Computer Science and Maintenance Electrician

This morning I’m starting my day in the Dunkirk school district where I’m traveling with our capital project team to visit a new P-TECH center that’s opening in February, 2018. P-Tech stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School and we have the possibility to bring a center to our school district.

What would you think about a P-TECH center right here in Springville? Working with Alfred State University and Erie 2 BOCES, we would offer two pathways for students: Computer Science and Electrical Construction and Maintenance Electrician. Through this collaboration, students would be concurrently enrolled in high school and college course work. Students would complete the six-year program with their Regents diploma from SGI and Associates Degree from Alfred State. This program would be available to our SGI students and other students in our region.

Imagine if we have the chance to build partnerships with area industries and equip our students to fill vacancies in high need areas! A P-TECH center on our campus could also be used for adult learning in the evenings and help to grow our vibrant community. We could renovate  the district office building into a vital P-TECH learning center through a capital project that would allow the local costs of the project to be fully paid by BOCES through rent for their programs.

Renovating the District Office into a student space makes good financial sense for us too. The way state aid on a capital project works is that any non-student occupied space, like our current district office, gets ZERO state aid back for work we have to do to maintain the building like our roof replacement. In our student occupied spaces, work is eligible for 79.8% state aid back. In the case of this P-TECH project, it would be a state aided capital project AND BOCES would pay the 21.2% local taxpayer share through their rent of the space.

  1. BOCES programs for area HS students in two viable trades for which industry is experiencing shortages.
  2. Springville owned building, renovated with zero cost to the local taxpayers.
  3. Springville students can attend the program, right here in district.
  4. Adult learning opportunities in the center in the afternoons/evening, possibly with Alfred State (how awesome would that be?!)

As I’ve been researching this opportunity and planning with BOCES over these last few weeks, I can’t come up with a reason for us NOT to do this in Springville. Can you? What an opportunity for a learning center, right here in Springville!

We would look to open the center in September, 2018, utilizing four classrooms at SHS and needing six classrooms in September, 2019. To open the renovated center in September, 2020, we would need to bring the project to a vote in May of this school year. I recommend we do so with our regular budget vote to save on the cost of a capital project vote.

Much more to follow, including public meetings to answer questions and review details. Please contact me with any feedback. As always, I’d love to hear what you think!

We Need YOU

Our leadership team and teachers continue to focus on something called Change School, a learning space where we think about redefining rural public education in Springville. For decades our students have received a solid, fundamental education. With the accelerated changes within our world, we see an urgency to transform our school system.

To our solid, fundamental education, we are talking about ways to support and encourage learning opportunities that develop students’ natural curiosity, where they discover, connect, collaborate, contribute and adapt. Interested in re-imagining school and having a voice in what it means to be an SGI graduate? Please call me at 592-3230 or email me at kmoritz@springvillegi.org to join our coalition for change.

Teachers, students, parents, support staff members and community members are all welcome! Our first meeting will be in January, more details to follow.

Finding Time for Everything

There have been many times in my life when I’ve answered an enthusiastic “YES!” when asked to do something that later proved challenging to manage. Perhaps none of those have been as challenging as finding the time in my schedule, weekly, to get to SES for Band and clarinet lessons. When I committed, I must admit that I thought, “it’s one half hour per week, I can do it!” without thinking of the time needed for lessons and practice.

In case you missed my original post on this topic, on the first day of school, I challenged our school community to become more of a learning community. In response, our SES Instrumental music teacher asked me to learn a musical instrument, something I’ve never done. I thought, “Yes! This will give me a chance to model that we can all push ourselves to learn something that’s otherwise hard for us. And I’m over fifty, so it should be good for my brain.”

While I have enjoyed learning the clarinet, I’ve struggled to keep my schedule open twice per week for this learning. And to be completely honest, I’ve wondered every time I’ve made it to the lesson if it’s the right use of my very limited time. Could I be using the time to meet with groups of students or to visit teachers’ classrooms? I’m coming up on my two year anniversary in March, 2018 and while I’ve gotten to know many of our teachers, there are still many who I’m very conscious of not yet knowing.

Plus there’s the not so tiny issue of this job I’m paid to do every day.  My time is spent on reports and capital project planning; on conversations with the members of our leadership team both individually and on team; on talking with anyone who wants to meet with me or who calls with a problem; on managing personnel issues (320 employees and our school district doesn’t have an HR dept., that’s two amazing secretaries, me and our business administrator); professional learning on Twitter, in ed journals/books, and in change.school; on analyzing every aspect of our organization and every budget line to look for areas in need of improvement. Budget season is right around the corner and evaluations and well, you get the picture.

If I have the time to join the fourth grade Band to learn to play the clarinet with them so that I can better understand our music programs, perhaps I should be spreading that time out across the rest of our programs and operations? 

If you struggle to find the time to fit everything in, I understand. 

I’m not a quitter. I’ve no idea how to explain to the fourth graders that I just don’t have the time to be there twice per week when I know their parents likely teach them, as we did our own kids, “once you start something, you finish it”. I’ll hang in there until December’s concert as I said I would do from the beginning.  But good gracious, I hope those kids on the clarinet are practicing because they will definitely need to drown out my less than stellar performance. 

Are FB Posts/Comments Credible Sources?

NO. It’s 9:48 on Tuesday morning and I’m responding to inquiries from the press because of calls they received and a FB post. The post indicates a “warning to ALL parents” about MRSA in the middle school and anger that we haven’t informed the parents.

According to our school physician, Dr. Robbin Hansen, and the Erie County Health Department, there is no recommendation or requirement to keep someone out of the workplace or school for MRSA. Provided the individual is being seen by a physician and that the infected area is covered, there is no reason to keep him or her out of school. Furthermore, we have no right nor permission to reveal one student’s health condition to anyone else in the school community.

I had to be educated about MRSA too. So I went to the most credible sources I have, the school physician and an epidemiologist at the Erie County Health Department. Both said that this is a fairly common infection today and provided the individual has the wound covered and is being seen by a physician, presents no risk to our student population.

I’m not a medical authority. If you still have questions, call your own physician or the health department.

Empowering Our Children

Here’s my two cents as a parent. I recognize that every family  has their own values; following is what worked for us.

When I was in grade school, I remember asking my mum to come to school for some reason–some slight that I felt or problem that I had. My mother’s response was, “I’m not fighting your battles for you. Go figure it out.” 

I’ve been doing just that my entire life. She empowered me. In her message she was also saying, “you can do this. I trust you to do this.” She wasn’t oblivious, the poor woman listened to me talk endlessly about every aspect of my day BUT she expected me to handle my own stuff. I believe I’m a strong, courageous, independent thinker because of her. 

We therefore raised our two children in precisely the same way and they too are strong, courageous, independent thinkers.

Yes, there are times when parents need to get involved and ask questions, particularly if it’s a situation where the problem is with one of the adults in the system. And if a child truly doesn’t have the resources to handle a problem on his or her own, we need to work together to support and strengthen that child’s strategies. As a school district we also work hard to monitor behavior and correct when necessary, with a litany of progressive discipline as needed. We listen to both sides. We ignore nothing. 

Sometimes parents show their children love by saying, “I’ve got this! I will fight for you! No one is going to talk/do this to you!” I’m suggesting that we strengthen our kids by talking problems through with them, offering suggestions and empowering them to handle the problems themselves.

I wonder if I had fought every battle for our two kids, would they be the independent, capable adults who they are today? Believing in their ability to problem solve worked. I’m still listening to them and offering suggestions, then knowing they’ll do the right things and make good decisions.  The greatest accomplishment of my life is right there, in those two strong, courageous adults.

 

Adults In Our Learning Organization

Learning–the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.  For what seems like forever, schools have talked about developing students who are life long learners and yet, we loosely support professional development by sending teachers to some conferences or signing off on hours spent learning “Google classroom” or strategies for using YouTube in the classroom or “behavior strategies for elementary students”.

I’m guessing, or better said hopeful, that all of the professional development hours our teachers engage in are meaningful. I’m wondering how much time is spent after that Master’s degree continuing to learn about learning–the very reason we exist?

In the book And What Do YOU Mean by Learning?, Seymour B. Sarason talks about productive learning.

And by productive I mean that the learning process is one which engenders and reinforces wanting to learn more. Absent wanting to learn, the learning context is unproductive or counterproductive.

In schools, we are often focused on the acquisition of knowledge or skills that help students achieve on a NYS test. I challenge that helping our students to acquire that level of learning is the bare minimum we should expect of ourselves.

I taught for eleven years, one year of grades 5-8 Science, Spanish and literature in a small Catholic school and ten years of grades 7-12 Spanish and business in a small public school. I was as much of an adult learner then as I am today–constantly reading professional publications and attending relevant conferences when possible. Still, my students acquired enough knowledge to do well on the NYS exams. And you know what? Very few of them wanted to learn more and fewer acquired/retained the knowledge beyond the exam.

I did the best that I knew how, every day. Just as all of our teachers and employees do every day at SGI.

However, in leading this school district, I’m committed to working with everyone within our school community to consider what a Springville-Griffith education means. We’re not complacently settling for the status quo. And the only way I know how to bust the status quo?–

We’ve got to keep learning about learning. Every adult in our system. If you listened to me or to our keynote Will Richardson on opening day talk about the need to change public schools and thought, “I like school the way it is now” or “thank goodness they’re here to correct all of these other people” or “this too shall pass”, then you’re missing the point. It’s not about a prescriptive plan of “if we do/buy/implement this, then we’ll have changed”. That plan would end two minutes after I walk out of the door to retire some day.

We’re asking you to learn. We need to learn more about the acquisition of knowledge and skills today, in 2017. The world has absolutely changed and the access our students have to vast, incredible amounts of information has too. We have to do more than prepare our students for the exams. Our students need to have ample opportunities within every school day to discover, create, develop their talents and curiosity, to explore, ask questions and connect. I didn’t offer enough opportunities in my classroom for students to do any of those things. Are we now? Some days. In some classrooms. For some students. 

That’s not good enough. Our leadership team is going to share resources with our teachers–articles, books, podcasts, and feedback– throughout this year. We’re going to continue our own learning. We’d like to support you in your learning. We’re going to work with all of you in our school community to develop and communicate what it means to be a learner at SGI. We’re going to reimagine what school can be for our students at the same time that we meet the expectations of a NYS public school district.

I think we can do this and do it well. We all come here every day to make a difference. Let’s make sure it’s the very best difference that every SGI student deserves in 2017. Please be thinking about what YOU can do to learn more. And I promise, we will do our very best to support you.

 

Studying a Musical Instrument

Last week marked my tenth year opening school as a superintendent. All of our school employees are invited and it’s my chance to make an impression. I try hard to inspire and to set the course for the coming year.

This year, I challenged everyone by saying that if what we most want for our students is that they be agile, curious, interested, independent LEARNERS, we must be that very thing first. We can’t talk about developing a learning community committed to creating learning environments where modern learners discover, connect, contribute and adapt to the changing world– if we’re not doing so first.

What I didn’t count on from that first day is the meeting I had last week with one of our newest music teachers, Miss Jamie Newman. Miss Newman scheduled a meeting with me after opening day and at that meeting she invited me to join her fourth grade introductory band lessons. Her reasoning was simple, come and learn what it is that music teachers do, first hand. I heard her saying, “I so believe in the importance of music in our schools that I want to share it with you. Here’s a place where curiosity, discovery, creativity–those goals we have for every learner–happen every day”.

My reason for agreeing was also simple. If I’m going to walk the talk, push boundaries and ask our educators to move beyond what we’ve always done, well then, I suppose I’d better be doing the same thing. I’m a voracious learner, curious and hoping to learn from everyone I can about how to be better. I’m unafraid to tackle hard subjects, have difficult conversations, or accept a new challenge.

But this? I can assure you that there is likely no learning experience that would push me, my own boundaries and limitations, my own insecurities and feelings of ineptitude like this one. I’m in a full body sweat just writing about it here. 

I’ve never studied a musical instrument. When I was a kid, growing up in Pittsburgh in the seventies, my parents said no when I came home from school and asked about studying an instrument. I don’t know if it was a financial decision or why, I just accepted that they said no. I also don’t remember any basic music or chorus classes other than a teacher in the 7th grade who sat at his desk while we sang songs from a textbook on our desks. He was less than enthusiastic and certainly didn’t teach me a thing. I also can’t read music. Suffice it to say that I’m unlikely very evolved in music appreciation as nineties rap is my favorite playlist.

Because of my early education, I have little to no knowledge or understanding of music. When a friend comments that someone is singing off-key, I have no idea what they mean. I’ve observed music teachers as a school administrator and focused on the ways in which they teach the class with virtually no idea of the quality of their content. This is a weakness for me.

I sincerely hope Miss Newman knows what she’s getting herself into. I did go online and use an app that promised to identify if I’m tone deaf or not. I’m not. I scored an 86%.

I was encouraged to learn that a very small percentage of the population is actually tone deaf and more likely they just lacked a musical education. I also learned from the app that “everyone else is perfectly capable of becoming an excellent musician!” That may be overly optimistic.

My first band lesson is at 2:30 today. Clarinet. I’m sure our fourth graders will help me if I need it.

If I can do this, maybe everyone can find 30 minutes per day to read about modern learning or listen or try something new? I promise it’ll be worth it. At Springville-Griffith Institute, we are committed to developing curious learners–including our educators.

Rugby Life Lessons

Updated August 9, 2017: I’m headed to the SGI Coaches’ meeting held with our Athletic Director Joe DeMartino this morning and I’m thinking about this post from 2012. Seems worth publishing again, given our Fall sports season kicking into gear. It’s five years later and I believe that it’s these lessons that have served our son well and led to success in his occupation today–more than anything he learned within the walls of his college classrooms.

Reposted from original, October 10, 2012. 

Everything my kid needs to learn to succeed in the future, he’s learning on the rugby field. I’m sure every athlete on every athletic team in the country probably thinks that my premise is true for his sport. Maybe so. I’m just not sure I’ve seen anything quite like this before.

This is a team of young men so dedicated to each other, to their coaches and to their alumni that winning is the only acceptable outcome. They practice once to twice per day and the matches are grueling. Pushing through physical pain for the good of the team? Not a problem. Every man doing his job well, to the best of his ability and then some? A requirement. The technical aspects of the sport are amazing to me—including how each of those 15 men must get it right for everything to go as planned, with a check in the win column.

I cannot believe how much our son loves this team and this game. Especially given the fact that we thought he was going to play hockey at St. Bonaventure—a sport he’s played since first grade. We had barely heard of rugby when he called us three days into his freshmen year to tell us he was going out for the team. But what an ideal sport it wound up to be for our young man.

I’ve watched him learn some critical lessons on this team—lessons that will serve him well for the rest of his life. Lessons that for the most part hold true in my own work within a public school team.

Tallon Moritz’ lessons learned on the rugby field:  

1. It’s all about the team. You can’t be selfish. Ever. That goes for everything from scoring to missing practices.

2. The alumni built this team, we owe it to them to carry on their traditions and to win. They also support us financially. Show them respect and gratitude. And aspire to be successful so we can give back in the same ways.

3. Our coaches aren’t paid to be there. They come because of their dedication to us. We owe it to them to show up and work.

4. There’s no glory, no money. We do it for each other, the coaches and the alumni, that’s all there is.

5. Every game day, every guy needs to think he’s the worst one on the field. That means working even harder so that I don’t let the rest of the team down.

6. On film day, same thing. Watching film isn’t about seeing some great play you made, it’s about  analyzing what mistakes we made so that we can avoid making them the next time.

7. We get maybe four-five years of this and it’s some of the best years of our lives. Let’s do something great to remember it well. We can see it in the eyes of our alumni, they’d give anything to be back on that field with us. Appreciate it while we’ve got it. 

8. Good coaching does teach you something.  Respect what the coaches say. I thought I couldn’t catch a ball. Then I had coaches and team mates who showed me how, I practiced, I learned.

9. Hard work pays off. Starting without any knowledge of the game and hoping to play all of a B side game freshmen year can result in a starting position on A side as a junior if you want it and work hard enough.

10. Leadership means being the guy that no one wants to let down. I’d still do anything not to disappoint the guys ahead of me, guys like Nick Sylor, Nick Maurer, and Alex Brussard.

11. This sport teaches us how to be good men, not just good rugby players. We address the refs as ‘Sir’ or ‘M’am’ because of respect, it’s a brutal gentlemen’s game. As the premier Franciscan school in the country, we’re representing more than ourselves or one rugby team. Own that.

12. Our mindset is “anything for the team”–being the guy who would die for the team on the field–that’s called intestinal fortitude. That’s what separates good from great. We CAN be great.  Mental attitude is as much as physical ability.

As a public school administrator for thirteen years, I know that the lessons he’s learning on that field will equate to success in any work place. The very best members of any organization know that listening for feedback, analyzing and self assessing, hard work and dedication all lead to tremendous success. Each of us doing our part for the team, the organization as a whole, so that none of us lets the rest down? If public schools understand the concept of team, school improvement success will be a given.

 

As Educators, Are We Learning?

The BOE members and SGI school administrators spent all day on Monday, August 7, 2017 together with Will Richardson from change.school. 

Most school districts have a BOE retreat annually when they often revisit their goals and achievements from the previous year and set goals for the next year.

In our case at Springville, we’ve spent the past 18 months working to develop a sense of teamwork and a better understanding of the district. With several new administrators and some in new roles, coupled with my arrival as the superintendent in March, 2016, we’ve been working to listen to and understand everyone within the organization, while hopefully building trust.

As a superintendent, I have two main “teams”. The BOE members and the school administrators. I feel a keen sense of responsibility for and to every member of our school community but these two teams are the mainstay of our leadership. Bringing them together for a shared day of learning made sense.

From my perspective (and I hope theirs!), it was a terrific day in which we had the opportunity to learn together and then to begin the conversation about what we believe about learning and what we most want for our students moving forward. I’ve written previously here about my own thinking in regard to schools and how little we’ve adapted to the changes within the world.

As a leadership team–and ALL OF US as educators– we need to first and foremost be learners. As an organization whose primary purpose is learning, how much are the adults within our organization learning together? Are we all keeping current with the ways in which our students are learning outside of school? Are we reading the new research available about the science of the brain or the articles written on what literacy means today or reading books by the great thinkers in our profession (some written long ago) that point the way to productive learning that creates the curiosity to learn more? Personally, Seymour Sarason has blown my mind this summer–how have I not read him before, as a 28 year veteran??

I’m not criticizing our lack of learning as educators–I’ve been a leader for seventeen years in a public school system and I’m as responsible as anyone for the way things are now. My experience shows that we have not been systems that learn, study, analyze, collaborate and show agility surrounding the very thing we exist for–LEARNING. 

I’m aiming to change all of that here in Springville. And after yesterday, it’s good to know I’ve got an entire leadership team dedicated to the same. As the adults in the learning organization continually discover, develop, interact and contribute in our own learning, just think how that will positively impact our 1800 students!

Remember it doesn’t have to be bad to be better–that’s my new personal motto.

 

Agility in Response to Constant Change

I was talking with someone the other night who works for my nephew. My nephew owns his own internet design and marketing company. Both men are in their twenties. The company has been hugely successful and we were talking about the future of the company, where they’re headed and what’s next.

As I listened to Stephen talking about his world of work, I was struck by his thinking. The entire conversation was about the constant changes within the internet that affect their business. He calmly and without fear revealed what was an obvious flexibility and agility in thinking about the future of the company. Change is a normal, every day part of what they do. It’s a constant, daily factor.

Then I thought about our son who works for a company that is constantly redesigning and improving the spinal implants their surgeons are using daily in operating rooms. His training and need to  learn about the next device or procedure is constant and intense. He has to be flexible in his responses to the various surgeons he serves and agile in his own abilities and knowledge. Change is a constant, daily factor.

I’m not sure we think in this way within our public schools. We complain about change that is barely change at all.

Public schools, by their very design, are institutions built to last–to withstand whatever outside pressures or changes occur. And we’ve stayed the same, with a “that’s the way it’s always been” mindset for far too long. There’s absolutely no way that anyone can believe that the system that prepared my parents in the fifties and me in the seventies and my kids in the nineties should remain the same forever, is there? And yet the lessons I observe today are not substantially different than those I observed as a student. Some of that is good and important and necessary–like teaching our youngest students how to read–but some of it, well, just isn’t.

We’re safe here. We take care of our students, respond to our families and are responsible to our taxpayers. We work incredibly hard and do our best to connect with our students and to teach well. Those of us within the system probably like the system, we’ve been successful here. I like it here. But I believe our own complacency is limiting us and therefore limiting learning for our students.

If we can become more of a learning organization, one in which we are all learning from each other and sharing ideas, lessons, and risks that we’ve taken, we will model the very system that our students are likely to work within. We’ll teach our students that it’s okay to take a risk, to be vulnerable and try something new or hard, to fail and to begin again. We will teach them, through the learning experiences that we provide, how to be flexible and agile thinkers who expect to collaborate, communicate and change. We are already doing this at times, in some classrooms and in some lessons. Let’s figure out what those things are that we most value about learning and then let’s do those things MORE. 

Public school systems need to be the biggest part of fostering and teaching curiosity, creativity, civic responsibility, collaboration, problem solving and communication–not a place where we do those things from time to time, when we have time. We need to rethink our priorities and goals for all students and refuse to allow “the way it’s always been” to be an answer for why we do anything.

On Monday, August 7, our Springville leadership team–BOE members and administrators–will spend the entire day evaluating what we believe about learning and what we think our mission, our purpose for existing, should be. I can’t wait for the day of deep thought, collaboration and communication!

Stay tuned for opportunities to join us in the work of determining how SGI can focus our incredible resources–our teachers, employees and students–on innovative instructional practices that change our learning environments to give SGI students a more modern learning experience, preparing them for their future.