Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Another Message for the Indian River School Board

I have sent the following as a letter to the editor to the WAVE newspaper. I think. The WAVE's Letter to the Editor page was acting odd the other night; when I hit "submit," it didn't go to a thank you" page. It stayed on the submissions page. We'll see if this letter made it into the paper.

My attention was caught last week by a quote from one of the Indian River School Board members about the Southern Delaware School of the Arts (SDSA). The Board member is quoted as saying that the arts programs at SDSA are like “dessert” and that the Board should concentrate on providing only that which is required by law as they consider how to cut the district’s budget.

Setting aside, for the moment, questions about how the district has arrived at the point where such considerations are necessary, I have to say that to hear a member of any school board accept the notion of limiting the opportunities and education offered to our children is deeply troubling.

The arts, as an integrated part of a broader academic curriculum, as they are at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts, are anything but “dessert.” They are, in fact, the vegetables and spices that make the meal both healthier and tastier. Fully integrating the arts and academics should be the rule, rather than an exception. Years of high test scores and, more importantly, the evidence of the well-rounded, academically achieving, and well-prepared students produced by the School of the Arts bear this out.

I am worried by an elected School Board member advancing the idea that we owe the children only the few “R’s” required by law. As parents, as the adults of the community, we have a sacred responsibility to provide our children, and all of the children of the community, a full and fully rounded education. To approach this duty with any notion of limiting that education in any way would be criminally short-sighted.

Rather than considering limiting the extent to which the arts are integrated into education, the Indian River School Board should seek every opportunity to expand the integration of arts and academics. The Southern Delaware School of the Arts offers a strong proof of that concept and a successful model to follow and on which to build.

I've tried to send this to the WAVE because that's where the Board member's quote appeared. I may also shoot it off to the other papers.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Walk Around The Point

Sunset over Lighthouse
Yesterday was a bright, warm and sunny day and it seemed a great day for a hike around the point of Cape Henlopen. I had been out to the point last week-end for a few minutes and took some shots of the Lighthouse on the inner breakwater of the Harbor of Refuge. I wanted to have an extended photographic hike, get a little exercise, and breathe some fresh air.

Christina, who enjoys occasional beach-combing jaunts with me, agreed to come along and we headed out for the State Park.

We choose to make the walk from the ocean side around to the bay side. It was low tide, with slanting afternoon sunlight, a hard flat low-tide sand strand for walking, and small waves lapping the shore.

We found good pebble deposits, small crabs washed ashore and left floundering on their backs by the waves, and a few seashells. As usual, we were on the lookout for Conch shells, but had no luck. I don't think this quite the right time of year.

We enjoyed a walk up the sand spit and around the point. We were treated to good views of the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse and an ever-changing beach/sea interface. The gradual transition from ocean beach to bay beach reaches its head at a spot that forms the point of the Cape itself. Conflicting tides from ocean and bay seem to meet in a confusion of water and sand. From there, we walked into low sunlight that cast things into sharp relief.

As we left the point, we looked back to see the Cape May/Lewes Ferry heading out between the Cape and the lighthouse for its run to New Jersey. We considering running back to the point to see if we could get that rare close-up view, but we'’d gone too far to be able to make it back in time.

Low tide on the inside of Cape Henlopen reveals broad sand flats that, at other times of day, are thriving shallows. We could see where the waves had formed tiny ridges in the sand. Fish egg casings were washing in the water. There were a few clams still sticking out of the sand; we couldn't tell if they were dead or just very patient.

I enjoyed the opportunity to repeat several views of the lighthouse that I'd taken at high tide a week before.

The lighthouse at high tide.
Lighthouse 2

The same at low tide.
Lighthouse at Low Tide

We had an hour'’s hike, enjoyed the sunshine, and brought home smooth pebbles and colorful shells to add to our collection.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Visiting Downtown Milton

Governor's Walk and Library
I took a short walk in Downtown Milton this morning, wandering along and photographing the Governor's Walk, which follows the Broadkill River through the center of town. It was good for a short photo set. I particularly enjoyed taking pictures of the spillway.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Interim Update

The most recent Coastal Point newspaper was not on-line when I posted last night on this subject. Their story on the Board meeting (School board hears from arts supporters) adds some helpful details.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Update: News Coverage of SDSA and Indian River School Board

Just a quick update. The strong showing of support by parents and students of SDSA at last night's Indian River School Board meeting has generated more media attention.

Stories appeared last night and this morning on WMDT TV (47) and WBOC TV (16).

There was also a very interesting story in the WAVE newspaper (SDSA program left intact for now, officials say) which included some very troubling remarks from one Board Member, Donna Mitchell, who is quoted as comparing the arts core curricula at SDSA to "dessert:"
"I'm kind of a basics person and I think the mandated things have to come first," she said. "If you're going to buy a meal for your family, you buy dinner first and then, if you have money left over, you buy dessert."

The "dessert", she explained, are programs like SDSA which are not required by state law.

"If cuts have to be made, I would prefer they would be made outside of kindergarten through 12," she said. "These [programs] are wonderful things but if we can't afford them, they have to go."
I'll give Ms. Mitchell a break and assume that this quote is from before last night's presentations, in which I think the case was clearly made that the arts are not an added program at SDSA but rather are a integral part of the academic curriculum.

We're not done here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

In Which We Descend, in Force, on the Indian River School Board Meeting

We went to this evening's meeting of the Indian River School Board in support of the Southern Delaware School of the Arts (SDSA), which is under some threat from School Board budget cutters.

I've been tracking this story, which has been covered by the News Journal (Parents fear arts school will close), the Cape Gazette (School of the Arts may be facing budget cuts),
and on local television.

The Board meeting was fascinating. I was surprised at the extensive pomp and circumstance built into the meeting. It started with a deeply Christian prayer to start the meeting, continued through a solemn color-guard procession, and featured a strictly regimented Board agenda with time limits on speakers and warnings not to mention teachers, administrators or students by name because personnel matters have to be discussed in executive session. It was most baroque.

We packed the meeting room with school supporters sporting SDSA stickers. That's mine above. The public comment sections of the agenda included many statements of support for the School of the Arts. A student group including Honor Society and Student Government members -- my girls among them -- gave a multi-media presentation (singing, dancing, public speaking, sign-holding, and public painting) about SDSA. Parents spoke about the positive affect the School has had on their kids.

Even other segments of the agenda showed the value of the School of the Arts. The board honored high-achieving Indian River High school students. A good portion of them -- especially among those named to all state chorus and all-state band -- were SDSA graduates.

The school board members said at the meeting, and are saying in press coverage, that they -- at this point -- have no plans to close or cut SDSA. But we know that we need to keep the pressure on and make sure that they know that if they mess with the School, they will be messing around with one of their best schools, and they will face a motivated and dedicated group of parents, friends and graduates.

We're watching.

A Sample-Mix of my iTunes

Here's a new toy -- the iTunes Signature Maker -- which takes a sample of songs from your iTunes, extracts a snippet of each, and mixes together a musical signature of your musical taste.

Here's mine.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

We'll Be Watching This Very Closely

It was only a matter of time before concerns about the Indian River School Board, the district's budget, and the fate of the Southern Delaware School of the Arts hit the newspapers. Molly Murray reports on the situation in a story in today's News Journal (Parents fear arts school will close).

We know that the Board is looking for ways to save money. Recently, they very publicly decided not to cut the Junior ROTC program in the district after parents of kids in that program became vocal. In at least one news story on that decision, it was reported that the Board would look at other programs for savings. The list of programs under consideration included the School of the Arts.

That stirred up quite a few of us who have children at that school. Karen works at the school, though I don't worry about her finding a good job if the school closes. Karen is very good at what she does.

The other day, I drafted a letter to the members of the School Board. I forwarded copies to a number of local legislators and I'd like to share it with you, as well.
I am deeply concerned about suggestions that the Indian River School District might consider closing the Southern Delaware School of the Arts as part of an effort to save money. This would be a tragic mistake.

I have supported the School of the Arts from the days when it was only an idea under consideration by the District. I felt then that it was one of the best ideas for improving education that I have encountered. Since then, the School of the Arts has proven that a school that fosters academic progress through integration with the arts can produce students who excel academically and artistically and show advanced social development.

My wife and I enrolled our oldest daughter as part of the first first-grade class in the School of the Arts in the fall of 1998. We used the School Choice option to move her from the Cape Henlopen School District, and schools just down the street from our home, to the School of the Arts, almost an hour away from our home. Over the years, her consistently high scores on the state tests, her success in the Academic Challenge program, her progress as a dancer, her growing skill as a musician, and her selection to the Junior All-State Chorus have shown me that the educational approach pioneered by the School of the Arts works, and works wonderfully well. Our youngest daughter is now in fourth grade at the School of the Arts. Her academic and artistic development are on pace to match her sisterĂ‚’s.

I'’m a proud parent; I will always think my children are above average. And I stand in awe of my wife's ability to help our daughters take full advantage of their classes and homework. But I also know that my children have been blessed to have had a chance to take part in an arts-integrated school. The staff at the School of the Arts includes some of the best academic teachers and arts instructors that I have ever encountered. Their working together to integrate the arts and academics has helped my girls reach their full potential.

They are not alone. Students from the School of the Arts score very well on the state tests; the school itself is rated as a Superior School.

Our experience has proved to me that the School of the Arts must remain an option for education in Sussex County. As members of the Indian River School Board, you have a responsibility to provide the best educational opportunities to the people of the District. The Southern Delaware School of the Arts is one of the best you have.

It would be a terrible mistake to risk damaging a school this successful.
In today's story, Molly includes a quote from the School Board President, Charles Bireley, who says "I can assure you we have no intention of closing the School of the Arts."

That's promising, but I don't think we should relax just yet.
. . . a few weeks ago, [PTO President Candace] Thune and some other parents attended a finance meeting and learned that district officials consider the arts school a special program.

"We want everybody to know we are considered a program and not a core school," she said.
We'll keep an eye on the Board and try to make sure that they don't play around too much and mess up what is a wonderful school.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A Visit to Kingston-upon-Hull

Kingston-upon-Hull, down the lane
Instead of the YMCA and a treadmill this noon, I took a brisk walk out the marsh trail at the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve. I've used this trail for mid-day exercise before. This time, though, I was determined to make the full hike out to Kingston-upon-Hull, the 17th-Century farmhouse two miles out on St. Jones River.

It was a bright, warm day. No blue skies, but not a bad day for photography. I've posted a short photo set focused on the area right around Kingston-upon-Hull. It can serve as a companion to the marsh trail photo set I posted in November. That one was based on the first half of the trail.

I rather enjoyed the old house. It offered ancient brickwork and weathered windows.

This is an interesting corner of Delaware history. The State Archives offers 1677 survey language and a map of the nearly 500 acres of farmland and marsh belonging to John Briggs and Mary Phillips "By Vertue of a Warrant from the Court at the Whore Kill dated the 12th day of March 1677-8."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

One of Our Billboards is Down

One of Our Billboards is Down
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

This Hooters billboard came down in the gale-force winds that blew through southern Delaware on Saturday night and into Sunday morning. I was going to leave it as just a Flickr posting, but the winds are back today, reminding me that this is what's in the news for this area this week.

I wonder what else will come down?

Monday, January 16, 2006

In Honor of Dr. King

So we don't forget, I wanted to share a link or two.

First, to a great archive of news coverage about the man whose life and work we honor today. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Newspaper Articles Archive is a project of NewspaperARCHIVE.com. It's worth a look, when you have a moment.

Next, to a virtual recreation of what it was like to live under segregation. Just so there is no misunderstanding, this site was created as a reminder of what odd twists racism and inequality can lead us into. It does not celebrate segregation. It saddens me that I have to try to clarify this, but I think I do.

And Again, The Air Gets Just A Little Cleaner

Add another state to the list of places I'm now somewhat more likely to visit and spend money in. According to the News Journal, the Governor of New Jersey has signed into law an indoor smoking ban.

The indoor smoking prohibition has worked well for Delaware. I'm glad to see it spreading out; New Jersey is the eleventh state now.

The New Jersey law exempts Casinos. I'm sorry for the Casino workers who will still have to breathe-in that smoke, but looking at it selfishly, I don't really mind something that will make it even less likely for me to go into a casino.

I was amused to see news coverage of protests against the law before it was enacted by "exotic Dancers." They felt it might threaten their customer base. I don't think it will.

I suppose they felt an instinctual threat from any law targeting one of the vices.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

New Digs

Friday, I took a brief tour of the Haslett Armory in Dover. The old National Guard Armory has been gutted and reconfigured as a new state office building. The project has been under way for several years. My group is one of the offices that will move there in February.

Up the Hall
This is one of the outside hallways on the third floor, where I will have an office. The old armory was dominated inside by a huge gymnasium area. It was used for indoor military training and vehicle storage and was two stories or more inside with large windows along each wall.

In reconfiguring the building, the state wisely left those windows intact and built two floors of offices within that huge space, leaving an open airway up each outside wall.

The Armory is on Legislative Mall in the center of Dover. We'll be surrounded by other state offices and kitty-corner to Legislative Hall. This is a big improvement. Our present office is several blocks away, across the St. Jones River and isolated from the rest of the government. Meetings out of the office always required a car. Now we'll be in walking distance of many of our colleagues.

Or, they can come to us. The Armory will have several conference rooms, large and small. It looks like I will be able to hold most of the meetings I host in the rooms that will now be available.

This is an interesting situation. This year is my 16th as a state of Delaware employee. I'm with my third different agency. In all that time I've never had a new office, never had furniture that wasn't some form of hand-me-down. I'm not complaining, but I will say that this is a different feeling.

There we were, a handful of people waiting to move to a new work home, trying to get a feel for what the place will be like.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

End of the Season

Christmas Tree
This is what happens when your Christmas Tree dries out drastically. This is what was left after we had removed the decorations and lights and lifted the tree out of its stand.

We keep our tree up at least through January 7 each year. The seventh is Christmas Day in the Eastern Orthodox Catholic faith. Karen was raised in that church, and we married in that church. Karen now hangs out with the Methodists, but we like to keep a link to the Orthodox faith as well.

We worried that this tree wouldn't last until Little Christmas this year. It made it -- barely -- and now it's time to take the tree out to the state park for recycling.

Monday, January 9, 2006

Another Sign That We May Be Sending Too Many People Into Prisons

From the Seattle Times comes word of a new idea to deal with prison overcrowding. This idea is from our friends in Idaho: Idaho senator suggests sleep shifts in prisons

State Senate President Pro Tem Robert Geddes suggests what is known as a "hot cot" plan. Under the plan, some prisoners would share a bed. One would sleep in it by day, another by night. (I will not stoop to the obvious prison-sex joke.)

The hot cot sleep shifts would be for volunteers only, with better prison job assignments as a possible incentive.
"I can't find any place in the nation that's doing this --— or in the world, for that matter --— but why not? The rest of the nation works in shifts," Geddes said Thursday.
At first blush it sounds like a good idea, but prison officials point out that beds aren't the only things in short supply. There are also needs for correctional and medical staff, the cost of feeding inmates, and the need for additional wastewater treatment capacity to take into consideration.

Other folks have asked what might be done to keep people out of prison in the first place.

Friday, January 6, 2006

Dover Air Force Base Museum

At lunchtime today I had a chance to spend 20 minutes wandering among the planes and jets parked outside the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base. It was good opportunity to take some photos. I haven't had enough time on sunny, or at least non-rainy, days lately.

I got enough for a new photo set.

We'd had a meeting this morning of the Planning Committee for the 2006 Delaware GIS Conference at the Museum. My friend Matt and I did a quick tour of the planes. It had to be quick; it was surprisingly brisk out there.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Minor Thoughts

What a Difference a Few Letters Make
At our office Christmas lunch, a colleague gave me a case of beer from around the world, including a six-pack of Pilsner Urquell, which is brewed in the Czech Republic. There were also beers from China, Ireland, and Scotland.

This evening, as I pulled the last of the Pilsner Urquells from the fridge, I was struck by a mental image of Steve Urkel, the character played by Jaleel White in the 1990's sitcom Family Matters.


Novel Idea
A minor joke has occurred to me that needs to be in a novel, which I guess I should write some time.

There's a saying: "Patience is a virtue."

There needs to be a character named Patience in my book. She should be a musician; I think probably a cellist.

So, at some point, someone will say "Patience is a virtuoso."


Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Another Vote for Wide-Open Education

My young friend Del offers a post today praising Joe Paterno and the Penn State football team after their victory in the Orange Bowl Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

Del is a Penn State alumnus who fondly recalls a chance meeting with the great, but humble, coach one day while an undergraduate. Del explains that he was, at the time, uncertain of what major to pursue. Joe Paterno's advice seems to have stayed with him:
"Well, if you can do it, keep looking at all your options and don't just settle. You'll learn a lot of things here, but the most important will be who you are. And from there you know exactly what you want to do."

Life is always changing. Learn all you can. Learn how to learn. Enjoy the changes, because they aren't going to stop happening.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Here's a Paragraph I Like

This is from Torpedo Juice, a novel by Tim Dorsey.

His character, Serge A. Storm (described as a "lovable serial killer"), has stumbled into a meeting of a 12-step-style support group -- the "Lower Keys Chapter of People Susceptible to Joining Cults" -- whose members have decided that Serge should be their new prophet.

Serge agrees to speak to them and launches into a serial rant about the various ills of the modern world. Each section of this rant contradicts another. He finishes with:
"So now you don't know what to believe," said Serge, "and that's exactly what you should believe. To borrow from Firesign Theater, Everything You Know is Wrong. Because the biggest danger is the people who believe Everything They Know is Right. That's the key to personal growth: identify your firmest, most self-comforting beliefs, then beat the living shit out of them and see if they're still standing. The key to stagnation? Worry about other people's beliefs. There's an invisible war of self-interest between the ends of the spectrum, and we're foot soldiers caught in the crossfire. That's why I'm a moderate, from the extremist wing. Because the middle is where the good people are. It's where hope is. And it's where the truth lies. But what is this truth? For starters, it's don't listen to someone whose only credentials are that he's standing at the front of a room. And that's the truth."
Torpedo Juice is absurdist comedy. It's not meant to be taken too seriously. But sometimes, in silliness we find bits of wisdom.

Monday, January 2, 2006

Now, I'm Not So Sure

The day is drawing to a close and my test page on SuperGlu has not refreshed with content from this site. I'll track it for a day or so more, but at this point I'm becoming non-impressed.

mmahaffiana on SuprGlu

Still testing SuprGlu (I love lazy days off).

I notice that my entry (below) about that site has still not updated on SuprGlu. About a quarter of an hour now.

The FAQWE (Frequently Asked Questions We Expect [cute]) says that there's a delay given the number of feeds they track. Tick, tick, tick....

Read more at mmahaffie.suprglu.com/

New (e)Toy

I've started playing with a new (e)toy called SuprGlu. This is a site that lets you create new web pages with content drawn from the RSS Feeds of whatever sites you specify. It is another form of aggregator. What I like about this one is that it creates a user-friendly web page made up of that content.

I've started a test page -- mmahaffiana -- and added the feeds from this site, from my Flickr collection, and from my State Planning and Delaware GIS web sites. Ultimately, I'd like to use this to bring together news feeds relating to GIS and state coordination of GIS and spatial data as a communication tool for the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC). I'm a board member and am on the Communications Committee and I think we could use something like this.

Of course, now this entry will show up on that site. I hope it doesn't start some strange web-feedback loop.