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November 1997

Out and about

This new feature in Staff Notes Monthly will profile staff who are active in their communities. If you have a suggestion for coverage, contact editor Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu, ext. 8605.

Tom Mayer works to still troubled waters

Tom Mayer
As a software engineer in CGD, Tom Mayer knows how to ferret out solutions to problems. As a parent of two kids, he knows about children. Tom's interest in schools and his civic involvement have led to his being part of a select team, the Citizens' Agenda Task Force. The task force was created by the Boulder Daily Camera to evaluate the progress of the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) against citizen input gathered by the newspaper.

Tom and his 13 colleagues on the task force were brought together two years ago by Camera editor Barrie Hartman. They've been meeting once every two months (and subcommittees more frequently) to consider the state of the BVSD in light of eight goals chosen by district residents through focus groups, pizza parties, and other means of input. The Camera has published reports from the task force roughly every three months, with each report focused on a goal area (for instance, communications, curriculum, budget, and academic performance). They will be winding up their work with a final report next month.

While strong opinions and heated politics have raged through the BVSD school board over the past couple of years, the task force has moved ahead with a minimum of friction, says Tom. "Obviously some of the philosophical divisions [evident in the school board] carry over." However, he adds, "We're not actually making decisions, so that lowers the pressure level. The differences of opinion are there, although they haven't been as sharp as on the board." The task force's final report was intentionally delayed until after this month's school board elections to avoid any appearance of undue influence over the elections.

The size of the BVSD--a total of over 50 schools with a general-fund budget of roughly $130 million--fosters a sense of uniformity that couches some real disparities, according to Tom. "We don't have many of the same problems that inner-city districts have. However, our average [performance] is the sum of extremes." Part of the solution for improving subpar schools, he says, is accountability. "I think there should be a chain of command for accountability, people who say, 'OK, we're addressing what the schools are teaching, and if they're not performing up to expectations, then we'll take steps to ensure that they do.' " For example, he says, the district superintendent needs to hire school principals with clear goals and performance asssessments in mind--and must give the principals the resources and freedom they need to carry out their jobs best.

By the time of its final report, the task force will have issued dozens of recommendations for the newly elected school board to consider. "I think we've identified what some of the problems are," says Tom. "In spite of our differences, we have been able to find much common ground." One of the insights Tom has gleaned from the process is just how complex a school district can be. "The BVSD is a very large entity with a lot of competing interests. Things don't move fast. Personally, I think running NCAR would be easier, although Bob Serafin or Rick Anthes might disagree."

Tom Windham honored for SOARS

Tom Windham with his "bridges" award from the Multicultural Bankquet.
The director of UCAR's program for increasing diversity in the atmospheric sciences was one of eight Boulder County residents honored last month at the ninth annual Multicultural Awards Banquet. Tom Windham accepted the award in the science category as director of the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) program, which is entering its third year at UCAR. Other award categories included art, business, community service, government, education, health, and youth. Nominations come from the community at large. The program is sponsored by the Boulder County Community Action Program.

The banquet, held 17 October in Longmont, raised more than $5,000 in scholarships for county students. Several of Tom's UCAR colleagues attended, including president Rick Anthes, and Tom also encountered many longtime friends and coworkers from his pre-UCAR days. "It was great to see people I hadn't seen in years--it was like a homecoming." Each winner was introduced with a two-minute video profile. However, "There were no speeches by award recipients," notes Tom approvingly.

After its inaugural summer with 13 protégés in 1996, SOARS expanded to a class of 17 this year. Protégés typically spend several summers working closely with an NCAR or UOP science research mentor; during the school year, they move toward completion of a bachelor's or master's degree in the atmospheric or related sciences.

"Although I was the recipient of this award, it was really a family affair," says Tom. "It represents our UCAR mission, the SOARS program goals, and all the people who support it and make it work--staff, mentors, protégés, partners [NSF, NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Department of Energy], and friends. It's also a sign that the Boulder County community embraces SOARS and its goals."

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu

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