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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

BTW and OMG, The Scioto School District Report Cards Are Here!

Let me preface this entry by saying "I'm a teacher." I have been an educator nearly all my life, and I have worked with youth for decades. I don't claim to have all the answers about education, testing, and motivation, but I have circled the block enough to know the scenery.

True, some of the environment has changed since I retired, but through my own education, trial-and-error, experience, and direct contact, I understand the basics of the game never change. A teacher must fill some holes in the recesses of his students' heads with vital information and be responsible for whatever challenges lay in his or her path to educating the class.

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has released its annual school district report cards. It's the second year of the state's A-F report card. State lawmakers had passed legislation requiring a letter scale for school districts, school buildings, community schools, STEM schools, career-technical schools and college preparatory boarding schools.

The letter grades replace the former five-tier rating system of categories: academic emergency, academic watch, continuous improvement, effective and excellent. Performance criteria now include graduation rates, college readiness and a host of other characteristics

What the Categories Mean 


Performance Indicators: The Performance Indicators show how many students have a minimum, or proficient, level of knowledge. They are based on a series of 24 state tests that measure the level of achievement for each student in a grade and subject. The scored is reflected in an A-F grade based on how many students passed state tests in each grade and subject. At least 80 percent of students must pass to get credit for the indicator.


Performance Index: This is an A-F grade based on a weighted average reflecting the performance of students on state tests. This calculation measures student performance on the Ohio Achievement Assessments and Ohio Graduate Tests at the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 10th (OGT) grade levels. This ranking helps determine possible state interventions, which include a portion of the Title 1 funding directed to interventions, and implementation of the Ohio Improvement Process. 


Value-Added: The data from state tests over multiple years are examined through a series of calculations to produce a value-added designation for each school and district. The score is meant to reflect student growth from year to year. It is reflected in an A-F grade based on a statistical measure reflecting whether students are making a full year of progress in one year of school, regardless of their level at the start of the year. (The overall value-added grade is displayed below. Schools are also graded on value-added for specific groups of students including gifted students and students with disabilities.) 


Local Schools and Their School District Report Cards

Wheelersburg Local School District

91.7 percent (A) for meeting 22 out of 24 state indicators,
a B for performance index,
and a C for value-added.

Bloom-Vernon Local School District 

87.5 percent (B) for meeting 21 of 24 state indicators,
a B for performance index,
and an A for value-added.

Valley Local School District

79.2 percent (C) for meeting 19 of 24 state indicators,
a B for performance index,
and an A for value-added.

Minford Local School District 

75 percent (C) for meeting 18 of 24 state indicators,
a B for performance index,
and an A for value-added.

Washington-Nile School District

62.5 percent (C) for meeting 15 of 24 state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and a B for value-added.

Clay Local School District

62.5 percent (D) for meeting 15 of 24 state indicators,
a B for performance index,
and an F for value-added.

Northwest Local School District

54.2 percent (D) for meeting 13 of 24 state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and an F for value-added.

Green Local School District

45.8 percent (F) for meeting 11 of 24 state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and a C for value-added.

Portsmouth City School District

16.7 percent (F) for meeting four out of 24 state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and a C for value-added.

New Boston Local School District

25 percent (F) for meeting six of 24 state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and an F for value-added.

The next two schools "go by the same standards, but are measured slightly differently."

Sciotoville Community Schools

35 percent (F) for meeting seven of 20 state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and an F for value-added.

Sciotoville Elementary Academy

25 percent (F) for meeting one out of four state indicators,
a C for performance index,
and a C for value-added.

Local school districts place tremendous pressure on administrators, teachers, and students to achieve high scores on the annual school district report card. Many parents are upset about the amount of stress that annual achievement tests place upon their children. In addition, most teachers find it difficult to cover mandatory curriculum because test review and actual testing require large chunks of time during each school year.

Believe me, these measures represent serious business for every school district. Through the reports of scores, all people can compare academic achievement in their local schools. And, academic achievement is the primary function of an educational system. With significant tax money designated to local schools, the public in each district expects more than mediocre return.

These are inescapable realities of modern education. State achievement tests for Ohio students and state reports of achievement for Ohio school districts are here to stay. Like it or not, each school district must meet their unique challenges and foster improvements in their schools. If they do not find satisfactory measures to better poor performance, they face tremendous risks, even closure.

The report card is a direct response to the cry from the public for complete accountability and total transparency: the public dictates the direction of public education, and the state responds to public pressures and expectations. So, now, the people have legislated a very accessible measure of each Ohio school district's performance.

And, naturally ...

The old objections to standardized testing have raised their heads. For example, here are some popular arguments against the validity of these measures of education:

* Standardized tests used in isolation are not the best evidence of performance. Some students are brilliant thinkers, but poor test takers

* Standardized tests involve factors beyond anyone’s control, which have nothing to do with student or teacher mastery. These factors intervene when an evaluation is based on a single test given in a very small testing window once a year.

* Standardized tests reward quick answers to superficial questions. They do not measure the ability to think deeply or creatively in any field. Their use encourages a narrowed curriculum, outdated methods of instruction, and harmful practices such as grade retention and tracking.

And, possibly the biggest reason people dislike standardized evaluations ...

According to the Ohio School Board Association (OSBA), the new grading system never explains why a district received the specific grades. "In reality, it doesn't unless you look at the data and analyze the data and know actually what is accounting for the A or the F," said Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the OSBA.

In 2013, the Ohio School Board Association, along with two other non-profit organizations analyzed new report card ratings to see why some districts performed so poorly. What they found was a direct correlation between poverty level and student performance. 

The organizations found in 135 school districts above the state average income of $51,626, 91 percent scored an A.

But in 474 districts below the state average income, 41 percent scored an A, showing the relationship between high poverty and poor performance.

"The problem with a lot of low wealth districts is they get substantial dollars from the state. They don't have the capacity to raise local resources to make those extra services available," Asbury said.

My View

I taught many years in Ohio when no state standardized testing was administered, and I also taught many years in Ohio when testing was in effect. In fact, I was a member of the State 9th Grade Proficiency Rangefinder Committee for over ten years. I have witnessed the bad and the good of such practices firsthand.

I can attest to the quality of the testing -- the content, the administration, the grading, and the validity. I can also assure you that the tests are comprised by Ohio teachers, the Ohio Department of Education, and the testing company itself. All have a direct say-so about every aspect of the actual tests students take. Subject-matter teachers from Ohio are always on board the process.

To me, the bottom line requires that school districts (boards, administrators, teachers) do not "bad mouth" state tests making the students feel as if testing "doesn't matter" and is "unfair." To do so is to poison the product. Learning is very dependent upon the attitude of all involved in the process, and instilling the right mindset in all about the importance of the tests is critical to success. 

Think about a great Scioto County high school sports team having coaches and fans who constantly run down the very contests in which the team is involved and the rules that govern these contests. That team would soon become a group of players who blamed their poor performance on the system, the referees, and any other factor. No improvement or good sportsmanship would develop in a team that refused to see that competition is very difficult, but designed to raise its level of play through taking personal responsibility.

To be honest, I am appalled at the huge difference in scores among local schools on the school district report cards. It shows great achievement and great failure in school districts sharing many similar characteristics. I understand the cries of injustice from some low-scoring districts having seemingly poor demographics, yet as the saying goes: "It is what it is." In Southern Ohio, we seem to have a reluctance to reinforcing some of our own weak links.

I have always said the most important evaluation for any district is to see what is academically lacking and to "double up" on those areas to raise achievement. Much of the problem in this approach becomes actually identifying weakness, finding an appropriate evaluation of these areas, and implementing the necessary means to correct specific problems.

Sometimes, the whole is too overwhelming to consider when, instead, a few sustained, pinpoint efforts in the most critical areas is very possible. Administrators must discover, not speculate about, their school's weaknesses. Evidently, these areas of weakness differ greatly across the public schools in Scioto County. Look at the scores and understand the disparity.

No child should be viewed as a throw-away to an "F" performance score because of poverty or poor environment. That also is a charge to the student body that to support their fellow classmates. There is so much well-guided students can do for other at-risk students. In addition, there is so much a well-meaning community can do for students. Some underachieving students merely need confidence in their abilities, and a community that gives them a boost to success.

Here is just one observation. I happen to know the close-knit community of South Webster and the determination of those folks in Bloom-Vernon to take care of their village "business." It shows; it makes such a positive difference in academics. Perhaps, even their isolation in geography contributes to their increased desire to produce independent, intelligent students.

My last observation is that academics is the hallmark of a school, not beautiful edifices or overpowering sports teams. I say this because I feel many have a "Build a Monument" or a "Friday Night" mentality of which are the best schools in our county. Good schools should recruit good teachers just as they do great contractors or successful coaches.

Given the opportunity, the time, and the materials, a good educator can adapt to teaching almost any  subject matter deemed important. Ask the students in your local schools -- they know who pushes them for results while finding unique ways to teach not only subject matter but also critical theory of the subject in order to insure achievement and retention.

And, just another suggestion -- consider your child's high school education as important, if not more important, than their grade school years. Attend all high school parent-teacher conferences and never assume Sissy or Junior is doing well without your constant support, review, and guidance. As you well know, with hormones at full strength, teens find so many temptations to lure them from their studies. And, honestly, they may look mature and independent, but they are not. All need supervision.

Low scores? Embarrassing results? I believe in dissecting the sick elephant of public education and finding the core of the disease in a particular body. I believe, in doing so, you cannot be a person who complains and whines about certain practices while administering diagnostic procedures.

I also believe all educational ills are treatable. I say this because I know experts who are capable of discovering WHY students aren't achieving and WHAT they need to improve do exist. I met many of them when I served on the Rangefinder Committee. They are available to come to districts and help them on the road to recovery.

In this manner, are schools "teaching to the test"? You better damn well believe it. The livelihood of far too many decent educators depends upon their skill to do exactly that -- to teach to the state tests by concentrating on particular weak areas of student achievement.

Stress is a killer in the deal. Students even need to understand test-taking methods and to train with pre-test strategies. Ultimately, the score of each student will be produced through their efforts (And, yes, some need a lesson in personal accountability); however, the instructors, administrators, parents, and students must all be held to high expectations.

There is nothing wrong with failure as long as it becomes a learning experience. The wise accept failure and design strategies to avoid future problems. But, whining and blaming are for losers. And we all know acceptance of failure spells permanent defeat.

Everyone in a school district is responsible for turning a disturbing trend around. These tests are competency based, not measures of academic superiority. The most important thing a poor community can do is to educate highly its youth. In a depressed area like Scioto County, making every kid the most intelligent person he or she can be is priority Number One.  

The following is a poem my father gave to me as a youngster. I carried it in my wallet for decades until it became nothing but a shredded mass of indiscernible paper. I finally took the paper out of my wallet and threw it away. I considered recopying the poem and putting a new one in my wallet. But, upon further consideration, I thought I knew the theme well enough to just keep it in my head. I'd like to share the popular verse with those who never saw it.

The Man Who Thinks He Can

If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don’t!
If you’d like to win, but think you can’t.

It’s almost a cinch that you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost
For out in the world we find
Success begins with a fellow’s will;
It’s all in the state of mind!

If you think you’re outclassed, you are;
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself
Before you can win the prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go
To the strongest or fastest man;
But sooner or later the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can!

- Walter D. Wintle

Monday, September 15, 2014

Who's Working Where As Portsmouth "Saves" $150,000?

“Seven Deadly Sins"

Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Knowledge without character
Politics without principle
Commerce without morality
Worship without sacrifice

 --Mahatma Gandhi

On April 9, 2013, Auditor of State Dave Yost elevated the City of Portsmouth's status from fiscal caution to fiscal watch. Yost cited lack of progress by the city to correct its financial problems as the reason for this action.  

“This is a real disservice to taxpayers,” Auditor Yost said. “The process has two parts: coming up with the plan and then following through on it. Sitting on the recovery plan does nothing but allow the city’s fiscal condition to worsen.”

Upon the declaration of fiscal caution, the city was required to submit a recovery plan to address its fiscal issues. The Auditor of State’s office reviewed the written proposal and determined that the plan was acceptable on February 29, 2012. On November 30, 2012, the Auditor of State’s office notified the city that it had made very little progress on correcting or eliminating the issues that prompted the fiscal caution declaration.

("City of Portsmouth Placed in Fiscal Watch." Press Releases: Ohio Auditor of State. April 9, 2013)

Now comes news that the City of Portsmouth "apparently attempted to show the Auditor of State’s office that the city payroll was reduced by three people, when, in reality, they were simply moved to other departments in 2013." This was according to a letter of explanation to that office from Portsmouth City Manager Derek Allen.

Allen’s response was prompted by an inquiry by the state as to why the city failed to follow a recovery plan adopted by City Council in August of 2013.

According to the Daily Times, Allen was not employed by the city when the plan was adopted and he has listed nine “actions” in question in a letter to Robert R. Hinkle, Chief Deputy Auditor in the Local Government Services Section of the Auditor of State’s office.

The Questionable Math

Allen said the 2013 budget adopted Feb. 25, 2013, shows two employees in Grounds and Parks.

However, in February of 2013 three employees were bumped from Grounds Maintenance to other departments or divisions.

The letter says two of the three remained in the Public Service Department, but were moved to other divisions or sub departments that were paid from other funds than the General Fund.

According to the document, two were moved from Grounds Maintenance to other public service departments and one was moved from Cemetery to Streets, meaning there was no actual reduction in personnel since two remain employed today and another retired. The person who retired was replaced as well.

When the removing of the three was listed in the recovery plan, 
it reportedly showed a savings to the city of approximately $150,000.

“It is unclear where the figure of approximately 
$150,000 was attained,” 
 Allen said in the correspondence.

“There was no reduction in personnel, only reassignments.”

(Frank Lewis. City Manager Shows Discrepancies in Plan." Portsmouth Daily Times.  September 14. 2014)
The Result?

The city has reported saving money on payroll without cutting staff or reducing payroll. This is quite an accomplishment for a city in fiscal watch. Good news for taxpayers and the city government? 


The problem is no money was actually saved. The mystery of the reported $150,000 savings is "unclear." You see, no one knows nuttin' 'bout nuttin' and that's the truth.

The murky situation may explain why places like Mound Park are so unkempt as recently reported by Portsmouth City Council. After all, employees in Grounds and Parks are now evidently doing something unspecified in "other departments or divisions."

Maybe the city should shift around some other employees and claim to save even more money. Desperate times call for desperate measures, don't they?

"Shifty" seems to be the descriptive adjective that modifies money-saving actions in P-Town. Perhaps the initial major movement in city-owner tectonic plates occurred long ago on Chillicothe Street during the Martings Fiasco. Since then, many major deviations have resulted in developing a colorful Jello-mold consistency in city undertakings.

The State Auditor has sympathized with the taxpayers and their predicament of residing in a local government that chooses to "sit on recovery." The City of Portsmouth was placed in fiscal caution on November 22, 2011 based on the city’s 2010 audited financial statements.  

The audit included various noncompliance issues with Ohio law, significant deficiencies, and material weaknesses. The audit report disclosed that the city’s general fund had a deficit fund balance of $530,043 at December 31, 2010.  The city’s municipal court grants and rural AIDS state grant special revenue had deficit fund balances of $9,482 and $10,332, respectively. In addition, Portsmouth’s insurance fund was owed $426,000 by other city funds.

Conscience, character, principle, morality -- what is needed to bring an end to a lack of transparency and a beginning to full accountability? You tell me. I'm just an outsider "looking in" and wondering when some very silly things in the old city building will cease to amaze me. 

Maybe no one is at fault for anything, and maybe no one has an answer for the ills. And, as more and more time passes, more and more Weebles keep wobbling. This may be business as usual in a town that has more shifts than a Miley Cyrus Twerk-a-thon.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Crime Statistics for Portsmouth, Ohio

This is a blog post for your information. Many people have asked me what I mean when I say LOCAL terrorism is a major concern. This entry addresses the problem of crime in Portsmouth, Ohio. Much of the focus here is on violent crime, the crime most likely to terrorize residents and visitors. Most of the data is taken from documented sources with a publication date of 2010-2012. 

Portsmouth has a population of 20, 226.

(The United States Census Bureau. 2010)

Your chances of becoming a victim of a violent crime in Portsmouth, Ohio, is 1 in 222 while in the entire State of Ohio the odds are 1 in 334. 

That means the chance that you will become a victim of a violent crime in Portsmouth -- such as an armed robbery, an aggravated assault, a rape or a murder -- is 1 in 222 inhabitants. This equates to a rate of 4 people per one thousand inhabitants.

The violent crime index is 7 (100 is safest), so Portsmouth is safer 
than only 7% of all the cities in the United States. 

The violent crime comparison (per 1,000 residents) is 4.50 in Portsmouth compared with 3.9 as the National median and 3.0 in Ohio.

Each year there are 98 crimes per square mile in Portsmouth 
compared to the National median of 39.3 and 39 in Ohio.

With a comprehensive crime rate of 53 per one thousand residents, Portsmouth has one of the highest crime rates in America compared to all communities of all sizes - from the smallest towns to the very largest cities. A lot of the crime that takes place in Portsmouth is property crime. Property crimes that are tracked for this analysis are burglary, larceny over fifty dollars, motor vehicle theft, and arson.

In Portsmouth, your chance of becoming a victim of a property crime 
is one in 21, which is a rate of 49 per one thousand population.

Your chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime here is one in 19. Within Ohio, more than 93% of the communities have a lower crime rate than Portsmouth. 

Importantly, when you compare Portsmouth to other communities of similar population, then Portsmouth crime rate (violent and property crimes combined) is quite a bit higher than average. 

Regardless of how Portsmouth does relative to all communities in America of all sizes, when NeighborhoodScout compared it to communities of similar population size, its crime rate per thousand residents stands out as higher than most.

The crime data that NeighborhoodScout used for this analysis are the seven offenses from the uniform crime reports, collected by the FBI from 17,000 local law enforcement agencies, and include both violent and property crimes, combined.

 (Portsmouth divided into 7 areas) The Darkest Areas on the Map = Safest

Safest Portsmouth Neighborhoods

1.  Sciotoville
2. Rosemount
3. Sunrise Ave / 28th St
4. Scioto Trail / Findlay St
5. City Center / Shawnee...
6. Gallia St / 11Th St
7. 11Th St / Hutchins St       

(Source: Neighborhood Scout: Enterprise-grade data 
for every neighborhood and city in the U.S.
http://www.neighborhoodscout. com/oh/portsmouth/crime/#data)

There are 1.74 law enforcement employees in Portsmouth (2012) per 1,000 residents (38 employed) including police officers (35 employed).

See how dangerous Portsmouth, OH is compared to nearest cities:
(Note: Higher means more crime)

Portsmouth: 778.6

South Shore:                 6.5

New Boston:    456.0

Greenup:                  10.5
Worthington: 33.6
Raceland: 96.5
Ironton: 76.8
Russell: 115.5
Flatwoods: 53.8

Portsmouth Crime Map
  • Reporting Agencies: Adams County Sheriff's Office, Russellville, Franklin County Sheriff's Office, Ohio Investigative Unit, Gallia County Sheriff's Office, Napoleon, Greenfield, Marion County Sheriff's Office, Marion, Meigs County Sheriff's Office, Scioto County Sheriff's Office, Pike County Sheriff's Office, New Boston, Bowling Green, Columbus, Ohio State Highway Patrol, West Union, Ross County Sheriff's Office, Portsmouth
  • Showing 1 - 1,000 of 26,998 Incidents From 01/21/2002 to 07/09/2012

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sell Mound Park? How About Fixing It?

Does the city intend to let property they own keep crumbling? Some of this property is used in their online literature to lure tourists and new residents to Portsmouth.

The Daily Times reports First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson says he has become discouraged after visiting Mound Park:

“I agree with all you recommended except for removing the fence behind the concrete basketball court near 17th and Hutchins,” Johnson said in an e-mail to City Manager Derek Allen. “While walking the park, I became so discouraged at the purposeful damage to swings, buildings and the two now inoperable (for some time now) water fountains as well as spray painting and incredible amounts of litter, trash and more litter.”

(Frank Lewis,  "Councilman Considers Selling Mound Park."
Portsmouth Daily Times. September 11, 2014)

The damage that is turning the city-owned park into a shambles has resulted over quite a long period of time during which repairs have been ignored by the city. Since the city has not keep up on appearances and needed repairs, a group of concerned citizens called "Scioto County Clean Up" held a work day at Mound Park on March 22, 2014. To solicit public help, these people have also started a Facebook group at this site:

Mound Park is presently included in the Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce website as a public area containing "a horseshoe-shaped Indian burial grounds located in one of our beautiful city parks on 17th St. in Portsmouth."

According to the Portsmouth Public Library Local History Website, the mound at the park was constructed by the Mound Builders, generally referred to prehistoric inhabitants of North America who constructed various styles of earthen mounds for burial, residential and ceremonial purposes. It is believed that the mounds in Portsmouth were built between 500 B.C. to 1200 A.D.

Although there is evidence of many Indian mounds in the area, the most well-known is the horseshoe mound at Mound Park. Once known as the Citadel, this is the only one of the four horseshoe mounds still in existence. With the exception of Mound Park, the mounds within the city are no longer visible.

This description of "Things To Do On a Nice Day in Portsmouth, Ohio" in the Travel Tips section of USA Today speaks of enjoying these same historical musings:

"Portsmouth's Boneyfiddle District is the perfect place to wander on a mild afternoon. After browsing through shops, visit the Portsmouth Brewing Company to enjoy craft beer on tap and pub favorites in the outdoor beer garden. 

"Another of Portsmouth's local favorites is the Second Street Dari Creme, a long-established hot dog stand that serves much more than just hot dogs, although their "footers" should not be passed up. Order your milkshakes, chili and hot dogs to-go and drive to nearby Mound Park. Named after the preserved ancient burial mound that serves as the centerpiece, this park offers a picnic area, playground and outdoor recreation facilities."

(Renee Rall-Harden. "Things To Do On a Nice Day 
in Portsmouth, Ohio.

Johnson says he became so discouraged that he toyed with the idea that the city should simply sell the entire park, except for the mound itself, which he said would save the city and taxpayers money. He claims that money "seems to be going down the drain due to public indifference to their infrastructure of public spaces."

Please... !!

The historical and recreational significance of Mound Park deserves the benefit of city improvement and repair plus extra policing by local officials. Why must good citizens shoulder the blame for the squalid condition of the park, and why must groups be organized to take care of city property? For many decades Mound Park has served the public as a recreational asset, and just lately, the city seems to have abandoned the work necessary to operate the park.

A long tradition of local history plus a meaningful local attraction is in danger of becoming residential or business property. Consider the loss of Mound Park not only to local residents but also to visitors to the city.  At this time, Tracy Park is a wonderful area for family recreation and local events. How did Mound Park, once the most attractive park in the city, fall in disrepair while Tracy retained its beauty?

I have heard rumors about the park being a risky area now where transients roam and where criminals ply their illegal trades. Is it any wonder the public has found the park unsuitable for their leisure activities? I don't think we should blame the people of Portsmouth for their so-called "indifference." Let's point a blaming finger in the right direction and instead say, "Mound Park is a dirty, unkempt wreck due to the lack of needed attention by city officials."

You can't have it both ways: you can't promote a great resource and also ignore the necessary upkeep. Mound Park used to be a wonderful playground, an attractive, busy place fit for the needs of all ages. Evidently, now it just another soiled bargaining chip in "the keep" of a city government that doesn't understand how to manage its own properties.

Correct me if I'm wrong. People are paid with tax money to keep Mound Park usable, neat, attractive, and safe. Right? The charge to keep the park in a commendable condition has been a part of the promise of Portsmouth City officials for many, many years. Right? And, the significance of maintaining the mound and the other property there is an ongoing obligation intrusted to the city since white settlers set foot on the banks of the Ohio. Right?

Lastly, you and I know selling the park will not save the taxpayers' money. Any profit from selling the property will be gobbled up by another project the city has let sit in disrepair. I guess we could sell Mound Park to acquire demolition funds to tear down the dilapidated Martings Monstrosity. Now there is a piece of city-owned real estate that is costing the public money -- money finagled and secured without public approval. What would you save if you had to choose -- a time-honored park or an old crumbling ediface? I know my answer.

"Treat the earth well.
It was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
we borrow it from our Children."

--Native American Proverb

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Weeds That Obscure the Truth

The Wayfarer   
The wayfarer, 
Perceiving the pathway to truth, 
Was struck with astonishment.

It was thickly grown with weeds. 
"Ha," he said, "I see that none has passed here In a long time."
Later he saw that each weed 
Was a singular knife.
"Well," he mumbled at last, 
"Doubtless there are other roads."
By Steven Crane (November 1, 1871 – June 5, 1900) 
We must never end our search for the truth. To do so shatters all hopes and dreams, for in the truth, we find freedom. Many human activities depend upon the concept of truth, where its nature is assumed rather than being a subject of discussion; these include most of all, the sciences, law, and everyday life.

One of the derivatives of the English word truth is Proto-Germanic trewwj meaning "having good faith, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European dru meaning "tree," on the notion of "steadfast as an oak." A modern understanding of truth involves both the qualities of "faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty, sincerity, veracity", and that of "agreement with fact or reality."
(Oxford English Dictionary)

In the context of philosophy, several theories have gone further to assert that there are yet other issues necessary to our analysis of verity, such as interpersonal power struggles, community interactions, and personal biases -- all of which may be factors involved in deciding what we believe is true.

Is truth elusive? Yes, most definitely. Truth is often so difficult for us to determine because objectivity means discovering the state or quality of being true outside of our own individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings. To judge fairly, without bias, presumes we are capable of understanding the absolute need for neutrality without prejudgment.

Crane's poem "The Wayfarer" uses not a sturdy oak to represent truth but instead something that lay hidden somewhere behind a thickly grown blades of weeds. The speaker in the poem realizes no one in quite a while has even braved the threatening, pernicious barrier to the discovery. And, this path has become overgrown for fear of being sliced by the sharp edge of each individual weed that conceals the truth.

After briefly considering the impediment, the speaker decides, like the vast majority of travelers, to find some other less-dangerous road to certainty. The weedy symbol stresses the difficult, often painful nature of our quest for sincerity. Finding truth, something that should be easily accessed and openly practiced by all as a golden virtue, is very difficult. Like the wayfarer, if the path to exposure seems too injurious, we often feel finding truth can be accomplished on an easier route. 

But, in most of our truthful explorations, no primrose path exists. We soon learn that unless we venture into the weeds, we will never discover truth. We will be content to listen to the interpretations of others and believe in their opinions. And, unfortunately, many times this gullible action leads us to nothing but slanted opinions, half-truths, and well-calculated lies.

Armed with knowledge, logic, integrity, and great curiosity, a seeker of the truth must enter the weeds and cut a path to the reward. The task is daunting, but the effort and labor afforded in getting to the destination are the works that set us all free. Nothing. Nothing is more noble than fighting insurmountable odds to reveal the truth. In doing so, we forge new trails to justice and to equality.

The last several generations have become comfortable with untruths. People use falsehoods at will. From the top of the government down, we find the truth "spun" to fit the needs of biased ears. Lies have permeated our justice system, our law enforcement, our religions, and our schools.

Preferring easy access, we allow others to control our minds and our thoughts. Less and less, we find ourselves not using any critical thinking to discover the truth. We must educate ourselves and our children with skills that promote self-discovery. We need to put ultimate value on truth and be certain our loved ones have the tools needed to make their own "truth treks" as they build valuable personal integrity. Above all, we must understand our obligation to show them there is value in the truth itself.

A pioneer for truth is obligated by his or her love for their fellow human beings. Although finding a private truth may be a personal triumph, such solitary accomplishments pale in light of discoveries that free all of our fellow mortals. We must consider how much easier it would be to blaze a trail to such truths if we did so en masse. Surely as we shared the bleeding, each would suffer fewer injury and potential scars.

Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian author, once said, "Truth, like gold, is to obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold." I agree. Finding truth is like seeking gold: it takes hard work to uncover the valuable substance. Those who are willing to "wash away" the many things that obscure the truth mine precious freedom.

"God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. 
Take which you please — you can never have both."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Megan Lancaster: Victim of Terrorism

If you live in Scioto County, you must demand every possible resource be used to find Megan Lancaster, a local woman missing now for a year and a half. I know many rumors about her disappearance have surfaced, and, so far, none of these stories have produced any tangible leads. People have told me many, many things about what happened to Megan, and I understand how this particular case generates tremendous speculation, hearsay, and fabrication.

I have no idea what happened to Megan. I pray she is still alive somewhere, yet even if she is deceased, the family and friends need vital information to begin closure. I hold confidence that someone does know the truth. And, even if no one is held responsible for Megan's disappearance, her whereabouts must be discovered.


Megan Lancaster represents a piece of the essential fabric of the community. No group of human beings in any social circle can rest comfortably until a crime of this magnitude is solved. The compassion and concern many of you have extended towards Megan and her family are beautiful gestures; however, unless we insist her case is solved, nothing comes full circle for any of us. We cannot have assurance; we cannot grieve; we cannot have hope and trust that any other disappearance will be explained. Instead of hope, fear and distrust will grow.

In this respect, finding Megan Lancaster is a landmark in the healing and in the growth of Scioto County. Please understand, she is not a person of great means, of great influence, or of great political stature. Megan is, in many ways, a prodigal child. For Megan, unfortunately, made some bad choices, and she was swept away by evil influences that could strike any of us and any of our loved ones.

People speak of their hatred of terrorism -- Megan Lancaster most likely is a victim of sinister local terrorism.


Someone, or some people, in their sadistic minds have considered themselves worthy to be judges of Megan's fate because they believed they could get away with their crime. Someone has calculated that the citizens of Scioto County are too weak to stand up and demand justice for a common person with apparent problems. And, someone believed they understood no one would even care to find a girl who walked the streets. So far, these "someone killer(s)" are correct in their assumptions. And, as long as Megan is missing, our county is under the vile grip of terrorists.

We all share the burden of stopping this local terrorism. If you care enough to help lead Megan home, you surely believe in the equality and worth of every human. That conviction is sorely missing in Scioto County. We need so desperately to strengthen ties and to find justice. Confidence is at rock bottom.

After two American journalists have been beheaded by ISIS terrorists in Iraq, we now hear tremendous outrage and anger over their heinous deeds, yet we are missing one of our own here, in our own home, and we are indifferently allowing this horrible wrong to slip to the status of a cold case -- an abduction? a murder? that gets colder each day. Whoever did this deed is holding each of us under terror, not terror from a Muslim extremist group, but instead terror from our own necessary convictions to defeat evil in our midst.

I ask you to consider what this implies about our honest love for each other. I think I know the answer. Many of us evidently believe that the full force of justice should not be afforded to someone with questionable character or soiled virtue. Many would rather love a stranger than care for such a person in their own county. They care little to lead such a soul back home.


by Marta Keen

In the quiet misty morning, when the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing and the sky is clear and red,
When the summer's ceased its gleaming, when the corn is past its prime,
When adventure's lost its meaning, I'll be homeward bound in time.

Bind me not to the pasture. Chain me not to the plow.
Set me free to find my calling and I'll return to you somehow.

If you find it's me you're missing, if you're hoping I'll return,
To your thought I'll soon be listening; in the road I'll stop and turn.
Then the wind will set me racing as my journey nears its end,
And the path I'll be retracing when I'm homeward bound again.

Bind me not to the pasture. Chain me not to the plow.
Set me free to find my calling and I'll return to you somehow.

In the quiet misty morning when the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing, I'll be homeward bound again.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Politicians Chasing ISIS "To the Gates of Hell"

What about U.S. armed forces and the President's promise of "no boots on the ground" in Iraq?

Vice President Biden vowed Wednesday to chase ISIS "to the gates of Hell!" This is the toughest statement to date from the administration, declaring, after another U.S. journalist was beheaded by the Islamic State, "we will follow them to the gates of Hell until they are brought to justice."

Is Biden using rhetoric to shore up some new factors for a Presidential campaign?

In the meantime, President Obama said that while his administration's goal is to "destroy" ISIS -- it also is to "shrink" it to a "manageable problem." Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron will use this week's NATO summit to press for a multi-national coalition to carry out military action against the Islamic State militant group.

Administration officials still said Wednesday that that the U.S. will not launch a ground war against the Islamic State militants. But they stopped short of ruling out airstrikes against the group in its safe haven in Syria, as the U.S. has resisted for years.

So, is it going to be "crush" or "contain" or "shrink"? Or, will it eventually become "step aside" and "spectate"?

The administration is sending mixed, confusing messages about just what the United States intends to do to stop ISIS. Special operators in Iraq told Fox News that "frustration and confusion reign" among Americans on the ground there. The source relayed the complaint of an unnamed special operator: "Chase them to the Gates of Hell? How the [f---] are we going to do that when we can't even leave the front gate of our base!?"

According to the government, U.S. the vast majority of personnel presently on the ground in Iraq are there to defend U.S. facilities. The president earlier this week deployed an additional 350 personnel to Baghdad to provide security at the U.S. Embassy and related facilities. The decision brings the additional U.S. diplomatic security contingent to 820.

Defense officials say that when the additional Marines arrive, they will bring the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq to 1,213. Evidently some troops in Iraq are involved in training and advising missions.

Everyone is aware that U.S. military personnel also are engaged in airstrikes against the Islamic State in northern Iraq and helping with humanitarian missions to aid ethnic minorities who have been besieged by the militant group.

The big question is "How aggressively will the U.S. expand the fight against ISIS?"

Rattling Sabres

The recent beheadings of U.S. journalists are barbaric, horrendous war crimes. These actions represent the unforgivable brutality and the evil killing of innocents. I abhor ISIS. I do hope all of their followers meet a violent end.

But ...

The killings are effective terrorist actions in that they are highly selective and discriminate acts of violence perpetrated to achieve a specific political aim. As these terrorist acts produce widespread fear in their enemies, they also allow the terrorist group to obtain worldwide, national, or local recognition for their cause by attracting the attention of the media. Revenge drives many such terrorist atrocities.

The terrorists want to use violence to harass, weaken, and embarrass government security forces so that a government immediately reacts to the shock and the horror. They seek to create doubt that a government can provide for and protect its citizens, so their deadly missions seek to intimidate the populace through dread and high anxiety.

Acts of terrorism influence government decisions, legislation, or other critical decisions. In the case of ISIS and the recent assault on Iraq, their ungodly terrorism is fueling distrust in consistent, effective actions to control an enemy the populace wants to fight on foreign soil before incurring widespread terrorism in America.

The terrorists understand that the violent executions of American journalists will eventually force the hand of the United States government to react. The real problem is that after decades of fighting in the Middle East, Americans are sick of war that only leads to enemy occupation. What gains do we have for the tremendous sacrifices.

After all, one military death (And since 2001, the War on Terror has claimed 6,717 lives and wounded another 50,897.) is horrendous. If we do put more troops on the ground in Iraq, we will surely lose many American service personnel. And, will we be playing into the hands of an enemy that desires full-scale American intervention?

Vice-President Biden sounds like a scary, war-hardened, Rambo of a warrior when he vows to go to storm the gates of Hades to destroy ISIS. Maybe Obama, Biden, and the other politicians and military officials will commit to crushing these heinous terrorists with an overwhelming ground campaign. I think the present bombing missions have a limited effect in fighting a guerrilla war, and history can attest to that fact.

What is the real plan? What does America intend to do? How will ISIS react to an increased presence? I don't know. Do you? We grieve senseless deaths of innocents, yet the war waged by terrorists requires so many more buckets of blood to appease the situation and effect a standstill, and even then, we can not be assured that more senseless slaughters won't follow.

We swear we never war because of money, power, geography, revenge, and politics. It is something you could ask a group of Americans once considered savages by our European ancestors -- the Native Americans. I wonder what they say about true warriors?

I wish we could just get our citizens safely out of harm's way and learn to strengthen our own defenses.