Dragging Main with a few friends

November 6th, 2011 by John Creighton in Snapshots

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Cruisin' in the HatchI enjoy driving back and forth on three town blocks for hours on end just as much as the next person.  Don’t get me wrong.  But sometimes it’s just not a satisfying experience.

Dragging “Main” was our primary activity on Friday (after the football or basketball game) and Saturday nights in high school.  We didn’t actually spend much time on Main Street.  Fourth Street was the main drag in town.

The Fourth Street circuit was bookended by the Methodist Church and Grade School on the north and Dr. Poling’s office and Leinwetter’s Funeral home on the south.  We put in hundreds of miles on that one street over the course of a school year.  On a good night, there would be twenty other cars honking as they drove by.  Some nights there were only a handful of cars.

Dragging “Main” without getting bored was an art.  The best at the craft knew how to mix up the evening with a stop at Dunker’s Radio and T.V. side lot to chat with someone in another car; drive around Atwood Lake; go up High School Hill; around Kelley Park or stop at John’s Dew Drop Inn for a game of pool (or in my case Frogger).

On a slow night, the masters of dragging main would mix up who was in the car or combine one carload of passengers with another.  The best nights were spent in cars that could easily pick up KOMA out of Oklahoma City or, if you were lucky, WLS out of Chicago.  A good tape deck with 8-tracs from now classic bands such as REO Speedwagon, Journey and Foreigner helped, too.

But, even these tricks of the trade were not enough to satisfy.  Sometimes you had to get creative.  Or, go home out of sheer boredom.

Matt Cunningham, Tim Yount and I faced that dilemma one night.  I can’t remember if it was early fall or late spring.  I remember it was cold enough for jackets.  We just couldn’t get fired up about steering the family Chevette around the streets of Atwood.  Hard to imagine, I’m sure, but that’s how we felt.

Our first attempt to liven up the evening fell flat.  Singing Christmas Carols in October or March (whichever it might have been) annoyed more than entertained our audiences.  After awkward experiences at three houses we climbed back into the Chevette to brainstorm plan C.

I don’t know who the fourth, fifth or sixth person was to join us in the car.  I don’t even remember how we came up with the idea.  But, by the time there were seven or eight riding along we were on a mission.

People started to notice the number of passengers in the car as we cruised down Fourth Street and through the Dunker parking area.  Some people lobbied to join us.  After a few more bodies we realized we had to be more strategic.  We needed freshmen and others of diminutive stature.  At one point, we stopped at John’s (Dew Drop Inn) in search of people near five feet and 100 pounds.

The rule we made for ourselves is that the car had to be drivable (a relative term clearly with no regard for safety).  Our goal was to shoehorn in as many people as possible and still drive down Fourth Street.  We packed people on the floor, popped the hatch (the most comfortable seat available) and rolled down the windows to accommodate protruding body parts.  Our final tally exceeded 20 in the car.

My dad was in the middle of his take pictures of everything phase of life.  We stop at our house where I ran to find my dad while the rest of the passengers tried to hold their positions.

Our night that began in the doldrums became one for the record books – or at least the scrap books.

Cramped Quarters



Why Proposition 103 is needed.

October 16th, 2011 by John Creighton in B.O.E.

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As a community, we have a great deal to celebrate in the St. Vrain Valley.  The community has provided tremendous support to the school district and the school district has produced results.

Despite $24 million dollars in reduced state funding over the past three years, as calculated by the Colorado Department of Education, St. Vrain has stayed true to the community-supported vision for our schools that was the basis for the 2008 mill levy override.  Over the past few years, St. Vrain has:

  • Increased instruction time for students at all academic levels including an additional 30 half-days for those most in need.
  • Implemented a focus school programs that emphasize science, technology, math, leadership and the arts.
  • Increased advanced course offerings available to secondary students.
  • Made it possible for teachers to integrate technology into instruction through a district wide wireless school initiative.
  • Maintained relatively small class sizes – in particular at the elementary level.
  • Established unique partnerships with the business community to give students real-world learning experiences.
  • Built schools to keep up with growth and improved existing schools to be safer for students and more energy efficient.

The results of these initiatives have been significant.  More than one-third of St. Vrain schools are accredited with distinction based on Colorado performance measures.  Importantly, the number of schools on improvements plans has been cut by more than half.

St. Vrain Valley schools have been recognized by the College Board, the U.S. Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Education and Bloomberg Businessweek to name just a few organizations that have noted St. Vrain’s excellence.

Most important, families and students are choosing St. Vrain. Despite stagnant population growth in the region, student enrollment has increased by more than 3,500 students over the past five years.

Yet, per pupil funding is lower than it was five years ago.  According to Colorado Department of Education figures, funding to St. Vrain has been reduced by $943 per student.  State policymakers estimate that another $200 to $300 per student will be cut from St. Vrain next year.

How has St. Vrain stayed the course on its strategic priorities in the face of massive reductions in funds?  The short answer is district employees – with support from the community – have stepped up to the plate to protect students’ learning experiences.

Under Dr. Don Haddad’s leadership, the district finance team has identified more than $11 million dollars in permanent new revenues and savings.  District staff has won more than $8 million dollars in grants.  Support staff and administrators have been reduced to the point that more cuts would lead to diminishing returns.  District employees agreed to a pay freeze and a soft hiring freeze – while workloads to implement new instructional programs, meet accountability standards and pick up the slack of a reduced workforce have increased.

St. Vrain administrator salaries, for better or worse, are among the lowest in the metro area.  There has been no increase in central administrators despite a 20% growth in students since 2005.

Families and students have had to step up, too.  Parent organizations are being asked to raise more money to fund school basics.  Families are feeling the pinch of instructional and activity fees.  The pressure on families will mount if there are more cuts in state funds.

Plans are in the works to garner more savings and new revenues in the coming years.  The district will retire facilities too costly to maintain; increase services to home school families; expand St. Vrain Online Global Academy, and move toward self-funded health care as a way to provide better care, work with local providers and save money.

It will be difficult to stay the course in St. Vrain if the state continues to reduce education funding.  A University of Denver study suggests that K-12 education funding in Colorado will be cut by 19% for 13 of the next 14 years if there are no changes to state policy.  There are not enough efficiencies and innovations to make up for cuts of this magnitude.

That is why the St. Vrain Valley School Board endorsed Proposition 103 – a temporary, five-year increase in the state sales and income tax to ensure no further cuts to education.  This initiative would raise the sales tax from 2.9% to 3.0% and the income tax from 4.63% to 5.0%.  The same as it was in 1999.

The Colorado constitution requires voters to approve any increase in taxes at the ballot box.  The St. Vrain Valley School Board encourages all voters to make an informed decision.

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This piece appeared as a guest opinion in the Longmont Times-Call on Sunday, October 16, 2011.



Iraqi rocket attacks strike close to home

June 6th, 2011 by John Creighton in Snapshots

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LONGMONT, Colo. 06/06/2011 — Modern warfare lets most of us off the hook. Is that good for our nation?

News that five U.S. soldiers were killed in a Baghdad rocket attack brought the war closer to home for my family. I had just settled in at my desk this morning when I received a call from a good friend and colleague. I knew something was wrong by the tone of his voice.

His son is alive but badly injured. He was among the sleeping troops when three rockets struck the U.S. forces’ barracks. As my friend said, “At least he’s talking to me.” The parents and spouses of 4,459 American troops can’t say the same.

In this Nov. 3, 2007 file photo, the helmet, boots, dog tags and weapon belonging to fallen U.S. Army Spc. Brandon Smitherman from 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division are silhouetted as his comrades pay tribute at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraqi security officials said Monday, June 6, 2011 that a rocket attack has killed five American troops in Iraq. Earlier, the U.S. military said in a brief statement that five troops were killed but gave no additional details about where the incident occurred or how they died. (Image: Associated Press)In this Nov. 3, 2007 file photo, the helmet, boots, dog tags and weapon belonging to fallen U.S. Army Spc. Brandon Smitherman from 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division are silhouetted as his comrades pay tribute at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraqi security officials said Monday, June 6, 2011 that a rocket attack has killed five American troops in Iraq. Earlier, the U.S. military said in a brief statement that five troops were killed but gave no additional details about where the incident occurred or how they died. (Image: Associated Press)

Listening to my friends’ gratitude, grief and fear elicited in me my first truly visceral feelings about the war. Hours later, a knot continues to grow in the pit of my stomach.

My family is like most Americans. We are several steps removed from the war. I don’t go to bed dreading that the phone might ring with unthinkable news. I don’t worry every minute of every day knowing that a person I love most in the world is in grave peril.

I, like ninety-five-plus percent of all Americans, can push the war out of my mind for long stretches of time. War is so far removed from daily life that, at times, it just becomes background noise. We hear the war news but it doesn’t really register as important.

Today is a case in point. The news of the attack on U.S. troops was prominently featured on many mainstream media news websites, yet the story barely registers on the news sites’ most popular and most read lists. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s admissions that he’s a lewd Tweeter are sure to dwarf any story about our three wars.

Have we Americans become so numb to war that we don’t really care? Recent polls suggest we don’t. “War/Iraq/Afghanistan” registers as a top concern for only four percent of adults nationwide.

We Americans are good at recognizing our troops. Many of us are quick to say “Thank You” when we encounter a young man or woman in uniform. We stand in ovation at parades and celebrations. At a recent high school graduation I attended, the only ovation of the day was for the five (out of 231) graduates who enlisted in the Armed Forces.

American business understands our desire to recognize our troops, too. American Airlines, for instance, trumpets its policy to let military personnel board planes first and encourages everyone to tell our troops thank you. They want us to know they care.

But what’s behind our reflexive celebration of those who serve? A good friend, career military, commented to me while he stood to be recognized at a Sea World dolphin show, “I sometimes wonder if they do this for us (men and women in uniform) or themselves.”

In this June 9, 2009, file photo, a girl peers from her front gate as a U.S. Army soldier from A Co., 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment patrols in western Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. (Image: Associated Press)In this June 9, 2009, file photo, a girl peers from her front gate as a U.S. Army soldier from A Co., 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment patrols in western Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. (Image: Associated Press)

I have thought often about his comment ever since. Is the applause I add to the ovations for military personnel genuine? Or, is it just a habitual courtesy, done without thought?

And, what about the advertisements? Isn’t there something inherently cynical, even if well intentioned, about using actors portraying service men and women as a tool to drum up business? Is it appropriate for our troops to be relegated to commercial icons?

It requires very few people to wage modern war. That is a good thing and bad.

We, the masses, are largely disengaged because there is nothing for us to do.  Thus, it is easy for us to support (or ignore) war without thought or deliberation.  We have nothing meaningful at stake.

How else does one explain that going to war with Libya barely elicits an off-hand remark at most dinner parties and backyard barbeques?

It should be of grave concern to us all that war has become so casual. With so few of us engaged in thinking and caring about our wars (let alone directly involved), political leaders don’t have to be accountable. It’s possible to have unfocused or misguided war policy year after year because, at the end of the day, only four percent of us give a damn.

Meanwhile, parents and spouses of young American soldiers go to bed each night dreading that the phone might ring before they wake.

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John Creighton writes on community life and public leadership at johncr8on.com. He can be found on Twitter @johncr8on and on Facebook. Read more of John’s work in Dispatches From The Heartland at the Communities at the Washington Times.



Summer Hunts

June 3rd, 2011 by John Creighton in Snapshots

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The Miller Moths are driving me crazy. (We only called them Miller’s when I was a kid but folks in Colorado look at me with a blank stare unless I say “moth,” too.)

The onslaught of moths is my least favorite part of late spring/early summer.

I hesitate each time I open a window this time of year flinching in anticipation of being hit in the face by the dirty beasts. I pretend not to notice the horrid brown spots on the windows not wanting to admit what they are.

I also try to ignore the growing piles of bodies blocking out the light from the ceiling fixtures. You can clean them out but the next day the accumulation is just as great. It’s better not to notice.

The cat gets fed up with the flying nuisances cornering one on the floorboards. I don’t mind the cat eating what it catches (while it looks disgusting). I don’t appreciate the screeching that proceeds the kill… at three o’clock in the morning.

On more than one occasion I will nearly drive my car off the road this time of year as I try to coax a stray Miller out the window. They are impossible to ignore even in oncoming traffic. They must be gone no matter what price must be paid.

I become nostalgic for the summer hunts of my youth. Dusk, or just after dark, was the best time of day for our quest. My brother and I would turn off all the lights in the house. Then, room-by-room, we would turn on a single light. Broom in hand we would herd the flock of Millers to the next room until we rounded up “hundreds.”

Reaching the last room one of us would continue to herd our quarry toward the sole light in the house. The other had the privilege of lying in wait vacuum wand in hand. Touching the “on” button with our foot… thoop, thoop, thoop, thoop, thoop….

Ah the satisfaction.

It doesn’t seem mature to engage in such a hunt in one’s forties. But, when Millers bombard me from all sides as I turn on a light in a dark room I think, “Wouldn’t it be nice.”



How will young people remember these times?

May 20th, 2011 by John Creighton in Dispatches

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LONGMONT, Colo. 05/20/2011 — Graduation speakers across America will be in a reflective mood over the next few weeks. It’s an annual ritual. Student speakers, in particular, reflect on the journey they’ve traveled and what the future might hold.

I heard my first round of graduation speeches last night. The narratives included the usual mix of “we can change the world.” I enjoy the inherent sense of optimism expressed by young people. But, I heard something else last night that struck a nerve.

Graduation (ajschwegler - Flickr)Graduation (ajschwegler – Flickr)

One student recounted events of the past decade that shape our shared memories. It was an unsettling tale.

Young people – all of us – could easily look back on the past ten-plus years and feel a lot like Charlie Brown. One could easily spin a narrative that nothing’s going right in the world. It’s been a decade of terror, war, disasters and economic upheaval.

This year’s graduates are old enough to remember 9/11. Madrid and London have also been attacked. Our country has been at war nearly, if not, half their lives. We don’t yet know if the Middle East is on a path to democracy or will implode. And, in a war of a different type, our neighbor Mexico has lost tens of thousands of lives in a drug war.

Terror also strikes close to home. The Columbine and Virginia Tech shooting sprees and Washington, DC sniper attacks took place during these students’ formative years.

Major natural disasters seem to be an annual event: Tsunami’s in the Indian Ocean; Hurricane Katrina; earthquakes in Haiti; floods in Pakistan, and, this year alone, the earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan, record floods along the Mississippi and devastating tornadoes throughout the Southeast – not to mention the BP Oil Spill.

Our economy began to unravel when this year’s seniors were freshman. First came the mortgage crisis and the bursting housing bubble. Then came the collapse of Wall Street followed by the auto industry going belly up. The economy continues to stumble along with an anemic job market that leads, by some estimates, two-thirds of college graduates to return home.

Bailouts, stimulus, austerity and deeply partisan fights over health care and budgets have dominated political news the past few years. The Tea Party was born in protest. And, Americans hold their elected leaders in lower regard than even the days of Watergate.

Americans are in a bad mood. Nearly three in four Americans is dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States according to recent Gallup polls. This is a slight uptick from two or three years ago but nearly double the level of dissatisfaction recorded in 2000.

Looking back at the top news stories of the past decade and it’s easy to understand why.

I would argue there is different narrative that took shape while this year’s graduates were going through school that will have a far greater influence on their lives.

If I were asked to write a headline, I would describe the past ten-plus years as “The decade of liberation.” The tools of learning, production, distribution and communication are accessible – or on the verge of being accessible – to us all.

It is increasingly possible to learn where and when we want, to design and manufacture our own products, to share and collaborate with people across the globe. A kid working with a few friends in his dorm room can now conceive of and create one of the most powerful companies in the world. The possibilities for us all are profound.

I am curious to know how historians will write about these times. Will they focus on terror, wars and economic strife? Or, will they emphasize the new infrastructure that is taking shape that enables us all to be creators and proprietors of our own lives?

I hope this year’s graduates learn from the difficult experiences we’ve had to endure so mistakes are not repeated and so society can be better prepared.

I also am excited for young people who will embark into a world in which the limits of time, place and, to large extent, economics are no longer constraints. We are in the early stages of a remarkable time in history. It’s a great time to be young.

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John Creighton writes on community life and public leadership at johncr8on.com. He can be found on Twitter @johncr8on and on Facebook. Read more of John’s work in Dispatches From The Heartland at the Communities at the Washington Times.