels at the same time.

All of that because he crossed a small grass section near the Los Paseos sports field. Most of the time the thorns are not a problem, they are soft and bend easily. However, it's so dry now that the thorns are very stiff, and act like pins.

5 thorns ...

Monday, September 07, 2015

Evening Walk

Los Paseos Park at Dusk

Talheim Runaround

While puttering around the house today, I had a little bit of time and continued working on extending the run-around in Talheim. The sub-roadbed in this area has already been modified a couple times, making additional changes difficult. I decided to just lay a fitted piece of hardboard under the track to carry it across the gap.

A wooden brace is glued in place to support the hardboard. To fit the hardboard I cut a page from today's paper into a template to fit the all the nooks and crannies of the existing benchwork and structures.

Once the hardboard was cut based on the template, I sanded down the edges and glued it in place. You can never have too many clamps.


Once the glue dried, I put back the track, and Kevin got to test whether it all still worked.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Apple Tree

Looks like our apple tree will have more than the usual 1.5 apples this year. Unless we'll have a repeat from last year.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Fountain in the Morning

As I was pulling up in the parking lot at work today, I saw this nice geyser near the Stevens Creek pump station. Looks like some valve at the water main broke. Quite a bit of run-off was pooling at the bottom of the hill.