Thursday, January 19, 2006

Joy at Work Meets Education

"After running deep deficits, Osceola County charter schools are enjoying better financial health this year.

Improvements, school district officials say, came in part because the largest charter school manager in the county, Imagine Schools Non-Profit Inc., forgave a significant amount of the schools' debt. But officials also attribute the change to better management practices that curbed expenses and gave more control of school finances to principals."

"Debts were accumulated when charter schools were created, but money shortages became acute when state funds to support them were significantly reduced."

"Imagine also gave schools local control of their finances, allowing them to save money. Basics such as electricity and water bills, formerly approved by a corporate office hundreds of miles away, became the purview of principals in individual schools.

"'Before, if someone got an electric bill, someone paid it,' said foundation President Tom Tompkins. 'Now, if an electric bill comes in, a principal is going to look at it and say, "Gee, that's a high bill. Let's turn the AC off after we go home."'

"At Kissimmee Charter Academy, for example, Principal JoAnn Kandrac said her school saved $50,000 per year after it was allowed to hire a less expensive maintenance crew.

"The decentralization of charter school finances occurred in 2004 after Imagine merged with Chancellor Beacon Academies, a for-profit company previously in charge of running most charter schools in Osceola.

"Imagine Schools became a nonprofit company last year.

"A different corporate philosophy—one that is willing to forgo payments at least for some time—contributed to the financial improvement.

"'We want schools to be sustainable, but ultimately this company does not make a profit,' said Fred Damiano, regional vice president for Imagine. 'This company has a culture of sharing decisions and prefers a bottom-up approach.'" ...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Teens' Bold Blogs Alarm Area Schools

"No one under 18 would be surprised to hear that teenagers like to post their intimate thoughts and photographs online—they've done it for years. But school administrators have begun to take notice, and some are warning students that their online activities may affect not only their safety, but also their academic and professional lives.

"In recent weeks, several Washington area schools have taken action against the use of blog sites, in particular Facebook.com but also the sites MySpace.com and Xanga.com, which allow teenagers—and sometimes younger children—to post details of their lives for all to see."

Even teenagers who "warn others about the sites have their own sites." From one: "'I'm in seventh grade,' the girl said. 'It's really hard to be in seventh grade these days. It's really hard if you're shy and you're not a cheerleader or extraordinarily popular. I travel, I take pictures, I write poetry. I'm a nice kid, and if I can write a profile that will make people notice me, why shouldn't I?'"

"Bilqis Rock, 16, a senior at Springbrook High School in Montgomery County, said she tries to make her page look attractive "so that folks want to come back and look at mine. It's kind of like a little show that I'm putting on, trying to put my best and coolest out there."

"Her mother, Melanie Rock, said that she and her husband have talked to Bilqis about smart Internet use and that she is not worried. Rock hasn't looked at her daughter's page.

"'She hasn't invited me to look, and I figure it's her space,' Rock said, adding, 'This offers them a way to have a sense of community.'" ...

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