September 2007

Shortly after Senator Amy Klobuchar was elected to office some friends of mine commented on the Morrison County Records placement of the story following Klobuchar’s election to office. The reason they thought it was so odd was because Klobuchar’s election to the United States Senate was historic in that she was the first woman the state of Minnesota has ever sent to fill a seat in the U.S. Senate. My friends complained that the Record buried the story behind a litany of news stories that were less noteworthy. 

After reviewing this weeks edition of the Morrison County Record, it seems the paper is making a practice of playing “Where’s Amy?” This week Klobuchar was buried behind the classifieds…second to the last news story of the C section. Senator Klobuchar was presented with the National Farmer’s Union’s Golden Triangle Award, the organizations highest award for leadership on behalf of farmers and rural communities. Specifically, Klobuchar was honored for her contributions to renewable energy having introduced a number of bills that promote its use. The recognition Klobuchar’s earned from the paper was placed behind the Records coverage of the 4-H’ers who entertained children at Camp Ripley’s open house and the 4-H dog show.

In contrast, Senator Norm Coleman was headlined  for making an announcement about economic development funds. Coleman’s headline landed on page 7 of the A section directly under the “Government” banner. While the economic development funds coming to Morrison County is good news, based on the article it appears that Coleman had nothing to do with why the funds were earmarked for our area, only that he happened to be the guy who made the announcement.

Recap: Klobuchar wins a national award for work on renewable energy that will benefit the entire country and Coleman brings glad tidings. Breakdown: Coleman burps the Record coo’s, Klobuchar sings an aria and the Record says… I don’t think it had the same resonance as Coleman’s belch, you’ll have to try harder if you want your work to be deemed worthy of our Government section.

Swimming is slippers on Sunday,

Brooke Trout


A little item in the Little Falls City Council report in this week’s Morrison County Record caught my attention.  And I quote:

[The City Council] “spoke of giving The Friends of Linden Hill money to hire a director for the complex, even though the group has not officially received approval for being a nonprofit . . . .”

What fine kettle of precedence will this set? “Hi, we’d like some money from the city.  Yes, we know we’re not officially a nonprofit, and therefore we don’t really have a legal structure for accepting the money, or for being held legally accountable should we do something with the money we’re not supposed to, but still . . . .”

Over the years, the Little Falls City Council has shown a strange weakness for Linden Hill, allowing the caretakers to spend down what should have been an endowment by not properly overseeing the budget.  This is in contrast to its micro-management of every other sort of spending the city does.  The current City Council has harped on being averse to debt, yet here it is, entertaining the idea that funds should be passed to a group of people with no legal standing to receive them.  And what happens should the group not get the nonprofit designation?

I suggest the City Council exercise a little patience in this matter and wait ’til all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed.

Swimming lazily about the river ’cause the homes aren’t going anywhere,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

June Varner has long been an advocate of healthy farming practices.  She keeps a watchful eye on agriculture in Morrison County and she practices what she preaches on her own farm.  When she has something to say, you’d better listen, because it’s always something important.

In this week’s Morrison County Record, there is a guest editorial written by Varner called, “Hail Monsanto, we who are about to die salute you.”  If you haven’t read it, you simply must.  When Monsanto decides that genetically modified organisms aren’t good enough to feed to its own employees, you’ve gotta know in your gut that the company knows something it isn’t telling the rest of us.  They’ve got to make a buck, after all.  Too bad if we’re all collateral damage.

From a fish with an extra nostril fin,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

The rumors are flying about what is going into the old Wal-Mart.  The two I’ve heard – from friends of friends, of course – are a Home Depot (not likely given the colors the building has been painted) and a building of mixed shops, including a Hot Topic.  It remains to be seen. – P.F.A.P.

Water Banner

 Mark Your Calendar!

 October 11th is National Call in Day for Clean Water!

This October marks the 35th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act, one of America’s most important environmental and public health laws. Now, 35 years later, our elected representatives must recommit to protecting America’s water for future generations.

While America’s tap water still ranks among the safest in the world, our water infrastructure is facing deterioration and aging with too few funds available for needed repair. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that hundreds of billions of dollars will be needed to address these issues. Unfortunately, the current administration has made annual cuts to most of the funding and has proposed selling control of our water systems to corporations and private investors. Once in control of our water systems, the private owner would make decisions about our water based on financial profits rather than the needs of our communities.

The time to dedicate a source of public funding so communities nationwide can keep their water clean, safe and affordable, is now.   The federal government reserves 30 billion a year on a highway trust fund and  8 billion a year on an air transportation trust fund. The answer to the water infrastructure crisis is a dedicated funding source with a sustained commitment to clean safe drinking water by creating a national water infrastructure trust fund.  So that clean, affordable water remains something all American’s can rely on.

On October 11 call your legislator and ask him or her to support increased funding for our public water. Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, and ask to speak with your representative. If you live in the 8th congressional district, ask to speak to Congressman Jim Oberstar to thank him for his environmental leadership and to ask him to support the creation of a national water infrastructure trust fund. 

Click here to find out who represents you.

Why Public Funding –Not Privatization –is the Answer for U.S. Water Systems read: Faulty Pipes

If you aren’t sure what to say on Call In Day send an email and we’ll glady provide you with a brief phone script and talking points.

Hooked on Water,

Brooke Trout

I have a 17 year old daughter who was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune deficiency. Specifically, she has no immune system against common viruses such as colds, flu, strep throat, pneumonia and so forth. Illnesses common in any school environment.  From December 2007 to February 2007 my daughter’s immune system went from bad to worse. While prior to December she appeared to have some immunities, after December she contracted infections even if the visit inside the school building was kept to a single hours.

Little Falls school district was unsympathetic and down right rotten throughout the ordeal. They knew my daughter was scheduled to see an immunologist in February but couldn’t actually be seen until the end of August. The only thing her doctors could report to them was that her white count fluctuated and that they would need an immunologist to figure out why.  This information was insufficient for the school district, even though that information was supported by a litany of other notes from local doctors saying that she was being treated for a throat infection, and ear infection and the like. Instead of acknowledging the impairment noted by her doctors they chose to ignore the impairment because it wasn’t a specific diagnosis.  Instead of providing the education support to which chronically ill children are entitled, they processed her as a high school drop out over and over and over again. Each time she was sick for two weeks she was booted from school. Not only was her health a state of disaster but the actions taken by the district ensured that my daughter’s education in a state of disaster as well.

Obviously, the topics of education, chronic health problems and disability cover a broad range of subject. Topics I plan to cover in subsequent articles.  For the moment I’d like to bypass all the nasty things some districts do to the sick and disabled to save money and instead share with you all the wonderful education opportunities not far from you. They are not miles away, or blocks away…they are keystrokes away.

We first enrolled in online high school after my daughter fell too far behind to get caught up. Northern Star Online offered semester credit in 8 weeks! She was registered to take World Studies and American Literature. I half expected flimsy, busy work and education credit handed out like a prize in a cereal box. Oh, contraire!  In 8 weeks my daughter completed 30 to 40 assignments per class and there weren’t any crossword puzzles either! The curriculum she was required to complete was not wholly different that that of her older brother attending Central Lakes Community College.

What was extraordinary was the delivery of the material. My daughter’s textbooks were all online. Difficult words and concepts were hyperlinked to definitions and in depth explanations.   Similar to a classroom textbook, online textbooks also had pictures…except the pictures were often linked to a narrated, virtual tour. A completely wired, interactive textbook…FTW!

What was the most precious of the entire experience was that for the first time my daughter had access to all instruction. The quality of her education was no longer tethered to her health. The most profound lesson she learned from her entire summer experience online was to fully realize her own capacity to achieve. She was no longer the girl who couldn’t push past a D, she earned A’s in B’s in the face of huge time constraints and a rigorous curriculum.

It really sort of blew the districts theory that my daughter poor performance was due to her unwillingness to apply herself. Amazing what happens when you’re not missing half the classroom instruction. Her math teachers were the worst and most arrogant. They had a habit of making her take math tests the moment she was well enough to return to school. Never mind that she missed the curriculum that preceded the test, the objective was to see to it that she kept pace with all of the other students whether she had the opportunity to cover the missed material or not.

Certainly, this must be an oversight. Oh, contraire again.  When I asked that she have the opportunity to learn the material then take the test my request was denied by her math teacher. When I approached the district office regarding the testing without teaching policy asking that they abolish the practice because it; falls outside the realm of “basic good teaching practices.” The district repeatedly ignored my request and the practice continued on until my daughter’s information loss was so great that she could no longer comprehend her math.  At that juncture her math teacher advocated for moving her into remedial math, stating that the placement would be more appropriate for her.

Obviously, no placement could remain appropriate if the student is not taught. I argued that unless the testing without teaching practice was discontinued that no math placement could ever remain appropriate so long as the information loss was allowed to continue. In a letter to the district I wrote, after remedial math is rendered an inappropriate placement due to the glaring lack of instruction, maybe she just spend her time at your school coloring. As you can imagine, I was well loved by the district office but based on the teaching approach of her math teacher there was truly no direction for her to go but backwards.

As my daughter began succeeding as an online learner, the school district began having second thoughts over allowing her to attend the program. Since the online school my daughter was attending was not a charter school, it was necessary for her to be enrolled at the local school district in order to attend at no cost.  When Little Falls school district began to discuss reconsidering their decision to allow my daughter to learn online, I went shopping for an e-charter school and I found loads! After carefully considering a number of online high schools including the one affiliated with Little Falls school district (their website was punitive and their curriculum was stogy and uninspiring.) we finally settled upon Blue Sky Online. They teach middle school and high school courses and have a student body of over 700.

We have now been with this school district for just over 2 weeks and my daughter and I love it! While Northern Star Online offered an online classroom where your monitor became the blackboard and your teacher’s voice piped in through your computer speakers, Blue Sky offered e-classroom, the online education software used by many colleges. While we loved Northern Star Online, the clear difference at Blue Sky was their ability to recreate the atmosphere of interactivity among students within an online learning environment.  Students respond to classroom discussions on messages boards and become familiar with one another’s thoughts and opinions. Our greatest concern with online learning was the isolation my daughter would experience. While easier on her health, she truly did love learning and being in school, she was the girl who waited for summer to end.

As I was typing this blog by daughter was at her computer doing school work. She came into the room and exclaimed, I just listened to my teacher give a lecture. I felt like I was in school! Even though its school and its work…it was so cool to feel like I was a part of a class. I said, then your liking Blue Sky and she replied…I love Blue Sky.

In addition to the interactivity level with fellow students, learners receive a weekly phone call from their homeroom teacher…a mini conference on how it’s all going. Add in curriculum covering Mandarin Chinese, a mini women studies course directed at teens and young adult women cover everything from advertising to anorexia and you have a recipe for a great first semester.

Our commitment to Little Falls school district has had everything to do with the quality of teachers. With the exception of a few, the teaching staff was great. It was the scant highly paid few at the very top that decided what could and couldn’t be done in the face of my daughter’s illness. It has to be said, that if Mary Jo Morgan and special education director Linda Maron were booted to the curb tomorrow Little Falls school district would be a better place for all learners, not just mainstream students…even if they were replaced with mushroom spores. My daughter and I both give Mr. Mushel, her science teacher an A+ with a gold star for having an inner compass that pointed, without fail to doing the right thing…just because it was the right thing to do. While we hated to leave the teachers we loved, we were ever so happy to find new and friendly faces at Blue Sky.

In an age of digital technology, it is so important to remember that we are no longer confined to the offerings contained within our small geographic locations.  By tapping away at the keyboard before you, you make the whole world, your neighborhood.

Out of the fishbowl and into the great blue beyond,

Olive Rockfish

September Storm         Yesterday afternoon I drove to Walmart to pick up a prescription. As I got out of my car I stopped long enough to take in the daunting afternoon sky. As I was walking to the door  I assessed the skyline and noticed sheets of rain battering the far end of the parking lot.  It was very strange to stand in a spot and see a torrential down pour pull up along side of you without hitting you.  I of course was keenly cognoscente at that moment that it would only be a matter of seconds before I got pummeled to the tar like the Wicked Witch of the West. So, I did what anyone would do in the face of getting pummeled…I ran.  Within 5 steps a gale force, showering gust slapped me in the face. Suffice it to say, by the time I reached the door I was soaked.

Leaving Walmart was a breeze. I was already wet; I chuck my shoes into my shopping bag and sprinted to the car barefoot. When I arrive home my power was out, I phoned my mother 5 miles away who said…we didn’t get anything here.  

If you weren’t in the path of the wind gust I experienced and my mother missed out on, here is a photo I took on my way home that I hope will help illustrate. Click on the photo for an enlarge view.

Backstroking in my Basement,

Brooke Trout

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