Beginning two school years: 2013-2014

While again this year I am starting two school years largely in parallel (off by about a week), the last started similarly. We grew from middle school to elementary in a new building, having moved out of Heather’s house. As previously noted, the building wasn’t ready yet, so we started with middle school at her house and the elementary in mine, largely because we had six middle school kids who could fit there and eight elementary and I had a larger house in suburban Denton at the time. IMG_4945Moving to the new building

In October, we moved into the old Groggy Dog print shop/ former pool supply store.The lines are squiggly, matching our understanding of the space as we moved in. Because of its former status as a commercial building for the previous several decades, the backyard had been left in a less than respectable condition. There were pieces of broken glass, metal bits, old license plates and signs for the pool business, and other non-kid friendly detritus in the ground, making it a less than ideal place for kids to play and, eventually, garden. Our teachers were extremely flexible with all this movement, as were the parents and kids, which I cannot express my appreciation enough for then our now. Heather and I were learning the ropes of payroll, personnel management, instructor support, student discipline, marketing, parent interaction, building maintenance, and a host of other things neither of us had much (or in many cases, any) experience with at the time. I am happy to report that is better now.

SCAN0005We spent the next months terraforming the space into something reasonable with the help of two parents, both organic landscapers by trade for money off tuition. That proved to be unsustainable over the following school year, partly because we kept tuition artificially low. By the winter, there were containers for planting food that we intended to donate to local food pantries and others in need. That meant pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, and others that could survive the North Texas heat. It also meant a lot of mulch and full dirt, expenses we had not considered at the time. A load of mulch in bulk that filled up the truck was over $200, compared with a single child’s tuition ($600).

Tax exempt status and political realities

To give some context to what was happening in the larger picture and its consequences for our little school and our ability to raise money from individuals and foundations. Throughout that time, we were also impatiently waiting for our tax exempt status to be approved, as the IRS folks said it should take about six months. We had submitted that at the beginning of March, 2013 and they finally assigned our case for review on July 8, 2014. We received one change a few weeks later and are still waiting for our final approval (August 22, 2014). While the political groups and politicians tied up the non-profit reviewers with a scandal and frequent hearings that kept them from doing their jobs, educational institutions like ours languished. I’m not saying they should have in any way target Tea Party groups over any others (and it didn’t), but if someone said they want to eliminate most of the federal government but want tax exempt status given by that self-same government, I might give their applications a stronger review, too. However,

The soundtrack then as I worked was mainly My Chemical Romance and Lana Del Rey, because that’s what my 4 and 6-year-old (at the time) loved to listen to in the truck. See the awesomeness of the 2006 Ford F-150 STX extended cab below. The interior is mainly rubber and plastic, making it great for hosing out when my kids dropped a lot of random food or one of us drove the truck after significant gardening.

2014-08-22 09.09.24UNT school year begins

At the same time, the UNT school year began with the continuation of our new-ish online (I mean distributed) doctorate. That meant new classes and for the first time, other people were teaching my doctoral courses. It required a flurry of updated courses, job aids for faculty so they new what they should be doing according to me, and trying to get my own courses ready at the last minute (which I’m doing with one right now). One in particular was vexing, because it required a tremendous amount of content knowledge about systems thinking and theory that I had learned at Indiana. That meant I had to get someone else up and ready to teach it quickly. The professor, an experienced instructor coming from a slightly different discipline, was  willing to learn several years of content knowledge immediately and throughout the semester. She is teaching it again this fall and I am extremely happy to have her doing it. At the same time, I had prepared a heavily revised version of another doctoral course that had crashed and burned the previous fall when it was moved online. I am happy to say it when much better the second time.

There was a lot of back and forth between my studio at UNT and the office at Koan that fall, with me spending significantly more time at Koan as the needs of the school increased. Fortunately, I was able to have face-to-face meetings with students and faculty there and moved many meetings to phone calls and Adobe Connect sessions that worked quite well, despite my reluctance to use the tools that had often led to difficulties in the past. As noted by some philosophers, technology distorts communication, leading to significant misunderstandings. However, as mine and others comfort with the tools and recognition of their limitations increased, that distortion reduced significantly and we became more productive. It has also led me to some interesting thoughts and research about online learning and teaching that I began incorporating into my courses such as weekly synchronous meetings in lieu of face-to-face meetings the online students would miss and the residential students would receive. This would make the two courses significantly more similar and help ensure parity and equity between the two groups of students. It also helped reduce the negative impact of the cloak of anonymity had in previous courses that were delivered entirely or primarily online, because they saw each other and myself as human beings, reducing instances of “flaming” and reducing the time it took to correct misconceptions and answer questions that would have otherwise taken hours or days of back and forth emails to achieve the same thing.

That is enough for this post. I’ll talk about the rest of the 2013-14 school year next.

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