| P E Y T O N W O L C O T T
|Above, former Llano ISD supe Jack Patton (far left) in court with
the DA (center) and then-LISD CFO Carol Voit (far right); Patton
now sells barbeque from his convenience store in East Texas,
and Voit left the employ of Llano ISD -- and her indoor lap pool --
to take a job with ESC 17 in Lubbock as their business services
coordinator. Below, Llano ISD grassroots school reform pioneer
Pat Donahy with PEAK$ candidates Owen Walker (left)
and future LISD board president Bill Jennings (far right)
at a PEAK$ campaign--what else, this is Texas--BBQ.
|There's a lot of ranting going on about public
education, on both sides. There are clarion calls
for vast systemic changes in the form of
vouchers, and separation of school and state.
Throw in the cacophony of taxpayer outrage and
parental frustration and you get a lot of anger and
noise. But there's very little in the way of practical,
first-steps-first "here's how's." My experience and
history both show that massive change starts
with baby steps. You grab a piece of whatever's
closest at hand, and fix it. When that's done, you
grab another piece. If all of us grab the piece
closest to us, this is our greatest chance for
improving public education here in the U.S. It's
how our first American revolution started.
The suggestions on this website will lead you to
where you want to be. If these steps don't work
for you, email me and we'll work it out together.
|Before you make a single move towards organizing, please think about WHY you want to organize.
Most folks are gregarious and team-oriented so calling a meeting is a natural first step. But before
you call a meeting, first come up with a reason and a goal. "Upset High School Parents" or "Mad as
Blazes Taxpayers" isn't enough. You will be attacked for your negativity by your superintendent and
his minions and those benefiting from his reign. And in the end you will not win community support.
No matter how bad things are, find something positive to unite behind and keep that front and center
of everything you do and say.
I will freely admit that I do not like meetings. I do not recommend calling a meeting without being
very clear in your own mind and with your group what the purpose is. Everybody's too busy, and if
you waste their time with a purposeless meeting, they won't come back. I will also freely admit that I
think most meetings are the scourge of the devil and his playground to boot.
|Second PEAK$ group
The second time we organized as PEAK$ because we were disgusted by various scandals in our
district* including the supe's arrest over a public records violation. Plus, our trustees were writing
checks to themselves each month for selling goods and services to the district -- insurance,
furniture, appliances, plumbing, you name it.
We had a very lean organization with no officers, only the clear goal that we wanted to get all five of
our candidates elected to a seven-member school board during a single election cycle. We got
|all five of the candidates we were
endorsing to sign a pledge that they
wouldn't do business with the school
district during their tenure; more about the
pledges here, at far left.
Given the tenor of the times, the pledge
was a positive idea the community could
Our detriment was that while our
southeastern corner of the county
generated 53% of the school district's
budget, we had almost no kids; also,
we're a place that people come to as a
resort and to retire and play golf so in
addition to the fact that the vast majority of
our voters had no kids in the local public
schools, they also had no stake in either
the past or the future of the schools
because almost all residents come here
|Needed: sound ideas, grassroots support -- not money
Our budget for the five-person race was almost nil; we placed one large newspaper ad in two local
papers featuring community members' names as endorsements, plus put a few signs up. The rest
was word-of-mouth, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend.
Prominently featured in the ads was a photograph (right) of our candidates signing the pledge.
At the heart of our success were our volunteers. They were solid gold, and I hope you appreciate
all of your volunteers. John Monahan gave us invaluable insights at the crucial beginning stages
and he and his wife Gayle opened their home to our parties and celebrations. Paul Langston
made up small business cards with all five candidates' names which he generously printed up by
the hundreds; neighbors like Katie Baker and Holly Holder and a dozen other volunteers handed
them out in front of the local post office (above right), which at the time was the single most
important distribution point in our area, mostly because most of Horseshoe Bay, Texas had to
come to the post office back then to get their mail. Use what you have. So the post office was
where the candidates' signs went up also, plus a few on the highway.
|John Monahan (left) and Paul Langston (right)
in front of the Llano ISD administration bldg.
|1. Be nice.
2. Develop a thick skin
and let the personal
attacks and insults run
off your back like you're
made of Teflon. IT'S
NOT PERSONAL. When
you rattle Education,
Inc.'s cage, you're
threatening jobs and
that wonderful line from
The Godfather, "It's not
personal, Sonny. It's
Lacking facts and truth,
your opposition will do
anything they can to
discredit you, including
attempt to smear you
with personal attacks.
Let them. Rejoice. It's a
sign you're on the right
3. Get everything in
Verify, verify, verify. If the
superintendent wants to
visit with you in his/her
office about your
you have a tape recorder
with you and are
following your state's
laws for recording
meetings. Email's better
so that you have their
words in writing. It's
easy enough for the
promise to look into the
situation and give you a
hug on the way out the
door--then drop the ball.
If you're emailing, you
can ask, "When may I
expect to hear back from
you?" and then you have
his/her response in
4. Speaking of which,
set responsibilities and
dates and times for
everything, whenever you
interact with another
person or persons,
whether it be a
two-person meeting or a
hundred. Confirm by
email in writing. Never
leaving a meeting of any
kind with a vague, "Let's
do such-and-such, great
idea!" Otherwise, you've
wasted your time and
5. Don't repeat gossip
unless you have a sheet
of paper in hand to verify.
Citing some numbers at
a school board meeting
that you got from a friend
that turn out to be wrong
will hurt your credibility;
yet another reason for
the importance of public
6. If the atmosphere at
your district's head office
becomes too unfriendly
or otherwise threatening,
take a trusted friend with
you--don't go alone. If
he's a linebacker from
the local pro football
team or your husband's
third cousin, Vinnie the
Hulk, so much the better.
Provided it's legal in your
state, wear a small
I-River or similar
recording device, and
keep it running from the
time you exit your car
until you exit the parking
lot heading back home.
I've had parking lot
encounters I wish I'd
recorded. Take a small
digital camera with you
for just in case or a
7. Pace yourself. Too
many good people wear
themselves out in a year
or two with all their work
for naught because they
grew frustrated. Develop
patience and a sense of
8. No matter how
provoked or how
indignation, keep cool. If
nothing else, it's a good
exercise in self-control.
9. Do what you do for
the highest and best
good of the children and
the parents and the
teachers and the
taxpayers in your district.
Don't expect a parade
down Main Street or your
statue in the town
square. This is what
differentiates us from the
cheerleader moms and
the football dads.
10. Moms and dads are
often afraid to get
involved because they're
afraid it will hurt their
kids. If you make your
case big and public and
loud, and make it not
about just your kid but all
the kids in that category
--choir, special ed, gifted
and talented--you will
have more community
support. I was as noisy
a mom as any at our
local high school, and
our daughter not only
won the coveted lead her
senior year in the high
school musical but also
received the faculty-
awarded scholarship for
strength of character. In
no way was she hurt by
my activism--and my
activism never had her
name on it.
|Something else we campaigned for, and
got: After the election, for the first
time ever, LISD board meetings were
held in our part of the county.
WHY: Our seniors were hesitant to get out on the
highway at night in deer country for a 90-minute
round trip. Why not have the supe and the
trustees come to the community?
|The 95 questions idea I borrowed from Martin
Luther. In 1517 the Church was very corrupt and
he wanted to clean it up. So Luther came up with
95 Theses which he nailed to the door of his
church at Wittenburg, Germany. The theses
begin, "Out of love for the truth and the desire to
bring it to light." Thus was born the Protestant
Regardless of your religious views (I am not a
Lutheran), the 95 Theses were and still are an
effective PR tool.
Several years ago in our small school district in
Texas we adapted the idea of the 95 Theses to
These were the questions we'd all been asking
ourselves and each other, at football games and
across the produce section at the grocery store.
Some of us gave the questions form. We copied
and pasted together emails, not bothering to
make the fonts or type faces uniform, although
we did remove our names and email addresses.
It was an obvious round-robin effort. Then we
xeroxed and distributed them around town.
The one rule we had was to not get personal or
snide, and questions had to have some factual
It was a VERY effective agent of change and
helped galvanize the community.
Someone in our group even taped our 95
Questions to the front door of the administration
There was in Luther's day and still exists a great
power in the printed word. While emails are very
potent in other venues, for the 95 Questions you
really do need paper copies.
For distribution you can drop off a dozen at the
local coffee shop; the bench where people sit
while waiting in line is good. Pin a set to the
notice board at the post office. Tape them to the
mirror in the women's restroom at your local
grocery store. Be sure to not break any laws.
Generally at this stage of activism there's a
curious blend of terror and braggadocio and
mostly you're afraid so it's something you do in
the dead of night.
The important thing is that at least you do it and
don't allow your fears to paralyze you or freeze
you into apathy. Getting the truth out is a noble
cause which will energize you.
Draw upon your highest and best impulses and
ask and distribute your 95 Questions "out of love
for the truth and the desire to bring it to light."
95 QUESTIONS: Starter sampling
|* How PEAK$ came to be involved in two separate school districts in two different counties:
Although my family lives in the far southeastern tip of Llano County -- our property taxes go
to Llano ISD -- because Llano High School was 35 minutes away and we live in deer country
we didn't want to dodge deer on the highway twice a day and so sent our daughter to Marble
Falls High School, out-of-district tuition and all, because it was only 15 minutes away.
And it was at MFHS that I began volunteering and subsequently helped found our first
PEAK$ group. It was my name, and my idea to call the first meeting.
A few years later, some of our neighbors became upset over our area's orphan-child status in
Llano ISD, including poor bus service for the kids, many of whom boarded at six in the
morning and didn't get back home until eleven to twelve hours later (another reason our family
had opted for MFHS for our daughter).
Also, by then Llano ISD's supe had been arrested, and news had begun circulating that
several trustees had been benefiting financially from their board positions -- plus LISD was
winding down a massive building and remodeling program.
During this period I came out of retirement to cover local school news for a chain of
weeklies -- mostly because no one else would. I covered school news in the same
responsible manner I myself wanted to read about it: facts and inquiries rather than PR fluff
from the district.
Our neighbors took note of what I wrote and also recalled our success in MFISD -- and so
asked me to help them organize a PEAK$ group in our part of the county.
How we take back our children's education:
one person, one question, one school at a time.
|P E A K $
For every school district
decision, does it promote:
P - Parent & community
E - Excellence and
A - Accountability.
K - Is it for the Kids?
$ - And of course,
an eye to finance$.
Rather than elect officers, we had only an ad hoc steering committee composed chiefly of four or
five of us at any one time; our modus operandi was that we agreed on everything or we wouldn't do
it. Doing things this way took a fair number of phone calls and emails but we achieved a
remarkable degree of harmony in this way.
NOTE: I would have preferred having no budget but one of the men felt we had to start collecting
checks and so I went along with it although I recommend not taking in money as it gets very
complicated; you have to form a PAC and nobody wants to keep up with the serious paperwork
involved. Ironically in our case the same person who insisted that we take in money wouldn't accept
responsibility for handling it. If I had it to do over again I would have kept the campaigning branch
separate from the money branch and let the candidates handle the money for their ads and signs
themselves. Other than that, four years down the road, I wouldn't change a thing except to have
required our candidates to sign more pledges.
I will post more later, including regarding what happened after our candidates were elected and
some otherwise sane and apparently responsible adults caught the dread disease that seems to
afflict most folks elected to public office: EVERYONE-WANTS-TO-BE-LOVED-ITIS. Suffice to say,
this is why I now suggest at least five or six signed pledges, at far left here: Candidate pledges.
|HOW TO ORGANIZE 101
|10 TIPS FOR
|MORE ABOUT THE 5 RULES (above left)
These 5 rules are the result of direct and often difficult experience, and
every word of every one of them is important.
Where people go wrong and are unsuccessful in attempting to organize along the lines I suggest,
it's almost always because they have skipped one or more of the rules, generally the first one;
they'll call a bunch of meetings with a positive-sounding aim in response to something negative in
the schools but invariably their purpose is too vague. "Save Our Schools" may sound great and
might even get you 30 seconds on the evening news -- but how do you know when your schools are
saved? How will your community know when your schools are saved? Define "saved" and you've
got a good start.
While the rules don't need to be followed in this particular order, I recommend that you not proceed
past the first one until you figure out exactly what you want and can write it down on a sheet of
paper in a single sentence.
It's not enough to say, "We want to get rid of our superintendent so we can have better schools."
First, this is not positive enough to galvanize your community into action, and two, it's still not clear
enough. What do you mean by "better schools"? How do you know when you get rid of your current
superintendent that his/her replacement won't be the supe some other district has just run off?
If you do not clarify your goal sufficiently, you'll wind up wasting your energy, often times chasing
after every new problem that comes to you attention. Before you know you'll have become frustrated
because you're too scattered and it doesn't appear you're accomplishing anything.
With a clear quantifiable goal, you'll be able to recognize where you are in reaching it. Also, this
gives you a useful sound byte for your community and the press.
These 5 rules are not meant to restrict you but to empower you, to save you time and energy. As I
tell my kids, 'Go make new mistakes. Don't repeat mine.'
There's a lot of good to be done.
|1. Define your goal in a
what, when, where, why
and how. Write it down
on a sheet of paper. If
you are against
something, turn it
around into its positive
2. Develop allies who
share your goal.
Connect the dots and
identify your opposition;
beware shifting alliances
and beware Greeks
3. Set a goal that can
be quickly and easily
achieved, a goal that
when you've achieved it
everyone can recognize
who did what. No side
detours! Gather factual
data supporting your one
goal and stick to your
one goal and facts
supporting your one
goal. Leave everything
else alone for now.
4. Follow the money--
and play your cards very
close to your chest.
5. Stay focused on your
one goal, stay positive,
keep your eye on the
prize, and don't quit.
This is not about
process; you're looking
to achieve an end result.
|1. What's our district's annual budget?
2. Why are the choir parents paying for the kids' formal outfits through fund
raisers but the football team gets all of its uniforms for free from the district?
3. Why does our superintendent make $150,000 a year and also get a car/cell
phone allowance ?
4. Why are we stuck with block scheduling? From everything I've read, it's a Bad
idea--bad for finances, bad for the kids, bad for teachers.
5. How come our superintendent is always away at out-of-town conferences?
6. The school district says they want parent involvement but when I go ask
questions they shut the door on me. Which is it? Or do they want parents to do
what they want, is that what they mean by wanting parental involvement?
7. How come only parents friendly to my superintendent get appointed to the
District Education Improvement Committee or the Site-Based Decision-Making
8. Why aren't the teachers at school on their "Staff Development" days? Is this
just another day off for them?
9. How come our district doesn't teach phonics? My kid can't read.
10. Is it true the superintendent went to a fancy retreat at a resort and came back
with the elementary school's stupid so-called 'values' program?
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is won before
it is ever fought.
The Art of War
|ATTENTION EDUCATORS AND ADMINISTRATORS:
Every attempt possible has been made to verify all sources and information. In the event you feel an error has been made, please contact us immediately. Thank you.
|Copyright 1999-2008 Peyton Wolcott
|That said, I've helped organize multiple groups, each one a
success. How do we know the groups were successful? We set
clear and measurable goals such that when we achieved our goals
it was clear what we'd accomplished.
First PEAK$ group
The first time, some upset high school parents got together
because we wanted a dress code -- the kids going to the high
school at 8 a.m. looked like they were coming home from a rock
concert -- and we wanted drug testing because the boys were
smoking pot in the weeds out in back of the ag building and the
then-superintendent could not be persuaded to mow down the
weeds because she insisted to parents that there was no drug
problem at the high school.
Horseshoe Bay, Texas
Bush is playing
chess and Kerry is
-- Dick Morris
If we wish to fight, the
enemy can be forced to
an engagement even
though he be sheltered
behind a high rampart
and a deep ditch.
All we need do is attack
some other place that he
will be obliged to relieve.
If we do not wish to
fight, we can prevent
the enemy from
engaging us even
though the lines of our
encampment be merely
traced out on the
ground.All we need do is
throw something odd
in his way.
The Art of War
|5 RULES FOR
shake a bag of
hiss and try
to bite you.
-- Texas proverb
Walk softly and
carry a big stick.
-- Pres. Theodore Roosevelt
All warfare is based
Hence, when able to attack,
we must seem unable.
When using our forces,
we must seem inactive.
When we are near,
we must make the enemy believe
we are far away.
When far away, we
must make him believe we are near.
Hold out baits
to entice the enemy.
Feign disorder, and crush him.
-- Sun Tzu,
The Art of War
the highest pitch
you can attain
is to conceal them.
- Sun Tzu
The Art of War
|Take these things
hence; make not my
Father's house an
house of merchandise.
|Military tactics are like
unto water; for water in
its natural course runs
away from high places
and hastens downwards
....Water shapes its
course according to the
nature of the ground
over which it flows.
The soldier works out
his victory in relation to
the foe whom he is
-- Sun Tzu
The Art of War
You only go
0 to 60
in car ads.
One last thing:
Remember to work harder and smarter
than your opposition.
|A return to first
principles in a republic
is sometimes caused by
the simple virtues
of one man. His good
example has such an
influence that the good
men strive to imitate
him, and the wicked
are ashamed to lead
a life so contrary to
|Attempt easy tasks as if
they were difficult, and
difficult as if they were
easy; in the one case
that confidence may not
fall asleep, in the other
that it may not be
|I must study politics
and war that my sons
may have liberty to
-- Pres. John Adams
|Doubt is a luxury
we can't afford any
more, sweetie. You
have more powers
than you realize.
-- Mrs. Incredible
of the patience
to keep on moving
in the directions
of your dreams.
|Ask lots of
-- Dave Lieber
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
|My intent and heart on this page are to empower you to do the good you want to do -- and can do --
as easily and as quickly as possible. While the short "Lessons Learned" list at top left will help, it's
Because we all need more information, here's my story below, mixed in with what we figured out
along the way as we moved from having a local school superintendent who was making multiple
court appearances -- according to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Jack Patton was our state's
first public records conviction, stemming from his failure to produce a school convention restaurant
receipt -- all the way to achieving something historic by placing all five of our PEAK$ candidates on a
seven-member school board in one election in May 2004. Although no one else in Texas (or
anywhere else for that matter) that we've been able to find has been able to put so many
single-platform candidates on one board in one election, what we did is quantifiable and replicable
and the steps are outlined clearly below and at left. Please take time to read the grey boxes at left
including the quotes (farther down). Really and truly: You can do what we did, and more.
|o Set and achieve one
goal at a time.
o Join forces with others
who are of like mind
regarding your goal.
o Follow the money.
o Stay positive.
|So rather than calling ourselves "Upset High School Parents" we came up with the acronym
"PEAK$" and united ourselves behind a positive banner.
We met in a church not because we were especially religious but because it was the only building in
town large enough to accommodate our group without our having to post the meeting publicly as we
would have had to do at the local library. We knew the administration would want to gate crash our
group and try to take it over, and so felt a strong need to protect our new group. Because we were
meeting at a church, we asked the pastor to give us a blessing first, which practice I feel elevated
our thought and I commend to you; we continued to pray briefly together at the beginning of all of our
After we organized we got both concessions from the school district.
This was the first time that parents had organized in a very long time and the 95 Questions (see
below) were an effective tool.
A handful (core group: three to four people, mostly me as regards calling, writing, scheduling
meetings) of us next lobbied for a state audit; within ten days of the state comptroller's announcing
the audit, both the supe and assistnat supe had announced their departures, as did another
assistant supe a year later. Also, three board members (with a total of 30+ years on the board
among them) whom many of us felt had stayed too long at the ball all suddenly saw fit to retire from
|from somewhere else and their offspring all live somewhere else. Talk about an apathy challenge.
But we overcame both obstacles and all five of our candidates won their races.
I have looked and looked and not found another school board race anywhere where five
reform-platform candidates won their seats in a single election. The closest was St. Louis a few
years back where four trustees won their seats, although they had Bill Roberti and the financial
muscle of Alvarez & Marsal behind them. If you know of another seven-member local school board
where five candidates ran together and won in a single election under one reform name and
banner, please let me know.
|Our five PEAK$ candidates signing pledge
|Above, scenes from pre-May 2004
Llano ISD board meetings
|UPDATED: February 12, 2008
|Friends, if I could distill all of the successes and hard lessons learned--not to
mention land mines to look out for--from my past near-decade of grassroots
school reform into 50 words or less, I would. These 19 come close:
|A positive, friendly, disciplined & focused approach will succeed
where a scattershot, negative "let's try" won't. Don't try; do.