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.

Dear New Teachers, An Open Letter on Behalf of Our Families

Welcome to Springville-Griffith Institute CSD! We have high hopes for you as you begin your first year with us. Here’s what our families and I most hope for from every SGI teacher.

  1. Love and respect our children. Show them that you love and respect them. You’ll get what you give here.
  2. Expect the best of every child. Give your best. Every day.
  3. If you do #1 and #2, you will build relationships with students and their families. The relationships that I built with students in the decade I taught at Pine Valley from 1990-2000 are some of the most important in my life today. It’s true that children may not remember what you teach them but they’ll always remember how you treated them. My success with students rested on one thing and one thing only–I wasn’t afraid to show them that I loved them and expected the best of them. Every day.
  4. Teaching isn’t about standing in the front of the room and being the “expert” any longer. Maybe it never was. It’s about nurturing and challenging and supporting and guiding the students in your care every day. It’s about engaging, interesting and difficult lessons–lessons that lead to wanting to learn more and elicit questions from students. Student questions that you take the time to stop and explore. 
  5. Show up every day. Our substitutes are good but they’re not YOU. Our students need YOU. Your days aren’t a magical gift or something you’re entitled to use–they’re there for when you NEED them because you’re actually really sick or you have personal business that’s important and unable to be attended to outside of the school day.

Here’s what we most hope you won’t be at SGI.

  1. A narcissist. Don’t make every day all about YOU. It’s not about what you most love or what you did on the weekend or what you’re into outside of school. It’s okay to share pieces of yourself, but make the time students are with you about them. Learn what your students are interested in and make connections between their passions and those things you need for them to learn.
  2. A teacher who tightly controls every minute of the school day or class period. Giving students a voice and choice isn’t about playing dodge ball all day because the kids like to play dodgeball. Paying attention to student interests, giving students a voice in the classroom–that’s about making connections so that your students gain MORE from your lessons. 
  3. A screamer. There is NEVER a time when berating, belittling, insulting or using profanity with students is effective or acceptable. NEVER. Get out of the profession if that’s who you are.
  4. Apathetic. Or lazy. Don’t be the guy who hands out problems or worksheets and then sits at your desk doing something else every day. Don’t be the teacher who tells students “figure it out on your own, we’re supposed to challenge you”. Harder worksheets are the NOT the challenge- choice– problem solving– or collaboration that our students are looking for in our schools. 
  5. Isolated. We need each other. I’m still learning in this, my 29th year in public education. Take classes, read books, collaborate with your colleagues. Take risks. Ask questions. Try out lessons that might fail. Listen to your students. We don’t expect you to know everything. The people who think they know everything are the dumbest people I know.

This is the most rewarding profession in existence when you do it right. It’s all up to you. And the beauty of two months off in the summer? Every September you get to make a fresh start and be THE TEACHER who rocks it, rather than THAT TEACHER who no one ever wants to have. Last, watch this video we made in which our students—even the youngest one–tell us what they love and what they never want again in school. Our students have value, they are bright and articulate and they enter full of wonder and curiosity that we must nurture and expand. Be that teacher for your students this year. We’re counting on you.

With much love and hope,

All of our SGI Families and Kimberly Moritz, Superintendent

The Busy Months of Summer

Today is our last day for our Class of 2018 seniors, graduation is coming up on June 23 and the weather is too beautiful for anyone to be inside after one of our long Buffalo winters. Within these last two week we have end of the year award ceremonies, moving up days, staff recognition, kindergarten celebrations, Prom, and both final and Regents exams.

Believe it or not, as the current school year winds down to a close, school administrators are gearing up for the new school year. Counselors work hard with administrators to develop schedules that optimize time for learning. Secretaries are busy with purchase orders to be sure that everything is ordered and delivered on time for the start of the 2018-19 school year. Most important of all is our hiring process in which we give due diligence to interviewing and selecting the very best new teachers and employees to work with our students.

As an administrative team, we focus on our learning in July and August through our administrative planning meetings, jumping back into the change.school Modern Learners network, and a book study. I can’t wait to read and discuss Talking from 9 to 5, Women and Men at Work by Deborah Tannen with our Admin Team!

We have a million and one things happening now and through the summer with the capital projects, including about half of our new parking lots and sidewalks with the other half being completed next summer. Hopefully the Cazenovia Creek emergency project at Colden Elementary will be able to move forward also. Please have patience as we work to improve SGI!

I cannot wait for everyone to see our new track, fencing, Press Box, and entranceway to the field upon our return for the 2018-19 school year! The new locker room at SHS is remarkable, the Natatorium is receiving much needed upgrades, and the district office move to the middle school will take place in early September. Look to see a new parent drop off in a separate zone from the buses at SMS next year too!

We’re very grateful to our SGI taxpayers for approving our current capital project and our collaboration with Alfred State and Erie 2 BOCES for the P-TECH center that will open in September, 2020 with classes conducted at SHS over the next two years. Thank you for your support! It feels like it takes forever to go from a public vote on a project through approval from the NYS Education Department through bidding and then construction. At long last, we’ll see progress!

Have a wonderful summer everyone! We’re here if you need us.

Kimberly Moritz, Superintendent of Schools, Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District

District Office Moving to SMS

Under our current capital project, as I’ve written here previously, we had favorable bids to the extent that we are able to include all of our alternates in the work being conducted now. Alternates are those things that we would have liked to do but for which we didn’t believe the current capital project budget would allow. Alternates have to be within the scope of the voter approved capital project and they are also require SED approval.  There were three prioritized lists, including things like better lights in all of our parking lots and on the lowest priority was moving the district offices into the Springville Middle School. We wanted to move but put every other need first because it was the right thing to do. Luckily, we were able to accept all alternates under our current capital project.

Why are we moving the district offices into a school building? Two main reasons.

1. Financially, it’s a smart move. Any work that we do on our current district office receives zero state aid back because it’s not a student occupied space. That roof we had to replace last summer? Local taxpayer cost because there’s no state aid on the district office building.

If the P-TECH project passes tomorrow, this building becomes a student occupied space and will receive state aid as our other school buildings do, at 79.8% of the aidable work. That’s a reduction in our costs of maintaining our buildings to our SGI taxpayers.

Also, the lease agreement with BOCES for the local share of the capital project to build the P-TECH? That covers the FULL term of our payback of local share. I’ve heard a couple of people suggest that it’s only for five years—that’s NOT true. We have a signed lease agreement, a legal document vetted by Hodgson Russ, one of our school attorneys, that holds BOCES to the full amount of the local share for the project. What’s that mean? We aren’t going to be left “holding the bag” as some have worried.

2. Why would we want the business office and superintendent separated from the students and personnel who we’re here to support? I’ve worked in five districts over my 29 year career. All but one of them had the district offices within a school building. We were an integral part of the daily operations and support of students and staff. In a separate building as we are now, it’s easier to get a separatist, ivory tower mentality. One of the things I heard over and over again when I started here was a desire from employees, the BOE and families for us to change from a “top/down hierarchical” system to a more inclusive one.  We’re a leadership team–all of us helping one another–there’s no reason to separate two of us.  And the concern that the visitors coming to the district office may be unsafe has absolutely not been my experience in ten years of leading as a school superintendent. 

The district office staff includes me, the district clerk/my secretary, a school business administrator and her four staff members–that’s seven people to accommodate in the new district office space at SMS. It’s under renovation now and I’ve been in there. There is plenty of space for us AND we’ll be there to directly support our families, students and staff.

Originally we studied a move to SES but ultimately decided against it because it meant taking three of the most desirable classrooms in that building. At SMS, we displaced one teacher. Our family and consumer science teacher was moved to another space. No longer does SED require middle school students to take home and careers. We will begin to offer it as an elective, along with coding and technology classes, at some point in the future. There is less focus on sewing, cooking and child care and more focus on careers, future planning and student interest.

We have a well thought out plan for the district office that changes the “way it’s always been” in a way that makes us more approachable, accessible and effective. It brings us closer to our students and transforms a building which is a financial burden to the local taxpayer into a student occupied space that receives state aid for allowable work.

If you have any questions about the proposed P-TECH project or any other decision here at SGI, please know that I’m here to talk. I’ll answer any questions you have and consider your ideas. Please stop by 307 Newman St, call me at 592-3230 or email me at kmoritz@springvillegi.org. Thank you.

SGI P-TECH Vote as Proposition #3 with the Budget Vote

At our BOE meeting on Tuesday, May 1, we had our public presentation of Proposition #1,  the BOE adopted budget for 2018-19, Proposition #2, the purchase of buses, and Prop #3 for a capital project to transform the District Office into the Alfred State, Erie 2 BOCES, Springville P-TECH Academy. District residents recently received a newsletter detailing all three of these propositions and I’ve written about the project here.

When District Clerk Kathy Tucker was creating the newsletter, we grappled with how to include the architect’s drawings in the newsletter. I asked her to cut the drawings down so that residents could see the interior plan. What we lost was the view of how the planned project sits on the property.

You can see that the transformed building does not impact our proximity to Newman Street or disrupt our SES playground or basketball court. The existing building is shown here in green with the new addition in blue–and we show more of a “plot plan” as one district resident requested.

Please spread the word–I would be happy to come and meet with any group, formal or informal, to answer questions and further describe the project. I can be reached at 592-3230. 

P-TECH, a Different Pathway

We’ve been working on the district budget newsletter that includes information about Proposition #3, a capital project to transform the District Office building into a P-TECH center. P-TECH stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School. Our BOCES, Erie 2, in partnership with Alfred State, planned to open a center for the school districts in the northern end of our 27 school districts and we are delighted to partner with them.

The newsletter has a formal Q&A and lots of information about the details of the project. Following is a more informal Q&A to address some of the questions I’ve been hearing in our community. Please note that all of the answers below are only valid if the SGI community passes Proposition #3 on May 15, 2018.

Q1. Why do we need to build a new school building for this program, when we have so many empty classrooms in the high school? 

This is a full school–grades 9-12, plus 1-2 years for the Alfred State Associates degree. It’s not like the CTE programs we know well–students will receive their entire education in a projects based environment and neither SHS nor any of our other buildings have that kind of open space.

The program will open in SHS in September, 2018. But remember that will just be the first year, the 9th grade cohort. Right now that enrollment is at 21 students from all of our surrounding districts and they will need two-three classrooms at SHS with one office for their principal. In September, 2019, they will need four-six classrooms with one office. This affords us the time to transform the district office into the new P-TECH center through the capital project, planning to open the center in September, 2020.

There aren’t a lot of empty classrooms at SHS either. I suspect some teachers won’t be happy about any disruption to the spaces they call their own. I also know that a program that benefits students–some of these students  might not otherwise graduate or go to college at all–trumps that discomfort. And it’s only for one-two years. I shared a classroom, two teacher desks at the front of the room, for the entire ten years I was a teacher. I know our teachers will consider the greater good and be good sports for a year or two of inconvenience. I also know that SHS Principal Bialasik is working hard to minimize any disruption.

Q2. Will this take students away from our high school electives and lead to a reduction in teachers at SHS?

No. SGI is committing to send only 3-5 students per year to this program. This in fact will be a great way for our technology teachers to collaborate with teachers in a center that’s focused on electrical maintenance and computer information systems—a project based environment. The new center will be SGI owned, yet leased to Erie 2 BOCES at an annual rate that covers the local taxpayer share. This will be guaranteed in our long term lease agreement with Erie 2 BOCES.

That’s another piece to consider. When BOCES does a project that incurs leasing or capital costs, those costs are shared by the 27 component districts, of which SGI is one. IF this P-TECH center were built in another component district, we would still share in the cost through the capital portion of our BOCES budget. We share in the cost of the Dunkirk P-TECH center now, with zero students traveling to Dunkirk. If we share in the cost anyway, why wouldn’t we want to have the center right here on Newman Street?

Q3. How will students be selected?

The SMS staff, including counselors, principal, and technology teachers worked together to first visit the Dunkirk P-TECH center and second to talk with families of students who show an affinity for STEM and for whom they believe this pathway might be beneficial. We had an informational night for families of 8th grade students, with several families in attendance.

I’ve heard the P-TECH student described as someone who you know is smart, but doesn’t necessarily get great grades. Someone who loves project based work and a different way of looking at things. Often, this is a student who we might worry won’t otherwise graduate.  For the 2018-19 school year, we have four students enrolled with a fifth student considering it. We did not have to turn away any student with interest. Check out this video to better understand the program.

Q4. How will it be staffed? Will it be local people? 

As a BOCES program, the hiring decisions will be made by BOCES.  As always, including for SGI positions, the best candidates will be hired. If they’re also district residents, that’s a great bonus.

Q5. Who will determine if it can be used by the public? 

Just like all of our other district facilities, there’s a facilities use request form that needs to be completed and we do our best to accommodate those requests. As with every other aspect of this P-TECH project, this is a partnership with Erie 2 BOCES and Alfred State. Will we open up the electrical labs to anyone who wants to fill out a facilities use form? Unlikely given the equipment within but then we don’t sign out our Technology labs at SMS or SHS to anyone who fills out a request either.

We’ve opened up our facilities significantly since my arrival–to our staff and our community. In keeping with that idea, we will certainly consider and accommodate any requests that make sense.

Please know that the gym/cafeteria spaces planned in the project are NOT full size, they are multi-purpose spaces used for the full education of the students within the program. As with any project, we had to scale it so that the local share/portion being paid in the lease with BOCES was affordable and the state aid on the project maximized. These are likely spaces we will be able to open up to the community, unlike the electrical labs.

Q6. A community resident spoke at a BOE meeting and asked if “this is more of the rich get richer”.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. This program helps some of our neediest families.

Initially I had doubts about sending students to P-TECH. I thought, “why should we pay for a student to attend a program like this?” Then I learned that the cost for a P-TECH student is actually less than the cost we pay to educate an SGI student AND we will receive BOCES aid back on the tuition. Our state and federal taxes also subsidize countless college students every year.

Every student at SGI is our responsibility. Some need a different path to success. I’m proud to be able to offer that pathway right here on Newman Street, if the SGI taxpayers pass the Proposition #3, capital project on May 15, 2018.

Please know that you can always reach me at 592-3230 or via email at kmoritz@springvillegi.org. Or stop by our offices at 307 Newman Street! I’m also pleased to accept any invitations to speak at a community event.