Website update: Gift Registry  

Posted by Wayne Bretski in

I've updated the Gift Registry page on the Wedding website. Please go check out the new information; please don't hesitate to tell me what you think is confusing or could be worded better. Oh, and let me know if the links are wonky.

Ideas for improvement can be emailed to me.


Save the Date  

Posted by Wayne Bretski

Google sites doesn't want me to upload this to the website today for some reason, but here's the official Save the Date notice. Feel free to save or print this image to remind you to...well, save the date: June 27th, 2009.

More Zoo  

Posted by Wayne Bretski in

A long-neck...

...getting bullied by an ostrich.

The victor

Shaggiest palm trees in town

A squirrel monkey on chill

(mostly) first graders


This mama carried her baby up the ladder

Chewing on chalk

P-H-O-E-N-I-X ZOO!  

Posted by Wayne Bretski

These were the words of a fifth grader as we rumbled up to Papago Park for an intercession field trip to the zoo today. Here are a couple of pictures: Miss Bee had the camera, so I'll need to get those too.

Supposed to have captured three squirrel monkeys - but they're fast


Long-range view of the Indian elephant

I am a student  

Posted by Wayne Bretski in

I guess I didn't really tell people about this: I am enrolled in a Master's program at Grand Canyon University as an online student. I will have enough credits to keep my job for next year in about eight weeks. Hooray!

This is a picture of the mall at GCU

The other day Miss Bee was teaching yoga to some high-schoolers at a private school far outside our neighborhood. As I was not allowed into the class and didn't feel like sitting on my bottom for an hour, I began to walk around the barrio. I realized that I was very close to GCU, so I stopped by campus. I took a walking tour through the mall, the student union, around the classrooms, and observed a baseball game in progress.


Posted by Wayne Bretski

Watching a less than stellar movie sometimes makes me think of what I would have said as a reviewer.

Which reminds me of my favorite movie review, of a film called The Golden Compass:

"It lacks direction."

Fixed Pictures  

Posted by Wayne Bretski in

I fixed the pictures in the Loss of a Kiddo post. Please check them out if you didn't see them before.

I sent this letter to national newspapers.  

Posted by Wayne Bretski in

A school district in Phoenix that includes infamous landmarks in recent national stories (see: Joe Arpaio's pink-clad prisoners picking trash on 40th St. and McDowell, protesters gathering at Pruitt's furniture on 36th and Thomas) has become the first in the state of Arizona to exercise the option of adding 20 days to their school calendar.

A 12-year old state law allows extra funds for districts that move to a 200-day schedule; so far no public schools have done so. Confronting social and political realities that include Mr. Arpaio's vigorous para-military border patrol, state-mandated Structured English Immersion classes that amount to de facto segregation (whites and blacks in one class, Hispanics in another, African refugees in a third), and schools with over 90% free- and reduced-lunch, Balsz District has made a bold move to reduce the learning disparity between students above and below the poverty line. While time off for wealthier students often includes extra-curricular learning activies, structured sports leagues, and overnight summer camps, lower income students face starker choices: trips to parks and pools (supervised or not), going to school campuses for pick-up soccer or to tag the walls with graffiti, walking for 45 minutes crossing 6 lanes of traffic to get to the library or just playing that video game again.

The schools of the Balsz District are more than reading, writing and arithmetic. They are sources of education from pre-school to adulthood, offering free services ranging from English lessons for anyone in the community to informal assistance with translating and creating resumes. Kids stay at school for a wide variety of activities despite budget cuts that left the district with no formal sports teams or public funding. They come back at night and on weekends for open gym activities or just to play on the playgrounds, and they bring their relatives and neighbors to campus for award-winning Family Night programs.

Unfortunately, even with far-sighted leadership and extra state funds for the project, Balsz District is still unable to make basic, common-sense choices about staffing due to cuts in the state budget. With no money to make new hires, great young teachers are being left at the bottom of the seniority ladder, becoming the first casulties of Reduction in Force letters and being asked to move campuses and grades with no regard for grade-level team communities or quality of instruction. Thanks to a partnership with Arizona State University, terrific young interns and student teachers have been funneled into areas of need, where they frequently come to stay. However, as ASU's skyrocketing tuition and dramatic changes based on state funding are implemented, fewer up and coming teachers will be aware of the small district in the crosshairs of poverty and community, latent racism and acceptance of new cultures, and hurricanes of transience that swirl chaotically around a hub of families that resist the pull of gangs, drugs, and the culture of cynicism and anarchy.

The 20 extra days of school in this environment will ultimately provide an extra year of instruction for students who manage who stay in Balsz schools from kindergarten to 8th grade. At the margins and in aggregate, this move is working for the benefit of the constituents who make Balsz School District a viable entity; a small, lean, innovative district in a culture of large, bureaucratic management of education.

Balsz District is an example for school districts nationwide who are looking to improve, not only the test scores of their students, but the lives and futures of their students and their community, and we feel that we are worthy and deserving of local and national attention for our efforts in the face of distressing financial news. Schools do not get earmarks; we don't have the bully pulpit of pocketed Senators and Congressmen looking to inject money into our swelling coffers. Schools are eking out an existence writing grants for services that should be provided by the state, every year glancing with trepidation at the latest news of budgets, attendance data, override elections. Will we be able to provide art, music, counseling, a full-time nurse, planning time for our teachers? Will we be able to staff our schools with two full-time, accredited administrators? The answers to these questions over the past few years, for Balsz and many other districts, has been resoundingly negative. We at Balsz are proud of having succeeded (4 of 5 schools are Performing according to state standards) in the face of tremendously difficult circumstances. If the money is there (guaranteed by the state, but who knows what that means) the teachers of Balsz District will be teaching a month after all the other schools have closed their doors, working to close the gap between the education Haves and Have-Nots. It is our hope that publicity for our situation and for our choice to extend the school year will help to persuade the politicians that there are schools making good choices, choices that benefit the students rather than serving the interests of the teachers. No longer can the joke be made here that the three best things about teaching are June, July, and August. If the money is produced, the doors at Balsz District will be open for at least one week of instruction in every month of the year.

Bret Sikkink
Balsz Elementary School
Special Education teacher
Autism Spectrum Disorder, self-contained
(515) 210-4540

Arizona Republic front-page story about the district
Balsz School District home page
Attached is a labeled satellite image of the district


Posted by Wayne Bretski in

I'm not enjoying the upkeep of a blog and a website for one event.

Henceforth, the blog for the website is dead. I will update the website and forgo the blog post. Once again, the website with various details is located here. Add it to your bookmarks.

Pertinent information since the last blog update:
1. The reception party is not going to be at a city park due to the "No Alcohol Allowed" rule.
2. The date has been set: June 27th, 2009. Mark your calendars.
3. If you would like to see the rings we are going to get, go to the website.
4. We will be using an e-vite system to save paper. Don't expect any snail mail; your official invitation will be online along with the rest of the information.

Look out soon for a proper Welcome video; as always, with any questions, comments, or desires to be added to the online mailing list:


Posted by Wayne Bretski

Is anyone else missing the pictures on the "Loss of a Kiddo" post? None of my browsers are showing the photos.

The pictures are the best part...

Grilling vegetables  

Posted by Wayne Bretski in

Not as good as the first time we did it (with pasta btw) but this looks like a new kick for our fooding.

Onions, eggplant, tofu, bell pepper, mushroom, and pineapple.

The Loss of a kiddo and other Mr. S. stuff  

Posted by Wayne Bretski in

My newest student is now officially newest casualty. We'll miss him.

This was his piece de resistance as my student. For our Dr. Seuss-themed door decoration, he combined his obsessive love of all things geography and national landmarks with his favorite Seuss book "There's a Wocket in My Pocket".

My contribution was the title: "And to Think That I Learned it on Belleview Street". Here's my take on the "Mulberry" kid. Check out those calves!

Here was the gang sans 1 while J.K. was with us, eating breakfast at the Pentagon Table as the Long Table was otherwise occupied.

Pride Day  

Posted by Wayne Bretski

Pride Day this weekend for the district at a local park. Some quick snaps.

A Mr. S. student waiting for the rock wall. 
Two Miss Bee students jousting.
As Miss Bee herself looks on. 
Two brothers duke it out. 
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Pride Day and other school stuff  

Posted by Wayne Bretski

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