Thursday, January 08, 2015

Calgary bus driver Kendra Lindon was fired for using her SUV to pick up children rather than let them freeze

Kendra Lindon Calgary School bus driver, Kendra Lindon was fired for driving kids to school in her own Escalade after her bus broke down in frigid temperatures in Calgary, Alta. on Monday March 3, 2014.

Do the right thing, and lose your job.

It’s a heck of a life lesson for students at a Calgary junior high, and one that has parents writing livid letters to a local school bus company, demanding a veteran driver be reinstated.

“It is going to be a very sad moment for me when I have to tell my children that Kendra will on longer be driving them to school,” wrote Jennifer Hughes, one of 13 parents to pen letters of outrage to First Student Canada.

Alison Stutz was another: “I think it is ludicrous she was fired for a safety violation when she was in fact trying to keep the kids safe in such extreme weather.”

Rewind to February 12, 2014, when Calgary was in the midst of another bitter cold snap, with windchill temperatures dipping as low as -37C, according to Environment Canada records.

With frostbite her first concern, Kendra Lindon, a 10-year veteran driver for First Student, broke a rule that ultimately cost her a job.

Knowing that kids she’d been driving since kindergarten would be stranded outside, Lindon chose to get them.  “They would have been out in that cold for 20 minutes, so that’s the decision I made,” said Lindon.

The fateful, frozen morning started when Lindon’s bus, parked at her Hawkwood home, refused to start.

She called dispatch for a mechanic, but realizing how backed up the system was in the cold snap, Lindon worried about kids along her route, who would be stuck in the chill until a bus arrived.

That’s if a bus arrived. In previous days, there had been complaints from parents that First Student failed to send a back-up bus when the regular ride broke down.

Lindon put safety first. It was a matter of blocks to round up the five junior high students she’d normally take to F.E. Osborne school, using her own personal SUV.  From there, Lindon planned to keep the kids, including her own son, warm until another bus arrived — no frostbite, no problems.

Or so she thought.  It turns out another parent had watched Lindon picking up the kids, including two boys who had to sit in the rear cargo hold, where there were no seat belts.

Concerned, the parent contacted First Student — and that afternoon, Lindon was fired.  “They told me, ‘you were picking up kids in your personal vehicle’ and that was it,” said Lindon, who works in the day as a school aide.

It appears there was no reasoning, no appeal, and no understanding that for every rigid rule there is an exception — especially when the safety and health of children is at stake.

Yes, to drive students in a private vehicle is a bad idea — except when it’s overruled by a truly horrible notion, like leaving students to freeze outside.

“Kendra made the RIGHT decision to ensure that the kids on her route remained safe,” wrote Sarah Howell, another supportive parent.

Lindon didn’t drive in traffic, or attempt to take the kids to school. All she did was use the only tool at her disposal to keep the children warm, in conditions where flesh can freeze in under a minute.

“While it is against company policy to discuss personnel matters, First Student has an unwavering dedication to the safety and security of the students we transport to and from school each day,” was the only response First Student would offer, via email.

No comment, in other words.

One wonders what First Student might have said if the children in question had ended up in emergency care due to frostbite.

Certainly the parents who know and trust Lindon say the U.S.-based company needs to sort out priorities that place policy over compassion, where following the rule book means ignoring the welfare of students — no matter what.

“Terminating her employment is a gross injustice considering the circumstances,” wrote Tanya Yarmchuk, another of the parents demanding Lindon be re-hired.

“Exceptional circumstances require exceptional measures.  As a parent of children transported on Kendra’s bus route, I commend her for her dedication to the well being of these kids.”


University Taps Students to Cover Pensions Shortfall

The University of California’s Board of Regents recently voted to increase student tuition up to 25 percent over the next five years. UC president Janet Napolitano said the tuition hike was necessary “to maintain the University of California in terms of academic excellence.” But the real reason for the tuition increase is that the UC system needs funds to bail out the mismanaged pension system that covers retired employees of its ten campuses.

Let this be a lesson to the rest of the country: Public officials rarely take responsibility for the messes they make. Rather, they deny culpability and send the bills to the public they’re supposed to serve.

The University of California Retirement Plan (UCRP), like most other public-employee pension plans, is a defined-benefit system, which obligates UCRP to provide eligible pensioners with a set-dollar-amount benefit each month. The UC Board of Regents governs the UCRP, which has assets worth $53 billion and pension liabilities of at least $61 billion.

UC admits that it should have at least $8 billion more in the bank today to pay for the pensions it has promised to retirees. Other independent estimates put the unfunded liability as high as $16 billion. Either way, UC is scrambling to fill a massive hole and hitting up students for the money.

According to numbers supplied by UCRP’s actuarial consulting firm, Segal, UC needs to inject $1 billion more each year into the pension system for it to be fully funded in 20 years or so. The tuition increase will produce at least $100 million a year in new money, all of which will be swallowed up by the pension fund.

This is all the result of the regents’ irresponsible oversight. In 1990, UCRP had 137 percent of the assets it needed to meet its obligations, so regents suspended employer and employee contributions to the pension fund. State legislators also stopped allocating money to UCRP. This “pension contribution holiday” lasted 20 years. To top it off, during this period, university officials boosted pension benefits a half-dozen times. By 2012, more than 2,100 UC retirees were each collecting six-figure pensions for life.

The contribution holiday and benefit increases devastated the pension fund, with funding levels plummeting from 137 percent to only 75 percent. A September 2010 UC report admitted the catastrophic mismanagement: “Had contributions been made to UCRP during each of the prior 20 years at the normal cost level, UCRP would be approximately 120 percent funded today.”

Five years later, UC officials are denying their mismanagement. Gary Schlimgen, an executive director with the retirement system, said recently: “The contribution holiday is neither here nor there. . . . We feel we’ve been responsible stewards of the system. Pension plans cost a lot of money to keep going. They just cost money.” In reality, what costs more money is not making sufficient contributions and losing decades of compounded earnings.

As the American Academy of Actuaries noted in a 2014 report, one hallmark of a well-run pension fund is that contributions “should actually be contributed to the plan by the sponsor on a consistent basis.” UC officials have eschewed this commonsense approach and now seek a bailout from students, who played no role in the pension fund’s mismanagement. This is unjust and will do nothing to prevent similar disasters in the future.

The best way to mitigate the California university system’s pension woes is not by levying a patently unfair pension-bailout surtax on students, but by reforming the system itself, as other states have done. Faced with similar fiscal problems, public officials in Alaska and Michigan reformed their pension systems, switching government employees from defined-benefit plans to 401(k)-type defined-contribution plans. These plans are more affordable, always fully funded, and limit the public’s long-term obligations. If UCRP were to do the same, students could not be used as piggy banks to pay for future unfunded liabilities.

The University of California already has declared its “right to change UCRP benefit provisions prospectively for both current and future employees.” The regents should exercise that right, switch to financially sustainable 401(k) plans, and get their hands out of UC students’ pockets.

And the rest of America should applaud and learn from California’s mistakes.


Teaching literacy a complex mix of methods

Comment from Australia

A recent report by the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Studies suggests there are significant concerns that teachers are not fully equipped to teach reading.

The report is a result of an audit of teacher education courses with a view to finding out how and in what manner teachers are trained in university courses to teach reading to young children.

Of course, the teaching of reading is central to the role of a primary classroom teacher and for perhaps as long as a century the best way to teach reading has been the subject of research, investigation and analysis.

When a teacher introduces a learner to the intricacies of decoding text, they start with the fundamental principle, the alphabet, the symbols that unlock the puzzle of reading. This is followed by teaching the relationship between sound and symbol.

This is known in education as "teaching grapho-phonic relationships".

At times this is simple enough and some children need only to have this relationship pointed out, which is why some children seem to learn to read effortlessly and some children come to school already reading.

Of course, there are other learners who do not find this as straightforward.

Where this becomes more difficult is that the English alphabet presents the learner with 26 letters but 44 sounds. These extra sounds are made up of groups of letters together that make a new sound. So some young learners need to take some enormous steps to bring all this together in becoming literate.

Which is why most teachers, most curriculum documents and most educational systems recommend embedding this teaching in a varied set of strategies and within a context of engaging materials and books.

And of course to teach reading and writing in tandem in the early years.

The Board of Studies report questions whether teachers actually teach grapho-phonic relationships, and if they are trained to teach using this method while at university. In doing so, the board once again takes us around the merry-go-round of best methods in teaching early reading, a debate that has raged for more than 50 years and has resulted in hundreds of thousands of studies, which give very clear direction.

Driving much of the teacher education in this country and abroad is a report in 2000 of the US-based National Reading Panel  called "Teaching Children to Read", which provides directions in five key areas of teaching reading:  phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension.

Learners need to know about the sound symbol level of print, the meaning level, and finally understand the place of word class when making sense of print. This is known as the three-cueing systems and all teachers in schools and those in teacher education programs would be able to both describe these systems and implement classroom activities to engage those in early reading.

It has been reported recently that teaching reading is mired in theory, with too little focus on practical skills. The teacher needs to have the linguistic knowledge of the English language, and we all know what a difficult language system that is. Teacher educators would never make an excuse about the essential need for teachers to have this theoretical knowledge about language as system. Together with this, they need to have a strong overview of the myriad practical strategies for teaching reading built up from over 100 years of research across the world, and then teachers need to add the special essential ingredient to this knowledge of the individual learners in their classes.

No policy maker, teacher educator, principal or system manager would suggest theory does not have a place in the early reading classroom nor that practical knowledge has no place. What is required is a sophisticated weaving of this knowledge to each of the learners in their charge, and given the recent success of NAPLAN and other measures of reading in this country they are doing a fine job.

Catherine Snow from Harvard University has famously said: "Teaching reading IS rocket science." Reading is a complex set of behaviours applied by readers to myriad tasks when negotiating the printed word. Teaching is a profession and all teachers constantly engage in professional learning, inquiry into their own practice and sharing at a school, system and national level through professional learning communities. Suggesting that teachers are not prepared to do this seems mischievous at a time when education systems are under constant scrutiny and evaluation.


No comments: