Australian TV Delivers Gay Swimmer Drama Series ‘Barracuda’



“Melbourne 1996. The Golden Age of Australian swimming is beginning and a scholarship to an exclusive boys school brings 16-year-old Danny Kelly one step closer to his ultimate goal – winning Olympic gold.Initially, Danny struggles to find his place in the prestigious social circles of the private boys school. However under the charge of highly regarded coach Frank Torma and a friendship/rivalry with teammate Martin Taylor, Danny is soon on track to become Australia’s youngest swimming champion, the unstoppable Barracuda.Soon, everyone has a stake in Danny’s success and as he swims closer towards gold, he finds himself being drawn into a world where the only thing that matters is winning. When he gets his shot at victory, with all of Australia watching – can the ‘Barracuda’ live up to everyone’s expectations and realise his dream?”



Australian TV Delivers Gay Swimmer Drama Series ‘Barracuda’

Arizona swimmer came out as gay and everybody shrugged

OutSports   7/14/2015   By Jon Denton-Schneider

Jon Denton-Schneider at the Texas Invitational.

Jon Denton-Schneider used all sorts of excuses to avoid coming out, but realized that being a good teammate meant being honest.

“Upper-middle class white Jewish kid from San Francisco tells a bunch of guys in Speedos what they already knew.”

It did not seem like the title of a story that would help a closeted athlete living in a more conservative part of the country, playing a less accepting sport, or struggling with anti-LGBT religious beliefs or racial stereotypes. So after I came out to the swim team at the University of Arizona in early 2011, I thought it would be enough to “just be me” and quietly break any stereotypes my teammates had about gay athletes.

I met Jim Buzinski at the Nike LGBT Sports Summit a few weeks ago and I explained my headline and why I never shared my story on Outsports. “How do you know it won’t help anyone?” he asked me. “If you can come out publicly without risking your safety or your career, I think you have a responsibility to do so.  You never know what the reaction will be.”

Fair enough, Jim. Maybe someone reading this post will see another example of a gay NCAA Division I athlete who had a fulfilling college career. At the very least, I hope the reader gets a good laugh out of it.

It should have been incredibly easy for me to come out as a teenager. I grew up just north of San Francisco in what I like to call the People’s Republic of Marin County.  Both sides of my family are quite liberal. I have gay uncles who came out well before I was born. My family is Reform Jewish, but even Conservative Judaism supports marriage equality.

At my high school, it was a bigger deal to be openly Republican or drive a non-hybrid car than to be LGBT. There was usually better attendance at our theater productions and art shows than our sporting events. My school did not have a football team but we did have a “Peace and Justice Coalition,” whatever that means.

Swimming also has to be one of the gayest sports there is. I mean that both in terms of the Speedos as well as the out athletes. Actually, I mean that in terms of all of the athletes. I have seen many straight swimmers casually do things that go well beyond any reasonable definition of “male bonding.” Plus, I have found that almost every swimmer is indeed in love with a man: himself. Try having a conversation with a male swimmer near a mirror and you will see what I mean.

And yet while I was in high school, the idea of coming out as a gay athlete absolutely terrified me. I did not know of any openly gay swimmers who had successful swimming careers, so I inferred causality from the correlation. I assumed that coming out would mean I could never swim for a top Division I program.

At that time, my life had two distinct parts: academics and swimming.  hey were separate enough from each other that very few of my swimming friends knew my school friends, and vice versa. That distance allowed me the space to come up with some spectacular non-denial denials about my conspicuous lack of girlfriends.

For example, I told my classmates that I did not want to date any girls from school because I was “interested in a swimmer.” That was not false, but I was omitting the fact that said swimmer was male. If pressed further, I explained that I could not have a successful relationship with a non-athlete because “only another athlete can understand my life.” Again, not an untrue statement, but also not the reason I never had a girlfriend.

On the other hand, I said to my swimming friends that dating a swimmer would “just distract me from making Olympic Trials.” It may surprise non-swimmers that this dodge was usually enough to stop their questions. Swimmers use the word “swimcest” to describe within-team dating, and not surprisingly, it has negative connotations. Avoiding swimcest was both an acceptable and laudable explanation.

But if anyone did press further, I saved the most magnificent dodge for last: “I am in a relationship. A relationship with swimming.”

Though it sounds ridiculous, I can actually make a case for this one. Assume a person can have a relationship with a sport. Then my relationship with swimming started slowly because I was going through a nasty breakup with soccer at the time. But soon enough I was ready to be exclusive with swimming.

Within a few months, the passion began to smolder. I went from casually “doing” swimming a few evenings each week to the point where I wanted to “do” it every morning before school. The fact that I was “doing” swimming nine times a week was just an expression of the teenage libido.  I even traveled the country so I could “do” swimming in romantic getaways like Bakersfield and Indianapolis.

See?  Now you are thinking about the ridiculous concept of making love to a sport instead of wondering why I do not have a girlfriend.

As amazing as these dodges were, however, they did not work once I joined the team at Arizona. There was no separating my life at school from my life in the pool — I swam, studied, ate, and lived with my teammates. We were the Wildcat family and it was impossible to keep anything from each other. I realized I would eventually have to come out.

I was lucky enough to have this insight at the same time I noticed that I was balding. Seriously, I am truly grateful these events coincided.

At first I thought losing my hair would end my dating life before it had even begun. I was certain that I would be ugly and no one would ever love me and I would die alone. But eventually I realized that someone will either love me for who I am, or not. The absence of hair on my head was not going to change that fact. I buzzed it all off and never looked back.

After a knee surgery and a few months away from the pool, it dawned on me that the same reasoning applied to being a gay athlete. It was not going to change whether a teammate or coach liked me as a person. I would not have to spontaneously retire from swimming as I had feared in high school.

I also realized that outwardly pretending I was not gay was like having a comb-over: everyone probably saw through it and it was just sad to think it was working. Thus on Christmas 2010, after having dinner at a Chinese restaurant like any good Jewish family, I came out to my parents and brothers. “Duh, even grandma knew,” was the reaction.

I returned to Tucson and decided to come out quietly to my team. It went against our culture to gather everyone around, make a big announcement, and then do a group hug. Instead, I told a few guys I was closest to, knowing they would spread the word from there.

The upside of my approach was that I did not have to do the heavy lifting of telling everyone. The downside was that I did not know at what point each teammate found out.

No one said anything about it for a few months and finally I got tired of tiptoeing around the subject. At a party, I went up to one of the few guys I thought might have had an issue with me being gay. I made an edgy joke about it to see how he would respond.

To my surprise, he doubled over laughing, and hugged me. “JD, I love you, buddy,” he said. “Dude, don’t be gay,” I responded, shoving him away. He doubled over laughing again.

That was the moment when I realized everything would be fine. I was a bald, gay Wildcat. And the only word in the previous sentence that really mattered was the last one.

Denton-Schneider with Arizona seniors at 2014 PAC-12s (photo by Sarah Howard)

Jon Denton-Schneider, 24, graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arizona in 2013.  He swam for Arizona and majored in Economics, Entrepreneurship, and Spanish. He was awarded a Fulbright grant by the U.S. Department of State. He will begin a Ph.D. in Economics in Fall 2016. Jon can be reached via email ( or Facebook (

Second Wind for Michael Phelps, as a Swimmer and a Person

4/7/2015   The New York Times   By KAREN CROUSE

Michael Phelps returned to competition this week after a six-month suspension resulting from a second drunken-driving arrest.

MESA, Ariz. — As his life unraveled, the athlete rued that all he knew how to do was swim. “So I was just this little hole where a man should be,” he said.

The speaker, Danny Kelly, is a character in the recent novel “Barracuda,” by the Australian author Christos Tsiolkas, but his lament was echoed last week by the 18-time Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, who returned to competition after a six-month suspension resulting from a second drunken-driving arrest.

Phelps, 29, who spent 45 days at an alcohol rehabilitation center in Arizona about an hour’s drive from here, said that in the years after the 2000 Olympics, which he qualified for as a 15-year-old, he gradually distanced himself from his mother and two sisters. He rewarded their unconditional love by ignoring their phone calls and texts and aligned himself with people interested in drafting off his celebrity.

“A lot in the past I pushed away the people who really loved and cared about me,” Phelps said. “I know I’ve hurt a lot of people. It’s been terrible.”

In his first competition since the Pan Pacific Championships last August, Phelps, right, won the 100-meter butterfly, defeating his longtime rival Ryan Lochte.

Phelps said he felt like a new person, but the results were the same as usual when he raced at an Arena Pro Swim Series meet at Skyline Aquatics Center. In his first competition since the Pan Pacific Championships last August, Phelps won the 100-meter butterfly, defeating his longtime rival Ryan Lochte. It was the first of four individual events he was scheduled to swim.

No swimmer — not even the Olympians-turned-Hollywood-stars Johnny Weissmuller and Eleanor Holm — has achieved greater fame than Phelps, whose high profile saddled him with a public image of rectitude that was unsustainable. This was especially true as he navigated adolescence, a time when teenagers try on personas to see how they fit.

“My hat goes off to him,” said Lochte, a five-time Olympic medalist in 2012. He said his brush with celebrity after those London Games, including a starring role in a reality show, was instructive.

“It’s hard to get back to your normal routine of going to the pool, beating your body up,” Lochte said. “You get to sleep in, you don’t have to report to a coach, you get to meet famous people. It’s one of the hardest things to get back in shape.”

Phelps’s life since his second Olympics in 2004 has been a virtual reality show, with his every move scrutinized. Over the past six months, as part of his self-evaluation, an exercise Phelps described as brutal, he said he has learned to accept himself, hyperactivity and all.

“I’m perfectly imperfect,” Phelps said. “I’m a human being. If I have all this energy and I’m annoying, too bad. That’s who I am.”

He has returned to the water with a joy that he said he had not felt in a long time. “I smile in workouts,” Phelps said. “When I’m in training, I do feel like I’m back in high school.”

It is a telling admission. That was before swimming became his profession rather than simply his passion. It was also before Phelps and his sisters, Hilary and Whitney, drifted apart from their father, Fred, who was divorced from their mother, Debbie, when Phelps was in grade school.

Swimming started out as a sanctuary from the school bullies and his parents’ disintegrating marriage. After Phelps’s record performance of eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics, it became a kind of prison, he said.

“I really only looked at myself as a swimmer,” Phelps said. “It’s sort of like for 15 years I was kind of living in a bubble. Swimming is what I did. That’s really all there was.”

So how does Phelps move forward in his life by returning to competitive swimming? He said he was coming back with a happier outlook.

“I’m looking at swimming a lot better,” he said. “The goals that I have are very lofty. I come into work with a purpose every day.”

During the years Phelps was rewriting the Olympic record books, said his longtime coach at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Bob Bowman, “There is no question he took out some frustrations in the pool.”

But Bowman, whose relationship with Phelps goes back almost 20 years, cautioned: “I don’t think you can say he just made swimming everything. The behaviors that led to our current situation, it’s pretty tough to draw a direct line to swimming.”

Tsiolkas, the novelist, said he read Phelps’s autobiography as part of his research for the character of Kelly, an aspiring Olympian whose modest background, debasement by bullies and struggles in the classroom call to mind some of the challenges faced by Phelps.

“If I am honest,” Tsiolkas said by email, “I think that I had a dislike for Phelps, initially. I hated his vehement triumphalism, the egoism of his success.”

As Tsiolkas delved deeper into the world of high-achieving swimmers, interviewing Australians who became Olympians and others who narrowly missed, he had a change of heart.

“I started ‘Barracuda’ envying the athletes and ended feeling compassion and tenderness toward them,” Tsiolkas said. “They are in a complex and cruel bind. Their training tells them that they have to strive, they have to believe in being the best, in winning, but their talents only have a finite life.”

He added: “We turn these young women and men into gods. Their image is on countless products, their stories and their image circulate endlessly on social media, and when they make a mistake, we turn on them cruelly.”

Phelps retired after the 2012 Olympics before returning to competition a year ago. Of the athletes to whom Tsiolkas spoke, the ones who fared best in their post-swimming lives, he said, were those who had a solid foundation “of an ethical life, of relationships, family.”

Tsiolkas suggested that Olympic-caliber athletes would benefit from postcareer mentoring. It is a topic that has been tossed around for years within USA Swimming. Customized professional career planning services have been considered, but no consensus has been reached on how to finance such a program or how to best serve all athletes.

Perhaps by example, Phelps will provide the blueprint for others whose lives have strayed off course.

“I, of course, would like to show everybody in the world that I am in a different place and I am much better than I ever have been,” Phelps said before the Mesa meet got underway. “I understand that’s going to take a lot of time for me to be able to prove to whoever I need to prove to that I am different, that I have changed. This week will be the first week that I can start that.”

The Devastating Pattern of Sexual Abuse in Competitive Swimming

11/13/2014   Slate   By Katy Waldman

As of 2014, more than 100 USA Swimming coaches have received lifetime bans over sexual abuse allegations.

A heartbreaking story in Outside magazine drills deep into the scourge of sexual abuse in competitive swimming. Written by Rachel Sturtz, the piece moves from the case of Anna Strzempko, who alleges that her middle-school coach raped her repeatedly in a storage room above her YMCA pool in 2008, to the USA Swimming officials who for many years went to perverse extremes to look the other way in situations like hers.

This is not a new story. In 2010, ABC’s 20/20 and the ESPN documentary series Outside the Lines sparked a flare of publicity with its pieces on Brian Hindson, an Indiana coach who secretly videotaped female swimmers in the locker room shower, and Andy King, a serial rapist and coach who preyed on at least 15 girls as he drifted between California towns. Those earlier reports also revealed a bigger pattern of abuse in the sport. As of 2014, more than 100 USA Swimming coaches have received life bans—and those bans reflect only the small sliver of incidents that were reported, then adequately investigated, then justly punished.

Sturtz’s deeply researched article makes clear that many sex crimes committed against young athletes never leave the locker room shadows. In the wake of allegations that prominent Washington, D.C., swim coach Rick Curl sexually abused a 13-year-old butterfly champion, the blog Cap and Goggles ran a post on how often these crimes occur and how rarely they’re discussed. Allegations like the ones against Curl (who was later convicted of child sexual abuse and sentenced to seven years in prison) are “not news at all—not to the swimmers and coaches and parents who grew up swimming,” wrote author Casey Barrett. “This has been an open secret for ages.”

Sexual abuse cases in youth sports “happen with much greater frequency than people realize,” Sturtz asserts in the Outside piece, and then goes long on the institutional forces that have allowed the abuse to silently metastasize. Unlike most European countries, the United States has no government agency dedicated to protecting kids from molestation by their youth coaches. Instead, that responsibility falls to the United States Olympic Committee, which then outsources the task to national governing bodies, or NGBs, like USA Swimming, USA Football, and USA Taekwondo. This decentralized structure ensures that the people dealing with complaints of sexual abuse are those with the closest ties to the athletic community under investigation, officials who are more likely than disinterested third parties to wish to preserve appearances and reputations. With “the fox … guarding the henhouse,” Sturtz writes, “the USOC’s system historically protected the institution and its coaches more than children, dragging out investigations and lawsuits until sexual-assault survivors lost what little fight they had left.”

Until 2011, USA Swimming had no formal procedure for prescreening coaches, training them, or processing accusations of abuse. When a complaint arose, it generally went to a three-person panel chaired by USA Swimming’s own legal counsel—the very same defense lawyers who might later try to poke holes in the victim’s case in court. Most victims were lucky to get a panel hearing at all. According to USA Swimming, individual swim clubs were not required to report sexual abuse accusations to their NGB until 2010 (although Sturtz uncovered a 1999 code of conduct mandating that all complaints be sent to the USA Swimming president). That meant the people with the authority to handle sex crime allegations were not typically aware of the allegations (though victims and their supporters, including long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad and Olympic gold medalist Deena Deardurff, allege that USA Swimming higher-ups did see the accusations and chose to ignore them; this suspicion ultimately forced executive director Chuck Wielgus to withdraw his name from induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame).

Furthermore, should a suit ever get off the ground, USA Swimming’s defense lawyers stood ready to drown it in tedious, unnecessary paperwork. The “standard tactic,” according to Strzempko’s lawyer, Jonathan Little, was “filing every single motion they could file, even shit that didn’t’t make sense,” to wear the complainant down. During the Strzempko case, Little himself was sued for taking part in a “frivolous lawsuit,” though a judge quickly dismissed the charges. (The judge couldn’t dismiss Little’s $10,000 legal bill, however, or his increased rates for malpractice insurance.)

There is some good news. The burst of publicity and disgust around sexual abuse scandals in youth athletics has forced the USOC to evolve. In June, it announced the creation of a new agency, the National Center for Safe Sport, to investigate accusations of molestation and assault. Even Wielgus, who once asked incredulously whether he needed to apologize to victims, has become contrite. “I’m sorry, so very sorry,” he wrote in a recent statement. And in 2013, California congressman George Miller asked the Government Accountability Office to research the sexual abuse culture in youth sports, especially USA Swimming. The results of the yearlong investigation will be released this spring, according to Sturtz.

The Outside piece is long and powerful. But one of the most affecting parts, for me, was when Sturtz spoke to an expert about “grooming,” the process by which “children are conditioned to believe that inappropriate behavior from an adult is a logical outgrowth of their relationship.” Adults groom kids by gently, imperceptibly nudging boundaries. First, a coach may take a special, friendly interest in a swimmer, then meet with her alone, then touch her hand, then remove her suit. At no point on the slippery slope does a single act register as inappropriate, yet the seemingly natural flow of events deposits the child in an alien, nightmare world.

Isn’t this also how our culture of complicit silence takes root? In a horrible, unintentional way, sitting with rumors becomes minimizing their importance becomes sanctioning abuse. What feels like cautious inaction slides irrevocably into moral failing territory. For members of the swimming community—those for whom the prevalence of assault is apparently “an open secret”—maybe one act of silence simply begat another.


Michael Phelps Suspended for Six Months After DUI Arrest

10/6/2014   The Hollywood Reporter   by Hilary Lewis

USA Swimming said his behavior violated the organization’s code of conduct

USA Swimming is suspending Michael Phelps from all of its sanctioned competitions for six months following the three-time Olympian’s DUI arrest last week.

The organization said that his behavior violated USA Swimming’s code of conduct by engaging in activities “detrimental to the image or reputation of USA Swimming … or the sport of swimming.”

In addition to his suspension, Phelps will not be allowed to represent the U.S. at the 2015 FINA World Swimming Championships in Russia from Aug. 2 through 9.

USA Swimming will also stop paying Phelps his monthly stipend during his suspension period.

“Membership in USA Swimming, and particularly at the national team level, includes a clear obligation to adhere to our code of conduct. Should an infraction occur, it is our responsibility to take appropriate action based on the individual case. Michael’s conduct was serious and required significant consequences,” USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus said in a statement. “Michael has publicly acknowledged the impact of his decisions, his accountability especially due to his stature in the sport and the steps necessary for self-improvement. We endorse and are here to fully support his personal development actions.”

Phelps was arrested and charged with his second DUI last Tuesday after allegedly speeding and crossing double lane lines while he was driving along I-95 in Baltimore.

After apologizing, Phelps announced over the weekend that he entered an in-patient rehab program that will keep him from competing at least through mid-November.

Phelps has won 22 Olympic medals, including 18 gold. He retired after the 2012 Summer Games, but in recent months he’s been competing again in preparation for another Olympic run.

As (Very) Fast Friends, Two Young Americans Balance at Sport’s Peak

Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky Adjust to Life as Swimming Royalty

8/16/2014   The New York Times   By

Katie Ledecky set a world record in the 400 freestyle Aug. 9 at the long-course nationals in Irvine, Calif.

IRVINE, Calif. — They are USA Swimming’s dynamic duo, but there is one competition that neither Missy Franklin nor Katie Ledecky can win: the popularity contest to anoint a single chlorine queen. It is a losing proposition for both Franklin, a six-time gold medalist at last summer’s world championships, and Ledecky, who will go into this week’s Pan Pacific Swimming Championships poised to win as many as five gold medals.

Deciding between Franklin, 19, and Ledecky, 17, is like choosing between two gourmet chocolate truffles. Does one prefer the richest cocoa or the sweetest filling? The tendency is to fall for the newer confection.

Four years ago, Franklin bounded onto the scene and supplanted Natalie Coughlin as America’s swimming sweetheart. In the lead-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, Ledecky, with world-record efforts in the 400-, 800- and 1500-meter freestyles, took the crown from Franklin, who tried to head off the public’s inclination to turn the women’s competition at nationals into a two-teenager duel.

Missy Franklin competing in the 200 backstroke preliminaries Aug. 7 at the national championships in Irvine, Calif. She won the final.

“She has her goals and accomplishments, and I have mine,” Franklin said, adding, “I don’t want her to feel like her accomplishments aren’t as good as mine or mine aren’t as good as hers.”

The 30-woman squad that will represent the United States in the Pan Pacifics on Australia’s Gold Coast has an average age of 20.6 and will be led by Franklin and Ledecky, whose youth is irrelevant.

“Leadership, I believe, is not tied to chronological age,” said Teri McKeever, the women’s coach.

McKeever, who coaches Franklin at California, Berkeley, said one of her axioms was, “I can’t hear what you’re saying because your actions speak so loudly.”

Referring to Franklin and Ledecky, she added, “The day-to-day way they take care of business is contagious.”

Franklin’s effervescent personality led one Cal teammate to joke recently, “What did she do, fall out of a box of Lucky Charms?”

McKeever said the reference to the sugary cereal endorsed by Lucky the Leprechaun was “a perfect way to explain” Franklin, a four-time Olympic gold medalist who owns the world record in the 200 backstroke and is the unofficial world-record holder in appearances in fans’ selfies.

Franklin is ever-accommodating to strangers, she said, because she can remember being thrilled with autographs from or interactions with her favorite swimmers when she was younger.

Ledecky, while more introverted than Franklin, is no less giving. After winning the 800 freestyle at the 2012 Olympics in the biggest upset of the competition, Ledecky, who will be a senior at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md., wanted to show her appreciation for the USA Swimming coach, Jon Urbanchek, who helped train her between the United States Olympic trials and the Summer Games.

She found out his favorite breakfast spot in Newport Beach, Calif., near where he lives, and arranged for him to receive a gift card to the restaurant.

Shannon Vreeland joined Ledecky and Franklin on the 4×200 freestyle relay at last summer’s world championships and will again be their teammate in the event at the Pan Pacific Championships.

“Missy’s perpetually happy, and Katie, she just has such a great attitude,” Vreeland, 22, said. “The fact they go fast every time they hit the water has a lot to do with their attitudes. It makes it so easy to be around them and swim races with them.”

Evans Redux

In the last 13 months, Ledecky, who plans to attend Stanford, lowered her personal best in the 400 freestyle by a second, setting the world record Aug. 9 at the Phillips 66 National Championships in Irvine, Calif., and becoming the first woman to finish in under 3 minutes 59 seconds (3:58.86). She also shaved almost three seconds off her 800 freestyle (8:11:00) and 2.3 seconds off her 1,500 free (15:34.23) in June at the Woodlands Swim Team Senior Invitational in Shenandoah, Tex., to take ownership of both world records. At the nationals, Ledecky entered the 100 freestyle on a lark and posted the 13th-fastest time in the morning, a 54.96 that was another personal best.

Vreeland described Ledecky as “super sweet” and said, “It’s fun to watch someone like her come into their own.”

Ledecky competed in the Olympics a year before winning her first national title, and even though she was considered a surprise Olympian in 2012, she was not flying under everyone’s radar. Janet Evans, the last woman before Ledecky to hold the 400, 800 and 1,500 world records concurrently, ended a decade-plus retirement to compete in the 2012 United States trials. She knew Ledecky had a bright future when she saw the disappointment on her face over narrowly missing a berth on the Olympic team in the 400 freestyle. Ledecky finished third in 4:05, which was then her best time.

“I remember thinking, Oh, gosh, she wants this; she’s pretty hungry,” Evans said.

Evans had just turned 17 in 1988 when she won the 400 and 800 freestyles and the 400 individual medley at the Seoul Games. Her winning time in the 400, 4:03.85, stood as the world record until 2006. Ledecky is the first American to hold the mark since Evans, who said, “I hope she has great mentors in not letting the pressure get to her.”

Evans’s first international competition was the 1987 Pan Pacific Championships, also held in Australia. Like Ledecky this year, Evans went into the meet having set the world record in the 800 and 1,500 freestyle earlier in the summer. In the 800, she was upset by an Australian, Julie McDonald, who beat her by 10.93 seconds and nearly broke Evans’s world record.

The loss came as a shock to Evans, who had not stopped to consider that her fast times might make her a target.

“That was something that I needed warning about,” Evans said. “Once you get there, there’s less ‘I’m going to shock the world’ and more ‘That girl in that corner of the world knows who I am, and she’s out to get me.’ ”

Ledecky, Evans said, will have to “find her own internal motivation and then be ready for the gunners when she goes overseas.”

Ledecky’s competitors in Australia will include Lauren Boyle of New Zealand, who recently shattered the short-course meters world record in the 1,500 freestyle (Ledecky holds the long-course meters version). The Australians Jessica Ashwood and Bronte Barratt are also lying in wait for Ledecky, who accepts that her days of sneaking up on competitors are over.

Franklin finished second to Ledecky on Aug. 7 in the 200 freestyle at the long-course nationals in Irvine.

“In London, I had no idea what to expect,” she said. “I would have been happy coming in first or coming in last. Now I feel like I have a little more expectations for myself.”

Franklin has siphoned off much of the attention that otherwise would be trained on Ledecky, but she senses that, too, may be about to change. At nationals, Ledecky was repeatedly asked if she was going to break world records, another first.

“I try not to pay attention to any hype or anything,” she said, adding: “I hear what people are saying, but I don’t let it overtake me. I’m enjoying racing and just relaxing and looking at it like I just want to do a best time.”

Putting the Team First

When Franklin looks at Ledecky, she sees her fearless, fierce self, circa 2010, when she qualified for the Pan Pacific team as a relative unknown. “Absolutely,” Franklin said, adding, “I’ve learned you can’t be surprised by Katie because she’s going to surprise you no matter what happens.”

Because of Franklin’s Olympic renown, she cannot catch anybody by surprise anymore with her successes. Her perceived failures also do not go unnoticed. As a freshman last year at Cal, Franklin experienced her first taste of independence — and her first heaping helping of defeat after stepping outside her backstroke comfort zone to compete in the 200 and 500 freestyles and the 200 and 400 individual medleys. She even embraced the 50-yard freestyle in a relay because that was where the Bears, who eventually placed third, were thin.

How many other Olympic champions has McKeever known who would have volunteered to forgo their best events for the good of the team? “Not many,” she said.

“I put her on the 200 free relay at N.C.A.A.s, and 10 minutes later she swam the 500 free,” McKeever said. “That’s pretty tough, and it probably cost her a personal victory in the 500, but she was like, O.K. She will do anything for the group.”

Franklin, who ignored the siren song of professionalism, and the millions of dollars in endorsements she would have been swimming in, to compete in college while pursuing a degree in communications, said the highlight of her freshman year was earning A’s in all her second-semester classes.

“You’ve put in all that work and all that effort, and you get an amazing reward for it,’ she said. “So that was really great.”

Franklin added, “Just starting to be a part of clubs and organizations on campus, sort of finding my place on the Cal campus, has been really, really fun.”

Like countless other women on the verge of adulthood, Franklin is neck-deep in treacherous waters as she seeks answers about who she is, what she stands for and where she is headed.

“I think that’s hard for anybody,” McKeever said, “let alone a world-class athlete, let alone doing it in a public arena.”

She painted a picture of Franklin leaving a class after a midterm or heading to practice and having her reverie broken by strangers who recognize her, of being singled out by fans when she rides public transportation with her swimming friends. “It takes a toll on her,” McKeever said. “It takes a toll on her teammates.”

McKeever said she had talked to Franklin about how not to let all the attention suffocate her.

“You have to figure out how to stay true to what you want to do and not be swayed by the expectations of what other people want you to do,” McKeever said.

At the long-course nationals, Franklin finished second to Ledecky in the 200 freestyle and won the 100 freestyle and the 100 and 200 backstrokes. Franklin derived satisfaction from racing — and winning — the backstrokes. Others did not see how she could be so happy, pointing out that she was nearly two seconds slower than her best time in the 200 freestyle, four seconds slower in the 200 backstroke and a second slower in the 100 backstroke.

The expectations appear to wash over Franklin like chlorinated water off her back.

“It’s different when most people know you as someone who wins a lot,” she said. “They only know you like to win things, and so when you don’t, it may seem disappointing to them or maybe it seems to them like you’re not doing what you’re supposed to. And that’s when it becomes so important to know your own goals and know what you want to do.”

She added: “If people think you can do amazing things, then why shouldn’t you believe it yourself? You can look at it as a positive way to get energy as opposed to letting it drain you.”

But a comment Franklin made in passing on the second day of nationals, after her double in the 200 freestyle and the 200 backstroke, betrayed her struggle. Her goal, she said, was “swimming instead of from a place of being afraid, from a place of just having fun and doing my best and letting whatever happens, happens.”

Franklin walked away from nationals as the women’s high-point winner. Ledecky earned the performance-of-the-meet award for her world record in the 400 freestyle. Like Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler in golf and Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in tennis, Franklin and Ledecky possess the talent and the desire to carry each other, and their sport, far.

“It’s really awesome to have someone who’s really pushing my comfort zone,” Franklin said, “and pushing how I swim my races.”

Ledecky said, “I feel the same way about her.”





Cal wins back-to-back titles

Win gives Golden Bears fourth title in school history

4/1/2012 | The Associated Press

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. – Will Hamilton and Tom Shields looked at each other and knew they could finally enjoy a California repeat at the NCAA championships.

Hamilton and Shields clinched California’s fourth NCAA title — and first consecutive titles for the school in 30 years — on Saturday night with a 1-2 finish in the 200-yard butterfly as the Golden Bears held off Texas for the second year in a row. The result gave the Bears an insurmountable lead with two events remaining.

California finished with 535.5 points, while Texas was second with 491 and Stanford was third with 426.5. A year ago, the Bears needed a victory in the final event of the meet, the 400-yard freestyle relay, to hold off the Longhorns. This time, the Bears were able to enjoy the final two events with the title already in hand and win back-to-backtitles for the first time since 1979 and 1980 when they claimed their first two NCAA titles.

“I know the projections were all over the place, but we knew it and I think we finally showed that’s all that ever mattered,” said Shields, who was named swimmer of the meet. “It’s nice to come back and do it and do it in a completely different way.”

The title for California was a bit of a stunner compared to what the Bears pulled off in 2011. Last year’s group at California was a veteran squad led by sprint champion Nathan Adrian and coming off a runner-up finish in 2010. This group of Cal swimmers featured just four seniors and a host of underclassmen that made contributions during the three-day event.

The capper to the week was Hamilton swimming home with the points that clinched the title for Cal. Making a charge over the final 75 yards, Hamilton overtook early race leader Neil Caskey of Texas, then managed to hold off Shields at the wall and deny Shields his third individual title of the event. Shields won the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke on Friday night.

During the three-day event, California picked up a total of six titles in individual races and relays. But the one that set the tone came in the first race of the meet when Cal won the 200 freestyle relay from an outside lane.

“Everyone looks at our youth or looks at what we lost and we tend to focus on what we have. With 11 returning guys that swam in this meet last year, that brought enough experience to the group and brought enough learning how to navigate this meet but also how to be successful at this meet,” Cal coach Dave Durden said. “They just did a great job, particularly our seniors … in guiding our guys over the last three weeks to be successful.”

Texas finished second for the fourth time in the last five years. James Feigen of Texas also doubled during the championships, winning the 100 freestyle on Saturday to go with his victory in the 50 free on Thursday, then anchored the winning 400 freestyle relay by holding off Shields over the final 25 yards.

The finals started with a brilliant record-setting duel in the 1,650 freestyle. Georgia’s Martin Grodzki overtook Stanford’s Chad LaTourette went back-and-forth during the lengthy race where someone usually pulls away. Instead, Grodzki and LaTourette went down to the final few yards with Grodzki holding on for the victory in record time. Grodzki’s time of 14:24.08 set championship and U.S. Open records, while LaTourette’s time of 14:24.35 set an American record.

LaTourette said he knew a special race was in process by how violently his lap counter was shaking the number board as each lap ticked off. All three records were previously held by Chris Thompson of Michigan set in 2001.

“I just tried to stay with him and have a great last 150 because I knew he’s got speed and I’ve got speed and that it was going to come down to the finish,” LaTourette said. “… I had a feeling we were doing pretty well. “

Arizona, who finished fourth in the team race, picked up two titles on the final night. Cory Chitwood became a three-time champion in the 200 backstroke as he held off a final kick from Stanford’s David Nolan to claim the title. Chitwood’s time was slightly slower than the previous two years, but he became the first three-time winner in the event since Rick Carey won three straight 200 backstroke titles for Texas from 1982-84.

Ben Grado later won platform diving by scoring 91.80 on his final dive to overtake Missouri’s David Bonuchi.

Jamie Vollmer VRP



Author. Speaker. Consultant.

Jamie Vollmer is an award-winning champion of public education, and the author of the highly acclaimed book, Schools Cannot Do It Alone.

He has spent the last twenty years working with school districts, education associations, foundations, and chambers of commerce across the nation to halt the erosion of public trust and build support for America’s public schools. His primary goal is to help educators and their allies remove the obstacles to progress and create schools that unfold the full potential of every child. He is the proud recipient of the 2012Friend of Public Education award, presented by the Ohio Federation of Teachers. In 2010, he received the Learning and Liberty award, presented by the National School Public Relations Association in recognition of his “outstanding efforts to strengthen school/community partnerships.”

Vollmer is not a professional educator. He became involved with school reform after careers in law and manufacturing. He worked in the firm of former United States Congressman William Cramer until 1985 when he relocated to Iowa to become director of franchise operations for the Great Midwestern Ice Cream Company. The company was proclaimed by People magazine to make the “Best Ice Cream in America!” He ultimately became the company’s president.
In 1988, he was invited to serve on the nationally recognized Iowa Business and Education Roundtable. After two years as a volunteer, he changed careers and became the Roundtable’s Executive Director. He remained in that post for three years after which he formed the education advocacy firm, Jamie Vollmer, Inc.

Once a harsh critic, Vollmer has become an articulate friend of America’s public schools. His presentations combine statistics, logic, and humor to energize and encourage educators, business leaders, and community groups to work together to build successful schools.
In addition to his book Schools Cannot Do It Alone and numerous articles, Mr. Vollmer has written and produced the videos, Why Our Schools Need to Change, Teachers are Heroes, and Building Support for America’s Schools. He has served on the boards of the National PTA and the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

Jamie holds a Juris Doctor from The Catholic University in Washington, DC. He received his B.A. in political science from Penn State University. A native of Philadelphia, he is married to his college sweetheart, the former baton twirling majorette, Jeanne Hecker. They have three grown children, all gainfully employed.
His Book:

“My father died in a spectacular room in his home on the Florida coast.”

So begins this provocative story of a businessman’s journey through the land of public education, and his transformation from critic to award-winning advocate of America’s public schools. Part memoir, part how-to manual, Schools Cannot Do It Alone tells of his encounters with blueberries, bell curves, and smelly eighth graders, and, most importantly, describes a no cost plan that every district can use to secure the support it needs to unfold the full potential of every child.
Based on his twenty years of working with school districts across the country, Jamie Vollmer argues that we are at a pivotal point in our history. Public education is under attack as never before. Bashing public schools has become a blood sport—a  dangerous game in which sensational headlines publicize half-truths, statistics are used out of context, and test results are reported in the worst possible light. We are witnessing a campaign to annihilate the emotional and intellectual ties that bind the American people to their public schools. And it’s working.
Schools Cannot Do It Alone confronts the threats to public education, and presents a practical, doable plan to increase student success. Vollmer’s community-based program, called “The Great Conversation,” provides step-by-step instructions to tackle the major obstacles to school improvement, including:

  • The Terrible Twenty Trends. The major social, political, and economic trends that are individually and in toxic combination eroding public support for public schools.
  • Nostesia. The debilitating fusion of nostalgia and amnesia that destroys rational thought in millions of Americans. Nostesiacs insist that “if we could just have the schools we used to have around here, everything would be all right.”
  • The highly corrosive tendency among America’s teachers, administrators, and, sometimes, board members to bad-mouth one another and their schools in public.
  • The obstacles presented by Vollmer’s First Rule of School Restructuring: You cannot change a school without changing the culture of the surrounding town.

Schools Cannot Do It Alone includes an expanded version of the famous “Blueberry Story,” and the latest update of “Vollmer’s List.” This exhaustive review of the responsibilities heaped upon the nation’s public schools over the last hundred years proves that our schools are no longer being told to teach America’s children. They are being told to raise them.
From the first words of the Introduction, to the final chapter’s inspirational message of hope, Vollmer praises the people who work inside our schools. In clear, compelling terms, he offers, he offers a plan to help them gain the public support they need to prepare all children to succeed in the knowledge age. He argues with passion that America’s teachers and administrators are ready and able to meet the challenges of our time, but they cannot do it alone.

The Burden:

The Ever Increasing Burden on America’s Public Schools (PRINT VERSION)
This is a story about America and America’s public schools. Specifically, it’s about how we, as a society, have changed what we ask our public schools to do. How we respond to this story will affect everyone’s future whether or not we have children in school.

America’s first schools appeared in the early 1640s. They were designed to teach young people—originally, white boys—basic reading, writing, and arithmetic while cultivating values that served a new democratic society. The founders of these schools assumed that families and churches bore the major responsibility for raising a child. During the 1700s, some civics, history, science, and geography were introduced, but the curriculum was limited and remained focused for 150 years.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, America’s leaders saw public schools as the logical place to select and sort young people into two groups—thinkers and doers—according to the needs of the industrial age. It was at this time that we began to shift non-academic duties to the schools. The trend has accelerated ever since.

The contract between our communities and our schools has changed. It’s no longer “Help us teach our children.” It’s “Raise our kids.” No generation of teachers and administrators in history has had to fulfill this mandate. And each year, the pressure grows.
Social and economic conditions demand that we unfold the full potential of every child. Our futures are tied to their success as never before.But this is a job for all of us. Everyone, in every community, must help remove the obstacles to student success. We must recognize our common interests, and do our part to help our schools create the graduates and citizens we need. Our schools cannot do it alone.

The Ever Increasing Burden on America’s Public Schools (VIDEO VERSION)

Your staff will cheer. The people of your community will stare in stunned disbelief.

Twenty years of research. Developed for educators and their allies. The Ever Increasing Burden on America’s Public Schools is finally available in video form.
Brilliant, stop-action animation has been combined with Jamie’s dramatic, on-screen commentary to expose the unprecedented challenges facing our public schools. Everyone who sees this video will walk away with a clear understanding of the mountain of social, psychological, and medical responsibilities that have been heaped upon the schoolhouse door.1
For two decades, the live reading of “Vollmer’s List” has been one of the most anticipated and compelling segments of Jamie’s speeches and workshops. Staff, community, parent, and business audiences have listened with rising alarm as he chronicles the staggering growth of mandates our public schools must bear. Now, everyone can share his powerful message, and quickly accomplish two critical goals:

  1. Help people in every community see just what it is that society is asking their public schools to do.
  2. Inspire the people working in our schools, and motivate them to strengthen ties with their communities.

Administrators, board members, teachers, and their allies can use this potent new tool in their struggle to increase local support for schools. The Ever Increasing Burden on America’s Public Schools was created to inform, entertain, and energize. And the feedback says it works.

The Blueberry Story:

The story below first appeared in Education Week (Volume XXI, Number 25 · March 6, 2002). Since then, it has been reprinted hundreds of times in newspapers and periodicals across North America.

The Blueberry Story: The teacher gives the businessman a lesson
“If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business very long!”

I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of inservice. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife.
I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that had become famous in the middle1980s when People magazine chose our blueberry as the “Best Ice Cream in America.”

I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society.” Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure, and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement!

In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced — equal parts ignorance and arrogance.
As soon as I finished, a woman’s hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant. She was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.
She began quietly, “We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream.”
I smugly replied, “Best ice cream in America, Ma’am.”
“How nice,” she said. “Is it rich and smooth?”
“Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.
“Premium ingredients?” she inquired.
“Super-premium! Nothing but triple A.” I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.
“Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”
In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap…. I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie.
“I send them back.”

She jumped to her feet. “That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”

In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians, and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, “Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!”
And so began my long transformation.
Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.

None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when, and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a post-industrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission, and active support of the surrounding community. For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America.

Copyright 2011 Jamie Robert Vollmer

The Great Conversation:

No generation of educators in the history of the world has been asked to do what Americans now demand of their public schools. Our teachers and administrators must teach all children to high levels while, at the same time, they struggle to remedy the stunning array of social, psychological, and physical problems that retard the progress of so many of their students. Each year the burden grows, and each day millions of public school employees give everything they’ve got to meet the challenge.
Their record of achievement is remarkable. But no matter how hard they work, they cannot produce the results our nation needs. Not because they are lazy, stupid, arrogant, or unionized as so many politicians and pundits would have us believe. They cannot teach all children to high levels because they are working in a system designed to do something else: Select and sort children for an industrial society that no longer exists.
We must change this system. We must break the mental, emotional, and cultural grip of the status quo and create schools that unfold the full potential of every child. But we cannot. America’s educators and their allies cannot change the system and dramatically increase student success until we secure the four Prerequisites of Progress: community understanding, trust, permission, and support.
The Great Conversation is designed to secure the Prerequisites of Progress. It is a positive, ongoing discussion between educators and the public. The action steps are practical and powerful. They can be successfully executed in any district, not just those favored by history, geography, or economics. They produce an ongoing flow of positive communication that leads to the development of a community-wide culture committed to increasing student success.
The Great Conversation is easy to understand and undertake. No new money or personnel are required. The process is built to run on two separate but synergistic tracks. One formal. One informal. Each can run in isolation, but when pursued together, they quickly produce a wealth of benefits. In addition to community understanding, trust, permission to change, and support, districts can expect increased public participation at school events, better quality candidates for the school board, winning majorities of “Yes” votes during bond and levy elections, and, most importantly, a pronounced rise in the community’s store of social capital.
Participation in either track must be completely voluntary, but the broad participation of the staff—classified and certified—ensures maximum results. The rewards are substantial, and the process informs, inspires, and invigorates all who choose to participate.
The Formal Track
The formal track is a deliberate, organized, group action. It is designed to engage educators and the public in an ongoing discussion that leads to increased student success. The centerpiece of the formal track is a scripted message that evolves over time in a series of distinct phases. This track is usually initiated and maintained at the district level, but it can be launched by an individual school or a cluster of neighboring schools.
The most important feature of the formal track is that it takes place on the community’s turf at the community’s convenience. This must be understood: We are going to them. This stands in sharp contrast to the traditional approach to public engagement, which too often revolves around inviting the public to attend meetings held in the evening at the school. The response to this approach is, almost always, an audience comprised of the same twelve parents and the one weirdo who comes to all the meetings. The challenges facing our schools today demand that we engage the entire community.

The Informal Track


The people working in America’s public schools are often the largest and, potentially, most powerful force in the community. The informal track taps the power each of them has to influence his or her environment. It channels their ability to amplify and accelerate the movement of a positive message across the entire community.
Like the formal track, the core activity is talking. Unlike the formal track, which is built around the scripted presentations of teams, the informal track is conducted by individual staff members talking casually with the people who populate their social networks—family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. This track has no formal script, but the benefits accrue more quickly when these private conversations echo, at least in part, the message that is being presented in the formal track.

The action steps of the informal track are simple to understand and easy to execute. They were specifically designed to add nothing to the existing workload. In other words, participation causes no pain. To the contrary, it produces joy. By choosing to participate, even a little, everyone plays a powerful role in increasing support for their students and their schools

Every district, rich or poor, regardless of location, already has the personnel, expertise, and resources it needs to execute all aspects of The Great Conversation and reap the rewards. The benefits that accrue are very much worth having. Obstacles that retard student achievement will be removed. Staff and public resistance to change will be replaced by an environment conducive to innovation and progress. The people of the community will begin to act as owners of their schools. Teachers and administrators will gradually find themselves accorded their proper status as the community’s most important professionals. In Great Conversation Communities, families, neighborhoods, and businesses will thrive and prosper.
As with so many other life-altering endeavors, the most important thing we can do is take the first step. We already have everything we need to participate. We have a tremendous story to tell and an army of educated people to tell it. Each of us is already immersed in our own vibrant social networks that can act as conduits for our message. By adding this simple but essential ingredient, and without breaking the budget, every district is perfectly positioned to set the stage to unfold the full potential of every child.

The Great Conversation is an essential building block of any strategy to increase student success. And the times demand that we do it now.


Excellent! Outstanding and worth repeating.
– Ohio School Boards Association
Electrifying! His enthusiasm is contagious.
– Alabama Education Association
A huge success. His mix of humor, compassion and conviction set the tone for the entire conference. –Pennsylvania School Board Association
Great! Professional, and crowd-pleasing. – Nevada Association of School Administrators
Even at ten o’clock on a Friday night he wowed the room. He was practical, compelling, and funny all at the same time. – Oregon Education Association
Best keynote speaker we have had in years. No one walked out! – United School Administrators of Kansas, Annual Convention
His contribution was vital. The presentation was informative and entertaining. – Capistrano Unified School District, California
Jamie possesses a rare combination of insight, experience, and perspective. He is a breath of fresh air.  – National Education Association

Contact Info:

Phone: 641-472-1558


Jamie Vollmer Says Kids Can Learn if Allowed to Learn at Their Own Pace

Racine Unified residents, we have the all the power we need to affect change for the better in our district. It won’t be easy, but it can be done if we do one very important thing: change the culture of our community.

That was the foundation of the message Jamie Vollmer, nationally known speaker and advocate for public education. He spoke at Wingspread on Jan. 25 to a crowd made up of educators, business leaders and heads of different organizations. In a nutshell, Vollmer told the audience, healthy communities are a direct result of healthy schools. Just look around, he was telling us, and you can see the truth of that statement.
“There is no quality of life without healthy schools,” he said.
Part of the problem is the current model of public education because it expects every child to learn the same material at the same pace in the same amount of time. But people just aren’t built that way, Vollmer stressed.

“No one has ever linked the speed at which you learn with your ability or capacity to learn,” he said. “Some people just take longer.”
Take high school, for example. We expect students to absorb a curriculum that has greatly expanded over the past 30 or 40 years, but we’ve not added a single minute to the school calendar. When kids can’t make the grade, so-to-speak, and can’t graduate in the prescribed four years, they carry that stigma with them for the rest of their lives.
It is in our power to affect substantive change, Vollmer continued. Our model of education worked for the economy of the time in which it was created by Thomas Jefferson in 1781, but it’s not appropriate for now. Most cultural shifts take about 100 years, like the agricultural age to the industrial age, but now we’re moving into what Vollmer called the “cognitive knowledge age,” and it’s only taking about 10 years.

Our education model is not keeping up and the question Vollmer wants us all to ask of ourselves, our educators and education administration is if whether or not what we’re doing is helping unlock the potential of every child.

“It’s not a grey area,” he said after his presentation. “It’s very black or white and if the answer to that question is no, then why are we still doing it?”
And the proof is in the proverbial pudding. When achievement goes up, just about everything we associate with the poorly educated goes down: crime, the need for social services, using the emergency room as healthcare. But you know what else happens when achievement goes up? The tax base because companies will settle in communities where there is what Vollmer called a “tight circle of human capital.”

So how do we get there? Well, it starts with changing our minds. Vollmer describes it as a low tech/high touch approach that has two primary focuses, each with a few steps.
For the first focus, we must build understanding so more people understand the very real challenges that go into educating every child. We need to build trust because there is a very real trust issue here between educators, administration, and the community as a whole. Next, we need to give the district permission to change. Vollmer says we have to give it to the board and to the Superintendent to be bold and often, that permission comes in the form of bonds to finance schools and programs. And finally, we need to really support our schools with more than money. The Racine Unified community is overflowing with talented people who could do a lot for our district’s kids with just a little time.
“We need a conversation at the community’s convenience,” Vollmer said. “That means forming teams to build rapport. Public education is a miracle and this its most hopeful time.”

During the Q&A that followed, Karen Urben addressed the voucher program in Racine Unified.
“With so many parents convinced that now they have the best education for their children, what can we do?” she asked.

“Do it better and let the chips fall where they may,” Vollmer responded. “Voucher and charter schools do not outperform public schools when the same socioeconomic standards for students are applied. We have to make sure our schools are the best they can be.”
Leighton Cooper, director of a Head Start program, asked for an example where Vollmer’s theories are working.

“Beloit, which I know sounds strange given what’s happening in their economy, but it’s true,” Vollmer answered. “Three years ago they started working actively to promote relationships between the schools and businesses and now they’re moving into the rest of the community.” And while Vollmer doesn’t really like standardized tests, he recognizes they are a measurement tool and according to what he said, Beloit is seeing dramatic improvement.
“But, you know, part of the reason they’re succeeding is because after a couple of failed attempts, residents gave a ‘yes’ vote on a bond for schools, and that’s part of what it means to give permission.”

I have to be honest and say that Vollmer blew me away. Of course we have the tools right here. What is stopping us? We stop ourselves and by extension, we stop our kids from becoming all they can be. I don’t pretend to know what this could all look like, but I know that I’m echoing my good friend and Caledonia Patch Editor Denise Lockwood when I say Vollmer is really telling us that it’s high time we show up not just for our own kids, but other people’s kids, too, because the health of our community depends on us putting ourselves out there.

Letter: Tweets Are Teachable Moment for Wilton

WILTON, Conn. – The following is a letter from State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, on the recent set of offensive tweets from a high school student

We have been presented a teachable moment in our town. A series of offensive tweets allegedly sent by a high school student is being investigated by the police and the state’s attorney.


The hateful language contained in these tweets does not represent the community in which we live and should not be tolerated in our homes, our town, or our state.


In the past, several towns in Connecticut have also been targets of anti-Semitic or racist incidents. These incidents provide us with teachable moments for parents and the school community to imbue their children with value of tolerance and respect. A serious discussion should be had regarding prejudice in all of its forms and the damage that it causes.


The message we must send is that there is zero tolerance for this kind of conduct. Our society was founded on the principles of respect and tolerance of the individual’s race, creed, religion, or sexual orientation. Too many have sacrificed and fought to uphold these principles. We must send a clear, unequivocal and united message that this offensive behavior has no place in our town.


Jamie Vollmer, author of “Schools Cannot Do It Alone,” writes that vigilance in the prevention of bullying is at the core of what we adults can do to help.

Do we remind our young people of their responsibility to interact fairly and thoughtfully with everyone around them?

Are we alert to signs of despondence or of fear in going to school that may reflect the impact of bullying?

Do we monitor computer use?

Do we step up to the plate to see that our own kids acknowledge responsibility if they have been victimizers?


Rutgers Tries to Calm Furor as More Officials Quit

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — As Rutgers officials tried Friday to calm the public furor over their handling of abusive behavior by the Scarlet Knights’ men’s basketball coach, the university president and athletic director presented conflicting depictions of who was responsible for the decision to keep the coach on staff after administrators first learned of his behavior.

They also revealed that the circle of people who viewed video of abusive treatment of players by the coach, Mike Rice, as early as December was wider than previously understood, and that it included members of the university’s board of governors. That group was informed of the decision to suspend Mr. Rice for three games and send him to anger-management counseling, but not to fire him, according to Ralph Izzo, chairman of the Rutgers board.


Rutgers, like Penn State, protected coaches instead of kids

Mike Rice was not fired as the basketball coach at Rutgers on Wednesday because he abused his players.

He was fired because you and I and the governor of New Jersey and everybody across the country found out about his abusive behavior.

This scandal is a miniaturized version of Penn State, which knew all along about the heinous allegations of child sexual abuse against Jerry Sandusky, but only distanced itself from Sandusky and fired head coach Joe Paterno after the transgressions became public.,0,883924.column