RCS Kindergarten Class Profiled

A reporter recently visited Lisa Burris’ kindergarten class with the purpose of understanding education today at this level. Liz Skoczylas did a great job of capturing the complexity of the day as printed in Sunday’s Jamestown Post Journal.

Liz says,

Going into Lisa Burris’ kindergarten class at Gail N. Chapman Elementary School in Randolph, one might expect a day filled with building structures out of blocks, learning ABCs and possibly eating some paste.

The reality of the day was much different, as the level of knowledge the five- and six-year-olds possess was far beyond expectation.

Read the whole article to learn more. It’s a nice profile of just one of Randolph’s outstanding teachers and classes!


SLO-Student Learning Objectives

As we work together to implement all of the new mandates from the New York State Education Department, I have done so with diligence and optimism. Except on one point in particular. Teacher accountability through student testing is now mandated in a bizarre, hard to understand, impossible to implement and what seems to me at this point to be a useless waste of our teaching and learning time with students called “Student Learning Objectives”. I’ve purposely neglected to write about it here because I thought perhaps with time, I would come to better understand the usefulness, have an attitude adjustment and present a better leadership stance on the topic.

Then today I read an article in the Washington Post, written by Carol Corbett Burris, principal of South Side High School in New York.  Carol was named the 2010 NYS Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. Ms. Burris did such a fabulous job of describing the SLOs that I would like to share her article from the Washington Post here.

Let’s just hope that the leadership at NYSED can consider the great strides we’re making in useful ways with teacher and principal evaluation, data inquiry teams with interim assessments, and implementing the common core as they reconsider this act of compliance clearly designed to make every teacher accountable in some way, practical or not.

New Year’s Resolution

I love a fresh start. We get to feel that twice per year in education, once in September when our students and teachers return to school and once with the new year. As someone who constantly analyzes and considers how things could be better, my New Year’s resolution for change needs a different slant —I’m resolving to accept and be happy with all that my life is just as it is, to relax and enjoy and love and relish each day.

That applies to my work life as much as to my personal life. Particularly this school year, with the changes from NYSED to our evaluation systems, our student testing and accountability systems, and the tax cap provisions–we’ve had to focus on change and school improvement. I like that work but I’m afraid we’re focusing on it so much that we’re losing sight of all that’s RIGHT in our schools.

I’m resolving to continue to work hard at improvement WHILE RELISHING all that’s good about our public school system.

For starters:

1. A remarkable group of 1000 or so students who come to Randolph Central each day expecting our best and giving us theirs.
2. A bright, caring and dedicated faculty who do whatever it takes to do the very best that they know how with our students and often go the extra mile to do everything from dressing up and dancing as a Christmas tree to helping students or meeting with parents after school to providing gifts for children in our community through the Community Cupboard.
3. Professionals and families throughout our school system and community who support our students in EVERY endeavor.
4. An administrative team who cares about our school community, accepts and works hard to implement some incredibly time consuming change, all without complaint and with good intentions. A team who works with me more than they work for me and with whom I can really think through our leadership.
5. A support and clerical staff who does what it takes to keep the place and our buses running efficiently, cares about our kids and families, and handles a whole lot of front line problem solving.

6. BOE members who approach every meeting, every policy or budget decision, and every problem with an open mind, caring about the quality of education we’re providing and our school community immeasurably.

I get the evaluation and accountability pieces. I get the need to improve the system. I believe everyone working and living in our community wants us to be the best that we can be. We are  above all a group of people who come together with a common bond, of Randolph Central School and the children who we serve. We are well intended, caring professionals who love the children we are privileged to influence. No one wants us to do that well more than we do. We’ve got this, together, and in time. I’m going to work harder to appreciate each person who walks through our doors every day, helping us to get there.

BOE Meeting Discussion Items

A point of clarification about our BOE meetings may be helpful. It’s my impression that the “Discussion” section of our BOE meetings may be inadvertently causing some confusion. There are very specific rules on what can be discussed in an Executive session of the BOE meeting. You can find the RCS BOE policy on Executive Session on our website here.

Why do I think there’s confusion? It seems when someone reads the BOE agenda or minutes and an item is discussed in open session or during an administrator’s report to the BOE, often it is thought to be a “done deal”. That couldn’t be farther from the reality. That’s why our agenda is delineated into discussion items and BOE action items.

Here’s a good example. From the “Discussion Item” section of our October 5, 2011 BOE minutes:

Discussion Item: Mrs. Moritz discussed planning for the APPR, assessment, and
improvement of RCS. Mrs. Moritz stated that she would like to begin a
conversation with the Board to discuss the possibility of hiring our curriculum
coordinator directly instead of through BOCES. With all of the new requirements
for the state-mandated APPR plan, additional oversight is needed. It makes a
difference if we have a dedicated position; someone who’s primary responsibility
is program and curriculum implementation and follow through. Look at the recent
Special Education audit – it was excellent, best one RCS has ever had; that’s
because of Dr. Rockey’s position and direct oversight of the Special Education
department. We need to start thinking about this as other districts may be
discussing the same thing and qualified candidates will be hard to find. Mrs.
Moritz will do a cost analysis for the Board. Discussed our current Curriculum
Coordinator’s position and how the district will receive curriculum information
through BOCES. Discussion held. Mrs. Moritz stated that we need to analyze the
Dean of Students position vs. a Director of Curriculum and Instruction. Do we
need both? Mrs. Moritz asked the Board to keep thinking about it. Maybe post the
position in February? Mr. Evans asked for more information on the accountability
of the position. More info./discussions at future meetings.

This was a discussion, that’s all. The truth? I don’t know what the right direction is right now.  I need our BOE members, our Administrative team and our teachers thinking about it with me. Placing an item in open discussion is a deliberate and conscious effort to get everyone thinking about something long before a BOE action happens. That’s why we have open meetings laws and why we solicit input from others–so that we can consider all of the alternatives in advance. It doesn’t mean we’re adding a position, it doesn’t mean we are reconfiguring our current staff, and it doesn’t mean we aren’t. It just means we have an issue up for discussion. Please consider talking with me about your thoughts on any of those Discussion items or anything else happening in the District.


Happy Birthday to My Daughter

It’s our daughter’s birthday today, Bryna is 24 years old. Her birthday has me thinking about parenting and particularly, how stressed and freaked out I was as a young parent. Let’s just say I was a little high strung when I was in my twenties and raising Bryna.

I wish I knew then what I know now, that everything would work out. The truth is, I had no idea what I was doing. When it was time to leave Brooks Memorial with her as an infant, I remember quite clearly thinking, “why are they letting us take her home? Do they realize we have no clue how to do this?” Then as we went through the earliest years with her and into elementary school age, I thank God that her father was in her life too because I was so hard on her. I’m not sure what I was thinking as I reflect on pictures of that young girl and I remember the expectations I had for her. Expectations which she always managed to meet or surpass. But why didn’t I just let her be?

And when I’m not being so hard on myself, it’s good that we had those expectations, right? She couldn’t have turned out any better. She’s a loving daughter, a wonderful friend, a dedicated, caring teacher, a protective sister and a loyal, loving wife. Our conversations around education that we have are the highlight of my day. She exhausts me often and I realize it’s in the same way I probably exhaust others–with her endless questions and analysis of everyone and everything.

So what’s the right balance as a parent? How do we know how much to push and how much to just love and let them be? Maybe that’s where we got lucky that we’re a two parent family—I always said that Derek was the better parent than me. But what would have happened if our kids were raised by only him? Or only me? It’s got to be an even harder job for a single parent.

Maybe the solution is in paying attention and some serious self reflection as we go along. Loving them enough to set those expectations and then to support them when they fall short. If I had to identify what helped us to succeed as parents, I’d truly quote all of the things my own mother taught me. The best of all of them? My mom taught me to teach Bryna that she is strong and capable, that she’s not the center of the universe, that she needs to conduct herself with class, straighten her feet, love her brother unconditionally even when it’s hard, respect her elders, wash her face before going to bed, work hard every single day, be loyal to those you love, let the small stuff go, when you’re angry with your husband–just go give him a kiss and forget about it, wash your hands continually, and don’t judge others because you’re far from perfect.

Maybe all of those lessons, with high expectations that gave a little more wiggle room, and loving her with all of my heart would have been the key. We came close. That’s as much as we can do as parents. Love you Kid!

Out of District-Is it Worth it?

On an average week, I’m out of the district for some sort of meeting or staff development or training about one day of five. Last week, I was at principal evaluation training in Rochester on Monday and Tuesday, in district on Wednesday, and out at Data Driven Instruction on Thursday and Friday. I’m now on strike–refusing to leave the district for anything. 😉 I think my next scheduled day out of district is November 7 for more training, this time on the Danielson teaching evaluation rubric.

Is it worth it when I’m traveling to all of these meetings/conferences/etc.? To be honest, it depends. Sometimes the information presented is repetitive or just isn’t pertinent to where we are at RCS. Most often, I leave having learned something important about the direction NYSED is headed or better understanding the tax cap law or hearing a new idea that’s worth consideration.

Never is it more worth it than what I experienced this past Thursday and Friday. Why? I got to learn about data inquiry teams with several of our Randolph teachers. The training was very well done by our BOCES experts, namely Tim Clarke, Tiffany Giannicchi, Brian Crawford and Melissa Devitt. Good teaching was modeled, the content was relevant and important. But the primary reason it was extremely worthwhile for me? The time I had to work together with five elementary teachers and four 7-12 teachers, along with their building leaders. The chance to listen to them, clarify my own thinking and hopefully come to a better collective understanding was invaluable.

I’m more confident than ever that in our own analysis of our student data, collected from our interim assessments and analyzed by our teams of teachers, we will greatly improve our students results. Not because it’s about the test scores but because it’s about the curriculum and better differentiation. As we align every grade level to the common core curriculum and zero in on what each child needs to absolutely know before moving on to the next grade, we will have a systemic solution to maximizing growth for every child.

I’m hopeful that a better evaluation system will help us to improve but I’m excited about the improvement we will see when our teachers have the chance to look at an entire class of students collectively–grouping and regrouping to meet each individual student’s needs. We’ve got a lot of work to do—–a system analysis is next to consider how we fundamentally work to serve our children—-but it should prove to be the most meaningful work we do to ensure we are maximizing learning for all of our children.

I keep repeating myself on this one–we are better together than we are individually and we know what to do to improve. Working with our RCS teachers on Thursday and Friday reminded me AGAIN that we have wonderful, hard working teachers who can figure this out together with us. Learning with Passion, Innovation and Leadership? I saw exactly that in our teachers on Thursday and Friday. Thank you!

What Are Our RCS Teachers Learning This Year?

As district parents know, our staff development days are scheduled throughout the school year (10/31, 1/27, 2/21, and 5/25), with teachers and professional staff here at school learning while our students have the day off. Have you ever wondered how we spend our time on those days?

Traditionally in districts, these days were “sit and get” experiences. Administrative Teams worked diligently to schedule something for every minute of the day with a one size fits all approach. Think about it. It’s difficult at best to plan a day or two of training in which the content is relevant for everyone from the guidance counselors to the teachers of special subjects to the HS Mathematics teacher to the Kindergarten teacher. Prior to this past year, the best configuration of this staff development I ever experienced was a sharing day in which teachers with different expertise did mini-sessions for our colleagues. Back in the day as a teacher at Pine Valley Central, I remember offering a session on Easy GradePro, one of the first electronic gradebooks.

We started working in small groups last year called Professional Learning Communities. Our intent was two-fold in implementing this type of structure for use of our staff development time. One, we wanted to create opportunities for our teachers to collaborate and problem solve, to use  curiosity and imagination, and to communicate with one another. Teaching has historically, and I’m generalizing here, been an isolated, independent profession in many ways. We know that we’re better together than we are separately and so we hoped that using our staff development time to work together in self-selected small groups to study relevant curriculum and instructional topics would get everyone talking and sharing best practices. Ultimately, we hope that teachers will see that they can safely ask each other questions, brainstorm and learn from one another without fear of judgment.

And two, we knew we had to change our culture in these ways to prepare our teachers for the important work that they will do together on data inquiry teams. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are the ideal structure for teachers to use in creating parallel tasks, creating and administering common formative assessments, and analyzing data from NYS assessments, interim assessments and other student data.

I’m excited to see what our teachers learn this year as they research, plan, analyze and discuss relevant topics that should improve learning for our students. We have teachers in grades PK-6 studying project based learning, common core standards, differentiated reading centers, using music to enhance learning, and writer’s workshop.

Our PK-6 teachers and professional staff are also using their PLCs to assess student reading and math progress, create common formative assessments and parallel tasks, create science kits, develop multi-sensory math manipulatives, collaborate on speech and language development of reading skills, and using interactive whiteboards and iPads to enhance learning at the preschool level. Using NYS Math and ELA assessment data to drive instruction and to individualize student learning is a particularly relevant topic that’s also being studied. Our art teachers are working together across the grade levels on the art curriculum and our elementary PE teachers will implement a SPARK fitness curriculum. Our occupational therapists are working on a handwriting intervention curriculum, something that is invaluable for many of our students.

Our 7-12 teachers and professional staff will learn more about and plan to implement digital portfolios, develop a curriculum on health, wellness and success, implement a 7th and 8th grade 1:1 Technology Initiative, develop informational text units collaboratively between ELA and social studies, and continue the implementation of new technology initiatives. I look forward to hearing more about what our teachers learn about peaking student interest in young adult novels and connecting students to the workforce.

Is it harder work than sitting and getting whatever we as an Admin Team think will be best for everyone? Absolutely. And much more valuable.

Annual Professional Performance Review Plan CHANGES

I must admit that all of the changes from NYSED have left my head spinning. Our APPR Committee, including five teachers and three administrators, has worked hard since the beginning of July to make sense of it all and to make collaborative decisions about what’s best for us here at RCS. The APPR Plan is on the website as a series of links and files, under District. If interested, please take some time to read the documents and follow the links.

As administrators, we have much to learn about the Danielson 2011 Teacher’s Rubric  and our role as lead evaluators. In fairness, we believe teachers deserve  professional development in the use of the tool with which they’re about to be evaluated. On October 31, our next Superintendent’s Conference Day, teachers will have half a day for their Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and half a day of professional development on the Rubric– Understanding the Framework, the four levels of performance and one aspect of one Domain–Student Engagement. As an Admin Team we will be working with a lead expert directly from the Danielson group 3-5 additional days during this year. One of the things I’m most interested in is the coaching day, when the Danielson trainer works with us to visit classrooms and then talks with us about how we talk about teaching with our teachers.

The Danielson Rubric has four domains, the last of which is entitled Professional Responsibilities. Under the new State Regs, and agreed to in our APPR Committee meetings, we will have 40 points of the teacher’s Composite Score based on multiple evaluations on the first three domains. The fourth domain will be based on a Professional Portfolio worth 20 points of the Composite Score. (Remember that the other parts are 20% for State Assessments and 20% for Locally Selected Assessments.)

And speaking of Locally Selected Assessments, we’ve selected iReady. We are meeting with the sales representative next Thursday to negotiate a price and to get these assessments into place as soon as possible. Why the rush? I want our teachers to have their preliminary diagnostic assessments done as early in the school year as possible.

I remain, as always, optimistic that the changes the new regulations have mandated will help us to improve learning for all of our students.

Rock Stars of Education

At an Education Week Leadership Forum this week, I had the opportunity to meet two women who have influenced my thinking for many years. Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier. Ms. Ravitch and Ms. Meier write a blog that I read regularly, Bridging Differences, in addition to having individually authored several books on education to include Meier’s In Schools We Trust and Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Their straightforward advocacy for a free and equal public education and their perspectives on the issues we face in education greatly influence my thinking and leadership. I’m not someone who would pay $5 or take the time to walk down the hallway to meet 99% of the “famous” people out there—but I have to admit, I was thrilled. When they sat down at the table next to ours, I was positively star struck. Deborah MeierKimberly, Diane Ravitch, Jerry Mottern

I especially appreciated the thoughts they shared on high stakes testing and federal “reform”. When they spoke of policy makers and our political leaders expecting that the way to improve our schools is through “PUNISHING, CLOSING AND FIRING”, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Yes, I get that it’s our responsibility as administrators to hold all employees responsible for their performance on the job. I’m not reluctant to have crucial conversations with employees. What I do not agree with is the notion that people perform better from a position of fear.

How do we empower our teachers and encourage them to collaborate more with a sharing of ideas and an openness to the idea that they can learn from one another? How do we break down the walls surrounding each classroom that causes teachers to stay inside and keep what they do quiet? How do we encourage teachers to critically analyze their own practice in an effort to improve? NOT through fear and competition and threats. Fear doesn’t help anyone do a better job, including me. Fear doesn’t help teachers to teach more effectively and it doesn’t help our students to learn either. Or better put by Deborah and Diane, “Fear is not an incentivizing tool.” For anyone. Thanks Ladies, for leading and writing and inspiring educators just like me.

1:1 Laptop Research and Analysis

We’re thinking a lot about a 1:1 student laptop initiative for our district. In the research and analysis part of a major implementation like this one, we’re looking at every possible angle BEFORE we even think about actually moving forward.  We’re already past the “WHY?” and “IS IT WORTH IT?” parts of the analysis. I know first hand what’s happening with technology, our instructional methods and learning at RCS and we have definite pockets that are ready for it, while many of our other classrooms are right on the cusp. As we push forward, we know that putting the technology into the hands of our students on a 24/7 basis is necessary. The costs are  relatively low, with a device available at $99—(that’s the cost of one textbook), so it’s not hard to imagine how we’ll cover the costs.  Making this happen without impacting our community taxpayer will obviously be a must in this economic climate.

We’re looking at various options and considering the most cost effective and useful devices and options, including purchases through BOCES and eRate, of course. After researching it, we will put the information into the hands of our Tech Committee, which includes parent and student input.

We’re considering some questions now that I’m thinking may or may not be significant hurdles to a possible implementation.  I’m sure others of you have already been there.  The purpose of this post is to see what solutions may be out there to a couple of problems. Here’s what I’m wondering about:

1. What’s the most cost effective way to get kids in our rural community connected? Not every home has Internet access. Are we close enough with pilot projects to imagine the school becoming the Internet provider for every household that contains a student? Or do we look at an option like Verizon and the same kind of connection I use now at my own home (where we don’t even have cable available to us)?

2. How do we handle the inequity? Some of our kids already have what they need at home. In fact, they have better devices and access than we’ll put into the hands of our students. How do we say to one student, “here’s a device and an Internet connection because we know you don’t have it at home.” and to another student, “you’ve already got what you need, right?” That sounds reasonable but will we have families who say, “why does she get that when we don’t?” Yet it seems ridiculous to give every child a device and a connection just to be “fair” when we know many are already set. Or is that what we need to do?

3. What happens when a student damages or loses his device? What do we do if a family refuses to accept the responsibility of their child receiving a device?

We are in the very beginning planning stages, all advice is welcome!