School Improvement at RCS

On Tuesday, the 3-8 Math and ELA scores for 2011-12 were released from the State. Today’s Jamestown Post-Journal printed an article about the release entitled “Falling Behind”. In the article they list the State “Meeting Standard” percentages and the Chautauqua County “Meeting Standards” percentages. A 3 or a 4 as referenced in this blog post is what the Post Journal article references when they say “Meeting Standard”. It’s a four point scale on all 3-8 Math and ELA tests, a 4 being the best. On the twelve measures referenced in the article, Randolph Central exceeds the State “Meeting Standard” levels on seven of them.

I’m excited to report our results in detail, especially given the memo that accompanied the State results from Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch. They reported that there was incremental improvement across the state, that 55.1% (52.8% last year) of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard (a 3 or a 4) and that 64.8 % (63.3% last year) met or exceeded the standard in math (a 3 or a 4).

You will see below that we have seen much more than incremental gains in most areas. I know we’re not as far as we’d like to be, but we’re taking the right steps—as evidenced by the improvements here–to get there.

Our results in Grade 3, ELA and Math, were very strong with 62.2% in ELA and 79.6% in Math achieving a 3 or a 4.   This was one of our strongest grade levels last year and continues to be this year. In fact, in my analysis of 20 Catt and Chautauqua county districts, Grade 3 Math achieved the highest mean scale score of any other school!

Grade 4 made HUGE gains, with 64.9% at a 3 or 4 in ELA, up from 35% last year and 70.2% in Math, up from 52%.

Grade 5 also showed significant improvement with 51.6% of our students at a 3 or a 4 in ELA, up from 37% last year, and 58.1% in Math, up from last year’s 52%.

Grade 6 continues to need work. They showed little to no gains through the year on our iReady diagnostic assessments and their state results have 46.5% at a 3 or a 4 in ELA, down from 66% last year and Math at 39.4%, down from 62%. HOWEVER, please note that this same group was only at 37% in ELA last year and at 52% last year–thus this group of students DID grow from last year. 

Grade 7: we need improvement here. They are at 57% for ELA and 57.7% for Math, down from 67% and 65% respectively. Our entire system needs to improve in the area of Math and you can see above that we’re getting there at the youngest grades, but that leaves a transition period for those in the middle. As one of our BOE members, Julie Milliman, often says, “it’s great that we’re improving for our youngest students but we have to make sure we’re taking care of the students caught in the middle between NYS’s old standards and the new, more rigorous common core curriculum.” She’s right. That’s why we’ve added Math support through 1.5 new Academic support teachers at grades 5-8, so that they can focus on the individual gaps our neediest students have while classroom teachers continue to help students through the more rigorous common core curriculum.

Grade 8 did very well— with 71.2% of students at 3 or 4, up from 43% in ELA and 72.9% in Math, up from 50%. SIGNIFICANT gains!

This isn’t a single class or teacher problem or success. It’s a systemic issue–one which absolutely requires us to work closely as a District, making solid, data based decisions that improve learning for our students. Every decision we make has to be centered on what’s best for learning—how will it affect our students and their achievement?

We have much analysis left to be done, including by student and teacher. Our admin team is busy at work asking questions like which teachers saw the greatest gains, where and why? If any students are at a level 1 and they aren’t SPED, what’s happening there? And then the analysis of what did we do that had a significant impact? Where did our teachers most fully align to the common core curriculum and what was the result? How did iReady diagnostic and interim testing affect our results? What about the other programs we’ve implemented? What did teachers do differently, or not, and how did it impact scores?

Couple the gains on these assessments with our 8 point gains in HS and MS rankings for Business First this last year and I’d say we are truly starting to see the fruits of our labor. Remember that Business First includes four years of data and other schools are trying to improve too, so an 8 point gain in the ranking is significant.

I’m really pleased and proud of everyone who contributed, thank you so much for your hard work. We’re going to get there!! Our faculty, staff and administration have always worked hard. I love that we’re all working hard with focus on the same goal of an aligned, rigorous curriculum. And the end result? College and career ready students who leave Randolph with every advantage because we’ve maximized their learning all along the way. WAY TO GO RCS!

Fist Leadership

My dad was a coal miner. He worked hard and became a foreman. His method of management? His plan for motivating the men? His fist.

As we look critically at our State and Federal leaders I’m thinking a lot about my own leadership and my father’s style of management. It’s my job to hold every employee accountable for a standard of performance that results in excellence for our students. I analyze every part of our organization constantly, looking for ways that we can improve, including my own performance. But at the same time I trust our employees to do their best every day. I want them to feel that trust and to feel empowered to take us where we need to go. It’s not very different from when I was teaching high school students at Pine Valley for ten years. Back then I was successful as a teacher not only because of my test scores (an 8th grade Proficiency exam and Regents exams) but because I tried to show every student that I believed in him, expected the best of her, would do everything in my power to help each find success, and would be first in line to call him out when he made a mistake. My students took a swift kick in the butt when needed because of all the pats on the back I’d already given them—and because they knew I truly cared about them.

As a leader, I expect the best of every student and employee in our District, I will do everything in my power to help us find success both in student achievement and in student learning. I don’t hesitate to have the hard conversations with people who need that swift kick in the butt. I care about everyone in the organization—I trust them until one shows me that I cannot.

This is not the leadership we’re getting from the State Education Department. They’re back to my father’s fist management. The policies and procedures being implemented are all about accountability and designed for the worst of our employees. One of the first lessons I learned as a young administrator, 12 years ago, was that I shouldn’t admonish the entire faculty for something only one or two teachers had done wrong. Why hasn’t the commissioner learned that yet? People don’t function at their best when working under a system of fear and stress. And our children feel all of this, despite the best intentions to keep a balance within our schools.

We do need to do a better job of aligning our curriculum as a system. The common core implementation is a good time to make that happen. We do need to make better decisions based on student data, not just on our own hunches or “feelings”. And we do need higher expectations for every child. What we do NOT need are these extreme accountability measures to make sure it all happens.

Here’s a personal example of accountability to others vs. internal accountability. The BOE members recently reviewed my evaluation with me, as they do every year. It is seven pages long and addresses 73 different competencies. What the BOE thinks and discusses with me is very important to me. I pay attention. I listen for what I can do better so I can improve. But you know what? If that BOE didn’t exist, I would work just as hard and I would endeavor to improve myself and this organization just as I do now. The majority of our teachers and administrators are just the same—they aren’t working hard every day because of a composite score but because they care about the quality of their work and their students.

We do this work because we want to make a significant difference in the lives and futures of our children. We do this work because we want our lives to have mattered when we reach the end. The only way that happens is if we do our work well, to the best of our abilities. I don’t do my best out of fear or intimidation from the State Education Department. And I surely don’t do my best work while feeling demeaned, demoralized, and distrusted. Neither do our children. What I’ve just described? That’s how the majority of our students feel while spending 90 minutes per day taking those tests. That’s NOT learning with passion, innovation and leadership. That’s not the way to motivate others to do their best work. And it’s not good leadership. Maybe NYSED will get results this way, but what will those results reap? And what will they cost? 

Testing Does Not Equal Learning

As a public school leader, I feel compelled to write again about the NYS testing debacle. Every day I’m reading more dissension from parents, teachers, administrators and community members on blog news articles, twitter, the opt-out movement web page and I’m seeing more interest in the news. If you’ve somehow missed this conversation, I can sum it up by saying our nation, and in particular for RCS, NYS State, has moved to spending a significant more time AND money on testing with high stakes for teachers and administrators.  As I wrote previously here, this creates a lot of churn over testing within a building.

The interesting thing for me as a leader, is this is exactly what I try NOT to create within the District. When our kids are testing, they’re NOT learning. When I began my superintendency four years ago, the BOE members and I spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing the leadership direction of the District. We agreed that our vision, our course we wanted to set, was “learning with passion, innovation and leadership”. I still believe in that vision for every Randolph student. One of the fundamental jobs that we have is to help our students become analytical learners who can make good decisions and who come to better understand themselves during their 13 years with us from PK-12. Learners who can find out what those things are that they’re really good at and enjoy, improve where needed, and determine an idea of where they are headed after us—you know, helping them to be more career and college ready. We want them to have rich opportunities in which they can create and think on their own and develop critical opinions. We want them to have all of the technology tools possible, similar to their peers who come from wealthier districts, so that they may compete in college and career. And we want them to be independent thinkers, leaders, who will make a difference in the world.

How far have our state and federal governments pushed us from that vision? With teacher and principal jobs on the line based on how our eight year olds perform on a test that lasts for 90 minutes per day, 3 days per week, in ELA and then again the next week in Math, what do you think teachers are spending their time on? TESTING. When children are testing they aren’t learning–this is too much time spent on testing. Add to the mix the questionable quality of the test questions and what validity will those results have?

We’re going to look back on these days in public education as very dark times. As the time when our state leadership may have started with what was a good idea—raise expectations for all teachers, administrators and students so that they will achieve more—and ended with a system based on suspicion, lack of trust in those doing the work, and accountability measures that demean good teachers and hurt our children.

It is unconscionable that we are allowing our youngest to test for this length of time, under these levels of stress, while they are judging themselves based on these measures. The NYS tests are not the full measure of our children. And we have to stop letting them be.

I want greater student achievement and better learning experiences for every child here. I’m committed to figuring out how we can improve and then setting that expectation for everyone. This is not the way. This is not what good leadership is about and it is not the way to make a meaningful difference in childrens’ lives or to best prepare them to be the analytical thinkers that we need for career and college readiness.

If I want every child to learn to think and to speak out when something is wrong, how can I not do the same? If we could OPT OUT of this testing mania as a District, I would be the first in line to raise my hand and say, “We’ve got this. I believe in the talent we have here, we will improve, and our children will succeed.” WITHOUT first testing our children right into stress induced mania.

Help Wanted: HS Principal

As we congratulate Dave Davison, our HS Principal since 2004, on his appointment as the superintendent of schools for Westfield, we look to the future and our hiring of his replacement. Dave has worked diligently in Randolph for eight years, he will be greatly missed but we know will be an incredible asset to our neighbors in Westfield.  Congratulations and Best Wishes Mr. Davison!

We will have a rigorous hiring process including committees of students, teachers, support staff, administration and BOE members, and parents and community members. The final interview will be with our full BOE, as they look to this person for leadership with integrity, commitment, passion and innovation.

We aren’t interested in maintaining the status quo at Randolph Central. As we’ve seen so much success on our athletic fields, we look for that same success academically. We are on that path and we’re looking for someone who can lead our HS faculty and staff, connect with our students, show imagination and enthusiasm for our programs and future, and understand the changes from NYSED. I personally want the very best person available, someone who can strengthen us as an Admin team–who brings something more to us than what we have now. I want someone who’s going to help us to be our very best.

We are such an incredible district with wonderful students, hard working, dedicated teachers, a smart, supportive BOE, and a caring, close knit community. Of all the districts in which we could work, none provides a better opportunity for success. We’re figuring out how to take a great district to even greater excellence, we’re looking for someone to help us get there.

Do I have high expectations for this person? Absolutely. The same high expectations I have for myself and every other RCS employee. Only the very best need apply. Think you’ve got what it takes? Deadline is April 27, 2012. Come and help us achieve even greater academic excellence!

No Tax Increase for Fourth Straight Year

The RCS Board of Education and Administration began developing the budget for the 2012-13 school year in December 2011. As always, our goal was to develop a fiscally responsible budget that maintains our educational programs and at the same time reflects our responsibility to our taxpayers. Therefore, our RCS budget was prepared, using the Governor’s proposal, before the state budget was passed on March 31, 2012. Upon passing the state budget, some of our aid was restored. This amounted to an increase in aid to the district of $91,663.

We are confident that the budget we developed, prior to the restoration of the $91,663 in state aid, is a sound and responsible budget. Because of this we are instead using the $91,663 to reduce the tax levy, thus reducing the burden to the taxpayers.

We  present a budget of $18,470,469 which is an increase of $557,918 or 3.1%. Of this increase to the budget, 80% results from increases to payroll and mandatory NYS retirement contributions. Still, we have a local tax levy decrease of $91,633 or -1.9% (amount of money to be raised by taxpayers in the district). This is the fourth year in a row that there has been no increase to our taxpayers and the second year in a row for a decrease.

The election of two Board of Education members will also be on the ballot on Tuesday, May 15. Incumbents Janet Huntington and David Adams will be running for re-election, along with newcomers Daniel MacLaughlin and Thomas Deacon. Please join us for the public hearing of the budget on Tuesday, May 8 at 6:30 in the HS Auditorium. Immediately following the public hearing will be a “Meet the Candidates Night”. PTA Member Janell Sluga will organize the event and ask questions of the candidates. Please join us to hear what your BOE candidates think about the issues most affecting our District.

Time to Think While the District is on Break

I love Spring Break. Not for the reasons you’re probably guessing.  I’m not on a beautiful beach somewhere relaxing in the sun. But I am working quietly in my office with the sun streaming through the windows.  It’s wonderful to have the time to think, to analyze, to work virtually uninterrupted.

I’m hopeful that this Spring break returns our teachers and students to us relaxed and rejuvenated. We will have one week with our students before NYS testing in ELA and Math 3-8 begins so we’ll be focused on reinforcing the learning from September through March and testing tips to best prepare our students. Please make sure your children are getting a good night’s rest each night upon return from break and coming to school with after a good breakfast.

This break has been a wonderful time to catch up on projects and to analyze data. It’s a time to research even more about the changes from the New York State Education Department. I’m confident we have a good handle on the teacher evaluation process, including next year’s implementation of Teachscape, a wonderful technology and training tool to help us learn more and improve on the Danielson 2011 rubric. We have a plan in place for the principal evaluation process, utilizing the Learner-Center Initiatives (LCI) MPPR Multidimensional Principal Performance Rubric. This focuses largely on reflection, goal setting and feedback. Both of these evaluative methods should lead all of us to focused, analytical thinking about our work.

Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) about which I’ve written previously are falling into place. I’m still not sure that I’m convinced this piece will make a difference in student learning, at least not proportional to the amount of work needed to implement, but thanks to my friends Theresa Gray at Erie 2 BOCES and Tiffany Giannicchi at Catt/Alle BOCES, I’m at least beginning to see the direction here. I’ve seriously needed SLO AIS :-)— or remediation in this initiative.

I’m also thinking a lot about our upcoming NYS assessments, our work toward improvement here and the work we’ve done through our iReady interim assessments and data analysis. I’m hopeful that increasing the rigor of our work with students and intentionally teaching the common core curriculum will improve our results. I’m concerned about what the assessments will bring in these transitional years to full implementation. Will it look like the tests from previous years? Will our students be better prepared because of the iReady work? Are the changes from NYSED impacting individual teacher practices yet? So much change at once leaves  for much opportunity and also for much uncertainty.

At the end of the day I can say that we have worked very hard as an admin team, a School BOE and a faculty to learn and implement all of the pieces to this changing puzzle. I’m cautiously optimistic that our hard work will pay off.  Let’s finish strong Randolph, we’ve got much work to do upon your return but as always, we’re all in it together. If anyone can do it and do it well, it’s us.

Dear Commissioner: It’s Me Again

I’ve done some more research since Monday’s post about the composite score based on guidance from the NYSED website. According to the website the,

The field guidance previously available on this page is being revised and will be reposted as soon as possible.

Luckily, Richard Iannuzzi, President, New York State United Teachers issued two guidance docs on the subject, “Setting the Record Straight: New York’s Teacher and Principal Evaluation Law” and “NYSUT and State Education Department (SED) Settlement FAQ”. As Dick says, he was personally at the table throughout the negotiations, so I’m hoping it’s good information. If you’re wondering why I don’t just sit back and wait for NYSED to issue more guidance, remember we have to implement this in the 2012-13 school year. And at RCS, we have a contract expiring June, 2012. That means I’ve got some preparation to do, need to know what I’m talking about, consider the District position, plan… you know, just generally do my job. Maybe it’s my learning style, I am analytical and I tend to over-prepare, but that clock’s ticking (Plans submitted by July 1 if possible) and I want us to make good decisions about all of this. For that, I need solid information and guidance. Now.

So here’s where I’m at since reading Mr. Iannuzzi’s guidance docs. The composite score will be 80% locally negotiated–60% for the other measures, at RCS we’ve agreed that’s evaluations and portfolio review. And 20% iReady as our locally selected student achievement measure and we don’t know yet what that local measure’s going to be for teachers other than K-8 Math and ELA.

I’ve no idea how we’ll measure this 80% to fit into a scoring band and contribute to the composite score. Will there be more guidance on how the iReady results will equal the 20 points? Or will we decide that ourselves? And here’s my point, if we negotiate that individually in districts, won’t it look very different from district to district? And if so, how will these composite scores be a fair comparison across districts? Couldn’t one district set a scoring range that indicates something like, I don’t know, if 50% of students are at grade level by the end of the school year on iReady the teacher achieves a 20/20? And could another district negotiate and set a scoring range that indicates 100% of students must be on grade level to achieve a 20/20? Now consider the evaluation tool in the same way–one district could set a range that says all teachers who achieve a 2.5 or better on the rubric receive 31 points while another sets a range that says teachers must achieve a 3.8 or better on the rubric to receive 31 points.

Doesn’t this cause you to conclude that the public use of this composite score business is lunacy? I hope Mr. Ianuzzi is right when he says  in the FAQ document,

We will take legal action in an effort to prevent the public release of APPRs, as such release would be contrary to the purposes of the APPR law.

I’m guessing he means the public release of the teacher’s composite scores not APPRs. Can you imagine the parent phone calls when they can look to see that one of our fourth grade teachers has a composite score of 88 while another has an 84 and a third has a 78—guess which teacher every parent may insist upon? This cannot happen, it will not help us to improve. But I digress, that was yesterday’s post.

What about this? How do I make good decisions in negotiating this 80% that strikes the balance between holding safe from a Teacher Improvement Plan the vast majority of our teachers who are effective, while still holding everyone accountable for greater student achievement (which we’re all working on collectively), AND that affords me the latitude to use this information effectively for the small minority of teachers who may need to be removed? How does it not become overly punitive and humiliating in one district while being a shallow farce of compliance in another? And what are we accomplishing with all of this at the end of the day?

Please note: If this is your first time reading my posts, PLEASE review previous posts, in which I’ve shown how much work we’ve done in implementing the changes from NYSED and how on board I am with aligning to the common core curriculum, giving teachers the time and skill to study data and work together to problem solve in data inquiry teams, learning the new evaluation system and in school improvement. My point? I’m not an anarchist (not completely anyway), just a district leader trying to do just that: lead in a time of change and uncertainty when people are looking to me for answers I don’t have.  I’m plugged into the network team, I talk to colleagues in two different BOCES regions and I’m not hearing the answers anywhere.  If someone’s got the answers I’m looking for or knows where to find them, please speak up.

And all of this during budget preparation season. . . but that’s another subject.

Dear NYSED, Please Send Answers

Dr.  King:

Good morning Sir. This is Kimberly Moritz, superintendent of Randolph Central School District. We are working like fiends to do everything right, as you’ve asked. We are implementing the common core curriculum, REALLY implementing it, not just a lesson here or there—because we see this as the number one priority for our district’s improvement. Also, we purchased and implemented iReady as our local measure in Grades K-8, Math and ELA, and we are studying the results in our Data Inquiry Teams so that we can make good instructional decisions. We’ve implemented the Danielson rubric, with in-district training for administrators, teachers and teacher leaders. We’re learning every day and trying to get better. Our teachers are working on portfolios to use in end of the year APPR meetings with building administrators on Domain #4 of the rubric—-and all of this with a contract that would have precluded us from moving forward until 2012-13. Why is it working? We’ve shared decisions with our teachers union and worked collaboratively to get this right. We did all of this to give our teachers and building administrators the opportunity to learn and grow, to experiment with all that we’re expecting, all that you’re expecting, BEFORE it’s used in a publicly reported, by teacher and administrator, composite score.

We’re planning parent forums to better communicate the changes to our parents. We’re evaluating our schedules in both buildings and in particular are analyzing our delivery of AIS services so that we can better correct any gaps in learning that our students may have from previous years. We’re talking  a lot about fluid ability grouping so that we can do more for our students who are at the top academically and so that we can better differentiate our instruction.

And now I’m starting to work on determining the scoring bands that you’ve set forth on http://engageny.org/: the Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, Ineffective bands. They don’t work. They hurt teachers and principals who are doing everything you’ve asked us to do. I don’t know what proposal I can possibly develop for my work with our union leaders. My concern is that the scoring bands are going to place all of our teachers and principals into a position of fear and intimidation—a position from which no one does their best work. And that will affect the entire climate of our buildings. And that will negatively affect our children. Here’s what I’m talking about.

Wonderful and Typical RCS Teacher hypothetically receives:

13/20  for growth on the State Assessments which is in the Effective Range

15/20 for the iReady results which is in the Effective Range

15/20 for the Portfolio Review of the Domain #4, Danielson Rubric which is in the Effective Range

31/40 for a solid proficient rating on multiple evaluations, Danielson Rubric which is in the Effective Range

74 Composite Score on the NYSED Scoring Bands which is in the Developing Range

So a teacher can be effective in each of the sub-components and developing overall? How is that possible? You have a problem Sir. And it goes without saying that it will be as difficult for our best teachers to be in the Highly Effective Range, EVER, as it is for our smartest fourth graders to achieve a 4 on the State ELA test. Which we’re working on, by the way. We want more 4’s and more 3’s and well, even without the TESTS, we aim to do a better job, aligning to the common core, making data driven decisions, doing all of the things well that you’ve asked us to do. Believe it or not, we do want every child to succeed and we understand we’ve got to be more deliberate in making that happen through the common core curriculum and data analysis, NOT through fear and intimidation. Not through the composite scores you’re instituting.

Two things will happen. One, I’ll have to hire three more administrators to help me with all of the teacher improvement plans indicated by your scoring bands. Two, our teachers will be demoralized, defeated, and ready to give up.

We get it Commissioner King. We are going to transform this district from the wonderful, productive place that it already is into a more focused PK-12 continuum of curriculum that positively affects student achievement in big ways. And we’re also going to be sure that while productive, we don’t suck all of the joy out of learning. Your insanely punitive scoring bands are not going to help make that happen. Raise expectations, think the best of us, help us to get there. Reward us when we do. The scoring bands and the publicly reported composite scores will not help us get there.

Sincerely,

Kimberly Moritz, Superintendent

RCS Moving to the Split Break

It’s that time of the year when we work on the school calendar. It seems that every year for the last decade, the topic of the Spring Break comes up. For the 2012-13 school year calendar, it’s again an issue as Randolph Central has remained on the two week break as almost all other districts across New York state are on what’s called a split break, a week in February and a week in April.

Why do we care what the other districts are doing? Well, for one thing, we have 22 districts who are part of the Cattaraugus Allegany BOCES. All of the other 21 districts are likely to be on the split break next year, basically following the BOCES calendar. Our BOCES students are one part of the equation, now their instructional days will match BOCES and everyone else’s too. Another part is that we can participate in shared staff development with other districts and share other services more easily.

More importantly, the New York State Education Department, which is initiating wide ranging and sweeping change in education right now, plans the assessment schedule for NYS testing with the idea that a vast majority of it’s districts are on a split break. It doesn’t do us any good to be an outlier in that equation.

Educationally, it’s always been a debate either way. There are those who argue that it’s not sound to take kids out of school for two weeks just prior to the NYS testing schedule and those who argue, as I always have, that it doesn’t make sense to take kids out of school and interrupt instruction  twice instead of once. The truth is that there’s no compelling research to support that one way is better than the other.

Our BOE discussed the topic last evening at our February 1, 2012 BOE meeting and we determined to move to a one week break in February and a one week break in April, following the BOCES calendar for the 2012-13 school year. 

At the end of the day, we are a NYS public school who must comply with and follow the mandates and testing calendar of NYS.  That trumps all of the other arguments. I regret the disappointment that I know some of our school community members will feel. We are developing a draft calendar now and will have it BOE approved at a future BOE meeting.

Priorities in a Time of Change

When we consider all that is NEW from NYSED this year:

1. the new evaluation system for teachers and principals,

2. the portfolio that teachers are keeping to show evidence in Domain #4 of the Danielson 2011 rubric,

3. the portfolio that principals are keeping to show evidence of goals in the Multidimensional Principal Performance Rubric

4. the student learning objective goals every teacher will have to develop in 2012-13

5. the changes to the state assessments–one hand preparing kids for the NYS assessments this year with one hand in common core for next year and K-2 all common core this year. . . with no clear idea of where the Regents exams are going. . .

6. the local assessments, iReady at RCS, with interim assessments for Data Analysis Teams

7. the impending composite score in 2012-13 for each teacher and principal

8. and the shifts to the Common Core Curriculum in Math and ELA.

With so much at once, we simply must consider where to put the majority of our energy and prioritize.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about 24/7 for the past seven months. At Randolph Central School, we’re going to do all that we can to implement the changes, as we have been. But we have to consider which of these eight changes has the greatest potential to make a difference for our children? What makes the most sense for our future success at RCS?

The new teacher and principal rubrics (or measures) are necessary improvements to our evaluation systems. In education, we haven’t done a good enough job of communicating well about our teaching and leading. This has the long term potential to make a difference for every teacher and principal—if we can get to the place where we’re sincerely talking objectively about “this is what’s great about what you’re doing, this is what can be better”. Lots of work to do in trust building, speaking directly and honestly, knowing our craft well enough to have meaningful discussions, and collaboration–it’s a two way conversation not just a post observation “if I sit here and nod my head long enough, I’ll be able to get out of here and have some prep time left” lecture. We’ll get there, we’ll do what’s expected. This is NOT our priority.

The portfolios are not our “best bet” or our priority either. We’ll comply with this, we’ll develop the portfolios, we’ll reflect on our practice, and we’ll have some good discussion. Not going to be our priority, does not have the potential for improving our success with students in the short term.

Now the state assessments. We do need to think about the state assessments and as any Regents teacher will tell you, of course we focus on preparing for the end of year assessment–we’d be crazy NOT to. As a teacher, I studied my Regents exams, analyzed the results–kicked myself when there was a question or two for which I KNEW I hadn’t adequately prepared my students, planned for next year’s instruction, gave ongoing assessments throughout the year to determine what we needed to review, reteach, etc. This is what we’ve always done well. And the State hasn’t been clear enough about where State assessments are headed for us to prioritize. Part of what we do, not the main change we need to attend to now.

And we’re not going to prioritize the SLOs, Student Learning Objectives.  We’ll learn more about SLOs, set them, practice SLOs and comply—but this is not the number one priority for us either.

So what is? Teaching the Common Core Curriculum and conducting internal Data Analysis while raising our expectations for all students. We make so many decisions in education based on our gut or our instinct or our impression of kids—and we’re just as guilty of it in administrative decisions. We can’t do that anymore. I taught this way too. This isn’t a criticism. It’s acknowledging that the way we’ve planned our instruction has been hit or miss and it isn’t good enough. We had to figure it out on our own and now we have to follow the Common Core curriculum. I say “Hallelujah and About Time”.

We have to look at how our students are doing, each of them, throughout the school year and we have to modify our instruction to match what they need us to teach next or again in the common core curriculum. I know we have teachers, in every district, who see the curriculum as a guideline, a suggestion, or something to consider when you’re planning your observation lesson because you have to slap some standards on the top of your lesson plan. That’s not good enough. Not even close. It’s what we have always done because no one gave us a good alternative or anything else at all and the textbook became the curriculum, because after all, what else did we have?

In grades K-8, we simply must teach the common core curriculum. With integrity. Not once in a while. NOT the textbook. NOT the lessons you’ve always loved to teach. The common core curriculum. With total fidelity. It’s not just a guideline. In Math and in ELA. If we don’t do that at every grade level, the teacher who follows you cannot bring your kids to the levels that are needed. Non negotiable. And when we have an articulated curriculum with new assessments from SED, it’ll be the same for our other core subjects too, K-12.

We had to figure out what to teach on our own for decades, we had NYS learning standards that frankly were unclear and anything BUT specific. NYS is now telling us what to teach, when. We must do this. And we must assess our kids throughout the school year to see how each child is faring—THEN we must remediate weaknesses AND push EACH child to his or her fullest potential. And while we’re at it, we’ve got to expect more of our students in the classrooms, we’ve got to push them harder and work them more. I believe they can do it. Why? Because I’ve been in our classrooms. Our teachers are extremely hard working professionals who love our kids. We’ve got to adjust what we’re teaching and push harder—our students can do it. They should be mentally exhausted when they leave at the end of the day. Some of our students aren’t even close to using all of their brain power, especially not our top students. Love them enough to expect more of them.

Why do I KNOW we can do it? Because I’ve never seen a more dedicated, harder working faculty. We can’t do whatever we figure out on our own in our individual classrooms anymore, we’ve got to deliver a cohesive continuum of common core instruction that leads each of our students to his greatest potential.

Our job has always been to love and care about our students. Our goal is help each student maximize her success.