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Digging In, Lancaster





Updated: 2017-10-21T19:59:34.881-04:00

 



Martin Elementary Design

2011-12-13T09:35:38.095-05:00

SDOL has been developing plans to build a new K-8 school over the past year. Parents and teachers have been involved in the design of the interior, layout, etc, and it's easy to support the decisions they've come to given the process. But when the architects presented the exterior design, the Board reacted pretty badly across the board (so to speak). Over the following weeks, the reactions didn't improve--nor did the design. We're largely an urban district, and perhaps the fuddy duddies on the board are attached to a more classic look, like that of Wharton, Fulton, or the gravitas of JP. Drawing of Wharton with its new additionsThe Martin design, however, felt to a number of us like something out of a recurring suburban nightmare, or as one commenter on Facebook said "like the Brady Bunch" (without the class). It reminds me of that old Fat Albert joke--"Fat Albert, you're like a teacher that's out of work--you got no class."Here's the Martin design. New Martin K-8 Exterior The library is to the far left. Main entrance is at the end of the library's sloping roof, followed by admin offices (I think); the next slope contains an exercise room, and the large  section to the right of that is the gym. The classrooms are not visible from this view. Here's a close-up of the entrance and library:The vertical lines represent metal slats. The dark area under the windows is a dark stone/granite material. As one board member put it, "it looks like something out of a retirement community out in the county. For the next 100 years, we hope, this building will serve the district. A school building is more than a place to house students from grade to grade; it sets the tone of the day. The visual impact can be inspiring, neutral, or demotivating. I'd put this at either neutral or demotivating. Well, not really It's dreadful. The reactions I've heard so far from architects and designers I know are similar. The architects on the project insinuated that it would take tens of millions more to make it attractive. To me, that reflects the mindset that came up with this drab result in the first place. Great design is not a function of money. Nor is great art.Sadly, the board is put in a position at the end of the design process of having to say to the architect--do better. But without specific guidance, the mindset that brought us the first designs will bring us nothing particularly better. So I'm encouraging anyone out there willing to contribute their inspiring ideas--to reframe this school in such a way that 1) it will reflect the character of the district and 2) it will serve as a visual inspiration to students for the next 100 years and 3) will not break the budget. The district owns the designs (sadly), so it's possible for us to provide the AutoCAD drawings. In fact, I'd love to see what our own student population would come up with. My guess is it would be dramatically better than this. [...]



Thank you

2011-11-24T12:18:53.687-05:00

I'm grateful for my family, especially Mom, who has been a true friend during the tough times in my life, and the memory of Dad, who cheered me on despite the odds at anything I tried. I'm grateful for Amy and the things she brings to our lives. I'm deeply grateful for the friendship of Lupine, our amazing dog, and Millie, our squirrelly dog.

I'm grateful for my close friends, who still take my calls after all these years, who check in to see how I'm doing, who break bread with me, who offer advice and help, and who suffer through my delusions of grandeur ;).

I'm grateful for the dedicated people at the School District of Lancaster; the less dedicated I'm hoping will find other employment. I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve there, and hope to help move it forward in the coming year.

I'm grateful for the stars in a moonless sky, the waves on the ocean, the rain when it's needed, the snow when it's inconvenient. I'm grateful for music.

I'm grateful for ideas, and even more so for execution. I'm grateful for those who give up the warmth of their homes to give voice to causes of justice.

I'm grateful for the things that came to me in life by chance of birth, like education, great parents, and landing in the odd breadbasket and melting pot that is Lancaster, PA.

And I'm grateful for you, too. Have a great Thanksgiving.(image)



Penn State & The Problem of Institutions Protecting Themselves

2011-11-20T11:47:28.778-05:00

I'm going to try to be brief--I have a lot going on today.The rape of boys by Sandusky was deplorable. Let's call it what it was--rape, not abuse, not sexual assault (these were non-consenting children).The institutional response was, in some ways, worse, because it allowed it to continue, likely in order to "protect" the institution. That "protection" has left Penn State critically injured, which calls into question the typical fear-driven wisdom of self-insulation by institutions.Acting quickly and decisively would have saved a lot of kids from a lifetime of pain, and saved the institution from the damaging scandal that hopefully will leave behind a better, more transparent institution oriented toward protecting people; that disposition alone will be what protects the institution.The individual responses were also deplorable, including Paterno and the assistant coach.The list of people involved who knew about it or suspected it, but allowed it to continue is likely very long. We'll learn more over the next few years, hopefully.That list of people work for and with an institution. Institutions have internal, implicit (and some explicit) agreements on handling things that threaten the institution; crimes are not reported to police, and the excuse is that it's best that  we handle it internally.Instead, people are transferred, fired, or simply reprimanded. And because people are people, they might also have a list of grievances that protect them when they themselves do wrong, and use that to protect themselves from dismissal or prosecution.The School District of Lancaster is no different. F&M is no different (though it might be changing). All large institutions have an internal set of formal and informal processes for handling issues, whether criminal or simply inappropriate.Recently, an employee of SDOL was discovered to have inappropriately interacted with students. The employee was immediately removed from the position, and subsequently left the district. I'm not talking about the former football coach.I'm keeping this deliberately vague, because of what has been told to me is a legal obligation to keep it quiet. And therein lies the problem.We know this person acted in this way more than once. It's not known, as far as I know, whether there was anything beyond inappropriate, to the point it was illegal.In my experience on the board, the administration takes these things very seriously, and does report immediately to the police if a law has been broken. I don't know of any instance where that has not been the case. It would, of course, prefer that it not be discussed in any way in public (like in a blog post).Here's the problem with this "responsible" way of handling it: we can not alert other districts. The person hasn't been convicted, and is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.Yet the person agreed to leave, and as far as I know, without a settlement. Is that an admission? An acknowledgement? The other side of the issue is an innocent employee's right not to be smeared in the press, and again, that employee is innocent until proven guilty.So as an institution, SDOL has in fact protected its kids and itself, effectively, but has no clear way of extending that same protection to other districts and kids.As a board member, I find it incredibly frustrating.I believe in due process--innocence until proven otherwise in a court of law--and that process was denied the public & the employee--I'm assuming because of the complexity, the lack of confidence in a conviction, and, sadly, the potential liability for the district.That's right: the threat of a civil lawsuit against the district by the employee also informs the decision. The administration was sufficiently convinced that there was an issue substantial enough that the employee had to be removed, but perhaps not convinced that it had enough "credible" evidence to turn it into a criminal complaint.It's a very frustrating position to be in, and I really don't have the answer. Do you?[...]



Carney for School Board

2011-11-04T17:49:25.046-04:00

I'm voting for Randolph Carney, Linda Owens, and Candace Roper for school board. EDIT: I'm voting straight Democratic ticket after getting some input from a few folks.

Randy in particular has a long interest in and commitment to transparency, oversight, and accountability. In other words, he's a pain in the ass to local governments. And we need that.

It's very easy, very comfortable to develop and make decisions behind closed doors. To get around sunshine laws, you can simply gather 3 other board members, and then another 3, and then another the two remaining to develop something without public scrutiny.

Worse, you can simply hold meetings behind closed doors and deliberate and decide, as the SDOL board did in August and September in setting the specific goals and high-level plan for the district, which will have spending implications for years.

The public was excluded from those deliberations. The board didn't have the benefit of other opinions, and when we held subsequent public meetings, we didn't deliberate or change anything decided behind closed doors.

Randy will hold SDOL and its board accountable. Linda and Candace offer important perspectives, and I know Linda is committed to transparency as well. I haven't discussed it with Candace.

We need a slate of people dedicated to the outcomes of the children, to be effective, committed stewards of taxpayer money, and committed accountability--to open deliberations where all voices can be heard, and to measuring everything we invest in so we can make wise decisions in the future.

Those candidates, in my limited view, are Randy Carney, Linda Owens, and Candace Roper. And I'll vote for the other two Democrats as well.(image)



Digging In, Lancaster

2011-09-20T11:57:25.484-04:00

A while ago I split off my startup blog from this one, but hadn't known where to draw the line. On Sunday I realized where the split really needed to be: between where most of my community life happens, and my professional life. My views on our community are informed by a lot of people, conversations, and experiences, most of which have very, very little to do with startups. The only exception would be the monthly Founders Dinner I started back in May. Last night we had a great set of talks about our challenges and opportunities, and helped each other think through issues (including mine with Jawaya). Over the weekend I thought the split was between Education and startups, but it didn't seem broad enough. On Sunday night I had the pleasure of listening to one of our great community leaders (someone who works for the city) who is very pragmatic and committed to the city. We talked about the small, incremental improvements like the streetscapes: the new lamp posts (which look great compared to the typical gray steel suburbanish ones), the wheelchair ramps we've needed badly, the expansion of some of the sidewalks, the poor design of the new parking garage, and other things that impact the city in lasting ways. We got a deep explanation of the city's infrastructure projects and the history of the infrastructure; the coming changes will improve the city's ability to handle rain and waste, and positively impact everything downstream as a result. Also on Sunday, I attended the City Democrats BBQ; a good number of people thanked me for focusing on transparency in the school district. Nobody admonished me, but why ruin a nice event with a disagreement; you can't interpret that as not caring or agreeing. That morning, Amy and I walked downtown and ate at On Orange. Breakfast was great, and the coffee in particular was very good. We passed Pour, the new wine bar/restaurant opened by our neighbors the Kepners (I'll post on that later this week). We haven't been there yet, but it looks beautifully done from the outside, and we've seen the crowds in there. (If you've had a good experience there please review them at Yelp.com) A living, breathing, advancing city requires the work of many, many people, dedicated to their own individual efforts, but often working in concert to create the gravity that attracts many other individual efforts. This is one of the reasons why I don't like the city's tagline, "A City Authentic". We don't need a tagline. We are authentic already, and aside from the very ugly, out-of-place airport-type hotel we call the Marriott, we don't need to remind ourselves or anyone else. Just walk down the alleys on a Saturday afternoon and you'll see people doing amazing things in their garages. Or talk to the shop owners near Market, or on Queen, or in the neighborhoods. Fake it til you make it. We faked the arts community as a destination until it gelled and became one. I couldn't stand it initially and was a naysayer, partly because it felt like we were faking it, and partly because I simply didn't like a lot of the art (pastorals, still life, etc; more reflective than expressive). But they stuck to it. And kept doing it. And more people showed up, and more artists, and suddenly it was a monthly street festival that had less to do with the arts than the flow of people and interaction among them. And something else happened: nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. Young people started showing up with instruments, playing on the corners and next to galleries, just because. And something else happened: the underground arts community--those that rejected the still lifes and prettiness of the galleries, and they staked their claims. The action got reactions, and the reactions have added to the stew, and it sure tastest a hell of a lot better. Can we keep the party going? Sure. But there's a part of Lancaster we don't like to talk a[...]



Tough One Last Night

2011-09-17T16:29:17.349-04:00

Simply couldn't stop that offense. Ours, however, did really well. The great news is that football games are great community events. Unfortunately I worked late and missed the game...

http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/460712_McCaskey-can-t-catch-Catholic.html(image)



McCaskey v Lancaster Catholic Tonight

2011-09-16T11:10:45.181-04:00

I'm hoping to get over to the game tonight over at our intrepid rivals' stadium. Coach Monzon has done a great job with the kids and we've already seen championship play in the first two games, despite the losses.

If you ever get a chance to talk with him, take it--great guy, deep commitment.(image)



The Sunshine Debate

2011-09-15T06:45:18.547-04:00

"Democracy is the only way, through the participation of ordinary people for those people to get justice."--Bill Moyers, speaking at Howard Zinn's memorial in 2010An inconvenient but necessary part of democracy at all levels is public participation and the conduct of its business in public. Whether two or two hundred people attend, regardless of what they say or how they say it, public meetings are our only access to the things that effect how we live, what it costs us, how our kids are educated. It's the only way we have a voice. Too often, decisions are made without the benefit of the public, and, sometimes, without the oversight of its representatives. Unfortunately, the newspaper published an article today because the board president said something close to the following at a press conference Tuesday intended to announce a new effort to transform the district (transcribed):(about the August 23rd meeting) "The exclusive purpose was to discuss academic performance goals and objectives for the school district and the superintendent for the '11-12 school year and years beyond.Because these goals and objectives will form the primary measure by the board in its evaluation of the professional performance and competence of the superintendent and of course of his administration, the meeting was appropriately held as an executive session under the personnel provision of the sunshine act."(about the August 31st meeting)"because the school board did not deliberate any business of the school district and made no decisions whatsoever based upon the content of the dmc report and didn't intend to do so, the meeting was not required to be public under the sunshine act . it was deemed to be just an informational session."Neither of these claims hold up. Which is baffling. The reporter, of course, questioned the statements because they contradict other accounts, including mine, and asked me if I was satisfied with them. Here was my full response:Sadly, these claims don't match what occurred, and simply distract us from transforming the district.The meetings were not advertised to the board as personnel or informational meetings, but as "retreats" to determine district goals and plans of action. At no time during either meeting did we discuss the district's goals in the context of the superintendent's employment or performance, or his employment in any fashion; that meeting has yet to occur.Further, in both meetings the board deliberated and made decisions: in the first, we decided the district goals needed to be extended from 3 to 5 years, and directed the superintendent to make those changes; in the second, we deliberated in depth about whether to monitor professional development, we agreed on the district's goals, approved the plan of action, and directed the administration to move forward according to our decisions.These goals, plans, and strategies (which I support) affect thousands of lives and represent millions of taxpayer dollars, and they were developed and agreed upon behind closed doors. That's "district business" by anyone's definition.  The Sunshine laws are there to protect the public, not to be used as tools to hide important deliberations from it. I've heard from officials in other public agencies who suggest this is a common practice; perhaps we'd all benefit from training on the intent and content of the Act. You can't simply apply the personnel exemption any time you want to deliberate without public involvement.The argument is that because we discussed district goals, and at some point we'll discuss the superintendent's goals and they are derived from district's goals, that we can therefore treat any discussion of district goals as personnel issues (post hoc ergo propter hoc if logical fallacy interests you).(Exemptions are listed here).I've become cynical about the country and its e[...]






Update

2011-07-03T12:15:52.298-04:00

June was a busy month, with a lot of intense stuff going on. I'm looking forward to a July full of focused coding and the (finally) beta launch of Jawaya, or rather, 10% of the ultimate vision.

June was the month when I realized one thing I value in public service: honesty. The dishonest public servant shifts with the winds, avoids taking responsibility, claims victory without ever committing to the work or the underlying principles that led to a resolution, and happily poses for the cameras or panders to the audience.

You'll find that kind of player at all levels of politics. The political opportunist is usually easy to spot, and is generally likable to the general public. But the smarminess oozes through if you pay enough attention.

At the national level, we're seeing this with Bachmann, Palin, and Perry on the right. I'm having difficulty thinking about who on the left or center claims this mantel, if only because Democrats seem to have dropped off the face of the earth, preferring to let Obama to fight their battles for them. And few seem to speak up against his policies, most of which are continuations of those from the Bush years.

Locally it's easier to spot. There's less noise, and those jumping in front of issues like lawyers chasing ambulances are well-lit and sweaty.

My hope is July's typically humid, hot days will be less disgustingly muggy than June's shenanigans.

So here's the update:

  • I talked about the SDL budget in my last post--nothing to add here. 
  • Jawaya has been two steps forward, one step back. Every time we're close to releasing beta, another instability or issue arises. It's work, and it's tough, but it also helps to focus on what matters. 
  • Interest in investing is high. I don't mind the perception that there's a bubble; it's a very  entrepreneur-friendly environment right now. 
  • The next Startup Lancaster gathering of tech product startup founders is July 11. Half the tickets are gone already. 
  • I presented to the Philly Tech Meetup last Wednesday. Unfortunately the demo  setup was terrible--the keyboard had a built-in trackball mouse, which was incredibly awkward to use, and it was tough to see the screen. On top of that the site hadn't been update with the latest, so I had to improvise and gave a substandard demo. 
  • The feedback was  helpful, though, and people were very willing to give feedback. 
That's it for today. Lots of stuff going on, but it's the holiday weekend and we're headed to a reunion of my wife's family.
(image)



SDOL Budget

2011-07-01T09:04:01.921-04:00

In the 19 months I've been on the School Board of the School District of Lancaster, it's passed two budgets. And for the second year in a row, the board applied its rubber stamp to the administration's budget: not a single line item changed from the late April date it was introduced through last night. Starting today, our deficit for the coming year is $5.2 million. in 3 years the total is $17 million, and in 4 years its $24 million. That's the context of this year's budget, which the board punted on week in, week out.In the meantime, the board has smartly spent $75,000 on what appears to be an excellent report on the district's management practices and educational challenges. We engaged the District Management Council in January to help the board and administration launch a significant turnaround effort in a district where just 50% of its middle school and high school students are proficient or advanced in the basics. The report makes some dramatic recommendations, including millions of dollars of savings achieved by dropping what doesn't work and focusing on what does work. The intention in January was to get the final report in early May so it could inform this year's budget; it's July 1st and we only have a draft. DMC--the vendor--was not managed to deliver the report on time by its customer, SDL. The cost of the delay to the district, potentially, is another $5 million or so of cuts that could have been made given an efficiently managed process and effective realignment. (The board is responsible for that failure of oversight). As a result, some board members were reluctant to make any changes without the crutch of DMC's final report to inform them. The administration did its job, though it deliberately delayed the budget process, which left the board with a mere two months to review and attempt to effect change. In the meantime, the board and district found it perfectly acceptable to demand financial concessions from the lowest-paid workers in the district, the AFSCME union members. People earning from under $8/hr to $14/hr were asked to give up a meager 3% raise, under  $.25 an hour for poorest of workers. Yes, the School District of Lancaster pays poverty wages, keeping the families of those workers in poverty--as a common practice. One board member commented cynically in Executive Session "the custodians are lucky to get $10/hr in the real world", as though it were a privilege to be treated as a human being. Contrast that with the average $80,000 we pay for "coordinators". While it was helpful and important that Act 93 employees (administrators) offered a pay freeze, the impact on them is dramatically less than on our poverty-wage workers. The buffer between homelessness and those two types of employees ranges from razor thin to plush stack of pillows. Food prices have increased dramatically in the past 3 years; then again, as that same board would likely point out, they're on food stamps anyway so it doesn't effect them. Budget are moral documents. Poverty in any form is immoral in a society that feels it can afford ineffectual courses like Cosmetology for students it fails to engage enough to keep in school, the majority (yes, over 50%) of whom can't read even close to grade level. That tradeoff--poverty vs Cosmetology--is not something the board should treat so lightly. I've been ineffective at moving the board in the right direction fast enough to have impact on the current year, and failed to make motions to add specific cuts. It seemed clear the board had no intention of doing anything but voting for the administration's budget and waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the final DMC report. But I should have at least made the motion. So this year we're a[...]



Update

2011-06-19T10:06:11.834-04:00

Happy Father's Day. I miss my Dad, who died in 1996 of cancer. Today we'll spend some time at Amy's parents', grilling some great grass-fed beef and chatting with relatives.


  • Jawaya is finally ready for the first, closed beta. We'll invite about 2,000 people who've signed up to log in and try it. Formally launching will take some time; what we're doing seems simple on the face but behind the scenes it's a bit more complex and requires more attention. 
  • The school board has effectively accepted the administration's budget--no additions, no subtractions, no substantive commitment to changing it, aside from accepting the AFSCME proposal to keep custodial jobs. 
  • That's a shame, because we're reviewed the DMC report, which calls for significant realignment of the district in a very positive way, resulting in substantial savings. We could start the realignment process now and create an opportunity to save important programs two and three years from now; over that period we face a $17 million aggregate deficit.
  • Instead, we'll spend money on programs we've acknowledged do not work. I don't understand that logic. DMC agrees that we should invest in what works, and cut what doesn't. So does the board and the administration--just not this year. Which, again, I don't understand, especially when we're talking about millions of dollars that we certainly could use when Art, Music, and Athletics are on the chopping block 2 years from now. 
  • If you agree (or don't), come out to Tuesday's voting meeting and voice your concerns (no shouting or accusations, please). 
  • Everyday Local Food (Lancaster Organics) is deep into the season. Order your fresh local veggies here http://www.everydaylocalfood.com
(image)



Deer in the Headlights

2011-06-14T08:46:24.411-04:00

I used to tell a story to I heard on the West Wing (early seasons) to certain friends.

This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out. 
A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. 
Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'
You show up for friends when they need you--that's what real friendship is. And then when you fall into your own hole with steep walls? That's when you find out who's showing up for you.

And when the same guy that fell in the hole walks past, and you catch his eye and see that deer in the headlights look? You really get a sense for what character really means.

When you're building a company, you have to make a lot of decisions that aren't always clear cut. It becomes even less clear if you're making decisions on the basis of relationships instead of metrics and performance. I think one of the major mistakes I made was failing, at times, to hold people accountable on the basis of performance because of the relationship.

Once you do hold someone accountable for performance, it's unlikely they'll be as forgiving as you had been up to that point. The bottom line is that you have to act in the best interest of everyone--not yourself, not your friendships, not your trusted relationships. It's a balance I can easily confess I haven't always gotten right.

Show up for your friends. In fact, show up for people who aren't your friends but need a hand anyway--that's what makes communities strong, what gets the sandbags piled up against the flooding river, what pulls the miners out of the darkest of all holes. You always do so at some personal risk, but the place where we don't show up for each other isn't one I want to hang my hat for very long.(image)



Update

2011-06-01T18:46:44.282-04:00

Well, yes, it's been a while. I love blogging daily, which I started to do at the other blog, but I've been diving deep into Jawaya and trying to get it out the door for people to use and hopefully change the way we use the web in some small way.

See what I did? Run-on sentence. I'm out of practice.

Update

  • School budget: we did the typical approval of the administration's take on the budget, and now it's June and time for the board to show up and make choices about not just what we're cutting, but what we're investing in. 
  • At home, at work, you make choices based on what works and what doesn't. At home you might give things a bit more time to develop; families are like that. So are schools. But it's time to make decisions on what's working. Amplify what works, cut what doesn't, and if it isn't clear, it's not working. Smart people know how to measure that, and I'll trust those metrics.
  • Jawaya can't be built by a tiny team. We need resources, and we need them now. So I'm going to stop coding and start raising money full time, because a decent coder can easily lap me several times in a one-lap coding race. 
  • It's the heat. The humidity I can get rid of with our dehumidifier.
  • Central air is kind of a scam--it's highly inefficient, and while it's central, the air is rarely evenly distributed. 
  • Writing this post makes me feel like Andy Rooney. Pithy, unimportant observations. 
Which means it's time to go--see you sometime, maybe soon. 
(image)






Days Become Weeks Become Months

2011-05-10T09:14:44.402-04:00

Last Friday I had a great conversation with Fred Wilson about what I'm working on and where I am in the process. I'm not pitching him, but I've known him for 10 years and he has always been generous with his time and insights. I've been a guest blogger at his blog AVC, and am a regular contributor there because writing helps me think through issues and ideas, and I often don't have time to decide the issue of the day. So commenting has been a way to do that, and the community there is really interesting (a post for another time). When you're not pitching an investor, the conversation is different. The relationship goes from eager, nervous entrepreneur and skeptical VC, to two people looking at a set of issues together. The latter is far more productive and sometimes produces great results. We plan to launch the Jawaya Beta (closed) next week. Fred asked me why I've started raising the round now, instead of waiting until we have a user base, metrics, etc, saying that as a backable founder it should be cake after that. Well, yes and no. I haven't completely adjusted to the speed of capital flowing these days. I'm old school, I guess. I know there are deals getting done in 2 months, and some in 2 weeks. But that's never, ever been the case for me and wasn't standard until just recently. Fundraising is a process of relationships and milestones, and to me it's a 4 to 6-month process. Remember 2008? Bear Stearns early in the year, then Lehman, then the whole thing comes a-tumblin down? I do.I remember Limited Partners freaking out, putting all kinds of very vocal and threatening pressure on venture partners. I remember everyone running for the hills. I remember Sequoia announcing the end of the party, and that every startup should cut 40% of staff . And I remember cutting 100% of my staff for CircleDog on one day. It wasn't the economy that led to running out of money, but it was what led to the follow-on round creating a huge sense of loss among limited partners to vc firms, and the LPs were scared and wanted to do something. Anything. "Yes Frank, do anything", said Hawkeye. That wasn't long ago. So now that capital is flowing like the Mighty Mississippi after endless rain, such that the Angel world has called in the Army Corps of Engineers to blow the levees so it flows even faster, people wonder why I'm starting 'early'.Well, good question. I am and I'm not. The one thing I've learned--many times over--is that days become weeks become months. Sure, if you don't make the call today, you can make it tomorrow. But the appointment you wanted for next Monday was taken by someone else who did make the call, and the investor is headed off on vacation the next day, so now that meeting won't happen for 2 weeks instead of 6 days from now. Days become weeks become months. You can apply this to anything--exercise. Reading. Sales. What increases sales? More sales in a defined period. How do you get more sales per month? Get more potential customers to make decisions faster. The more decisions they make in a shorter period of time, the faster they'll get to the buying decision. Your sales will go up.While you can't rush their decision-making process, you can remove the white-space in between and compress it. So my answer to Fred was this: I've known you 10 years, so we have a relationship, and Jerry knows me very well, so it's not as though I'm an unknown entity. I walk in, and we have a conversation. But a lot of potential investors don't know me. They know the byline--this guy's done well a number of times and has some new thing, can you take a [...]



Update

2011-05-08T12:30:29.687-04:00

I don't have much (I hope) this week. Too much to do.

  • The school board has not gone through the budget together, analyzing each area, asking critical questions, making tough choices. Instead, its accepted the choices presented to it from the administration, which did a lot of hard work, but hasn't cornered the market on ideas or community values. I'm hoping the board will do its part and match the administration's work with a critical eye on the budget, line by line, department by department. 
  • Librarians vs Tennis. Or some electives and the HS level. Or part of the board budget. 
  • One board member dismissed the notion of cutting the board budget "we've already seen the board budget we know what's there", as though we shouldn't cut it. There's easily $45,000 we can cut without effect. Only 199 more items like that to go to make up $10,000,000. 
  • The budget has over 28,000 items, so finding small savings that add up is possible. 
  • Finance committee is not Budget committee. The budget process requires the understanding and expression of values by all board members. We haven't done that yet.
  • I doubt the custodians will survive the cuts. Instead of outsourcing to a large corporation that will eventually lay off dozens of workers (who are our neighbors, mostly, some of whom have children in the schools) and cut salaries and benefits to near poverty level, the custodians should form an employee-owned company and the board should give it a year to earn the right to future years. I'd help directly with that if asked. 
  • Jawaya is coming along--about to launch the first beta and start talking to the press. A lot of work to do, but we'll pull it off. 
  • I love what the city's doing with its, well, infrastructure. And congrats to everyone involved in the rehab of Central Market. I was skeptical but it turned out great!
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Blogging

2011-04-29T10:58:49.763-04:00

I'm blogging more at my professional blog and less here, and less about local issues. I just posted about the Flow of Capital and the ecosystems in regions I'm spending a lot of time in these days on behalf of the new startup (Jawaya, which might be renamed).

It's very possible that I put this one on hiatus for a while, because I need to focus most of my energies on building the business.

That said, it might make sense to move school board posting over to another blog, and get other board members to post as well--we'll see. Cultural change ain't easy.(image)



Monetizing Excess Capacity

2011-04-25T10:06:05.477-04:00

I'm out in the Bay area this week for Jawaya meetings--it's nice to get a different view of the world. I love the plane ride out for productive brainstorming time, and once out here, well it's just great to see tons of great organic restaurants, community gardens, mass transit, and of course good friends.

The Bay offers a lot of potential for plaigerism. Steal what you can. Many of the ideas that seem so novel to us in Lancaster have been in practice for decades around here.

So steal them. These ideas are free, and just take a commitment from Lancaster to embrace them.

Fortunately our city of late has become relatively progressive, especially around green infrastructure, which said a different way, is cheaper, safer, cleaner, and better for us and our downstream neighbors. Danene & Fritz at Live Lancaster have really brought the city along through guidance and grants, and plain persistence.

The city administration has done more than go along for the ride; Gray, Hopkins and the team there have clearly embraced these positive long-term changes.

Hoepfully SDOL will embrace change as well--it's being forced to. We build LEEDs-certified building by requirement.

But with budget cuts, there's a new kind of solution available: Free. The power of We.

What can we do for Free? What's valuable that's not worth paying for? Well, money is in short supply, but capacity is not.

Here's an example. I booked my room using AirBnB.com. The site gives home-owners a way to monetize their excess housing capacity. In other words, you can turn your house into an informal Bed and Breakfast, get paid for it, and meet  new people in the process. People are given recommendations by their Facebook friends, so there's some security in doing so.

LooseCubes.com gives me my traveling office space--I'm headed to one of the spaces today. For businesses, Theaters, and nonprofits with core services (wifi, printers, HVAC) and empty desks, it gives a way to monetize excess office space.

We need a LooseCubes for School Districts--a simple but efficient way to book excess capacity. We have computers, classrooms, auditoriums with stages, lights, and sound. Gyms, libraries, desks. Tons of land, including farmland behind Wheatland.

We have fiber to the Internet. When it comes down to it, we have everything it takes to create a startup incubator right on the top floor of Carter McRae admin offices. Or at McCaskey. Or at the Scheffey building.

The hurdles? Bureaucracy. Embracing an idea and executing on it is harder in public education, and harder when it also involves a cultural shift. But I know the district is open to all things.

You identify the opportunity, list the obstacles, and go one by one and knock them down. That's the entrepreneurial process, and frankly, the district has been very entrepreneurial in recent years and does just that when there's a commitment to do it.

It's time for districts across the state to get creative around funding and revenue. The public has invested in what is now excess capacity.

We won't fund all of public education by monetizing excess capacity, but it will help the community get the most out of its investment, and help the district fund things that really matter, like Pre-k, Kindergarten, Libraries, and professional development for teachers.(image)



Amazon Down, so Jawaya Down

2011-04-21T13:12:22.447-04:00

We use Heroku to host Jawaya. Heroku uses Amazon Cloud services, which has been down for quite a while. If you've tried Jawaya today and it doesn't work, that's why.

It's also why you might see an error message when you visit sites, because the plugin checks Jawaya for each page you visit and search you perform.

Hopefully Amazon will be back up soon, but in the meantime I'm pushing Jawaya to another hosting provider that doesn't have the Amazon dependency.

Thanks for your patience!(image)



The Perfect Learning Environment, redux

2011-04-20T01:16:30.719-04:00

This is a re-post from something earlier this year. Tonight's board meeting was long and frustrating. Please call Senator Lloyd Smucker and Sen. Brubaker--the Republicans are forcing these huge cuts. They should be increasing early childhood education, and ideas like the following: -----------------------------------I came across this on Caterina Fake's blog, quoted from And the Skylark Sings with Meby David H. Albert:Our vision of the perfect learning environment is a library, but like none we have ever encountered. The library would have books and videos and tapes and computers, but that would be just the beginning. There would be lots of librarians, or more accurately “docents” — guides to the trails of knowledge. Primary docents would provide instruction in the technologies necessary to utilize the available resources. … There would be a vast learning exchange of skills, from basic mathematics to auto mechanics. There would be lending libraries of tools and materials, from carpenter’s saws and hammers, to biologists’ microscopes, to astronomers’ telescopes. There would be organized classes, learning support groups, and lectures. Self-evaluation tools would be available for learners to measure their own progress.There would be large gardens and orchards, staffed by botanists and farmers, where students would learn to grow fruits and vegetables, and home economists who would teach their preparation and storage. There would be apprenticeships for virtually everything kind of employment the community requires.There would be rites of passage and celebration of subject or skill mastery. There would be storytellers and community historians, drawn from the community’s older members. Seniors would play a vital role in preparing young children to make use of all the library has to offer.The library would be the community’s hub and its heart. It would be supported the usual ways we support schools, through public taxation, but all users, both children and adults, would be required to contribute time to the library’s success.[...]



Updated Budget Draft

2011-04-19T14:25:40.194-04:00

The updated draft budget is here(image)



SDOL Budget Draft

2011-04-19T13:17:06.750-04:00

The budget is in flux, as always at this time of year. Over the next two months, the district will finalize it, but in personnel meetings the board was generally supportive of the administration's view.

That said, we have to evaluate what we value for next year, 3 years from now, and 15 years from now. That discussion starts now. 

(Will repost later today after edits to the powerpoint)

If you want to learn more or offer comments, please attend the board meeting Tuesday at 7 at JP McCaskey. 
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SDOL Draft Budget

2011-04-18T21:46:53.781-04:00

The final budget will be approved at the June board meeting.

The attached budget is the administrations's take on how to cut way too much out of the budget. I don't agree with everything in here. But I respect the administration's take.

Budgets are moral documents--they are the expression of what we value, what we feel will work. This budget reflects cuts and the admin's take on what matters.

I respect it, but I have a different view. I am not on the school board for the next year, or the next. We need long-term systemic change toward what works.

So what works?

Pre-k, with qualified teachers and curriculum, makes a huge difference. But we don't fully fund it, and hundreds of kids are left in the dust. We should fully fund pre-k, because it represents our district 15 years from now. We need to think in these terms: the present is painful, but the future we can effect.

Take a deep breath. Curse Corbett for his blunt approach; thank him for making us think through what we really value.

Budgets are moral documents.

What do we value?(image)



SDOL Budget Cuts

2011-04-14T22:31:49.381-04:00

The administration will reveal the budget cuts they propose on Tuesday. That's their view; the board still has to absorb the proposal and might make changes, though we're generally supportive of the tough work they've done. 

In the future, I hope to see the info come out in January so we get a lot of input. Yes, we don't know the Governor's take until March in any given year, but we can map out what we value much earlier than that. 

If we know we're cutting someone, they should know as early as possible so they can apply for jobs elsewhere. The longer we wait, the tougher the odds are for them to find a job. 

I have to apologize for failing to see this earlier this year, and I know it's a tough thing for the administration--none of this is taken lightly. But we can and should improve the process, knowing well in advance that cuts are required for at least the next two years given the current political situation. 

Finally, from what I understand, Arts and Music are not on the list. 

Show up Tuesday at JP if you want to help shape our views. 
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