School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant?

The Brown Center on Education Policy published this report School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant? in September, 2014.  I read the report with great interest, largely because it’s my fervent intent to leave this world some day having made a significant difference with my life. As a school superintendent, my primary and most important responsibilities are to support and improve our educational program.

As a public school system, our central mission, or reason for being, is to educate the 953 children who reside within the Randolph Central School District. Every part of our operation from finance to cafeteria to bus drivers to support staff to teachers and administrators function because we must educate our children. That includes me.

The report looks at administrative data from the states of Florida and North Carolina for the school years 2000-01 to 2009-10. The researchers examine the following questions:

1. What are the observable characteristics
of superintendents, with a focus on their
length of service?
2. Does student achievement improve when
superintendents serve longer?
3. Do school districts improve when they hire
a new superintendent?
4. What is the contribution of superintendents
to student achievement relative to districts,
schools, and teachers?
5. Are there superintendents whose tenure
is associated with exceptional changes in
student achievement?

At Randolph, we have made tremendous gains in student achievement over the past three years. If someone asks me how we did it, I can answer that question with considerable depth. As the leader of our school district, I have a part in that growth for having worked with all constituencies to set the course, the focus, the financial priorities, and the expectations that our school community has embraced. Absolutely indisputably, I KNOW that no one within the system is more important to the growth of a child in school than the teacher who stands with him every day. I also know that a leadership team can make a considerable difference for that child through their actions and the continuous improvement that we expect of ourselves and every other member of our school community.

The authors at the Brown Center found the following:

1. School district superintendent is largely a
short-term job. The typical superintendent
has been in the job for three to four years.
2. Student achievement does not improve
with longevity of superintendent service
within their districts.
3. Hiring a new superintendent is not
associated with higher student
achievement.
4. Superintendents account for a small
fraction of a percent (0.3 percent) of
student differences in achievement. This
effect, while statistically significant, is orders
of magnitude smaller than that associated
with any other major component of the
education system, including: measured
and unmeasured student characteristics;
teachers; schools; and districts.
5. Individual superintendents who have an
exceptional impact on student achievement
cannot be reliably identified.

When I was first considering a superintendency, my mother said, “I don’t care where you go Kimberly, but pick someplace and stay there or you’ll never make the difference you want to make in the world.” She was right. Further, in this decade, on this day, in our school district, I know I’m making a difference in student achievement through my leadership, my relationships with building level administrators, teachers, students and parents. I’m making that difference not because I’m exceptional but because of the focus of my leadership. As superintendents, we have to include the central mission of our systems in our focus, goals and direct involvement in our instructional programs. Many of my colleagues are doing so every day, right here in Western New York.

I don’t dispute the author’s findings for the time period they studied. The traditional role of the superintendent is changing and no longer can the authors’ conclusion be considered  acceptable for our school systems:

Superintendents may well have impacts on factors
we have not addressed in our study, such as the
financial health of the district, parent and student
satisfaction, and how efficiently tax dollars are
spent. And to be certain, they occupy one of the
American school system’s most complex and
demanding positions. But our results make clear
that, in general, school district superintendents have
very little influence on student achievement in the
districts in which they serve. This is true in absolute
terms, with only a fraction of one percent of the
variance in student achievement accounted for by
differences among superintendents. It is also true in
relative terms, with teachers/classrooms, schools/
principals, and districts having an impact that is
orders of magnitude greater than that associated
with superintendents.

It remains our responsibility to fill all of the more traditional roles, like attending to the financial health and capital projects and bargaining agreements. It is also our most important responsibility to positively impact our instructional programs. Our public school systems are under attack from seemingly innumerable sources. Being a school leader means standing up and saying, “the quality of our education, our expectations for ourselves and our children, our ability to make a difference in the lives of the children we serve–this is our focus, our mission, and our duty.”

Welcome Back to School Randolph Cardinals!

Tomorrow begins a new school year which offers each of us the incredible opportunity to make a fresh start. I’m looking forward to making 2014-15 my best school year yet. My goals include spending time visiting classrooms to learn more about what students are learning, reaching out to the community regarding everything from the common core standards to our capital project proposal, and improving my communication with all constituencies within our school community. I also want to exercise at least 3-5 times per week, eat less and to be kinder to everyone I come into contact with in AND outside of school.

I’m also super excited to spend time with our new grandson, Blake. Blake Lee BoothAfter all, I’ve got to help him to prepare for his 1st year of school at Randolph Central in Pre-K, September, 2018!

If there’s anything I can do to help you make this your best year ever, just say the word. Go Cards!

3 Weeks To Go!

On this Wednesday, August 13, 2014, we have just three short weeks until our students return to us! This summer has been even busier than most as we plan for a possible capital project to present to the voters sometime before Winter Break. A committee of teachers, students, administrators, parents and community members worked throughout the Spring to identify needs for consideration by our School Board. With a project architect and construction manager, we looked at needs within the buildings, educational needs, dreams (a pool!) and athletic fields, among other things.

And so my summer has been filled with the analysis of the financial end of the project including the scope of work possible within the confines of our public school district budget. We’ve focused on what do we need now, what can wait another five years, and what will make us a better facility for our students. And just like projects that we do at home, it comes down to what can we afford to spend.

Our job now is to present the work of the committee, fine tuned by the BOE facilities committee, to the full Board of Education. We will then return to the larger facility committee to review the items that “made the cut” and why. Explaining the project to our entire school community follows in preparation for a vote. We have worked hard to keep the taxpayers in mind balancing the maintenance of our facilities and grounds for the future with our needs to improve programs for students. That balance means that many of the items that would be nice to have but not necessary won’t advance at this time. Talk of building condition surveys, easements, shared services with the Town of Randolph (Hamlet?), reserve funds, gap elimination adjustments, general municipal laws, condemned bus lifts, inadequate parking and traffic flow have filled my work days.

And so I cannot wait for our students and teachers to return! On any given day I would much rather talk about curriculum, instruction, data analysis, scheduling, the needs of individual students and families, program enhancements, heck—just about anything to do with our students and teachers—than parking lots and boilers and room configurations. As with any job, there are parts to love and parts that are work–looking forward to the return of the parts I love most.  IMG_0414-2

Randolph Central Conducting Census

What a beautiful summer day here at Randolph Central!

We will be conducting a census this summer of all children from birth to 18 years of age who are living within the district. It is critical that we collect the most accurate data possible as it relates to our families. Beginning on July 22, 2014, census workers will be visiting households throughout the district for this reason. We are especially interested in learning about our District children ages Pre-Birth to school age. This will greatly assist us in our planning for the future, including any building projects we may consider, for determining our personnel needs, and for future purchases. This is a way for us to best plan our use of our revenues, including taxpayer monies through the tax levy each year. We have also asked our census workers to try to determine what kind of internet access our residents have in their homes so that we can plan for our technology purchases. There will be a few questions related to internet access. And finally, the census workers will also be able to help any parents who ask with forms like the free and reduced lunch federal form.

Thank you for your assistance and cooperation in completing this very important census. Anyone with questions or concerns can reach me, Superintendent Kimberly Moritz, at 358-7005.

Another Goodbye

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Could there be a better way to spend my life than in the presence of our students? If there is, it’s for someone besides me. We said goodbye to the class of 2014 on Friday night at graduation, a goodbye I’ve been saying since the Pine Valley Class of 1992 graduated. I gain so much from working with our students—a sense of hope and optimism and fun–and their joy keeps me young. And when I’m very lucky, they keep in touch in some way.  As with every class who’s gone before them, I wish each faith, hope and love.

 

BOE Election

Please remember our Budget vote is this coming Tuesday, May 20, 2014 from 2:00 pm to 8:00 pm. We are presenting for taxpayer approval a budget with a 0% increase to the tax levy for the sixth year in a row. We also have three candidates running for two BOE seats: Incumbent Louise Boutwell, Tom Deacon and Marshall Johnson.

Please note that we cannot legally, nor would we, endorse any candidate. Political signs are the property of the candidate or owner, not the school district. Political campaign signs placed between the sidewalk and the curb are under the rules of the town and are not on school property.

GED or RCS Diploma?

I’ve recently had some discussion regarding the differences in an RCS Diploma awarded at our Commencement Exercises at the end of June each year and a GED. Here are the diploma requirements for a NYS HS Diploma. Our goal for every Randolph student is to help him or her to become career or college ready by graduating from our school. This goal is also one by which we are measured in NYS accountability by graduation rate. A student who attends a GED program or obtains a GED after dropping out is the same in the view of these accountability measures–the student counts as a drop out from our school.

In a very limited manner, there are those students who through the Committee on Special Education are determined to have as part of their Individualized Education Plan the IEP Diploma. This diploma is explained on the NYSED website here.

We want every RCS child to be successful beyond their high school experience. We also hold graduation from RCS as a primary goal for every child. While a GED is a viable option for adults  and for those students who are beyond the maximum compulsory school attendance age, it is not part of the mission and purpose of a public school system. The express purpose of a graduation/commencement exercise is to recognize those students who have completed the diploma requirements for an RCS Diploma.

Excitement and Pride

If you will, allow me a bit of explanation about my excitement for today’s visit from Chancellor Emeritus Bennett and Deputy Commissioner Slentz. Consider your own career. We spend 8-12 hours per day on the work that we do. If you love your work and you’re passionate about it, you think, read and “talk” about it outside of the workplace. But who really wants to hear about your work in your circle outside of the workplace? Don’t get me wrong, my husband and friends–we do listen to each other. But even with one of my closest friends, a teacher in a neighboring district—we only talk “school” so much. For one thing, it leaves out the rest of the group and for another thing, we’re usually trying to relax, have fun, forget about work! The only person who wants to talk “school” more than I do is my daughter who is a 5th/6th grade teacher in another neighboring district.

Today, with our incredible teachers and students and administrators, I get to talk “school” with two leaders in education who care as much about what we’re doing here as I do. I cannot wait for their arrival so that I can watch them as they discover the work that our teachers and students are doing in our classrooms. So that I can brag a bit about our improvements and results; and tell them about our collegiality and support for one another. So they can see what a unique and wonderful community we have here in Randolph.

And the best part? Everyone’s got their game faces on! The buildings and grounds crew have been spit shining this place like there’s a wedding this afternoon; many of our students are dressed up because they’ve heard we have some State Ed “big wigs” coming today. And our teachers are ready to go, just like every other day. It’s also mid-May and a Friday. . . our seniors have agreed to NO senior pranks or shenanigans today, of all days. So no one will be releasing the pigs on the first floor that the Class of 2014 has been teasing me about all year. Thank goodness for that! And a huge thank you to every member of our school system who’s helped us prepare to show how it’s done here.

NYS Leaders Visiting Randolph Central

On Friday, May 9, 2014, we were honored to host a visit to our classrooms from NYS Chancellor Emeritus Robert M. Bennett and Deputy Commissioner Ken Slentz. I first heard Regent Bennett speak many years ago and found him to be a strong advocate for the children of our state, having been instrumental in establishing family resource centers in schools including Frontier where I began my administrative career. In my opinion, there are no finer individuals working for the children of NYS than Mr. Bennett.

Ken Slentz has been a straight talking, fearless leader in our state’s journey to raise expectations for all educators and children. I have found him to be credible, direct and right on the money every time I’ve heard him speak. I am grateful for the bold moves he and Commissioner King have made, however messy they have been in implementation, to move public education forward.

Here’s what I know the work of both Chancellor Emeritus Bennett and Deputy Commissioner Slentz has resulted in at Randolph Central:

The children of Randolph Central School are receiving a more coherent and rigorous education than they ever have before in our schools. The transition and changes teachers have made with curriculum to align to the common core standards have been fast and furious and an incredible amount of work for our teachers, administrators and children. Parents have struggled at times with the new ways in which we’re teaching math. And those changes are resulting in greater understanding of mathematical concepts that will strengthen all students when learning math in high school. Why? Because students are better understanding what the numbers and equations represent, they’re not just memorizing math facts as we did when we were kids (and for students who aren’t good at memorizing? they’re getting it now). Students aren’t just randomly throwing down opinions and sentences when writing; they understand how to back up their statements. We get better at all of this with every passing day. And our student achievement on NYS assessments has risen–which means our kids are meeting greater success at each grade level and that’s just going to keep building on itself.

Any change of this magnitude is going to have some bumps and ripples. But I keep coming back to all of those conversations I’ve had over 25 years of working in public schools with our high school seniors and graduates. Ninety percent of them tell me that they really didn’t have to work all that hard in school. Too many children are failing when they get to college because they can’t handle the work–they aren’t used to it and they aren’t disciplined enough to do it. I want to be proud of the education children receive here at RCS, I want to know that we’ve pushed and challenged and supported every student.

I know parents worry about grades and that we all want our children to do well. But I don’t want a random curriculum that each teacher has to develop for herself based on ill conceived and convoluted NYS standards as we’ve had in the past. I want our brightest kids to be challenged MORE than I want them to be on honor roll.  I want to expect more of myself and of everyone in our system because frankly, I believe that’s how we improve as a community, a state, and a country.

BOE Election Nominating Extension

Update, Monday, May 5, 2014: BOE Candidate Marshall Johnson has declared to District Clerk Maureen Pitts that he has decided to remain with his current employer and to stay in the Randolph Central School District. Therefore he continues his race for a Randolph BOE seat and the names on the voting ballot will be as they were declared by the District Clerk in the district’s budget newsletter and in the Randolph Register: Marshall Johnson, Tom Deacon, and Incumbent BOE member Louise Boutwell. The election is for two BOE seats. We appreciate everyone’s interest in our school district! Thank you.

Please note, Friday, May 2, 2014: The following post may have been premature. Mr. Johnson talked with me Thursday, May 1 and gave me his statement of intent to withdraw but he did not follow through with an official withdrawal from the election with the District Clerk. The district clerk, Maureen Pitts, is the only person to whom candidates can declare their candidacy or withdraw candidacy. On Monday, May 5, we will have a declaration from Mr. Johnson regarding his intent to run. I apologize for any confusion. I contacted the school attorney and acted quickly to try to maximize the opportunity residents would have to declare an intent to run in this election. Unexpectedly, Mr. Johnson has not officially withdrawn and therefore the nominating period may not be extended. I’m grateful that as Marshall continues to make the best decisions for  his family, that he is also considering the implications of his professional decisions on the BOE election.  We very much appreciate everyone who runs for the BOE and their willingness to volunteer. More to follow on Monday, May 5, 2014.

We have two seats up for reelection on May 20. We had three candidates running, Marshall Johnson, Tom Deacon and Incumbent Louise Boutwell. Yesterday Marshall Johnson withdrew from the race. Because Board of Education elections are governed by school law, I researched the procedures in this situation and following is what I learned:

School LawNow I had to actually read that a couple of times to fully understand the wording. In short, the candidate did withdraw his petition on May 1, which is later than 15 days before April 21 which was the last day to file. So May 1 is later than April 6, follow? If you think about it, if it’s before April 6 that someone withdraws then it’s less relevant, residents still have two weeks in which to submit a nominating petition. Following through with this citation, we are required to extend the nominating deadline by as much as 15 days BUT no later than 5:00 pm on the seventh day before the election on May 20, which will be May 13.

Therefore we are now accepting nominating petitions until 5:00 pm on Tuesday, May 13. As before this extension, nominating petitions may be picked up from Maureen Pitts, District Clerk, who can be reached at 358-7005 between 7:30 am and 3:30 pm. They must be submitted to her, with at least 25 signatures, by 5:00 pm on Tuesday May 13.

Should we receive additional petitions, Mrs. Pitts will draw for the order on the ballot at 10:00 am on Wednesday, May 14.