Archive for February 21st, 2009

by Ana J. Beard

It isn’t hard to forget that our new Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) superintendent, Dr. Alex Apostle, has spent the last 7 years, before coming to Missoula, as a private real estate investor in Arizona when he says things like “my job [as superintendent] is very similar to remodeling a house.”

It’s even harder to forget that he has been retired from the education system since 2001 when he says “Honestly, this issue [the school board meeting on Feb. 10] should have been dealt with at a building level, but I wanted to sit back and see how this would be handled in Missoula,” when he addressed Hellgate High School faculty at a special, short-notice meeting on Feb. 17 that Apostle had called specifically to talk to the teachers about academic freedom. (He is going around, addressing every school about this as well.)

While Apostle’s intentions were pure during the meeting and as appreciative most people are that he owned up to his mistakes and didn’t place blame on anybody else with the turnout of the Big Sky censorship controversy, it was hard to ignore the snickers and whispers of the teachers around me.

Apostle kicked off the meeting by informing everybody that “academic freedom in this district will be supported.” The reaction was much like the one I see and hear in a room full of teenagers-people rolling their eyes, trying to hold back laughter, even a few whispers (my favorite one–“Bulls***”).

He told the group that he supported Kathleen Kennedy (the Big Sky teacher who, according to the school board, violated school board policy by showing her Wildlife Bio class “The Story of Stuff”) and that he had expressed his support in an e-mail to the school board.

To be completely honest, Dr. Apostle, an e-mail is NOT enough.

During the meeting, Apostle told the teachers about his proposal to create a committee that would be made up of a diverse group of staff, faculty and even students. They would go over school district policies and clarify and/or revise them. One person stood up and asked whether this plan would be carried out before or after the May 6 school board elections. Apostle said he wanted to get it out of the way as soon as possible, so, before.

At one point in the meeting I asked about the urgency to his plan: Is this really a good idea if there are members of the school board that obviously don’t have what’s best for the students at heart? It seems that there are a few board members that would just like to push their beliefs into the education system, and that is definitely not a good sign for MCPS.

The group had the opportunity to ask questions. Many people expressed concern for Kennedy, for themselves (as educators) and their curricula. Science teachers referred to the evolution unit that a few of them are just about to start and asked whether that could be the next target. One teacher stated that a precedent had already been set by Feb. 10’s school board meeting. One teacher even stood up and talked about how her own teenage daughter had been told which positions to do in order to conceive a boy or a girl in her Prep For Life class, and watched Knocked Up in english class, with no relevance to the curriculum and without parent notification (if a teacher plans on showing a movie that is rated R, they are supposed to send a note home for parent approval).

Initially, I had planned on not bringing attention to myself. My principal knew I was coming, as did a few staff members but it was supposed to be a meeting for certified teachers.  I couldn’t help myself though.

Apostle kept saying “it is obvious the community has spoken,” saying that the community agreed with the school board decision. I raised my hand, stated my name and that I wasn’t a teacher, that I was a student. Then I asked how exactly the community had spoken if there had been little student input. He talked about the letters to the editors in the Missoulian and the people that were at the initial meeting regarding “The Story of Stuff” and Kennedy.

At one point a teacher asked about the repercussions to Kennedy from the school board’s decision. Apostle attempted to answer, saying that the meeting wasn’t to punish her – that it was to review the material presented and see if it violated policy 2313.

While “The Story of Stuff” was initially questioned under 2313, that was not what the school board’s decision dealt with. Maybe he got nervous, or it was a slip of the tongue, but he had his facts wrong. I spoke up, respectfully, and said that the Feb. 10 meeting dealt with whether “The Story of Stuff” violated policy 2330, which is about academic freedom and the handling of controversial issues. While the school board ruled 4-3 that the movie violated the policy, they decided not to issue any punishments to Kennedy. Apostle seemed thrown off by being corrected by a 17 year-old. The teachers around me, once again, repressed laughter and some gave me thumbs up or said “Nice job”.

A while later I raised my hand again, it didn’t take me (or the teachers around me) long to notice that he seemed to be avoiding calling on me. A former teacher of mine even turned around at one point and whispered “I think he’s scared of you, kiddo.” Finally when I was the only one raising a hand, he called on me. “Wasn’t academic freedom created to protect teachers and to prevent something like this from happening,” I asked?

I received a very hesitant “yes.”

I continued, “If there is an open discussion with the material, isn’t that balance?” (One of the points brought up against the presentation of the movie was that there was not a balance of views.)

Apostle said that he was not in a position to review the policy at the time.

I understand that Apostle had legal limitations with what he could say in the meeting, and he chose his words carefully and answered questions to the best of his ability but the general vibe of the meeting was a tad chilly towards him.

After the meeting I approached Apostle. A science teacher was expressing his concern with how Kennedy had been targeted and how it could be any of the teachers next. Apostle told him he would just have to have faith in the administration. The teacher mentioned how Kennedy didn’t even have a chance to defend herself. Once again, I spoke up and pointed out that Kennedy did, in fact, have the chance to defend herself but had been told she didn’t need to. Apostle cut me off and said, “We told her to not even come.”

Maybe, if she hadn’t gone, the attack wouldn’t have been straight to her face. Maybe the meeting would have been less emotional. But if Kennedy had not gone to the meeting, then what chance did she stand against the school board and Mark Zuber (the Big Sky parent who had the initial complaint and spent over 100 hours working on his presentation to the school board)? You can’t defend yourself if you’re not there.

I reiterated to Apostle that I really did not believe the community had spoken. The letters to the editors and the e-mails he was referring to when he talked about “the community”, were a misrepresentation. And obviously he didn’t read the letter to the editor signed by nearly 80 people, or hear about the screening and discussion of “The Story of Stuff” at the courthouse that the Missoula County Democrats Party set up.

Few students had the chance to speak, most didn’t know how.  He said something about how he should tell the principals to inform students on how to input. I asked about his committee, would it be open to student input? He replied with what I felt was a very sarcastic response: “Do YOU want to be on the committee?” He proceeded to tell me how he hoped to include student opinion–Hellgate’s student body president, Sentinel’s student body president, but not Big Sky’s because he doesn’t want the committee to be “bias”.

Excuse me, but isn’t excluding one of Missoula’s three public high schools bias in itself?

by Pete Talbot

Meet Tyler Gernant, potential Denny Rehberg opponent.

First he has to file (he has an exploratory committee now) then he has to win the primary, then he’d face Rehberg in November, 2010.

But hats off to anyone who gets out early, does the background work and then takes a shot at Denny.

Over coffee at Bernice’s, Tyler said he “has no illusions about the hurdles ahead.” He’d most likely be taking on Montana Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald, among others, in the primary. Some of the big dogs, like Schweitzer and Baucus, have advanced McDonald’s candidacy all along, so Tyler would have a battle on his hands.

Gernant is 26 and a lawyer living in Missoula — potentially a lethal resume for a statewide candidate — but stranger things have happened. A political neophyte by the name of Brian Schweitzer almost took out three-term Senator Conrad Burns in 2000 (and that was before the Abramoff scandal).

And Tyler has roots in Eastern Montana; his grandfather homesteaded in Whitetail, which is about as far east (and north) as you can get and still be in Montana.

When asked why he didn’t start off with slightly smaller goals, like the state legislature or a Tier B statewide position, Gernant said this is a “perfect time” to run for congress and that federal issues are what pique his interest.

Gernant is politically savvy, having interned for Sen. Baucus and two congressmen, and worked on Sen. John Edwards’ presidential campaign.

He plays the young card well. He says he’ll “bring fresh ideas” and a “different way of doing politics.” He’ll tap into the “netroots … which is a natural consistency” (a strategy that has been effective in recent campaigns).

Although he counts progressives and populists among supporters, the issues he raises are more mainstream: tax reform, deficit reduction, rural revitalization and energy.

Rehberg (I know, I’ve said it before) should be vulnerable. He basically voted the Bush agenda for the last eight years; including the free trade, free market, deregulation, privatization and voodoo economics that helped get us into our current economic mess. But then he votes against the stimulus package. What a guy.

Can you name any important legislation that Rehberg has offered and has passed congress in the four terms he’s been in office? I didn’t think so.

It’s been awhile since Rehberg had a serious challenger. He deserves one this next time out.

Tyler says he’s going on a tour — “testing the waters” in Eastern Montana and cities like Great Falls, Helena and Billings. He also says he’s putting the final touches on a website and some position papers. We’ll keep you posted.

Please note, it’s too early to be making endorsements. I’m just glad folks are lining up against Rehberg.

by jhwygirl

Please consider this an open thread

I don’t have much. It’s been a tough week.

One thing I did pick up and that has been bouncing around in my head is this NPR interview with David Denby, author of Snark.

I’m not much of a fan of over-kill snark. I don’t see it as a way people can carry on an ongoing conversation in real life, therefore it seems pretty unrealistic to write the stuff. Real life isn’t TV. It isn’t Seinfield. Or whatever new TV show is doing it as an art form nowadays. I believe it does tend to shut down productive discussion.

Is all snark bad? Unproductive? Denby says “no,” and attempts to explain. There’s more in the comments there, too, that ya’all might want to read. Can or is snark in the minds and eyes, perhaps, of the beholder? Is the subject of snark more prone to think, automatically, that it is “bad” snark than, perhaps, the audience?

I’ve conversed on this subject a little this week, and honestly, I’d like to hear more feedback on it: Snark and me. In self-examination, I want to think that I don’t do much “bad” snark at all. Note that I’m not saying I don’t feel I do “bad” snark, just not a lot of it. I know I definitely go there at times. Is my self-examination through serious rose-colored lenses? What happens to your brain when I do go there?

Anyways, there it is – one of the half-dozen or so things banging around in my head this week. If you can help slow down that banging, I’d be mighty grateful. In any event, the cathartic nature of this post – of writing – may have helped in and of itself.

Perhaps later today I get to the fabulous posts of MontanaNetroots, Pogie, Wulfgar!, Singer and Jay, The Button Valley Bugle, Will Fish for Work, Politics, Peaks, and Valleys, and the Flathead Democrats, just to name a few.

If I don’t get to that later, I want to make sure I say this: I’m glad there are others out there kicking out stuff…it was getting pretty lonely out there for a while with the Montana lefty blogosphere and everyone seemingly on vacation. Now the great ones are back in action, and there are even some newbees up that are kicking out absolutely fabulous, quality stuff. Plus, there’s even some legislative stuff going on. I love it. I love seeing additional perspective.

If there’s other Montana blogs out there that I’m missing, please do put them in the comments. I don’t want to be missing any.


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