July 28, 2009
In funding of schools, we're #44, in 2006-2007, by the amount of money public schools spent per pupil during the 2006-07 school year. The study was of 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
"According to the report, public schools in North Carolina spent an average of $7,883 per pupil during the fiscal 2007 school year. That’s nearly $2,000 below the national average of $9,666. New York came in first with average spending per pupil of $15,981. Utah took last place on the list at $5,683." (Source: Charlotte Business Journal, Tuesday, July 28, 2009, 11:31am EDT)
In less than one month, I will have two children in the North Carolina public school system. They, their classmates and the teachers deserve better from our county, our state and our friends in Washington.
July 27, 2009
As was said, we all had a certain 'glow' about us.
What spoke to me at this experience was two-fold. One, that the heat now entered the vernacular of the content and was a shared, community challenge. Second, how it seemed to be used, at first, for levity, and then it got abused.
Not a big deal, but it reminds me of the repetitive words traps that I either find myself in, or hear frequently. Those include phrases, jargon and simple repetition. When I can catch myself, I think I have done the world a favor, but often I am too late to the game.
July 24, 2009
To bump into a kindred spirit, a like philosophy - both personal and professional - is a luxury. It's one I am beginning to see more and more. I think it's because I am being both more deliberate as I dig around opportunities and that I am trying to be aware of others' time and not waste it.
And I keep looking...
July 23, 2009
More specifically, with a spike in demand, a decrease in foundation, government and agency (such as United Way) funding, many, many area nonprofits are at a crossroads. Are their boards well-equipped - i.e. fiduciary role, turnaround management and/or strategic planning - to effectively serve the cause today and tomorrow?
I worry that financial support, ideological connection, loyalty and network(s) have placed too many board members in their seats, some of which might be warming up with the current environment.
I dislike raising the issue, without a solution, but I think many boards, and their executive committees, need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask whether they are the best people for the seat right now? And even going forward...
July 21, 2009
In other examples, not this one, I have encountered resistance to adjusting or revisiting the state of affairs. More specifically, I have witnessed when entities 'bought/chose' the proposal and not the latest thinking that might be best for the organization. In other words, they were less than willing to discuss, revisit or alter the expectations.
Luckily that's not the conversation I had today. We talked about evolution and the path forward, which is good for everyone. It was a refreshing perspective.
July 17, 2009
When I was in the rotunda, under the capitol dome, I noticed these neat stone mosaics of different aspects of PA history, including mining, steel, Amish, etc. they were fragments of red, brown and other natural colored stones assembled in a way to both acknowledge the commonwealth's history and tell a story. There were no words and they needed none. It was all nicely woven together.
FYI - when reading the local paper, I was baffled by an abbreviation used extensively in the paper, "Twp., " which, as I learned means township. Who knew?
July 16, 2009
During the course of my trip, at least on outbound, I was struck by routines and habits of fellow travelers - go to the bathroom twice before a flight, clench fists at takeoff/landing, pray, and other ways that seemed to pass the time and perhaps ward off anxiety pre-flight. And the others - jump in the aisle to block others, tighten seatbelt when turbulence occurs, check cell phone and email up until the last second, etc. - that seem to be the anxiety of life while flying. The superstitions - my word - or frantic behaviors that some embrace around flying, despite the statistics, seem sort of funny and ironic in the modern world.
Some of it makes me hope that web and email access never comes to planes, which I view of one of the last bastions of escape. And I even got to sit in row 13, but not in the middle seat.
You can read the full article, here.
Here are some good nuggets from the interview:
Simplicity is undervalued. Staring at a masterpiece for forty-five minutes is not that dissimilar from staring at a still lake, or at a hawk flying overhead. Both of those things are really simple; there's not a lot of skill involved. You don't have to be a trained artist to understand that Da Vinci was a master. And you don't have to be a trained botanist to understand that those redwoods are pretty freaking awesome.
Organized sports can lead to more stress, not less. Especially for kids. I guess being outside can be stressful, too, if a swarm of bees attacks you. But that doesn't happen all that much.
July 15, 2009
The board members of the NC Council on Economic Education recently came to our office and holed up in the conference room for most of the day for a strategy session. Above is one very fine photo of the group and includes Topics' very own Bruce Nofsinger (left) who serves as Vice Chairman of the Board.
So I have had to invest several hours in re-working the deliverable because I failed to spend a few minutes up front, clearly, explicitly laying out my thoughts and intentions.
Ooops. Hopefully try not to make that one again...
July 14, 2009
At the same time,with the impact of budget cuts, layoffs and current economy, this is a major challenge since more should be done than can be with current skills, resources and budget. So prioritization has to be laid against the clock and tough decisions have to be made so that what can be accomplished starts now, not later, and that the process can begin.
It's as if the entity needs to travel on part of an engine without all cylinders firing.
July 13, 2009
Some other recommendations from around the office:
- From MSNBC.com, "Stub Your Toe? Say 'Sh#!' You'll Feel Better: Shouting sweat words has a powerful pain-killing effect, study shows"
- From the Guardian.co.uk, "Collapse in illegal sharing and boom in streaming brings music to executives' ears"
- And a powerpoint slideshow from Ed Schipul, "Non profits and the Web: May the (social media) force be with you".
I read a fascinating article this morning where the author, for a different perspective, when he travels by air, he arrives early, gets a drink and goes to the arrivals area at the airport. He sees the disconnected, reconnected, trials and tribulations and the emotional side of what air travel can facilitate.
This is a choice of how to be and to be different that the rush-rush, hassled traveled impacted by TSA, schedules and a neat point of view to choose.
July 12, 2009
During the roadside walk, trash gathering, my five-year old continued to have questions like, "why don't people keep trash in their car?" and "there are a lot of smokers (cigarettes) thrown around. That's not very nice is it?" (My wife and other son were working from the other end towards us.) During the finding of a paint bucket, I heard, "Well you don't see that every day," from the insightful youth.
It was a good experience for all and proves, to me, that kids do say what's on their mind and usually get right to the point.
Oh and he got poison ivy too.
July 10, 2009
For example, we have conducted a number of interviews with thought leaders and I am now trying to prioritize into recommendations and then rank the recommendations. The choices are tough. The investment is important.
Yet how to bring the input together and put together an innovative approach that can lead to real impact and reach both a large population and those normally hard to connect with? That's the outlier I am trying to find.
Yet as inspiration goes it got me thinking. So stick with me. After seven - eight - nine comes 10. In the advertising world, most still images of watches (often in commercials as well) are taken at the time 10:10. This is for a number of reasons including having both hands facing upwards is optimistic, the hands swept away from noon do not clutter the brand name, the overly-civil Swiss prefer that the hands not be at 6:30-ish, thus blocking their recognition and so on.
For me, this typically marks a transitional time of the morning. Most of my getting settled's done. My coffee's gone. I am hungry, looking forward to lunch. The mid-section of the country is now accessible at work, etc.
So seven - eight - nine got me to realize that the 10 o'clock hour is a pivotal one for me. So I plan to try to post about relevant ideas and lessons that are part of what I am doing each day at 10:10, or so.
We will see.
July 9, 2009
The hospitalization of heavy children has skyrocketed in recent years, a study shows.
The number of hospitalizations of kids and teens, ages 2 to 19, with a primary or secondary diagnosis of obesity nearly doubled between 1999 and 2005, climbing from 21,743 to 42,429, according to a study published Thursday on the Health Affairs website.
These were stays for obesity-related conditions such as asthma, diabetes, gallbladder disease, pneumonia, skin infections, pregnancy complications, depression and other mental disorders.
The estimated costs for these hospitalizations increased from almost $126 million in 2001 to almost $238 million in 2005. This cost for Medicaid rose from $53.6 million in 2001 to about $118 million in 2005.
Related to this, we're excited to say we just completed a project for The Outdoor Foundation that we hope will lead to getting more kids outside and being active. In short, the web-based curriculum, featuring interviews of experienced outdoor leaders, aims to help volunteer mentors feel more comfortable and confident when leading groups of youth in outdoor activities. And in turn, we hope to see more youth out and about, staying healthy and active, exploring and playing in the great outdoors!
You can check out the website, here. And see what Josh Thomas, Principal, Topics Education has to say about this growing epidemic over on his personal blog, Environmental Dad.
The choices of when to use, when not to use and how to be effective with the ever-changing landscape is some of what I hope to convey.
So much moves in this arena each day, with little real data that measures items like engagement, involvement and true reach. Sure there are traffic numbers, but who's really reading, who's really listening? And are they acting? Or just spectating?
July 8, 2009
Look for a spotlight article from Scott and Josh next month about the event, including their thoughts on how the social media strategy affected their experience. Speaking of, if you’re going to OR, let Scott (@js_wilkening) or Josh (@jt_topics) know. If enough of you will be there, maybe we can have our very own Topics Tweetup!
Editor's Note: In the true social media spirit of this event, we were corrected via twitter not even five minutes after this post went live that there are in fact three twitter accounts for the event. The tweet went like this --- @TopicsEducation OR actually has 3 twitter accounts, the aggregate @ORSM09, show director @outdoorretailer, and booth events @orshowlive. Thanks @ChipatSOAR!
And with the eye towards civic engagement, it's the kind of work that I really enjoy.
In 2002, Richard Florida penned the tome, The Rise of the Creative Class, igniting a mini-industry of speaking gigs, consulting engagements, and market studies so that chambers of commerce, economic development groups, and well-funded metropolises could develop a program to recruit, grow, and maintain their fair – or more than fair – share of the knowledge worker. For the most part, this knowledge worker strategy was a hybrid business development/workforce development model combined with PR and the savvy marketing of a college professor, who’s since written the following sequels: The Flight of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City?, plus others.
Years ago, I worked on a regional project to do just that: attract, recruit, and retain the creative class to an area so that we could keep more than our fair share. Did the effort gain traction, attract dollars, and nearly explode with community interest? Absolutely. But why? I think a big reason for its success was – and still is – because launching such an initiative geared at a well-paid, well-educated, upwardly mobile segment of the workforce is relatively easy. And it’s “sexy.”
But what’s not sexy? Helping the less literate, the less educated, those in declining or dying industries. With this segment of the workforce, legacy ‘issues’ exist: pensions, asbestos, regulations, trade sanctions, quotas … you name the excuse du jour. Policy makers, if they’d wanted to look closely, could have done the hard work of researching and building a new model for those workers on the edge, those most threatened by wage pressure, those least mobile. That didn’t happen, and I think it’s mainly because such an effort is not one that will, in my opinion, ignite a movement or broad interest since it requires tough choices around tough issues.
While all of this innovative thinking around the Creative Class – this newly categorized group of workers who earn their living and contributed to the community by exercising their gray matter instead of muscular abilities – was going on, where was the fresh thinking and forward-looking planning for those wage-workers in, say, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Akron, Pittsburgh, Columbia, Macon (GA), and others all across the United States?
Now fast forward to 2009. Looking at the buckets of money that the federal government and the states are pumping into workforce development, one would think that the policy-makers get it, that this money will push innovation to all sectors – including the hourly-wage sector – of the economy. But what I am hearing from multiple stimulus funding recipients contradicts this. What I hear is that the training wing of the workforce development party – the K-12 system, college/university, and community colleges – are being encouraged not to innovate, not to expand, not to reach, in their efforts to secure stimulus funding, but rather to dust off something that’s shovel-ready and get it into the market. Wow. What a disgrace. What a lost opportunity.
Please don’t get me wrong. I support the Obama Administration. I support proactive engagement and action to move our economy forward. I wish, though, that policy-makers would dig a little deeper and study what innovative ideas are out there, including those of Dr. Florida and others. Many of these existing strategies can be applied to the long-neglected – but immensely talented – hourly-wage sector in helping them to take on jobs that helps our country retain and grow its leadership around innovative industry. The supply and demand aspects of workforce development need to be reviewed. And we need to train these workers on how best to enter the new workforce development pipeline and what they should expect.
Training needs to be aligned to meet the needs and, in some cases, anticipated needs of the workforce. These needs include green jobs, language training, technical training, entrepreneurship training, networking training, and some broader (read less technical, or more soft skills) attributes than were in the 20th century curricula.
The workforce development world needs to be more strategic, to focus on making every worker better. How about a slogan like: “No Worker Left Behind?” That should be the workforce development psyche for today. And tomorrow.
July 7, 2009
Linnea Buttermore, a rising senior Sociology major and co-captain of Davidson’s Swimming and Diving Team, is here with us this summer. We’ve asked her some questions about why she wanted to work here, what she’s finding interesting, and what she’s getting out it. You can read about her experience on our blog.
Linnea, tell us a little bit about yourself …
I am 21 years old, a rising senior Sociology major at Davidson College, and co-captain of the Swimming and Diving Team next year. When I am not training for diving, I enjoy wakeboarding, snowboarding, surfing, running, and driving my pink Jeep Wrangler to the Jersey Shore (near my hometown).
Why did you want to work at Topics Education?
I applied for an internship at Topics Education after taking a Sociology of Education course last semester. I really wanted to learn more about education outside of the classroom in an environment that is constantly moving and creating. When I read about Topics I knew that I would never become bored working here, based on the extensive range of projects going on day-to-day. I also liked the idea of so many different companies and organizations being able to come to one place for all their education needs.
What’s the best thing about working here?
The best thing about working at Topics is definitely the environment. Topics was founded by a very creative group of enjoyable people to work with. Everyone is extremely driven and focused; yet it is a casual and entertaining office to work in.
Have you learned anything this summer?
One of the main lessons I have learned since starting with Topics is the importance of detail. Feeling responsible for every small aspect of a project has really caused me to concentrate long and hard about every piece that I am involved with. I have also been given the opportunity to see how some of the more basic tasks, such as research and proofreading are vital components to every project.
Topics Education is a great company for any college student looking to get some “real world” experience. It is definitely intimidating to think about where I will be after graduation, but I know with what I have learned through working at Topics, I am going to be more prepared to enter the job market next year.
Vernon, FL (1981)
Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)
Super Size Me (2004)
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
The Real Dirt on Farmer Joe (2005)
The Fog of War (2003)
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
And for a good laugh, we recommend the following Mockumentary:
Best in Show (2000)