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Posts Tagged ‘kettering foundation’

NOTE: For more information about this project, check out the following:

Earlier this week I participated in a Kettering symposium at the National Press Club to discuss the findings of their recent report, Helping Students Succeed: Communities Confront the Achievement Gap. A prestigious panel with students, a parent, school administrators and teachers, researchers and a mayor were on hand to share their response to this report that documented what happened in ten communities around the country when people came together to deliberate what they could do to help close the Achievement Gaps. Our own Dr. Patty Shafer, San Marcos School Superintendent was on hand to talk about the impact that the community dialogues have had on how people in her community now work together to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population.

Over the years I have written in this blog about this project in Central Texas and Texas Forums’ fruitful partnership with E3 Alliance and the many school districts and community members that have pledged time, energy and resources to work together on education with an eye toward regional solutions. My next step in this venture will be to work with the Blueprint Team for Goal 4: Central Texas as a community prepares children to succeed. Stay tuned for more postings about community engagement and evaluating progress toward this hard to measure goal.

But back to the DC symposium…

I was proud to represent Central Texas at this symposium and even more proud that our work is prominently featured in a forthcoming documentary about this project. We had a chance to preview the trailer for this documentary at a working luncheon following the symposium.

During the working luncheon following the symposium, I was charged to lead a discussion about the Achievement Gaps and to take notes for the Kettering Foundation. Below are snippets from our conversation.

What in your judgment is the most significant finding from the study? Did anything surprise you?

Several of the participants were surprised that so few people were familiar with the achievement gap issue. One participant wondered what this meant for the way the issue was named and framed. In other words, perhaps the public has a different perspective on what is really at issue when it comes to disparities in educational accomplishment. The project researcher noted that, based on his experience, those within the system hesitate to raise the issue of achievement gaps even to the extent of presenting data about the gaps in unfriendly, inaccessible formats so that the School Board would not readily detect the seriousness of the issue. Our superintendent countered that her annual performance review is heavily dependent upon being able to demonstrate strides toward closing the gaps. While many districts may be less than transparent about the data and may be reluctant to confront the issue, the ability to hide the seriousness of the issue may vary according to state reporting requirements. However, it is still clear that there is a huge disparity in the student achievement across the country as well as disparity in how much we know. One participant asked, “who is looking at this closest?”

One lunch guest commended the forum participants for their insight and willingness to confront the complexity of the issue and not grab at easy fixes. Instead, the forum participants rejected these easy fixes and moved beyond their pet cause or, as one participant described it, they gave up being “one trick pony advocates” and opened up to a range of possible actions. We briefly discussed how this shift occurred and concurred that the structure helps people bypass their firm notions about what should be done and makes it comfortable for them to entertain other options. The structure also creates the space for parents who have never been asked to realize “we can be part of the solution.” One participant cautioned that we must be diligent about the language that we use and aware of how language can keep people out of seeing themselves as part of the solution.

Since one of our participants had traveled to several sites to interview forums participants in depth for a documentary she is producing, we asked her to compare how different communities were defining he cause of the achievement gaps. In Central Texas, the primary driver (San Marcos community in particular) was the changing demographic and rapid growth of the ELL population.

She reported that poverty was also an issue in San Marcos, but not in the same widespread way it was expressed in Helena where poverty seems to be fueling a sense of hopelessness. The hopelessness is exacerbated by the concern that an improvement in the school and in the outcomes for children would lead to youth flight and the demise of the community. And yet, the community seems stymied from making the kind of improvements (renovating old buildings, attracting new business) that would be necessary to attract employers that could provide stimulating economic opportunities for new graduates. As one Helena participant noted in the documentary trailing, “the running joke is, ‘the last person out of Helena, turn out the light.’”

The gaps in Bridgeport are caused not just by poverty, but by the allocation of resources. While many in the community are poor, participants identified the disparity in resources between schools as an important consideration. Students feel safe while at school, but they don’t have the same level of security in their communities.

Because we were fortunate to have three young scholars in our group, I asked them how these conversations about the achievement gaps relate to their recent (more so than the rest of us at the table) high school experiences.

Astonishingly, one young woman raised in New Mexico responded, “It would have been great if someone had cared about this at my school.” She then relayed a story about being bused to a school south of town where there was a “mish-mash” of kids, what could have been a rewarding multi-cultural learning experience, but was really a holding place for kids who were given no direction, incentives, or experiences. It was the opposite of what Dr. Edmund Gordon (a panelist at the National Press Club) described as a community dedicated to education that included a school. Instead, the picture she painted was of a walled-in school in the middle of rich cultural opportunities that the students never experienced. [Ed. Note: Dr. Gordon is a brilliant thinker with remarkably diverse and deep scholarship and I felt blessed to be in attendance for his comments. Check out his biography and this brief video tribute from EdLab – Teachers College, Columbia University to him for more information.] Of her school of approximately 400 students, only100 students graduated (admittedly some moved away, and a meager 5 ventured out of state to pursue higher education opportunities. Other participants noted that even in the shadow of our nation’s capitol, there are entire school districts whose students have never visited the Smithsonian.

The experience of a young woman who went to high school in Denver was equally as dismal. She described multiple gaps – the number who did or did not complete high school, those who held high grade marks vs. those who did not, and those who pursued academic studies. She remembers having these conversations as she speculated on what it meant and why it occurred that she was only one out of two Black students in the Advanced Placement track at her high school, but she doesn’t remember that any of these conversations were intended to uncover the reason nor did they result in any changes.

A third young scholar did not remember any conversations about this topic in her school and was impressed to learn that students in the forum wanted adults to have high expectations of them. She reflected on how the naming of the problem indicates who will be involved in “fixing” the problem. The issues of education and youth seem so personal and so local that there is a danger of losing this when the issue becomes national or global.

Returning to the earlier challenges in Helena one participant summarized the tension facing communities, particularly the rural and declining communities: How do you preserve a local way of life while exposing kids to the world beyond? Some piece of the solution may be found in examining communities like York PA which has become a multi-ethnic community where kids grow up and go to college, but after they graduate, marry and start a family, many of them return to York because it offers a way of life that they want to give to their children.

Ultimately, our table agreed that education must be more broadly defined as an ongoing activity that occurs in lots of places, not just in school and that the over-riding question we must seek to answer is:

How can we make sure that
every student has every opportunity to succeed that they need?

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On February 18, Dr. Betty Sue Flowers, director of the LBJ Library announced her resignation. The full post is below, but what is particularly relevant to the readers of this blog is Dr. Flowers’ leadership in establishing Texas Forums as an initiative of the LBJ Library six years ago.

It was October 2002 when I walked into her office to discuss deliberative forums as a possible offering for the LBJ Library. In true “Betty Sue fashion”, she only needed to hear two sentences before proclaiming, “yes, these forums will be one of the legacies of the LBJ Library. They are a direct fulfillment of one of the presidential libraries’ missions: to foster civic engagement.”

Just a few weeks later, I was privileged to enjoy a Sunday brunch at the Old Pecan Street Cafe with Betty Sue and four high-powered women. We discovered a common concern over the lack of opportunities for citizens to participate in the political conversations about important and, often, divisive issues that affect our every day lives. Out of this common concern, Texas Forums was born in January 2003.

If you recall the time, we were in the early stage talk about going to war in Iraq. We launched forums on Americans’ Role in the World in partnership with KLRU and were overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to learn to moderate and participate in these difficult conversations. A sentiment expressed by many participants went something like this, “I know what I believe, but I desperately want to engage with those who think differently. I don’t want this to divide us. I want to reach out and understand.” People did not necessarily change their opinion about the war. But they did reach a new understanding and empathy for those who thought differently. That’s quite a legacy.

Betty Sue learns about One Latop Per Child from Joshua Gay at the We are All Actors event

Betty Sue learns about One Latop Per Child from Joshua Gay at the We are All Actors event

Texas Forums is not just a program of the LBJ Library to Betty Sue. Deliberative forums and a connection to the Kettering Foundation were already a legacy of the LBJ Library under Harry Middleton, long-time library director, and former staff member and close confidant to President Johnson. Betty Sue built on this legacy and moved civic discourse out into the community –  real and virtual. Long before President Obama drew WOOTS from the civic participation and open government junkies and threw the Washington bureaucrats into a frenzy with his talk of transparency, participation and collaboration, Betty Sue saw the connection between transparency and authentic public discourse. Almost three years ago she was assembling resources to enable Texas Forums and Silona Bonewald (League of Technical Voters) to assemble an amazing roomful of talented technologists committed to transparency in government that would enable people to be responsible, pro-active, and engaged citizens.

She wove together extensive networks of organizations concerned with issues – Texas Health Institute and the Center for Health and Social Policy, for example – and demonstrated how their mission to address difficult issues could be better achieved by engaging the public in civil discourse in partnership with Texas Forums. The list of organizations that have partnered with the library as a result of her vision for Texas Forums is long, but I will research our history and post them later so that you can appreciate the scope of her vision.

I know that many of you will want to send your regards and good wishes to Dr. Flowers and join me in thanking her for her vision and leadership. You may do so in the comments section of this blog where they will be collected for her to enjoy well into her next adventure.

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LBJ Foundation Logo

AUSTIN, Texas-Dr. Betty Sue Flowers, director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum since 2002, is leaving that post effective May 22, 2009, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation announced Feb. 18.

“After seven wonderful years at the LBJ Library and Museum, I have decided to move on to other adventures and opportunities,” Dr. Flowers said.

“It’s been such an honor and pleasure to serve as the director of this flagship presidential library, and I’m sure I would have been happy to continue serving into the indefinite future. But it’s always been my philosophy that it’s good for an institution to adapt to new leadership-and for a leader to face new challenges.”

Tom Johnson, chairman of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation, said he is grateful for the wonderful leadership Dr. Flowers has provided at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Johnson applauded the distinction, class and loyalty she has displayed as director.

“Dr. Flowers has earned the respect and the admiration of our board, her many colleagues in the entire presidential library system, historians and scholars who use the Library, and The University of Texas community,” Johnson said. “We will be cheering the next chapter in the accomplished life of Dr. Betty Sue Flowers.”

Johnson praised the many initiatives launched during Dr. Flowers’ tenure at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, including the Presidential Timeline of the 20th Century project, a Web-based resource that opens to the public the rich archives of historical documents and artifacts from the nation’s presidential libraries. Johnson said the project “will serve future generations with an amazing collection of historical information about U.S. presidents and the times they experienced.”

Other initiatives undertaken during Dr. Flowers’ seven years as director include the release of recorded phone conversations from the Johnson administration; activities commemorating President Johnson’s 100th birthday; the tribute to Lady Bird Johnson; and repair of the LBJ Plaza at the Library and Museum.

Dr. Flowers said: “Thanks to the generous support of the LBJ Foundation, many of my dreams for the Library and the reputation of its great president have come true.”

Dr. Flowers became director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in 2002. Before that, she was the Joan Negley Kelleher Centennial Professor in the English Department at The University of Texas at Austin, as well as a Piper Professor and a member of the University’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers. During her tenure at The University of Texas, she also was associate dean of graduate Studies and director of the Plan II Honors Program.

Dr. Flowers is a native Texan with degrees from The University of Texas and the University of London.

Dr. Flowers was a consultant for the nationally televised series “The Power of Myth” and a host for the radio series “The Next 200 Years.” Her 10-part television series, “Conversation with Betty Sue Flowers,” aired on the Austin PBS affiliate, KLRU.

About the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation is responsible for managing gifts that benefit two institutions at The University of Texas at Austin-the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum and the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs.

As one of only 12 presidential libraries in the country, the Library was established to preserve and make available for research the papers and memorabilia of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

The mission of the School is to prepare graduate students for leadership positions, to organize public policy research, to provide continuing education for professionals, and to foster community involvement.

For more information, visit www.lbjfoundation.org.

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The Vice-Chancellor’s Office for Public Engagement at the University of Illinois will be hosting a Public Engagement and Technology Symposium on March 9. Since I will be in Illinois for my on-campus session with students in my online Community Engagement class, I’ve signed up to present the Texas Forums collaboration with E3 Alliance.

Just in case any of you are planning to be in Urbana-Champaign on March 9, here’s what you can expect from this gathering:

Your participation will provide faculty, staff, student, and community partners the opportunity to share innovative ideas and approaches to engagement activities in and outside the classroom.

THEMES OF THE SYMPOSIUM

Through a free flowing, open forum atmosphere, poster/resource table sessions, participant idea exchanges, 20-minute presentations and 50-minute panel discussions, participants will be engaged in the following themes:

  • Strategies in public engagement; Carnegie Community Engagement Classification Overview
  • Sustainability: Economic, Social, and Environmental
  • Dialogs with Communities
  • Learning through the Ages
  • New Ways with Technology

That “Dialogs with Communities” bullet dot is Texas Forums! Below is the description of the session I will be leading:

Texas Forums is a network of individuals and organizations that use dialogue and deliberation to tackle difficult community problems like health care and education. E3 Alliance, a regional collaborative to increase economic outcomes by aligning education systems in Central Texas worked with Texas Forums to develop community-led action plans to close the education gaps and increase economic outcomes for individuals and the region. As a research partner with the Kettering Foundation, E3 and Texas Forums adapted the National Issues Forums deliberative framework and developed a process to move people through a structured dialogue about potential strategies for closing the education gaps.

It will be a jam-packed day with over 70 sessions to choose from. HMMMM, wonder if we could do the same thing in Texas and partner with universities in Central Texas?

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