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!

Colden Elementary School, Rumors and Truth

Late in the summer, I realized that our enrollment at Colden Elementary was low enough that we have only 11/12 students in each of our kindergarten and first grade classes, with under 30 students in each of grades 2-4. This led to my decision to move three teaching assistants from CES to SES. Before making this change, we had five TA’s assigned to CES with an enrollment of 16o students and four TA’s assigned to SES with an enrollment of 553 students. That just didn’t make good sense.

I think that moving the three TA’s may have led to a rumor that I’m hearing that “we have a three year plan to close Colden Elementary”. I want our entire school community to know that we do not have a three year plan to close CES. 

We do need to study our enrollment as a district. We cannot continue to behave as a 2500 student district when we’re a 1678 student district. We are having a transportation study done this year. One of the questions we’ve asked for the study is “can you look at the lines of enrollment to determine if there’s a different distribution that would more evenly place our elementary students at CES and SES?”

We do need to have a discussion about Colden Elementary. The big question: How to balance the desires of our CES families with our responsibility to the taxpayers? I don’t know the answer to that question and I don’t know what we’ll decide to do moving forward as a district. We haven’t even studied or talked about it yet. But we will.

Here’s what I do know.

  1. We cannot ignore or postpone this conversation. It’s my responsibility to lead it. Considering what to do with a beloved school building with declining enrollment is a very difficult, emotional topic. I will retire from SGI some day. When I do, it will have been irresponsible if I haven’t led that difficult conversation.
  2. Families in the enrollment area for Colden Elementary love that little school. Our teachers and principal love that little school. I love that little school.
  3. We will respect those families and employees at CES and make any future decisions carefully and with input from our community.
  4. As our student population declines, our budget cannot continue to increase. We’re required this year to begin to analyze and report our per pupil expenditures, by building. That will give us information to consider about potential cost savings with any closure. I don’t even want to say the word “closure” because again, we don’t know what we’re going to do next.
  5. We are engaging our school community in thought exchanges this year. The first one starts tomorrow. I promise we will devote a thought exchange to Colden Elementary. We’ll give some relevant facts and ask everyone, “what do you think we should do about the impact of declining enrollment on Colden Elementary?”
  6. We will listen to our school community. We’ll study the facts. We’ll make the best decision possible that serves the needs of all of our students and families.

APPR Reviews and Ridiculousness

We are one of the fifty school districts that has been chosen to have our APPR, Annual Professional Performance Review, plan “audited” or reviewed by NYSED. There are as many different plans in New York State as there are school districts. At the state level, APPR isn’t something that’s been determined by our NYS Education Department alone but instead has come to us through legislation initiated by Governor Cuomo.

As an eleventh year superintendent, I will say that the APPR process as it is now is a mess. When it was new, and I was a newer superintendent, I had hope that the APPR plan would help us to broker change and lead to school improvement. I was naive. Now I know it’s a giant exercise in compliance, a negotiable nuisance, a confusing time waster with student learning objectives for teachers and principals that hasn’t led to school improvement but instead has distracted us from the real work of improving learning opportunities for students. It’s over-emphasized the importance of testing our students. I over-emphasized the importance as a leader, before I wised up. School administrators are slammed with 1000 important tasks and we don’t need this time waster. But, still we comply. We do our jobs. We make the evaluation system–which we’ve always had, believed in and used effectively in the districts I’ve worked in–work. We have meaningful conversations with teachers and we don’t care about the APPR scores or the HEDI scale.  

But that’s not the point of this post. The APPR Reviews with NYSED are even worse. Someone reviews the plan and then calls to tell you what you need to fix.  The plan takes hours to negotiate with a team of teachers and administrators. We cannot make changes without reconvening that group. Here are the initial two points the NYSED letter and reviewer via phone call made:

  1. you can’t count domains #1 and #4 of the Danielson rubric in the evaluative score (even though I’ve heard Ms. Danielson herself say that the rubric without those is meaningless and that it was never intended for the purpose SED has reduced it to). I knew this one from my previous district so okay, we don’t agree, but we’ll comply. We’re still going to evaluate domains #1 and #4 and have the important conversations but we won’t include it in the evaluative score.
  2. teachers with courses ending in a Regents exam can’t be included in using the building SLO, they have to have SLOs for their Regents exam specifically. Okay. Again, we’ll comply.

So we convene our committee of teachers, pay them to come in and work in the summer, resubmit the plan. Then the woman who’s reviewing the plans calls to tell me the additional points she’d like to make about the plan. What? Why didn’t you tell us those things in the first place? Now, on the first call I kept quiet when she talked about the value of the pre-assessments. I’m getting old and I realize this is the woman’s job so why should I bother trying to argue my points? On this call, I said, “listen, we’re just trying to comply. Please don’t give me the reasons why this is important. Just tell me what we have to fix.”

Then I talked to a younger administrator in another district in our region who is going through the same process and started with an initial call that their plan had been the best review of all! Eureka! Someone’s doing it right! Hang on. . . that was followed up with a two hour call citing all of the things they needed to do differently, including what evidence they’re collecting, etc., etc.

Thus my post. To every young administrator, there are those things in our profession that are worth fighting for and attending to on a daily basis. There are those things that you will do that will make a significant difference in the lives of the children you serve. Leadership in a school, particularly a principal, can be a powerful way to make a difference. APPR is not that difference nor is it the place to spend your time and energy. The reviews are ridiculous and you’re far too busy changing the world within your school to waste time on ridiculousness.

Let those of us who have been around a while fight the good fight at the state level and have a voice that hopefully leads to change. I believe in our Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia. She’s done our work. She gets it and she listens.

If you’ve had a review and this post reaches you, please email me at kmoritz@springvillegi.org to tell me about your experience. I will carry those notes with me as I co-chair a committee on APPR for NYSCOSS. Let’s fix this broken system.