Mission, Personal and Schools

When I went to school in the seventies and eighties, I doubt that my parents had any big ideas about what my education should be about–instead, they thought a lot about what I should be about and more specifically, how I should behave and what grades I should get. Their expectation was that I graduate from high school with at least B’s in everything and then become a secretary like my mom.

When our own two kids went to school in the nineties and 2000’s, our expectation was that our kids get A’s, that they work hard and behave well, that they question and advocate for themselves. They were expected to graduate from high school, then college, and then become whatever they wanted while earning a good living.

When our grandson goes to school, I wonder what everyone’s expectations will be? What will the school district’s mission be when he can google so much information that I learned from a textbook or a teacher and then promptly forgot? When he can then access all of that information in a heartbeat and therefore doesn’t really need to memorize it, what will the mission of his schools be? 

Like my education and that of our own children, I will expect that he learn to read and write well. I want him to know how to construct a sentence that’s clear and grammatically correct. Why? Because I don’t want him to sound like an idiot when he’s trying to communicate. His ability to communicate well, both face to face and in writing, will likely be one of his most important assets, no matter what he chooses to do. I want him to understand the importance of physical fitness and how to be healthy, both physically and emotionally. I want him to understand the physical world around him and to know history so that he can understand whatever political climate he’s living within. I want him to have strong mathematical skills so that he’s able to problem solve and figure out his own taxes, bills, plans for a house, interest rates. Why? Because I don’t want him to sound like an idiot when he’s managing the numbers of his life.

Most of all, I want him to be able to work well with others and to develop and maintain strong relationships. I want him to advocate for himself and for others, to protect himself and his family, to earn enough of an income to have those things he wants and needs in life. I want him to make thoughtful decisions based on thorough research and analysis. I want him to be able to figure things out, to think, learn and love.

I know that much of that will be taught at our family’s dining room tables. In our living rooms he’ll learn how to look a person in the eye and shake his hand firmly, how to listen with respect and to treat someone. He’ll learn how to protect himself and his family from his mom, dad, grandfather and uncle.

As I think about his future in public education, I know we will meet many of those expectations. I also know we need to step up our game and move farther afield than ever before from the basic ways in which we’ve structured our systems. When we’re really honest with ourselves, and if we truly listen to our graduates, we know that our schools are not expecting enough of our students. It’s really not that hard to graduate from high school, is it?

How would I like it to be “harder” for our grandson? Think of the very best learning experiences you or your own kids have had. I think of the research I did for a business project on “Members Only” jackets while in high school and the school store we operated. I remember my English classes in which I received feedback that shaped my use of the English language and the accounting classes that made math real for me. For my own children, I don’t honestly remember anything that challenged or pushed their thinking or made them really wonder about anything. I wonder what they would say? My daughter would remember her English classes for the personal anthology and her public speaking class but I doubt our son would mention anything significant.

I want our grandson to remember countless projects in which he researches real world problems and develops deep learning abilities. I want him to be informed about world issues and know how to act to make a difference. I want him to have learned how to collaborate and to have developed strong relationships with his teachers and his peers.  

Our mission and direction as public school systems must shift and focus more on the development of these competencies than ever before in our history. We do so many things well but there are also many things that we can do better. 

At SGI, we’re about to get to all of this as discussion points. We’ll start with a leadership team retreat in August and move to figuring this out together, as a school community, building by building, next year. We’re good, but with all of us working together, I know we can be better. Every child entering our schools deserves our best.

Schools, Happily Fat and Sedentary?

I’m in week #3 of change.school, a space where I’m learning along with educators from across the globe about modern learning. Maybe it’s just where my thinking is on a personal level, but I find myself comparing the way schools are today, in general, with my fitness and health levels.

When I’m ignoring everything we know today about health and wellness in the world, I’m quite happily fat and sedentary.  I can eat fast food and ice cream, drink lots of soda, sit on my butt during my spare time, and ignore the scale. I’m not unhappy that way, honestly. But I KNOW there are other ways of doing things and that they’re better for me too.

When I’m paying attention and being the best version of myself, I’m getting up a bit earlier to do the treadmill and yoga. I’m eating more salads and avoiding fast food and ice cream. I’m planning more for healthy eating and activities. I’m avoiding soda and I’m moving more. I pay attention to the scale. I’m happy, happier even, because my clothes fit better and I’m feeling good about myself. My practices change and I’m better for it–I eliminate those things that aren’t needed in a healthier life and I add in those that help me to improve. It’s more work, but it’s worth it.

Without considering changing our schools, isn’t it the same as remaining complacent about our personal health and fitness? Are our schools happily fat and sedentary? Are they functioning as they did for over a century without considering everything that we know today about learning and the world? Are we continuing practices just because it’s the way we’ve always done things? Are our students learning in ways outside of our classrooms that are helping them to improve and to be the best version of themselves while we give them limited opportunities to do so in our schools?

At SGI, let’s ask these questions and work at getting fit as a school district. Let’s reconsider all of our practices to determine which will help us to be the very best version of a public school district that we can be–keeping all of our healthiest practices, eliminating the junk food and soda, and adding in new practices.

Let’s plan our learning for today’s students so that we’re preparing them for the top ten skills they’ll likely need to thrive as adults.

The BOE members and administrative team and I will begin this work this summer. I’m hoping that many of our school community members–students, teachers, school employees, families and local business people–will be interested in working with us during the 2017-18 school year to figure out where we’re going and what we want an SGI education to include. It’s good now but let’s work together to be as fit and healthy–as long lasting–as possible.

What do YOU think, who’s ready?

SGI–Website Redesign Coming End of June 2017

How many people want to be the same as everyone else? Do you want SGI to be exactly like every other public school district in Western New York? Or do you want us to distinguish ourselves, to highlight all of the amazing learning opportunities here in Springville? Shouldn’t we show how our kids excel in FFA and lead as safety patrol officers in our elementary schools or musicals and take on community service projects at every opportunity? I say, YES! Let’s showcase all of the ways in which SGI is special and let’s begin by doing it on our school website.  Look for the changes to hit sometime next week, likely 6/26 or 6/27.

Our strong, clear message to our community is that we’re aiming to ensure that an SGI public education is the very best choice for our families. Our new website design will help us to communicate that message and to continue to be a place where our families can find important information.

What’s different? You’ll find that navigating to the content you need is easier. Calendar, directions, and contact information are clear and easy to find from multiple locations. Links to our social media sites and all the news you want about our SGI students will be front and center. It’ll read well on your mobile device and engage our community beautifully.

Bottom line? Our new website gives you the content you need, provides a place where we can highlight who we are as a district and does so in a stunningly cool way that helps us, and our students, stand out from all the rest.

Many thanks to Webmaster Ben Higgins and DFS Business Solutions who worked tirelessly to make this transition happen and to take the vision and make it a reality (and for indulging my 999 questions and comments). I can’t wait to see what they continue to do with the site!

 

Learning Out Loud

I’m engaged in a learning opportunity for the next 8 weeks at change.school with Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon. We’ve only been through weeks zero and one and yet I’m already inspired by the engagement with the larger community of learners and excited about the possibilities ahead.

I’ve never been a leader who believes in maintaining the status quo. My job is to evaluate all aspects of the organization and identify areas in which we can improve. That desire to make a significant difference is what influenced my thinking when I made the move from an 8 year superintendency in a district I loved to a new role as the superintendent here in Springville. I wanted the challenge of working to improve a school district that frankly has suffered somewhat over the past decade.

Now that we’re through the initial getting to know each other time, I’m planning to start writing here about my learning experiences at change.school–to learn out loud. If I write about something I’m thinking or struggling with or excited about and it strikes you or you want to share your thinking back, please do. You can comment here or call me, email or stop in. I’d love to hear what you think as I work to develop a playbook moving forward.

I believe we’re in a very special time here in Springville, at a “tipping point” in public education as described in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. We can’t be complacent about the way school’s always been–no matter how much some of us may love the way it’s always been–we need to work hard to make public education the best choice.

Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District is the perfect public school district where we can transform public education. I can see it. This BOE and this administrative team and this faculty and staff together with our incredible students and families—we can change our school so that we’re realizing today’s goals for learning for today’s students.

Now, let’s spend some time figuring out where we’re going and what we want a Springville-Griffith education to be, together I’m betting on US, that we can do it better than it’s been done for over one hundred years. We’ll keep what’s wonderful and add in what makes more sense.

And don’t worry–I won’t say, “hey I had this great learning experience and now this is what I’m telling everyone to do next”. Instead I’m working on a playbook–a plan or set of strategies for moving forward to determine together where we’re going and who we want to be. 

Teacher Appreciation Week at Springville-Griffith Institute CSD

Teacher appreciation week is a great time to thank your own or your child’s teacher. There will be lots of ways in which families and administrators reach out to recognize our incredible teachers this week. Thank you for taking an extra few minutes to think of a way in which you can recognize a teacher who’s made a difference in your own or your child’s life.

I, too, would like to thank and recognize the teachers, counselors, social workers, school psychologists, therapists, and teaching assistants of our school district–you all make up our “teaching staff”. In the fifteen months since I started at SGI, I have had the opportunity to visit with many of our teachers at grade level or department meetings, in one on one meetings scheduled by a teacher to talk about a particular problem or goal, at events or in a classroom visit. And believe it or not, we still have teachers who I’ve not had the opportunity to sit and talk with, teachers who I don’t know.  I’m working on this and would love it if more of you scheduled meetings with me or invited me to visit your classroom! It’s nice outside again, so walking meetings are also available.

What have I found to be unique and special about our SGI teachers as a group? They are one of the most optimistic and hopeful groups of educators I’ve ever known. We’ve had almost a complete turn over of our Administrative team with a new principal in every building, a new director of special education, and a new school business administrator. Our assistant principal/athletic director is now in a different building. With all of this change, I see our teachers accepting our new leadership team and working hard to follow their direction.

We’re weathering a terrible tragedy this year and we’ve done it together, supporting one another. I’m grateful to everyone  who’s reached out to a colleague with a message of support, love and caring.

Through numerous leadership changes, and at times turmoil, our SGI teachers have continued to do all of the right things as they dedicate themselves to our students. They care deeply about our children, their programs and the progress of our district. They see the best in our students and in each other and I can’t think of a more valuable outlook than this one of optimistic hope. 

So I say THANK YOU to every Springville-Griffith Institute teacher. You are valued and appreciated for everything you do for our SGI students. I’m so very grateful that you’re here, doing this work with me.

Rejoining Students, Staff and Faculty

The district offices here at Springville are located in a separate building, one that I’ve affectionately referred to as “the shed” for the fourteen months of my time here. I’ve only once worked in a district with a separate district office and we saw those administrators as disconnected from the work that the rest of us were doing in the buildings with our students. They likely weren’t disconnected, instead were good, hard working people, but that was our perception of them.

Our central office staff are all here to serve the needs of the employees, students and families of SGI. Our BOE members and I have discussed the fact that central office is in a separate building and that we could better serve our families from within the school buildings. For this reason, the District Office will be moved to what is currently the wing in SES that we lease to BOCES. Both the superintendent’s and business administrator’s offices will be moved, likely in late 2017-18. This is an opportune time as within the capital project we are already abating and replacing all of the flooring. The reconfigured classrooms to office space will be relatively minimal and once we have finalized a plan with the architects, we will present the changes at a BOE meeting. This is within the scope of the project and I will not allow it to distract from other priorities; it will be bid as an alternate. We will construct a separate district office entrance at the north end of that hallway for the community  and we will have doors installed to close off the rest of the building from the DO wing if needed (near the Kindergarten hallway).

We are an administrative TEAM. I hope everyone else is starting to feel that as much as I do. Every day when I come to school, I try to do the right thing. Sitting in a separate office building from our students, faculty, staff, and building administrators simply does NOT feel like the right thing to me. I want to help and support our elementary principal as his backup and I want Mrs. Townsend, our principal for special programs supporting our middle school principal as her backup. Our principals are amazing, but I’ve done that job and some days you just need an extra pair of hands to help with the work. We already have four administrators in our high school, so it is only logical that we move the district office staff to Springville Elementary.

This move is about teamwork and all of us pitching in to support one another as we serve this community. If we have an “all hands on deck” approach to problem solving and managing our buildings, that includes Maureen Lee, Kathy Townsend and me. In order for us to be more available and approachable, we need to support in the buildings. Bottom line, I do not believe that the best leadership model is one in which we have a separate, “ivory tower”, central office leadership team.

What will become of the district office building? The credit union will continue to operate here. We’ll move our Family Support Center here, once our space is ready at SES. In that way our families can meet with our talented social workers in a more private space—the space they’re in now is simply small and insufficient. Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Larry Strauss and Central Receiving will be here, as well as Campus Construction Management, already in place to manage our capital project through the next 3 years. Records Retention will be here too and we’re discussing the possibility of offering space for rent to the community.

I know that change is hard for lots of people. Sometimes change that’s hard is also well worth it and helps us to improve as a system.

 

Administrative Changes

Dear SGI Families:

As you may remember, we attempted to combine two administrative positions into one with Mrs. Kate Werner serving as SHS Assistant Principal and Director of Special Education. We knew from the beginning that this could be an unrealistic and untenable work load and so agreed to a three month trial period. At last night’s February 13 BOE meeting, the BOE approved the following changes.

In order to best serve the students and families of our district, we are planning to move Mrs. Werner to full time Director of Special Education on March 1, 2017. Her office will be located, as it is now, at the high school. The needs and options for our special needs children and families are often complex and varied. Our families and our faculty and staff within the Special Education department will benefit from Kate’s full time attention and dedication to our children.

As part of our administrative restructuring we have planned to eliminate the SMS assistant principal position for the 2017-18 school year. We are pleased to announce that Mr. Joe DeMartino will be moving to the position of SHS assistant principal and athletic director on March 1, 2017. Mr. DeMartino is delighted for the opportunity to work with Mr. James Bialasik in our high school and to continue to lead our entire athletic department, including our coaches. We’ve already had good conversation about revitalizing our sports programs with a vision for SGI athletics and brainstorming about how to better support and celebrate our coaches and athletes. I look forward to seeing what James and Joe can accomplish together!

Please know that our entire administrative team is dedicated to working hard to serve the families of our district, to support our teachers and employees, and to lead with transparency, honesty and ethics. I feel personally fortunate to work with this incredible team of leaders. I look forward to many years with this team and all of you. Thank you.

Facebook, Problem Solving Venue?

Recently, one of our SGI parents posted a question to the “Be Neighborly Springville” Facebook page. This question is about the location of the parent pickup/drop off line for Springville Middle School and the location of parent parking for Springville Elementary School.  Another parent tagged me in a comment asking for me to elaborate.

As a school superintendent, I use social media daily. I would guess I communicate as much as or more than most of my colleagues via this blog and Twitter. These blog posts then go to the SGI webpage and to our SGI Facebook and Twitter feeds too.

However, I didn’t respond to this Facebook thread. Why? Because as much as I like Facebook (to keep in touch with family, former students and colleagues), it felt like a slippery slope to respond to a question that also offered an opinion and then was followed by the opinions of 6-7 other residents. I worry that answering the question on Facebook would lead to our families using that more often to voice an opinion/ask a question AND that they would then expect an answer from me. I already check my voicemail and email incessantly so that I can be responsive, am I also going to check Facebook for questions? 

This was an innocuous discussion and the opinions offered were largely spot on. But I’m not sure that Facebook is the place where I should be problem solving and engaging in a conversation with our parents. Too much can be misunderstood. I think there’s often good reason to pick up the phone and call me or the principal or the teacher. Facebook is the place where we used to go to see pictures of everyone’s kids and to stay in touch. As a professional, that’s all it’s ever going to be for me.

It’s not the place for us to communicate clearly, for me to really listen and understand either the question or the concern. It’s not the place for our families to go when they need answers. Anyone can contact me via email at kmoritz@springvillegi.org OR via phone at 716-592-3230. I’m hyper connected to both of those and I’m committed to responding to people in a timely manner.  Nothing replaces a good old fashioned face to face conversation if our goal is to listen to understand rather than to listen to respond.

Back to that question that generated about 17-18 comments on Facebook.

so we can’t park in the back circle at SES, why is it ok to park in the circle at the middle school? it makes no sense

We have the parent drop off/pick up line for SMS in the District office parking lot to improve safety for our student bus drop off/pick up at SMS. Parents stay in their vehicles and our SMS students should be old enough to safely walk to and from their parents’ cars. I also see parents driving through the District Office lot in the morning at the back of SES for drop off. I’m actually watching the line of cars drive by my window right now!

But for parents parking for pick up/drop off at SES, we can’t have cars parked in this back lot other than in the parking spots. The district office is also our central supply area. We have deliveries here throughout the day, our food supply trucks come through this lot to deliver at the back of the middle school, and cars have to be able to get in and out of parking spots. The fire lane question is a good one–honestly, we shouldn’t have cars parked along the building side walks in what we consider the “fire lane” at any of our school buildings. I will ask our SRO, Ashley Vogl, to review all of our procedures.

Since my source of information for the conversation was a FB post, if I’ve misunderstood and got the question wrong–please CALL ME to talk about it. We’re always going to be better if we work to talk things through.

 

Director of Special Education Kate Werner

As many within our school community have already learned,  SHS Assistant Principal Kate Werner is our new Director of Special Education. While this was initially announced as an interim position, the SGI BOE did approve Kate Werner as our Director of Special Education at Monday night’s BOE meeting.

Mrs. Werner brings to the position a wealth of experience, strong relationships within our district, and great connections with our families. Kate will maintain her assistant principal position and will take on the additional duties of the special education department. She and SHS Principal James Bialasik have had the opportunity to discuss their roles and responsibilities and I’m grateful for their teamwork in determining how this combination of roles can work well for SGI.

Our special education staff and students are an invaluable part of our school family and I am delighted to have Kate Werner at the helm. Mrs. Werner has already met with her new staff in each of our buildings, sent a letter to our families who work with our special education department, and made connections within the Erie 2 BOCES for resources and support.

Our special education office, currently at the Springville Elementary School, is being relocated to the Springville High School over the holiday break. To reach Mrs. Werner, please either email her at kwerner@springvillegi.org or call her at 592-3256.

 

To Call A Snow Day or Not to Call A Snow Day?

That was the question this morning. While I realize it’s hugely disappointing to our students when I do NOT call a snow day, it’s for good reason. Once we know that the roads are safe for our buses, I’m relieved. We want our students here in school! For as much time as we can possibly have them here. 

There’s a great system in place at Springville. We talk with the highway supervisors–ALL of them–early in the morning to hear how the roads are in this big 160+ square mile district. Once our transportation supervisor, Ann Rugg, hears the “all clear” from each of them, we talk about the forecast and make the decision to stay open or to close.

While I appreciate that the local news stations have a job to do in reporting what’s happening, I’m going to go with the advice of our highway supervisors and Ann Rugg before I consider what a reporter driving around in her car is observing. There’s a whole lot of hype on the news about the weather and it’s important that I have solid, up to date information from our credible sources throughout the school district.

It’s actually not an easy call. This is my ninth school year as a school superintendent and I still worry about the decision. Making the right call about something as unpredictable as our WNY weather and the safety of our roads for our buses is important. I definitely don’t want to make the mistake of keeping school open and risking the safety of our students and bus drivers. But I don’t want to cancel needlessly either because that causes our working parents to scramble for daycare and local businesses to struggle with staffing levels if their employees have to call in.

Back to our students, I know that my announcement of SNOW DAY brings joy to your hearts. Just remember we love our students and we want you to be here with us! And I’m guessing we’ll have a few times this year when you can feel the joy. 🙂