Monday, October 28, 2013

Plan Emerges to Talk to City Council in White Shirts for Trails & Bike Paths on November 12th

On October 21st, the ABetterShreveport meeting focused on paths and trails in the greater Shreveport area.  Members in attendance included Loren, Maurice, Lani, Cynthia, Cathy, Chris, Feico, and intern, Amanda. Guests in attendance included Dara Sanders, Jim Broyles, and Will Rolfe, a Centenary student and member of the Greenhouse Living Learning Community.
The possibilities for paths using drainage ditches & levees
The questions that launched the group into discussion were: How can we create an environment that facilitates and encourages healthier living for our community? More specifically, how can we create more trails and paths in the greater Shreveport area?
In his research and correspondence with the Levy Board, Feico Kempff had found that a proposal has been put forward for a study of Sand Beach Bayou in Shreveport. They were talking about paving and doing work on the drainage ditches. They were even talking about making it amenable for a bike lane or route.
Dara noted she hadn’t heard of it.   It was noted there might be some concerns about it, especially at the green level, understanding that natural drainage and not paving our natural drainage routes is more of a best practice in terms of slowing down the flow when it does get filled up, decreasing the amount of runoff water that pollute our water bodies, taking away the natural filtration and purification  of the water.  So, it’s a bit alarming that there seems to be a move to pave those drainage ditches.  From a maintenance standpoint, it could increase our costs on having to maintain that additional pavement, again and again, when it continues to break up because the water flow is going to start picking up and eroding it. You’re also worsening the heat island effect of the city.  And further, if we ARE going to lay down concrete, we should be identifying ways of using it to also to allow get humans to get around walking and biking, instead of just ways for the water to get around.
Happily, though, the levy boards seems to be all for using those levees and drainage ditches for alternative transportation, to create bike paths or trails.
Dara also noted that there is federal funding available for assisting with the maintenance and the expansion of networks like this. It was noted that we have share research on the possibilities with our government administration, and communicate the value we place on an alternative transportation network of paths that would facilitate healthy living.  We need to communicate how cost effective this kind of low impact infrastructure is.  It reduces wear on roads when people walk and bike instead of driving,  and it’s a significantly  lower cost than maintaining the additional streets that we take on when we annex new properties into the city limits.
One company now fabricates a kit: one size fits all!

It was noted we also have planning policies and principles with our master plan that we didn’t have before that show high priority on alternative transportation and in transportation choices. Again continuing to educate not only the administration but also each department.  These goals are significantly different from our past practices.

The group discussed how we reach can advocate more effectively.  It was noted we can advocate for something positive in our proposal to the city council, effectively communicating our goal, which is--on this issue--to create more trails and paths, and eventually to create a complete pedestrian and bicycle network that can be used for transportation.

It was noted that this needs to become a more collaborative approach. First, the city council (which has the funding) and the Mayor (who has the staff) can help by directing those resources to the effort. Then, they can ask that the Metropolitan Planning Commission participate in that exercise as well, because the Metropolitan Planning Commission is a separate entity. By looking at existing networks such as floodplains and floodways, drainage, railroad, easements over water & sewer, the need becomes necessary to take into consideration the existing networks that you cannot construct a permanent structure over.  The community can use existing networks that cannot be developed otherwise.  If we had a trails coordinator like the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas,  then the coordinator could be given a budget every year and actively seek easements in order to create those trails and paths.  


Before breaking up, Centenary student William Rolfe, from Centenary College’s Living Learning Community known as “the Greenhouse” (dedicated to sustainable living), updated us on their work on the Coates Bluff Trail.  He said that through the course of doing community service with the Greenhouse program, they’ve been cleaning the trail behind the Montessori school that runs from there to Magnet, and now they’re working on a branch that would connects to Clyde Fant.  Many in attendance have worked on the trail themselves and were excited and grateful to hear the news!

It was noted that Shreveport has never had an Alternative Transportation plan, but there is a master street plan that  could be developed that identifies existing and future streets that would be overseen by the Metropolitan Planning Commission. Currently we only have a map of our existing streets.


The group decided that they should go to a City Council meeting and ask to speak on the issue.  Among the points we’ll make is to identify the number of times the topic is pointed out in the Master Plan.  We’ll ask as a unified group ask that the issue be taken to the Infrastructure Committee (public and groups such as A Better Shreveport can attend), ask also that the Metropolitan Planning Commission to participate, and that Mayor’s staff & MPC to explore the opportunities that accompany this type of project.  (Wearing white shirts at the meeting could be used as a sign of solidarity, it was later decided; it's the color of a crosswalk, but also likely available and being worn.)
City Council meetings are held the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of every month at 3 p.m.  There is a 3 minute per person limitation to present a case, visuals, or best practices.  Encouragement to attend and address the concerns and issues are welcomed.
The first public meeting for the Unified Development Code Project  will be  on November 5, 2013, from 6-8 p.m. This will allow us the chance to participate and help them see things from another perspective.  It will be presentation style first, followed by discussing the processes that they follow to implement policies. The concept of “Bikeability/Walkability”could be presented to the committee at that time, so next week’s meeting needs to focus on the roles those who will present will play in the presentation of ideas to the UDC  on November 5.
Before disbanding for the evening, Cathy showed a Google Earth intersection from Bentonville, AR of a shared bike path.  The Citywide expansion there was due to the installation in Fayetteville,  and that coincidentally influenced the installation of bike paths in Bentonville. Arkansas.  These multi-use trails  and alternative transportation routes make it easier to recognize cyclists, and makes it safer for the pedestrians/cyclists in the community.
It was noted that from the tourism aspect of things, this makes the environment seem more friendly. It gives people a better sense of security when they use alternative transportation routes. Motorists are more attentive to their surroundings and lookout for the cyclists/pedestrians. Signs placed for reminders. Private contributions were influential in Northwest Arkansas’ implementation of these paths. Volunteers and donations from the health-care industry, The Waltons, private non-profit organizations that were willing to contribute all aided in carrying out the plans. So, Private/Public Partnerships are vital for support to get conformity.
Cathy mentioned that we could get $100 donations to cover the costs for  the yellow aluminum signs that could be placed to help increase awareness and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Just gathering donations from organizations and placing them along the most travelled places first would even be an improvement. But there’s an overall need for a long-term project educating the public on safety measures including the children of our area through things such as the Sheriff Department’s “Safety Town,” and find those who are willing to donate and get them involved.
October 28:  General meeting to address miscellaneous issues
November 4:  Bike Route Maps; bringing in supporters for the cause
November 11:  Delegating and crafting presentations for the next day’s City Council meeting, including talking points, maps, images, testimonies, etc.
November 12:  City Council meeting starting at 3:00 in Council Chambers at Government Plaza at 505 Travis Street.
November 18:  Education meeting focused on charter schools.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Education Meeting Develops Themes & Draws Officials, Faculty, Administrators, Media

The following summary was drafted by ABS Intern, Amanda Currier, and edited by Loren Demerath

We packed the house last week welcoming school faculty, administrators, superintendents, school board members, organization leaders and other concerned citizens to focus on education and reform.

As you may know, ABS is holding themed meetings this year to allow the group to focus on community issues of concern and to develop goals and strategy.
Dr. Loren Demerath, Executive Director of ABS, officiated over the meeting.  After going around the room with introductions from everyone, he explained that the focus of this meeting was to be on education.  He then opened the floor for issues that our community can focus on for the improvement and growth of our educational system.
Below is a list of issues the group noted, some of which could guide themes of subsequent meetings.
Higher Education can be used for growth and development

It was noted that although LSUS will offer an EDD starting in January of 2014, we are still one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country without a research oriented university that offers a full slate of graduate programs.

Recruitment of teachers needed for all levels of education

More emphasis needs to be placed on Professional Development. There was once a  masters program in urban education offered in New Orleans. Can we locate these types of teachers and administrators to help improve our education here?

Recruitment needed for School Board

We need strong voices that will advocate best practices used elsewhere in education and will push the interests of the community as a whole.

Policy-makers need to hear school administrators

A very moving proclamation was given by Priscilla Pullen, Principal of Midway Elementary Professional Development School in Shreveport. She told of how student proficiency had improved over the past couple of years, but said the state educational standards ignore any immediate progress and has discouraging effects on both students and faculty. By averaging the test scores of students over a number of years instead of focusing on each child’s individual progress or each class as a whole, the improvement factor is obscured, she said.  “In celebration of the improvements made from approaching basic levels to mastery levels, we took 42 children that excelled to Party Central as a reward. No one knows that story,” Pullen said.

This is true of most of the schools in the area — notably, about being criticized and losing support when they fall just a little below the standard means, but in an overall effort have improved in leaps and bounds.

Resist one-size-fits-all solutions, also those that are short-term and overly simplistic

It was noted we should avoid the mindset that one solution will fit across the board. The needs of each school, each child even, are individual, and they deserve to have support and materials tailored to those individual needs.

Magnet High teacher and ABetterShreveport member Robert Trudeau remarked that policy-makers are wanting short-term results on long-term problems.  

Commit to help parents and consider involving the community

A critical first step is to acknowledge that a lot of parents really do care. It is our job as a community to find out what they need.  What kinds of parental incentives can we put in place, and how can the community’s involvement including employers strive to boost those parental incentives?  It was noted that lower income parents and single parents often do not have the schedule flexibility to help their kids in the same way others do, but employers could give them the time off to attend meetings, etc.

Note successful organizations/programs that are making a difference.

We need to recognize organizations such as Prime Time, Readwell Mentors, Grace Community Church, Aspire @ Fair Park and the Partnership with BPCC, etc., for the work that is already being done. There are also programs such as Outstanding Readers that offer a reward of bicycles as incentives for participating and excelling. LSUS brings in Christmas gifts off the children’s wishlist.

We also need to continue this idea of “Double Dipping” across the board to boost morale and offer encouragement to students and support to the faculty and administrators.

It was noted we can publicize and support these programs through radio, blogs, etc., focusing on those in the community who are making improvements towards academic excellence and even those individual students who have themselves gone beyond expectations.  

There is also a need to recognize the after-school programs for continuing the support and enrichment to those underprivileged children, such as the Renzi Center on Egan Street.

Without that publicity and recognition, people may think that donations of time and money, or tax dollars that go to these programs don’t help, when in fact, they do.

Jennifer Hill, of the Renzii Center, noted also that teachers and administrators cannot be held responsible for the lack of safety, educational support and enrichment the children face in their home life.
Acknowledge the value of compromise and change

It was noted that without compromise, or the willingness to change, little progress is likely on long-term problems that otherwise seem intractable.  (Along those lines, perhaps the issue of charter schools could be the theme for this group next month? - LD)

Acknowledge the microscope put on teachers and unspoken critiques

Dr. Mary Nash-Robinson, Interim Superintendent for Caddo Parish Schools, said, our teachers and administrators are not opposed to “upping the game,” however, these discussions can sometimes devalue the work that these educators and administrators are doing in our community. They are really working hard to make a difference. We need to be taking care of the needs of the children. This will have to be our focal point.

Note successes in teacher empowerment & autonomy

Special guest, J. Delano Ford, the Assistant Superintendent of the state’s Recovery School District and recently appointed Executive Director of the Recovery School District in Caddo Parish, commented as well:
“There is a need to see education head into a more career preparatory direction. By acknowledging that it is public education’s responsibility to provide the foundation for students to make that transition into adulthood by equipping them with the skills they will need to attend college, whether they choose to attend or not, [the end result will be a quality education],” Ford said.
Meeting to discuss the issues is just the first step. The hardest part is to refine and implement those goals and solutions to bring about reform.
Mr. Ford gave an example of a teacher who is making a difference. Ms. Martinez uses pillows on a carpeted floor instead of desks and a different kind of lighting to create a unique setting for learning in which that the students are eager to get involved.
“Our Teachers and Principals need to be treated as professionals and allowed to do what they need to do. Accountability factors need to be upheld by all including pushing for educational reform and forming partnerships to create a solution that’s best for students in these schools. If we are still using values and ideals from 1985 for the class of 2013, how can this be beneficial to anyone?” Ford said.
Use the central role of organizers like Community Foundation for coordination and funding /grant help
Paula Hickman of the Community Foundation was encouraged by all the different efforts towards improving education in our city that she sees from her sort-of bird’s eye perspective.  
Hickman described the Community Foundation’s new Step Forward Program, addressing three different needs: parental education and resources, Kindergarten readiness, and third grade reading.
Hickman noted that raising awareness within the community will aid in getting the education right to prepare our children to be our future leaders. Bringing back the pride in schools to value education, and being willing to invest to give our children a second chance in education can help us make this a city that stands for excellence in education.  Demerath noted that you can build a city on that!

In Attendance at Monday Night’s Meeting:
Delano Ford, RSD  
Kimberly Bryant, RSD
Deborah Allen, ACLU of LA
Brian Salvatore, Citizen of Caddo/LSUS faculty (Brian Salvatore, Chemistry LSUS, part of ABS, deeply committed to education)
Priscilla Pullen, Caddo Principal
Jon Soul, Montessori School
Maurice Laridans, ABS
Tom Arceneaux, Highland Restoration Assn.
Elizabeth Arceneaux, Highland Restoration Assn.
Robert E. Trudeau,
Miac Brooks-Cooper, Atkins Technology
Lani Duke, ABS,
Cathy Bonds, Fair Park Alumni Association
Wayne Hogue, LA Tech S-BC
Lloyd Thompson, NAACP
Don D. Otis, Ret. Law Enforcement
Paula Hickman, Community Foundation
Feico Kempff, ABS
Katherine Brandl, Centenary Faculty, ABS
Ruth Ray Jackson, LSUS
Cynthia Keith, Dog Park Alliance
Mary Nash Robinson, Interim SuperIntendent
Jennifer Hill, Renzi Center

Thanks to all who attended!  Stay tuned for the topic of our next meeting on education, likely on November 11th, and themed on the issue of charter schools.

Next Monday the 21st: Trails and Paths with MPC Planner Dara Sanders!  Join us to talk about converting drainage ditches and levees!  

Meeting with Dara Sanders on Pedestrian and Bicycling Trails Monday Night

And we'll also have news from Feico Kempff on the Levee Board's vision for making a safer and healthier environment for walking and bicycling.  Possibilities are emerging!  As we do ever Monday, we'll meet tonight from 6-7 p.m. at the Wright Math Building, across from Magale Library on Woodlawn Ave., two blocks up from the Gold Dome on Centenary's campus.  Join us!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Open Letter to Mr. J. Delano Ford, Deputy Superintendent of Transformation for the Recovery School District in Caddo Parish

Open Letter to Mr. J. Delano Ford 
(Deputy Superintendent of Transformation for the Recovery School District in Caddo Parish)

Dear Mr. Ford, 
            Thank you for serving as the special guest at our "Education Reform Forum" last Monday night.  Although I appreciate your intent to help change the current situation in Caddo Parish's AUS4+ schools, I find it unfortunate that you did not provide any specific details about how this can be accomplished.  Your reluctance to disclose your own ideas or to encourage us to work with our school board to improve their preliminary "Caddo Believes" plan has led many people to speculate that you and your colleagues have already made up your minds to establish more Type 5 charter schools here in Caddo Parish.  
      What I would especially like to know is how the insertion of two new levels of  bureaucracy (both at the state level and at a new corporate school level) would benefit the students in Caddo Parish?  The data from Caddo's recent experience with charter schools does not encourage us to believe that there would be any benefit whatsoever.  The two schools that the State has already taken from Caddo (Linear and Linwood) are still performing unsatisfactorily as charter schools, relative to the vast majority of schools in our district.  Furthermore, despite the population redistribution that occurred in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, many of the RSD charter schools down there are still performing at a near-failing level.
      We cannot just blame our local school officials for all of the problems in Caddo's schools, when it is the State that has largely taken away the autonomy that our teachers need in order to teach their students in the way that they see fit, as professionals.  Superintendent John White has a tendency to stigmatize both kids and teachers in struggling public schools.  His own deficiency of experience as an educator (less than that of any teacher I know) is apparent from his lack of constructive policies for the public schools. I have never seen him visit any of our public schools, nor offer any constructive advice whatsoever to our public school teachers or staff.   Furthermore, the policies that he has implemented have driven far more public school teachers from the profession rather than encouraged any new teachers to pursue this once noble career.  
     I hope you recognize that, no matter what administrative model ends up being selected for these schools, the curriculum in the schools must be changed.  We cannot continue to force our public school teachers to keep "teaching to the test", and we must foster more creativity and self-awareness in our students.  I especially wish that you would allow us to incorporate more project-based learning into the classroom and to work with the students on an individual basis during the school day, tailoring their education to their specific needs and weaknesses.  I have some ideas about how this could be accomplished within the framework of our existing public school system, if only you could help facilitate that. 
     Please do not rush into change for the sake of change alone, especially if political undercurrents from people within our state government are behind this.  If the timing of political aspirations largely underlie the sudden rush to action here, then this whole pursuit will most certainly not have a good outcome for anyone.
                                                       Brian A. Salvatore, Ph.D. 
                                                       Chemistry Professor 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Education Reform Meeting with Education Officials at Next Meeting

Education reform will be the topic of our next meeting.  All are welcome.

We'll have some special guests to serve as "experts" on what changes could be helped by citizens, most notably, J. Delano Ford, Assistant Superintendent of the state's Recovery School District, and recently appointed the Executive Director of the Recovery School District in Caddo Parish.
As usual, we'll be meeting Monday evening at the Wright Math Building, from 6:00-7:00.  But this Monday, October 14th, we're goin' to school!  Please join us!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

ABS Themes for the Year Chosen: Civic Engagement, Biking for Transportation, Community Health, Paths

In attendance this week were Kathrine Brandl, Chris Chandler, Amanda Currier, Loren Demerath, Lani Duke, Susan Keith, Cynthia Keith, Feico Kempff, Maurice Loridans,  and Cathy Smith


The agenda for the meeting on Monday night was to gather and organize themes for upcoming meetings and to proioritize goals the group would like to set in place. The group members proposed and voted to delegate the first meeting of every month as a time to invite Dara Sanders of the Metropolitan Plannning Comm
1 of 5 targets for ABS this year: Civic Engagement
ission to attend and to discuss citywide issues. Loren agreed to email and extend the standing invitation to her.

Feico started a Top 5 List of Goals (to accomplish in the next 12 months) on Facebook, but it didn’t get off the ground as of Monday night’s meeting.

In order to prioritize these goals with regard to the needs of the community, there has to be organization. By planning the next few themed meetings to narrow the focus, and inviting those members of the community directly related to the topic being discussed, then we can better structure and focus the attention of the group to accomplish more goals. The key, though will be to reunite everyone with a follow-up meeting to report back on the progress that has been made.


Chris Chandler brought in the 2013 Community Counts guide from the Northwest Louisiana Community Foundation. Inside the guide are 25 specific indicators on which we’re measured and compared to other cities, and these indicators and other information can be found on the Community Foundation’s website.  

Chris began reading off topics that could help narrow the focus for the group. Some of those included: poverty, government
Another target: a network of trails and paths
 dependence, juvenile justice, community wellness, healthcare, philanthropy & volunteerism, employment & work care, education & sciences, and quality of life.
The group chose to discuss the quality of life section focusing on air quality, cost of living, crime, commuting, and civic involvement.

The group also spoke about Smart Growth, mentioning such things as bike tours, special rates going through Shreveport, walks, etc. Chris stated that the key is getting Shreveport on someone’s bike tour map. Once the city is on the map, then it will be easier to attain and implement the fundamentals necessary for the community. Maurice also made mention of the “Warm Showers”program that is known for providing those on bike tours a hot shower and even a bite to eat or a place to sleep.

ABS can help articulate what people want for their community. If the voters know about smart growth, and know what goes along with it, then they'll be more apt to get involved. 


Another: bicycle help, such as maps and a cooperative
Cathy stated that there is a dire need for Momentum. If something is already going on, then we are more likely to gain community involvement and get donations to get started. Narrow the focus, by achieving a small but notable goal, where people have a visual that something is already being done.

To start the ball rolling, the calendar has been set into motion to begin this new process. Beginning Monday, October 7, 2013, the group will begin the themed meetings. The first of the month civic involvment meetings with Dara will begin on November 4. The second meeting of the month will be related to bicycles and so on. Below is the upcoming calendar for the next six weeks:

10/07    Bikes
10/14    Civic Engagement
10/21    Paths and Trails
10/28    Community Health 

The cycle will repeat monthly, though we may flip the timing and lead with civic engagment after this month.

The bicycle themed meetings will try to develop momentum on topics such as signs and sharrows, starting a used bike depot and cooperative, and making map of recommended bike routes.  People with a willingness to share ideas, give feedback, share contacts, etc., on any of those topics are encouraged to attend the meeting next week.

Last but not least: community health
The Civic Involvement meeting, the following week, may feature the interim Caddo Parish School Superintendent, Delano Ford.  The importance of professional development for teachers may be one issue raised, as well as the ways people can generally help affect change in the school system.   
     One idea for future meetings on Civic Engagement is that of replaying the city council meetings on a community station, or even posted to a YouTube channel to gain more support and involvement.

Paths and Trails meetings will be based on the premise that we need a network of them, in order to offer a means of alternate transportation that is more eco-friendly and better for community health.  (Loren since mentioned the meeting on October 21st to Times reporter, Michelle Marcotte.  Look for her story on pedestrian safety--or the lack thereof--in Sunday's paper!)

Finally the Community Health meeting will concentrate on walking, biking, nutrition, fresh food, trails, a year-round Farmer’s Market, group walks and tours, providing a safe environment for a healthy active outdoor life. We will also be inviting Angie White, head of slow foods and current President of the Alumni Association at Centenary College.

Meeting summary drafted by Amanda Currier, Centenary Service-Learning Student.  Thanks Amanda!  
The cycle of themed meetings will start this Monday, the 7th, talking about ways of facilitating a better bicycling environment for transportation.  Join us!