Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In support of Career Academies: LB47 testimony


January 29, 2013

Good afternoon, Senators:

My name is John Skretta and I am the Superintendent of the Norris school district. I first want to thank you for your service here on the Education committee and your service to the state of Nebraska.

Today, I would like to encourage your consideration and hear the case for our affirmation of LB 47. We inhabit southern Lancaster County as well as the northern part of Gage County and a sliver of Otoe. I provided you with copy of our Annual Report so that you have a quick contextual overview of our school district – I am here today speaking on behalf of LB47.

Norris has been a charter member of the Southeast Nebraska Career Academy Program. As such, we have had dozens of students over the last several years participate in intensive career academy experiences on our own campus outside of Firth and in Lincoln on the SCC campus as well as out in various local businesses. These experiences are almost uniformly hailed by our students as some of the most exciting and engaging educational experiences they have benefited from, experiences which have equipped them with job skills in the areas of health, business, info tech and education.

Career academies are not some old-school retro version of dismissing the duds and banishing students from campus. Yet, that is a common stereotypical misconception about career academy experiences that continues to linger. I want to utterly refute that notion by equipping you with some basic data. Norris students perennially outperform state and national ACT averages – and a higher percentage of our students are college ready in the areas of math, science, and English than elsewhere even in our great state. Amazingly enough, the students who seem to do the very best are the students who have career concentration areas – wherein they have taken multiple courses both beginning and advanced within a career sector that is of interest to them. When you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense: students who are engaged in their education and view their classroom experiences as relevant are more likely to really invest themselves in
their learning. It seems the best way to ensure a student will perform at a peak level in science, technology, engineering or mathematics is to provide that student with quality career academy experiences which allow them to apply their more abstract learning in these areas.

LB47 makes good sense. The partnership configurations stipulated by LB47 are logical and coherent. They reflect a structure that has proven functional and mutually beneficial for K-12 districts and community colleges – our experience in career and technical education has demonstrated the efficacy of this sort of arrangement. 

I conclude my remarks this afternoon by issuing a good-natured, yet very real challenge to you: our educational policy leaders outside this room in our state- have for several years now repeatedly and insistently asserted the importance of P – 16initiatives in education that connect us to college and career readiness. The goals of this noble initiative included increasing college admissions and retention, furthering the future prosperity of our youngest Nebraskans who are entering the workforce, and battling the brain drain by retaining the best and brightest as lifelong citizens of our great state. I would humbly suggest to you that one possible means of actualizing our theoretical commitment to P -16 education is to place resources where needed through the adoption of LB 47.  

The reality is, providing students with these unique uniquely tailored educational experiences that mesh with their identified career pathways is not an inexpensive endeavor. There are real costs attached to providing the students these resources – including things as basic as allowing students to obtain their Career Safe OSHA certification or providing the transportation for students in small groups to get from our campus into Lincoln for those job site experiences.

Again, I want to thank you for your careful attention to this bill and to assure you that the Norris Board of Education and district would put the resources promised in LB47 to great use in continuing to promote college and career readiness for all students and in ensuring that we meet our mission of helping each student thrive as a productive citizen and lifelong learner.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What I hate about cold weather running & why I keep doing it, anyway

If you're just (insanely?) dedicated to distance running or you're already training for the local favorite Lincoln marathon, then odds are you have encountered the abysmal reality that cold weather running is a necessary precondition for putting the required training time in for those spring marathons and summer road races.  Here's a short list of some of the things I find to be persistently pestering about cold weather training - those December - March Nebraska runs that require you braving bitterly cold conditions:

1. Frozen eyelashes.  Betsy Barent pointed this one out the other day.  So true.  The eyebrows freeze and the moisture from your eyes eventually seals your eyelids shut...making it oh so much harder to, well, see.  Not to sound like a running snob, but, well, seeing is one of those things that really helps to facilitate the running experience.
This many pairs of gloves and
I still can't feel my fingers?
2. First, when your fingers go numb. And then, when your fingers start to throb.  Eventually, though, if you can run through that....your fingers won't hurt again until you warm up and try to get back to 'room temp' post-run.  Then you will experience several minutes of excruciating pain.
3. Layering.  Lots of layering is necessary when the temps are bitterly cold.  So you pile on the layers, get hot, then . . . turn to head back and feel those 3-4 layers freeze into a crusty captured container of chilled sweat while you become a human+fabric ice cube.  Don't tell me about all the great gear available to combat this. The Nebraska winds laugh in the face of the niftiest wick away "keeps the heat in while lifting the sweat away" thermal running gear out there.
4. Treacherous trails.  There are stretches of the path (and also the Rock Island Trail) I typically run right now that I have affectionately begun referring to as "ankle breakers."  Obviously some of our fair citizens have assumed that their civic duty is to create extreme trail run conditions on the frozen tundra that, prior to snowfall, served as a...sidewalk.  The snowpack is so hard and the ice beneath so thick and glistening that you must gingery step across it in order to nimbly avoid twisting an ankle or wrenching a knee.
5. Numb jaw.  The numb jaw becomes a clenched-frozen-in-place jaw.  The lockjaw / icejaw thing is not a big problem, except that runners know that you always want to 'stay loose.'  Once the jaw is tight, you can feel the neck tighten; subsequently, the trapezius, the shoulders, the arms, pretty soon - you are a frozen shuffling running zombie.
6. Ice-Jaw Part 2: You come up behind some bundled up walkers on the trail and, in an attempt to show proper trail use etiquette and dignify their presence, you'll announce yours and your intent to pass.  Except, because your jaw if frozen and your lips and chin are numb, it comes out like "Wunnuh on your weft" in some sort of bizarre parody of Elmer Fudd - or it is even more incoherent!
7. Other runners who appear to be unfazed by the elements.  These shiny happy people are entirely too perky and appear to be bouncing and bounding along the trail, gallivanting over the ice without a care in the world, able to pipe a sing-song "good morning, fellow runner!" in a joyful, chipper tone.  I usually encounter these people just after I've faceplanted about an eighth of a mile back and am wondering if both of the lenses are still in my glasses.
Running in cold weather might suck, but it's not the dreadmill!
8. No real sense of pace.  I'm sorry, but I lose a sense of pace-per-mile when I am climbing over snowbanks at every intersection and skating down a sheet of ice on the trail head at 14th and Old Cheney in order to climb down from the pedestrian bridge.

What are some of the things you find most challenging or the setbacks you have to battle through for cold weather workouts?

Despite all of the above, you know what the very best thing is about cold weather running, and the one thing that makes it absolutely all worth while for those of us who love to run?  It's not the treadmill!  Hooray, we are running outdoors, in the elements, getting that visceral experience, rather than stuck like a rodent on the wheel in his cage.

By the way, when I say cold weather running, I'm not talking about temps below 50.  At the start of this morning's 15 miler, it was 9. 9 degrees. Of course, it was a "dry" cold - not a lot of wind added to it!