Guest column: Technology in the classroom

In 2012, the scientific community was shocked to see six Italian scientists arrested and placed on trial for the manslaughter of 309 people. How did they manage to kill 309 people? Easy: They failed to predict an earthquake.

As insane as it sounds, two years later these scientists are still stuck in an appeal process, and they are still facing a potential six years in prison. Now long off everyone’s radar, the questions this prosecution poses to Western civilization have faded from our memory.

At stake and at issue are the underlying ideologies of what our machines and the data they generate actually mean to us as human beings. Unfortunately, these ideologies remain in the background of our educational and technological decision-making. The lives and the minds of our students are rapidly becoming intertwined with their technologies and the haste we feel in harnessing this cultural phenomenon is driven by a competitive economic desire to “stay ahead” of the technological curve.

With the exception of perhaps a few hold-over “Luddites,” no one I know is against the use of technology in the classroom. On the flip side, however, I must say that in all my conversations about classroom technology, I have never—not even once—heard a citizen or educator discuss what the use of that technology actually means to a human being. [Read more...]


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Guest column: Oak Ridge—moving ahead!

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

In December of 2013, the City of Oak Ridge was given a Christmas present: a strong, viable prospective property owner that would help reclaim the center of our precious city. Crosland Southeast, well-respected developers from North Carolina, came to our city and said they could help us redevelop the crumbling mall within our city. This mall, newly named Main Street Oak Ridge, had come to symbolize the ultimate development challenge for our city.

Now, 10 months later, the time has come for the details of our work to begin to come out in the open. This project has taken several courses. First, the City of Oak Ridge and Anderson County said that they would support the development of this project with what is known as a tax increment district, or TIF. The governments would continue to receive their marginal values in property taxes, but the “new” value created by the private investment in Main Street Oak Ridge would be used to pay for public improvements on the project such as new traffic configurations, road improvements, and building demolition. In return, the private developer would borrow money at his own risk and develop major new retail shopping, with a potential hotel and residential development on the 65-acre site.

This effort has been successful, and major retail tenants have been lined up for filling a targeted 260,000 square feet of new facilities. Our Belk store will receive a facelift, and JCPenney will continue to perform. At present, stores are in the initial inquiry stages of building and will be moving to make announcements by the first of the year or shortly thereafter. I would love to tell you the names of the stores (which I have seen), but we need to honor the wishes of the companies as they make their expansion announcements. I believe the Oak Ridge community will be pleased! [Read more...]

Guest column: Community officials make advances in preventing underage drinking

By Allies for Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP) of Anderson County

The Anderson County Underage Drinking Task Force is completing its first year of existence, one which proved to be quite productive.

The Task Force kicked off last September when it assembled key stakeholders from beer boards, law enforcement agencies, government officials, and businesses across different jurisdictions in Anderson County to identify barriers to compliance with underage drinking laws, with a focus on developing local solutions. Over the last year, the Task Force has worked to review alcohol policies of all jurisdictions in Anderson County.

As part of the review process, the Task Force identified a need for consistency throughout the county on alcohol regulations. Through collaborative dialogue, members discovered that many business owners have locations in two or even three different municipalities, each regulated by different rules. [Read more...]

Guest column: IRS warns of continuing scam phone calls

NASHVILLE—The IRS continues to warn the public to be alert for telephone scams. The callers often claim to be with the IRS and usually demand money.

Based on the most recent figures released, there have been at least 90,000 complaints about these phone scams and about 1,100 victims who have lost an estimated $5 million.

“Be suspicious of anyone who calls demanding your money or your private information,” said IRS spokesman Dan Boone. “These con artists can sound very convincing and will probably try to intimidate you into giving them what they want.”

Boone said the callers may know a lot about you and usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers. If you don’t answer, they often leave an “urgent” callback request. [Read more...]

Guest column: Council looks to future in policy, planning meetings

Note: This is a brief report to the town on Oak Ridge City Council meetings on policy and planning.

Following a vote in June to do so, City Council has been having two policy and planning meetings each month.

At our first meeting, we agreed to follow the general outline of the Comprehensive Plan in order to give ourselves focus. We added a section for the U.S. Department of Energy. Council members Chuck Hope, Trina Baughn, David Mosby, Charlie Hensley, and Anne Garcia Garland have been attending. City attorney Ken Krushenski, a couple of interested citizens, and the press have attended also.

The most encouraging outcome so far has been that the five have begun to operate as a team. We are looking at ways to improve the council’s effectiveness.

Those who follow the Council agenda online will have noticed that Monday’s agenda included a resolution from Council to have four things occur: [Read more...]

Guest column: League works to educate voters, protect voting rights

League Matters: Making Democracy Work

The League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge is beginning its 2014-2015 year, and we would like to use this opportunity to talk about the League—who we are and what we do.

The League is a nonpartisan political organization for women and men, but we neither support nor oppose any candidate, party, or political appointee. Our mission is to encourage informed and active participation in the democratic process, increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influence policy making through education and advocacy.

Voting is the most powerful way to make our citizens’ voices heard. And educated and informed voters are the key to making our democracy work. The League works all year, every year, to empower all eligible voters to participate in our political system. We have many voter registration drives each year, and will be joining other local leagues and like-minded organizations in the National Voter Registration Day on September 23. We especially seek to aid those from traditionally underrepresented or underserved communities.

We work to educate voters about candidates in federal, state, and local races each year through our candidate and voter forums. The forums provide straightforward information on candidates and ballot issues, free of any partisan import. We distribute many types of educational materials such as voter guides, elected official directories, information on polling places, and state and local election rules. A voter forum about the constitutional amendments on the November election ballot will be held at Pollard Auditorium on October 7. A series of pre-election candidate forums are planned for September. [Read more...]

Guest column: Explosive interest in ‘Manhattan’

Cynthia C. Kelly

Cynthia C. Kelly

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The WGN America television show “Manhattan” has galvanized the interest of millions of viewers. Shown on Sunday nights, national audiences are riveted by the dramatic tension between rival groups of scientists and the omnipresent security police in Los Alamos in 1943. “Manhattan” follows the scientists as they confront the challenges of making a workable atomic bomb while dealing with an intrusive military force, intense rivalries, and strained marital relations where couples can no longer confide in each other.

The show is a blend of fact and fiction. The primary characters are entirely fictional including the main scientist, Frank Winter; Chinese-American physicist, Sidney Liao; and wunderkind Charlie Isaacs and his most attractive wife, Abby. But “Manhattan” has preserved at least two real persona, J. Robert Oppenheimer as the director of Los Alamos, and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr who visits the laboratory to offer his advice.

The central tension is the race to develop two different approaches to a plutonium-based bomb. Winter believes an implosion bomb offers the best option but most of the scientists—including Oppenheimer—are more confident in a gun-type plutonium bomb similar to the design used for the uranium-based bomb. While the enmity between the two groups is exaggerated for television, “Manhattan” does a good job showing the challenges the scientists and engineers faced knowing little about the newly discovered and quite bizarre element plutonium.

In a 1965 interview with journalist Stephane Groueff, J. Robert Oppenheimer recalled: “I think the set of problems connected with implosion was the most difficult, and it required very new experimental techniques. It was not a branch of physics anyone was very familiar with. It was, from a theoretical, an observational, and a practical point of view, quite an adventure. Plutonium was a terrible test from beginning to end and never stayed quiet: it gets hot, it is radioactive, you cannot touch it, you have to coat it, and the coating always peels. It is just a terrible substance.” [Read more...]

Guest column: City manager urges citizen engagement in key decisions

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

Many projects are happening in Oak Ridge at the present time. Our city does not slow down and is affected by issues at the state, federal, and local levels.

As your city manager, I am concentrating on matters such as the implementation of EPA sewer requirements on a tight timeframe, creation of a national park, development of a new mall, and installation of a new dispatch center.

Among its many other decisions, Oak Ridge will be facing a pair of major initiatives which particularly important for our community. The American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE), owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory contractor UT-Battelle, is under new leadership as veteran museum director David Moore takes the helm. With this change, the DOE knows that the long-term viability of a museum is dependent upon local and regional involvement.

Recently, the AMSE Foundation and the City of Oak Ridge have been co-hosting a series of community meetings about AMSE to discuss options for developing a new operating model for the museum. Two of four public discussions have been held about this topic.

Last week, we heard from the directors of the MUSE in Knoxville, the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, and the new Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol to hear how today’s museums remain current and relevant to their visitors. Turnout for the first two meetings has been very encouraging; the next public meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 25, from 6-8 p.m., when heritage tourism will be discussed. [Read more...]

Guest column: ORS made gains on most of Seven Keys to College, Career Readiness

Bruce Borchers

Bruce Borchers

In any transition year in which the state’s standards and/or tests change, it is difficult to make meaningful comparisons with the results on those tests from previous years. Comparisons within the year can be meaningful, such as the fact that the percentage of students in Oak Ridge Schools that were at or above proficiency is higher than the state average on nearly every test administered; or that the state said that “strong gains” were made on the high school tests, and our data shows that ORS continues to far outperform the state on every high school End of Course examination.

That being said, ORS did find areas for growth and also celebration within our results. Our overall student population did not achieve as highly as we had hoped. However, we did see significant increases in some of our subgroups. In fact, ORS closed the achievement gap in 10 of the 16 areas monitored by the state. For instance, our English Language Learners had a nearly 8 percent increase in the number of students who were proficient on the state’s mathematics examination.

So what do we do when the state changes the standards and tests? Is there a way that we can continue to monitor our progress to ensure the success of our students? Yes! We can look to the measures that we know indicate the success of our students—ORS Seven Keys to College and Career Readiness. These Keys were developed collaboratively with the community and focus on the steps needed to prepare students for the rigors of life after high school. In our Keys, we see positive gains on the majority of measures. [Read more...]

Guest column: Tennessee retention elections explained by LWVTN

By League Issues: Making Democracy Work

On August 7, Tennesseans will vote in a statewide retention election for appellate judges. Included are three of the five Tennessee Supreme Court justices as well as judges currently sitting on the Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals.

The August 7 retention election represents the last such election under the much-respected Tennessee Plan—the 40-plus year plan for merit selection and retention of appellate judges. The plan was designed to reduce partisanship and outside influences in electing and retaining our appellate judges. The final phase of the plan—merit retention—expired June 30, 2014.

This year’s retention election is particularly important. Fair and impartial court supporters in our state—including Governor Haslam—are concerned about media reports that the three Supreme Court justices seeking retention in Tennessee might become the targets of heavily financed campaigns organized by groups outside the state. There have been reports of such campaigns targeting high court justices in several other states across our nation.

What does merit retention mean? [Read more...]

Guest column: Oak Ridge…a story of excellence

Bruce Borchers

Bruce Borchers

Let me first state how thankful I am to be part of the Oak Ridge community. I have not worked in, nor do I know of, a community and school district that has a stronger board of education or staff that is focused on students. There are many reasons and indicators of this, but one does not have to look too far to understand that the academic achievement in Oak Ridge has remained steady and/or improved despite a 30 percent increase in the number of students in poverty (over 50 percent of our students now come from a home of poverty) over the last decade. This is a true testament to the dedication of our board, staff, parents, and students.

I have enjoyed my transition both to Oak Ridge and Tennessee as superintendent and look forward to my second year in this role. I have become active in the community and am happy to be a member of Noon Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce Board, and the Methodist Medical Center Board. I look forward to participating in additional activities and offerings that this great community is so fortunate to have. My wife and I have also enjoyed a wonderful personal transition to Oak Ridge. My son will be a freshmen at Oak Ridge High School next year, and my daughter will be a part of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band this fall at the University of Tennessee. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be the Oak Ridge superintendent as well as being a father of a current Oak Ridge student.

This is too great of a community and district to let negativity infiltrate the very essence of Oak Ridge. The creation of this amazing community and the Oak Ridge Schools is too great of a story for our country (the world really) to move in such a negative direction. Therefore, I pledge to do my part to keep the conversation civil, accurate, and most of all focused on the 4,440 students that walk through our doors every day who depend on the adults to make decisions based on the needs of children and not the comfort level of adults. [Read more...]

Guest column: Afterthoughts on the 2015 budget

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

A lot of incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, information has been disseminated to the public regarding the Fiscal Year 2015 city and school budgets. Such inconsistencies compound citizen frustrations as they begin to feel the impact of both bodies’ decisions. I would like to offer some clarification along with supporting resources, which will also be hyperlinked within my website, trinabaughn.com.

First, let me address the claim that council is “not supportive” of our schools. I assure you that each and every one of us actively supports the education of Oak Ridge children with both our private and public contributions of time and money.

Furthermore, when factoring in debt payments, council allocates roughly half of all property taxes toward our schools. In fact, there are only four other communities in all of the state that out fund Oak Ridge at the local level. And even though council did not increase the tax rate this year, we did increase funding to the schools by over $500,000 due to the high school mortgage obligation shift. And contrary to claims that funding levels have been flat or declined, a simple comparison from 2005-2014 shows that total school spending has increased from $42.3 million to $55.5 million.

Second, both city and school representatives are guilty of understating their employees’ history of pay increases. City employees have received pay raises four out of the last five years. Teachers, too, have received raises every year of the last five years. The range and form of those raises is worthy of further discussion, and I intend on broaching the subject in our next joint Council/BOE meeting. [Read more...]