Later Start Times: How Did Our Families and Students Respond?

On January 15, 2019, we started a two week ThoughtExchange in which we asked our students and the adult members of our school community the following question.

What are some important ideas for us to consider as we discuss the possibility of changing our school start and end times?

Here are links to the results of our student exchange and of our adult exchange. Thank you to the 504 students and 322 adults from our Springville Griffith-Institute school community who shared your thoughts on this topic and then rated the thoughts of others! I hope you’ll take the time to really read through the many pages of top thoughts. 

As indicated in the original question that I posed, the SGI Board of Education members are beginning to discuss the possibility of changing start times and your ideas will be carefully considered. The passion with which people answered the question at times, not only on the Exchange but also on social media, was really interesting to me. There were many comments which I read and thought, “why are you so angry? We’re asking for your ideas before even moving forward with a discussion so that everyone can be included. It’s far from a done deal.”

Please realize, we asked a question and invited you to weigh in. That’s a good thing–that we’re asking for and considering everyone’s ideas. If we wanted to just make the decision without caring about the ideas of our families and employees, we could have done so. BUT WE DIDN’T DO THAT and that’s not who we are as a leadership team. It’s so important, especially now with the onslaught of information from countless sources online, to read carefully and to consider what’s really being said in any article. How many people jumped right to the ThoughtExchange without even considering the introduction? In the introduction I wrote,

We need to hear from you before we move forward with these discussions. How would this change impact your learning, your schedule and your family life?

Our board is meeting in the next couple of months to discuss this topic further and the feedback you provide in this Thoughtexchange with help inform that conversation as well as our final decision. Please take a few minutes to share what is important to you and rate the thoughts of others.

SGI has an incredibly thoughtful, caring, bright and child centered Board of Education and Administrative Team. As with every decision, we’ll take our time to carefully consider every aspect of any change. 

Thank you for participating! I look forward to hearing from you again.

APPR: Include Student Performance on the Evaluation Rubrics

On January 23, 2019, Tom Precious of the Buffalo News published an article, New York lawmakers end mandate tying teacher evaluations to student test scores, that aptly summarizes the state’s next move on teacher evaluations and the tie to NYS student test scores.

I’ve been a superintendent since before the APPR requirements. In every district I’ve worked, there has been a strong evaluation system in place with regular evaluations of all teachers and administrators. Initially, I thought that the APPR law would help us to improve the quality of instruction for every student through the emphasis on test scores. I was wrong about that but there is some good that’s come out of it.

What’s worked well: requiring professional development on effective evaluation for all evaluators, the use of quality rubrics, the number of evaluations or site visits and the conversations that both precede and follow an observation. In my experience, the evaluation portion of the regulations has made a significant positive difference for our students.

What’s not worked well: The APPR law which ties employment decisions to the composite score of every teacher and principal, based on student assessments, has not improved anything. In different degrees in likely every building, the use of this composite score based on building wide or individual measures of student performance has done nothing but result in either an over emphasis on test prep, passive compliance with the regs, fear of reprisals based on the performance of the students in an educator’s class or building, intense pressure for better test scores which don’t necessarily mean enhanced learning opportunities. Composite scores, HEDI scales, state test scores and SLOs tied to teachers and principals have definitely NOT improved learning for the students we serve.

In a time when we struggle to bring young people into teaching, undue pressures from state lawmakers are not helping our profession. Our local Boards of Education and NYSED are the only governing bodies who should issue regulations on teacher and principal evaluation.

This current change in the law that ends the mandate to tie teacher and principal evaluations to test scores, before Governor Cuomo now, isn’t going far enough to fix this mess. Now we will have to negotiate with our local unions to determine what measures of student performance we will use instead of NYS tests—when many educators and families don’t believe that tests should be used as separate factors at all. How much testing do we want our students to have? In our district, many of our families and members of our school community, including BOE members, believe we’re testing students too much already.

We believe that student performance should definitely be a factor in teacher and principal evaluation. But in every district, how student success is defined may be different. Capturing the values of a community and what they most believe about learning for our children may not necessarily be quantified in a test.

In an effort to propose a proactive solution, I suggest we add a component on the evaluation rubric that assesses student performance.  The authors of our current state approved evaluation rubrics can add a domain/section to each of the evaluation rubrics that speaks to the critical importance of responsibility for student performance. Make it a part of pre and post observation discussions, include goal setting, and a rubric score that eliminates the need for student assessment as a separate score in the overall evaluation.

We’ve all been complying with a law that hasn’t done what it set out to do–improve educator practice by holding us all accountable for student performance because it did so through the testing of our students. Let’s stop this exercise in compliance that doesn’t improve education for our children. Let’s instead include student performance as a part of the evaluation rubrics.

 

Combining of Athletics with West Valley Central

By now you’ve likely read in our local newspapers about our planned combining of athletics with West Valley for the 2019-2020 school year. West Valley approached us in October to ask if we would offer opportunities to their student athletes. After meeting with the leadership team from West Valley, our BOE members asked that we connect with our Varsity coaches to determine if this is something that would work for them and for our student athletes.

SGI Athletic Director, Joe DeMartino, canvassed our coaches and learned that there was a great acceptance of the possible combining of sports. For four of our teams we will not be combining with West Valley: Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball, Baseball and Softball. Those are teams that carry relatively small rosters and so spots are competitive already. West Valley has also indicated that they may field their own teams for some sports, provided they have enough interested athletes. Additionally, West Valley has the option to combine sports with other schools for the teams which we are unwilling to combine.

We have to apply to Section VI before each season. For Fall 2019, we’re excited to offer opportunities to West Valley student athletes on all of our teams that include football, soccer, girls’ volleyball, girls’ tennis, girls’ swim and dive, boys’ golf, cross country, and cheerleading. At this point the question remains as to if there will be students from West Valley who want to try out for each team, but they are encouraged to do so for all Fall sports. West Valley Superintendent Eric Lawton has committed to sending their athletic director every day on the bus with the WV student athletes. He has offered the WV gym space, busing if needed should we ever be short of drivers, to host athletic contests at WV and to cover additional costs that we may incur from the addition of West Valley athletes.

A recent pre-annexation study showed both of our districts to be very similar on all measures. I’ve worked in small rural districts the majority of my career. When I started as the superintendent, I thought I was coming to a “big” district. What I’ve found is so much the same as the other rural districts I’ve worked in, like Randolph and Pine Valley where I spent twenty years. We have open, honest, hardworking families who expect the best FOR their children and OF their children. We very much identify as a small, rural district. Just like West Valley.

We have more students, a small, thriving business community and a great hospital. Other than that, West Valley students and families will find we’re much more alike than we are different. Our families, faculty, staff, administration, and coaches will welcome West Valley student athletes warmly, encouraging and expecting the best of them. I hope they’ll give SGI a chance!

SMS and SHS to start later in the morning?

Update: Thank you to everyone who’s commenting on the blog and on Facebook. For your thoughts to be included in the analysis of the thoughts of our school community, please add your thoughts to the Thoughtexchange too. See links below.

Our Board of Education is discussing unifying our school schedules so that elementary, middle and high school students begin and end the day at the same time. As you know, our SMS/SHS students begin their days very early—our MS students enter the building at 7:05 am. We have students boarding our buses as early as 6:20 am. There’s current research (linked within our ThoughtExchanges) that shows this can be problematic for adolescents. We have students waking up to get ready for school as early as 5:30 am. Imagine this for our student athletes who are out late for games, arriving home after 11:00 pm. That is simply not enough sleep.

For elementary school students, we’re not proposing a significant change. We’re considering a change that has our Middle and High School students moving to a schedule that both begins and ends later in the day (for example, 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM).

We need to hear from you before we move forward with these discussions. How would this change impact your learning, your schedule and your family life?

Our board is meeting in the next couple of months to discuss this topic further and the feedback you provide in this Thoughtexchange with help inform that conversation as well as our final decision. Please take a few minutes to share what is important to you and rate the thoughts of others.

Our Family/Faculty/Staff Exchange: https://my.thoughtexchange.com/#392284991

Our Student Exchange: https://my.thoughtexchange.com/#899398479

Thank you!

Griffith Institute FCU

The Griffith Institute Employees Federal Credit Union has long occupied space within one of the District owned school buildings. Because the credit union is a separate organization from the Springville-Griffith Institute CSD, with a separate Board of Directors, our new auditors, Buffamante Whipple Buttafaro, P.C.,  recommended in this year’s audit that we develop a formal lease agreement that would outline the use of such space and other incidentals.

To my knowledge, there has not been a lease agreement previously nor has the Credit Union ever paid to occupy space or for other incidentals such as internet access, email, etc. within the District. Consider, if you will, that we have many other private organizations within our District who do not enjoy this same benefit.

This recommendation by our auditors led us to also consult with our school attorney, Hodgson Russ LLP, and to review the recommendations of an earlier safety audit.

We learned from our school attorney that we needed to consider a couple of points. First, they concur that a lease agreement identifying the use/cost of school district space and incidentals is necessary. Second, they identified that we must have the space available to house the Credit Union, without impairing the educational mission of the District. In other words, are we giving space to the Credit Union that could otherwise be used by students and teachers? The presence of the Credit Union office in District facilities necessarily reduces the District’s flexibility with respect to space utilization moving forward. Third, making space available in District facilities to the Credit Union could trigger “private business use concerns under the IRS”. There are restrictions on the amount of benefit that may be conferred on a private organization, such as the Credit Union, utilizing District facilities. Should we afford space within our District facilities to one private organization? Fourth, consider school safety. Credit union membership is open to all present and past district employees and their family members. Does it make sense to have Credit Union members entering our school buildings during the school day for credit union business? Given our increased safety measures to keep all students and staff safe, is it prudent to have this business conducted next to our classrooms? We should limit the people entering our school buildings for non-school related business to the extent possible.

Ultimately, the future location of the credit union is a matter within the discretion of the Board of Education. In light of the factors expressed above, on the advice of our auditors and our school attorney, the Board of Education has decided that the safest and most prudent course for the District is for the Credit Union to relocate off of District property.

If you are a member of the Griffith Institute Employees Credit Union, you may expect further information about a new location and hours of operation from your Credit Union Board of Directors. They are welcome to continue to occupy space within the old District Office building until April 1, 2019.

Sharing My Response to an SHS Student

Please Note: I received an email from one of our high school students this morning. Because I realize we may have other students who are also worried about school safety after hearing about a threat made by a single student, I’m sharing my reply here so that all of our students can read it. 

Dear SHS Student:

Thank you for reaching out to me. There are many rumors surrounding this situation, and I’m grateful that you came straight to me to seek information.

Our first and most important responsibility as a District — every day — is to keep everyone safe.  Rest assured that I and others take that obligation very seriously.

Unfortunately, I am somewhat limited from speaking too much about any specific student discipline matter by federal student privacy laws.   I can say, however, that in the recent situation, the very best thing happened when smart students reported what they had heard to the Erie County Sheriff’s office (this wise action by our students was and is critically important to keeping everyone safe, every day).   We have worked with the Sheriff’s Department since that happened and will continue to work with the Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies to address any threat.

In general, I can say that in a situation when a student makes a threat to hurt someone in one of our schools, we respond with a superintendent’s hearing, which must be held any time a student does something that may warrant more than a five-day suspension from school.  At that hearing, an impartial hearing officer hears the case – allowing the District administration (with help from law enforcement) to present its case and recommend a penalty if the student is found guilty of the charge(s) against him or her.  If a student is found guilty,  the impartial hearing officer then recommends a penalty based upon the facts of the specific case.

These penalties can be reviewed by the Commissioner of Education, and therefore past decisions from the Commissioner of Education must guide my decision regarding any penalty in a student discipline matter.  And past decisions from the Commissioner of Education dictate that a student making a serious threat against our students and staff would result in a lengthy out of school suspension of at least a calendar year.

I am sorry that I cannot provide more specific information regarding the particular case you mentioned.  But I cannot adequately state the seriousness with which I and others at the District view threats to the safety of our students and employees, and that I follow the Commissioner’s previous decisions in imposing discipline.  

Finally, please know that Mr. Bialasik and Mr. DeMartino are in the building to meet with you or any other student, should you want to talk to someone.  And I am also available to do so as well.

Thank you again for contacting me,

Kimberly Moritz, Superintendent of Schools

 

What makes you want to learn more?

Thank you to our AMAZING SGI STUDENTS who participated in our first Thought Exchange, sharing your ideas about what you most enjoy about our schools and what you think we can do better. We also appreciate all of the teachers and staff members, parents, and community members who participated. Our team of administrators is studying every thought that was shared and looking for ways to improve. You can read more about what we learned from everyone here.

Next we’re hoping to delve deeper into your ideas about learning. What happens in school that makes you think, “Yes! I wish we could learn this, in this way, every day!” What most works for you as a learner?

And from our families, our teachers and staff–what do you most wish for our students in regard to the kinds of learning we encourage and build here at SGI? 

Please take a close look at our opening day video, within the exchange, in which I asked students, teachers and principals, “what do you most love to learn? Where do you learn about that? What happens in school that makes you say ‘YES! I wish we could do this every day!’ and what do you wish we’d NEVER do again?”

Now’s your chance to answer the question, “What are the most important things we can do to ensure that our students are inspired to learn?” Afterwards, please take some time to rank the thoughts left by other members of our school community. And remember, some of our youngest students are participating so please don’t judge spelling or the way someone shares a thought. We want to hear from everyone!

Here’s the exchange–thank you!

We’ll keep this exchange open from Thursday, November 1 through Friday, November 16. Don’t forget to go back and rank thoughts near the end of the exchange.

SGI Community Shares Ideas

We recently asked our school community, “what are some important things you appreciate about our district and what opportunities for improvement do you see?” We had two different thought exchanges, one for students and one for adults. Following I share the results of those two exchanges. THANK YOU to the overwhelming number who participated! We truly value what everyone in our community thinks. . . it’s why we did the exchange in the first place–to hear from you. And the response? Overwhelmed me! We had 123 adults share 80 thoughts and rate the ideas 1,446 times. Our students really rocked with 1,096 students sharing 1,877 thoughts and 72,488 ratings. Thank you, thank you!

Here are the results of our adult exchange.      And here’s what our SGI students had to say.

You’ll notice the reports show top thoughts from each group–those are the ideas with which the largest number of participants strongly agreed. I love the #1 thought from the adult exchange in which someone appreciates our willingness to be open to new ideas and opportunities. That’s what this is largely about–asking our school community what you think so that we can consider other points of view when making decisions about the future. And our student exchange must have been completed on some HOT days because students are really looking for air conditioning, an idea we’ll need to vet in future capital projects.

The thoughts about school lunch really hit home too. We hired Laura Watson this year, Director of Food Service. Laura is shared with Holland Central and her first and most important task is to evaluate everything about our current school breakfast and lunch program to determine ways in which we can improve. Our BOE members have made this a priority over the past few years and I can see from what the students have to say that the BOE members were right. It’s a bit of validation that we’re headed in the right direction with Laura Watson here at SGI.

Our leadership team will study all of the thoughts and take heed to make necessary improvements where possible. I’m looking forward to our next thought exchange in which we ask questions about learning–looking for what our school community most believes about learning and who we want to be as a school community. More to come and we want to continue to hear from you!

Nope, Not a Driveway for the Superintendent

It’s funny how things sometimes work out. When I arrived in Springville in the beginning of March, 2016, we had a desperate need to complete a capital project to attend to our parking lots, sidewalks, HVAC and roofs, among other things. The district taxpayers had voted down a capital project in December of 2015 so we needed to get something back out that our residents could support. We kept hearing, “we’ll support what the district needs to do but not the enhancement items like a new gym”. So we put up a project that attended to what we needed to do to take care of the district facilities and grounds without the enhancement items. Thankfully, our taxpayers passed the project and we’ve been in the midst of that construction since June.

After the bids were complete, they were so favorable that we were able to complete all three of our priority lists of alternates (items we put out to bid in case there’s money to do so). There were a couple of items that I couldn’t see a reason to complete, but our facilities director, Larry Strauss, argued to keep in. One of those was the access road at the back of SMS. I kept saying, “why do we need to widen that road? No one even uses that road. Why do I care if the delivery trucks can’t make the turn?”

I believe that we have to listen to the experts within our system. Larry fought for that road and so I believed him. He was right. I was wrong. And the funny thing? Also on those three lists of alternates was a move of the district office to the back of the middle school—where I look out of my window and see the trucks trying to negotiate the turn to the loading dock. And I can clearly see why the road needed to be widened and paved.

More important, several people have contacted me over the past couple of years about youth soccer and the way people park and drive in our soccer fields. The concerned residents cited safety concerns with cars moving through areas where our students are walking and playing. We’re adding parking spots along the access road so that our soccer families–especially our less mobile residents–can have a designated place to park that’s closer to the fields.

And the other thing we’ve noticed? We don’t have an exit on the back of the entire SMS where teachers and students have swipe card access, so we’re adding swipe card access.

Please don’t assume we’re just ignoring a problem that you’ve noticed. Maybe I’ve not seen something in the same way that you have.  Let us know when you see an area of improvement within our district. Make some noise. We’ll listen and we’ll do whatever we can to make it better.

So now you know why we’re doing work at the back of SMS. It’s not to add a driveway for the superintendent. There’s plenty of parking in front of SMS. That’s where you’ll find my car.

SGI–Please Share Your Thoughts

As a leadership team, we set a goal for this year—to listen carefully to the members of our school community (YOU!). We will be engaging you in thought exchanges over the course of the school year. It’s a simple three step process. We ask a question, you share your thoughts, and you rate the thoughts of others. Please watch this video and respond by telling us what you think.

Afterwards, it’s important to go back into the exchange and rate the thoughts of others. In this way, we can get a sense of what’s most important to everyone in our school community.

Here’s the link for the adults in the SGI school community: https://my.thoughtexchange.com/#497392485

There’s a student thought exchange in which our students have the chance to answer the same questions. Thank you in advance to everyone who’s asked to give students the chance to participate within your time with them. If you’re a student reading this post, here’s the link for our SGI students: https://my.thoughtexchange.com/#116266772

I’ll share what we learn in a future blog post that’s emailed when the thought exchange ends so that everyone can discover what we’ve learned. Thank you!