Accident at Marina and US-441: Video & Photos

It seems like all we have to do to get a story is stay near 441. Yesterday we saw something on 441 at the north end of Mission Bay Plaza. Earlier today we were on our way into Parkland and we saw an accident scene at Marina (SW 18th) and 441. This was shortly before 1 pm.
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We had time to do a short video at the scene:

What was reported to us was that the driver of the white Lexus SUV admitted to being distracted by his cell phone. Allegedly he ran a red light coming out from gas station, causing a collision with the smaller white Mitsubishi Outlander that was traveling southbound on 441.
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The panorama shot below came out a little odd.
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Fortunately it appears there were no injuries. Unfortunately most drivers disregarded Florida’s “Move Over” law, as can be seen in the video above. We often criticize unnecessary laws and police misconduct, but this is an important law that protects our first responders when they’re in a difficult and dangerous situation. When you see the flashing lights, please move over and give them space.

Kevin Rader: State Representative

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I met Kevin Rader this morning at Palm Beach Bagel in The Reserve (441 and Clint Moore). He was very impressive. I’ve been interviewing candidates for various offices and Rader is probably the most knowledgeable of all of them.
Earlier I met with Joshua Izaak, who is running against Rader in a Democratic primary. Their election is August 26th. We also published an article by Izaak on education policy. There is no Republican candidate and no others we know of.
Ideologically Rader and Izaak are roughly the same – liberal Democrats. The difference comes down to knowledge, experience and realism. Rader has all three on his side. We talked about a number of issues and with a couple of exceptions he knew them in great depth.
Perhaps most important is that Rader understands his role. He’s in the minority in the legislature facing an large Republican majority. In that situation he knows he can’t enact much legislation and can’t outright stop the Republicans if they’re determined. Instead he realizes his tremendous power to ask hard questions. I’ve been in that situation myself on my hometown town board.
Rader also has a deep understanding of insurance issues because he works in that field. He says most of his work is in an unusual niche – beekeeping insurance.
In our earlier interview Izaak criticized a moment Rader had on the House floor. Here it is:

Rader didn’t flinch and he had a better answer for me than he had on the video. The condo association at Century Village asked him to propose the amendment. He explained the finer points of why the amendment would have made things better. It didn’t seem like a huge issue.
What’s important about this is that Izaak accused Rader of being affected by special interests in the insurance industry. That didn’t make a lot of sense as it just changes what the insurers are selling to whom. Rather Rader admits he was influenced by the condo association, which is also a special interest in a sense but not a terribly offensive one by the standards of most people.
Also, in simple terms, I just liked the guy. There are some key issues where we disagree but he was completely honest and didn’t try to please me by softening his positions.
When I asked about guns Rader didn’t hesitate to say he would ban AK-47s, for example. The ensuing conversation showed he knows almost nothing about firearms. He didn’t know that typical hunting rifles are more powerful, nor that rifles are rarely used in crimes. He wasn’t sure if he’s ever even fired a rifle. Rader also referred to the Sandy Hook shooting as the main reason for banning such guns, as if the deaths of twenty white schoolchildren are somehow more important than the thousands of black and Hispanic victims of all ages that don’t make the national news. On the bright side he seemed open to a discussion of the drug war’s role in causing violence.
When I asked Izaak about the gun issue I didn’t feel he was honest about his real views, and he still didn’t know anything about firearms. There’s no Second Amendment supporter in the race so this issue should not be decisive for any voter.
The big differences come down to knowledge, experience, and realism. For those reasons West Boca News endorses Kevin Rader for State Representative.
With that said, the conversation reflected an underlying problem with our political system. Rader is a consummate insider. He believes the system works better when insiders run it. He spoke approvingly of the nature of that system, where those who play the game are rewarded and others are not. While we don’t like it, we appreciate his honesty about it. We also doubt that Izaak would do anything to change it.
See the Kevin Rader website or his campaign Facebook page for more.

Ron Paul: A Middle Position on Israel and Gaza?

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In light of our recent coverage of the anti-Israel protest and the subsequent pro-Israel rallies, this is an interesting take on the crisis.
Ron Paul angers both sides. In short, he acknowledges Israel’s absolute right to self-defense and then also acknowledges that the Palestinians feel oppressed and have their own right to self-defense. He does not blame Israel for the Palestinians’ situation.

His main contention is non-intervention, that the US should stay out of it, and that “our involvement … is not helpful in bringing about peace.”
What do you think? Let us know in the comments, either here on our website or on our Facebook page.

Joshua Izaak: The Need for Education Reform in Florida

By: Joshua Izaak, Democratic Candidate for State Representative District 81

After interviewing Mr. Izaak this week and hearing his passion for education, we asked him to write an article on the topic. We invite any and all other candidates for this office and any other relevant office to submit a response.

Introduction

The current education system in Florida is fatally flawed. It is restricting the development of students, and constraining teachers from reaching their full potential. I have experienced every level of the Florida education system since moving to Florida in 1998, and have seen firsthand its detrimental effects in the classroom. The only solution to this systemic problem is a comprehensive reform package that addresses the major factors inhibiting student growth. As your Representative I will fight for these reforms because we need do better than the status quo. The first step is to replace the current state testing regime with a curriculum based approach.

Reforming Standardized Testing

I moved to Florida just as the FCAT was being implemented, and took the test every year from 4th-10th grade. I attended Waters Edge, Loggers’ Run, and both Olympic Heights and West Boca High Schools. The tragedy of the FCAT is that it pigeonholes students into learning how to take a test, rather than allowing students to learn how to think critically, and learn the actual curriculum that should be taught in the classroom. The FCAT also forces teachers to teach to the test, rather than allow them to craft creative lesson plans and techniques tailored to their students’ specific needs.
Unfortunately, the state of Florida couples school funding with standardized test results. Schools get more funding if the students do well on the test.  This puts tremendous strain on teachers to spend the majority of their class time administering practice tests, rather than focusing on the actual curriculum that should be covered in the individual class.
Florida has begun to administer certain subject based tests to high school students and will transition to the common core standards in the 2014-2015 school year. While this is a well-intentioned attempt to move away from the traditional FCAT, it does not solve the problems inherent in the system. First, students are prevented from graduating if they fail the exam. This puts tremendous pressure on students, which only increases their chances of not performing at their optimal level on the exam. It also creates an incentive for schools to provide fewer resources to courses that do not have a state testing component. For example, Algebra and Geometry are two of the subjects tested. School funding, teacher pay, and a student’s ability to graduate are all attached to a student’s performance on these exams.
Therefore, schools place the most resources, and the highest skilled teachers in those subjects. However, this is at the expense of those higher level math classes such as Trigonometry and Calculus that do not currently have a state subject test. As a result, higher achieving students may not be provided with all the resources they deserve because their performance in those classes have little to no effect on a school’s revenue stream.
I have a proposed solution. It is only an idea, and not something I am wedded to, or anything set in stone. It is common practice to evaluate students based on standardized criteria, and the pushback I receive is that by eliminating all standardized testing we will remove accountability from the system. Therefore, I have a compromise that will still require a system of testing, but would also improve students’ potential for success.
We must move away from the aptitude tests, and instead shift to curriculum based tests similar to the national AP tests. I took 13 AP classes in high school, and therefore feel that I am able to accurately comment on this issue. The reason I believe I received a better education in AP classes is because AP classes are curriculum oriented. Teachers are provided with a textbook, and instructed to teach their students the information found in the textbook.
At the end of the year students must take a comprehensive exam on the information found in the textbook. There are no tricks to taking the test beyond simply learning the material. This also allows teachers to be creative in their approach, and provides them freedom to craft lesson plans that will be most effective in teaching their students.
Currently, students do not take standardized tests at the end of the school year. When I took the FCAT, it was administered around March. The curriculum based evaluations would be administered at the end of the second semester. Each class would have a separate end of the year evaluation.
Instead of these tests being the determining factor regarding graduation as is the case with the current system, the new evaluations will function more as a “final exam” and only count as a portion of the student’s semester grade. Currently, a high school student’s semester grade is comprised of the weighted average among the student’s two quarter grades and their semester exam grade. The quarter grades are each weighted 40% and the final exam is weighted 20%. Under my plan, the evaluation will substitute for the 20% final grade.
Therefore, if students have been doing well throughout the year but happen to have a bad test result they won’t be at risk of failing the entire class. Only if a student has been consistently performing poorly, coupled with a poor performance on the final, will their grade average be low enough to result in a failing grade in the class. This maintains accountability in the system while not ruining a student’s future graduation prospects simply as a result of one grade on one examination.
I realize this plan is not perfect, but I believe it is a step in starting a dialogue for improving our current system. I welcome any input in improving my plan, or even providing a plan of your own that you feel improves our education system.

Arts Funding

Not only do we need to foster creativity among teachers and students in academic settings, but we should be providing avenues for students to pursue creativity through the arts. Florida should continue to fund and increase funding for the arts in schools. Fostering creativity has been shown to improve a person’s IQ, as well as cultivate interpersonal and communication skills. Growing a student’s ability to think critically and creatively will pay dividends when these students enter the workforce and have to work collaboratively in business teams, or are tasked with finding solutions to complex world problems. We can never be sure who will become the next great entrepreneur, starting companies like Apple or Google, and it is through cognitive creative stimulation in the arts that these individuals will have the foundation to create the world of the future.
Incentivize Individuals to Become Teachers, Improve Educational Degree Programs, and Foster Growth and Improvement for Current Teachers
I want to create an education system that works to incentivize individuals to enter teaching, improve the educational degree programs in our state colleges, and foster growth and professional development for teachers.
We must continue to increase teacher salary. Teachers are vastly under-compensated considering the responsibility they have to ensure generations of children have the knowledge necessary to succeed.
We must increase the incentives for individuals to become teachers, so that more of Florida’s best and brightest enter the teaching profession. One example would be to provide a college loan forgiveness program for those individuals who become teachers, and who work as teachers for ten years.
We must improve the undergraduate educational degree programs. Currently, many education degrees at universities are considered inadequate. The degree programs at universities do not train students how to be effective educators, and do not challenge the students in their curriculum. This shortchanges future teachers, as well as the children they teach. We need to work with the top teachers in this state, and partner with university administrators to rework the education degree curricula in universities to adequately prepare graduates to teach.
Once teachers receive the degree, schools should continue to foster staff development. We should transform Teacher Work Days into days focused on continuing education opportunities for educators. Schools will provide teachers with workshops and seminars on new and developing techniques to engage students in the classroom. This would increase teacher accountability because they will be given the tools, resources, and guidance to succeed. Schools can better identify teachers who are under-performing and tailor learning opportunities to help them excel in the classroom.



Continue to Fund Bright Futures and Provide Greater Access to Higher Education

As a recent college and law school graduate, I understand the burden the cost of higher education can be on students. The Bright Futures program is a great way to reduce the cost of in-state tuition. However, recent changes made by the Florida Legislature to minimum requirements will reduce the number of incoming freshmen who receive Bright Futures by approximately half.   These changes hurt those students who need the greatest help- middle class, poor, and minority students. We should be encouraging and incentivizing all of our students to receive secondary education. It is imperative that we invest in our students today to ensure the viability of the state of Florida in the future. When elected, I will fight to reduce the cost of higher education as well as increase financial aid to students.
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Karen Brill – School Board Candidate

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Having interviewed the two challengers for school board earlier, I met Karen Brill the other day at Jidai Kaiten Sushi on Powerline. The funny thing about interviewing candidates is that they all tend to be likeable. Sometimes that makes it hard to pick who to vote for. In this case Brill made it easier.
Brill, Dave Mech, and John Hartman are running for District 3, which runs north from Clint Moore so most of West Boca can’t vote in the race.
She was elected to the school board in 2010 by defeating a long-time incumbent and a few others. She was endorsed in that race by the Palm Beach Post, and they endorsed her again today.
As their 2010 article mentions, Brill became motivated by challenges she faced from the school district in getting a proper and fair education for her autistic son. Because of that experience she describes herself as the go-to person on the board for parents with special needs kids.
Two things in particular impressed me about her. First, she’s very knowledgeable. Some people get elected to boards and just show up to collect the paycheck. Brill, by contrast, has spent the last four years learning a great deal about how things work in the school district. She doesn’t know everything, but she understands how the school district works far better than her opponents.
Second, she is a bundle of energy. The Post mentioned that as well. Our conversation ranged over many topics and anything that came up sparked a stream of ideas and answers from Brill.
She’s not perfect. I asked her some tough questions about “Common Core” and I didn’t love her answers. Her focus on special needs and her knowledge of the finer details of the issues seems to keep her from taking a “big picture” look at the district. For example, we talked about how the system should work better so that parents of kids with special needs wouldn’t need to go to a school board member for help. She got the point, but didn’t seem to know how to get there.
In a follow-up e-mail she said:

I believe we went off on a tangent on how to address the issue of parents of special needs students going to a school board member for assistance. There is an answer. The District needs to restore the Parent Services position (with federal funding from the IDEA) under the new ESE Director or they need to create an ombudsman position.”

And regarding seeing the big picture she said:

My special needs son is only 1/4 of my children. They range from gifted to advanced to average and then to challenged. One my primary concerns is the crush of standardized testing and what is doing to our students’ love for learning and teachers’ ability to teach.

I don’t find those responses persuasive, but I’m voting for her anyway. She has two opponents in the race. I interviewed Dave Mech in June. While I liked him, he just didn’t seem serious enough about the actually winning the election and serving on the school board. Brill, by contrast, is almost too serious about it.
More recently I interviewed John Hartman. There are some critical things I love about Hartman. He’s more of a big picture guy. He’s very concerned about Common Core and strongly opposed to it. If opposition to Common Core is your biggest issue with the schools, then Hartman is the one you should vote for and you should give him some money too. But it’s a little too much of a holy war. He reminds me of the Blues Brothers:

I don’t like Common Core, but it’s not enough. One school board member isn’t going to stop it, or whatever other name they place on it. Brill does see problems with Common Core, FCATs, etc. Her knowledge and energy will be more effective at managing how to deal with it. At the same time she’s ready to handle all the other issues our school board will confront. And she has the personality to get along with others and work through things.
Ideologically I line up more with Hartman. But you don’t win elections because of a higher power. You win them by planning ahead and figuring out how you’re going to reach the voters with your message. Those same methods help you get results when you do get elected. Brill is more ready to get things done. Like many first-time candidates Hartman did not understand how difficult it would be. And that makes you wonder how effective he would be if he won.
Practically speaking, Brill is going to win this election easily. I hope Hartman runs again, either for school board or another office. I’d love to help him in that next race.