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Odd Days, Skip Days, and Ski Masked Board Members

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, Dec. 24-Jan. 6.

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If you’d gotten used to the long winter break and found yourself desperately looking for another excuse to take off from work, you might have considered celebrating Sequoia High School teacher Ron Gordon’s “Odd Day,” which was observed (of course) on 1/3/05. Gordon, who teaches not math but driver’s ed at the school in Redwood City, California, suggested toasting the occasion with Odwalla juice and watching “The Odd Couple.” If Gordon’s name sounds vaguely familiar, you may remember him as the same man who celebrated “Square Root Day” last year—2/2/04—by cutting radishes and other root vegetables into squares and urging his students to drink root beer out of square-shaped mugs.

If you’re a student living in any of the 50 states that have so far failed to recognize Gordon’s holidays, you might have to resort to less mathematically justifiable means of skipping school. Like playing hooky. Or acing state standardized tests. The latter method is now a matter of policy in the Lone Star State, where the Texas Education Agency recently made it easier for schools to let kids who do well on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills miss 10 days of school. The idea is not only to reward good students, proponents say, but also to allow teachers to spend more instructional time with struggling ones. Not everyone gives the notion a passing grade, however. “No matter how much they know, you can teach them more,” said Mary Strickland, who teaches math at Kimball High School in Dallas.

Also under consideration in Austin is a bill that would bar administrators from moonlighting for companies doing business with their own school systems. Yvonne Katz, who abruptly resigned this past fall as superintendent of Houston’s Spring Branch Independent School District, apparently did just that, recommending that the school board sign a multimillion-dollar contract with a company without disclosing beforehand that she worked for the business. One might assume that alert legislators might have made such an obvious breach of ethics part of state law long ago, but maybe other priorities took precedence—the legislature is also weighing the merits of a bill to stop schools from flagrantly beginning classes earlier than the week of August 31.

Also to be filed under “School Board Caught Off-Guard”: The famous “mystery candidate” who, without campaigning, somehow beat a heavily favored, well-financed PTA leader for a seat on the Orange County, California, school board has finally shown his face. Or at least part of it: Dressed all in black, wearing a ski cap and sunglasses, and apropos of nothing, Steve Rocco told audience members at the new board’s first meeting, “We are living in a time of secret organizations, living in a time of corruption, and, most of all, living in a time of dictatorships.”

We’re also living in a time of rushed—if not entirely skipped—breakfasts, though one school near Boston is making a dent in the secretive antemeridian conspiracy. John Thorberg, food service director at Lincoln Elementary School in Melrose, Massachusetts, has begun serving freshly prepared breakfast not only to students but also to their parents. Thorberg estimates that about a quarter of the school’s 412 students and up to two dozen parents filter in starting at 7:30 for coffee, French toast sticks, bagels, ham, muffins, milk, fruit, and other delectables—all for just a dollar per head. “It is so much easier than doing breakfast at home,” said Debbie Walz as her daughter Kasey, 9, and a friend drank apple juice and spooned yogurt. Despite the low price, Thorberg says he’s managed to cover his costs, and now other Melrose schools are clamoring for a similar breakfast club. No word yet on whether he plans a dinner menu.

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