This weekend I was honored with the opportunity to accompany four representatives of Ogden Elementary School to go to the Intel
Schools of Distinction
Gala in Washington D.C.
discussed the fact that Ogden was granted this award. I'm posting this blog to record the events, show some photos, talk about the awards, and the folks we met.
Everything started when we met at our house around 4:30 on Wednesday evening. We, Jim, Dave, Mike, Terri, and I, piled into the "Blue Flame" or the "Blue Beast" as the van came to be known during the trip. We then headed off toward Kansas City where we had a reservation at the Econo Lodge
. Since everyone just got off from work, the trip was mostly occupied unwinding from the day and talking about hopes for winning the Best of the Best prize.
When we reached Bonner Springs, we stopped off at Granite City Food and Brewery
on the way to the hotel. Terri's brother Jeremy works there and we had some excellent food. The food was all the better since Jeremy put it on the house.
After we finished out food, we finished the trip to Econo Lodge and started the arduous process of checking in. I'm pretty sure I cannot make any recommendation of this establishment. The service was curt, slow, and inefficient. It was cheap, but I've had better experience at that price before. After we finally got settled in, we all made our best attempt to sleep. In the case of Terri and I, that didn't really work, but it wasn't too bad.
The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn to catch the shuttle to airport for a 7:40 flight. One of the greatest things about the Kansas City International Airport (MCI)
is that the security lines are always very short. We got there early anyway as a precaution, but I was, at least, able to enjoy a cup of coffee before the flight. Unfortunately, our gate didn't have any drink service inside security, so we weren't able to take anything to drink on the plane. However, our flight was nearly perfectly on time and we flew on Midwest Airlines
, which provided excellent service on the trip. (I'm mostly concerned with making sure my pregnant wife had all the water she needed.)
After we landed at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
, we were given a ride by a very nice shuttle service. We were greeted by a man carrying a sign labeled "Students of Distinction," (rather than "School of Distinction") which began the jokes "of Distinction" which became this trip's pun of choice. We rode the shuttle from the airport to our hotel in great comfort. That was certainly the nicest shuttle I've ever seen with cushy leather seats and a wet bar—though, the only drinks present were water.
We then made our first attempt to check into our hotel in Washington D.C., the historic Mayflower Renaissance Hotel
, which is, as I learned later, one of three five-star hotels
in Washington D.C. It is also famous as it was designed by the same architect that designed Grand Central Station in New York and was J. Edgar Hoover
's ("the fascist" in Dave's words) preferred office for several years. They didn't have our rooms available when we first arrived at noon (which isn't surprising since checkout is at noon and we arrived at 11:00am EDT).
We checked our bags with the bell captain and then caught a couple cabs to get to the Hart Building
to meet with one of Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS)
aides. We then caught a couple more cabs to get to the Longworth Building
to meet with an aide with Representative Jim Ryun (R-KS)
. And then it was back to the Hart Building again to meet with an aide in the office of senior Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS)
. In addition, we met with Lin from the Scholastic government affairs office, whom Terri had been working with to arrange several of the specifics of the trip. For the meeting with Ryun and Roberts we were accompanied by Jenny, who was a lobbyist with Intel.
While we were traversing between the buildings, Mike misplaced his camera in one of the cabs, which he realized as we reached Roberts office. This is the sort of thing that can really ruin your day, especially since he already had to replace his cell phone recently due to a rather spectacular meeting between his phone and the ground (after surviving being run over by a car moments before). Jim, with his magic memory, remembered the cab number and we figured out the company when we got back outside. Jenny said she'd take care of it for Mike. About three blocks down, we saw Jenny on the side of the road flagging Mike's cab down as she'd already located the cab, flagged it down, and gotten the camera from the drive. This was a camera recovery of distinction.
After this adventure, we returned to the hotel, checked in, and rested for a bit before the Gala. I had some brief difficulty in finding my tux, but Candace down at the desk took care of it for me. Terri and I dressed up in our fancy-shmancy clothes and then headed down with the others to the gala. The Schools of Distinction Gala worked in three phases: cocktails, dinner and awards, and finished with a dessert bar. The hor d'eurves were quite good and we met various other winners, vendors, and others.
It was during this time that a man came up to Terri and I and asked where we were from and why we were there. He stated surprise that there was a "Manhattan, Kansas" and managed to get Terri to tell him some of what they did to earn the Mathematics award. She explained that they tried to help students discover math by constructing their own solutions to the problems. They often do this using manipulatives, like snap cubes to help with concepts like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, etc. Then, he asked what "snap cubes" were. Terri explained they they were "like Legos." He then asked if they were as good as "Legos." Terri said, "No." He then handed us his card and introducted himself as Harvey Dean
, CEO and President of Pitsco
and the President of Lego Education
. Pitsco is based out of Pittsburg, Kansas
, so he was being entirely facetious about not knowing about Manhattan, Kansas
. We even talked football a bit. This was an introduction of distinction.
The cocktails ended and we headed into dinner and the awards ceremony. We sat at Table #1, which was the best seat in the house. We were pretty excited to learn this and wondered if it was a good omen for the prospect of the Best of the Best award. At the table I met one of the top guys at the National Science Foundation
, the Don Knezek
, CEO of ISTE
, which helps establish technology teaching standards, Ernie Fleischman, Senior Vice President of Scholastic
, and Craig Barrett
, CEO of Intel
. Ernie was probably our favorite new acquaintance. He was very funny, had interesting stories to tell, was very intelligent, and asked very pointed questions, and provided very interesting commentary on the topics discussed.
The food was served and was excellent. The meal was filet of steak and seabass served with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. That was very easily the best steak I've ever had. The seabass was also superb. The wine seemed to be popular too, but I don't much care for wine, so the goodness of the wine was lost on me. Following the dinner came coffee and sorbet, both were also extremely good. It would have been a good evening, if only for the food.
As we worked our way through the coffee and sorbet, the awards presentation began. Each of the major sponsors and a general overview of the products being donated was announced. Adobe
gave some licenses to each of their software suites to each school. Dell
gave laptops and color laser printers. Intel gave $10,000 to each school. Scholastic awarded accesses to their online Grolier
service. Smart Technologies
gave each school a few Smart Boards
. Pitsco gave each school $2,500 worth of their products, which includes LEGOs and LEGO Mindstorm robots. There were so many prizes that I don't remember any of the others off hand.
Following this, a representative from each of the vendors then introduced and handed over the to the winning schools
. I believe it was the representative from Lenovo
, the company spun off from the former laptop division of IBM, that introducted Ogden Elementary
and announced their award for Mathematics Achievement as an Elementary School of Distinction. Then, Ernie Fleishman and Craig Barrett gave their speeches and introduced the Best of the Best winners. These had not been announced so their was quite a bit of anticipation leading up to this point. Unfortunately, Ogden did not win the Best of the Best Award, which is given to the school that the judges felt had performed the best overall achievement at their level. However, the other Kansas school present, Chisholm Middle School
of Newton, Kansas
did win the best of the best in the secondary division. We can be proud to know that one of the schools that one was from Kansas.
Following the awards ceremony, we mingled more, got a few more pictures, and ate some fantastic desserts from the dessert bar. I met a few more executives from Pitsco and Intel, but then Terri and I packed it in for the evening. We then got to experience in full measure the glory that is the softest mattress I've ever experienced in a hotel. They place seven pillows on the bed (with extras in the closet) and have a down filled comforter and an extra-soft pillow-top mattress. It was nearly as soft as our waterbed at home. Other than having to wake up once in the middle of the night to turn down the A/C (down comforters are warm), we both slept very well, which is unusual for me in a strange bed, especially a hotel bed.
The next morning, Terri, Mike, and Jim had meetings with the vendors to attend. They were to hear of all the awards that were included, which added up to more than $150,000 worth, all told ($2.5 million split between 16 schools). Since only three representatives were supposed to attend these meetings, Dave and I were free to tour the nation's capital. We planned (though not very well) to take the trolley around town to see the sites, which came highly recommended by Ernie from Scholastic. I say not very well because neither of us thought to make arrangements on how to actually meet, neither of us are organizer/planner types. As such, we missed each other completely the next morning. It turns out, I think, to have worked well anyway. Dave had the opportunity to tour the national headquarters of the National Education Association
(NEA) (for which he is one of the major representatives in the school district), which I would not have enjoyed, being, in general, a political adversary of the NEA. I took a very wet and cold walking tour of uptown, the National Mall
, and had lunch in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
The next morning, I purchased my trolley ticket and headed out to the east entrance of the hotel to wait. While waiting I met a retired couple from Texas, Jim and Mary. They had just finished a tour of the White House
the previous day, which I learned was only possible if you got an endorsement from your local congressional representative at least three months in advance. I took the tour trolley around one full circuit with Jim and Mary before getting off north of the White House to start my walking tour. I got to share with the two of them that I was surprised to find that nearly all the aides working for our congressmen were from the northeast and had no real ties to our district. The exception was Senator Roberts, who required the majority of his staff be from Kansas and that at least one person from Kansas man the reception desk at all times. (This raised my estimation of Roberts even higher than before. His office also looked like he worked there rather than being a show piece.)
Getting out north of the White House, I snapped a few pictures and then walked around. It was raining and pretty chilly. Despite the cold, there were still a few ubiquitous protestors out front of the White House protesting the Iraq War
, the militarization of space
, and the possession of nuclear arms
. There were also a couple tourist groups trying to get their picture taken out front. I then walked east past the Treasury Department and then south past the William Tecumseh Sherman
memorial and got some photos of the South Lawn of the White House. The George Washington Monument
is visible for a pretty wide area so I could usually judge where I was by my relationship to the Monument at any given time. I then walked west and walked by the Red Cross building, the Constitution Hall
building, the States of America building, and then walked to the George Washington Monument.
The Washington Monument is surrounded by a large lawn and sits atop a low hill. The lawn was covered with ducks and geese. By the time I reached the base of the Monument, the wind was really blowing and the rain had started coming down at a pretty decent rate. I took a couple snapshots from there and decided to walk away. I might have gone for a ride up the Monument, but I wasn't sure I wanted to wait for a time slot to do so. If/when Terri and I make it back to Washington D.C., perhaps we can go up together. I did, on the tour, learn an interesting fact about the original elevator in the Washington Monument. Women and children were allowed to take the hundreds of stairs to the top of the monument, but the elevator was for men only. This was because the elevator was steam powered and for every couple feet up, it dropped a foot. This was considered too hazardous for women and children. Somehow, I think it would be considered too hazardous for anyone today.
From the Washington Monument, I walked towards the Lincoln Memorial
and stopped at the World War II Memorial
. The World War II Memorial sits at the east end of the Reflection Pool. It's a central pool and fountain with two domes at either end representing each of the Atlantic and Pacific theatres. I didn't learn much more about the Memorial than what I observed. The various states that offered up young men and women who sacrificed their lives were each represented by a stone placard and a copper wreath. Other districts were represented with placards. Along the ramp leading down to the central fountain were a number of vignettes depicting the different modes of fighting by land, by sea, and by air. The back of the memorial, closest to the Reflecting Pool featured thousands of gold stars above a pool.
I continued toward the Lincoln Memorial along the Reflecting Pool and then walked up the steps into the Memorial itself. Lincoln sat there as large as I expected, but the greatness of the image can't really be translated into film. One the north wall of the memorial is inscribed the Gettysburg Address
, which was poorly received by the audience present, but was powerfully received by the rest of the nation when printed in the newspapers. The south wall gives his second inaugural address. While there, I learned that Lincoln's image was sculpted such that one of his hands formed the sign language sign for "A" and the other for "L" giving his initials A.L. As I left the Lincoln Memorial, I noticed the inscripture at the top of the steps where Martin Luther King, Jr.
stood when he gave his "I Have a Dream
I then visited the Vietnam War Memorial
. The low black wall is considerably longer and sits in a different setting than I expected. I learned from Terri that the names themselves are meant to be difficult to read in the rain, and they definitely were. Not knowing any name to look up, I simply looked over a few of them and took some pictures. Mike, Jim, and Dave went back for a midnight tour later that evening and Mike recalled the first and last names on the wall. I also visited the Vietnam Women's Memorial
in honor of the women that died in the Vietnam War.
After that, I decided I was really hungry and decided to take the bus to Georgetown. I walked back over to the bus stop and waited for the next uptown trolley. When I got off at Georgetown, I really wanted to get something warm to drink, so I went down into Georgetown Park, which is a mall below Wisconsin Avenue and got some coffee. I then walked up Wisconsin Avenue to see if I could find anything to eat that piqued my interest. I can't say that anything was a stand-out, but I ended up in The Bean Counter
, which was a little sandwich/coffee shop, which advertised their Cuban Sandwich in the window. I gave it try and it was pretty good. I ate that with a Latté in the upstairs dining area, which appeared to be an extra dining area by day and the couple's living room by night. It was very strange to this Kansan, but it was warm, which was the most important factor for me. Then, I walked back to the trolley and headed back to the Mayflower so I could make the 6:00 dinner appointment. I finished with a second tour of Embassy Row
, where many of the embassies
(Ambassadors' living quarters) and chancelleries
(Ambassadors' offices) are located in D.C. This leg also includes the Islamic Center of Washington
, the National Cathedral
, the Taft Bridge
, and other buildings near the Mayflower Hotel
After getting a some respite from the cold and wet and working to at least superficially dry out my shoes, Terri and I got dressed up again to go out to Sam and Harry's
for our last dinner in Washington D.C. There I had the crab cakes, swordfish, and cheesecake. It was excellent. I even enjoyed the wine as much as I ever have enjoyed wine. Terri reports that her stake wasn't quite as good as at the Mayflower, but it was still excellent. During dinner we were introduced to the crumber
or "crumb squeegee" as I dubbed it. The wait staff had these little devices that they used to inconspicuously wipe crumbs onto the floor. Jim thought they were so cool and made such a big deal out of them that the headwaiter gave him one to keep.
With the dinner over, Terri and I headed back to the hotel, packed up, and collapsed. As I mentioned, Jim, Mike, and Dave went out for a late tour of the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial
, and the Vietnam War Memorial. I would liked to have taken a night tour as well, but to take the midnight tour probably wouldn't have worked for us as both Terri and I were dead on our feet. Perhaps next time.
The next morning we checked out, grabbed some coffee from the hotel, hopped into our shuttle and headed back to Washington National. The only memorable story left was that the flight attendants on our Midwest Airlines flight gave Terri, Mike, Jim, and Dave whole bags of the cookies they serve on the flight in recognition of their award. They fresh baked during the flight and are very good. We got a ride back to Econo Lodge and we drove back to Manhattan with very little fanfare.
That's how I ended my week. Congratulations to Ogden Elementary. The leadership and staff there have worked really hard to really serve their students in an extraordinary way. The resources and recognition that are part of this award will continue to help them serve their students and I hope they can use these resources as a launch pad to do good and great things for their students and help inspire other schools in the district and in the state to work to achieve great things as well.