Capital Project Vote, March 24, 2015

We are preparing for a capital project vote here at Randolph Central School on March 24, 2015 from 2:00 pm-8:00 pm in our High School Cafeteria. As we’ve been doing public presentations to inform the public on the details of the project propositions, it may be helpful for me to share the information in a series of blog posts also.

Over the next couple of days, I will write about the different parts of the proposed project. We have a public hearing on March 18, 2015 at 6:00 in the Auditorium. During the hearing I will present these same details and community members will have the opportunity to ask questions.

A special thank you to BOE members Julie Milliman and Janet Huntington, who have been with me this week as we presented after the Grandparents’ Breakfasts and last night during a community forum. Thank you to all of our BOE members, RCS employees, and community members who have worked so hard to plan a project that addresses the critical needs of our district and is mindful of the cost to the taxpayers.

If you can’t make it to the public hearing on the project, please feel free to call me or stop by at any time. Also, our BOE members are very well versed in the details.

Please come and vote on March 24, 2015!

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My Social Media Mistake

Gosh darn it. Have you ever done something that afterwards you thought, “I’m an idiot”? I made a mistake last week that I can’t erase, I know better, it reflected poorly on me and I’m so sorry.

Social media. Ugh. I’ve tried to use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with our school community–primarily about all of the positive things happening here–and last week I totally blew it.

Calling snow days, cold weather days, making good decisions for the students–all of it results in emotional responses from parents, faculty and staff who weigh in on both sides of the issue. I can’t reiterate enough how many conversations with staff here, the highway superintendent and my colleagues in other districts  go into our decision. I always prefer to have our students here in school, that’s why we exist! I do think about the finances too–how much our payroll is for 186 days and that every time we cancel, we lose that day of productivity.

But that’s not the point of this post.

Last week I received a “tweet” from our students regarding the cold weather call we made to pick up our students door to door and to be in session on Friday. It was a short video that showed our students at play practice responding to my all-call that we would have school the next day. It was awesome and I loved it.

Then I tweeted–which goes to 800+ followers and then links to Facebook–a tweet that I meant primarily for those same students but of course went to everyone. I forgot about audience and perception and my professional role that is required as superintendent that is beyond being “tongue in cheek” with our students. It was a mistake. I’m not explaining it away–I was wrong.

For everyone who read my tweet that included an emoticon that showed me blowing a kiss–believe it or not, I meant that to say to our students, “love you!” but I can see that it didn’t come across that way. I also said, “giving you your money’s worth”–which led readers to interpret that money was more important to me than student safety.

How stupid I was! I cannot expect people who don’t even know me to “get” my message, delivered in 140 characters. The tweet was unprofessional and I should know better. I will not make the mistake again, we’re better than that–high expectations for everyone in our district starts with having high expectations for myself first.

Capital Project Consideration

The purpose of this post is to help our community understand the process of developing a capital project and about how the financing works. This is not a simple post–it’s a complicated, lengthy topic and I will do my best to keep it straightforward. Please know that I write this in an effort to be transparent about our process. When my mom was alive she always provided me with feedback about my blog posts. She definitely would have said this one is TOO LONG and BORING. ;)

Our BOE is considering two contingent propositions for possible presentation for a public vote on March 24, 2015.

In the summer of 2013 the Randolph Board of Education and I began the process of evaluating and planning for a proposed capital project.  Every district conducts a five year plan that is submitted to the NYS Education Department and in that plan, we analyze all aspects of our buildings and grounds to identify and prioritize our areas of need. Good planning means identifying critical items and then putting them together in a capital project to minimize the local share of expenses–in our case an approved capital project that meets all of the guidelines of NYSED will result in about an 83.5% state share.

For Randolph Central, the structural, health and safety items –critical items– at this time include things such as replacing pumps, balancing valves, upgrade ventilation, replacing steam piping, improving state lighting controls and replacing stage rigging. The items also include things like replacement floors, a handicap toilet room in the elementary school, security cameras, urinal replacements, a few rooftop replacements, track replacement and some ADA required interior door hardware. I often refer to these items as the “non-glamorous” items, those things we NEED to take care of to be good stewards of our facilities and grounds.

The first possible proposition that the BOE is considering putting before the public for a vote, our essential NEED based items total almost $3 million dollars. Those items, from the very beginning in the summer of 2013, have been our priority. Taking care of what we already have and maintaining it–that’s what the BOE has directed me to do from day one in considering a project.

In planning any project, community input is valuable. We put out notices asking for volunteers to work with us. The BOE members and I formed a facilities committee to consider any other needs and or wants that we may have as a school district that would improve our facilities, our programs, or our services to students and the community.

A well meaning group of people met with us through the fall and winter of the 2013-14 school year to brainstorm those things that would improve our school district. No one’s ideas were immediately dismissed and everything from a swimming pool to a community center to new sports fields were discussed. The BOE facilities committee then met with me throughout the spring and summer to consider those suggestions and to try to determine the best course of action.

A major priority from the beginning of our work was to improve the traffic flow, configuration and parking on our campus. The safety of our students and community are our #1 priority, along with the essential NEED based items described above.  A lengthy process began in which we evaluated many different options for improving traffic flow with parent drop off locations, bus only zones, clear student walkways, and more parking. For a long time we talked about a demolition of the bus garage that sits right in the middle of our campus. We ultimately determined that this was not something everyone could support.

The final traffic flow plan drastically improves the safety of our campus while maintaining our existing bus garage. This plan, to be detailed in upcoming capital project presentations, totals about $4 million dollars.

The reality of financing always comes in to play and determining what we as a district and our taxpayers can afford is critical. Think about that 83.5% state share I mentioned in the beginning; where’s the other 17% coming from? We then look at our capital reserves and any unappropriated excess reserves we may have to determine how much we have that can be used to offset the cost to the local taxpayers. To keep it simple, all of that planning results in a project that we can put forward to the taxpayers of about $7 million dollars that will result in a minimal local share. How minimal? This $7 million project would result in a .65% increase or about $2 per year more on an $60,000 home for taxpayers with STAR; a zero increase for Senior STAR taxpayers; and for taxpayers who don’t have STAR because it’s a non-primary residence, it’s about $4 per year added to your taxes on a $60,000 home.

The BOE members are in the final stages of preparing to adopt a resolution to bring this project to the taxpayers. In addition they are considering putting forth a second, contingent (cannot pass unless the first proposition passes) proposition to the voters for a synthetic turf multipurpose field. While there were many other ideas from our original facilities committee that would be improvements for our district, the cost to our taxpayers precludes us from advancing any of them.

A second possible proposition for a mulipurpose synthetic turf field has been much more difficult for our BOE members to agree to put to the taxpayers.  Their dedication to maintaining a fair and reasonable tax levy (share of our budget that is paid for by the local taxpayers) is at odds with the consideration of a proposition to build something that would be NICE to have but isn’t necessarily something we HAVE to have. The BOE’s dedication to this is unquestionable as they have maintained a 0% increase to our taxpayers every year since the 2009-10 school year. That’s six years that our taxpayers have not had an increase, including two years of decreases.

Some think we should leave the decision of a synthetic turf multipurpose field up to the taxpayers. Put the Proposition #2 up for a vote separate from our Proposition #1, NEEDs based project. What kind of money would a separate proposition for this cost? It would be about an additional $2.6 million dollars. The addition of this proposition would result in the cost to the taxpayers increasing to a 4.37% total increase or about $13 per year more on a $60,000 home for taxpayers with STAR; a zero increase for Senior STAR taxpayers; for taxpayers who don’t have STAR because it’s a non-primary residence, it’s about $25 per year added to your taxes on a $60,000 home.

Taxpayers can rest assured that a BOE decision to put a project to the public for a vote has been thoroughly researched and considered. More to follow, look for a BOE discussion and vote on a resolution at the February 4, 2015 BOE meeting with a proposed March vote by the taxpayers.

 

 

Why We Test

Cross Posted at TheHill

In New York State, the debate over the implementation of the new,  more rigorous common core learning standards has been everything from controversial to impassioned to confusing. The argument has frequently centered on the evaluation of teachers and principals using student test scores.  And the debate has become so heated that some teachers and even some superintendents are refusing to administer assessments tied to the standards. That’s entirely the wrong direction for our schools and, most important, for our kids. And it’s just too simplistic.

Instead, the discussion we must have is both about testing for our children’s understanding and understanding our children’s tests.

Historically, tests have been used as a measurement of a student’s learning at the end of a chapter, book, or unit. That’s what most of us remember, right? The test measured if we studied, did the work, understood the concepts, mastered the material or just did well on tests. Today the testing that we’re doing in our schools can still be what we remember but it can also be more formative in nature. In fact, it should be formative--we should be using what we learn about our students’ learning to inform what happens next in the classroom. Do we need to go back to the drawing board on a concept 90% of the students missed on this test? What kind of progress has each student made toward mastering the next standard? Who needs more support? Who’s got it and is more than ready to move on?

As a superintendent I worked with our teachers and administrators in the alignment of our curriculum to the common core standards. As a measure of our progress–of our alignment and our expectations–we also implemented formative testing four times during the year in grades K-8, Math and ELA. Our families know this as iReady. We do this not to measure learning at the end of a chapter or quarter, but to check student progress toward the attainment of learning standards so that we can make mid-course corrections.

Since we made this commitment to learn more about our students and their learning, our student achievement on NYS tests has improved dramatically as compared to other districts. Why? Not because we’re now “teaching to the tests” but instead, because we are focusing on the standards and individualizing learning through adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction in a blended learning environment. Teachers have always worked incredibly hard here. We are simply providing them with more information that helps them do the job better for every student.

Consider our rank on the achievement index. The achievement index is a metric wherein each district’s academic rank is compared to its socioeconomic climate rank. If a district is 25th academically and 50th in socioeconomics, it is said to have overachieved by 25 places. Using this metric we are the fourth most overachieving district in Western New York. I’m not so crazy about this measure as it’s like saying, “hey we’re doing better than expected given our rate of poverty” but it does demonstrate that ALL children can learn within a system that supports learning in the right ways.

Some opponents of State and federally mandated standards have argued that too much classroom time is spent on testing and test preparation. There is a lot of truth in that, particularly if  accountability measures are mishandled and teachers, administrators and students are made to feel anxiety and pressure about testing or “practicing” for the tests. Without the right leadership actions to provide support to our teachers in building a system of functioning programs and testing that work, teachers cannot figure this out on their own. They will. Because they always have. But it won’t be a system, it will be random. And it won’t give a school district the kind of system wide results in which every child is challenged that most of us are looking to build. However, if schools are using adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction to inform the choice of curriculum for individual students, then making a small investment in testing time enables us to maximize  instructional time.

Adopting high quality tests and administering them with an eye on using the results to provide students with timely individualized help allows us to greatly enhance our educational systems. I see it in real learning in the classrooms and in our students’ abilities, not just on NYS assessment results. For example, in our math classrooms our students now have much better rapid recall of math facts and their understanding of fractions and ability to do operations with fractions is much improved. They are also much better at attacking multi-step problems and seem to have overall better retention of what they have learned. Why? The common core standards are more rigorous and we’ve raised our expectations for all students while supporting them in a more individualized way.

The most significant factors in our school improvement success have been the implementation of a coherent, cohesive common core standard aligned curriculum in grades K-8 and our use of regular adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction. This kind of testing is about giving teachers more information. Computer based diagnostic instruction is about giving all students individualized instruction. The bottom line? Blended learning with adaptive testing allows us to challenge all of our learners not just our struggling learners. And by the way, our NYS test results have also improved significantly.

That’s the kind of comprehensive learning and assessment for which the Common Core standards were designed. Simply turning your back on the learning standards and “opting out” as a public school system is a disservice to the work of educating all of our students. It’s hard work to get it right, and it’s worth it.

Hope for Public Education

I’m hopeful about public education. As educators, we are a group of adults who hold our students first and foremost in our hearts and minds. We think about their stories. We worry about basic needs being met for some of them and we agonize over the decisions we see some of our older students making. We listen to them and we try to guide them.  Sometimes we just listen. We take an interest in what they think and for some, we’re the only ones who do so.  We advocate for them when they are in danger. We celebrate their many successes. We support their fundraisers and cheer them on in athletic, musical, and dramatic events. We pull for them in every competition. For some of us, we pray for them. I love them and expect the best of them, always.

While the noise continues in print and visual media, on social media, and in countless opinions espoused everywhere someone wants to air a complaint–as educators we continue to do what we’ve always done. We head to our schools with a joy about learning and a love for the children we serve.

None of the pressures from outside of our school buildings can detract from these simple facts about us. The governor doesn’t change this about us. The federal government doesn’t change that about us. The anti common core cries, the privatization of school advocates, the crazy people who don’t know US but judge us anyway, and the challenges we face together don’t change the simple facts about us.

We are and always have been well intended, caring adults who do this work because we love our students and we endeavor to make a difference in every life that we touch. When my children stand at my funeral some day, I want them to hear the stories of students I influenced, teachers who entered leadership roles and administration because of my example, and colleagues who remember me as someone who supported and respected them. I want my two kids to hear that my expectations for excellence in myself and those who work here encouraged someone to be better, work harder, go farther. I want them to hear that I made a difference in Randolph, that I improved the quality of the education our children receive through my leadership actions.

These are the reasons we are educators. None of the criticism and noise and political agendas will ever affect those reasons. They’re simply challenges for us to overcome together. I’m hopeful about public education.

FAPE. Free Appropriate Public Education for ALL students. The single greatest accomplishment of our great nation. Amidst the noise, don’t you forget it.

 

No Snow Day Here

I’ve posted about snow days before here and here and here, –it seems like every winter! In those posts I’ve explained about the multiple factors that influence my decision, thanked our incredible bus drivers and plow truck drivers, and lamented over a bad call.

We stayed open today, while many schools closed, because I can’t in good conscience close because of the hype and fervor of the newscasters. Watching Andy Parker’s (because he is good at presenting the facts without as much of the hype) forecast closely this morning, it looks like a strong possibility that the lake effect snow will miss us. As much fun as I know a snow day may be for the majority of our students and employees, I can’t cancel school without good reason. The sun is shining here on the hill right now! And yet as I write this I worry that the snow will hit us at dismissal time–that’s the nature of lake effect snow in WNY!

A couple of our students just told me that it “would be all right with us if you want to send us home early”. I wouldn’t likely ever do an unplanned early dismissal for the same reasons I don’t close school unless it looks to be absolutely necessary. Working parents, businesses who need their employees to show up, employees who don’t want to use a personal day because they don’t have child care lined up when they get a call at 6:30 am, children who would be home alone because the parent has to go to work and they have no other option—these factors all make it a very serious decision to close for the day. Early dismissal could result in little ones arriving at houses with no adult home yet. Most important to me personally? I want our students here in school, learning!

I won’t ever sacrifice the safety of our students for those reasons, but I’ll be very careful and thoughtful about any decision to close. Which brings me to another point!

We have a new door to door plan in place for those days when it’s very cold so that we don’t have to cancel like we did last year. Many students already have a bus stop directly in front of their home every day. For those students who walk the quarter mile to school or a bus stop–our drivers will stop at every house on the route when I call to say “the Cold Weather Plan” is in effect. The National Weather Service guidelines show that sustained exposure of 30 minutes at -18 to -41 is the average temperature that may result in frost bite. With door to door pick up in those temperatures, we should have no reason to close just for cold weather. If we implement the Cold Weather Plan, families will receive a phone call just like they do for a snow day.

Thanks to everyone who works hard to help us prepare and transport our students safely!

An Encouraging Leadership

In its simplest form, a leader is defined as a person who guides or directs a group.  It’s my responsibility to “guide and direct” the employees of our district, most notably the administrative team, along with everyone else who works here. Of course if all I’m ever doing is “guiding and directing”, I’m not sure that’s good enough. We need to inspire students and teachers and all employees to want to be the very best that they can be and I’ve got to get better at the positive end of the role.

The other day I saw an example of natural leadership that struck me in a way that left me thinking the entire way home from school and into the evening. One of our teachers, Caitlin, approached another, Brooke, with great excitement because she wanted to tell her colleague about some event in which she would be running. Brooke responded with positive praise (something I continue to work on remembering to give) and genuine enthusiasm for Caitlin’s efforts. The natural leadership comes into play because Caitlin wanted to share her story, she knew she would receive further encouragement, and she was proud of her accomplishment. If Brooke didn’t have credibility as a leader, friend, colleague, and RUNNER, I’m doubting that Caitlin would have bothered to tell her. I noticed all of this in the three seconds it took me to walk by the two of them.

I need to work on this–our teachers and administrators don’t come to see me to tell me about something they’ve worked hard to implement or to execute. Is it because they don’t receive appropriate encouragement and positive praise from me? Is it because they think I don’t care or that I won’t think it’s good enough?

In this new year I’m going to seek ways in which I can positively encourage our administrators and teachers.  I can be very hard on people, always pushing them to be their best. (Just ask my two kids.) But do I ENCOURAGE them to do so?

The Comprehensive School Climate Survey Results

During our School BOE’s last goal setting initiative, BOE members determined to survey our school community. The primary goal was to determine what is the perception of our school community–school personnel, students and parents–in regard to our climate for learning. We received the results of the survey, done in each of our buildings, yesterday and while the full report is 143 pages per building, I’m sharing the summary reports here, in our school newsletter and of course, with our BOE members.

According to the National School Climate Center we had a strong return rate in both buildings. In our 7-12 building we had 76.94% of our students, 58.72% of our school personnel, and 23.25% of our parents participate. In our elementary school, our 3-6 population participated with 87.80% of our students, 48.86% of our school personnel and 27.38% of our parents. If you double click on any of the photos below, you will be able to see them enlarged.

Here is an explanation of the school climate survey  What is School Climate

and the 12 indicators examined.  12 Dimensions Our 7-12 building had the following overall results: Students Rankings School Personnel Parents Response

And  Gail N. Chapman posted these survey results:

Students GailSchool Personnel GailParents Gail

 

The BOE members and administrative teams will be studying the detail of the results. As you can see from the charts in this post–the overall results are very favorable. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Working/Stay Home Mothers

Paparazzski PhotographyI’m bringing back this blog post from 2007 for my daughter Bryna and all of the other working moms out there–to point out the benefits of a rich work life. As Bry headed back to work today, with her beautiful son Blake just over two months old, she was filled with excitement to see her work family and students and with guilt for leaving her little boy.

Bryna comes from a home in which I’ve always worked, both of her grandmothers worked, lots of moms worked. She also has a close aunt, Charisse,  who was a stay at home mom. What I know for sure is that while I was feeling guilty for not having home cooked meals on the table or sending her brother to Charisse’s house for day care, Charisse was feeling guilty for not adding to her family’s income or providing the same vacations we did. Here’s the thing–it doesn’t matter! The kids all turned out well as adults, they were well loved and supported in all that they did, and they all survived. Mine without the home cooked meals and hers without as many vacations.

Families come in all different shapes and sizes, with a million different configurations. Let’s stop judging each other and more importantly OURSELVES. At fifty years old I’m finally learning to say, “this is who I am and who I am is good enough.” Took me long enough.

Moms: Stay home if you want. Go to work if you want. Whatever you choose, give yourselves a break–that choice will dictate different things for your family–not necessarily better or worse things, just different.  Most of what you’re worrying about is craziness, live and enjoy–stop needlessly wasting mental energy on guilt. Just love your babies.

Love,

“Grandmother”

School Climate Survey–NOT the Room Temperature

One of the best things about working with young people is that I never stop learning. Today at lunch with six of our stellar sophomores, I mentioned our school climate survey and how much I’m looking forward to the results. I quickly realized that school climate means something different to our students than what I mean when Austin replied, “what? I think it’s fine. Well, the Spanish room is always cold.”

Families are all receiving more information about the survey via a phone call home today, paper surveys are being sent home in bookbags or in the mail, and we have links to the survey on our webpage and in PowerSchool.

This survey begins today, October 1 and continues through October 15. The idea to survey all of our school community members developed at a Board of Education (BOE) Retreat in the summer of 2013. It grew from a genuine desire on the part of the BOE members to know what everyone in our school community thinks and to identify our strengths and weaknesses. Along with the BOE members, I’m looking forward to learning what we can do better together in our efforts to continually improve our school system. We sincerely want to hear from every member of the school community and our hope is that everyone will be involved in the process.

School climate refers to the subjective experience of being in a school. It exists at the intersection of individual perceptions and the structure of the school environment. Research has confirmed that the way students feel about being in school shapes their learning and development, and school personnel are also better able to do their jobs in a healthy and supportive school climate. After researching the options, we chose the Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (CSCI) survey which was developed by the National School Climate Center (NSCC) over the past four years. The dimensions of school climate measured (safety, relationships, teaching & learning, and environment) and the individual survey items are built on several decades’ worth of research on school climate.

The Comprehensive School Climate Survey (CSCI) is unique in that it is designed to help a school collect responses from the entire school community—all students, parents, teachers, and staff members at the school are asked to fill out surveys, and the report shows how the three groups differ in their perceptions of the school climate. The CSCI is designed to be a needs assessment for schools, helping us to evaluate the school’s strengths and weaknesses, and provides a platform on which to build an action plan for improving school climate. By incorporating the perceptions of the entire community, we can create a more effective and accurate plan that addresses core strengths and weaknesses.

We know there is a key factor that will affect the validity of the survey results and therefore we chose CSCI because they manage the data, not RCS. The survey results are completely anonymous—no names are recorded and no identifying information will ever be attached to specific responses. Results are reported only in terms of the way groups of people have responded. [The report does include information on sub-groups (by race, gender, grade, etc), but in an effort to maintain anonymity, these results are suppressed or combined for sub-groups with fewer than ten people. Respondents should answer as many questions as possible (although no one is required to answer questions that make them uncomfortable). The more responses we get, the better the data. [Note: on the electronic version of the survey, respondents have the option of selecting a “don’t know” or “not applicable” answer, but survey items may not be left entirely blank.]

Diane Graham, Kristie Ling, and Maureen Pitts are leading this effort for us. They will be the “point” people in each building to answer questions and to help with general information. Please know that you can ask any of us, and our building leaders, if you have any questions. Contact the school at 716-358-6161 with any questions.