The race for Northfield School Board: Cupersmith, Hardy, Iverson, Maple, Stratmoen

Dan Cupersmith, Rob Hardy, Ellen Iverson, Anne Maple, Noel Stratmoen  (Northfield Patch image)
It’s one month till the election and the race for Northfield School Board is between Dan Cupersmith, Rob Hardy, Ellen Iverson, Anne Maple, and Noel Stratmoen (top four vote-getters will serve).

If you’re looking for an online venue to discuss the race with your fellow Northfielders, this is it.

See the Northfield Patch article, Election 101: Meet Your School Board Candidates

Patch has compiled basic biographical information about this year’s five school board candidates. Click on their names for more information.

32 comments to  (Including 6 Discussion Threads) The race for Northfield School Board: Cupersmith, Hardy, Iverson, Maple, Stratmoen

  • 1
    rob hardy says:

    I’m standing by, if anyone has any questions or comments for me about the school board race or my candidacy, or about education issues in general.

  • 2
    rob hardy says:

    Griff: There will be candidate Q&As posted soon on Northfield.org, Northfield Patch, and the Northfield News. Meanwhile, I think I am going to decline to offer criticisms of the current board. If I’m elected, I will have to work closely with many of the current board members, and would prefer to start with and to maintain a collegial relationship with them. I think a common criticism of the board is that it’s a “rubber stamp” for Dr. Richardson. When I served on the board of the Cannon River STEM School (and as chair of the board for two years), most of our votes were unanimous to support recommendations of the executive director. This was not a “rubber stamp,” it was the result of a long process of working together to reach a decision that was in the best interests of the school. This is how I prefer to work. If I’m elected, I will listen, and ask hard questions, and research every issue before the board thoroughly, and work with all stakeholders to reach the best decision. I will not put my own personal agenda, or any individual agenda, first.

  • 3
    Kathie Galotti says:

    Rob, as someone who DOES see the current school board as a giant rubber stamp, let me say this:

    It’s not simply about unanimous votes. As you point out, a school board in theory can have vigorous debate and discussion and then come to a unanimous endorsement of a recommendation made by a Superintendent. (It sounds like you did that at the STEM school--and good for you!)

    But that’s not what we see (and I actually read all school board minutes and watch many (ok, not all) vídeos of school board meetings. (Apparently I need more to do in my life).

    What we see is 7 people who maybe ask one or two questions, then vote to approve just about every issue.

    What we see is 7 people who hide from the public any of their own points of view, concerns, dissent.

    What we don’t see, but should, is the Supe meeting individually with every school board member to squelch any kind of dissent (and in so doing, I believe, violate the spirit if not the letter of the open meeting law).

    What we have seen is a Board that hides agenda ítems from the public. The most egregious examples are the ítems dealing with the Superintendent’s pay and bonuses--they aren’t listed as such on an agenda, but they get quietly votes in at meetings no one attends. It looks sneaky, and it is sneaky.

    What I have experienced is a board that won’t challenge the superintendent or its principals when they need challenging.

    It’s true--people need to work together and have effective working relationships. But in my opinión, we don’t have that. We have a bunch of well-meaning folks that have been turned into zombie cheerleaders for whatever the current administration wants to do. Too much is swept under the rug so that the public gets the appearance that every issue is being successfully addressed.

    Meanwhile, a lot of crappy pedagogy is ignored--esp. at the high school. Huge expenses are contemplated (cough cough ipads for everyone) with absolutely no discussion of accountability.

    PLCs, touted 3 years ago as a major forcé to improve proficiency--hasn’t. MMR scores for our high school in particular are below mediocre--that never even gets reported anywhere. Instead, we the taxpayers pay to be misled with rosy colored “annual reports” that twist the data to make us look better than we are by selectively reporting results.

    So, yeah, I’m glad everyone on the school board gets along so well, but for me, I place a higher priority on kids actually getting educated. Even if it means (gasp) some public disagreement from time to time.

    • 3.1
      rob hardy says:

      Kathie, I know that you pay careful attention to these things, so I take your comments and concerns very seriously. I would also be concerned about a lack of transparency and a lack of serious accountability.

      On the CRSS board, part of our ongoing training was to study and discuss a book called Charter School Board University. Much of what it says also applies to traditional school boards. For example, it delineates what a superintendent (or charter school director) can reasonably expect from board members. Among these are the expectation that the board defines educational outcomes it wants achieved, but does not dictate the means of achieving those outcomes; that the board speaks to and directs the superintendent with one voice (not as individuals with their own agendas); and that the board supports the superintendent “so long as [his] decisions are ethical, prudent, and lawful” (Charter School Board University, second edition, p. 131).

      Yes, school boards need to ask hard questions and set clear directions and goals for educational outcomes. They must guard against actions that are unethical, imprudent, and unlawful. But they are in many ways constrained in what they can actually do.

      If I see “crappy pedagogy” in the high school, I can’t say to teachers, “I, as an individual member of the board, insist that you teach in this way that I will now prescribe to you.” I can only work with the board to set high standards that might necessitate more effective pedagogy. If I want to bring my personal ideas about pedagogy into the classroom, I need to become a licensed teacher.

      I can only promise to do my best within the constraints of a board member’s role. I will demand accountability and transparency. I will not violate the open meeting law. I will demand that decisions be ethical, prudent and lawful, and if they are not, they will not have my support. I will listen, and ask questions, and do what I can. Anyone who promises more is likely to disappoint, and to be disappointed.

      • 3.1.1
        Kathie Galotti says:

        Rob,

        I wanted to wait a few days in the (false, as it turns out) hope that doing so would improve my ability to be articulate. Alas. But here goes:

        I am in complete agreement that school board members need to respect the hierarchy or chain of command. Problems with teachers should be addressed by principals (only); problems with principals should be addressed by the superintendent (only). Having random board members roaming the halls imposing their own views would be a bad thing, and it is not at all what I was suggesting.

        I agree as well that the proper role of the Board should be one of policy.

        I do not agree that the board should always and automatically support the superintendent “with one voice.” If problems are not being addressed, then the Board needs to take action, and the community needs to know that the Board will and does take action.
        .
        Let me try to illustrate with a specific example, one that contrasts the current middle school administration with the current high school administration over policy and problem handling. Regular readers of my rants (hey! I alliterated) will recall that I’ve been critical of both buildings in the past. I had occasion to meet with the current NMS principal this summer--and was impressed. He’s got a firm handle on issues in his building, he has clear policies of working WITH parental concerns to improve situations.

        Here’s a quote from a recent NMS newsletter to parents:

        There is no magic to conference nights. The time for in-depth conversation is whenever a need arises. If you contact a teacher with questions or a request to meet, expect a response within approximately one day.

        Contrast this with the high school, where (1) no such statement has ever been made; (2) some teachers do, in fact, refuse to be available for meetings after school; (3) some teachers just don’t seem to get around to answering emails…until….well, whenever the hell they feel like it. Which may be never. The implicit message from the NHS administration seems to be

        If you email a teacher and don’t hear back, that probably means they aren’t interested in communicating with you. Tough shit.

        I think the board could, should, and doesn’t make relevant policies to increase better teacher behavior with respect to parent communication. The problem seems currently one unique to the high school (I never had much of a problem at Longfellow, at Bridgewater (with 2 kids) or now at Sibley. In fact, I can’t think of a time I’ve emailed a staff member at any of those schools and have not heard back, usually the same day.

        Now, many NHS teachers DO respond promptly and caringly to emails (if they’re readingl, THANK YOU). Why do the other NHS teachers operate by such different sets of rules? And why does that seem to be perfectly ok with everyone?

        It’s not ok with me. It’s one (of many other) examples of crappy pedagogy, but also of policy. Trust me, it’s been brought to the attention of both the principal and the superintendent. And, although it no longer happens to me (my kid graduated and has rediscovered a love of learning in college), it continues to happen--even this year-- to the children and parents of family friends. FROM THE SAME STAFF MEMBERS who did it to me and to my kid. Again, a small number (the majority of NHS teachers are professionals in this respect), but a huge difference in my experience with 4 other elemental schools. Or, presumible, the current middle school.

        Having board members support the Supe no matter what guarantees that this situation, which is going onto its 6th year at least, will not get addressed.

        It’s great to all sing kumbaya from the same hymmnal, but there are, in fact, some serious academic issues throughout the district. And they don’t get addressed through complacency. And they are NOT all attributable to the screwing around with budgets state legislators have done (although that certainly doesn’t help).

        We need, in this community, to recognize and address problems--not to deny them so that the superintendent feels warm and cozy and thoroughly supported when he comes to work.

      • 3.1.2
        rob hardy says:

        Kathie: I completely agree that effective and timely communication is important, and that communicating with parents should be considered part of a teacher’s job.

        In the words of Rick Lavoie:

        “In study after study, it is found that successful, responsive and productive schools share one common trait: they solicit, encourage, facilitate and promote parental communication. In these schools: Parents are not ignored, they are invited; parents are not avoided, they are consulted; parents are not discouraged from complaining, they are encouraged to communicate.”[source; see also here].

        More effective teacher-parent communication should be a goal for the district, but I think the policies and procedures probably need to be developed at the building level. But if I’m elected, I’ll investigate the best way to address this issue.

  • 4
    Griff Wigley says:

    Candidate profiles on Northfield.org:

    Northfield Public School Board

  • 5
    rob hardy says:

    I really should just keep my mouth shut. After all, I had no idea there was a story going around that Dana Graham was censured until he himself brought it up. So I should just keep my mouth shut. But no. I have to address the fact that I was the one school board candidate not endorsed by the local paper. I’ve agonized over this, of course. Was it because I am associated with and have written for Northfield.org, and have written for and supported Northfield Patch (the two better-written alternatives to the local paper)? Or is it because they were fixated on the issue of bullying, and I tried to give a nuanced answer which may have appeared soft on bullies to the knowledgeable people at the local paper? I told them that I strongly oppose zero-tolerance policies. Why is this my position? Ask the National Education Association. Ask Ray Ferronato, a high school student who was bullied, who writes: “Bullies’ are, of course, youth just like us, and face their own challenges: ranging from the various insecurities that all young people have to the messages of intolerance, hostility, and hate that we hear at home, at school, and from the media.” We definitely need to create school climates in which bullying is unacceptable. We need to educate students to prevent bullying. We also need to be sensitive to the issues in the lives of our youth that might cause them to lash out in inappropriate ways.

    On the Northfield.org Facebook page, of which I am an administrator, I removed a post which named a local youth and told people that he was an animal who preyed on other youth. I made inquiries, and found out that the youth in question did have serious problems, which had been dealt with appropriately through proper channels. I worry, especially in the often unfiltered environment of the internet, that outrage against bullies and other malefactors can become a form of bullying itself, and that the internet makes possible digital lynchings.

    The Northfield Public Schools currently have a good and sensitive anti-bullying policy, which I’m sure will continue to be reviewed in light of best practices. Our schools should have an approach to bullying that is educational, not punitive. As I said in a MN2020 piece on bullying in May 2011, I do know about bullying, and want to eliminate it from our schools. I was myself a victim of bullying as a youth. Maybe that experience has given me empathy, even for the bullies themselves who desperately need help. But if the folks at the local newspaper need an answer they can understand and that fits their 75-word limit for candidate responses: bullying is bad.

    • 5.1
      Kathie Galotti says:

      Rob--Haven’t seen any endorsements by the NNews yet…but—if they in fact do fail to endorse your candidacy….
      I am reminded of a story I heard from my advisor in grad school. A faculty member in the Linguisitics dept was up for tenure, and knew his candidacy was opposed by a very powerful faculty member in that department. He was commiserating with my advisor, at the time a campus “elder” in the psych dept, who mused aloud…”So Harris is against you, eh? That’s good, that’s good, but is it enough?” I would submit that if the NNews opposes you, it may indicate something about your independence and integrity.

      • 5.1.1
        rob hardy says:

        Thanks, Kathie. The endorsements were in yesterday’s print edition. But, due to the genius of the folks at the NoNews, they were only posted online on the Faribault Daily News site.

      • 5.1.2
        Jared Edwardsen says:

        Rob -- I’m not sure if this is the right thread for this, but I wanted to get your perspective as a newly elected school board member.

        There was an incident at the middle school a week or so ago where a student was beaten-up by two students, kicked while his shirt was pulled over his head, had his hand broken, and had x-rays to ensure his ribs were not broken.

        I am not sure of the punishment of the bullies received, but the victim received an in-school suspension for basically trying to defend himself due to the zero tolerance policy on fighting. Other students stood by and did not help. I am guessing had they helped they too would have been punished.

        The family of the victim was told by the principal that no charges would be brought against the bullies since the victim fought back, and would be charged too. Seems like a bunch of BS to me. One should have the right to defend themself.

        Back in day the when I was a scrappy youth, on at least three occasions, I stepped in when friends were being bullied to defend them. I was not punished.

        What are your thoughts on this? Should the victim have been punished? Had another student stepped in, should they be punished? What of the principal’s statement?

    • 5.2
      rob hardy says:

      A couple of thoughts, Jared: (1) School Board policy 514, on bullying, defines bullying as a repeated pattern of behavior. I would ask if this incident was part of such a pattern, or whether it was an isolated incident. (2) Fighting (as opposed to repeated acts of bullying) falls under “student discipline” (School Board policy 506), and the board delegates implementation of the policy to the individual schools. The middle school handbook isn’t available online for some reason, but the high school handbook says that “engaging in any form of fighting where blows are exchanged is prohibited.” The consequence for a first offense is 1-3 days suspension. This is a building-level policy. It’s the role of the board to set policies that give general direction, and the role of the schools to implement them and deal with the specific cases that fall under them. The school principal is the appropriate person to talk to about this case.

      • 5.2.1
        Jared Edwardsen says:

        Rob -- No disrespect intended, but that was kind of a non-answer answer. Citing the policy is one thing, but I was asking for your thoughts on the matter since you have been elected to set policy.

        From what I understand, and this is just hearsay, the person is a “know bully” that beat-up the other youth.

      • 5.2.2
        rob hardy says:

        I agree, Jared, that my answer was a “non-answer” with respect to the specific incident. It isn’t the role of an individual school board member to deal with specific incidents, since board policy delegates that authority to the individual schools. I think it would be irresponsible of me to offer an opinion on a specific case when I’m not in possession of all of the facts and haven’t been part of an investigation of the incident, and when it isn’t my role to be involved at that level. I’m afraid that’s the best answer I can give at the moment. Bullying is certainly an issue that the board will continue to address, especially in light of the recommendations of the governor’s anti-bullying task force, and one that I will continue to take very seriously. The response to bullying should be fair and appropriate and based on a thorough investigation of the reported incident, and should not involve retaliation against victims or those who report the bullying.

        I’m willing to participate in discussions here on LocallyGrown because open communication is important to me. But online forums do sometimes tend to facilitate a rush to judgment or the airing of an insufficiently considered opinion. I’ve been guilty of that in the past. Since I’ve been entrusted with a public office, I want to make sure I give the best answers possible, even if those sometimes have to be non-answers.

        I will be visiting all of the schools and talking to teachers and principals and other staff. I’ll keep in mind what I’ve heard from you, and see if there’s any other appropriate response I can make. I don’t want to be unhelpful or evasive, but I also don’t want to rush to judgment or overstep my authority.

      • 5.2.3
        rob hardy says:

        I should add that I am always happy to get together over coffee to talk about issues facing the school board. Often it’s better and more satisfying to sit down face-to-face. I always worry that, online, words or tone can be misinterpreted. Sometimes online discussions aren’t real conversations, but become kind of a serial issuing of statements that don’t really advance mutual understanding. If you, Jared, or anyone else wants to get together and talk, please let me know and I’ll make it happen.

      • 5.2.4
        Jared Edwardsen says:

        Rob -- Fair enough, I wouldn’t want to put you in a position where you are uncomfortable responding, and I apologize if I have done so.

      • 5.2.5
        Kathie Galotti says:

        Rob,

        I agree that School Board members can’t get involved in specific incidents. And I agree with your referral to the building principal.

        But with that said, there is a related, broader, and appropriate role for School Board members to play in incidents like this.

        That is to set up some system of review for parents to give information on how well Northfield principals listen to parental concerns, resolve issues, provide information and communication.

        We have no system in place now. And in my experience, Northfield principals vary widely. Some are so good that one phone call or email is enough to get a concern addressed--swiftly and without letting problems fester. These principals are terrific.

        Other principals are much less good at this aspect of their jobs. Problematically, however, EVEN IF one complains, in detail, to the School Board, there’s no evidence that it does much good.

        This year would be a particularly good one to look at the issue--as I understand it, Northfield is one of the test sites for a new state-wide principal assessment. Sadly, the legislature refused to mandate parental input into the process. And my guess is that the principals themselves (especially the ones who are not good at the whole parent communication thing) aren’t wild about hearing negative feedback.

        But leadership in a building is crucial. The leader of a building sets the tone and really is ultimately responsible for the delivery of education to each and every student in the building.

        Parental input should not be the only input.. But it shouldn’t be ignored. And it shouldn’t be perverted, as I fear the School District will want to do, into hand-selected parents that the principal is buddies with.

        I’d like to see the effective principals in town get recognition and support--they have a hard job. I’d like to see the principals who have the guts to clash with a problematic teacher receive support. And, I’d like the principals who ignore parents to get feedback that their performance on this aspect OF THEIR JOBS needs improvement.

        In other words, I’d like to see feedback from the board to principals to depend on their performance--not on the typical Northfield “everyone is great” current policy that simply reinforces the status quo.

        Just my opinion, of course.

  • 6
  • 7
    Kathie Galotti says:

    This one is also mainly for Rob, but it’s worth throwing out there more generally:

    I saw these data from the minutes of the school board meeting in late November, on parent attendance at conferences. The table doesn’t format quite nicely here but I think it’s readable. First number in each row is attendance this year, second number is attendance last fall.

    Fall Parent-Teacher Conferences.
    2012 2011
    Greenvale Park 98% 98%
    Sibley 99% 98%
    Bridgewater 99% 97%
    Middle School 78% 63%
    High School 41% 41%
    Area Learning Center 50% 75%

    Let’s notice a couple things. Elementary schools are rock stars. All of them.
    Middle school--huge improvement. Not quite where it should be (imo), but making giant strides.
    ALC--big drop. Probably at least in part a function of the fact that with small numbers of enrolled students, it’s easy for a change to look dramatic.

    And then, there’s the high school. PATHETIC. And showing ABSOLUTELY no gain from last year--and they’re even worse than the ALC.

    I’ve complained about this problem (quietly, privately) to the NHS principal and to the School Board, with obviously no good response. The figures from all the other schools shows that Northfield parents are caring and interested in their kids’ academic experience.

    The NHS data show that NHS continues to send a message to its parents that they should go away. And, several NHS parents reported to me that when they went to conferences this fall, some NHS teachers didn’t show, or strolled in 10-15 minutes late, looked annoyed etc. Really? We’re all ok with this crappy behavior?

    This is so frustrating!!! Getting/keeping parents involved is shown in research everywhere to be important to kids’ achievement. It doesn’t cost anywhere near what the proposed “let’s hand out ipads like candy canes” policy will. It’s low-hanging fruit. If we’re serious about improving the schools, we should GET SERIOUS about this.

    But no one says a peep. No one does a thing.

    • 7.1
      john george says:

      Kathie- Those are telling statistics, but I’m unclear how the High School could motivate parents to participate better. Unfortunately, it is 11 years since I have had a student in NFHS. At that time, I had ready access to my daughter’s teachers, and the teachers seemed to have good communication with the parents, at least us. I know there were parents of my childrens’ classmates who did not involve themselves with the teachers. I never felt it was the teachers’ faults, but a seeming apathy on the part of some parents. To me, it didn’t appear much different than the attitudes expressed against the skate park by some adults. It seems that some parents just give up on communicating with their teens. We adapted our communications as our children grew older. You can’t communicate with a 10th. grder the same way you do a 1st. grader. With all that off my chest, now, what do you see that could be done by the high school to increase parental participation? Has the school atmosphere changed that much in the last 11 years? Thanks.

      • 7.1.1
        Kathie Galotti says:

        John--

        I think the above stats show that the problem isn’t parents. 98% of them go to elementary conferences--and this figure has been stable for at least 14 or so years (since my oldest was in elementary).

        I think the issue is how much effort the SCHOOLS put in to inviting parents, being receptive to parents, listening to parents. In my post above (3.1.1) I illustrated the difference in tone between the middle school and the high school. I think this difference explains at least a good chunk of the difference in parental participation.

        The middle school (when my oldest was there) was also a not-very-inviting place for parents. And, they had lower parent participation at conferences (which seemed to be sort of their goal). Of late, the principal and teachers seem to be actually trying to get parents involved.

        See this note from the most recent NMS newsletter

        Our continuous improvement process is intended to be well communicated and transparent. Please check out both the middle
        school and the district websites for news, reports, and events that help showcase our progress. Most of all, please join us
        here at school as often as possible.

        and

        On Tuesday, February 12th, we will be
        hosting a Parent Advisory Council (also
        known as a listening session) from 6:00
        to 7:00 pm in the cafeteria. These events
        are conveniently paired with other school
        events. There will be a fantastic winter
        band concert starting at 7:00 pm the
        same night. So, parents who need to
        drop off performers for rehearsals will
        have the opportunity to grab a cup of
        coffee; a cookie and chat with the principal
        about anything on their minds. All
        parents are welcome regardless of
        whether or not they will be attending the
        concert. The goal for these sessions are
        to create a relaxed opportunity to ask
        questions or to hear about upcoming
        plans at NMS without the formality of an
        appointment. Please stop by and say
        hello, even if all you really want is a
        cookie. :)

        That kind of tone, that kind of repeated invitation, is how you
        get parents to come and partner.

        Those are just a few off the top ideas. I’m sure
        that if NHS staff were serious about involving parents,
        they could figure out appropriate strategies.

      • 7.1.2
        john george says:

        Kathie- Those are ideas that were being implemented when my two youngest children had their short stint at NHS. (We moved into town then). It sounds like they have fallen by the wayside. Of course, we were ones to take an active role in staying in communication with the school. Perhaps our approach brought us into contact with these stances, and they simply weren’t evident to those parents who do not seek them out.

  • 8
    Curt Benson says:

    Kathie, is a certain decline in numbers of parents attending conferences from elementary school to high school expected? ie, do other school districts experience this too?

    • 8.1
      Kathie Galotti says:

      Curt: A certain decline, very possibly. I don’t have recent stats from other similar districts. But I don’t think a decline to less than half is acceptable. Or inevitable. The middle school experience shows me that if the school makes a genuine effort, parents will respond.

  • 9
    Kathie Galotti says:

    I’ve frequently complained about the NNews’ cheerleading of the school district and the school board. But today I have to give them credit for this comment (in a larger opinion piece addressed to various governmental entities):

    To the Northfield Board of Education: It promises to be a big year for the school board, as the upcoming public meetings clearly illustrate. In the next couple of months, the school board will undertake decisions on implementing iPads in the schools, changing the district calendar and continuing a longstanding middle school trip.

    But this school board, with just one new face coming on board this month in Rob Hardy, continues to struggle with transparency. Rarely are topics discussed in any depth, even at work sessions, and board members have openly acknowledged their preference to have most questions answered and issues decided before they publicly convene for votes.

    We have long disagreed with this position and we’ll continue to do so. Although the board has not violated public meetings law in act, it certainly has teetered on the edge of violating it in spirit more than once.

    The point of public meetings is to fully understand each board member’s position on issues (such as the renewal of the superintendent’s contract and the decision to award him a bonus), not just to hear them utter pleasantries and record a vote. Debate is appropriate in a public forum — we’d go so far as to say necessary — and this board needs to make its decision-making far more public a process than it has in the past several years.

    Well said. I find it really disgraceful how our board members skirt the edge of the open meeting law and appear to ditch their responsibilities to DIRECT the superintendent. Instead, they act like his lackies. I hope we see some change in 2013.

    • 9.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      Kathy, I’ve added a link to that Nfld News editorial in your comment. Thanks for drawing attention to it.

      • 9.1.1
        Kathie Galotti says:

        Thanks, Griff. I’m mastering blockquote, but don’t have “linking” down yet!

    • 9.2
      Rob Hardy says:

      I read an article this morning that I think you would like, Kathie. It’s by Alfie Kohn, and appears in the current issue (January 2013) of the American School Board Journal. Kohn advises school boards to resist the temptation to impose top-down “change by decree.” He writes:

      It’s not just about “getting buy-in” for your pet idea, a phrase that often comes across as patronizing because the focus is on strategies for deflecting resistance. True leaders are committed to a process that’s genuinely respectful and collaborative, something closer to democratic decision-making from the beginning. If that’s missing—if you expect people to get with the program just because you’ve told them it’s good for kids—then you’ll be viewed with suspicion and your idea will never take root.

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