Education Story of the Year—Jon Kitna Returns to Lincoln High School

In professional sports, the media spotlight tends to shine on the knuckleheads for whom there’s no shortage. That’s why Tim Tebow became a pop culture phenom. Fans long for players they can cheer for on and off the field.

Jon Kitna is Tim Tebow minus the blinding spotlight. A devout Christian, who after playing quarterback for four NFL teams over fifteen years, just retired. Here’s his top ten salary years from largest contract to smallest.

2001 Cincinnati Bengals $ 500,000 $ 4,000,000 $ 1,501,440 $ 5,501,440 Quarterback
2008 Detroit Lions $ 2,950,000 $ 3,500,000 $ 5,875,000 $ 5,000,000 Quarterback
2006 Detroit Lions $ 1,450,000 $ 3,500,000 $ 2,375,000 $ 5,000,000 Quarterback
2009 Dallas Cowboys $ 1,400,000 $ 2,000,000 $ 4,000,000 Quarterback
2004 Cincinnati Bengals $ 1,000,000 $ 2,375,000 $ 3,190,000 $ 3,377,500 Quarterback
2003 Cincinnati Bengals $ 2,625,000 $ 3,626,600 $ 2,626,600 Quarterback
2002 Cincinnati Bengals $ 1,500,000 $ 2,501,260 $ 1,501,260 Quarterback
2007 Detroit Lions $ 1,450,000 $ 3,500,000 $ 2,875,000 $ 1,500,000 Quarterback
2000 Seattle Seahawks $ 1,371,000 $ 1,373,600 $ 1,373,600 Quarterback
2005 Cincinnati Bengals $ 1,000,000 $ 2,188,820 $ 1,001,320 Quarterback

source—USA Today

Instead of spending his retirement counting and trying to spend his millions, Kitna’s taken another job. Part-time math teacher at Tacoma, Washington’s Lincoln High School and full-time football coach. Teaching and coaching at his inner-city alma mater has been his wife’s and his plan all along. He’s excited to begin fulfilling his real purpose in life. Giving up the cushy, glamorous life of hanging with Tony Romo and Jerry Jones on chartered jets for late night lesson planning, apathetic math students, footballers used to losing, and slow, lengthy Friday night school bus rides on jammed freeways. Remarkable.

Sad that a story like this is left to his local paper and this humble blog. Every one of the country’s sports writing cognoscenti should be leading with Kitna’s story. How he was a screw up at Lincoln High School. How he drank way too much at Central Washington University, cheated on his present day wife, committed to Christianity, and turned his life completely around.

Whether you’re religious or not, Kitna’s commitment to service should inspire. Here’s a short video of Jon talking about his vision for the team. Football excellence as a means to more important ends. After watching the vid, I’d be happy to coach the coach on how to set personal faith—public school boundaries.

Here’s hoping he inspires a generation of students and athletes. I will be watching Kitna’s second career whether the media shines their light on him or not. And I’ll be cheering lustily for him, his team, Lincoln High, and the larger community.

More here.

Serena Williams, Teachers’ Strikes, Personal Experience

Midway during her US Open Final match against Sam Stosur, Serena yelled “Come on!” while hitting a blistering forehand winner. Points are supposed to be replayed following accidental yelps, but since this one was clearly intentional, the line judge followed the rules and awarded the point to Stosur. Stosur went on to upset Williams who unraveled and yelled “You’re out of control,” and “Really, don’t even look at me,” and my personal favorite, “You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside.” Williams was fined $2k on Monday which I’m sure will inspire her to take a long hard look at her insides (sarcasm).

On Monday on ESPN2 two analysts debated the line judge’s decision—Jemelle Hill, a youngish, always thoughtful African-American female sportwriter, and Skip Bayless, a pasty white*, cocksure, middle aged male who is almost always the debate aggressor. The exchange was interesting viewing because Hill focused exclusively on William’s gender, never referencing her ethnicity. In essence, she argued that since MacEnroe’s epic outbursts (hilarious picturing Mac wrapping up one of those with “and you’re just unattractive inside”) men have gotten away with far, far worse on court behavior. She added that Andy Roddick’s US Open outbursts were at least as bad as Williams. Bayless wasn’t buying it insisting it was a pattern with Williams and that she got what she deserved and should be banned from next year’s Open. What? Hill kept coming back to the obvious double standard, and surprisingly, to Bayless’s credit, he conceded the point at the end of the segment.

Hill was far more insightful and persuasive than Bayless, because, I’m assuming, she has direct, first-hand experience with gender and race-based double standards in her professional life. She knows it as soon as she sees it. I wish the moderator had asked Jemelle if she thought Serena’s race also impacted the public’s (and Bayless’s) stronger negative reaction to her outburst. But I digress.

Tacoma, Washington teachers are on strike. Among the issues, the district wants greater flexibility in moving teachers from program to program and school to school to better meet the needs of struggling students. Teachers want continuity and are fearful of one superintendent or one principal arbitrarily moving them from year to year. I hope I’m wrong, but given the stagnant economy, high unemployment rate, and growing antipathy for public unions, I predict the teachers will struggle to win the community’s support.

Also, only a very small percentage of the public has direct, first-hand experience with the challenges of public school teaching. Just as Bayless struggled to see a gender double standard in professional tennis, the public can’t see things from the teachers’ vantage point. I empathize with the teachers. Few people, even if they freely chose to enter the profession, would passively and indefinitely accept their modest (and reduced) pay, their increasing class sizes, and their district and schools’ top-down management.

I hope the public union vitriol is tempered, the conflicts can be resolved, and the strike is short for the students and families it will definitely inconvenience.

* Just as African-Americans are able to use the “N” word, I can use the “PW” phrase because I am PW.

The Public School Budget Crisis and the Dilemma of Professional Development

From the Tacoma News TribuneDuring the course of a school year, the cost to offer professional development adds up to a tidy sum, which is getting harder for school officials to ignore as they comb their budgets for savings.

Fork in the public school budget road. Given budget shortfalls in the tens of millions, the question for the Tacoma School District, and nearly every other one, is how to prioritize among competing trade-offs including: 1) continuing professional development including the mentoring of beginning teachers; 2) retaining more teachers and thereby maintaining smaller class sizes; 3) consolidating (meaning closing some) schools; or 4) reducing pay. Put differently, the District can’t afford to maintain the same professional development program for the same number of teachers in the same number of schools at the same level of pay.

I’m here to help.

Dear Superintendent Jarvis,

While it’s not obvious, as the coordinator of my university’s Masters Teaching Certification program, I’m on the front lines of this dilemma. Currently I’m reading applications, interviewing prospective candidates, and deciding (with the help of some colleagues) who gets the chance to earn a teaching license and who doesn’t. Ours is an above average program, but we need more applicants with even stronger academic backgrounds to choose from. As you’re well aware, legions of fifty and sixty-something boomer teachers are nearing retirement.

In short order, the profession is going to need an infusion of smart, dedicated, caring teachers. The medium and long-term health of your schools depends upon my university attracting deeper and stronger pools of applicants.

While admittedly difficult, I implore you to take the medium to long view by continually asking what priorities are most likely to attract more highly capable college graduates into the profession. The “least worst” outcome is to reduce professional development and consolidate some schools. On average, K-12 teachers make 40% less than their college graduate peers.

I suspect that for every percentage of teachers’ pay you cut and for every student you add to their average classrooms, we lose strong prospective candidates to the business world and other graduate programs. Chip away at compensation and increase teachers’ work loads through larger classes and our pool of applicants will shrink and weaken. The future quality of teaching in your schools hinges on preserving pay and favorable work conditions.

Professional development excellence does not requiring flying in a math expert for two days for $5k. Doing so suggests there isn’t a single teacher within the district who has specialized math expertise that will benefit others. Paying a charismatic professional speaker for a few inspiring talks is easier than changing the work culture, but it creates cynicism because of the utter lack of follow through. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know the medium and long-term benefits of distant experts will always be negligible.

Instead, think bottom-up and assign more responsibility to your teacher-leaders for professional development. Ask them to survey their colleagues and then plan more meaningful discussion-rich sessions around the issues they’ve identified as most important.

If you carefully explain how consolidating schools is the “least worst” outcome most people will eventually come around. People are understandably upset that their property values have plummeted while their property taxes have stayed the same or increased. No one ever likes to see their neighborhood school close, but they’ll be more understanding if you help them connect the dots between school closings, greater economic efficiency, and more manageable property taxes down the road.

Yours Truly,