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>Charity begins at home well maybe not

>Boston Housing Authority ‘flabbergastered’ Barack Obama’s aunt living in Southie

By Jessica Fargen

A Boston Housing Authority director says Barack Obama’s aunt, a Kenyan woman who has lived in public housing for five years, is an “exemplary resident” and only recently did anyone know of her connection to the presidential contender.

Obama’s campaign spokesman Reid Cherlin confirmed to the Herald yesterday that Zeituni Onyango, 56, who lives on Flaherty Way in South Boston, is Obama’s aunt on his father’s side.

Onyango, a Kenyan native, is believed to be the “Aunti Zeituni” in Obama’s memoir, “Dreams From My Father.”

It wasn’t until recently, when a London newspaper started making inquiries about Onyango, that Deputy Director Bill McGonagle learned of the link.

McGonagle said BHA employees were caught off guard.

“We were as surprised as anyone,” he said. “We were a little bit flabbergasted.”

Onyango has lived in Boston public housing for five years, McGonagle said.

“She has been an exemplary resident,” he said.

She received a small stipend over the past year for working six hours a week as a volunteer resident health advocate in her complex, he said.

Little else is known about her.

Onyango had conversations with several BHA employees in recent days about her blood ties to the senator, McGonagle said. She proudly displays photos of Obama, including some that appear as old as 25 years, inside her first-floor apartment, McGonagle said.

A message left at Onyango’s apartment was not returned.

McGonagle asked that the media respect Onyango’s privacy.

“She is feeling very put upon,” he said.

[email protected]

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>Is it time for a Halloween curfew in Ridgewood?

>Halloween curfew continues promoting safety

By Lara Webb Barrett

For My Community Trend

To ensure everyone has a safe, fun holiday, Merchantville has had a Halloween curfew in place for children under age 18 for the past few years.

Now a crime prevention officer, Sgt. Fred Koehler was a police officer in Merchantville for 25 years and said there is much good to come from the Halloween curfew ordinance.

The ordinance, which is posted on the Merchantville Borough Web site, mandates that children be indoors by 7 p.m. from Oct. 29 to 31.

“The curfew has been on the books for some time now, and was adopted in 2003,” Koehler said.

Koehler discussed the reasons for implementing the curfew.

“First and foremost is the safety of the younger kids and getting them off the street,” said Koehler. “In addition, we want to keep the older kids off the street; in previous years, many had been coming in from out of town.”

The curfew also serves to deter Halloween-time pranks like egg throwing and other vandalism.

“Our curfew extends to cover the Wednesday and Thursday night prior to Halloween, especially pertaining to the older kids, for Mischief Night,” Koehler said. “Camden had a very bad Mischief Night in the past, and since we are so close to Camden, we don’t want to have a similar problem.”

Thanks to the curfew, Koehler said that Merchantville has had minimal vandalism on Mischief Night, or the night before Halloween.

“We used to have problems with vandalism — and it’s decreased dramatically,” said Koehler. “You may see toilet paper in the trees here and there, which washes away with the rain. All other vandalism has been greatly curtailed.”

According to Koehler, the curfew is popular with area homeowners.

“The parents also like the curfew, because they can turn their lights off at 7 p.m., and if they hear someone outside or in their yard, they can have the police check them out — and our residents don’t feel like they are intruding,” he said. “I have had nothing but compliments from parents on the curfew ordinance.”

Children’s safety as they trick-or-treat remains a top priority for the curfew.

In addition to having parents check through Halloween treats, Koehler offers 10 tips to help make Halloween even safer for all children:

1. Keep front doors and walkways illuminated.

2. Remove any item from your yard or porch which can be easily broken or taken, such as pumpkins and milk cans.

3. Make sure all doors and windows are locked.

4. Use your “peephole” to see who is there before you open the door.

5. Younger children should trick-or-treat during daylight hours under adult or older child supervision.
If no adult or other children are available, try to have them go with a group of children to a specific location.

6. Do not allow children to go into homes of people they don’t know.

7. Warn your children about strangers and accepting gifts or candy from people on the street.

8. If your child encounters a stranger or is accosted in any manner, report it immediately to the police.

9. When entertaining trick-or-treaters, try to recognize who you are giving candy to.
If you can’t recognize the individual or feel uncomfortable, do not feel obliged to open the door or give them candy.

10. Be suspicious of older children who come to your home more than once. They may be casing your house.
Koehler urges that parents can never be too cautious, or use too much common sense.

“If a child brings home, say, a Milky Way bar that seems to have a hole in it or a tear, throw it away,” said Koehler. “The same with fresh fruits — inspect it, and if parents want to give it to them, cut it open to make sure there is nothing inside.”

“If in doubt, throw it out,” Koehler added. “You can always go to the grocery store to buy them candy or fruit that you feel is safe.”

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>Blend to be reopened

>The Records
Thursday, October 30, 2008

Chris Shields, who became the majority investor of the failed Ridgewood bar, restaurant and music venue a year ago, purchased it for $789,000 in a bankruptcy auction today. He hopes to reopen during the winter.

Owner Lorie Montenigro closed the 4-year-old restaurant in July, after state authorities seized the liquor license for failure to pay taxes. The restaurant then filed for bankruptcy Sept. 15. Of the $4 million owed to creditors in the filing, $2.1 million was for a loan and interest from Shields.

“Last year, we never thought it would come to this. The whole bankruptcy thing came out of nowhere,” Shields said. “We obviously want to get it open and operating quickly.”

Shields outbid Hoboken restaurateur Michael Accardi, who owns Teak On The Hudson and Lana Lounge. Nick Russo, who owns the nearby buildings that house the restaurants Kumo and Dim Sum Dynasty, had opened bidding at $450,000 but Shields and Accardi took it from there, first in $25,000 increments, then $1,000 for the last few bids.

Shields later had to withstand three more rounds of bidding, as the equipment, lease and liquor license were offered as separate transactions, to see which scenario would raise the most cash. Edward Sullivan, who owns Blend’s building, was the high bidder for the liquor license, at $460,000, but the equipment fetched only $16,000 and the lease, just $1,000.

Shields’ bid must still be approved in bankruptcy court on Wednesday. The auction company, Springfield-based A.J. Willner, had been hoping the auction would fetch $700,000.

Bob Suede, who ran Blend’s weekly Singer Songwriter Showcase, was relieved to hear of Shields’ plan to reopen, saying no other North Jersey venue was comparable.

“I didn’t even book a singer-songwriter in another club, because I couldn’t find another place worthy,” he said. “Blend wasn’t just a club. This place was built on music. To know that love of music will continue is just fantastic.”

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>As many of your readers are aware, the Ridgewood Public School District has made a committment to select an elementary school textbook….

>Transcript of Op/Ed piece by Gavin Cunningham in the Friday, October 31 edition of The Ridgewood News:

As many of your readers are aware, the Ridgewood Public School District has made a committment to select an elementary school textbook or program for use in all schools, and to plan a professional development and implementation rollout to begin in the 2009-2010 school year. Along these lines, I attended a Ridgewood District Math Planning Team meeting on Monday night and participated in one of the many small group discussions facilitated by a member of the District administration. My comments to the facilitator and to the other district parents in my group reflected my disappointment with the math programs currently in use at my son’s elementary school (Travell) and at the middle school he will eventually attend (Benjamin Franklin).

Some of the district personnel I spoke to on Monday may have recalled my comments at the public microphone during the ‘kickoff’ Math Night in January. That evening, I expressed my frustration with the fact that none of the valid criticisms of the district’s K-8 math instructional program being offered in earnest by district parents and village taxpayers were reflected in any real way in the public remarks of the assembled Board trustees, district administrators, and school principals. I further explained that I was beginning to question the wisdom of my decision to purchase a home in Ridgewood and send my two sons and one daughter to the public schools here. This despite the fact that, as a graduate of Hawes Elementary, (then) Benjamin Franklin Junior High School, and Ridgewood High School, I am well aware of the excellent reputation the village holds in public education generally. Commenting on what I considered to be a mere “math appreciation” curriculum in place in Travell and BF middle school, I expressed my concern that by the time my children reach seventh or eighth grade, the inherent weaknesses of these math programs will have deprived them of a real chance to pursue a rewarding science, technology, enginering and mathematics (STEM) career. Having myself earned a Engineering degree at Pennsylvania State University, held an engineering design position for four years with an aerospace engineering firm in New Jersey, attended law school at night in Newark, and finally begun a career as a patent attorney in the tri-state area, I felt confident my opinion would hold at least some weight in the minds of those present.

Since that time, much has transpired, both locally and nationally, some of which (including the results of the recent Board of Ed elections) may indicate a certain level of satisfaction with the status quo, but most of which has reflected a wholesale rejection of constructivist approaches to elementary math instruction. In particular, the Presidential Math panel, in its recently released final report, not only emphasized math facts automaticity and subject matter mastery as two critical goals for America’s K-8 math instructional programs, but further singled out the wide spiraling approach employed by Everyday Math (Willard/Somerville) and like curricula, such as TERC/Investigation (Orchard/Travell), as being particularly incompatible with such goals. In light of these developments, I have become increasingly concerned with the fact that the Ridgewood district is actively considering standardizing on a constructivist-type curricula for K-8 mathematics instruction.

One gentleman (a district parent) in my small group at the Math Planning Team meeting expressed general satisfaction with his childrens’ collective experience with Everyday Math in his local grammar school, as well as with another constructivist-type mathematics curriculum (Connected Math Project II or CMP II) that is beginning to predominate in the Benjamin Franklin and George Washington middle schools. His fear was a return to what he described as “rote learning” in our schools, which he believes would detract from the goal of encouraging our children to think creatively. I have heard this argument repeatedly, and have no true quarrel with it. Unfortunately, the term “rote” is usually delivered as a means of squashing debate. In other words, and in my experience, those who wield the term “rote” seem to think that if they can somehow get that label to stick, there will be no need to come forward with any specific information or analysis to prove that the detractors of constructivist math programs are espousing a return to the ‘bad old days’ of boring drills and mindless memorization.

That being said, I have to admit that, at least as of Monday night, I couldn’t point to a valid option in terms of a full-featured math curriculum suitable for purchase by the district that skeptics like the aforementioned gentleman could easily support. For example, and regrettably, I have concluded that the domestically-distributed curriculum developed by the educational ministry of Singapore (Singapore Math), and which that county has used to go from “worst” in the 1970’s in the Far East (including a rock-bottom $300 per capita income) to “first” in recent student math performance rankings (as well as handsome economic gains), is still basically a “foreign flag” curriculum that is unlikely to be attractive to the administrators of a top U.S. public school district like Ridgewood.

Since then, and with some digging, I learned of a new alternative elementary mathematics program being developed for the U.S. market based on the corresponding elementary school program in Singapore. A division of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Great Source) is currently working with Marshall Cavendish to offer what appears to be a comprehensive curriculum called “Math in Focus” that will be available for use in U.S. classrooms from Kindergarten through fifth grade beginning in the Fall of 2009. Based on the information I have seen so far, the program will be rich in math content. (This is an area in which constructivist-type math programs have come under heavy fire.)

Descriptions of the in-development Math in Focus curriculum state that it will use a problem-based approach to achieve greater depth of instruction and improved mastery of basic math concepts. Similar to Everyday Math, Math in Focus will start with concrete examples and problems, and move on to pictorial representations before shifting to powerful abstract concepts and techniques.

Based on my background understanding of the Singapore Math program, once the abstract concepts and techniques are mastered, there will be little to no further use of concrete and pictorial techniques. (In my view, this is a sensible approach, akin to removing the training wheels from a child’s bicycle once they have shown that they are capable of riding freely.) Provided Math in Focus stays true to the mission of Singapore Math, any student requiring intervention to maintain grade-level achievement will receive supplemental instruction during fourth and fifth grades, so that by sixth grade, each and every elementary school student will be prepared to transition into higher level math subjects with relative ease.

Math in Focus is already attracting attention in major school districts. An organization called Columbia Parents for Real Math created a Petition to the Columbia Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Phyillis Chase entitled “Math Excellence in Columbia Missouri Public Schools”. The Petition, written Ms. Michelle Pruitt, has attracted a total of 647 signatories. Ms. Pruitt has apparently accused the Columbia Public Schools administration of violating district policy because its Elementary Mathematics Program Evaluation Committee is presently considering only two programs, namely, Everyday Math and Investigations (second edition). In a June 1, 2008 letter to the Editor of the Columbia Tribune, the Committee denied the charge, claiming that they are actively considering “[a] third program called Math in Focus – the U.S. version of Singapore Math.” Interesting.

Anyone with a stake in the current math debate should take the time, as I am doing, to explore whether Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s new Math in Focus program will meet our needs here in Ridgewood. For those of us, like me, who do not favor adopting either of Everyday Math or Investigations, a lot will depend on whether the final product comes through on its promise to employ rich math content to deliver both depth of instruction and mastery of basic math concepts. In the meantime, the publisher is offering to bring an onsite workshop to any interested school or district. The cost (about $4,500 for up to 60 participants) appears reasonable, particularly given the importance of the issue.

I urge the Ridgewood district to follow the lead of the Columbia Missouri public schools in actively (and publicly) considering Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Math in Focus program for purposes of a district-wide rollout in Fall 2009.

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>Ancient Origins of Halloween

>Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.

During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.
The History of Halloween.

The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints’ Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints’, All Saints’, and All Souls’, were called Hallowmas.

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>IMPORTANT ALERT:Vote "No" On Question One


Vote “No” On Question One

Americans for Prosperity Urges a NO vote on Ballot Question One

Ballot Question One is misleading and dangerous for property taxpayers. Many of us hoped this referendum would put an end to the runaway borrowing that has plagued the state. While this question appears, on its surface, to stop unconstitutional borrowing, the legislation gives additional power to the legislature to place even more responsibility on every property taxpayer. It is a fraud. Here’s why:

The devil is in the fine print of Senate Concurrent Resolution #39 which will replace our current constitution if State Ballot Question #1 is approved.

First, voter approval will NOT be needed if a proposed project has “an independent non-State source of revenue” or “a source of revenue otherwise required to be appropriated pursuant to another provision of this Constitution”.

Any Enron accountant or Abbott lawyer can drive a truck through those loopholes.

But here is the real kicker: “No voter approval shall be required . . . authorizing the creation of . . . debts . . . for the refinancing of all or a portion of any outstanding debts or liabilities of . . . an autonomous public corporate entity.”

Our Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey voters don’t have to pay a dime on any of the $29 billion previously borrowed by shell entities like the EDA-unless they vote to do it. But with a “Yes” vote on Ballot Question #1, Governor Corzine and the State Legislature could pass a simple law to refinance every dollar of the $37 billion borrowed by state authorities WITHOUT voter approval! Then, every “unenforceable” contract to pay $3 billion a year will become enforceable for the first time-WITHOUT voter approval-for the next 30 years.

Once the full faith and credit of New Jersey is pledged, all state sales tax money is earmarked to pay that debt before it is spent on anything else. And if that money is not enough, the State is legally obligated to adopt a new statewide property tax to pay the difference.

Don’t be fooled. Vote No on State Ballot Question #1.

Steve Lonegan
State Director
Americans For Prosperity

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>Checks on ‘Joe’ more extensive than first acknowledged

>Checks on ‘Joe’ more extensive than first acknowledged
Tax, welfare info also sought on McCain ally
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 8:05 PM
By Randy Ludlow

A state agency has revealed that its checks of computer systems for potential information on “Joe the Plumber” were more extensive than it first acknowledged.

Helen Jones-Kelley, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, disclosed today that computer inquiries on Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher were not restricted to a child-support system.

The agency also checked Wurzelbacher in its computer systems to determine whether he was receiving welfare assistance or owed unemployment compensation taxes, she wrote.

Jones-Kelley made the revelations in a letter to Ohio Senate President Bill M. Harris, R-Ashland, who demanded answers on why state officials checked out Wurzelbacher.

Harris called the multiple records checks “questionable” and said he awaits more answers. “It’s kind of like Big Brother is looking in your pocket,” he said.

If state employees run checks on every person listed in newspaper stories as buying a business, “it must take a lot of people a lot of time to run these checks,” he said. “Where do you draw the line?”

The checks were run after the news media reported that Wurzelbacher was considering buying a plumbing business with more than $250,000 in annual income, Jones-Kelley wrote.

“Given our understanding that Mr. Wurzelbacher had publicly indicated that he had the means to purchase a substantial business enterprise, ODJFS, consistent with past departmental practice, checked confidential databases ,” she wrote.

“Not surprisingly, when a person behind in child support payments or receiving public assistance is receiving significant media attention which suggests that the person appears to have available financial resources, the Department risks justifiable criticism if it fails to take note and respond,” Jones-Kelley wrote.

The results of the searches were not publicly released and remain confidential, she wrote. Wurzelbacher has said he is not involved in a child-support case and has not purchased any business.

Jones-Kelley wrote that the checks were “well-meaning,” but misinterpreted amid the heated final weeks of a presidential election.

Wurzelbacher became a household name when Republican presidential hopeful John McCain frequently referred to “Joe the Plumber” during his Oct. 15 debate with Democrat nominee Barack Obama. The checks began the next day.

Wurzelbacher, who has endorsed and campaigned for McCain, had been caught on videotape challenging Obama about his tax proposals during a campaign visit to “Joe’s” neighborhood in the Toledo suburb of Holland.

Republicans have painted the checks on Wurzelbacher as a politically motivated bid by Democrats to dig up dirt and discredit the McCain ally. The Obama campaign has said it has no ties to the checks and supports investigations.

The administration of Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland has said the information was not improperly shared and that there were no political motives behind the checks.

The Dispatch has uncovered four uses of state computer systems to access personal information on Wurzelbacher, including the child-support check authorized by Jones-Kelley.

She said on Monday that her department frequently runs checks for any unpaid child support obligations “when someone is thrust quickly into the public spotlight.”

Republican legislators have challenged Jones-Kelley’s reason for checking on Wurzelbacher as “frightening” and flimsy.

Jones-Kelly also has denied any connections between the computer checks on Wurzelbacher and her support for Obama. She donated the maximum $2,500 this year to the Obama campaign.

Ohio Inspector General Thomas P. Charles is investigating whether the child-support check on Wurzelbacher was legal.

[email protected]

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>Election Day School Closures

Monday October 27, 2008

At least eight districts in Bergen County have made last-minute decisions to close their schools on Election Day in anticipation of a massive wave of voters.

County election officials have asked most districts to close, warning that a massive turnout for the presidential election could cause serious security and parking problems.

“You’d have hundreds and hundreds of people in the schools, potentially,” said Hackensack schools chief Edward Kliszus, who announced Oct. 15 that his schools would be closed. “On Election Day, the entire school ends up being open to adults that you don’t know. If it’s just a handful of people coming in, that’s one thing, but if you have hundreds.”

School officials in Bogota, Cliffside Park, Elmwood Park, Englewood, Hackensack, Palisades Park, Teaneck and Tenafly also will make Nov. 4 a day off for students and staff, joining dozens of other districts in the county that were already scheduled to be closed to teachers, students or both, election officials said.

Cliffside Park had scheduled a staff-only day but decided to close completely.

“The No. 1 issue is safety,” said John Czeterko, the superintendent of schools in Teaneck. “You get a lot of strangers in the building.”

A sampling of Passaic districts shows that Wayne and Pompton Lakes made decisions early in the school year to close on Election Day. Schools in West Milford, Ringwood, Wanaque, Butler, Pequannock, Lincoln Park and Kinnelon are expected to have classes.

Bergen districts that have decided to take the day off will use one of their allotted emergency days, usually employed for snow days.

Overall, 46 Bergen County districts will either be closed to students or have half days. About two dozen of those districts will ask teachers to stay for staff development, which could limit parking at some schools.

County Superintendent of Elections Patricia DiCostanzo said she and county Superintendent of Schools Aaron Graham hope to persuade as many districts as possible to shut down to avoid possible chaos inside the buildings. Half-days may not be enough of a solution, given the number of voters that could flood polling places early, she said.

“It’s the safest thing to do,” she said. “You can’t lock the doors. You can’t buzz them in. It’s going to be a free-for-all with people walking in.”

The county has seen a spike in registered voters to 544,000 from 483,000 since Election Day last year, an increase of more than 12 percent. The county processed 15,000 new registrations in the first two weeks of October alone.

Those numbers are testament to the level of excitement surrounding the contest between Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The presidential primary earlier this year — particularly on the Democratic side, which pitted Obama against New York Sen. Hillary Clinton — saw a record number of voters statewide.

The Election Day school closings come at an inconvenient time for some districts. The annual teachers’ convention has already ensured that public schools statewide will be shuttered on Thursday and Friday following the election.

“The week is very short,” said Eugene Westlake, the interim superintendent in Tenafly.

Nevertheless, he said, security concerns and the potential disruption to classes convinced him that closing the schools was the proper move.

The last-minute closings could mean some working parents will now have to find child care. In Teaneck, the district is offering limited babysitting service through a youth agency headquartered at the high school.

Not all districts have accepted the county’s recommendations. In Leonia, where two of the three public schools serve as polling places, the board determined that school could remain open.

“We felt we could manage the concerns and keep school going,” Superintendent Bernard Josefsberg said. The district is adding security to prevent any problems, he said.

“Everyone in Leonia knows that parking, even on a normal school day is tight, and that’s not going to change on Election Day. You hope that people will recognize that and plan accordingly.”

Some districts that will remain open on Election Day are trying to accommodate voters. In Glen Rock, for example, teachers will be asked to park elsewhere to free space in school lots.

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>The Math Planning Team Meeting; Highs and Lows…

>My wife and I have two small kids on the verge of entering the K-5 program in Ridgewood, and I am a Travell Tiger and Bejamin Franklin grad from 23 years ago, so we went to the Math Planning Team’s meeting tonight to see what was going on.

It started with the attendees breaking down into small groups of 5 – 8 people, facilitated by a member of the District Administration. We worked to answer the following four questions:

1. What is your passion when it comes to mathematics?

2. Reflecting on your own education in mathematics, what would you want that is different or the same for all children today in their mathematics education?

3. What do you think all students should know and be able to do in mathematics when they graduate?

4. What do you want to see in an elementary mathematics textbook or program?

After an interesting hour or so of discussing these questions, the large pages with our responses were grouped according to question and hung on the walls for a gallery walk/review that all could participate in and the meeting was ended.

I was quite pleased with the direction that things seemed to be headed, until I had a moment to speak with Regina Botsford, our Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in Ridgewood.

I asked her why, if Benjamin Franklin Middle School had been ranked in the top 1% of all middle schools in NJ from 2000 – 2006, did the BOE change the middle school curriculum to “Connected Math?”

Her quick reply through a smile was, “Because they can be even better!”

So I asked her, “But if what we were doing was proven to work so well, why switch to a program that is still being developed?” I don’t even remember what her non-answer was to my question, but I do remember asking her “What was the program that was in place before ‘Connected Math’?”

This answer of Regina’s I remember: “There were various programs, various books.”
“Really?” I asked. “In just two schools (BF & GW) there were many programs and books? Do you mean there was one program at BF and another at GW? Or do you mean there were multiple books and programs within BF?”

To my last question in that list Regina seemed tense when she replied, “There may have been.”

That was an unclear answer so I asked for clarification, “You mean there were or there weren’t?”

This is where I was really shocked. Regina told me clearly, “I don’t have the answer to that and I am not going to research it.”

Whoah. “Ok,” I asked, “then can you help me understand what the core principle of ‘Connected Math’ is?” Here she said, “You can look it up on the website.”

I thanked her for talking with me and then left with my wife.

Here’s the thing: Regina Botsford is an intelligent, educated woman with strong credentials and experience. You can see her profile for youself on the Ridgwood web site. How could she NOT know what the prior middle school math program was before she went ahead and changed it? To change something as important as a successful math program without understanding what it is, seems like a terribly reckless decision, and Regina doesn’t strike me as a the reckless or irresponsible sort.

Further, if it is not true that she has no idea what the prior program consisted of (and I MUST assume that she had to know about the successful pre-existing program), then why would she put up such an offensive wall between herself and an interested and well educated young father who could have become an ally rather than an opponent?

I can only assume that she may have doubts or a lack of confidence about the “Connected Math” program that she shepherded in, otherwise why would she be so defensive right off the bat? If she had a very high level of confidence she might have said something like, “it’s a wonderful program with proven results. Why don’t you come by my office sometime during the week and I can show you in detail why we selected it over other competing programs?”

Instead I was directed to the internet which is FULL of web sites of parents and communities who are very angry that their kids are being taught the “Connected Math” program. I don’t think this is what Regina expected me to find when I followed her advice to look online. Just type “Connected Math” into Google. You can see what sites come up for yourself.

My question is still out there: Why on earth did we dump a successful math program in the Middle Schools for this? I want a serious answer, not passive aggressive retorts or sarcastic commentary from other aggravated moms and adads. A real explanation. I would accept this explanation here on the blog if it can’t be given in person.

Anyway, I am glad my wife and I still have time to see what happens here so we can track our kids into private school if we have to in order to secure a legitimate and competitive math education for them. It’s a shame that a Travell and Benjamin Franklin alumnus like myself wouldn’t want his own kids to go to the same school he went to. That really bums me out.