Friday, March 29, 2013

Learn More About Childhood Obesity Prevention

On Saturday, April 13, St. Luke’s is hosting Taking Charge: A Call to Action, a conference open to anyone interested in learning more about intervention and prevention of childhood obesity.

The conference will feature experts on childhood obesity and prevention. Local experts and community leaders will also be on hand for session breakouts on physical activity, nutrition and obesity management.

After the conference, St. Luke’s Children’s in partnership with Boise State is hosting the Be Well Now Family Wellness Festival. The event will be held from 1p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Caven-Williams Sports Complex. The day will feature fun and healthy activities for the entire family, including the following: demonstrations by local outdoor and activity groups and nutrition and wellness tips from Treasure Valley healthy lifestyle experts.

It’s free to attend. Learn more online.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Idaho Teacher Named 2013-2014 Einstein Fellow

An Idaho teacher is one of 27 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) educators from across the country who have been selected for the 2013-2014 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program, according to the Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education.

Shawn Tiegs, a teacher at Nezperce Joint School District in Nezperce, Idaho, and other selected educators will serve in Washington, D.C. for 11 months beginning September 1, 2013 at sponsoring federal agencies which include the Department of Energy (DOE), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Einstein Fellows provide practical classroom insight in guiding education programs and policies, especially those related to STEM education.

Tiegs will serve as a Congressional Fellow, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, with program support from Brian O’Donnell.

Founded in 1990, the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program is a paid fellowship for K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics educators with demonstrated excellence in teaching. Fellowships aim to increase understanding, communication, and cooperation between the legislative and executive branches of the government and the STEM education community. The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Act, authorized by Congress in 1994, gave DOE federal responsibility for the program. The Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education administers the Program for the DOE Office of Science in partnership with the other participating federal agencies.

The 2013-2014 Einstein Fellows were selected through a rigorous application and interview process from a competitive, nationwide pool of nearly 200 applicants. Of the 27 fellows in the 2013-2014 cohort, five are returning fellows invited to serve for a second year in their sponsoring agencies.

The Triangle Coalition recently announced the names of the 22 newly selected Einstein Fellows as follows:
  • Six, including Shawn Tiegs of Idaho, will serve as Congressional Fellows, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Two will serve at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) office.
  • Fourteen will serve at the National Science Foundation.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Two Idaho Schools Go Head to Head in March Math Madness

While men’s and women’s college basketball teams are fighting their way through the NCAA Tournament this month, there’s another version of March Madness underway… in Idaho’s schools.

Idaho students are participating in the March Math Madness competition, hosted by Think Through Math, where students from across the country compete to solve the most complex math problems during the month of March.

Through the Idaho Math Initiative, the state has contracted with Think Through Math, a web-based, interactive tutoring program, to provide supplemental mathematics to students in grades 3-12 both in the classroom and outside the school day. Think Through Math has an incentive program built in so as students solve more math problems, they earn points and can win prizes or turn their points into donations for charity.

In March Math Madness (MX3), two Idaho schools battled their way to the Final Four last week, competing against even a community college in Indiana!

But we know how great Idaho students are, especially when it comes to mathematics. Think Through Math announced this week the final two schools going to the Big Dance are…

River Valley Elementary School in Meridian and Sacajawea Junior High School in Lewiston!

These two Idaho schools will go head to head this week to see who will win the esteemed title of 2013 Think Through Math’s March MATH Madness Champion! 

The final round begins today and ends at 11:59 p.m. local time on Friday, March 29. The winning school will be announced Tuesday, April 2.

This final challenge will determine a winning school and will be based on the highest combined score of average lessons per active student plus total problems completed during the final week of competition. The school with the highest final score will be victorious.

The winning school will receive an awards event where they will be presented the March “Math” Madness Trophy, a school banner, exclusive MX3 t-shirts, national recognition, and the top students recognized.

The MX3 Runner-Up school will receive an awards event, the Runner-Up March “Math” Madness trophy, and the top students recognized.

Learn more about Think Through Math on our website.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Idaho Teacher Wins National Science Lab Challenge

Shell Oil Company and the National Science Teachers Association announced an Idaho teacher is the grand prize winner of the third annual Shell Science Lab Challenge. Four national finalists also were named.

The competition encouraged teachers (grades 6-12) in the U.S. and Canada, who have found innovative ways to deliver quality lab experiences with limited school and laboratory resources, to share their approaches for a chance to win a school science lab makeover valued at $20,000.

“Inquiry-based learning and hands-on experimentation are key elements for encouraging student interest in science,” said Dr. Frazier Wilson, Vice President, Shell Oil Company Foundation, Manager, Social Investment. “The Shell Science Lab Challenge strives to support inquiry-based instructional practices of our science teachers and excite students about the wonders and possibilities of science through active learning that emphasizes questioning, data analysis, and critical thinking. Exemplary science teaching is more relevant when it occurs in a quality lab environment where science concepts can be explored by students.”

“These science teachers have implemented some remarkable science programs, providing quality lab experiences for their students with few resources,” said Dr. David Evans, Executive Director, NSTA. “We commend the winner and national finalists of the Shell Science Lab Challenge for their creativity, resourcefulness and commitment to their students.” 

To enter the Shell Science Lab Challenge, science teachers of grades 6-12 in the U.S. and Canada were asked to describe their school’s current laboratory resources, explain why the school’s laboratory facilities might be classified as “limited” resources, and describe their approach to science education instruction utilizing their school’s current lab facilities. A panel of science educators then reviewed and selected the top entries.

Merrie Rampy of Highland High School in Craigmont was named the Grand Prize Winner.

Rampy’s principal says she has seen her “take our basic middle and high school science program and change it to a rigorous and exciting place for students to learn about all of the possibilities science has to offer…Other teachers have observed her excitement about her subject area and the improvements she wanted to bring to her program, and in turn, improve their own programs. Our high school has moved from ‘let's get these students to graduate' to ‘let’s ensure all of our students can reach their educational and life goals, including attending a four-year college…’ Our students believe it is cool to be a science nerd."

The only thing holding Rampy back from having an exceptional program is the antiquated science lab in her rural school. The lack of funding for quality equipment and materials has prevented students from experiencing the sophisticated labs that would prepare them for scientific careers. Despite the limitations, Rampy continues to provide high-quality learning experiences for her students.

Congratulations to Merrie Rampy!

As the grand prize winner, Rampy will receive a science lab makeover support package for her school valued at $20,000. The prize package includes an $8,000 Shell cash grant, $8,000 in donated lab equipment, $1,000 in NSTA prizes—to include an NSTA bookstore gift certificate and NSTA conference registrations, NSTA memberships and NSTA Learning Center subscriptions for two teachers—and an expense-paid trip for two teachers to attend the 2013 NSTA National Conference on Science Education in San Antonio next month.

For more information about the Challenge, visit the competition web site.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Myths and Facts about the New Idaho Core Standards

In recent days, the Idaho State Department of Education has received calls and e-mails from some Idahoans expressing concerns about the new Idaho Core Standards, which were adopted after a state-led effort known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Unfortunately, they have heard myths about these new standards that have been perpetuated by national talk show hosts and national interest groups, but they are just that: myths. None of these statements are based in fact, yet they have continued to spread over the past two years.

In the interest of transparency, here is a list of myths we hear repeatedly in Idaho as well as other states, and the facts that dispel these myths.

Myth: The federal government has required Idaho to adopt Common Core State Standards.
Fact: The U.S. Department of Education has never dictated which standards a state has adopted, even under No Child Left Behind. The federal government has never reviewed a state’s standards, and they have not reviewed these standards. These standards were the result of a state-led effort. Idaho signed a Memorandum of Agreement with other states that clearly defines this as a state-led effort in which the federal government is not involved. This is evident in the fact that not every state has adopted the Common Core State Standards today. Each state reviewed these standards and made their own decision.

Myth: States must adopt the Common Core State Standards if they accepted federal stimulus funding, Race to the Top grants or received a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind.
Fact: No state has to adopt the Common Core State Standards. This was a state-led effort that is completely voluntary. The U.S. Department of Education has tried to incentivize states to raise their academic standards in core subject areas through Race to the Top grants and the federal waivers from No Child Left Behind. However, states like Virginia that have chosen not to adopt the Common Core State Standards still received a waiver. No requirement exists. This is completely voluntary for states. Idaho adopted these new standards because we believe they are the best path for Idaho students.

Myth: These standards will dumb down education in Idaho.
Fact: These standards are considerably higher than the previous standards Idaho had in place for mathematics and English language arts. The state has chosen to adopt these new standards because they are higher and more rigorous than Idaho’s previous standards. Our colleges and universities as well as the business community have told us that students who graduate with mastery in these standards will be prepared for the rigors of postsecondary and the workforce. This is something we have been working toward for years because today only 47 percent of Idaho’s high school graduates go on to postsecondary education and, of those, nearly half need to take remedial courses once they get there. In addition, these standards are comparable with the standards of any other country in the world. To see evidence of the difference in standards, you can look at the gap analysis Idaho conducted to compare our previous standards to these new standards or see what Idaho teachers and school administrators have to say about the standards.

Myth: Because Idaho adopted these new standards, it must upload student identifiable data into a national database, including details such as family income, family religious affiliation, and parent’s education level and biometric data (iris scans, DNA, and fingerprints) from students.
Fact: These are academic standards that set goals for what each student should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level. These standards are in no way tied to the statewide longitudinal data system. Idaho implemented its statewide longitudinal data system back in 2009, two years before the state chose to adopt these new standards. Idaho’s statewide longitudinal data system is not tied to a national database in any way. Neither the state nor local school districts collect data on things like religious affiliation, nor do we have the technology to collect any biometric data from students or staff.

Myth: These new standards will require teachers to teach math in an “untested way.”
Fact: These standards are in line with the Idaho Math Initiative that Idaho implemented back in 2008. Research has shown that teachers who have taken the Mathematical Thinking for Instruction course through the Idaho Math Initiative and applied these methods in their classrooms see better student achievement results in mathematics. A primary reason Idaho chose to adopt these new standards is because they aligned well with what we were already doing in our schools. Through these new standards, Idaho students will learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills that we believe are important now and in the future.

Myth: These new standards will de-emphasize literature, like Huckleberry Finn, and historical texts, such as the Gettysburg Address.
Fact: These standards actually emphasize reading and writing skills across all subject areas, not just in English language arts classrooms. These new standards ensure students in public high schools receive a well-rounded education in learning both literary texts as well as informational texts. The business community in Idaho and across the country has told us that students need to be prepared to read, write and analyze informational texts before they graduate from high school. We know this is a critical skill in the workforce and have to make sure Idaho students are prepared to meet it. In addition, the standards include literacy standards for history and other subject areas to make sure historical texts are incorporated throughout a student’s education.

Myth: The adoption of these new standards will eliminate school choice options in public education.
Fact: These are academic standards that set goals for what each student should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level. These standards are in no way tied to school choice options. Every public school, including schools of choice, will teach these new standards beginning next school year. Choice within public education is in fact alive and thriving in Idaho. Four new public charter schools are scheduled to open next school year to bring the total number of public charter schools in Idaho to 46. Idaho currently has 23 magnet schools or programs operating in the state along with 10 focus schools or programs. Many districts also offer alternative schools or academies as another choice. These are just a few examples of school choice in public education in Idaho.

Myth: These new standards were developed by private interest groups based in Washington, D.C.
Fact: The new standards were developed by states. The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association are two state-led organizations that facilitated this state-led effort. The members of these organizations are state education chiefs, such as Superintendent Luna, and state governors, such as Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, respectively.

Myth: States are not allowed to change anything in the standards after they adopt them.
Fact: These are Idaho Core Standards, and Idaho is ultimately in control of these standards. Each state has the flexibility to add on to these standards if it sees fit. In addition, local school boards have the flexibility to add on to these standards at the local level as well.

Myth: This effort will lead to a national curriculum because standards drive curriculum.
Fact: In Idaho, the state sets academic standards, or the goals for what each child should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level. The curriculum is set at the local level by locally elected school boards. This process will remain in place under the new standards. Local school districts and public charter schools will determine the best curriculum to help the teachers in their schools teach these new academic standards. Local school districts have asked the state to provide examples of curricular materials that are aligned with the new academic standards, and the state plans to provide examples to meet district requests. However, it remains up to each local school district to select curriculum, not the state or federal government.

What the New Idaho Core Standards Will Mean for Idaho Students

This fall, Idaho teachers will begin teaching new academic standards in mathematics and English language arts that are higher than Idaho’s previous standards and comparable with any other country in the world.

These new Idaho Core Standards were adopted after a state-led effort referred to as the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Through this initiative, state governors and education chiefs came together to find a solution to a common problem they were all facing: while students were doing well in grades K-12, students were graduating from high school unprepared for the rigors of postsecondary education or the workforce. This challenge is all too real in Idaho, where just 47 percent of Idaho’s high school graduates go on to postsecondary education and, of those, nearly half need remediation once they get there.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and Governor Otter joined other states in working to develop more rigorous standards in mathematics and English language arts in 2009. This was a state-led effort. The U.S. Department of Education was not involved in any way. Idaho educators played a role in developing these standards. Once the standards were published in 2010, it was then up to each state to decide whether or not to adopt these standards. States took different paths to best meet the needs of their students. Virginia, for example, decided not to adopt the standards because it believed its standards were already rigorous enough. Other states chose to adopt just the math or just the English language arts standards.

The State of Idaho followed the same process it follows every five years to review academic standards in every subject area and decide whether or not to adopt new standards. The Idaho State Department of Education brought in Idaho teachers to review these new, more rigorous standards in mathematics and English language arts. A comprehensive gap analysis showed a strong correlation between Common Core State Standards and current Idaho state standards with a 70 percent match, but the Common Core State Standards were higher and deeper than previous standards.

Idaho’s colleges and universities also weighed in, telling us that students will be ready for postsecondary education if they master these standards. We also asked the business community in Idaho to take a look at these standards during the review process. The Department held regional public meetings across the state to gather input from educators, parents and Idaho citizens. The Idaho State Board of Education held an open public comment period as well.

In 2010, based on all of this input and feedback, the State Board of Education chose to adopt these standards as Idaho’s new content standards in mathematics and English language arts. The Idaho Legislature gave final approval to adopt these standards as our new state standards in 2011. They are now Idaho’s Core Standards in mathematics and English language arts and part of Idaho’s Content Standards for all subject areas.

These standards, just like standards in every other content area, are the goals the state sets for what every child should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level. The state still only sets the standards. It remains up to each local school board to adopt curriculum, which is the textbook or other materials a teacher will use in the classroom to teach these standards.

Ultimately, the Idaho State Board of Education and Idaho Legislature have oversight of these standards. As with any standards, these standards can change in the future as the state reviews academic standards every five years.

Superintendent Luna told Idaho’s legislators earlier this year, “Just like the standards we had in place before we adopted these, the federal government has never reviewed or approved state standards. And they have NOT reviewed or approved these. These are Idaho standards. If the federal government ever tries to approve or regulate these, no one will fight harder than we will.”

Here are some answers to questions we get asked frequently. Please let us know if you have others.

Q: Why Is Idaho Transitioning to New Standards?
A: In Idaho, we face a challenge in which our students do well academically in grades K-12 but far too many are graduating from high school unprepared for the rigors of college, professional-technical education, or the workforce. We are not alone. Many other states face the same challenge. Therefore, in 2009, Superintendent Luna worked with his fellow state superintendents to take a look at the academic standards in the core subject areas of mathematics and English language arts. Through this state-led, voluntary effort, Idaho worked with other states to develop higher, more rigorous standards in mathematics and English language arts that are comparable with any other country in the world. Our colleges and universities have told us that students who master these standards while in grades K-12 will graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education. That is the ultimate goal we are working to achieve—to ensure all students graduate from high school and succeed in the world that awaits them.

Q: What Was the Process to Adopt the New Standards?
In Idaho, we followed the same process we follow every five years to review and adopt new standards. We brought in Idaho teachers to review the standards. Idaho’s colleges and universities also weighed in, telling us these are college- and career-ready standards. The Idaho State Department of Education held regional public meetings in 2010 to gather feedback on the standards. The State Board of Education reviewed the standards in 2010 and held a public comment period. The State Board chose to adopt these standards in 2010.  The Idaho Legislature gave final approval for the adoption of these standards as our new state for mathematics and English language arts in 2011. That is when they became the Idaho Core Standards in mathematics and English language arts. It is still up to each local school district to adopt curriculum to meet these standards.

Q: Is the Federal Government Requiring Idaho to Adopt New Standards?
No. Idaho voluntarily chose to adopt these standards in 2011. These standards were developed through a state-led effort. The federal government has not been involved in the process of developing or implementing these standards. Idaho signed a Memorandum of Agreement with other states to work together to develop these standards. That document clearly states this is a state-led effort and that the federal government is not involved. Idaho has not received any federal funding that requires the adoption of these new standards.

Q: What is the Timeline for Implementation?
Here is a timeline that shows the development and implementation of these new academic standards.
  • 2009-10 school year: Idaho worked with other states to create these new standards.
  • 2010-11 school year: Idaho conducted public outreach about the new standards and analyzed how the standards aligned with Idaho’s pervious standards.
  • 2011-12 school year: The state has offered professional development for district leadership teams and master teachers.
  • 2012-13 school year: The state has offered professional development for teachers and school administrators statewide.
  • 2013-14 school year: The Idaho Core State Standards will first be taught in all Idaho public schools. (Some Idaho schools have already begun to implement the new standards.)
  • 2014-15 school year: The new assessment aligned to the Idaho Core Standards will be delivered to Idaho students in Spring 2015.
Q: What are Idaho educators saying about the new state standards?
Idaho teachers and principals are excited about these new standards and how they will help improve student learning in the future. Some schools have even decided to implement these standards early and began teaching to the new standards this school year.

We talked with a few Idaho teachers and principals about the new standards, and here is what they shared with us:
  • Andy Grover, Superintendent in the Melba School District, said adopting these new standards “is probably the greatest thing that has happened in a long time in education.”
  • Cindy Johnstone, Director of Curriculum and Assessment in the Vallivue School District, called the new standards the “right direction” for Idaho. “It’s difficult when states have to develop that all on their own, but for this state-led effort to come together and do that for us, I think is just an amazing thing,” she said. “I think they are better than what we have. It’s higher quality. It gets at more authentic learning for students so that they are better prepared as problem solvers, as critical thinkers for what lies ahead of them in their life.”
  • Giselle Isbell teaches elementary math at Anser Charter School in Boise. She is excited about the new mathematics standards. “I think they really focus on building the structure of mathematics for students, which allows students to have a better and deeper understanding of math as they look at patterns or relationships of our number system. I think the standards allow time for students to explore multiple strategies and models and that is really important. It allows for lots of children to access math where they are, and I think it makes math more meaningful and engaging for the children.”
  • Bill Brulotte, the Principal at I.B. Perrine Elementary School in Twin Falls, has been working with his staff to implement these new standards early over the past year. “After looking at the Common Core, it had a higher level of knowledge base and inquiry learning for kids instead of just rote memorization and regurgitating facts. That really impressed me that somebody was saying, ‘No, we want kids to think outside the box, we want them to work at a higher level of knowledge base,’” he said. “I want to take my staff to that higher level, and I want to do it for the benefit of the kids because I think kids can learn so much more than what we give them credit for.”
  • Cathy Adams, a 20-year veteran in the classroom and currently a second grade teacher at I.B. Perrine Elementary, has been teaching the new standards for a year now. She said these new standards allow her to spend more time teaching critical, higher-level thinking skills. “I think that’s the key is the higher level thinking skills. That’s what they need in the real world, in a competitive world.”
Q: How will Idaho students perform when tested against these new standards?
Idaho is currently working to develop the next generation of assessments that will measure these higher academic standards, beginning in Spring 2015. Even with the best professional development the state can provide and the most highly effective teacher in the classroom, we must recognize these standards are higher. It will take a few years for Idaho students to master them. States that have already implemented higher standards similar to these and measured their students for the first time saw a significant drop in the number of students performing at grade level. Kentucky, for example, saw the number of students scoring proficient drop by one-third. We can expect similar results here in Idaho. It is not because our kids woke up one day and weren’t as smart as they were the day before. It’s because we are holding them to a higher standard, and that is a good thing for them and their future.

Monday, March 18, 2013

CenturyLink to Connect Teachers with Technology by Offering $70,000 in Grants in Idaho

CenturyLink, Inc. is connecting teachers with technology for the classroom. The CenturyLink Foundation’s Teachers and Technology grant program is now accepting applications from teachers in CenturyLink’s local service areas who want to innovatively implement technology in their classroom to increase student achievement. Applications must be received by April 26, 2013.

“CenturyLink has been a great partner to Idaho schools, providing more than $600,000 in grants to Idaho teachers over the past eight years,” said Tom Luna, Idaho superintendent of public instruction. “This is an excellent way for teachers to get more of the instructional technology they need into the classroom to create a fun and engaging learning experience for all students.”

Projects from previous years have ranged from robotics and rocketry to innovative “treadmill desks.” Last year’s grants included funding for Lenovo ThinkPad tablets for a classroom in Middleton, laptop computers for science labs in Eagle and a computer engraver to help students with limited physical ability in Boise engrave high-quality items.

“There are many teachers in Idaho who are doing innovative things with technology in their classrooms,” said Jim Schmit, CenturyLink’s vice president and general manager for Idaho. “This is a great opportunity for the CenturyLink Foundation to make a positive difference in students’ lives by identifying some of those teachers, recognizing them for their outstanding work, and supporting them with financial assistance to expand their use of technology even further.  From our past experience with these grants, students are genuinely excited to experience the learning opportunities provided by these teachers through their creative use of technology.”

CenturyLink service is neither required nor considered in review of applications. Learn more and apply for the grant.

About the CenturyLink Foundation
The CenturyLink Clarke M. Williams Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to contributing to endeavors that improve the well-being and overall quality of life for people throughout CenturyLink’s communities. Named after CenturyLink’s founder Clarke M. Williams, the Foundation is endowed by CenturyLink to strengthen and improve the communities it serves, not only through its products and services, but through philanthropic support of local community agencies, events, initiatives and employee volunteerism.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Fish tacos, mozzarella-crusted Pollock, Mandarin chicken rice bowl… These are just a few new menu items you might be able to find on your child’s school lunch menu in the near future.

The Idaho State Department of Education recently published Chef-Designed School Lunch, a new book of recipes specifically designed for Idaho schools by an Idaho chef with the help of state dietitians – and Idaho students.

“We are eager to share the Chef-Designed School Lunch publication with schools across Idaho because it provides new, nutritious recipes that we know Idaho students will enjoy,” said Dr. Colleen Fillmore, Director of Child Nutrition Programs at the Idaho State Department of Education.

Last year, the Department partnered with Liberty Charter School in Nampa to host “Chef Tuesdays,” where professional Chef Brenda Thompson worked with the local foodservice staff to serve new, more nutritious lunch recipes and taste-test each meal with actual students.

Based on their feedback, Chef Brenda crafted healthy recipes that received the thumbs up from students. These recipes now are available for every school in Idaho to replicate and serve in their cafeteria if they choose.

The state paid for Chef Tuesdays and the new publication as part of a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Child Nutrition Programs.

The meals and recipes found in the Department’s new recipe book are designed to:
  • Utilize a wide variety of USDA foods that schools have on hand.
  • Meet the USDA’s more nutritious Meal Pattern standards for Grades K-8 and 9-12.
  • Appeal to students’ preferences and tastes while incorporating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy foods.
  • Minimize food costs for Idaho schools by providing a two-week cycle menu that utilizes four to nine different USDA foods per meal.
In addition to this new recipe book, the state held a drawing to give three lucky school districts across the state the opportunity to spend the day with Chef Brenda. In April, she will visit the winning districts – Kamiah, McCall-Donnelly, and Preston – and work with the school kitchen staff to make some of these new chef-designed recipes.

To download the full book or to view more chef-inspired recipes that the Department posts each month, visit

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


The Idaho State Department of Education is awarding $26,000 to help eight schools across Idaho build school gardens, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna announced today.

Each school will receive a grant of $2,000 to build a garden that will help promote nutrition, science, and agricultural education.

“Idaho has offered school garden grants for several years and seen great results. With a school garden, students can learn critical lessons about nutrition, math, science and many other subject areas in a hands-on learning environment,” Superintendent Luna said.

Research shows that garden-based education can increase academic achievement and often results in higher test scores among students.

In addition to these eight schools, five childcare centers also funded through U.S. Department of Agriculture funding will be awarded school garden grants.

With the most recent grant funding, the schools and childcare centers will implement a wide range of innovative educational activities, from outdoor classrooms to service-learning projects.  Each grant site will also be paired with a horticulture expert from the University of Idaho Extension to serve as garden mentors.

The grants are funded through a Child Nutrition Programs Team Nutrition federal grant. The grant requires that nutrition education be a part of every school garden plan, and every grant site has to allow students to taste the foods grown in the garden.

The State Department of Education will work with these schools throughout the year to create a best practices guide that other Idaho schools can use in future years if they want to incorporate a successful gardening program into the school curriculum.

The State Department of Education awarded school garden grants to 11 schools in 2008 and to 15 schools in 2010. Based on the great results these schools saw with their school gardens, the Department created the How Our Gardens Grow publication, which is posted online at

This booklet highlights the benefits of school gardens and shares how each school used its grant funding to improve student nutrition and learning.

The following is a list of the 13 sites awarded garden grants this year and their respective school districts/locations:

School / Childcare Center
School District / Location
Heritage Middle School
Meridian Joint School District
Moscow Charter School
Moscow Charter School
Kellogg Middle and Sunnyside Elementary
Kellogg School District
Borah High School
Boise School District
Fernan Elementary
Coeur d’Alene School District
Parma Learning Center
Parma School District
Troy Elementary
Troy School District
Heritage Community Charter School
Heritage Community Charter School
Little People’s Academy
Idaho Falls
Tator Tots Childcare
American Falls
Mountain Home Air Force Base Youth Programs
Mountain Home
Valley Crises Center
Ms. Amy’s Daycare
For more information, please visit

Monday, March 4, 2013

Superintendent Luna Takes Reporter Questions on the FY14 Public Schools Budget

The following is a transcript of the reporter roundtable Superintendent Luna hosted on March 4, 2013 after the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) approved the FY2014 Public Schools Budget. The full audio is posted online.

Superintendent Luna:
I want to take an opportunity to answer question you may have about this budget, make just a couple of comments before we start, and then take your questions.  I think that I want to highlight some things that maybe won’t end up being the most talked about part of this budget, and maybe a couple of those things that aren’t budget related but I think are significant.  What I was very pleased is that with all the discussion you heard this morning and even with the competing motions that were presented is that both motions, everybody on the JFAC committee, had come to the conclusion that the $34 million and the money that was in my budget and the Governor’s budget stays in education.  I think that there was some conversation early on in the session and some that was even continuing on up until this morning, that maybe some of that $34 million or some of the money that was allocated for education in my budget or the Governor’s budget would end up going elsewhere, and I think you saw very strong support in the committee this morning, regardless of the competing motions, that all that money stay in education.  I was pleased that we saw an obvious bipartisan support for the budget that did pass, and I think it’s been a number of years since we’ve seen a majority of Republicans vote for a budget and been joined by a majority of the Democrats.  When  you look at some of the discussion and some of the passion that’s been in education and funding and reform over the past couple of years, that this is a positive step. 

There’s a couple of things in the budget that I think are very important for student achievement that may now catch people’s attention at the very first.  One of those is the fact that students in high school are going to continue to be able to earn college credits and that those college credits will be paid for by the state.  I think when we look at our efforts to get people or students going on after high school that’s something we struggle with in Idaho.  We have a very high graduation rate, but we have one of the lowest percentage of students who go on after high schools.  What are some of those things that happen in high school that research tells us help improve the number of students going on?  One of those is a student taking a college entrance exam before they graduate from high school .  This budget provides for that, but it also provides for students now to take the PSAT, which is something that they’ll do in their sophomore  year, and that’s going to help give them an indication as to are they on track for meeting college and career-ready requirements when they graduate from high school.  It’s a precursor to them taking the SAT when they are juniors, so that’s good.  And then we also know that students who earn 12 or more college credits before they graduate from high school, 75% of them go on and higher percentage end up with some form of post-high school degree or certificate.  It was important that the program we started two  years ago continues, and that is that students in high school can earn up to 36 college credits and those can be paid for by the state, so when they graduate from high school they have up to a year’s worth of college under their belt and it not only puts them on a track towards a post-secondary degree or certificate, but definitely has very positive financial consequences for families and students that are looking at how to afford and fund education after high school.  The other things in the budget are obvious.  There’s a heavy focus on teacher compensation and a heavy focus on technology.  I think that those are important.  I’m pleased that there’s a differential pay plan that’s funded.  That there’s technology that’s funded.  Restoring those steps on the salary grid that had been frozen for the last number of years, I think it’s a positive step that we’ve restored those.  The budget that I submitted in September asked that we restore one of those years.  This budget restores both of those, so it makes the salary grid whole.  With that, I guess those are just some of the comments I’ll make and answer any questions that you have.  Who wants to be first?

Q:  The debate on the budget committee was—simplifying it—between putting a large portion of that $33 million towards teacher pay versus putting it into discretionary funding for the districts.  Given sequestration and other financial uncertainties, do you have an impression on whether the districts would’ve preferred that as discretionary versus what the budget committee did?
Luna: My conversations with many of those who represents districts and then superintendents and administrators has been very favorable about the way that the budget that prevailed was written.  The budget that prevailed includes a 1.5% increase in discretionary fund.  The Governor’s recommendation was flat.  We knew that we needed to find some middle ground there, and 1% increase is a positive step.  The fact that we are providing almost $7 million in maintenance math funds, that’s money that was shifted to discretionary and then districts would have to choose whether to spend those funds on maintenance or other things that were necessary at the district level, now we’ve given about $7 million worth of relief on maintenance expenses that would come out of discretionary funding.  I think we found the balance.  I think for that reason most of the discussion I had were very positive about the direction this budget was going and the one that ended up prevailing. 

Q: In those conversations that you had, was there anything that the superintendents in the districts really wanted to see that wasn’t put in there?
Luna: Yeah, probably a lot more money.  That’s seems to always be one of the debates is the amount we’re funding education.  I think that in this budget there are things that…  I think you saw that even in the debate and I think everybody can find things that they like and some things that maybe they would do different.  I think that’s why you ended up with the kind of vote and bipartisan is that everyone realized they were getting some of the things they wanted, but not everything, but it was a good step forward.

Q: Maybe to follow up to Bill’s question, one other point that was made by Senate Republicans, they were pushing for a minimum teacher pay of $31,750.  You had the $31,000 you were looking for.  Can you talk to the difference between those two?  Was there merit in going to the $31,750?
Luna: I think it’s just a matter of what are the things that you do first?  Working under a 2% limit increase that we were able to get to 2.2%, and you saw plenty of discussion about just that bump in two-tenths of a percent, that you start with that number and you decide what’s the best way to spend those dollars and you try to find some balance.  Just like there wasn’t any debate that discretionary funds had to increase, there was debate as to how much, there was debate as to how much to increase minimum teacher pay, and there was no debate that we should increase minimum teacher pay, the debate was how much and finding some balance.  One of the things that came out of these conversations I think you’ve heard from everyone involved in education is that it’s time to look at the salary grid that identifies what a starting teacher’s pay is, and then how the increases are driven by the number of years you’ve taught and the amount of education you have, that it’s long past due to look at that grid and look at how those dollars are spent and keeping them in compensation—even in some form of grid—but reworking the grid.  I heard that over and over, so I think this year we’ve increase minimum teacher pay, we’ve made the grid whole, that creates the perfect opportunity now to look at that grid and how we can make it better and more compatible with the education of the 21st century.

Q: Can you put this into some perspective for us?  Given the past budgets, what does this budget do for Idaho’s children—Idaho’s kids—compared to the drastic measures that have been taken over the past several years?
Luna: Well last year we saw an increase even larger than this in public schools budgets, so this is the second year in a row that we’re seeing an increase.  Obviously, during the recession there were some very difficult decisions made.  We helped navigate through those.  I think it was in 2009 or 2010 that we came up with our list of 10 bad ideas.  It obvious that the economy was not capable of sustaining the revenues that education and all of state government had been accustomed to.  There was going to be cuts, and we tried to find ways to minimize the impact that those cuts would have on children and what happened in the classroom.  Last year and this year, in 2011 even, our budget request was built looking through that same lens.  There’s a number of things in this budget that are good for students.  For example, I mentioned the ability for student to earn college credits while they’re in high school.  The fact that we are funding more math and science teachers, I think that’s critical, because what that means is that it really is a benefit for those students that live in our more remote and isolate areas of Idaho to make sure that they have access to math and science at that higher levels than they had access to before.  The fact that high school students can take the SAT and now PSAT , those are very positive steps and things for students. 

Q: In the past they could they not take these tests?
Luna: The state’s paying for them now, so that’s the difference.  In the past, and what we learned from other states, is that when students take those exams it’s a predictor of those that will go on.  We look at other states that started down this path before we did and there’s a couple of things that we saw that we could do that didn’t necessarily cost a lot of money, but if we’re willing to look at the amount of money that we have and then figure out the best way to spend that money, then this was something that was good for students.

Q: How much does it cost to take this test?
Luna: It costs us about $900,000.

Q: For a family, though?
Luna: It’s about $70 to take that assessment. (Correction: It costs students $50 to take the basic SAT and $20 to add an additional subject area test.)

Q: How much did it costs to pay for before this?
McGrath: It depends on the assessment.

Luna: The money that’s in there for technology, I think that’s absolutely critical, because I believe that through the proper implementation of technology, that’s how we’re going to be able to provide equal access and opportunity for students across the state.  It does not exist today.  With the current delivery model, money is not the issue.  It’s where students live.  Students live in some parts of Idaho that are remote and isolated.  You’re not going to find a calculus teachers and sometimes an algebra II teacher and sometimes and advanced English teacher to teach in every high school in Idaho.  It’s just not feasible because of the number of students in the school and any number of things, and so technology provides an alternative delivery model.  Through the Idaho Education Network and now making every high school a wireless environment students are going to have access to not only the great teachers in their school, but every other great teacher teaching in high schools across Idaho.  That’s going to open up access and opportunity for students to take courses that although they were willing and capable and wanting never had access to.  I think those investments in technology are critical for children in our classrooms to have access to…

Q:  Is it as much as you wanted in Students Come First?
A: Students Come First would’ve done this at a lot faster pace.  I understand the reality.  It’s not going to happen as fast as we wanted it to.  It’s not going to happen as fast as is happening in other states, but when the people voted in November they made it clear that we can debate their reasons for how they voted, but the path that we were on would’ve done it considerably faster, and the path that we’re on now it’s going to mean we continue to move forward but at a slower pace.  I’m hoping that with the monies that are available in this budget for pilots that we can identify some pilot projects in Idaho and then look at the success of those and then use those to help people across Idaho understand the value of the proper implementation of technology, and then there’ll be more willingness to move at a faster pace. 

Q: Superintendent, you’ve told us some of the good things in this and you’ve told us districts would’ve liked more money, of course.  What disappoints you in this budget?
Luna: I don’t think there’s anything that disappoints me, because I think that this is a good budget.  I would’ve liked to have seen other opportunities in the way of perhaps professional development, but the compromise we found was that out of the $21 million districts can choose up to 40% to use for professional development, so I think that that was a good compromise.  I think had some ideas on technology that would’ve maybe been a larger scope than what we’re focusing on here, but I’m comfortable with where we ended up on those numbers.  To be honest with you, I think that moving at a pace to restore the maintenance dollars, I’d originally said we should do it over two years.  This does it over three years.  Again, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but we originally proposed that we do it over a two  year period.  It was kind of those things that were give and take.  We ended up with a budget that wasn’t everything we asked for, but when it comes to those things that happen in the classroom, that have an impact on a highly effective teacher in every classroom, those were the things we were able to preserve.  Equal access and opportunity continue to move down that path.  Differential pay—the $21 million that will be used to develop local pay for performance plan, or differential pay, I think that’s critical.  I was happy to see that in there.  I’m pleased with the budget that was passed this morning.

Q: Mr. Superintendent, on the issue of technology in the classroom, I’m wondering if you could comment on news that’s been widely reported in different regions of the state, certain school districts in regions of the state, partnering with the Khan Academy.  It seems to be, even when the Students Come First laws were being debated and preparations for the ballot referendum in 2011 and 2012, the Khan Academy was making a splash here in Idaho, and now even over the last 72 hours we have some rural school districts who are partnering with that organization.  What does that mean to you from your vantage point in terms of interests and even a hunger for technology in classrooms?
Luna: I think that’s a great question, Austin, because at times it seems like we’re getting conflicting messages where 85% of high schools said they wanted to be the first to receive the one-to-one technology and funding.  You now see over 40 schools and districts across the state that have adopted and embraced the Khan Academy, which is digital learning in and outside the classroom.  The amount of use of the Idaho Education Network has had a huge increase, so schools and districts using more digital content in the classroom, more online classes if you will, but then the flip side of that is you saw when the people voted in November that Proposition 3 went down.  I think it was defeated to a 2:1 margin.  How do you figure out what school want and then what parents want?  I think the fact that you saw this big step forward with the Khan Academy, I think it’s indication that technology and implementing technology into our schools is becoming organic.  It’s going to happen.  If there was anything good that happened over the past two years during the debate over Students Come First, schools and a lot of educators and maybe even some people in the public went from a total rejection of the idea of technology in the classroom and in the hands of students and teachers to a point now where you see they’re seeking it out on their own, and in some cases without assistance at all from the state.  I don’t think there’s any way to stop it.  I think that’s a good thing, but it does appear to be more organic than it was even a year or two ago.  I hope that helps.

Q: After a very contentious last couple of years, can you talk about your feelings on the tone of the debate today over the budget?
Luna: I thought it was a good debate.  I thought both motions focused on some things that were different, but they all focused on things that are needed in education.  I think the only question is which do you do first?  That was the difference between the motions.  Do we need to get more money in discretionary funding?  Absolutely.  Do we need to restore the dollars that have been cut from maintenance?  We do. Our budget took a slower pace…  The one that paced took a slower pace than the alternative motion, but they focused on the same thing.  And like I said, what I think was very positive is that everybody voted in one way or another to keep all of this money in education.  When the Legislature showed up, that was not necessarily the prevailing way the winds were blowing.  It even has some support even this morning, but you saw at least when it came to JFAC that they all supported keeping all of that money in education.  I think that’s a good thing.

Q: Superintendent Luna, there’s—who knows—at least remaining just a month left in the Legislature.  The Legislature adopts this budget, passes this budget, so what’s left on the table in education for this legislative session?
A: As far as the things we’ve been working on and focusing on is HB 65, which is the “Fix It Bill” as it’s being referred to.  That has passed one body.  It has passed the Senate, it has not passed the House.  Or has it passed the House and not the Senate?
McGrath: It’s passed the House.
Luna: It’s passed the House, and it has not passed the Senate.  That’s something that’s a priority for us.  We’ve been a major part in bring stakeholders together to discuss the charter rewrite bill and the charter facilities bill.  That’s just now starting to move through the Legislature.  That’s a priority for us to get done before the Legislature goes home.  I think both those charter bills are important.  We have some other things that deal more with some specifics that don’t necessarily have an impact on the day-to-day operations of schools, but will have an impact on the way that schools operate and our relationships with them.  There’s a few of those bills that we’re tracking, and I’m sure they’re going to get done, but as far as the things that we’ve been involved in it’s the charter bills and the House Bill 65 fix.

Q: The $21 million that was set aside both for professional development and for differential pay, the differential pay component didn’t have a lot of sideboards.  It didn’t have a lot of  direction on what the districts can do with that, how they should do that, how much they should be able to get for individual teachers.  Do you think the districts are in a position where they’re going to be able to come up with plans that really focus that money on student achievement, or is it going to be we’re going to find a way to spend that money, but how tightly it’s tied to student achievement who knows.
Luna: Let me just talk about the parameters that are in the motion that passed and then the intent language that was attached to it.  It identifies the $21 million and says that 40% can be used for professional development and 60% for excellence in achievement awards based on measures of student academic growth.  I believe that’s the language.  So that means, how are students doing academically?  What measures are you going to use?  And what do you expect to see in way of improvement at the end of the year?  Districts are going to submit, in the language, districts are going to submit us copies of their report.  We’ll publish those, and they will publish their own, online.  And then at the end of the year we’ll get a follow up report as to here’s how they implemented, here’s the impact it had, here’s what they did for professional development, here’s what they did in the way of student achievement bonuses, here’s how the money was distributed down to the individual teacher level, and most importantly here’s the impact it had on student achievement.  Then we’re going to be able to look at these 115 plans and  the 40 or so charter schools, and we’re going to compile a report, and we’re going to be able to identify the best practices and those districts that saw tremendous increase and improvement compared to those that didn’t, and what were the characteristics of the plan and be able to go forward then with a more focused differential pay plan based on what we learned from this year of our school districts and charter schools experimenting with it.  Now will some write strong plans?  You bet, because districts like New Plymouth have been doing it for a long time.  Will some write weak plans and maybe try to game the system and try to find some way around it and distribute the money differently?  They will.  We’ll be able to see if when they present their report, and they could be within law, and within the guidelines, within the intent language and still find some way to not use the money as we all now it’s intended, but we’re going to be able to see then how that has had an impact on student achievement versus those plans that were more robust and focused on student achievement, and we’ll be able to draw some conclusions.  I expect even when we had pay for performance in place under Students Come First, the districts that submitted plans to us and didn’t default to the state plan, those districts that submitted their local plans, they were well thought out.  They had very good measures.  They weren’t trying to find ways to skirt around the intent language.  They took a real serious attempt at it, and just in that one year we saw some pretty impressive results in some of those school districts.  That’s what we expect to see this coming year.

Q: In terms of concerns expressed about the possible effects of sequestration on the teacher pay, how do you see that from here on out?
Luna: First, let me tell you how sequestration is going to affect our schools here in Idaho.  We’ve been following this to make sure we understood what the impact would be, and then the last couple of weeks before sequestration the rhetoric was escalating every day as to the impact that this was going to have.  So here’s what we know.  Sequestration happened.  I guess today’s the first business day.  What happened when sequestration went in place is not going to have an impact at all on Idaho schools today, because sequestration affects 2013 appropriated dollars.  Most of our schools are still drawing down 2012 dollars, and some of them are still drawing down 2011 dollars.  It’s not until our districts actually get to the 2013 bucket of money that, if it has an impact, it will happen to them.  I think that’s a surprise to people.  When the federal government sets its budget, and then says, “Idaho here’s your portion of the federal dollars for education.” And it’s $220 million this year.  They don’t send us the check for $220 million.  They give us access to an account to draw down the funds as we need them, and it has a maximum amount that we can draw.  And so we draw those funds down as we need them, and we have 22 months to draw down those funds.  We have some schools in Idaho that are still drawing down their 2011 dollars.  They haven’t even started touching their 2012.  So my point is that sequestration is not going to have an immediate impact, and what kind of impact it will have when those schools actually get to their 2013 dollars, I think there’s still some debate whether it’s $85 billion or $42 billion or I’ve heard as low as $21 billion after you do all the ins and outs.  So my point is, not an immediate impact, but the impact that will happen if sequestration stays in place we think will be minimal and districts will have plenty of time to manage for it, especially if you’re one of those districts still using 2011 dollars.

Q: Would there be a possible impact during FY2014?
Luna: I guess it depends on how close some districts are to drawing down 2013, but it could.  We’re still waiting for the exact, accurate information from Washington to know whether it’s an $85 million immediate impact, or $45 or down to $20.  (Correction: It’s $85 billion as stated earlier, not $85 million.)  Until they figure that out, I don’t think any state’s going to be able to determine what that impact will be when you start drawing down those 2013 funds.

Q: Will there be any districts that are affected this school year?
McGrath: Not from any funds that flow through us.  It’s possible that districts may get funding directly from the federal government in some way that doesn’t flow through our department, but any funding that comes from our department, no districts are drawing down FY13 federal funds currently from any of those programs that we monitor.

Luna: Any other questions?  (Pause.)  Alright, thank you so much for your time.