Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 28-10-2014

I believe most of us would agree that there are many variables that determine if a child will be prepared to learn at any stage of their education.  These commonly include economics of the family, birth order, educational level of the mother, and others.  But, have you ever considered trauma as a factor?  Do you think a traumatic event can affect your personal life?  If you experienced substance abuse in your family right now would it hinder your abilities to work or provide for yourself or your family?  I know the answer is yes.  So how is trauma affecting our students, that is the key to my blog post today.

The affects of trauma have been witnessed by educators for many years.  This is not a new revelation, but its impacts are now becoming so prevalent that we are starting to address students with more and more traumatic experiences entering our classroom.  What does this mean?  This means that students are showing more aggression, mental health issues, inactivity-hyperactivity, and inabilities for students to make strong personal relationships with other.

Here is a list of events that are considered trauma:
Emotional, Physical, or Sexual Abuse
Emotional or Physical Neglect
or Mother treated violently, Household substance abuse,  Household mental illness, Household separation/divorce, and Incarceration of a parent.
(Prevalence of Individual Adverse Childhood Experiences, 2014, http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/prevalence.html)

The rise in students living through one of these events used to be rare.  Now it is not uncommon to see kids that have survived multiple events from this list.  In visiting with a colleague that works in the Bismarck School system he indicated that they consciously use this list to identify student needs and many of his students had suffered over four of these events.  Is that true in Ellendale?  I am afraid to say it but it is true.  We may not have 50% of our students experiencing 4 or more of these events but the number of students experiencing more than one is on the rise.  If this is our new reality how can we hope to get students to learn and reach their full potential?  Statistics – http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/prevalence.html

The solutions are many and some will need to be further reviewed and implemented even in our little town of Ellendale.  I can tell you with 100% assurance that mental health needs of our students is growing.  Teachers see it every day.  Superintendents see it every week.  The needs of our students is growing and when students are facing these types of challenges we need to be prepared to help them.  Teachers and parents will need to be even more vigilant in identifying these needs and not hesitating to get our children the mental health help they need.

In the end many of us will say we NEVER experienced anything on this list and if that is so we should count ourselves as fortunate.  But, the reality today is not the same.


Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 24-10-2014

Every member of Ellendale and Ellendale Public School benefits from strong a community, good schools, and safe roads. We need balanced public policies and responsible government spending plans, not a constitutional amendment like Measure 5 that will tie our state’s hands and possibly even betray our state’s priorities.

5 Reasons to Vote NO on Measure 5

1 Measure 5 is driven by out-of-state special interests—A full 96% of Measure 5’s funding comes from out-of-state interest groups that don’t know or care about what’s best for North Dakota.

2 Measure 5 permanently diverts funding—This constitutional amendment puts conservation spending BEFORE education, roads, infrastructure, and programs for our senior citizens.

3 Measure 5 has no spending plan—Nothing in Measure 5 spells out how conservation dollars will be spent. Without a plan, special interest groups could use this money to buy land and close it to hunters, farmers, and energy development.

4 Measure 5 relies on an unaccountable, biased advisory board—Measure 5 will create a 13-person advisory board. Only one member will be a farmer or rancher and one member will be drawn from the energy industry, even though agriculture and energy are our state’s two largest economic drivers.

5 Measure 5 mandates government spending—This amendment constitutionally requires our state government to spend $4.8 billion on conservation over the next 25 years—on top of the $372 million already spent on conservation in North Dakota—even if our schools, roads, and senior citizens programs need the money more.



Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 24-10-2014

Election time is just around the bend and unless you have not turned your TV on in a few weeks you surely know it is coming.  Every voter is getting bombarded by advertisements about Measure 1-8 and elected positions continually.  I want to take my 60 seconds to inform you about Measure 8 – Post Labor Day Start.

Measure 8 will not destroy public education.  However, it will take one more bit of control away from your local school board.  Your local school board, right now, has the power to start school whenever they agree to do so.  Each year several calendar options are reviewed by teachers, administrator, and school board members between December and February, resulting in the selection of a final calendar for the upcoming year.  If you support the idea of a post Labor Day start you have no farther to go then to discuss your desires with one of your five local school board members.  A NO vote on Measure 8 will ensure you continue to have the opportunity to do just that.

I believe one of the most valuable educational services that will be affected by a YES on Measure 8 is student participation in dual credit.  Dual credit is the opportunity for students in grades 9-12 to take HS and University credit at the same time.  Each year EHS has many students that take advantage of programs we have had with partner universities such as TBC, NDSCS, or NDSU.  Students completing dual credit have the benefit of earning university credit at a greatly reduced price.  But also, students seeking to earn the ND Academic Scholarship ($6,000) must take 1 credit of AP or 1/2 credit of dual credit to be eligible.  So many students partake in dual credit options each year.  Dual credit courses are tied to the EPS calendar but also the University calendar as they are joint courses.  So a post Labor Day start will result in all our dual credit students, starting in the fall, to enroll and begin course work possibly as early as the third week in August.  The same time that ND colleges and universities start.  Will a required post Labor Day start cause fewer students to enroll in dual credit options?

I am urging you to consider these factors as you prepare to vote on Measure 8.

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 02-10-2014

I have now been working in the world of education for nearly a quarter century.  During that time, I have watched the court of public opinion and politicians wreck havoc on the education system.  What frustrates me most is that yesterdays solutions are now becoming the fuel for today’s problems.  I am frustrated, as I believe many in education are, that nothing will ever satisfy the insatiable appetites of some to tear down free public education. What do you want to do, return to 1960?

When I started teaching in 1991 the master and commander of any classroom was the teacher.  I set the learning direction, outcomes, and for many we decided on what materials to use to achieve those goals.  That sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  It was a wonderful time and I enjoyed teaching my 5th graders all that I thought that was important for them to know.  The problem was, “What I thought was important” is that what was really important.  This was before the inception of the first curriculum standards.  Many schools suffered from classrooms that lacked cohesion of instruction from grade to grade or section to section.  I remember a staff meeting when we realized that several of us, in different grades, were all teaching about the planets.  We were running our kids, unknowingly, through the same content just because it was each teacher’s pet unit.  We all liked planets and space.  In Reading I personally, loved to use novels at that time.  So I had my students read “Charlotte’s Web”.   This is a great book, but I know now I had no guide to insure I instructed on all the core reading and language skills necessary.  We just read the book and enjoyed it.  I was leaving big gaps in my students instruction.  Across the nation parents and communities noticed the problems of gaps in instruction as families became more mobile.  Students that moved had big gaps in instruction which would cause learning issues later in their educational careers.  So, we needed a solution…..

The solution was the development of state wide instructional standards.  To ensure, and prove to our patrons, what was being taught at each and every grade level we needed to create a list of skills.  My first experience with content standards was in Ellendale.  We then took the ND State Standards for grades 4th, 8th, and 10th and broke them down to build educational standards for each and every grade.  This way every teacher in our building would know exactly what was expected of them to teach.  This was a tough time for some teachers as they had to dump their pet projects and units.  Teachers and administrators however, now became more in tune to what they were expected to do and what a child was expected to know to move onto the next level.  Teachers began to use the standards to evaluate a student’s performance instead of a subjective grade alone.  As a profession we became more scientific and detailed in our processes, which was good.  However, at that time parents wanted more.  If their child was not performing up to the standard, then why?

Why, was the next shift to come to my profession.  No longer could we simply buffalo a parent with educationese and speak to them about what we believed was the problem.  We were asked to provide proof to a child’s learning needs.  To provide proof teachers had to become more clinical.  Just as doctors no longer said “I think you have a heart problem” they now used a test to prove it, so did education.  Teachers were asked to use scientifically based tools to evaluate students and scientifically based methods to instruct them.  The Mr. Fastnacht of old was out for good.  The new generation of classroom teachers could not just dabble in the profession they had to use strategies and tools that were proven to be effective.  The profession was becoming more uniform and it brought about the opportunities to teach students based on their individual needs.  The art of teaching was diminishing and the science of teaching was taking over.

— Now somewhere in here came NCLB and the world began to turn upside down —  I will not berate the goal that 100% of kids should be proficient in Reading and Math, however the accountability requirements and the notion of identifying failing schools, not so good.  But honestly where did that come from?  This came from politicians and the public who were demanding better from their schools.  Parents in failing schools wanted to know they were failing and be able to choose better schools for their children.  I can hardly blame them.  However, I think we can all look back on this legislation and see some repercussions that we are all still dealing with today.

Finally, since the end of the NCLB era, the present administration and political leaders have been unable to come to agreement on a new direction for the US education system.  In the absence of a new path the administration and Dept of Ed. have come up with their own program “Race to the Top”.  I will applaud my state for not taking part in this program.  I believe it was the right choice.  However, the news is dominated with stories from states that are all racing somewhere.  In Ellendale the era brought forth demands to make our students ready for a post-secondary education.  Governors, politicians, the business community, parents all wanted their children ready for the new generation of jobs.  This started with the idea of P-16.  P-16 outlined skills and an education format for students in PreK through grade 16.  To reach that goal the Common Core was brought forth as the new set of standards to follow.  Almost every school already had a set of standards, it was not a new concept, and it is necessary to ensure quality instruction.  So many teachers began to make the conversion.   I embraced some of the aspects of the core which asked students to think more critically and demonstrate they understood concepts.  A show-me attitude  versus one where the students were simply asked to fill in a bubble.  Asking students to demonstrate their knowledge was a good thing.

But something happened… recently the political climate has taken the concept of standards, technology, federal authority, and teacher/principal accountability and just mixed them all up into a soup of discontent.  I am not saying I agree/disagree with each of these items.  In fact I can assuredly find pros/cons to each and I tend to think that I am a man that can use good common sense to see what is best for my students.  I am not, will not, follow blindly any new initiative.  However, I am frustrated.  Their are those that want to eliminate standards, or maybe just the common core.  Either way, we have to have standards.. however we craft them.  We need them because going back to the era when every teachers does whatever they want cannot work.  The use of scientifically based diagnostics is not going to go away.   Time is way to precious of a commodity not to give teachers the very best tools to determine the individual learning needs of every child in their classroom.  By doing this we save time, and instruction is more fine tuned.  We can’t afford to just teach a lesson to everyone and hope they get it.  Lastly, using one test to determine if a child, teacher, or school is successful….. Well I agree that one must go.  However, that does not mean progress monitoring must go.  We will always need some suite of evaluations or diagnostics to prove to parents their child is learning.  How, if at all, this information is used to prove a teacher or school is successful, well that needs more debate.

I hope you get a sense of my frustration.  Many of the changes in education that we have today, in my opinion, were driven by the desires of the past.  Today’s problems were yesterdays solutions and for some reason we don’t like what we have.  Would anyone want to turn our classrooms back to the ones from 1960.  We may want to have 1960 back, but lets be honest, we don’t want to turn our education system back to that time.  Our kids are different, our society is different, the educational needs of our children are different, and our school are different.  In my opinion we may have an imperfect system, but it is much better than in 1960.