Good Samaritan Holiday Assistance Walkthrough

My previous article presented some pictures from the Good Samaritan of Hamilton County’s holiday assistance program. It showed some of the rooms prior to the event. The event is now over for 2018 (although Good Samaritan will still be doing meals near Christmas). I was unable to get pictures that showed how the rooms looked at the end, but suffice it to say that the housewares were picked over, the food was all distributed, and the toys and books that were left were primarily the second hand toys, many of which showed a lot of wear and tare.

One thing I was able to do quickly was walk the path that clients getting assistance would follow. I took the below video the morning of the event right before clients were going to be allowed to sign in and start their “shopping”.

People who have signed up and been approved for this event start lining up the night before. When I arrived at the building about 30 to 45 minutes before the doors were to open, the line stretched out to the parking lot and down the sidewalk. It was hundreds of people standing in line in the cold. Out of respect for their privacy, I don’t have pictures to show the line, but take my word – it was long.That event started at 8:00am, which is when the line started moving. It kept going for 6 or 7 hours with the last of the people “shopping leaving between four and five in the evening.

This year I spent more time helping with issues in the toy/kid room, but still took the time to walk a few families through. I was joined by high school kids, parents with middle aged children, and adults who were also working with families, by helping them work through the kids clothes and toys. While it seems like an easy task, it is tougher than you’d think. It also, however, is rewarding to help families find that near perfect toy for their kids.

For me, the hope is that when they get home, they will have what they need to have a very merry Christmas holiday.

 

Paying for a Trail That Already Exists: The Fishers Nickel Plate Trail

The Fishers City Council approved an increase to property taxes to pay for the first phase of the new Nickel Plate Trail that has been proposed to replace the Nickel Plate rail. This tax increase is to help fund the $7 to $9 million cost for the first of three phases of the trail.

What is worth noting is that the tax increase is roughly double the initial cost estimate for the total trail, even though it is only for the first phase. At the time of this writing the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) site for the Nickel Plate Trail still shows an estimated cost of roughly 4.4 million for the Fishers section.


Figure: Trails and Tracks

The first phase of the Nickel Plate Trial will run from 106th Street to 126th. What hasn’t been stated clearly is that there are already trails that run from just north of 106th all the way to 131st Street. These trails are within two blocks of either side of the tracks where the new Nickel Plate trail is expected to be. In fact, parts of these trails run next to the tracks. This raises the question, that if existing trails already run from 106th near the tracks to 131st, then why will seven to nine million be spent building another trail?

The Existing Trails

Just north of 106th Street at the rail road tracks, you can find the Cheeney Creek Loop trail that runs through Cheeney Creek Natural Area. Not only does this park include walking and biking tails, but it also has a small lake (pond), lots of trees and a picnic area. The park and trails go from 106th Street to just north of 116th Street.


Figure: Cheeney Creek Area

North of the Cheeney Creek loop, the path crosses the road and winds through trees, around a pond, and through a neighborhood. In this area the trail winds through Big Wheel Park. This park on the path includes playground equipment, a hilly sidewalk for kids to have fun, more picnic tables, and other amenities. Next to the park are both a creek and a pond.


Figure: Big Wheel Park

The trail continues from Big Wheel Pond  across 116th Street and through the downtown area. You’ve likely noticed the cross walk just east of the tracks on 116th. Ironically, while the city expects to spend $2 to $5 million to build an underpass for a new trail where the tracks are located, there have been no comments about the crosswalk that is less than a stone throw away. What has been noted (but I’ve not confirmed), is that there are drainage issues in that area which could result in extra costs to try to build a trail that goes under the road.

If you continue on the path through the downtown area, you’ll find that forks around the library and Lantern Road. One part of the fork is a path that winds across Lantern Road and the railroad tracks and goes through the Tech center area. The path then follows (parallels) the railroad tracks going up towards and then past the Launch Fishers facility. You can see parts of this form in the next figure. The area near Launch Fishers includes a few more picnic tables just off the path.


Figure: Trial in the Fishers Tech Park area.

The other fork going from downtown goes from the library area north along Lantern Road. This is a newly updated trail  that follows Lantern Road all the way to 131st Street, where it turns West to Allisonville. At Allisonville, the path then turns North and goes to the entrance of Conner Prairie. Why the city build a path from downtown to a facility that charges admission is unclear, but the path has been built. Currently the construction on Allisonville at 131st Street disconnects the part of the trail that is in front of Conner Prairie. That part of the path has been built and torn up (the grass and landscaping) several times in the last 12 to 18 months as road work is being done. Hopefully it isn’t tax dollars paying for the repetitive task.


Figure: Trail from Lantern Road to Conner Prairie

Building New Trails

The existing trails from Cheeney Creek to 131st are within a block or two of the railroad tracks. These trails are all relatively new and paid for with previous tax dollars. As such, turning the rails into a trail between 106th and 126th as a first phase seems not only redundant with what is already there, but possibly unnecessary. The fact that the city is raising taxes to build a trail nearly on top of existing trails, should cause many citizens of Fishers to raise there voices in concern with how their tax dollars are being spent.


Figure: Trails from 106th to 126th

If the City wants to add trails, then, it would make more sense to build the trail from 96th to 106th connecting to Cheeney Creek’s trails and then build a connection from the 131st and Lantern trail to the tracks and go North. This would add new trail areas.

Of course, when a trail already exists in the same area, then there is the question of how much is this new trail worth. While the city posted $4.4 million as a base cost in the Nickel Plate Trail FAQs, I’m not alone in estimating a cost that is likely to go over $30,000 ,000. That, however, is a topic for another article.

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A Bit on the Busy Side

As you can clearly see, my blog and site are a bit out of date. My day job, family, and other activities have monopolized my time. I hope to get back to regular posting in the near future. There is a lot happening not only around my local community, but in the world as a whole, so there is a lot to talk about!

Stay tuned!

Teacher Retention at HSE Schools

WRTV 6 did a story on teacher retention in Indiana schools today. They indicated that 18% of the teachers and administrators left their school in a single year. That puts the retention on average at 82%. With over 12,426 educators, that is a large turnover.

You might think that HSE Schools are immune to this turnover; however, you’d be wrong. We have teachers leaving regularly as well, which is why I’ve raised it as an issue while running for a school board position. While some turn over is expected as a result of retiring or other reasons, there are also those teachers that state they are leaving for reasons such as being tired of “teaching to tests” or the teacher who feels they are not being heard. Some also leave to make more money in other districts.

It was reported that 8.5% of teachers in Indiana left for reasons other than retirement. Before saying 8.5% doesn’t seem bad, that’s over 1,000 educators in Indiana.

You can find the reasons that WRTV 6 found by reading their article at:

http://www.theindychannel.com/longform/call-6-thousands-of-indiana-teachers-leaving-the-classroom

There are a few things that are concerning in the story. This includes the comment that Indiana schools are not tracking why educators are leaving. This is a topic I’m sure will be addressed by the administration as it would be mind boggling to think this isn’t being tracked.

Glenda Ritz’s comment about taking the issue to the General Assembly seems extremely odd.  Why would you not simply tell the school administrators to start tracking why teachers are leaving so you can work to retain those that remain? Any administrator deserving of the role should already be tracking or aware of this. If it takes getting a group of politicians to tell you it is okay to do a basic management function, then we have a bigger task ahead of us if we want to fix issues in our schools. Furthermore, creating a panel to review the causes is great, but if that panel fails to ask any of the other 12,400+ educators questions, then the last work that should be used to describe the effectiveness is “proactive”.

On the positive, discussions around teacher pay as well as on how teacher evaluations are done makes a lot of sense. These are topics that do need to be addressed at the state and district level.

The article actually includes retention rates for Indiana schools. I’ve not verified the data with what our administration, but I’ll assume that RTV6 has verified this. Here are numbers for some of the HSE Schools for 2014-15. Note that our average from these schools is 81%, just under the state average of 82%.  Nine of the schools scored below the state average.

School Name

Retained

Total Retention Rate
571 Brooks School Elementary 45 57 79%
572 Cumberland Road Elem School 25 34 74%
573 Durbin Elementary School 19 25 76%
574 Fall Creek Elementary School 34 40 85%
575 Fall Creek Intermediate School 43 65 66%
576 Fishers Elementary School 27 27 100%
577 Fishers High School 141 157 90%
578 Fishers Junior High School 54 67 81%
580 Geist Elementary School 35 42 83%
581 Hamilton SE Int and Jr High Sch 31 67 46%
582 Hamilton Southeastern HS 133 162 82%
583 Harrison Parkway Elementary School 33 35 94%
584 Hoosier Road Elementary School 37 42 88%
585 Lantern Road Elementary School 29 32 91%
586 New Britton Elementary School 30 36 83%
587 Riverside Intermediate School 52 60 87%
588 Riverside Junior High 60 71 85%
589 Sand Creek Elementary 32 46 70%
590 Sand Creek Intermediate School 54 64 84%
591 Thorpe Creek Elementary 36 45 80%
950 1174 81%

 

Clearly there is work to be done in the area of retaining good teachers.

Would You Let Me Hold Your Wallet? Protecting Your Privacy

I asked a police officer if I could hold his wallet. He obviously said no.

I told the officer that if he let me hold it, I would not glance at his license or look at how much money he had. I’d just hold it.

You are likely wondering what would transpire to get me to ask an officer if I could hold his wallet. While this might sound like a crazy situation, my question to the officer was to help illustrate that a point he had made earlier in a presentation was flawed. Specifically, it was to help illustrate that if you download applications and visit websites, then you are likely in a similar position of being asked to hand over something important to someone asking you to trust them. Unlike the officer, if you are like most people, then you will probably not say “no” when asked if you are okay with handing over personal stuff.

The officer had just done a fantastic presentation on his role with internet safety in the local school system. He had presented information to help parents understand more about cyber bullying, internet safety, and several other student issues in a digital age. It was one comment relevant to the latest fad, Pokemon Go, that caused me to ask for his wallet, and then to write this blog.

Accessing Web Sites and Using Mobile Apps

When you use a website or when you download and use an application, you are generally are agreeing to a license or term of service (ToS) for that site or application. Many sites and nearly ever application will have you confirm that you agree to their ToS by having you click a small checkbox that often simply says you agree. If you download an app from one of the app stores, you will often get a screen that says that the app wants access to some services on your machine or phone. Chances are, you simply click the box or button and continue. This action is generally required to use the software; otherwise, if you don’t agree, then most installation ends or the page doesn’t load.

Have you ever actually read or paid attention to what you agreed to? If you have kids that are allowed to install applications, do you know what they have agreed to when an application is installed?

The Danger of Phone Apps

Many mobile applications require you to agree to give access to features on your phones. These features could be access to your contacts, to your phone, to your files, or more. Pokemon Go has gone supersonic in popularity. One of the areas where Pokemon received a lot of attention was that it requested access to features and information that didn’t seem to be necessary for playing the game. This included access to contacts, files on your mobile device and even to your calls.

Chances are, if you installed the Pokemon Go app, you clicked the button and blew past the screen asking for permission to access all of this information. The following picture shows you want Pokemon Go asks for today.

Pokemon Go

You should consider what permission you gave when you installed the application.

If you were asked for contacts, then that is access to people listed on your phone. The app might choose to contact those people. If you said okay to location, then the application can keep track of where you are, where you go, and when it was you did this. If you said okay to access to your files, then you likely gave access to everything that is on your device since everything is stored in files. if you gave access to your “phone and calls,” then you are basically agreeing to allow your calls to be monitored.

When Pokemon Go first released, contacts, files, phones and calls were included in the permissions granted by users that installed the app through the Google App Store. When Google was asked if the data on a person’s phone was going to be accessed, the reported response was that the information such as contacts and email were not being accessed. Just like I said I wouldn’t look at the officers wallet, Google said the data on a person’s phone wouldn’t be looked at.

Regardless of what a company says, if they are asking you permission and you grant it, then you have granted them access. They can say they have not accessed the information, but you gave them permission, so they could access it at any time. You removed your ability to complain when you agreed it was okay.

This is not only apps

The idea of giving away information or of giving away your rights is not limited to mobile applications. This also applies to websites. There are two common areas where people tend to misunderstand or ignore what permissions or access they’ve given away. These are in:

  1. Creating accounts
  2. “I Accept” check boxes for Terms of Service (ToS)

Do I own accounts I create on the web?

When creating an account on a site, whether it is on a service like an online email provider, a localized forum, or a social media site, you should be aware of who owns the account. Most people assume the account is theirs. They also assume it is private. Depending on the terms of service, all of these assumptions could be wrong. For example, there are some email services that can monitor your activity and then use that information to market to you.

When you create an account on the internet, it is important to realize that you are creating that account on a machine. This is a machine owned by someone else, and often owned by a company. As such, it is their machine, so they have any access to what is there that they want. This can include anything you happen to put into your account.

Accepting Terms of Service

Relevant to an account you might create is a site or apps Terms of Service (ToS). A site’s ToS is a list of rules that you agree to by either agreeing to a request, or simply by accessing a site. On many cases, you are asked to check a box saying you agree to the terms. If you say no, you are often bounced off as site. As a result, many people simply check the box and continue.

Reading the terms of service is wise. Most will state what the site or company plans to do with the information you provide. The information you provide might not be obvious. It can be as simple as your IP address along with browser information, such as your location, the machine you are using, and other sites you have possibly visited. If you create an account, that ToS will also define the privacy they are willing to provide.

The ToS might have other statements in it as well. The following is from a popular home services site:

“You agree to promptly pay <site> One Thousand Dollars ($1,000) for each item of Content posted in violation of this Agreement.”

Per this clause, if you use this site, you are exposed to being fined for thousands of dollars. This is not as unusual as you might think, but you’d only know that if you read what you are agreeing to.

Conclusion

You need to be aware of what you and your kids are agreeing to when you click on buttons or use a site. In many cases, the information you give away could be equated to handing your wallet to a stranger. This is true of all applications and all sites. You should always try to be aware of what you are agreeing to in the digital world. Not everyone is as trustworthy as your local police officers.