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updated 2:54 PM CDT, Jul 28, 2018

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Voters, rather than the High Court or lawmakers, should decide school funding

What the Washington State Supreme Court seems to have done, with its ruling last week that charter schools violate the state constitution, is to reinforce its message to the governor and the legislature: "you are not in charge in this state. We are."

And anyone who agrees with the assessment that the state highest court's two education-funding cases amount to unsettling steps into the separation-of-powers arena could also agree that the constitutional question the court is thus raising is one that merits a focused public discussion.

The question of whether the Supreme Court has embarked on an undesirable drift away from the principal of three equal branches of government can be put into discussion by conversation on social media and analysis and commentary from traditional media.

But closure to that question in the form of "a ruling" by the state's citizens, the ultimate court to which all three branches of government answer, can only come in a meaningful way with the kind of debate that occurs during election season when the judges actually have to face public scrutiny.

Meaning the three Supreme Court judges up for re-election a year from now, three of whom were in the majority in the 6-3 ruling, including Chief Justice Barbara Madsen who wrote the majority opinion, should face opponents who feel the court has encroached inappropriately on the essential separation of powers.

The value of competition in next year's election for those three justices, Charles Wiggins and James Johnson in addition to Madsen, isn't to seek to punish them for their views but rather to ensure a sufficient airing of public attitudes on the issue of whether they are endangering the proper separation of powers.

Certainly the role of the Supreme Court is to have the last word, passing judgement on laws passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. But what troubles concerned legal observers is that in the two education-funding decisions, the court has assumed for itself the first word, telling the governor and the legislature what they WILL do rather than passing judgment on what they did.

If the sitting judges are voted out, it will amount to an affirmation of the view that the court has gone too far and the remaining six judges can then ignore that at their peril.

Now for a review of the court decisions that lead to the questions about limitation of the powers of the court and the possible abandonment of the tradition that the high court imposes those constraints on itself.

The court's most recent ruling held that charter schools are unconstitutional, ultimately because they are governed by appointed rather than elected boards and that the constitution requires that the boards that oversee common schools must be elected.

The state constitution merely requires adequate support for common schools. So in decreeing that elected boards must govern common schools, the court has basically usurped the legislative and gubernatorial right to decide in the future the manner in which the constitutional funding requirement can be best carried out. That means the lawmakers might want to decide whether funding oversight is best served by elected or appointed boards, perhaps at the state level.

Budget leaders in both houses and both parties have suggested that the state take a larger role in oversight, as in setting pay, for example. And some lawmakers are even convinced that they have to do that, since the lawmakers, just as they are answerable to students to provide a good education, are answerable to state taxpayers to ensure that those school dollars the court has ordered them to increase are being spent as wisely as possible.

They realize they need to step into the management role in ways that could elude locally elected school boards.

In the first education-funding decision, known as the "McCleary decision," the court ordered the legislature to spend more money on education, then followed up by holding the lawmakers in contempt for failing to provide enough additional funding. And in the past few weeks the court actually imposed a $100,000-a-day fine on the lawmakers to failing to "sufficiently" fund education.

In that McCleary ruling, the court said common schools funding needed to be 'ample" but also "uniform" and "stable."

Now the court's sole position is spend more money, focusing only on "ample" while saying it has "no opinion" on the "stable" or "uniform" points.

Some court observers have described as curious the fact that the high court backed off from two of the three central points on education funding, leaving only the edict of spend more money.

And since in the constitution, common schools specifically excluded high schools and "normal schools," (which became the state's Eastern, Central and Western state universities) the court may have cast doubt on the constitutionality other programs not overseen by elected boards, like Running Start, a program by which high school students can gain college credit.

All represent more than enough reason for deliberation beyond the legislators, governor and the courts to include the public in decisions about where the state should go with education funding and the process by which that should occur. 
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Celebration of Life honors WSU president Elson Floyd's contributions

While Elson Floyd's legacy at Washington State University will likely be the tangible results of his ability to dream big dreams and then guide others to achieve those dreams, his most enduring memory may be the intangible of his remarkable ability to convey a personal connection with all he met.

The WSU family and friends will gather on campus August 26 for a Celebration of Life, honoring the WSU president who lost the private battle he waged with cancer even as he pursued and achieved what may have been his biggest dream, a WSU medical school.

Following the celebration, a more intimate group has been invited by interim WSU President Dan Bernardo to gather to share memories of the man whose eight years guiding the Pullman school transformed its role as Washington's land grant university into something far broader.

There won't be time, at Bernardo's reception, for everyone to share memories but some selected will, and I share a few here.

When the national advisory board of what is now the Carson College of Business (named for former Boeing Commercial President and alum Scott Carson) and of which I was a member welcomed Floyd soon after his arrival on campus in 2007, he impressed most of us with his understanding of the job-creating mission of higher education.

"We need to communicate with the Legislature and policymakers that we understand that we are about creating jobs, about economic development," Floyd said at his first meeting with the advisory board.

Understanding the economic development role for higher education guided Floyd to create the positions of vice president for economic development both at WSU and, before that, at the University of Missouri system. That put him at the national forefront of college leaders in understanding that the role of universities in economic development was destined to become the issue it has become in most states.

Referring to Floyd's gift of connecting, Lisa brown, chancellor of WSU's Spokane campus, said "Elson made everyone he met feel like they had a special relationship with him," adding "He had a command of a room so that everyone wanted to hear what he had to say."

John Gardner, Vice President for Development and CEO of the WSU Foundation whom Floyd brought with him from Missouri when he left the presidency of the University of Missouri system to come to WSU, agreed that Floyd "had the ability to convey a personal connection to all those he met."

But Gardner added that Floyd, who tapped him to be one of the first vice presidents for research and economic development in the country soon after they met on the Columbia, MO, campus in 2002, added that Floyd had not only an ability to befriend others quickly, but also "to size up a situation, a person, a deal very quickly."

"He had, In Malcolm Gladwell's terminology, an ability to take a 'thin slice' and inform himself immediately of his next step," said Gardner, whom Floyd once described to me as "like a brother to me" as we discussed Gardner's departure for a time a couple of years ago for another opportunity.

"He took a thinner slice than anyone I know and was right an unbelievably high percentage of the time," added Gardner. "This intuition served him very well and, as a result, he wasted little time on opportunities that weren't destined for a high yield."

Discussing Floyd's philosophy about WSU's land grant status, Gardner said "he became enamored with the land grant role and scope in discovering its power while at Missouri (also a land grant institution). He immediately embraced its connection to the economy (thus economic development) as well as its commitment to access."

All now know that getting the 2015 Legislature to approve creation of a new medical school at WSU was his crowning achievement as he worked tirelessly, testifying for hours on front of committees and engaging lawmakers in one-on-one meetings, even as he battled cancer that proved terminal.

Less high-visibility than his achieving the medical school, which WSU Regents have said they intend to name the Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine, have been his steps to spread WSU's educational presence across the state. Those include creation of WSU North Puget Sound, on the Everett Community College campus, where classes will be taught not only by resident faculty but also interactively from other WSU campuses, and recent steps toward a similar arrangement with Bellevue College.

And Lawrence Pintak, founding dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, recalled in a message to his faculty, staff and students that Floyd's vision for the Murrow School came even before his selection as president.

"While still a candidate for the presidency, Dr. Floyd asked a member of the presidential search committee (a Murrow alum) why the then-Murrow School was hidden in the then-College of Liberal Arts," Pintak recalled. "'Murrow needs to be a college!' he declared. And he made that happen."

"Dr. Floyd recognized that the Murrow program was, and often said publicly, a 'crown jewel' of Washington State and he understood the value of Edward R. Murrow's legacy in leveraging WSU's influence in the media industry and academia on the national level," Pintak added.

A couple of years ago, after attending a breakfast interview with Floyd, I told him, "I don't know your party, but you should run for governor or senator as your next career stop." He merely smiled.

Bernardo referred to Floyd's ability to teach others how to dream big, then act to realize the dreams, as "transformational for WSU," shifting from the school's long-accepted role as the state's "ag school" to a leadership role in addressing the needs of the whole state.

Bernardo said that Floyd took WSU's "quiet humility" and just kind of stepped up and said we can be something bigger. He led us there. That transformation will be the most important to WSU."

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Elson Floyd name on new WSU medical school would ensure support for future

Just as it was WSU President Elson Floyd's personal presence in the legislative halls that overrode doubt and opposition to bring about creation of a new medical school for his university, naming the medical school after him would ensure that his spirit and memory provide the support for the school to weather challenges ahead.

Elson Floyd

As the awareness spread in the days following his death from cancer last week that Floyd was waging an eventually losing battle with the disease while he waged the legislative struggle to fulfill his vision of a new medical school for WSU, the idea of putting his name on the school has logically surfaced.  

There are apparently a number of bills making the rounds in the Legislature to name the medical school after Floyd, who died last week in Pullman at the age of 59 after the colon cancer he had been battling for months suddenly worsened and claimed his life.

And a move on social media emerged yesterday urging that the medical school be named for Floyd, since his personal immersion in the struggle to convince the Legislature that the state needed more than one approach to training doctors and that WSU could make the difference won the day with lawmakers.

Floyd had spent hours in Olympia early this year testifying before committees, meeting one on one with legislators and building WSU's case for why a second medical school made sense, even while UW lobbyists were saying it didn't. In the end the legislation that will allow WSU to create a second medical school in this state passed by an overwhelming margin. It was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee the first week of April.

"A lot of legislators knew of his battle with cancer," said John Gardner, vice president for development and CEO of the WSU Foundation. "But he handled his personal health like he handled every other issue he confronted in life, never using the challenges to advance a cause."

"His privacy was something Elson was consistent about, never wanting his burden to become someone else's burden," said Gardner, whom Floyd brought with him to Pullman from the University of Missouri when Floyd took the WSU job in 2007 and was one of Floyd's closest friends.  

While it's logical that the lawmakers who came to know and respect Floyd, and were saddened by his death would seek to put the final mark of his name on his medical school, the Legislature may not be the right forum for that decision.

The established university processes may deserve to be served in Floyd's case in particular, and the forum for a decision on naming the WSU medical school after him should remain the province of the WSU Board of Regents.

And since it seems more than likely that the school will eventually carry his name, that will virtually ensure that future legislative battles over funding to produce doctors from both UW and WSU will unfold with lawmakers sensitive to whose name is on the WSU medical school.  

Just as there was legitimate and understandable opposition to a WSU medical school from supporters and fans of the UW medical school that is one of the finest in the nation, that opposition will surface in coming legislative sessions over the appropriations necessary to provide sufficient funding for now two medical schools.

Elson's name on the school is the most certain way for WSU to weather those certain legislative funding storms, first for the focus on the initial class of 40 medical doctorate candidates who are to be welcomed in the fall of 2017, then for the funding challenges that await through 2024 when the first graduates will complete their residencies.

If that naming decision comes from the lawmakers themselves, it would likely assure that each issue is weighed on the basis of a legislative reaction that "we named this place for Elson."

But the reality is that the decision belongs in the hands of the regents of the university where he left many imprints, one of which was his vision for a WSU medical school.

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Exploring issues of WSU medical school should proceed despite McDermott urging quick end

Washington State's senior congressman has stirred reactions of surprise, disappointment and a bit of irritation for inserting himself, with an op-ed piece in the Seattle Times, into the discussion over a possible new medical school at Washington State University by urging the Legislature to reject the idea.

The University of Washington sits squarely in Rep. Jim McDermott's 7th Congressional District and he has always done an excellent job over his 24 years in Congress of putting the needs of his constituents first. So it's not surprising he would step up to help that important constituent when asked.

But it's unfortunate that McDermott would visibly support UW and his friends there by taking sides on the issue of whether a new WSU medical school should be created, likely to serve large parts of the state whose interests are not McDermott's concern.

There were some in the legislature, including from his own party, who were surprised, and a little miffed, that he would advise them in a high-profile manner on how they should decide an issue that is strictly up to the legislature.  

One staunch UW supporter in the Seattle business community told me "it was inappropriate for McDermott or any member of the state's congressional delegation to turn this into a political issue when it's a state and local issue." He added: "We have an incredible medical school at UW and it will continue to be the mothership, so to speak, whatever develops. A WSU med school won't endanger that and it might make a regional healthcare program stronger."

Really the only question before the 2015 Legislature is whether the lawmakers will set aside a nearly century old law that prevents any state university other than UW from providing a medical education. There is a bill asking the lawmakers to provide some initial funding for WSU's effort, but the major issue to decide is whether or not they clear away the legal impediment that dates to 1917.

In an era when it's become increasingly clear that competition drives innovation and new ways of doing business, it would be difficult to imagine a reason, other than successful lobbying, why the legislature would decline to remove that arcane constraint. That way the discussion about whether or not there should be a second medical school in the state can continue on.

Would competition be damaging to the University of Washington? It's not likely that its status as the 12th best medical school in the nation in U.S. News & World Report's 2013 rankings would be jeopardized with a new WSU medical school in Spokane.

And its ranking as number 8 medical school in the country for receiving grants from the National Institutes of Health at $302 million last year would not likely be seriously impacted. WSU would be going after different grants.

Might UW need to be more attuned to the needs of rural parts of the state for medical care and more doctors? Perhaps, even maybe deciding to turn out more than the 120 graduates a year that has been the limit for a decade.

And as a side note on the issue of competition being potentially damaging, it's worth noting that Stanford University Medical School ranks 4th on that U.S. News list while University of California Medical School in San Francisco a few miles up the freeway is 5th. Now obviously they don't compete for state dollars, since Stanford is private, but they compete strongly for federal dollars and grants.

WSU has been attuned from the outset to seeking to explain how it might address the need throughout Eastern and Central Washington communities for more physicians and has looked for models for community based medical education, and thinks it has found a model in Michigan.

Interestingly, although Michigan's population is nearly 10 million compared to Washington's nearly 7 million, it has five medical schools and enrolled a total of 2,941 medical students to 592 students at UW School of Medicine. That's a difference of 29 students per 100,000 to Nine per 100,000.

And again with respect to the point of competition, it's worth noting that the University of Michigan Medical School was one ahead of UW in the U.S. News ranking, despite, or perhaps because of, its in-state competition.  

And it's competition that stirred the Michigan State University medical school to focus on community-based medical education and become a national leader in that focus. And competitive innovation led MSU to offer degrees in both conventional medicine and osteopathic medicine, making it one of only two medical schools in the nation with that distinction.

McDermott spent much of his op-ed legitimately extolling the virtues of the highly regarded program in which, in the early 1970s, the University of Washington took the bold challenge to train and prepare physicians to care for patients and communities throughout the states of Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho (Wyoming joined in 1996). This regional medical education program known as WWAMI (an acronym representing the states it serves) has been the most innovative of what were a number of similar regional medical education and training programs in the country. It's now the last because the centralized model is not what the future holds.

And there have been discussions in Idaho, now shelved for the time being, and currently in Alaska about creating medical schools in those two WWAMI-partner states.  

And as one proponent of the WSU proposal put it to me, "More of WWAMI, even if it were to continue, would give us more of what we've gotten: concentration of health care resources and talent. How does that help our current problem of access and quality of care away from the population hubs?"

An issue that should attract more attention than it has in this discussion is that virtually all of the emerging biotech startups at UW have come out of the medical school, meaning the medical school is a key to what some hope will be a renaissance of the state's biotech industry.  

It's logical to assume the same would be true of WSU, which already has one of the best regarded of the nation's 26 veterinary schools, which is producing some biotech commercialization and would likely seek some innovative medical school partnerships toward commercialization.

Ultimately the challenge the legislature faces is the looming serious healthcare-workforce shortfall, since it's estimated that Washington will need an additional 1,695 primary care physicians in 15 years.

Currently less than 15 percent of this state's applicants to the UW School of Medicine were admitted in 2012-13 to fill the 120 seats allotted for residents of Washington, which ranked 42nd of the 45 states with medical schools in allowing eligible in-state applicants to attend those in-state programs.

And beginning to address that challenge is the forefront issue before the lawmakers. Thus the underlying factor in any decision regarding a WSU medical school is would it help or hinder dealing with the looming physician availability crisis.

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NIelsen calls for major education overhaul

As the 2015 Legislature looks down the double barrels of a pair of multi-million dollar education-funding challenges, one ordered by the court and the other by the voters, a new book by former Seattle school board president Don Nielsen calling for a major overhaul of the basic structure of education is attracting increasing attention.

Don Nielsen 

Nielsen, a successful businessman who turned his attention to education and began a 20-year role as education activist, including two years traveling the country in search of good ideas and a decade on the Seattle school board, says funding isn't the issue. "It is the system and the people who populate it that need to change."

But the Washington State Supreme Court, in a January 2011 ruling that ordered the legislature to fully fund basic education and last fall held the lawmakers in contempt for failing to comply with that order, says funding IS the answer. Then voters, by a bare majority, in November approved Initiative 1351 to limit class sizes. That brought an additional multi-million-dollar reality to legislative deliberations.

And as the issues relating to education funding come under increasing scrutiny, there is increasing visibility for Nielsen, who seems to be at the epicenter of discussion about the future of basic education in this state, and elsewhere. His book, Every School: One Citizen's Guide to Transforming Education, has become a national focal point in discussions about the future of public education.

The book has led to speeches before a long list of Rotary clubs and other organizations, beginning late last year before the Seattle Rotary Club. Another five rotary talks are scheduled for next month, and radio interviews are occurring on talk shows across the country.  

"Most of what we're hearing is that we need more money and lower class sizes, but we have tried that and it hasn't worked," said Nielsen. "We now spend three times as much per child in inflation-adjusted dollars as we did in 1970 and we also have four times as many adults in our schools with only eight percent more children."  

While Nielsen confides he has little hope that his ideas will ever pass muster before a legislature in this state because of the power of the forces opposed to dramatic change in the public education system, a legislature closely divided politically may decide that a dramatic education-funding change should be accompanied by other dramatic changes.

It's logical that Nielsen would take a businesslike view of analyzing what changes are needed for basic education to work since dramatic success as an entrepreneur over nearly a quarter century preceded his personal commitment to learn about education's needs, and then seek to bring those about.

His business success involved co-founding in 1969 a start-up biological and chemical testing company that he helped grow into the world's largest company in its industry by the time he had taken it public. He then helped guide its acquisition in 1987 by Corning, which kept him on as CEO of the firm, Hazelton Corp., and over the following five years he doubled the company's annual revenue to $165 million.

Newspaper editorialists, policymakers and lawmakers from both parties have begun to suggest that if more money must be spent on education, then perhaps dramatic change in the system itself should be considered.

And the fact that Nielsen is reaching audiences on talk shows in cities across the country suggests that what he describes as an "obsolete" system is facing serious scrutiny in states other than just Washington.

"Basically, my premise is that the system is obsolete and needs radical change," he told me in one of several phone conversations  in recent days. "However, like a failing business, you don't embark on radical change with the people who created the problem in the first place.  So, to fix our schools, we must first fix the people and we must do so at all levels; teaching, leadership and governance."

As a frank and to-the-point kind of a guy who has brought an entrepreneur's focus, innovation and zeal to his pursuit of improving education, Nielsen has stirred critics who were protective of the status quo while attracting respect and support from those who shared his view that the structure of education needed to change.

Interestingly, the latest Elway Poll shows that for the first time in seven years, economic issues are not at the top of the public's wish list for legislative action. Rather it is education.

Stuart Elway, president of Elway Research, says his poll shows that 65 percent of those polled think the Legislature should do as much as possible without cutting other programs or raising taxes, 51 percent think education funding is the first priority and 48 percent says it will be necessary to raise taxes to meet education's funding needs.

Nielsen, a 1960 graduate of the University of Washington, where he was student body president in his senior year, seeks to have education reform seen as an issue that transcends politics.

"Fixing our schools, so they effectively educate every child should not be a partisan issue," he told me.  "I am hopeful that the Republican Party will soon recognize that and take on education as their primary issue.   The Democrats have claimed schools as their issue for the last three decades and our schools have not improved. Time for a change."

The changes that Nielsen espouses boil down to three key steps.

"First, we have to improve the quality of teachers," suggested Nielsen, who says a key first step is eliminating certification laws, which he refers to as "the culprit" because they give "education schools a monopoly over the supply of human capital that can work in our schools."

"Next we must improve leadership," he said. "A quality principal will give you a quality school but certification laws again hinder our ability to hire top leaders for our schools."

We also must address governance, not just leadership. We need high quality, competent people governing our schools.   In urban systems, I would recommend going to appointed school boards or even eliminating them altogether and have the superintendent become part of the mayor's cabinet.  

Nielsen decided, after his decade of schools leadership at the local level, that the necessary changes couldn't be achieved locally. And he suggests the fact No Child Left Behind Act has produced disappointing results, and may be dramatically altered in this Congress, suggests Washington, D.C., isn't the place to drive necessary changes.

"To improve America's schools, we need to do so at the Statehouse," said Nielsen.

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First-ever grant makes this a special year for Hispanic-families focused Friends or Granger

What was born 11 years ago out of a Thanksgiving Day conversation in the small town of Granger between two women concerned that the children there, mostly Hispanic and poverty-level, would go hungry over the Christmas holidays has grown into an effort to also feed the minds of not just the youngsters, but also their families.

This year is a special one for the little non-profit called Friends of Granger, that grew out of that 2003 Thanksgiving conversation between Joan Wallace, then president of Wallace Properties in Bellevue, and her sister in law, Janet Wheaton, then principal of Granger High School in a community that U.S. Census figures indicate is 85 percent Hispanic.  

 

The specialness is that this year has brought a new and growing relationship with nearby Heritage University and its largely Hispanic student body, as well as the remarkable results of the energy and creativity of Heritage student Alma Sanchez that have brought the tiny non-profit its first grant.

 

Thus is many respects, this is the most important year since the tiny 501c3 was founded to focus on providing Christmas baskets to the mostly Hispanic families. It subsequently grew to not just feed but also enrich the children with programs ranging from providing warm clothing and school supplies to creation of a month-long summer day camp. In addition, an emergency fund was established to help families in crisis.

 

In her annual e-mail report and "ask" to "friends" last week, Wallace noted that the little non-profit had received a $15,000 grant from the Yakima Valley Community Foundation (YVCF), due mainly to the involvement of Sanchez, a mother of four who is both a student and an employee at Heritage.

The grant is for the education-focused program Sanchez created to use incentives to keep kids in school. Sanchez, who in addition to being a Heritage student also works in the office of Michael Moore, Heritage's Vice President for University Advancement. It was Moore who first reached out to Wallace to create ties between the university and her programs.

Sanchez' attendance incentive program, promoted with posters visible around the school, attracts attention with the headline "Win One of 5 IPads," with the explanation that five will be raffled at the end of the year. Plus, in a style worthy of an ad agency, the signs read: "every quarter that you are in school every day you will receive fabulous prizes."

The results of Sanchez' efforts are already paying dramatic dividends since the 400-student middle school that last year had six students with perfect attendance already has 100 kids with perfect attendance this year.

Moore explains that Sanchez "has also worked inside the school to create a belief among faculty and staff that full attendance is possible and put encouragement, support and incentives in place for students."

Now Sanchez' program can be expanded as a result of the grant from YVCF, which held a special luncheon last week where Wheaton, now Director of Federal Programs, Assessment, Curriculum & Technology for the Granger School District, received the grant check from Linda Moore, the community foundation president.

Sanchez, whose children range from a 20 year old down to a third grader, decided four years ago she needed to get her degree and so, in her mid-30s, enrolled at Heritage. In her sophomore year she went to work in Moore's office because she needed money to finish school.

She had nurtured the goal of going to college, originally hoping to be an attorney, since growing up in Chicago, the city which has perhaps the largest urban Mexican-American population in the country. She moved her family to Granger when her husband relocated to the Yakima Valley.

After learning about Friends of Granger, she got involved, did some research and learned that lack of attendance was the major problem in the Granger schools.

She says she researched attendance across the country and explored what different schools were doing to address the problem and found what kinds of incentive programs to keep kids in school were working in other districts, then came up with her plan for Granger schools, but needed the funding to implement her ideas. That led to the application for the grant.

Sanchez has also helped put together a series of financial literacy workshops for the Granger families and the first one, last week, exceeded all expectations as at least 500 people, representing 150 different families, showed up.

Here again incentives came into play as each family picked up food baskets, then stayed to listen to the presenters.

"When the grant got approved, I can't tell you how ecstatic I was," Sanchez said. "What I would like to see is for this program to continue because I am confident if it continues that we will see significant increases in attendance, and that thus more students will graduate and more students will go on to college."

She also shared her vision that the project "could become the protocol for other districts elsewhere that are facing attendance problems."

 

Meanwhile, the Heritage connection will be ratcheted up next year when18 student teachers will be working in Granger with master teachers from the School District for the entire year, five days a week in a program viewed as a national model for how teachers need to be trained.   

 

The vision for the Heritage program is that by teaching with master teachers in some of the most challenging districts in the state, Heritage-trained teachers emerge with skills and experience no other programs can produce while also substantially moving the needle on performance for the schools and classrooms they touch.

    

Granger will appropriately be the initial beneficiary of this program.

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Economic development mission for higher ed as old as creation of land-grant colleges

(Editor's NoteThis is the second of two articles exploring the challenges faced by higher education in coming to grips with the role of four-year colleges and universities in serving the economic development needs of their regions and states.)

  

The concept of an economic development mission for higher education is as old as the creation of land grant colleges more than 150 years ago. And Elson Floyd understood that from the time he arrived at Washington State University in 2007 as president of this state's first land grant university.

 

"As a land-grant university, economic development is a core part of our mission," Floyd said, noting that one of his first acts upon arriving in Pullman from Missouri, where he had been president of the University of Missouri, was creating an office of economic development.

Elson Floyd.

                                                           

When Congress created land-grant universities, their educational mission was is to focus on the teaching of "practical studies like agriculture, science, military science and engineering."

 

And those constituted the educational focus of what was Washington Agricultural College and School of Science from its founding in 1890 until 1905 when it became Washington State College.

 

That land grant status is an important historical asterisk as Floyd's four-campus university is among the colleges and universities around the country challenged by the emerging effort to press higher education to play larger roles in the economic development initiatives in their states.

 

That linkage between higher ed and economic development has been under scrutiny around the country as various states have been exploring what role colleges and universities should play in helping grow the economies of their states.

 

The issue was brought to the fore in this state in recent weeks with a report to the board of regents of the University of Washington by the Washington Future Committee, headed by former regent William Gates Sr., which suggested UW could do more despite itsobvious and significant economic impact.

 

The group of business and civic leaders Gates chaired urged UW to increase the number of in-state students, keep tuition affordableand increase the number of STEM degrees and do a better job of telling its story to key stakeholders.

 

UW President Michael Young and the regents will now have to digest the report and weigh its relevance to how the state's major research university charts its future.

 

For the state's other major research institution across the state, Floyd says "Our economic development activities are many," pointing to "research and its translation through commercialization," the small-business development centers WSU operates around the state as well as extension activities in every county in the state.

 

"From the beginning of my tenure here, I knew we could have a tremendous regional economic impact by leveraging our institutional strengths through our array of programs," Floyd said in an exchange of emails for this column. "The power of the research university is tremendous in helping to drive economic impact."

 

But Floyd noted "WSU cannot be all things to all people. In our ongoing effort to continue to refine our mission and ensure we are aligned with the state's needs, our institution is continually asking our stakeholder how we can better serve them."

 

"We have listened to our communities and, as a result, have made 

changes to what we do and where we do it," he added, noting the health sciences focus in Spokane, the bio and alternative fuels focus in the Tri-Cities with PNNL and aerospace programs in Everett in cooperation with the local community college

  

The economic-development look is also under way at the state's regional universities, including Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

James Gaudino

 

CWU President James Gaudino, who spent 15 years looking at higher education from the outside as executive director of National Communication Association, says "It would be irresponsible for a public institution to ignore the economic-development need" of its state or region.

  

Gaudino, an Air Force Academy grad who came to Central as president on January 1, 2009, says all of the state's universities, in looking at programs in the wake of increasing budget restrictions, used workforce demand for students in the various programs as a key factor in the belt tightening.

 

"While we have a growing awareness of how a major fits the industry needs, we retain a strong commitment to liberal arts," said Gaudino, who was the founding dean of the College of Communication and Information at Kent State University before coming to Ellensburg as president of one of the three regional universities.

 

Gaudino, who drew praise for turning the Kent State program into a center of innovation in the new information age, notes all the universities have advisory groups from industry for each of their schools to "keep an ongoing dialogue about industry needs and how we can best satisfy them."

 

But, in an observation that would be echoed by presidents of all six universities in the state, Gaudino said: "We don't want to live in a society that doesn't have artists and humanists or where people have no knowledge of or appreciation for history. And no one would want to move their company to such a place."

 

Gaudino has launched a Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and it is the focus on innovation that the University of Washington, in particular, would say is a key contribution it has made to economic development.

 

Yet ironically, what's called tech transfer is an area where the efforts by the state's universities have drawn criticism for a lack of focus or commitment.

Len Jessup, former dean of the business school at WSU and now dean of the Eller College of Management at University of Arizona in Tucson, concedes that many research universities across the country just haven't been able to deliver on the tech transfer and commercialization front.

 

"For some it just hasn't been a priority, for others it just wasn't accepted by their campus cultures, and for others 'wanting' to do more of it just wasn't enough to overcome their inexperience in this area," Jessup told me in an email exchange. 

 

 

"On the other hand, I would say that nationally the collective of all the research universities has gotten better at this as more and more universities improve on metrics like faculty invention disclosures, patent filings, licensing, start-ups, start-ups that get to revenue, and jobs created as a result," Jessup added. "Things are clearly getting better and they are leading to new jobs."

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Big East Conference, despite distances, may lure Gonzaga basketball to where prestige, money await

The rise of Gonzaga to number-one ranking among college basketball teams and its early plunge into NCAA tournament oblivion sparked interest and attention beyond the usual sports-fan ranks. And so will the possible next chapter for the little Spokane school, if it successfully pursues membership in a reorganized Big East Conference, where media riches can abound.

 

If, Gonzaga exits the West Coast Conference, as is being increasingly rumored on both sides of the country, much of the conversation would focus on the role athletic success has come to play in not only the image but also the broader financial success of smaller private universities.

 

What's become known in recent weeks as the Catholic 7 group of top-tier basketball powers is splitting from the football-playing members of the 34-year-old Big East Conference at the end of June to form its own conference, which will retain the Big East name. Gonzaga has reportedly reached out to officials of the new Big East to indicate an interest in becoming a member.

 

That may come as a shock to many Gonzaga basketball fans, but not to those who know that Bulldogs coach Mark Few has wanted out of the WCC for a number of years. And as the financial picture offered by membership in the Big East sinks in, there's likely to be growing pressure to work out the geographic challenges and make the move to a conference where media revenue can provide riches.

 

The Catholic 7 schools -- DePaul, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, Villanova and Marquette -- will become a 10-team league by adding Butler (as the only non-Catholic university but a private school with high academic standing), Xavier and Creighton before the start of next season.

In 2014-15, the new Big East is expected to add two more teams, with Dayton and St. Louis the leading candidates to join and thus create a 12-member alignment.

 

Gonzaga, which reportedly spent $5.3 million on all aspects of the basketball program and had revenue of $6.1 million (that was two years ago, the most recent year for which figures are available), would rank in the middle of the Big East pack in both categories.

 

Marquette, with $10.3 million in basketball expenses and $15.6 million in revenue, and Georgetown, at $8.6 million and $9.5 million, top the Big East teams, though Villanova had $8.0 million in revenue and Xavier, a Jesuit university in Cincinnati, had revenues of $11.2 million.

 

The figures come from the U.S. Department of Education, which requires NCAA schools to report what's called "equality in athletics" information, and were reported last October in the Memphis Business Journal, which did an exhaustive review of the numbers and reported the rankings.

 

You can search "NCAA college basketball expenses" and find a CNN breakdown of all basketball revenue and expenses for the 2008-09 season, though CNN notes that comparison between basketball revenues and profits "is interesting, but not precise." That's because schools have latitude in their filings and may assign revenue and expenses to different sports, meaning schools that play football may skew the basketball information, but that's far less likely among these non-football schools.

 

Gonzaga's expenditure and revenue totals are well beyond schools in the WCC, but stack up comparatively well with major western schools, including many of the Pac-12 schools. Figures reported by Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State and University of California showed expense and revenue similar to Gonzaga's attributed to men's basketball.

 

Those close to the Gonzaga basketball program are well aware that several years ago, Few, wanted to become an independent. But because the conference had let it be known that other sports wouldn't be welcome to stay in the WCC if Gonzaga exited for basketball, the idea was set aside

 

 There's no official comment from either Gonzaga or the Big East members on a possible role for Gonzaga in the basketball-driven new alliance of Catholic schools. But sports bloggers have begun to toss out the possibility.

 

Except for the challenge of distance, Gonzaga would be viewed as a logical member of the group. And a longtime friend of mine at Marquette observed "Gonzaga would add so much to this conference."

 

Distance remains the challenge to overcome in any discussions going on about Gonzaga and the Big East, given the fact that the closest school would be Omaha, once Creighton joins the conference.

 

But the fact a number of trustees got together several years ago to put up $150,000 each to allow Few to charter flights for the team's trips rather than the tedious and draining commercial travel would ease some of the challenge of distance.

 

Seattle businessman Jack McCann, a 17-year member of Gonzaga's Board of Trustees, who is among those involved in supporting the charter-flights, says it came about when concern by some trustees that Few might be lured to another school with a big-money offer talked with the coach about what they could do for him.

 

"In typical fashion, Few said 'I'm not worried about me, but I am concerned for my guys and the drain of travel,'" recalled McCann, who declined to directly address the Big East rumors.

 

But with that arrangement to help players with travel challenges by putting up the money for charter flights, the trustees may have, without specifically intending it, set the stage for Gonzaga to accept any offer to join the Big East.

 

No matter its hoop success over the past 15 years, Gonzaga has been routinely described as a successful "mid-major" team, a description that basically describes the few schools like Gonzaga that have achieved success despite being in conferences that aren't quite big time.

 

 

All that would change, in both image and income, for Gonzaga with membership in the Big East.

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Spokane deserves a role in Washington Redskins' look back on key anniversary

The Washington Redskins kicked off the celebration of the 80th anniversary of their NFL franchise this summer with a two-month Thank You Tour that brought players, coaches, cheerleaders and personnel to pre-season pep rallies across Redskins' fans land. Spokane obviously wasn't one of the stops on the tour, but somehow the Inland Northwest's unique tie to the Redskins should be remembered. In fact, it's a bit amusing that the Redskins owners are celebrating the birth of the franchise 80 years ago - in Boston -- when it was 75 years ago, the Diamond Jubilee, that the franchise re-located to Washington, D.C. It was with that move to the Nation's Capital that the Spokane chapter in Redskins history began when owner George Preston Marshall hired Ray Flaherty, then ending his playing career as a star end for the New York Giants, as the new team's new coach. The Giants had drafted Flaherty more than a decade earlier after his college career at Gonzaga, a virtually unknown little Jesuit school in Spokane. Flaherty launched his coaching career in style for that 1937 season, bringing the Redskins and their new city the franchise's first NFL title as they defeated George Halas' Chicago Bears on a frozen field, 28-21. Over the next six years, until World War II interrupted his coaching career and he joined the Navy, Flaherty was perhaps the most successful NFL coach of his time, winning two national titles and making it to the title game on two other occasions, posting a 56-23-3 record. Only Halas, whose Bears' 73-0 victory over the Redskins in the 1940 title game was the worst championship-game drubbing in NFL history, might have been viewed as Flaherty's equal. The prestige and power of being a prominent professional football coach never made Flaherty forget his Spokane roots as he returned home each off season to visit with and be lobbied by old friends about the latest Gonzaga football star. Thus each year, Flaherty drafted the top Gonzaga backfield star, creating the improbable result that a world championship pro football team (the 1942 Redskins squad) would have three of its backs from a little college in Spokane, including brothers Ray and Cecil Hare. On occasion, the Hares were starters. And Flaherty even brought the entire team West in 1939 in what was likely the first coast-to-coast training trip as the redskins held their training camp at what was then Eastern State Normal School (now Eastern Washington University) in Cheney, just southwest of Spokane. Gonzaga itself, which was among a host of tiny private colleges that in the '20s and '30s nursed the illusion of being the next Notre Dame, discontinued college football with the outbreak of World War II. Thus things like the Redskins-Flaherty connection are the kinds of memories important to keep alive for a lot of Bulldog fans, aware that before there was basketball at Gonzaga, there was a degree of prominence on the football field. But it wasn't just the Gonzaga connection that is a part of the Inland Northwest's tie to Washington Redskins, for 50 years after Flaherty arrived in Washington, the Redskins drafted a Washington State University quarterback named Mark Ripien. Ripien, who was born in Calgary but grew up in Spokane, starred for the Cougars in Pullman. But in the pro ranks he became one of the NFL's most feared quarterbacks and guided the Redskins to a 37-24 Super Bowl victory over Buffalo in 1991, being named the game's Most Valuable Player after passing for 292 yards and two touchdowns. Both Flaherty and Ripien are in the Redskins' Hall of Fame. In an interview with Flaherty in 1968, I asked how it was that the player generally regarded as the best to come out of Gonzaga, Tony Canadeo, eluded Flaherty to become a Green Bay Packer. Canadeo, who earned the nickname "The Gray Ghost of Gonzaga" because of his prematurely gray hair, became the first Packer to rush for more than 1,000 yards (1,052) in 1949, only the third player in the NFL to that time to achieve that mark. Flaherty recalled that he intended to have Canadeo on the Redskins' roster, but figured as a player from a tiny school in Spokane, that Canadeo would still be available in later rounds of the draft and he could use his early picks for other players. "I tried my darndest to talk the Packers out of Canadeo," Flaherty recalled in the interview. "But they seemed pretty suspicious about why I was so anxious to have him so decided to keep him. I had a lot of trouble with the Spokane folks over the fact I failed to get him." Descendants of Flaherty and the Hare brothers, as well as others whose ancestors were part of Gonzaga football, and Ripien and his family and a whole cadre of WSU football fans, would be more than enthusiastic participants if the Redskins should come up with an event to recognize the franchise's Spokane tie.
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Heritage University students are unlikely evangelists for the free enterprise system

They are an unlikely band of evangelists for the free enterprise system, a group of mostly Hispanic college students whose resumes almost inevitably include the phrase "first in (his or her) family to attend college."

 

Yet the students who participate in the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program at Heritage University in Toppenish, and close the year competing against college teams from across the country, prove themselves not only believers in, but practitioners of, free enterprise.

 

Year after year, the students from Heritage distinguish themselves as among the top student teams at the regional and national SIFE competition, including this year in Kansas City when they finished fourth runner-up in the semi-final round of the national competition among 160 schools who participated.

"To see the transformation of these kids when they get a chance to believe in themselves is amazing," says Leonard Black, who created and has run the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program at Heritage for almost a dozen years. "They go from shy, insecure and self-conscious to very outgoing and confident."

 

"These are kids from farmworker or immigrant backgrounds," notes Black. "Their dinner-table conversations at home focus on survival skills and paying bills." In fact, 97 percent of Heritage's 1,500 students qualify for some sort of federal or state financial aide, including most of the 55 percent of the students who already have children.

 

They not only believe in the message conveyed in the projects in which SIFE involves them, but they become teachers of free enterprise among entrepreneurial hopefuls in the Hispanic-dominated Yakima Valley.

 

Black spent his career as a corporate executive, finally as Duracell vice president of operations for Asia-Pacific before becoming a volunteer chair of the business program at Heritage.

 

Black recalls that it was Sr. Kathleen Ross, the Holy Names nun from Spokane who helped found Heritage College in 1981 as an independent college and served as president for 30 years until her retirement in 2010, who first suggested he take a look at SIFE. She apparently felt the program fitted in with her focus on providing higher-education opportunity to the area's multicultural population.

 

SIFE is an international non-profit organization that works with leaders in business and higher education to teach students, through outreach projects in which they apply business concepts learned in the classroom, the skills to be socially responsible business leaders.

 

An annual series of regional and national competitions provides a forum for teams to present the results of their projects, and be evaluated by business leaders serving as judges.

 

It was those annual competitions to which Black aimed the attentions of the SIFE students at Heritage, even though he recalls that the first year in the regional competition "we were told that we were the worst team they'd ever seen."

 

Undeterred by that first SIFE experience, the students met with him and said: "Mr. Black, we're coming back next year and we're going to win."

 

"So they went out and rounded up other students and came up with additional projects," Black said. "The following year they were regional first runner-up, but they were still disappointed with that showing. So the third year, they won the regionals and went on to the national competition in Kansas City."

 

Heritage officials point to the team's ability to find a flow of new members as indicating that "while SIFE is an exceptional showcase for our students-and attracts many of the best students-they are by no means unique."

 

Two years after that first national-competition showing, they became the first team from the Seattle region to ever make it into the national semi-final competition, Black said. That meant they would have to be on stage before an audience of more than 3,000, including the 130 business executives who were judges.

 

"They had never spoken into microphones, so they used soda cans to simulate microphones," Black noted. "They finished second in the nation."

 

Now it's routinely assumed that the Heritage kids will be in the forefront at the competition. In 11 years and 18 competitions, the Heritage teams have nine regional championships, seven national semi-final appearances, "final four" three times and recognition in 2011 as one of the nation's 10 top programs. And in May Black was inducted into the SIFE Hall of Fame.

 

As to their real-time involvements, Black said "We work with people in the community to help them realize their dreams" with the students touting the benefits of a free-market economy to the entrepreneur hopefuls..

 

Toppenish has a population of just under 9,000 residents, 82 percent of whom are Hispanic and 32 percent of whom live below the poverty line. It's to that population that the students bring hope, particularly since 51 percent of Heritage students are Hispanic and 85 percent are the first in their families to attend college.

 

The students recently did a survey of 4,000 households in the area and found that 180 residents want to start a business, but lack the resources to do so. So the students are putting together a training program and hope to pursue grants that will permit them to start a mini-loan fund for those entrepreneurial hopefuls.

 

Several years ago they helped Hispanic farmers form a cooperative to sell apples, including writing a business plan so the farmers could qualify for small-business loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They got a $325,000 loan, with training from the students written into the loan application, and the result is the cooperative called Washington Elite Growers.

 

Heritage alum Gary Pierce Jr., a native-American member of the Yakama Nation, turned down several Fortune 500 offers after he graduated in 2006 with a degree in business administration because he felt it was more important to remain in the community where he grew up.

 

Today he heads up marketing for Yakama Nation Land Enterprises (YNLE), a company charged with rebuilding the Yakama Nation landscape. The company purchases lost tribal lands and develops ways to make a profit from them so that more property can eventually be purchased.

 

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Story book debut for U of Idaho tech transfer's Anderson and her potato pitch

When Gaylene Anderson decided on an entrepreneurial coming-out party from her tech-transfer role at the University of Idaho, she chose the biggest business-plan competition stage in the country and picked the quintessential symbol of Idaho to tout her fledgling company.

 

The result was a storybook debut in which she wowed the audience and the judges and is now gaining national attention for herself and Solanux Inc., whose academia-developed process turns the potato into a health food.

 

 
 

The next chapter in Anderson's emergence from the relative obscurity of her university technology transfer role of the last 10 years to a once-in-a-lifetime experience as triple honoree at the Rice University Business Plan Competition will be inclusion in a special section in Fortune magazine's May issue.

 

In the space of three days last month, she won the Rice competition's 60-second elevator pitch, was honored by a national women's entrepreneur organization, and her team took fifth in the competition.

 

"The 42 finalists from among 1,600 business-plan applicants included schools like MIT, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Purdue...and Idaho," she said with a smile. "When we said we were from Idaho, people kind of chuckled. I think they thought of us as cute, but not likely to be competitive, but the opinions changed after our first presentation."

 

By the time the competition ended two days later, the Idaho team had won $25,000, which included $1,000 for Anderson's winning 60-second pitch, $4,000 for the team's fifth-place finish and $20,000 for the Courageous Women Entrepreneur Award.

 

That award came from a national women's investment group called nCourage, which Anderson says has now offered to help raise the rest of the money for the Solanux start-up.

 

In addition, she has been advised by the Texas Angel network that they want her to present to one of their groups in July

 

Most of the initial funding of about $1.5 million has come from J.R. Simplot, the Boise-based potato-products giant. And while the goal of the initial fund-raising effort has been $2.5 million, she confides that the target is now likely to double.

 

"We'll likely be looking now to raise $5 million because Simplot wants to expand the pilot testing phase and we want to produce a potato chip with this process, go after our own product," she said.

 

Her first visibility following the Rice event was in early April on CNN Money's website, where the 60-second elevator pitches by Anderson and others were featured (and which you can see on YouTube, as she talks holding up the potato, which she says she "carried everywhere" in Houston).

 

It hadn't been Anderson's intent to steal the show, but rather to use the competition to take a key step toward attracting investor attention for Solanux, which uses enzymes and chemicals to turn dehydrated potatoes into a healthy food product rather than starch.

 

"Enzymes and chemicals are used to stabilize the cell walls around potato starch, which slows digesting of the starch and increases the fiber in potatoes," Anderson said in explaining the process. "The process is used when raw potatoes are being converted to dehydrated potato flakes, granules or flour and the dried ingredients have increased health benefits, like lowering glycemic response, aiding with weight reduction and acting like a natural probiotic."

 

"These products will benefit diabetics, people that have allergies to corn or wheat starch products (Solanux products will be gluten free), and people that simply want more healthy (and more variety) potato products," she added.

 

When the product was brought to Anderson's attention in the university's tech-transfer office, she put a team together that named the product ("Solanum is Latin for potato, but I figured if we substituted an 'x' for the 'm,' it would sound techie," she explained in an interview) and has been guiding its progress.

 

The process was perfected by U of I food scientist Kerry Huber, who is part of the Solanux team, as is Jacob Pierson, a third-year law student with a master's in bioinformatics, whom she credits with much of the success at the Rice competition.

 

Anderson will be staying with the company in a key-executive capacity as future progress develops under the watchful eyes of Simplot executives. Going along with Anderson will be her husband, currently the U of I swim coach, and their teen-age sons.

 

It was the swimming focus of her family (her 15 and 17-year-old sons are competitive swimmers) that actually guided Anderson's first entrepreneurial venture, a learn-to-swim video called Waterproof Kids, a CD available at Wal-Mart and through Amazon. Asked if they provide her an income, she said "A little, but not enough to quit my day job."

 

Anderson admits that Solanux is the first tech-transfer product that ever tempted her to leave academia for the private sector. But she says when she saw U of I president N. Dwayne Nellis at an event two weekends ago and advised him of her decision to leave, he convinced her to instead take a two-year entrepreneurial leave.

 

In what may be the makings of a marketing pitch for products that are eventually created from the Solanux process, Anderson enthuses: "This may be our best hope for eating French fries without self-hate."

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Legislature ensures that charter schools will be governor's-race issue

The Washington Legislature ensured that the controversy over charter schools will become a focus in the state's gubernatorial campaign by specifically rejecting charters as part of any education-reform efforts in a bill that creates a handful of what will be called "collaborative schools."

 

The manner in which the legislation was conceived and approved, at the request of Gov. Christine Gregoire after she specifically warned that she would veto any bill authorizing charter schools, has "controversy" written all over it.

 

Passed in the midst of an extended session aimed at resolving the state's budget crisis, the bill is titled "collaborative schools for innovation and success pilot program." It calls for a five-year program involving six elementary schools, each of which will be operated by pairing to-be-determined school districts with colleges of education in the state.

 

The bill basically does two things that, for sure, won't make proponents of dramatic change in the state's education system very happy. It requires, basically, that all parts of the current schools infrastructure -- administrators, teachers unions and what's called "the professional education standards board" - must sign off on any innovative programs conceived for the handful of schools permitted to participate. And it ensures that no wholesale changes would be possible until the five years of testing for those few schools provided for in the bill have been fulfilled and evaluated.

 

One of those left unhappy is Rep. Eric Pettigrew, the respected African-American Democrat whose House district includes some of Seattle's at-risk neighborhoods and who had co-sponsored a bill to permit charter schools in Washington State.

 

"This bill isn't even close," Pettigrew told me in a telephone interview. "We have been doing things the same way for too long and accepting a certain failure rate and I don't think that's acceptable."

 

"Charter schools provide the flexibility to be nimble in seeking education changes," he added. "Probably the most frustrating thing about the entire experience is that discussion of what's best for the kids never seems to really conclude before it trails off into organizations that will need to be involved."

 

The comment frames the reason for controversy over charter schools in this state, one of the last nine in which charters are prohibited. Whether what's best for the kids is the unquestioned number one issue inevitably collides with many teachers and teacher advocates who will insist that even if kids' needs are the priority, what's good for teachers is also an issue. The stronger the teachers union in a state, the more that conflict comes into play.

 

The Seattle Times, in a January editorial on the bill proposed by Pettigrew and Sen. Steve Litzow, a Republican from Mercer Island, said: "Political courage is often lacking in Olympia, making Pettigrew's willingness to buck the Democratic Party's usual fidelity to the Washington Education Association all the more striking."

 

"Expect contentious debate," The Times editorial continued. "In particular, the teachers union sees charter schools as a threat. Yes, Washington state voters rejected charter-school proposals three times. But we know a lot more about these innovative public schools since the last failed measure in 2004."

 

Indicating that his "courage" isn't likely to wane in the coming months as likely Democratic gubernatorial standard-bearer Jay Inslee picks up the education ball his party has crafted for him and runs with it, Pettigrew said "if the unions or even my fellow Democrats want to come after me, fine."

 

Atty. Gen. Rob McKenna, the presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee who has promised to make education reform and funding a focal point of his campaign, says of the collaborative-schools idea "There is no evidence that they will actually work. Moreover, it will take years before we know if they do."

 

"I support trying new approaches to improve education for our children right now," he added. "And a smarter approach would be to adopt models that have a proven track record of success, like high-performing public charter schools that are working in 41 other states." 

 

McKenna says both collaborative schools and charter schools should be "tools in the toolkit" for those seeking a new education model.

 

Inslee, in a wide-ranging blueprint for education reform to create "An innovative, accountable education system: building a better future for every child and a stronger economy for Washington," called for change in most aspects of the economy that might impact education funding.

 

Thus his plan for educational reform and adequate funding calls for "reinvigorating the economy..." "Reverse the trend of healthcare inflation eating into education spending..." "Sunset corporate tax loopholes that have outlived their purpose..." and "Expand a system of quality improvement to all government agencies..."

 

Inslee says his "vision for an education system by 2020" includes that "achievement and opportunity gaps among students are eliminated."

 

An ongoing challenge for Inslee and Democrats in rejecting the idea of even having charter schools on the education-reform table is that some prominent, long-time Democrat supporters appear reluctant to get aboard.

           

Perhaps most challenging for them is Nick Hanauer, the venture capitalist and avowed "lifelong Democrat and committed progressive," who views Republican positions on social issues and taxation as "misguided," but says "McKenna is on the right track and we are not" on school reform.

 

"We may be headed in the right direction, but we aren't in the right lane," Hanauer told the head of the state teachers' union in a February e-mail exchange. "It is not classroom teachers who are afraid of change and innovation, it is their union." 

 

While charter schools are anathema to teachers' unions, they have gathered supporters from among some of those who toil in the classrooms, including Erin Gustafson, who grew up on Mercer Island but began her teaching career in one of California's poverty pockets.

 

"My path to supporting charters began 16 years ago when I taught fifth grade at a high-poverty school in Vallejo," Gustason told me. "I became disillusioned with the poor teaching, union rules that protected that, and the restrictions of operating in a large system."

 

Gustafson, now married and the mother of children 9 and 7 and a substitute teacher, became involved in a new teacher-created education-reform non-profit called Teachers United, born a year ago with the goal of "giving teachers a voice in policy debates."

 

 She is now policy director for the group, which advocated last session for charter schools as one of the choices that need to be available in Washington State. She was among teachers from the organization who testified before the legislature's education committees on behalf of charter schools.

 

"After doing a lot of research and visiting several public charter schools in California, I have come to believe that successful public charters are an effective way of closing the achievement gap," she said. "We took teachers who were interested to visit high-performance charters across the country and, for those teachers, seeing was believing so they decided to advocate for charters."

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Achievements of deceased astronaut focus of program for at-risk kids

Nine years on from Michael P. Anderson's death on the ill-fated space shuttle Columbia, the fund-raising effort to ensure continuation of the annual program at Seattle's Museum of Flight aimed at inspiring at-risk children of color to dream big dreams is nearing its final stage.

 

In fact, the effort launched for a hometown hero by Spokane business leaders following the Feb. 1, 2003, shuttle disaster, along with the major assist from African-American pilots of Alaska Airlines and a financial commitment from the airline itself represents fulfillment of a big dream in its own right.

  

 
 

 

As the Museum of Flight prepares to host the third annual Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program on February 4, final selection is in progress for the group of 10-to-14 year olds who will receive support from a special fund to attend the day-long session.

 

The goal of the program has been to create an enduring memory of Anderson and to make his achievements an object of aspiration and inspiration for young people, particularly the African-American students who would seek to emulate him. It's intended to help inspire an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and careers.

 

Avista Corp. CEO Scott Morris, motivated in part by the fact Anderson's father was an Avista employee, assigned the firm's director of community development, Anne Marie Axworthy, and communications manager Jessie Wuerst lead roles in the project, with a goal of  raising funds for a statue of Anderson in his hometown. That was soon after the shuttle disaster. But with completion of the larger-than-life bronze statue in Spokane in 2005, the vision expanded.

That meant doing something on the west side of the state and that led to a focus on a second statue at Seattle's Museum of Flight, which was dedicated in June of 2009, as well as a program to bring African-American children an awareness of Anderson and his accomplishments. That led to the creation of the Michael Anderson Memorial Aerospace Scholarship for Children of Color, which is administered by the Museum of Flight.

 

The campaign to raise the final $50,000 to ensure that the Museum of Flight program and the scholarships continue will also get a boost next month when the person credited with being the key figure in making the Seattle portion of the program a reality retires from the Air Force and returns to Seattle.

 

Maj. Gen. Harold L. "Mitch" Mitchell, Deputy Inspector General of the Air Force in the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, retires this month after two years on active duty and will resume his role as an Alaska Airlines pilot, which is what he was doing when he was first approached about involvement.

 

"The goal has been to do more than merely put up a statue," Mitchell explained in an e-mail exchange this week. "It's important to leverage Anderson's legacy to help students have a chance to do similar things."

 

In an effort to put together a group to focus on the goal, Mitchell turned to other African-American pilots at Alaska, then realized "we needed some funding to make this happen so we thought it was an idea worthy of sharing with the company."

 

He says they didn't expect Alaska to be as supportive as it was, but the airline agreed to put up $100,000 as matching funds over four years.

 

"To be honest, we've struggled on our side of the match, but they have been outstanding," Mitchell said.

 

Wuerst of Avista said the campaign has raised $190,000 thus far and needs to raise a final  $25,000 to get the last $25,000 of the Alaska match.

 

Anderson was 43 when he and the other six crew members of the Colujmbia crew perished as the shuttle broke apart on re-entry.

 

But in an interview from space earlier in the 16-day  mission, Anderson expressed a thought that became the quote on the plaque on each statue: "This is what I wanted to do since I was a little kid.  If you apply yourself, work hard to be persistent, and don't give up, you can achieve anything you want to achieve." 

 

It's that commitment that supporters of the Museum of Flight program hope to bring to a growing number of children of color from all parts of Washington State.

 

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