Friday, December 31, 2010

Kent Community Survey

I recently had the chance to read the results of the Kent City Schools' survey.  During October, the district conducted a survey of the community to gauge their opinions on such things as the performance of the schools, administration, and possible facility changes.  The survey was done in two parts: the first part was a 400-person survey done over the phone by Kent State University while the other part was a 342-person written survey that was sent home to parents.  One of the days I subbed at Roosevelt I passed out the survey to students in my second period class.  The results of the survey can be found here.  Although I am technically an employee of the district as a substitute teacher, I am blogging here as a community member and an alumnus of the district as my interest in seeing this district do well is far more rooted in my connection and loyalty to Kent than being a sub. 

The first thing that really struck me was the section that had verbatim comments from respondents.  Both surveys had the opportunity for open comments, but only the phone survey comments were published.  I read all of the comments, which were taken for two questions: "Do you have any suggestions for the district to continue saving money?" and "Finally, do you have any questions or comments that we could convey to the Kent administration and board of education?"  Of course there were plenty of the classic "everything's great" and "keep up the good work" comments that inevitably come up.  There were some off-the-wall comments too like "how did you get my number?" and "they should reword the questions".  There were also some that show the respondent didn't pay attention to the survey, like a comment about freezing wages to save money when it was stated earlier that the district had already done so.  This is one of my favorites:
"You have to find a way to communicate with community better. Not everyone reads paper or has a computer, or has kids in the system."  This is especially ironic given a comment earlier that one of the ways to save money would be to "Stop sending junk mail- especially calendars." (each fall the district sends out calendar that has school events and the schedule on it along with other important contact info...I find it VERY useful).  I'm not really sure how much more the district could do.  In the end, they can only do so much to communicate; it's not like they keep the information secret.  The part about "not everyone reads paper" I'm hoping is just either a typo or it was spoken wrong.  How else can we communicate beyond the web and paper?  Does this person want phone calls or a TV show or something?

Most of the comments didn't surprise me.  You always have the people that think we should cut everything but science and math, and even one person said the first thing to go should be music and sports.  There were a few that advocated more of a pay-to-play fee for sports.  While I can understand that stance, I also think that everyone should have an equal chance to play sports or participate in other enrichment activities; not just the ones their family can afford.  Pay-to-play puts huge burdens on families and ultimately keeps a lot of people out of those things I feel make school a lot more real to students than just books and facts.  What bothered me the most as an educator were the focus just on test scores.  I've blogged extensively about the shortcomings of the state proficiency tests and the danger on relying only on their results as a means to compare districts.  Another comment I was troubled by was in regards to getting more part-time teachers so the district could save on healthcare and other costs like salary.  That's it; make teaching even less desirable and that will improve the schools.  Right.  Do people really think that will attract and retain the best and brightest?  As my aunt Jane, who is also a teacher, pointed out at Thanksgiving, teaching is one of those professions that everyone knows how to do your job better than you but won't actually do what is necessary to actually get a job in the field.  If teaching is "so easy" and teachers should be making even less than they do, why aren't all the people saying that lining up to show how easy it is?  Why do so many teachers leave the profession after only a short time?  Why do many who leave cite better pay in their new job as a reason they left teaching if it pays so well? 

The real kicker after reading the many comments (if you have time, the PDF of the phone survey can be found here...comments start on page 13, though the PDF page is one off of the printed page since the cover page is counted as page 1 in the file) was question 21 (printed page 11, PDF page 12): "Do you currently have children enrolled in the Kent Schools?"  The answer was 76.9% no.  So, 76.9% of the comments were from people who don't have kids in the schools right now.  That could range from people who just had their last kid graduate to people who enroll their kids in an alternate private or home school, to people who don't even have kids or had kids graduate many years ago.  In other words, I found it ironic that with all these comments about what is wrong with the schools, the vast majority of them are coming from people who have little to no connection with the district right now, yet they claim to know what's wrong and how to fix it. This survey also rated the superintendent with a "B" rating.  This was in contrast to the take home survey, which was filled out with over 90% of respondents being parents with kids in the district right now.  They gave him him with an "A" rating.  I only wish the written comments they had given were published.  They seemed to have a more positive view of the district.  Why?  Being in the schools lets people see past the state test scores, something I mentioned in my blog a few weeks ago.. The real test to evaluating schools is being an active parent and knowing what to look for.  Only then do the test scores have much more of a context and meaning.

Some of the things I was happy to see were questions about facilities, which I had heard would be one of the primary issues gauged.  In other words, the district is probably considering a bond issue or other increase to fund improvements to facilities and wants to see if it's going to be worth the time and effort of getting it passed.  The facility issues involve adding on to Roosevelt, mainly additional classroom space and a second gym; addressing the parking and traffic nightmare that exists every morning and afternoon at Roosevelt; adding on or replacing Franklin Elementary; and adding on to Holden Elementary.  If I had to rank these facility projects, I'd probably rank them in the order I just listed.  Each one is definitely justified, in my opinion, but obviously now isn't the best time to do a massive building project.  What I found interesting were a few comments in the survey that Franklin should be closed rather than replaced or added onto.  I think it could work, but I'd rather not see an elementary school closed unless the enrollment is very low; right now, Franklin has between 200 and 300 students, which is right around what the other elementary schools have in Kent (there are 5 total).  We also have to look long range.  While enrollment may be down, that doesn't mean it will stay down as families grow up, move out, and new ones move in.  Kent is definitely an aging population and a lot of households do not have kids anymore (empty nesters), but it won't stay like that forever as people age and move on.

One thing that gets missed, in my opinion, is the age of most of the facilities.  As buildings get older, they cost more to maintain.  Outside of Stanton Middle School, which opened in 1999, every other building is near 50 years or older with some having more recent additions.  The vast majority of Kent's schools were built in the late 1960s or before (during the period of Kent's largest growth), with a few having additions in the 1970s.  Roosevelt has a small addition from 1997, but the vast majority of the building was built in various phases between 1958 and 1977.  Franklin dates back to the 1920s and has an addition that was added in the 1960s as far as I know.  Holden opened in 1965 and has largely been untouched since then beyond basic maintenance. 

Roosevelt definitely needs an additional gym.  I have always been perplexed why we only have one gym when most comparable high schools (those of similar enrollments) usually have a main gym and an auxiliary gym.  Even the new Ravenna High School, as I blogged about earlier this year, has two gyms, one that is used mainly for competitions and the other that is used for physical education classes.  As I said in my blog there, I have long wanted Roosevelt to have something similar to what Ravenna ended up building in their high school, which is a small field house.  The current gym has served us well and is in pretty good shape, but people need to remember it was built as part of the original 1958 building.  Since then, the school's enrollment has gone from 550 students in 1959 to around 1,400 today and the building has had numerous additions.  The gym does not even fit the entire student body.  I would love to see a field house type addition with a large space that could be subdivided into multiple courts, as well as a multi-purpose room.  Right now, the auditorium lobby functions as our "multi-purpose room" despite the fact that it is freezing this time of year and is part of the hallway.  We also have quite a bit of teachers who move from room to room each period because we do not have enough classrooms.  I'm all for efficient use of space, but having a few extra rooms would still allow for maximum use while giving teachers a place to "set up shop" as opposed to constantly pushing a cart around the school.

The other issue, the traffic problems at Roosevelt and Stanton, also needs to be addressed.  Maybe it's because I'm at Roosevelt so much now, but the traffic has always been bad.  The reason it gets bad is because of the orientation of the parking lots and roads.  Basically, you have two parking lots and three roads all coming together at one point.  It's further exacerbated by it being the primary route students take to walk to and from the parking lot and it's where people drop their kids off.  So, you have tons of traffic funneled into one area mixing with hundreds of pedestrians.  In the afternoon, all of the buses head over to Stanton together, so it's like a train cutting through it all and bringing everything to a standstill.  Sometimes we have additional buses that are picking up students from other high schools who take vocational classes here as part of the Six District Education Compact.  The main dropoff point doesn't have a turnoff, so it blocks a lane of the road that handles the traffic.  Yes, it is an absolute nightmare every day.  Like the gym, it is a relic of the original 1958 building when there were far less students and even less cars.  Honestly, how many students had their own cars in 1959?  I have my own ideas about how to solve it (move the student parking lot to the north side of Roosevelt Drive adjacent to the building and add a second entrance from Mantua Street), but it definitely can't stay the way it is.

The main reasoning behind additions at Franklin and Holden has to do with mandated all-day kindergarten.  Neither building has much room to add an additional classroom or two to accommodate that and Holden has had a modular building next to it for years.  Replacing Franklin is more to do with its age and the fact that the building is fairly inaccessible to anyone with physical disabilities (if you've never been inside, it has a bizarre layout too).  Since it would likely need an addition and renovations, if replacing it is close to the same cost, in the long run it may be a less expensive option.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Davey Days

Back at the end of September I had the chance to sub at Davey Elementary School for two days (September 30-October 1) for the gym teacher.  Subbing in gym is always fun mostly because it involves just having the kids play a game the entire time, plus, I get to wear "gym clothes" (i.e. t-shirt and warm-up pants) to school instead of khakis and a shirt and tie.  Anyway, subbing at Davey is always fun and interesting because of the history I have with that building and the history of the building itself.

Front of Davey after a snowstorm in February 2010.  The original part
of the building is very symmetrical
I attended what was then Davey Middle School from 1993-1996 in grades 6-8.  At the end of my junior year in 1999, Davey was closed and renovated for a year after Stanton Middle School was done.  In 2000 it reopened as Davey Elementary, replacing Central Elementary, which was turned into an annex of the high school.  The Davey building has quite a history itself.  The original part of the building opened in 1922 as Roosevelt High School.  During the late 1930s/early 1940s, an annex was built behind the building to house industrial education.  It would be the high school until 1959, when it was rededicated as Davey Junior High School after the current high school on North Mantua Street opened.  In the late 1960s, a 2-story addition was added to the school, which included a new cafeteria and extra gym.  Davey Junior High was initially for grades 7-9 until the late 1970s when ninth-graders were moved back to Roosevelt.  During the mid 1980s the first 6th graders were brought to Davey, first all of the sixth grades, and finally just part of them.  From about 1986 until 1999, 6th graders from 2 of Kent's 5 elementary schools went to Davey while the rest stayed at their elementary schools.  I went to Walls Elementary, which was one of the two who sent 6th graders to Davey.  It was an unusual setup that existed only because Davey was simply not quite big enough for all the 6th graders.  The setup ended only after the larger Stanton Middle School opened in 1999.  In 1993, the whole team-teaching concept was introduced and Davey was officially rededicated as Davey Middle School, even though it had been a 6-8 school for several years by then.  What was funny was they made a big deal about it (it was even on TV) and took the words "Junior High" off the building, telling us it would be replaced with "Middle".  Well, that never happened.  To this day, it still says "Davey School" with Davey and School very far apart.

December 2006 picture showing the 1966 addition and the words on the front
The renovations to convert the building to use as an elementary school were pretty extensive.  Some of the older parts of the building were restored to be close to what they would've looked like in the 1920s, though many parts were simply ignored or modernized.  Of course all the junior high school lockers had to be removed, smaller chairs and desks brought in, and many rooms were completely gutted and/or partitioned.  Virtually all of the doors were replaced and the entire building was renumbered (so I can't use any of the room numbers I remember!).  The wing where the upper gym, girls locker room, and industrial arts rooms had been was completely stripped and converted into a preschool wing.  It's easy to see where the gym used to be on the outside of the building, but you'd never guess inside where it used to be.  The double doors that used to be the gym's entrance to the hallway are now the entrance to the hallway connecting each of the preschool rooms.  It's weird being in the school because it's the same building I went to, but it's different at the same time; like a shell of its former self.

Subbing in the gym was fun for the history side of me as the gym has seen quite a few changes.  One of the cool things about Davey is how fairly easy it is to see the many changes that have been made over the years to the building.  There are numerous bricked-over windows and doorways, some very obvious, others not so obvious.  The gym, which I and many others knew as the "lower gym", is part of the original 1922 building and has had several changes to it.  I brought my camera the 2nd day I was there and took some pictures during my lunch hour.  It was pretty fun exploring the hidden rooms of old Davey and noticing certain things I had long suspected about the building's past or never realized!  If you went to Davey, you will definitely be able to relate to these pictures.

The former boys locker room, now just used for storage.
The boys locker room actually has two parts, this part being the "lower" locker room that is under the auditorium.  It's like frozen in time with the floors clean, the showers empty, and the lights and restrooms still functioning.
Just past the doorway seen in the back of the first picture.  This room was used for storage when I was in school and I believe held equipment.  It was obviously used by the teams too.  Most of these signatures came from the period just before it ceased being used as a middle school, the 1990s.
Just beyond that room is another long room that was also used for storage and today is obviously just not used at all.  I long suspected there had been a staircase in this part of the building and this confirmed it.  See the remains of the staircase on the right side?  It was the bottom leg of the staircase on stage left of the auditorium.
Another view of the former staircase with one stair still remaining in a much different color than the stairs that still exist above it.
Looking the opposite direction from the former staircase, I discovered that this was also an alternate entrance to the gym. The shelf straight ahead is in what used to be a doorway.  The former doorway is visible behind the bleachers in the gym.
Another thing that surprised me in that same hallway were these bricked up windows.  Davey is built on the side of a hill, but apparently, the side against the hill was exposed, at least enough to have windows in the basement level.  If you went through these walls today you'd be underneath the 1966 addition.
Inside the gym. The windows on the right had long been bricked up when I was in school but were uncovered as part of the 1999-2000 renovations.  Other bricked up windows can be seen below them.  Behind the basketball hoop is a wall covering up what used to be a balcony that apparently ringed the gym on three sides at one point.  The former balcony was later covered up and leveled and is used as storage today.  When I was in school it was the "green room" for the adjacent stage.  
Rarely-used staircase seen in the far right corner of the previous picture.  A bricked-up window can be seen as well as where the upper staircase (which led to the upper level of the balcony) was blocked off and covered.  To the left of this picture is the "new" entrance to the former balcony.
Inside the former balcony, which I knew as the "green room" since it connects with the stage. Originally it had tiered levels, the evidence which can be seen along the walls (not in this's covered by the shelves) and below it.
Given the symmetry of the building, I often wondered why the gym didn't seem to follow that.  Turns out it mostly did but was later changed.  This bricked up door is right next to the current door that goes to a staircase that leads up to the cafeteria.  If the bricked up door were reopened, it would lead to an area underneath the cafeteria.  At the other end of this wall, there is another bricked up door.
View of the bleachers.  The former door mentioned a few pictures earlier that led to the now-removed staircase (it has a shelf in the doorway now) can be seen here.  Above the doorway the areas of the wall with plaster as opposed to brick are where the balcony and its supports once were.  I do not know when this part of the balcony was removed, but these markings are on this wall behind the bleachers and the other end zone, something I never noticed.  
Outside the gym where several bricked-up windows can be seen.  Along the bottom of the walls, you can even see where the ground originally was.  The doorway and window on the far left of the picture are part of the 1966 addition.  As far as I know, the newer-looking bricks on the far right of the picture were a small addition to the locker rooms at the same time.  At the top of the building, some of the bricks have been replaced as part of the 1999-2000 renovations.
Another view of the gym.  The four glass-block windows are in what used to be the balcony.  The smaller bricked-up windows in the middle are all part of the rooms that were originally built as dressing rooms for the stage but are now simply blocked off.  The larger bricked-up windows on the right were the windows for the stage right staircase to those dressing rooms.
More bricked-up windows on the back of the school, looking to the right of the previous picture.  The windows on the far right are part of an emergency exit staircase.  The bricked-up windows that alternate in the center of the picture are for the restrooms (right side) and a staircase (left side).  A bricked-up window from the auditorium can be seen just to the left of center next to one of 2 windows that were re-opened as part of the 1999-2000 renovations.

Inside the hallway, the outside of which can be seen on the left side of the previous picture, that connects stage right to one of the main staircases.  My mom said she had a locker here when she went to the school in the late 1960s.  This is largely what it looked like when I was in school; a storage area.  Inside this hallway I discovered that the bricked-over area for the large auditorium windows seen in the previous picture actually extends even lower (different color bricks seen on left), which leads me to believe that this hallway was added later, or was at least covered later.
Behind the school is the former football and track stadium.  Although the high school moved to a new building in 1959, the current stadium wasn't built until 1970, so this was home to Rough Rider athletics for several decades and was known as Bowers Field.  It is still used for lacrosse practice and some youth football.  When I was at Davey, the old bleachers were still standing on the far side of the field and we'd often sit in them when we'd go outside after lunch.  They were removed in 2006.
Supports for the former grandstands that I mentioned above which were removed in 2006.
View of the back of Davey as seen from the field.  There were also stands on the grassy hill according to my mom, who played in marching band at this stadium until her senior year.
Doorway to the "office" of the gym (which connects to the former boys locker room) where you can see the old floor underneath the current floor.  I also discovered that this doorway was added later.  Just to the right of it is a bricked-over doorway I had never noticed.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sibling Reunion

I had a great chance last week to spend some time with all three of my siblings.  Even though I see them all pretty regularly and we're always in touch, it's actually fairly rare that we're all in the same room together.  I usually see one or two at a time.  With one sister visiting from Utah, I decided it would be a great opportunity to take a road trip down to Nashville so she could visit my brother and sister-in-law.  My other sister is in Kent, so we were able to work it out so she could come too.  The last time we were all together was just after Christmas last year and this was the only opportunity for us to all be together in 2010 as the schedules for Thanksgiving and Christmas visits won't overlap for my brother and youngest sister.  Lately, it's become a one-a-year thing, though I will see each sibling individually multiple times a year usually either visiting them or them visiting Kent.

Being together definitely gave me reason to think about what I admire and like most about each one.  It was so much fun just talking about everything.  We have shared so many experiences together, so our overall perspectives are very similar, though by no means the same.  Even with our differences we are pretty unified as a group and I love how we all communicate amongst ourselves when situations arise.  We have definitely put the wonders of technology to use in keeping in touch, from blogs, to cell phones, to Facebook, and e-mail.

My brother Andy is the oldest of the four.  He lives down in Nashville and does consulting from home.  I have lost track of how many times I have visited him and my sister-in-law in the past 2 years in Maryland (4 visits in Nashville already!) but I do know that I always enjoy visiting, even though both of them are usually very busy, so I don't get to see a lot of them.  Even so, we always manage to find fun stuff to do.  My brother is someone who is not afraid to tell you what he thinks and what you can do to improve (that's part of his job).  Where I'm much more willing to just give people the benefit of the doubt (I'm pretty laid back), he will let someone know when he is unhappy with their service or product.  He's also good at finding good deals and researching products to get not just the cheapest, but the best.  I've always said that if I ever became famous and needed an agent, I'd hire my brother!

I have two younger sisters, one of whom lives in Kent and the other who lives in Utah.  My "Kent sister" Katie and I are closest in age.  Although each of us are about 2 years apart (we graduated high school in two-year intervals), my sister and I are actually just over 21 months apart.  First, I have always loved the red hair of my sister; I honestly think it's beautiful and hope I have a red-haired daughter!  More importantly, my sister has an amazing mind, particularly in making movies.  When she was doing her undergrad work, I would sometimes help her with her film projects and I would always be impressed not only with her editing skills, but also her ability to have the whole idea in her head and know what to do to get it out.  Like me, she's struggled to find steady work in her field, but once she is able to get a foot in the door, she will just take off.  If I ever had the influence to get someone to direct a movie, I'd totally push for my sister!

This looks like the cover for a movie or something!
My other sister Becky lives in Utah, though I'm happy she is hopeful to return to Ohio in the near future.  It isn't bad having a place to stay when I visit Utah though :).  What's special about her is that we have the same birthday, 4 years apart.  Growing up it wasn't so fun sharing a birthday, but now as adults it's pretty darn cool.  Becky is also a great writer.  Some of her work from middle school is still being used by teachers she had as great examples of how to write.  In 7th grade she took 3rd in the state in a writing competition known as Power of the Pen, a feat that still has not been equaled by a student at Stanton Middle School in Kent.  I hope one day she's able to have a  or other opportunity that she can really use those writing skills on a regular basis.  If I ever needed a biography written, I'd totally get Becky to write it or at least proof it! I can always count on her to notify me of errors on my blog posts too.  :)

I think I have pretty cool siblings.  I'm glad and feel blessed they're my siblings and that we are able to stay in touch despite being spread out right now.  I hope we can maintain that even as we settle down and have families of our own.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Trick-or-Treat on Sunday?

Inevitably, at least here, the whole topic of whether or not it's appropriate to trick-or-treat on Sunday comes up, but especially in years like this where Halloween actually fell on Sunday.  Like other Christians, Latter-day Saints consider Sunday the Sabbath day and typically avoid doing anything that is considered recreation or work.  That's not to say Latter-day Saints don't do anything on Sunday, but most will try to get Sundays off from work and avoid doing things like going out to dinner, shopping, playing sports, going to sporting events, going to the park, etc.  Generally, Latter-day Saints look at Sunday as a "day of rest" where we shouldn't be working, but also shouldn't be doing things that make others work (hence not going shopping, going out to dinner, etc.).  We're also very aware of the scripture that Jesus Christ himself spoke that "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath," (Mark 2:27) meaning that the Sabbath day is for our benefit. 

I could do an entire post about the Sabbath, but the purpose of my post here is whether or not trick-or-treating is appropriate on Sunday.  From a purely anecdotal sampling, I'd say most Latter-day Saints consider trick-or-treating inappropriate on Sunday.  Why?  I'm guessing they likely place it into the category of recreation.  Growing up, my mom definitely considered trick-or-treating an inappropriate activity on Sunday, but now doesn't feel that way at all.  In Kent, trick-or-treating is almost always done the Sunday afternoon before Halloween, though sometimes it is on Saturday.  This year pretty much all local communities had trick-or-treating on Sunday afternoon (since Halloween was on Sunday this year) with a few having it Saturday evening. 

In all honesty, I don't have a problem with trick-or-treating on Sunday.  That said, if people don't feel like it's appropriate for Sunday, it is their right to not have their children participate or go to a nearby community that has trick-or-treating on another day.  My problem comes when Latter-day Saints who feel it is inappropriate act like everyone feels that way or that there has been some sort of official church pronouncement that trick-or-treating violates the Sabbath and thus they are more righteous for either going somewhere else or refraining completely.  Remember, the Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around.   While there are some very black-and-white instances that are definitely nor appropriate for the Sabbath, there are many that are very much open to personal interpretation.  And in the end, since the Sabbath is for us, we are ultimately responsible for how we choose to honor it. 

One thing we are encouraged to do on the Sabbath is spend time with our families.  If you take your kids trick-or-treating on Sunday, how is that not spending time with them or not as good as spending time at home?  Is it inappropriate because there is walking or dressing up?  What about people who walk to church (which happens a lot in Utah!!)?  And how is dressing up not appropriate for the Sabbath? Basically, I'm not seeing how trick-or-treating is a blatant violation of the Sabbath when you really look at what you're doing.  You're certainly not "working" and while I think most Latter-day Saints probably consider it "unnecessary recreation" it could just as easily be considered quality family time.  There is no prohibition of fun in the Sabbath either.  

In closing, this is another case of that the world isn't in black and white, but it also isn't in shade of gray; it's in living color.  The more light we have, the more obvious the colors come and the easier it is to discern the different shades of color.  It is also a case of critically analyzing our beliefs and reasons and not just "going along with what everyone else is doing" but actually evaluating why YOU are doing or believe certain things.  There's a reason we were all given our own brain and agency to use them; it isn't to create a bunch of mindless drones!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Putting President Packer's Remarks in Context

Much has been said in reference to remarks made by President Boyd K. Packer's at the recent General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  For those unfamiliar with General Conference, it is a semi-annual meeting that takes place in Salt Lake City every October and April.  It is broadcast to the entire church membership and takes the place of traditional Sunday worship services the weekend it is held.  It is divided into 4 general sessions, 2 on Saturday and 2 on Sunday, each of which lasts for 2 hours.  There is an additional session Saturday night for the Priesthood (which is made up of all men ages 12 and up).  A women's meeting is held the week prior and is also broadcast to the entire church membership.  During conference, leaders of the church (which includes general church leadership and those in the auxiliaries like Primary, Young Men, and Young Women) give prepared talks on a wide variety of gospel-related topics.  President Packer's talk was entitled "Cleansing the Inner Vessel" and focused mainly on the concept of God's love and the importance of repentance.  I hope that anyone who found his remarks upsetting reads the entire talk instead of the few soundbytes or quotes that have been used in the media.  That's the first step in establishing proper perspective.  Too often quotes by themselves appear far worse than they were intended.  Context within the talk itself should not be underestimated.  

Before starting, my point in writing this isn't to convince anyone that President Packer is right or wrong or that Latter-day Saint doctrine is right or wrong.  My purpose is to provide proper context of Mormon beliefs (as best as I personally understand them) so that even in disagreement, at least people can have a fuller understanding of why he would say such a thing.  That said, the quote that has caused the most controversy is this:
"We teach a standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes or counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From the Book of Mormon we learn that “wickedness never was happiness.  Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father."
In reading this purely from the vantage point of the average, non-LDS reader, I can totally understand why some people would be upset by it.  I was, admittedly, not paying as close of attention to this talk when it was given enough for this statement to really stick out.  But seeing the controversy a few days later and then reading it, knowing what I do about our doctrine and culture, nothing he said surprised me.  There are a few key concepts of LDS doctrine and understanding that need to be made clear for this to make any sense.

The first point to understand is that "Mormonism" is more than just a religion.  In reality it is much more of a culture that is practiced by its members 24/7.  I think since so many Latter-day Saints are American and the church was founded in the US, people just equate it with American culture.  There are, of course, many similarities, but many differences as well.  Would we be as upset about comments or beliefs if they came from a different culture like, say, the Far East?  I wonder.  I think it's easy to be more accepting of other cultures when we don't have to deal with another culture on a regular basis.  The more we deal with it, the more we see the positives and negatives (at least from our perspective) that every culture has.  Most times when we are exposed to other cultures, it is in fleeting moments or with a few people and even then it's usually something positive (a dance, a custom, artwork, etc.).  It's a different story when people we know very well are part of that culture and we have an idea how they view and react to things.  I've noticed with my own extended family (most of whom are not Latter-day Saints), are all about being inclusive and celebrating diversity--except when it comes to Mormon stuff.  They don't regard it as a culture because they simply see us as part of the same culture as them (which in most ways we are) and we just have "weird" beliefs rather than a different cultural perspective.  See how easy it is to blur the line?

In addition to recognizing Mormonism as a culture (and a culture that has sub-cultures within it such as "Utah Mormonism" that I have blogged about), we must also understand some key LDS doctrinal points for Packer's remarks to be in proper perspective.  First, Latter-day Saints believe that everyone that is alive, that has lived, and that will live are literal children of God.  As such, we believe we have the potential to be like him.  But along with that potential comes many elements that make us quite different from God that must be overcome.  The best scripture verse that explains this is in the Book of Mormon in the book of Mosiah, chapter 3 verse 19:
"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."
Basically, the "natural man" is a human being with all our flaws.  Everyone is born with certain tendencies, shortcomings, and challenges.  While some are easier to overcome than others, we all have some sort of challenges that we inevitably have to overcome sometime in or even throughout life.  This is known as self-mastery.  Mormons aren't the only ones who teach and believe in the concept of self-mastery; it's a powerful concept that many people follow and is useful in setting goals, bettering ourselves, and overcoming challenges, regardless of what they are.  Many Eastern cultures practice self-mastery as well as many other people; basically, you are in charge of what you are.

In thinking about this post, for whatever reasons I thought about the movie X-Men:3 where they find a "cure" to the mutations and the reaction it gets from the "mutant" community both for and against (by the way, not saying gays are mutants, just using a parallel!!!).  I wonder what would happen if there were some shot that could make someone "straight" with a shot or pill.  Who would take it?  Who would consider it a complete insult?  I have heard of similar debates amongst the deaf and dwarf communities where operations are available that can "correct" those disabilities.  Just a random thought...

I think it's important to note that President Packer did not explicitly mention homosexuality in his talk, though his comments about marriage preceding that do imply that's what he means, though again, the Church has promoted protecting the "traditional" definition of marriage (one man, one woman), not simply anti-gay marriage.  To Latter-day Saints, homosexuality is definitely included in what he meant by "any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel" but it is not the only such relationship he is talking about.  Indeed, "straight" sexual relationships outside the bounds of marriage (whether before, during, or after marriage) are under that umbrella as well as those relationships that society as a whole consider wrong (sexual relations with children or close relatives, for instance).  Basically it boils down to standards.  Mormons believe that God has established very specific behavioral standards that he asks us to follow.  These are known as commandments and they include sexual and social behavior.  We are free, of course, to choose whether or not to follow these commandments, but like pretty much everything in life, there are always consequences for disobeying commandments (and also for following them).  Some of these consequences may not be apparent immediately or even that soon down the road.  Also, as has been pointed out by many other commentators, it's not "being gay" that gets people in trouble in the LDS Church; it's acting on those actions that gets people in trouble, the same trouble as "straight" people doing much the same with anyone they're not married to.  In other words, it's not just gay people that are told they shouldn't have sexual relations; it's anyone not married (which includes me!).  Again, it goes back to standards and who they came from.

From there, another key point is that Latter-day Saints believe that God does not give us challenges and obstacles that we cannot overcome.  In addition to the famous verse in Matthew 19:26: "...but with God all things are possible,"  in 1 Nephi 3:7 we read: the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them."  In other words, since Mormons believe God has commanded certain behaviors as acceptable and not, then there must be a way to overcome the feelings and tendencies that lead to those that are "wrong" (which leads back to self mastery).  Now, while Mormons believe that anything can be overcome to put yourself in harmony with the commandments of God, that doesn't mean we have or even claim to have easy answers as to how many challenges and obstacles can be overcome.  Indeed, most obstacles (not just those involving sexual behavior) are not easily overcome.  Many times, the answer lies in desire, prayer, fasting, humility, and patience.  

Unfortunately, what's happened is that too many Latter-day Saints have used those standards and beliefs as a weapon to judge and even condemn other people.  Going back to the main idea of Packer's remarks, it was the loving and forgiving nature of God, not the condemnation.  And no, Mormons do not believe that gays will burn in hell.  We have a far different view of "hell" than the traditional Christian view.  To Latter-day Saints, life is not a pass/fail course; it's fully graded with all the proper curves, extra credit, and exceptions!  Everyone will be rewarded for the good and bad they do, not an automatic "go straight to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200" card or "get out of jail free" card.  :)  

Putting it all together, again, I'm not here to say "we're right" or that Packer was correct, but more to show why he said what he said and why most Latter-day Saints didn't really think twice about it (nothing new!).  I obviously believe what he said is true, not only in relation to Mormon beliefs, but in what I believe personally as well.  In the end, we are the masters of our minds and bodies and we will be accountable for our actions based on the knowledge we have.  So, summarizing:
  1. Mormonism is very much a culture that has its own understandings and perspectives.  Respecting us doesn't necessarily mean agreeing with us though!  
  2. Mormons believe that all people are children of God and can be like him, but that takes a lot of effort, desire, and work.  
  3. Mormons believe all people have challenges and obstacles to overcome, but they can be overcome. 
  4. Mormons believe that all obstacles can eventually be overcome with the help of God and that he does not give us something that we cannot deal with.  This is known as self-mastery and is a concept not unique to Mormonism.  
  5. Homosexuality is not specifically "targeted" by Later-day Saints, nor was it specifically targeted by President Packer.  It is one of many behaviors that Latter-day Saints consider in opposition to the standards set by God.        

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Changes in Kent

The changes are abounding in Kent right now.  The new Fairchild Avenue bridge is still under construction and I've gotten used to the crazy detours I have to take every day just to go south.  At the intersection of Fairchild and North Mantua, a new Sheetz station is also under construction.  It's supposed to be done later this year, though, it will be tough if it's finished before Fairchild is set to reopen sometime in January.  I can say even with the mess of construction it's already looking better than it has been for the last several years.  Outside the McKay-Bricker Framing building, everything else was run-down and looked terrible.  I was not sad to see any of it go besides the McKay building, which I was very sad to see torn down.

There are some other smaller changes going on along Haymaker Parkway (State Route 59, aka "the bypass").  All of the street lights are being replaced as is the protective fencing on the main bridge.  The fencing was removed earlier this week and I think it looks pretty good without the fencing, though the bridge itself is pretty bland (a typical boring highway bridge).  The new fencing will be black so won't be as obvious.

The biggest changes downtown are just beginning.  On Friday, the first building was torn down in the area that is set to be developed.  If any of you remember the buidling with the yellow zig-zag front roof that was a liquor store and also home of Spellbinders, it was the first to go.  I went downtown today and took some pictures before any of the other buildings are torn down, and let me just say: I really won't miss ANY of the buildings getting torn down.  That entire block is in horrible shape (including the roads), so I welcome the demolition of the rest of the buildings.  The only building that is in any kind of decent shape is the old Kent Hardware building.  I suppose if they saved any building it would be that one, but the cost of adding on and renovating it would outweigh simply tearing it down and starting fresh.   Here are the pictures of downtown now and some of what will replace them in the next 24 months or so.  Downtown is going to be very different in a short time, and hopefully MUCH better.  I'm really excited to see this all happen!
South Water Street with the rubble of the old Spellbinders building visible.  
This is the expected view from Water Street of the new development.  The image comes from Dave Ruller's blog post "Kent Downtown Redevelopment Update..." on September 13th.
Old Record-Courier office that has been closed since the end of 2008.  I doubt this building has changed much at all since the 1950s.  At this point, the new conference center will be built here, though recently the plans seemed to shift to combine the hotel and conference center into one building here.  If that ends up being the case, there will soon be an 8-story building here!
Looking east down East Erie Street, where the new Kent Central Gateway will be built (see below) 
The intersection of East Erie and South DePeyster streets.  This will be developed into a 3 and 4-story complex with offices, retail, and residential space and the road will be completely rebuilt.  
This is the planned view of the new development from Erie Street.  Looks a lot better, huh?  This also comes from Dave Ruller's blog
Looking north up South DePeyster Street.  The new hotel was originally supposed to be on the left side, but as I said above, it's looking like it will be on the opposite side of the street.  All the buildings in this picture except the looming old hotel building at the top of the hill will be torn down for two separate developments.
The back of Acorn Alley, which opened last year.  After the development behind this picture gets going, the developer of Acorn Alley will begin extending it down to Erie Street and building additional 3-story buildings along Erie.  Note the old hotel looming above.  As much as I'd love to see it redeveloped, it's become Kent's albatross.  It's so big and obvious that it will put a literal and figurative shadow over all the new development as long as it's there.
Drawing of the Acorn Alley extension from Dave Ruller's blog.
House on East Erie Street I barely even noticed before!  It's between the former "The Barn" bar (which had a variety of names over the years) and the old Kent Hardware
Dead end of East Erie Street where it meets Haymaker Parkway.  The new Kent Central Gateway will be built in the empty lot and the road will be connected to Haymaker.
This is the view once the new Kent Central Gateway is built from pretty much the same location as the previous picture.  Not sure I like that thing in the foreground, though.  ?????  This comes from PARTA's website for the project, Kent Central Gateway.

Definitely a lot of changes already underway with more to come.  We still haven't heard about the new municipal court building planned by the county, plus there's always the hope the old hotel will finally get redeveloped or torn down and the potential for additional development as a result of all of this.

For more info also see: 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Arts Academies

Recently, the neighboring Field Local School District started an arts academy for grades 3-6.  Being in the arts, on top of the news, and knowing a number of people in Field Schools, I had heard of the plans for some time.  After some difficulty and controversy, the new Falcon Arts Academy was established earlier this year and officially started classes this past August.  It is housed at the former Central Elementary School, which previously had housed the district's kindergarten classes.  Central is located adjacent to Field High School and Field Middle School right on the border of Brimfield and Suffield townships (so it is appropriately named!).  From what I was able to gather, this academy basically uses an arts-intensive approach to education.  What that means is that while students have more arts classes, the standard classes they do have (such as science, social studies, and math) have the arts integrated into how they're taught.  The examples I heard were things like using stained glass to learn geometric elements or writing songs to help learn science concepts.  Hearing about it definitely got me thinking about the whole concept, though initially I was hopeful for a potential job opening.  That turned out to be for naught as Field simply shifted their current teachers to the new school.

Anyway, I think most people assume that because I'm an arts person that I would naturally be a supporter of something like this.  To be totally honest, I've never been sold on arts academies or any kind of specialty school that segregates one interest from another.  My main experience with a separate arts academy was the same school Field used as a model: the Miller-South School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Akron.  I was a part of the Summit Choral Society's Junior Chorale program for a few years in the early 1990s and our rehearsals and many concerts were at Miller-South, which was converted to a 4-8 arts school from the old South High School.  I didn't know much about the school itself, but the kids I knew who went there largely had an arrogance about them.  It wasn't major, but it was there.  That's my first major problem with a separate school like that.  I think the unintended consequences are that you end up with some students who think of themselves as better than they are, but you also take away some of the most motivated and creative students and isolate them.  Another unintended consequence is the potential for a district to use an arts school as an excuse to reduce arts programs in other district schools.  While I've never actually seen that used as a reason, knowing how many non-arts people think, having an arts school and strong arts programs at the district's other schools would seem redundant and people would basically think if students want to be in the arts, they should go to the arts school.  Of course, an arts school can only handle so many students, so in the end, kids would be denied participation in arts programs or at least in the best arts programs simply due to numbers.

Before I go on, let me be very clear: this is not criticism exclusively of the Falcon Arts Academy.  No, this is my arguments against any kind of setup where students of one interest are taken out of their school and placed in a completely separate building, effectively segregating them.  Having an academy within a school, I think, is much better way to not only allow students to explore their interests on a higher level, but also allow those students to still be well-rounded while still giving other students the opportunity to take advantage of those programs but maybe on a lower level.  When I first found out about the Falcon Arts Academy, I started thinking about another specialty school I have experience with: the Maplewood Career Center.  Maplewood is a joint vocational school in Ravenna that serves students at 9 of Portage County's 11 high schools (excluding Kent Roosevelt and Aurora) as well as Mogadore in Summit County.  Students at Maplewood are all juniors and seniors who are enrolled in one of the schools several vocational programs.  Prior to coming to Maplewood, those students take care of most of their state-required classes needed to graduate.  Half of the day at Maplewood is spent in lab while the other half is spent in required courses such as English, Social Studies, and Math.  Students are still considered part of their home high schools and many participate in athletics, but for any other courses such as band, choir, art, or any other kind of elective, there is no chance as no such classes are offered at Maplewood.

Now, again, this should not be considered a criticism of Maplewood itself.  I have been very impressed by the faculty at Maplewood and enjoy being able to sub there; the format of having a completely separate vocational school is what I'm talking about.  Subbing in Kent, I have been able to see the other option: having vocational programs integrated into the school itself.

Roosevelt has somewhat of a hybrid system.  While there are some vocational programs students can take that will put them at another building for much, if not all, of the day, most of them are either available at the school itself or only require a few periods at another school.  Roosevelt is part of a compact with 5 other school districts that basically pools the vocational resources of each school and makes them available to students at the other compact members.  What this allows is for students to pursue a vocational tract, but as their schedule allows, they can still be part of things like choir, band, art, and other electives that may interest them plus their required classes are with fellow classmates as opposed to just vocational students like at Maplewood (though some program-specific classes like that are offered at Roosevelt).  It also keeps them as part of the school environment for much of the day rather than segregating them from their classmates all day, every day.

The more I think about it, the more I like the integrated approach over the separate building approach.  It lets arts students really explore their interest in the arts, but also can allow others to explore it without having to change schools; basically an all-or-nothing approach.  Indeed, even with the more arts-based approaches they are taking in the non-arts classes like science and social studies, if the methods are valid and work, they should be integrated into standard curriculum, not just restricted to "arts" students.  Students learn at different speeds and in different ways.  Not only should teachers be using a variety of approaches in presenting curriculum, but they should also be giving students a lot more options for projects and assignments to promote and develop creativity.   The same is true in any specialty area like math, science, vocational, etc.  The more these kinds of academies can be integrated into traditional schools, the more options it gives students not only in how much they learn but how fast.  But, on the flip side, I think having an arts academy is a step in the right direction; however, I'd much rather see many of its ideals better integrated into the regular curriculum to be most effective and reach as many students as possible.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Separating Doctrine From Culture

The whole issue I blogged about back in November about being a "Utard" seems to come up every once and awhile.  Basically, the problem boils down to people being unable to separate being a "Utahan" from being a "Utard" and assume that those of us who don't live in Utah have some sort of general dislike for "Utah Mormons".  Is there a prejudice outside of Utah towards church members from Utah?  Absolutely, though it varies greatly by location and the individual and is not always negative.  Some people automatically assume the worst when they find out someone is from Utah; others assume the best.  I like to get to know someone before I come to any conclusions about what kind of person they are, though I do admit, I have the whole "Utard" worry in my head when I first find out and hope I'm wrong.  Why?  I've had far more negative experiences than positive with the whole cultural divide that separates Utah (and in reality many western U.S.) Mormons from the rest of us.  That's not to say I've had all negative experiences.  I still count many friends who are Utah natives and/or still live in Utah, plus my best (and worst) mission companions were all from Utah, plus I have family there.  But to simply stand by and assume that all the negative and testimony-damaging experiences I endured, and the many negative experiences I've heard from others, are simply coincidences or isolated cases would be to ignore the problem and allow it to continue.  What I've come to believe is that it's a widespread enough problem that a negative prejudice has developed outside of Utah, though it is by no means universal to all Utah Latter-day Saints.

As I stated originally and have restated many times, this is nothing personal against the state of Utah.  As a state, Utah really isn't much different to me than any other state.  There are things I love about the state (the mountains, for one!) and there are things I don't like about the state (like the desert climate and the horrible drivers on I-15).  I can say the same about every state in the U.S. I've been to (42 and counting), including Ohio.  No, this is speaking out against certain prevalent cultural elements that exist primarily in Utah, simply because Utah has the unique situation of having the single-largest group and highest concentration of members of the church; cultural elements that I find contradict church doctrine yet are constantly (and improperly) mingled with it as if they are one in the same.  Basically, if the church were most prevalent in, say, Illinois or Wyoming or Florida I'd be saying the same thing about those states.  And yes, parts of Idaho (like Rexburg) also have these same cultural elements.  Because the elements are so much associated with doctrines of the church, they not only give Latter-day Saints a bad name overall in many cases, but even amongst each other it creates problems where the line between cultural traditions and doctrines is blurred.  The elements that have created this culture are mostly those from the 1840s that were common in the United States when the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.  Once they got to the valley and began spreading out, they were largely isolated, so while the rest of the country moved on with certain cultural "norms" the previous ones were able to take deep root and eventually creep in the same level as doctrine amongst the Saints.  For instance, the charge that the church is very "clannish" actually comes from the early development of the church in the 1820s-1840s.  Just take one read of Joseph Smith History and his descriptions of the various Protestant sects.  The various sects were very divided against each other and did not intermingle, something that for the most part is not true today.  Of course too, the early church did often have to go it alone because of persecution, which also contributed to that "stick with your own" mentality to the point where visitors tend to be ignored.  This is not something that generally happens in other areas of the church, but has happened to me and I've heard many others talk about experiencing this in Utah.

As for the term Utard, again, people need to understand this isn't a term for anyone from Utah, at least the way I use it.  That is Utahan.  Utard is not a term I came up with, but I thought it was a clever play on words and it seemed to fit what I felt it was describing when I first heard it on my mission.  In doing a Google search for the term, I've discovered it has several meanings; some related to the church, some not.  I guess for die-hard Utah lovers, it's unfortunate that their state name is so easily turned into a derogatory term, but to think that Utah is the only state people make fun of is ridiculous and ignores reality.  It's just that other state names aren't as easily combined with another word!  The only one I could think of off the top of my head was "Floridiot" and honestly, I've never heard it used!

So, we definitely shouldn't just come to a rushed judgment about someone just because they're from Utah, and Utahans shouldn't make quick judgments about people from the "mission field" (a term which I feel is TOTALLY misused out west).  Whether good or bad, that's a form of prejudice and it prevents us from really getting to know someone, not just here but in any instance of prejudice.  We're all on the same team here working for a common good, but we also must not stick our heads in the sand and pretend there's not a major cultural problem where large amounts of members exist because there certainly is a problem.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Additional blog

I've decided to start a second blog that's private as a place to express more personal thoughts.  Since I'm still looking for a job, it's probably not a good idea to truly express what I think about certain things since that could be used against me, plus there are things that I don't want everyone or even just certain people to know.  I've already noticed a fair amount of traffic that comes to this blog by virtue of people searching on Google or another search engine for my name.  I hate to think I've been prevented from getting a job because I have opinions and I express them.  Never the less, I will keep this blog for sure and I'll keep it public.  It will still remain my primary blog, but just won't have some of deepest thoughts that I'd like to share, just not with the entire world.  If you'd like to be included in the new blog, post your e-mail in the comments here.  Since I have to approve all comments, I can get your e-mail and then not post the comment.  At this point the blog is called "Live From Kent...Unleashed" and is at  You'll also note I secured the domain name "" for this blog.  Both the new address and the old blogspot address will get you here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ravenna High Review

Front of the new Ravenna High School on August 14th
On Saturday Mom and I had a chance to attend the open house of the new Ravenna High School.  Two weeks prior (August 14) we attended the open house of the old Ravenna High School along Clinton Street, a building I had only been in a part of.  I enjoyed seeing it, particularly the old section, which opened in 1923, one year after the Davey building in Kent (which was the first home of Roosevelt High School).  It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between the two buildings in terms of layout and style.  One thing I can say for sure, the historical account that the old Ravenna High School had a "1,000 seat auditorium" was a gross exaggeration by the Ravenna Republican in 1923.   Mom and I counted 399 seats in there and it wasn't like there were large sections with seats missing.  While it may have held more with a tighter seating configuration (the seats were obviously not original; I'd love to see a picture inside it when new), the space would only allow for a few dozen more seats, maybe 100 more with effort.  It certainly wasn't 1,000 or even 500.  Despite that, it's a figure that keeps getting repeated over and over in articles about the school opening.

Old Ravenna High School, which dates to 1923,
back in September 2009
Well, out with the old!  The new building is pretty nice, as it should be for something that cost $29 million and was several years in the making.  I'm not someone who is easily impressed, though, so I can't say it totally blew me away with ingenuity or design.  The outside tries to evoke a more classic look with some arched windows, an older roofline, and even a few decorations (little concrete "R"s along the outer walls).  I can go for that, though even as much as I like windows, I thought the main entrance by the cafeteria was a bit too much glass.  I definitely did like seeing lots of windows in the building, though disappointed those windows only had small openings.  I also liked seeing the use of skylights, though they weren't direct skylights.  If you stood under and looked up you can see light but not the sky as the opening is not perpendicular with the viewer.  It allows for some natural light, which is definitely a plus, but I'd prefer to be able to look up and see sky!

The layout works.  Basically all the classes that use atypical spaces like music, theater, physical education, and the cafeteria are all located on one end of the building.  The other side of the building is divided into three hallways separated by two long courtyards and then the library is on the far end of that, kind of like a keystone.  Stanton Middle School in Kent has a similar layout in terms of having the typical classrooms on one side and the "specials" on the other.  Ravenna High School reminded me of a claw when I first saw the layout.  It's also all on one floor; the only actual staircase in the entire building is outside the field house gym.  It goes up to an elevated track that I will address later.

There were definitely elements that made it clear the state had a role in its design.  For one, the school is designed to hold 850 students, which is right about what the school's enrollment is.  The state never designs a school that is bigger than it needs to be or plans for growth, so it has JUST enough room; it fits like a glove.  Stanton Middle School, on the other hand, which has about 800 students itself, is actually designed to hold 1,200.  Guess how much role the state had in designing that school.  Yep.  None.  That said, it still seemed to fit what Ravenna needed and had a few extras thrown in.  The deal to build this involved the district passing a bond issue and then the state paid about 50% ($13.6 million) of the costs and the bond issue the rest.  The bond issue also covered the "extras" the state won't cover: an extra gym and an actual auditorium.  When I was student teaching at Southeast Middle School, I got to see firsthand what a state-funded school looks like.  It wasn't bad at all, but the "audteria" was an absolute joke and the gym was pretty small.  Stanton has an auditeria which I've detested since it was built, but it was WAAAAY better than the sorry excuse for a performance area Southeast had.  It was totally non-funtional for anything like concerts or drama.  Even assemblies weren't that suitable as only one grade could fit at a time.

Now to the elements I really went looking for.  I definitely wanted to see the new auditorium.  I also wanted to see the "field house" gym and the main gym, plus I made sure to see the music rooms.  As someone who enjoys architecture (if I hadn't been a music major I would've been an architecture major) I always enjoy seeing new buildings and different styles.

The field house was the element I thought was best in the school.  Not only does it have the elevated walking track, but it has enough space to have two full basketball courts (which are marked).  The floor is a rubberized surface, so it bounces a little when you walk on it.  I also liked the use of windows, though was a tad disappointed they are translucent.  I'm not a big fan of translucent windows unless they're needed (like a bathroom).  Why not make them clear so people can see outside?  Anyway, overall I really liked it.  I have long wished Kent would get something similar (though larger) at the high school, so I enjoyed being able to see an example of one.  The last one of these I saw was at Avon Lake High School and it was under construction.  I thought it was an excellent idea!
Interior view of the "field house gym".  On the left are entrances to locker rooms and a physical education classroom.
The auditorium was a disappointment to me.  Sure, it's WAAAAAY better than the ancient Greek stage they had at the old building, but there are things that I was scratching my head as to why they weren't included.  The first thing that surprised me was the seating capacity.  All along they've been saying it will seat 900.  Technically, it does seat about 900, but that's only after expandable seating is added.  Most of the time it will seat about 600.  The expandable seating is a section of retractable chairs in the back that slides back into the cafeteria when being used.  This is a problem mostly for sound as it will open the back up and not provide a back wall or close ceiling for sound to bounce off, plus when it isn't open, there's a huge curtain covering the extra seats which will absorb sound.  The other thing that surprised me was the lack of a fly system on stage.  Everything is suspended permanently from the ceiling.  That greatly limits the theatrical capabilities of the stage (we were pretty upset when Stanton was built and it didn't have a fly system after having one at Davey).  The stage is a good size, but lacks that fly system and I wasn't too thrilled with the flooring (seemed like laminated black particle board, which I saw used at Davey after it was renovated).  All in all, a huge improvement on what they had, but this thing still can't hold a candle to Roosevelt's auditorium.
Not the best picture.  Oh how I wish I had my brother's D90 here!  You can kind of see the curtains in the back that hide the retractable seating.  The line of light near the top of the picture is the gap between the ceiling and the removable wall separating the auditorium and cafeteria that is removed when the extra seating is used.
This is a picture from page A9 of the August 29 Record-Courier.  You can see the back section open here.  The pitched roof visible above the back section is actually the outer wall and ceiling of the cafeteria, several feet behind the the back wall of the auditorium
The gym was nice, but nothing that blew me away.  I definitely liked the large windows on two sides, but like the field house, was disappointed they were translucent.  The new gym, again, is WAY better than what they had, though, so it will be nice for them.  The coolest feature I had never seen before was a retractable volleyball net.  Instead of having it set up with poles in the floor, it is suspended in the ceiling and folds up, much like extra basketball hoops.  The gym also has plenty of room to get around and made extra space for the teams to sit in apart from the bleachers.  It will definitely not be as tight as the old one!
I'm assuming this will be the "home" side of the bleachers.  In the top center you can kind of make out the suspended volleyball net with the ref's stand visible (round thing).
Other side of the gym where the teams and likely the visitors will sit.  The teams will sit in front of the railings which makes it easier to get around than at the "old school" type gyms where players sit on the first row of bleachers.  The only problem I see is the railings might be a bit too high for people sitting in the front row...
The choir room was a lot smaller than I thought it would be.  I know Ravenna is a smaller school than Roosevelt, but not THAT much smaller.  It must've been half the size or less than what we have here and the only risers in the room were the ones that are used for concerts (that you stand on).  Maybe it was in "display mode" but it didn't look like a good setup and certainly limited how many people can be in choir.  The band room looked like a good size.  The setup of the music rooms reminded me a lot of how they are at Stanton with practice rooms in between the band and choir rooms.  The cafeteria also struck me as smaller than I thought it would be.  Like many things, it's WAY better than at the old high school (I was literally stunned how small the cafeteria was at the old building), but I guess I expected it to be a little bigger.  Oh well, maybe I have a false idea of how big it needs to be?  :)
Definitely not a horrible setup, but this seemed a bit small for me, especially hearing that Ravenna has some large choirs.  I do prefer risers that have places for everyone to sit.
Another view of the choir room from behind the risers.  Apparently the piano has not arrived yet!
It's definitely a building that the people of Ravenna can be proud of in the end.  It is very bright and modern and has plenty of technology available to enhance the learning experience.  It's a huge step up from the old building, even with all the memories attached to that place.  I hope Ravenna students take pride in their building and keep it nice!