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On innovators in both education and music

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Posted: Saturday, December 15, 2012 12:00 am

Galt elementary school administrators and teachers have a spirit of cooperation and innovation that is paying off — literally.

Word came this week that President Obama's Race to the Top program granted Galt elementary schools $10 million.

The money will come in over four years and pay for training, supplies and equipment. It will allow creation of learning centers in each school's library.

The district was among 16 schools to receive a grant sought by 372 applicants nationwide. At a time when most schools have to cut funding, Galt will now be able to add to its $29 million budget.

Two key facts earned Galt schools the coveted largesse:

  • They are already very successful. Each of the six grade schools in Galt has an individual Academic Performance Index score above the 800 target set by the state.
  • The district cited its recently revamped teacher evaluation process in its grant application. Developed with the teachers union, the evaluation program includes processes for improvement and even dismissal of under-performing teachers. It will also identify exceptional teachers.

The new evaluation process requires school principals to visit classrooms several times a semester. The visits are unannounced and principals give teachers a short note about their observations.

That's a sharp contrast to what happens elsewhere.

In Lodi, if a permanent teacher is in good standing, an hour-long observation of one lesson occurs once every two years. Temporary teachers or those on probation are evaluated annually. Surprise visits are allowed but not required.

In most school districts, teacher reviews take place every three to five years, and only after a traditional observation on a set date.

Prearranged visits often lead teachers to script a "dog and pony show" for their principals.

Brian Meddings, president of the union representing Galt elementary school teachers, believes the new evaluations will help students.

"(They) will see the administrators more as their visibility will increase throughout the classrooms. Kids may become more familiar and less anxious when the principal walks into a classroom," he said.

Teachers will share this new experience.

Leaders of Galt grade schools are clearly cooperating to put kids first and that is the best definition of educational professionalism we know of.

Dave Brubeck was a legend — and inspiration

Dave Brubeck, who grew up near Ione, died last week, leaving a legacy of musical innovation.

There was much to learn from Mr. Brubeck, who died Dec. 5 in Norwalk, Conn., one day shy of his 92nd birthday.

He was unafraid to take risks, for instance. Raised in Amador County, he might have lived a fulfilling life as a rancher, but his muse was musical. So at Pacific, where he initially planned to study toward a career as a veterinarian, he switched to his passion, music.

He served honorably in World War II and then pursued his music. Not any music. His music. Bold and experimental. Or, as he told a biographer, dangerous music.

Brubeck blended his own innovations with classical influences on the 1959 album "Time Out."

Yet Columbia executives stalled nearly a year before releasing the album. It was, they said, so unfamiliar, so exotic.

You couldn't even dance to it, they said.

Brubeck also insisted the cover include a painting by Joan Miro.

The album ended up selling over a million copies.

Mr. Brubeck was known as mellow and creative, but he could also be willful in defense of his principles.

He was an outspoken supporter of civil rights, and his group was one of the best-known racially integrated performing acts in the land. According to an obituary in the Associated Press, Brubeck gave up lucrative gigs at Southern college campuses and on television's Bell Telephone Hour when he was asked to replace Eugene Wright, his African-American bassist.

Instead, Mr. Brubeck moved Wright to the front of the stage.

He helped found the Monterey Jazz Festival. He saw jazz as a musical metaphor for America, of free men and women.

They banned jazz in Nazi Germany, he noted, and post-war Russia.

"Jazz is about freedom within discipline," he told an interviewer in 2005.

In the latter stages of his career, he continued taking risks. He was a composer of cantatas and oratorios and other works dealing with religion and civil rights.

David Warren Brubeck was about the jazz, and more. He was also about following your passion. He was about takings risks.

And sticking with your principles.

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