This blog represents my opinions and my opinions alone, and certainly doesn't represent the collective thoughts of any of the Boards or organizations that I serve on. Unfortunately I make all sorts of miistakes, I'm a picky eater, I can't sing and I just recently found out I have been spelling certain words in my vocabulary wrong my entire life. That being said, I still continue to muddle ever onward. Welcome.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Board of Education Meeting This Wednesday, May 26th, and Other Hot Topics.

Normally I hate it when people complain about the weather, but for the love of everything good in this world, IT IS HOT OUT! This may be the year that I finally abandon my no-air-conditioning policy and join the twentieth century of climate controlled bliss. I know I can't be the last hold-out, who else out there is sizzling away with me? We never had central air when I was growing up and I never remember it being that big of a deal. Of course I was a skinny little girl then, and not a cranky middle-aged pregnant woman with a lawn to mow and dinner to cook. In fact, I fondly remember the nights that it was simply too hot to sleep indoors and the whole family moved outside for the evening. I remember waking up many a summer morning at dawn, covered with dew and industrial strength Deep Woods Off and the Popsicle stick of last night's last Popsicle stuck to my face. Who am I to deny these rites of passage to my own children? In those days we played on trapeze-height monkey bars suspended over the loving cushion of concrete, slept in the starry-ceilinged hatchback of my parents' Nova on cross-country trips and ran behind the city bug truck spraying the neighborhood park. How ironic that I've managed to live long enough to question the toxicity of rubberized mulch in our city's parks. Good old days...

The Monona Grove Board of Education will meet this Wednesday evening at 7pm in the Nichols District Office Board Room. Unfinished business includes the discussion and possible approval of new ninth grade Biology textbooks, department and building budgets and administrative contracts. We will also discuss and potentially approve the location of the Monona Grove Alternative High School. The Alt. School is currently housed in the Devenish Building on Monona Drive and will need to relocate to fulfill their plans for the expansion of their program as detailed by the grant that Rebecca Fox-Blair and Bill McDonald recently wrote for their new charter. The Board received a concise breakdown of the financial impact of moving the Alt. School to both the Nichols building as well as the lower level of Winnequah School. The initial investment at Nichols for the Alt. School to occupy about 5000 square feet of space is approximately $30,500, including the cost of a hallway vestibule ($10K), T1 Line ($3K) and concrete repair outside ($6K). Mark Scullion, Director of Facilities and Safety, also included the additional cost estimates of optionally adding a keyless entry system ($6K) and the inclusion of the cost associated with using the additional 3,000 square feet of space in the MPR ($4K). It is his recommendation to not add the keyless entry and to continue to minimally heat the MPR as the district does currently. The operation of the Alternative School at the Nichols facility would also incur an annual added cost of about $10k for increased heating and energy use. Scullion estimates that moving the Alternative School into roughly 8,000 square feet of space in the lower level of Winnequah would be about $57,000, including the cost of a hallway vestibule ($10K), the remodelling of a storeroom into two additional restrooms ($40k) and the addition of a keyless entry system ($6K). As I read his analysis, the inclusion of a keyless entry system and two additional bathrooms would not be optional costs at Winnequah School. My assumption is that these features would be necessary to avoid the mixing of Winnequah and Alt. School students. There would be no future increases in energy costs at Winnequah as the areas that would house the Alt. School are already being heated. While I am not inherently opposed to the concept of housing the Alternative High School at Winnequah, provided the separation of the two student bodies, and in fact, can see some potential positive opportunities and pluses with the arrangement, I don't plan to support moving the program to that building. I think that this decision needs to be more thoroughly examined with administrative and community input, and we simply have not had the time to do so. I am somewhat concerned with the initial expense of remodelling the Nichols site and the continuing energy cost (as we remember, Nichols School and Maywood Elementary were removed from the McKinstry Energy Contract) in light of the uncertain future of the Nichols building and in anticipation of our district's upcoming real estate holding analysis. My financial reservations aside, I think that Nichols School will prove to be a successful match right now for the Alternative High School program, come what may in the future.
The Board of Education will also receive updates on the district's diversity issues and district goals, as well as have the official appointment of standing committee citizen members. Susan Manning, Board Treasurer, will chair Business Services, Peter Sobol will chair the Curriculum Committee and Board Clerk Lionel Norton will serve as chair for the Policy Committee.

In other unrelated news, my community canning kitchen organizational meeting this past Sunday was a complete bust. I guess it's difficult to drum up interest for collectively standing over a boiling pot of stewed tomatoes in a sweltering kitchen on a freakishly tropical Sunday afternoon. Still, I haven't kicked the can entirely. A friend brought up the interesting idea last night of using the FACE room in Winnequah School- haven't thought out the logistics of that yet, but I've heard there is extra room in the building...

From an email that I have received from several folks: "Are your kids signed up yet? The Sawyer Crossen Annual Kids Triathlon is coming soon- on June 5th. There are some very hard working Monona community members who are getting this fabulous event off the ground in its first year- and you can help by signing up your kids to participate today! All the information can be found here: But here are a few Q and A's for you:

Who is Sawyer Crossen? Sawyer was the son of Molly and PJ Crossen- lifelong Monona residents who have 6 other children. Sawyer died 4 years ago, Molly and PJ are starting this kids triathlon to honor his memory and to raise money for programs in our schools and rec dept for kids who are the age Sawyer would have been.
How far do my kids have to bike, swim, and run? All distances are on the website, but please keep in mind that we know that this is a KIDS triathlon. Training wheels, noodles, walking, etc. --all fine. Just sign up and come have fun.
What else is happening at the event? The committee has worked very hard to secure food vendors there will be facepainting and music, Bucky Badger and Red Robin will be there, a bouncy house, etc. Just a fun morning for all families in the Monona area...... "

Finally, I want to add a few words about Monona Mayor Robb Kahl's eloquent send-off to Council President Kathy Thomas at last Wednesday evening's Monona City Volunteer Appreciation Reception. His heartfelt comments in honor of Kathy's long public service to the Monona community were reverent and touching. Robb is entirely right that Kathy is a real gem, but more importantly according to my children, she is the Queen of All Brownies, and that counts for a lot in my house. You're the best, Kathy Thomas!


  1. Food for thought with Mrs. Mary Ellen Van Valin comments. She has always struck me as a woman who picks her words carefully.

  2. If your parents had a hatcback Nova, you are decidedly not anywhere near being middle-aged.

  3. I hope the board will self-reflect on Ms. Van Valin's departure. When most administrators leave they have both their fans and those who aren't sad to see them go. But Ms. Van Valin was the rare administrator who everybody admired and respected. When an atmosphere is created where someone such as her finds it necessary to leave for a job that is not a career change or advancement it is not a time to justify or rationalize as Ms. Fox did in the newspaper article. It is a time to take an honest look with an open mind at what is going on and use it as an opportunity to figure out what needs to change. If there is no acknowledgement or recognition that there is a problem and a sincere attempt to change things, you will have one heck of a difficult time finding a qualified replacement. You may also lose others. The best among our staff will be the ones who are able to find another position. It won't be the weak links we lose. In short, a little humility is in order, something that is sorely lacking.

    Extraordinary leaders recognize when they maybe aren't getting it right and they need help. It is time to seek expert advice from beyond the border of this district. There is help out there for boards who wish to learn how to conduct themselves effectively and in such a manner as to take advantage of the expertise of its professional employees rather than alienate them.

  4. "f there is no acknowledgement or recognition that there is a problem and a sincere attempt to change things, you will have one heck of a difficult time finding a qualified replacement."

    Fox is not going to admit there is a problem-then she would have to change or do something. But how is this board different than past. We used to have K. Bultman holding up meeting wanting to know what color each pod was going to be at GDS.

  5. I again totally agree with Lily. Ms Van Valin is a huge loss, and needs to be a wake up call for Ms Fox. She is the leader of the board, and thus responsible for the interaction between board and admin. Disrespecting school employees needs to be addressed and eliminated.