Common Core Advocate?

As a school district leader who writes and speaks about our school improvement efforts, I’ve been labeled a “Common Core” advocate. I’m not sure what that means to the people who use the phrase. Common Core may be the most misused and misunderstood term of our generation. If an advocate is one who speaks and writes in support or defense of a cause, then my cause is school improvement and I am an advocate of standards and systems that work.

First, it’s our responsibility to lead so that we have schools with systems in place to ensure that ALL students are taught to the same high standards. That system can’t be one in which each teacher reads and interprets standards alone, plans a curriculum and lessons independently of every other teacher, and then modifies and adapts the curriculum based solely on her own hunches or feelings.

A school district that’s healthy, coherent and cohesive puts systems into place to ensure that all teachers and administrators work together to read and analyze standards, design curriculum across and between grade levels and modify and adapt curriculum based on data that is both anecdotal and performance and test assessed. The systems must include a cycle of analysis for continuous improvement. Our school district has seen dramatic gains in student learning and achievement for all students by working together in these ways.

Second, it is our responsibility to ensure that we have a school system in which every child receives the support he needs to learn. That support, individualized and differentiated, is meant for students at all levels from our most disadvantaged students to our most advanced.

We must create schools with systems in place in which all students are supported through adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction. After 26 years in public education, the past 15 as an administrator, I’m tired of talking about differentiation as if it’s an easy expectation for teachers to meet. We will never be able to truly challenge all students if do not embrace computer based solutions in a blended learning environment in which we use artificial intelligence (AI) learning solutions to supplement more traditional (and important) learning opportunities.

Third, school leadership must be first and foremost about instructional leadership. It’s the core of why we exist in the first place and we’ve left it last on our list of priorities for far too long as we’ve managed our buildings and districts.

Fourth, we need to support and believe in our children. They deserve our very best and our best hasn’t been good enough for all children. We must expect more of ourselves and show children that we expect the best of them. We must raise our expectations for all children.

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Of 431 districts in upstate New York, Randolph is ranked 20th on measures of poverty, and yet we have shown consistently for four years now that our children are capable of achieving so much more than ever before in our history as a district. Other districts have proven this before us. My most fervent belief is that we must show our children that we believe in them, in their intellect and ability, their strength and potential, especially when they don’t believe in themselves.  We must show them that they can be more than their current circumstances.

I know there are school districts where children have done well for generations. That’s not true for all school districts and all children. Children are not inherently bad or good, smart or stupid. They often are advantaged or disadvantaged. Public education can be the game changer for every child. It was for me. I am an advocate for every child’s ability to learn and grow and become more than perhaps any one expects. I am that child, grown and educated, to have become more than anyone would have expected. I’m here to make it happen for every child in our system.

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Am I a Common Core advocate? I suppose I am. Aligning our curriculum to rigorous, shared learning standards, working together and raising our expectations for every member of our school community have resulted in significant learning gains for our children. That’s a goal for which it’s worth advocating.

Support for Higher Standards HERE, in Randolph

Yesterday I met with an organization called HANY (High Achievement New York) and the Buffalo News Editorial Board. They wrote about our meeting in today’s Buffalo News. 

Do you want to know why the common core learning standards have been a good thing? Because in aligning our teaching and learning to the more rigorous standards, our students are learning more, deeper, earlier and better. That’s it. For every student who graduates I want to know that we’ve filled him or her up with as much knowledge and skill as possible and then that we’ve “tamped” it down and filled him up again. I want what we do with our students in our instructional programs to really matter, to lead them to success in later life. It’s the reason why I’m a school superintendent–to bring focus to our instructional program and increase our expectations for everyone, first of all ourselves. My number one responsibility is to provide the highest quality education possible to all of our children.

I’m tired of the lunatics who continue to bash and personally berate anyone who dares to speak up and say, “hey, this is actually working for us.” You know why you don’t hear more success stories? Because 99% of educators are good decent people who are in this work to do their very best for the children they serve and they have no desire to put themselves out there to be attacked, maligned and belittled.  And for every lunatic who tears apart our story or attempts to tear down who we are in Randolph or me personally—go ahead, because you don’t know us, haven’t been here and cannot speak to our story. You don’t know the challenges of our children nor do you have the authority to question their accomplishments, race or background. I will not be bullied into keeping quiet about our work and our school success.

I continue to write and talk about the positive side of all of the changes from APPR and the implementation of the common core standards because it’s true that we needed to do better. My 25 years of working in public education in WNY lead me to say: we haven’t expected enough of most of our students; for students without significant external challenges or learning difficulties, it just hasn’t been all that hard to get a diploma; our brightest kids haven’t had to work to their full capacity; teachers have worked largely in isolation leading to a gazillion different pathways through our schools; administrators haven’t attended enough to the main reason we exist–our curricular and instructional programs.

We’ve had NYS learning standards for the entirety of my career (since 1990) and we’ve been testing students to check their attainment of the content in those standards almost as long, longer if you consider the Regents exams. I don’t care one whit what we call the “new” standards–I care about what alignment to clear, rigorous standards results in for our RCS students.

What we’re doing now is working. Our teachers, students and parents have worked incredibly hard to ensure that a Randolph Central education means something. We have an aligned, coherent curriculum in our elementary and middle school that challenges all of our students, not just our most learning challenged students. We’re making better informed instructional decisions on teams about what we teach and we’re using computer based adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction to differentiate for all of our students. We have systems in place that are working and our students are benefiting.

As for the NYS testing? As Buffalo Business First rolls out the school rankings this week, here’s ONE measure of proof that our students are achieving more: Gail N. Chapman Elementary is ranked 59 out of 262 elementary schools. That’s up from last year’s 104 and from 174 in 2013.

We’re here to keep children safe, to care for and love our children, to manage our responsibility to our school community and our taxpayers in a fiscally responsible manner. And we’re here to bring it, each and every day, with the best instructional program we can muster. Thank you to every family who entrusts your precious child into our care!

 

Parents & Opting Children Out of Public Education

With the “opt out” of NYS 3-8 testing that has been discussed in the media, some parents may begin to think that it’s possible to “opt out” of other testing, curriculum or programs that they dislike in our public schools. I’d like to address the question “Do parents have the right to direct the public schools on what their children will and will not be taught, on what tests they will and will not be given, and on what books they read?”

While parents have the right to direct the education and upbringing of their children, it does NOT mean they have the right to dictate what the public school district teaches (our curriculum) or what programs and materials we use for instruction  (ex. iReady).  According to NYS Education law and Commissioner’s regulations, as a public school district we are required to follow the state mandated learning standards.  New York State adopted the national P-12 Common Core standards, with some additions. These learning standards apply to all public elementary and secondary school students.

The NYS learning standards also apply to students with disabilities and those students who are at a risk of not achieving the learning standards must be provided and must participate in academic intervention services. The New York State Education Department has provided resources for schools and parents on the website http://www.engageny.org/.  Don’t believe everything you read on websites from across the country or on Facebook, please cross reference your information with the NYS education laws and regulations.

Parents do not have a right to tell the school what their children will and will not be taught and as public school administrators and teachers we cannot follow parent directives. We are required to follow the directives of the NYS Department of Education. When parents advise their children to refuse all testing or to opt out of parts of the curriculum, it puts the child in a difficult position. Students are actually insubordinate if they refuse to participate in all testing or in our use of the instructional program iReady/Ready which we use in our Math and ELA programs, just as is the case with students who refuse to participate in physical education class or any other part of our academic programs.

Please know that we very much want to work with you in the education of your children.  As a public school district, we have more rules and regulations that we are required to follow than you can imagine—but we do want to hear from you, to talk with you about your concerns, to be flexible in the areas in which we can be. If you have any questions about the many changes that we’ve had in the past few years in education, or about anything, please contact your building administrator or me at any time.

Wait, We DO Get NYS 3-8 Assessment Data

In the media, on blogs and twitter, I continue to read that one of the main arguments against the NYS 3-8 assessments is that they are totally secret– that there’s no information available to our teachers about how their students did so how does it inform their instruction– that we can’t see the test questions.

These statements are simply not true. We had our results on August 14, 2014. We shared them with our teachers last summer. They used the results, along with what they knew from our iReady adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction, to plan for the 14-15 school year.

Let me say it again. We do know how our students did on the test questions as they are tied to the standards. We have information about how our RCS students did on the test, how they did as compared to other students across the state by question,  and we know what standard each question was tied to so we don’t need to see and analyze the actual test questions. Isn’t it better to focus on the learning standards than to try to teach to the test?

We use this information to make instructional decisions about our curriculum for the following year.  We analyze which learning standards the majority of our students missed. Our curriculum coordinator and administrators analyze the results-but more importantly, our teachers analyze the results. As an example, last year our 7th grade students scored poorly on questions that were tied to ELA standards on poetry. That was certainly an easy fix, as our 7th grade ELA teacher looked at it and said, “well that makes sense since I never got to the module on poetry.”

Further, when teachers identify that a majority of students miss questions, they can often find them here. I would go so far as to suggest that NYSED posted the questions which were most frequently missed as I was talking with a curriculum coordinator in another district who found every single question that the majority of her students grades 3-8 missed.  Then she sat with her teachers and they unit planned for the year to ensure that each grade level made the right curricular decisions.

So why do so many people think we have no access to information about the results? Do other districts not know how to access the data through the (WNY)RIC? Is there not an administrator in every district to access this information and share it with teachers? We’re small and we have a curriculum coordinator, Jamie Berg,  who works with our CIO, Mike Frame, and our admin team to get this information out of the NYSED portal. . .we were able to analyze this at an admin retreat on August 14, 2014.

Why, then, do so many people continue to say that we don’t have access to information about how our students performed on the NYS math and ELA assessments? 

 

RCS Returns to Two Week Spring Break

At last night’s BOE meeting, BOE members voted unanimously to return to the two week spring break in the approved calendar for the 2015-16 school year.

There’s a long history in Western New York surrounding a split break with a week off in February and another week around Easter or two weeks around Easter. Districts have varied on their approach with a real effort on the part of the local BOCES leaders, for obvious reasons, to have all component school districts on the same calendar.

For many years Randolph maintained the two week break as we understood from our families that this was their strong preference. In the 2012-13 school year, we switched to the split break so that our students who attend BOCES programs would be on the same calendar with the rest of the schools in the Cattaraugus/Allegany BOCES.

After three years of aligning with the rest of the schools, we are returning to the two week break from March 14, 2016-March 25, 2016. Why? For me, the most compelling reasons have always been instructional. What’s best for kids when considering their learning and achievement? Is a split break better because students only miss one week at a time and therefore retain learning? Or does a split break mean there’s even more lost instruction because of the loss of quality engagement the days before two breaks instead of one?

When evaluating the change to a split break, I spoke with some of our teacher leaders and found that for instructional purposes, they strongly prefer the solid instructional block from the Winter Break around Christmas and the New Year to a two week Spring Break. They opined that breaking twice is less effective.

Next we considered the argument that we have many families who don’t go anywhere on the break anyway, because they can’t afford a trip or the time off from work. What we found, instead, is that our families largely drive if they do take a vacation and they can’t do so with only a one week trip. For the most part, our families can’t afford a trip over only one week because they can’t fly everyone somewhere. And many of our families continue to take two weeks during the Spring break, with the problem of missed school days for their children. Our daily attendance rate, which is usually around 95-98% was down to 79% before our break this March.

While realizing the impact it will have on our approximately 40 BOCES students who will have a different calendar for 8 school days, we have planned to transport students during the first week of the spring break if they will attend. And in February, when BOCES is on break and we are in full session, the CTE students will have half days here at RCS.

It’s important that we work well with our neighboring districts and our BOCES. It’s also important that we respond to the needs of our families in our community. The approved school calendar for 2015-16 will be posted on the District website.

 

Proposition #1 Student Parking Questions

Where will our RCS students park in our proposition #1, which includes a parking lot plan?

With our capital project vote two days away, I realize our students are concerned about this question. The simple answer is that our ‘Juniors’ lot remains exactly the same and there will still be parking where the ‘Seniors’ lot is now but it will likely be the ‘Employee’ lot. There will be significant additional parking at the tennis court lot,  visitor parking at the bus garage where we currently park extra vehicles and overall we are gaining 44 spots.

The drawings we have included in the materials we’ve published are not detailed to the level we will use when we go to bid. The architects call these ‘conceptual drawings’ and I’m glad because I’ve learned some things that I will follow through on with them after the project vote this Tuesday.

What have I learned from listening to our employees, students and participants at the public hearing that we can now work to include in the detail?

Assigning a specific parking spot to every employee and student with permission to park is high on my list of great ideas. Working with the architect to really look at the entire traffic flow plan again–including where two way traffic is planned,  finding a way to afford to include the exit drive parking lot and walkway directly from the top parking lot to the field, and how to add even more parking where possible are also on the list.

Now you may be asking ‘isn’t this a final design’? Of course not! When residents vote on Tuesday, they are approving a conceptual design and a total proposition dollar amount. We are permitted to spend less than the voter approved total, but not a dime more.

Our BOE members and I have already met with our construction manager to talk about the VALUE of the project. We want the District’s monies worth out of this project! After Tuesday’s vote we then are prepared to pay the costs of a detailed design by CannonDesign, our architectural firm. We will fight to make the most of every dollar.

And please don’t worry about snow removal. This is a question that’s come up that I don’t quite understand. We will handle the snow just as we always have–we haven’t always put it in the same place that we do now. Remember when we piled it directly in front of the elementary school? We can figure this out.

Thanks to everyone for the feedback and conversation! This is how we end up with the best possible result. After Tuesday, please continue to express your ideas and questions and I will include them in our work with our construction management company, Campus, and our architect, CannonDesign.  We also have a good team working on this with the varied expertise of our BOE members and our employees at RCS.

 

 

Capital Project Financing

What’s all of this going to cost me, as a taxpayer?

For the $7,050,545 Proposition #1 Capital Project, the average cost to the taxpayer varies based on two factors. Do you have STAR/SENIOR STAR and what is the full value of your home?

For SENIOR STAR recipients, there is no annual cost to those taxpayers with homes valued under $80,000. An $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $1 annually; $2 annually for a $90,000 home.

For STAR recipients on a primary residence, a $60,000 full value homeowner will have an average additional cost of $2 annually; an $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $3; $4 annually for a $90,000 home.

For non-primary residence homeowners, a $60,000 full value homeowner will have an average additional cost of $4 annually; an $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $5; $6 annually for a $90,000 home.

For the Combined $9,815,000 Proposition 1 & 2 Capital Project:

For SENIOR STAR recipients, there is no annual cost to those taxpayers with homes valued under $60,000. An $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $6 annually; $10 annually for a $90,000 home.

For STAR recipients on a primary residence, a $60,000 full value homeowner will have an average additional cost of $13 annually; an $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $21; $25 annually for a $90,000 home.

For non-primary residence homeowners, a $60,000 full value homeowner will have an average additional cost of $25 annually; an $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $34; $38 annually for a $90,000 home.

Please come to vote on Propositions #1 & #2 on Tuesday, March 24, from 2:00-8:00 in the high school cafeteria. We’ve been responsible to our taxpayers with zero percent increases since 2008 and we continue to be responsible with the project propositions we put before you for your vote on March 24. Please come March 24, 2015 to support our students and programs!

Project Financing

 

 

Prop #2-Artificial Turf Multi Purpose Athletic Field

Proposition 2, resurfacing our existing natural turf football field as an artificial turf multi-purpose field is the most exciting proposition in this capital project. As we consider the campus of Randolph Central and our limited green space, this is the only field we own and can therefore invest in improvements—we could take what we currently have and make it so much better!

By investing in artificial turf for this field, we won’t have to restrict access as we’ve done for so many years to keep it useable for the home Varsity and JV football games, one soccer game for girls and one for boys, and four youth football games. Instead we will be able to allow access to this field for every football game, soccer games, and physical education classes. The community requests to use the field for other purposes that we’ve had to deny could be allowed. And what I love most about this idea is that what we already have–a beautiful stadium with a concession stand and bathrooms and bleachers and lights–could be used so much more!

Our track absolutely must be resurfaced now. This is the perfect time, if we’re ever going to consider artificial turf, for us to invest in this field for our students. Our athletic programs are a point of pride for this community. None more so than our FIVE TIMES SINCE 2005 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP FOOTBALL TEAM!

Instead of saying “a grass field was good enough for me, it’s good enough for everyone else”, let’s say “our programs are as good as or better than anyone else’s in the state of New York–our students deserve this!”

Proposition 2

 

Student Safety-Our #1 Priority for Prop #1

From the beginning of our planning process in 2013, the BOE members, school personnel, students and community members agreed that improving the safety of our parking lot for our students and community members is our #1 priority. We spent a considerable amount of time evaluating how to gain more space, including a removal of the bus garage and reconstruction of outside parking of buses off the campus.

Ultimately the BOE responded to the concerns of the bus drivers and to their own concerns about tearing down a building that we have, determining to leave the bus garage intact. That left us with the task of determining how to improve safety with a clearly delineated parking lot plan and at the same time, a much needed increase in parking, considering our limited space.

What does this new parking lot design provide us that we don’t have now?

  1. Two way traffic in and out of our campus on what is currently a one way entrance and a one way exit drive. This plan allows for greater access in and out in the event of an emergency and it also provides multiple parent drop off spots so that all traffic is not moving through one exit point at the same time that our buses are unloading/loading and our students are moving across our campus.
  2. Separate bus lane areas.
  3. Additional parking of 42 new spots.
  4. Extended parent drop off/pick up lane. Three designated parent drop off options.
  5. Raised crosswalk with gate control between our two buildings.
  6. Expanded parking areas at the elementary and tennis courts.
  7. Safer curbing and distances between parked vehicles and the main entrance to the high school building.
  8. Daytime visitor parking along the entire west side of the bus garage with all outside transportation vehicles parked off of the campus. This was the concession to keeping inside parking of our buses that we then have at least the space up to the building for the improved safety and parking.
  9. Clear safe crosswalks through our parking lot to our multi-purpose field, athletic stadium.

Parking Lot Changes

Elementary Building Improvements/Proposition #1

The changes to our elementary building are similar to those I talked about yesterday in our high school building.

  1. Replace the master clock system with a wireless clock system.
  2. Intrusion detection devices integrated with video surveillance.
  3. Code compliant hardware locksets for all classroom doors that allow teachers to lock their classroom doors quickly in the event of an emergency, without using a key.
  4. A handicapped toilet room in the occupational/physical therapy multi purpose room.
  5. Smartcard technology security access that interfaces with our video surveillance systems and replace our analog cameras with IP, integrating our two systems.
  6. Replacement of boys toilet room urinals.
  7. 18,000 square feet of carpet replacement.
  8. Stage lighting control updates in the gymnasium.
  9. Preparing for a conversion to hot water heat in a future, phase #2 project: crawl space abatement, steam piping, ventilator and pump conversion.
  10. Replacement of HVAC that is at end of useful life.

Elementary School Improvements