A LETTER TO COFFEE

veronicoons:

What a sweet letter to coffee. To my own coffee, I would add that someday, I too hope to wean myself from the liberal doses of cosmetics I apply to you, and come to appreciate your true inner beauty too.

Originally posted on Venturing East:

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Dear Coffee,

Make yourself comfortable at the dining room table. Take a seat. Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble, so relax your steaming breath. I have so much to tell you.

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Kansas waves goodbye to teacher tenure

Kansas waves goodbye to teacher tenure

Yesterday, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law HB 2506, a bill that meets the mandates set down by the Kansas Supreme Court in March with their ruling on the Ganon v. State of Kansas decision.  However, it wasn’t a clean and clear cut bill.   The bill also took due process away from K-12 public school teachers in a tricky way–they were simply removed from the definition of teacher.  They were the victims of strikeout.  Literally crossed out of the previous definition.

On the day he signed the bill, the press release from the Governor’s office led with this statement: “Governor Sam Brownback today will sign HB 2506 to fund education, fully address the equity issues identified in the Gannon court decision, return local control to communities and school districts, provide bonuses to our best teachers and invest in higher education.”

It’s important to remember that “best teachers” no longer include the vast majority of educators in this state, by definition. 

Sadly, as I recall from my not so long ago days as a non-traditional student at a Kansas community college, there are many educators out there that choose to teach in higher education because they are not held to the same rigorous standards and are not put under the same scrutiny as those people who choose to educate our children.  That ‘s not to say I didn’t have a few great professors–I certainly did.   But to disenfranchise the people who teach my children from the profession they’ve chosen, some of whom who have devoted several years to because they couldn’t imagine doing anything else, is literally a crying shame.  It’s so wrong.  And it has nothing to do with education finance.  Nothing at all.

 

Seven beers

Next day, I have a busy day planned.  I’m planning to spend the night in Manhattan, Kansas.  There’s a water conference being held there, and then I’m attending the Kansas Press Association Conference banquet that night.  Bruce, my husband, will meet me there and stay with me.  As I pack my overnight bag, I decide to bring one of the beers with me to share with him.  I grab a towel to wrap it in, and I pack my clothes around it.  It will be safe.  I don’t even think about how to keep it cold.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted.  So much driving.  So much thinking.  The first press Media briefing I’ve ever attended, and there were some great newsmen there, people I read frequently from bigger papers than mine–Kansas City Star, Lawrence Journal World, Wichita Eagle, Salina Journal and the Associated Press.  Being in the same room with them, observing what they do, the questions they ask, and how they work was a great experience.  I can’t help feeling both in awe and a bit like a fraud–I mean, they have so much more experience than I do.  But they were in my shoes a long time ago, and I push forward, even ask a decent question or two of my own.

The banquet was good.  I talked to a guy there who is younger than me, and bought his own paper and is acquiring a few others.  He’s a bit loud, but he’s fun to talk to.  And, I got received some insight into what it’s like to work on the other side of the desk.

Bruce joined me after the banquet at the hotel lobby bar, but we didn’t stick around long.  I really needed some sleep.  We got back to the room, and I forgot about the beer, and I had a wonderful, blissful night of sleep.  And in the morning, as I woke, I thought I need to get up, get the laptop out, and write.  Dress, kiss and goodbye, see you at home Bruce, and I make my way to the other hotel where the conference is, and check in, a little early, and sit on a lobby chair and write Eight Beers, which you’ve probably read.

While I’m there, I see my old editor with the new crop of young reporters.  She’s actually there at an event–something she never did while I was at the Telescope.  I say hi to a few old faces, and during the break between speakers and the award luncheon, I decide to leave.  She never came because her son was in high school and she didn’t have time to take away from raising him and attending his stuff, and I realize–I don’t either.  And we’re not getting any awards either.

It’s prom day.  i’ve spent three weeks making a dress for my daughter.  and I need to get home and be there for all of it.  Leaving before lunch, I make it to help with last minute dress adjustments, photos, and the walk-in.  While we’re there, we talk to some friends who invite us over to have a few beers.

I didn’t bring any of Mark’s beer.  I couldn’t drink it in that setting.  For me, his beer isn’t for drinking socially.  So, it’s back in the fridge, waiting for me.  I’m going to go drink it now, on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.  Tomorrow, I’m making THE POST.  I’ll tell you about it more later.  It came to me in the morning.  It will (hopefully) be good.

Eight beers

Next day. I head to work, resolved that I’m going to put the discovery of the movie flier behind me. And I make it through a pretty large portion of the day immersed in discovery, research, emails and setting interviews. I’ve been covering Education for five years now. Wow. That’s something. I’ve finally reached the ranks of those with “five years experience.”
Even still, there is a lot to learn and understand. Things are always changing, but there are those essentials that haven’t changed. Schools are still trying to provide the best education they can for the least amount of money, and no one can agree what that best education should be.
Around three o’clock, I started getting that feeling that a nice nap would be in order. But I live in Kansas. When the rest of the country determines that a mid-afternoon nap is a way of efficiently getting the highest quality production out of labor possible, then Kansas may adopt the practice. In the mean time, I’ll rely on coffee. I grabbed a cup of coffee, and decided to check the social media register to see what’s happening in my area and around the world–see if there is anything that requires greater scrutiny. Often, you hear what’s happening in the local school system first that way. But at the top of my facebook page, there is a post from my mother. She has posted on another facebook page, a group page created for a family from St. Louis Park, Minnesota. The family is entering the tragic tunnel we entered seven months ago. A father and his son, a senior in high school, went missing over a week ago in the Echo Lake area near Idaho Springs, Colorado, and the Search and Rescue team has called off the search. There is a critical time, when a rescue becomes a recovery, where a family begins to have to face the reality that the vibrant, wonderful people they love are now gone, victims of some unknown circumstances, and they have to begin the agonizing wait for their loved ones to be “happened upon.”
It’s truly awful. There are those that pray you’ll find closure. And there are times when you think you’ve received some semblance of closure, because you’ve never really experienced this sort of thing, and you don’t really know what closure is for you. What will be the closure. Do you need a body to finally have it? And what if that body is never found? The thoughts that pass through your mind for the days, weeks, and God forbid, months after range from the truly morbid to the hopeful and sometimes even religiously mystical. It’s just what happens.
I clicked on the link to the story–Denver news station–tragic story. And I read the numerous comments left on my mother’s post, and I scroll back through the multitude of prayers and wishes and support to the family, and I can barely keep the tears from rolling down my face as I do. I’m at my desk, at work, and I should be working on something else. And then, my daughter walks in. She’s there to talk to my boss about watching his dogs this weekend. She sees my face. She’s now more interested in what I’m looking at on my computer screen, but I swallow hard, and tell her it’s nothing, and I put on my “everything is normal, there’s nothing wrong,” mask, and I rush her into his office, and I push aside the feelings again. And I keep them away for the rest of the afternoon. I’m able to once again focus, for a short time, telling myself that there are other people out there experiencing probably even more pain than I am, that things could be much worse, and that I have to pull myself out of the past and live in the moment.
That night, after I’m done running around, tying up the loose ends on my daughter’s prom preparations, I sit down to the computer again. It’s national siblings day, the posts on Facebook claim. There are photos of siblings together, posted by many of my friends. I don’t recall if I have a good photo of me with both of my brothers, but then I remember the best memory of all, and it’s recent. They were both with me, walking me down the aisle at my wedding two years ago. I post that photo.
I grab another of my brother’s beers. Number eight. And I sit down on my sofa, and I lose myself in an episode of Criminal Minds, closing my eyes when I sip the beer, marveling in how it is alive, and how it is the last living thing left of my brother, and soon they’ll be gone, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Nothing, not brothers, not beer, lives forever. And we need to savor it.

Nine beers

I have got a real problem.  I’m stuck.  Literally stuck.  I need to get a story done about the tiny house guy, one about the Burdett playground, one about the teachers losing tenure, one about how the school funding issue is affecting the local district, and then there are various other stories.

 

But I’m stuck in the past, reliving the week I found out my brother was lost.  This is the week leading up to what would have been his 37th birthday, and I can’t stop thinking about him.

Tuesday night, I went to see Divergent with my daughter.  It was a wonderful movie, and I saw interesting parallels between the storyline and what is happening to our educational system today.  (But that’s probably influenced a lot by the sheer volume of information I’ve taken in, including both the Kansas house and senate bills, commentary from various media outlets, responses by the Governor and various legislators, interviews with local school administration, and the “man on the street.” )

I mean, I was pretty consumed with that topic, and then, as we’re leaving the movie theater, I see a flier taped to the door.  Our local theater offers “Retro Movie Night” on the third Tuesday of each month.  Last month, it was The Breakfast Club.  But for April, it’s The Big Lebowski.  That’s what caught my eye.

At my brother’s memorial, one of his beer brewing buddies talked about how that was one of his favorite movies, and his friends had nick-named him “The Dude,” based off the character in the movie that reminded them of him.  At least when he was relaxing with his friends.  In February while I was out visiting my mom, we watched the movie together, and yeah, I could see that easy-going spirit in the character that matches what I remember of my brother.

I looked closer then, and it turns out, the movie is being shown on his birthday, April 15.

Perhaps it’s a sign?  I’d like to think it’s a sign.  It got me thinking, it’s time to start drinking his beer.

When Mark went missing, he had a batch of home-brewed beer going on his kitchen counter.  He’d been doing it for a few years at that point, and it was something I looked forward to at Christmas.  After the Search and Rescue people concluded their search, his beer-brewing buddy came over to my sister-in-law’s house and bottled it when it was ready.  She gave me nine bottles at Christmas time.

When I got home Wednesday night, I opened the first one.  I’d been saving it, because Mark always made a point of telling us that it needed to sit for a few months for it to taste it’s best.  I opened it, and with it’s first breath of air, came to life, pushing itself out of the bottle and running down the sides.  It tasted rich, with a tiny bit of bitter.  I can’t even remember what kind it was, because he experimented with several varieties that he liked.

My son came in and talked with me before bedtime while I was sipping the beer.  I let him have a few tastes, and we talked about his uncle.  We shared memories about the last time he got to spend time with him.

We had this great family reunion camping trip at the beginning of June, 2013.  We weren’t sure until that week that Mark would come.  But a few days ahead of the date, my mom told me he was coming and bringing his oldest daughter with him.  He stopped by our house before heading to the lake, and John opted to drive to the lake with him.  They talked a lot, and John will always remember that time spent with him.  It was great to spend that time with him, and each of us have great memories of that weekend.  Memories of fishing, playing, hiking, drinking beer, hanging out by the campfire, sharing stories, playing with the kids at the edge of the lake.

The last time I saw my brother was a few months later, for Labor Day.  We all got together at my other brother, Brian’s house.  The next day, he and Brian hiked Long’s peak together.  That was the last time Brian saw Mark.  And a few weeks later, he headed down to the Sangre De Cristo range to climb the Crestone Peak or Crestone Needle.  He went alone, and we know he made it to his camp, and he likely enjoyed one or two of his beers that night.  They found a few of them with his things when they found his tent.

It’s been almost seven months since that night we imagine him cracking a beer to enjoy, probably after eating some fish caught at the lake nearby, and having a good night of sleep before setting out on his climb the next day.

Kansas Education Finance bill doesn’t add up

This editorial was originally printed in The Great Bend (Kans.) Tribune, April 8, 2014.

The Governor’s promise during the 2012 election campaign to provide funding for all-day kindergarten statewide is now set aside.  The legislature has the more pressing problem of finding a way to more equitably fund schools.  They’ve come up with ideas both parties could agree upon, but how they solve the problem at hand isn’t immediately apparent.
One important development, the elimination of tenure for K-12 teachers, is one such idea.  While it has been something conservatives have fought hard to win for years now, it’s unclear how this will help equitably fund schools.
And three years into the implementation of Common Core standards, the legislature is giving a flashing-red light to further progress.  No district will be allowed to complete implementation without the express consent of the legislature.
Compare this overhaul of the education system with any home-remodeling project.  Living with an incomplete bathroom or kitchen can only be borne for so long before you have to do something.  No matter what you do, it’s going to cost money.  So, again, how it helps to ensure equity in education is hard to determine.
Ditto that for providing property tax refunds to parents of private school students while paving the way for districts to levy higher property taxes to make up the difference in base state aid per pupil the state isn’t willing to pay.  By the way, these refunds are not available to foster parents or legal guardians.  Only parents of natural born or adoptive children qualify.
In addition, cutting funding to special education while creating a means for corporations to get tax rebates for funding scholarships geared towards moving special education students to private schools is a head scratcher too.
Meanwhile, money has been moved around, robbing Peter to pay Paul, from several departments and within the Department of Education.  If I’m not seeing the obvious solutions at hand, perhaps it’s because I’m not a graduate of Kansas public schools.  And since they didn’t have Common Core when I was a kid, there’s no telling how what I learned across the border in Colorado compares.
If the Governor signs the bill as is, the burden of whether it is implemented or not will rest with the courts.  Will they determine it is a workable plan to ensure equity for all students, all over the state?  Here in Kansas, we can only wait and see.