Student Social and Emotional Well-Being at SGI

Thank you to everyone who participated in our recent ThoughtExchange in which we asked the students and adults in our school community the following question:

What is the district doing well and what can we do to improve as we continue to support student social and emotional well-being?

Over 250 people participated by sharing their thoughts on this important topic. Please take the time to read through everything in this summary report, as our school administrators and BOE members will be doing.

When I was a high school principal, I thought a lot about how to connect every student in a positive way to our school. From asking a group of young men with a heavy metal band to play at a school assembly to supporting new clubs and classes to one on one relationships with students, I believe it’s important to find what works for every individual child. When I was in school, I wasn’t an athlete but I had other opportunities to connect and succeed, like color guard, DECA, and the school newspaper. I want that variety of opportunities for our students too.

From reading all of the thoughts people shared, I noted that we must always work hard to connect with every student. While 20 people agreed with the statement “We are building relationships with each other.”, 5 rated that comment low. Likewise, while 22 people agreed strongly that “The district is doing a great job and taking measures to make sure our students are safe at school”, 5 rated that thought low too.

I understand that not everyone will have the same thoughts, feelings and ideas about school. But those of us who come here every day, striving to make SGI the very best it can be for every student and family, must continue to go the extra mile by paying attention to every student, responding to every concern, and finding additional ways to connect.

And yes! I hear students when you offer your thoughts on our school lunch program–as many realize, we are starting our own SGI school breakfast and lunch program next year and we’re hoping to be more in line with the expectations of our students and families. Stay tuned!

After reading the summary report, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Either leave a comment here on the blog, email me at kmoritz@springvillegi.org, or call me at 716-592-3230. We’re better when we communicate often and work together to improve learning and the overall school experience by listening to our families, staff and students.

Student Social and Emotional Well Being, Please Participate

SGI Students, Families, Faculty and Staff:

We want to hear from you on the important topic of student social and emotional well being. Attending to the needs of all of our students is important to us. We want to know, how are things going for our students? Do our schools feel like a place where all students can connect, feel supported and loved? What more could we be doing to improve? What are we doing well? Do you feel like someone listens to you and works to resolve the problem when you contact us? Here’s the link to the exchange for families, faculty and staff.

SGI Students: Do you look forward to coming to coming to school? Do you have friends? Do you feel cared about and supported by the adults in the building? By your friends? Do you know who you can go to when you have a problem or need support? Let us know what’s going well for you and also, what do you wish we knew or think could be better? Here’s the link to the exchange for students.

As with previous thought exchanges this year, we will read all of your thoughts and plan for ways to continue to work to support, connect and love all of our students. I’ll share the results of our exchange back here on the blog at kimberlymoritz.com, via email to our faculty and staff, and on our school website.

Thank you for participating!

Kimberly Moritz, Superintendent, Springville-Griffith Institute CSD

 

Later Start Times: How Did Our Families and Students Respond?

On January 15, 2019, we started a two week ThoughtExchange in which we asked our students and the adult members of our school community the following question.

What are some important ideas for us to consider as we discuss the possibility of changing our school start and end times?

Here are links to the results of our student exchange and of our adult exchange. Thank you to the 504 students and 322 adults from our Springville Griffith-Institute school community who shared your thoughts on this topic and then rated the thoughts of others! I hope you’ll take the time to really read through the many pages of top thoughts. 

As indicated in the original question that I posed, the SGI Board of Education members are beginning to discuss the possibility of changing start times and your ideas will be carefully considered. The passion with which people answered the question at times, not only on the Exchange but also on social media, was really interesting to me. There were many comments which I read and thought, “why are you so angry? We’re asking for your ideas before even moving forward with a discussion so that everyone can be included. It’s far from a done deal.”

Please realize, we asked a question and invited you to weigh in. That’s a good thing–that we’re asking for and considering everyone’s ideas. If we wanted to just make the decision without caring about the ideas of our families and employees, we could have done so. BUT WE DIDN’T DO THAT and that’s not who we are as a leadership team. It’s so important, especially now with the onslaught of information from countless sources online, to read carefully and to consider what’s really being said in any article. How many people jumped right to the ThoughtExchange without even considering the introduction? In the introduction I wrote,

We need to hear from you before we move forward with these discussions. How would this change impact your learning, your schedule and your family life?

Our board is meeting in the next couple of months to discuss this topic further and the feedback you provide in this Thoughtexchange with help inform that conversation as well as our final decision. Please take a few minutes to share what is important to you and rate the thoughts of others.

SGI has an incredibly thoughtful, caring, bright and child centered Board of Education and Administrative Team. As with every decision, we’ll take our time to carefully consider every aspect of any change. 

Thank you for participating! I look forward to hearing from you again.

APPR: Include Student Performance on the Evaluation Rubrics

On January 23, 2019, Tom Precious of the Buffalo News published an article, New York lawmakers end mandate tying teacher evaluations to student test scores, that aptly summarizes the state’s next move on teacher evaluations and the tie to NYS student test scores.

I’ve been a superintendent since before the APPR requirements. In every district I’ve worked, there has been a strong evaluation system in place with regular evaluations of all teachers and administrators. Initially, I thought that the APPR law would help us to improve the quality of instruction for every student through the emphasis on test scores. I was wrong about that but there is some good that’s come out of it.

What’s worked well: requiring professional development on effective evaluation for all evaluators, the use of quality rubrics, the number of evaluations or site visits and the conversations that both precede and follow an observation. In my experience, the evaluation portion of the regulations has made a significant positive difference for our students.

What’s not worked well: The APPR law which ties employment decisions to the composite score of every teacher and principal, based on student assessments, has not improved anything. In different degrees in likely every building, the use of this composite score based on building wide or individual measures of student performance has done nothing but result in either an over emphasis on test prep, passive compliance with the regs, fear of reprisals based on the performance of the students in an educator’s class or building, intense pressure for better test scores which don’t necessarily mean enhanced learning opportunities. Composite scores, HEDI scales, state test scores and SLOs tied to teachers and principals have definitely NOT improved learning for the students we serve.

In a time when we struggle to bring young people into teaching, undue pressures from state lawmakers are not helping our profession. Our local Boards of Education and NYSED are the only governing bodies who should issue regulations on teacher and principal evaluation.

This current change in the law that ends the mandate to tie teacher and principal evaluations to test scores, before Governor Cuomo now, isn’t going far enough to fix this mess. Now we will have to negotiate with our local unions to determine what measures of student performance we will use instead of NYS tests—when many educators and families don’t believe that tests should be used as separate factors at all. How much testing do we want our students to have? In our district, many of our families and members of our school community, including BOE members, believe we’re testing students too much already.

We believe that student performance should definitely be a factor in teacher and principal evaluation. But in every district, how student success is defined may be different. Capturing the values of a community and what they most believe about learning for our children may not necessarily be quantified in a test.

In an effort to propose a proactive solution, I suggest we add a component on the evaluation rubric that assesses student performance.  The authors of our current state approved evaluation rubrics can add a domain/section to each of the evaluation rubrics that speaks to the critical importance of responsibility for student performance. Make it a part of pre and post observation discussions, include goal setting, and a rubric score that eliminates the need for student assessment as a separate score in the overall evaluation.

We’ve all been complying with a law that hasn’t done what it set out to do–improve educator practice by holding us all accountable for student performance because it did so through the testing of our students. Let’s stop this exercise in compliance that doesn’t improve education for our children. Let’s instead include student performance as a part of the evaluation rubrics.

 

Combining of Athletics with West Valley Central

By now you’ve likely read in our local newspapers about our planned combining of athletics with West Valley for the 2019-2020 school year. West Valley approached us in October to ask if we would offer opportunities to their student athletes. After meeting with the leadership team from West Valley, our BOE members asked that we connect with our Varsity coaches to determine if this is something that would work for them and for our student athletes.

SGI Athletic Director, Joe DeMartino, canvassed our coaches and learned that there was a great acceptance of the possible combining of sports. For four of our teams we will not be combining with West Valley: Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball, Baseball and Softball. Those are teams that carry relatively small rosters and so spots are competitive already. West Valley has also indicated that they may field their own teams for some sports, provided they have enough interested athletes. Additionally, West Valley has the option to combine sports with other schools for the teams which we are unwilling to combine.

We have to apply to Section VI before each season. For Fall 2019, we’re excited to offer opportunities to West Valley student athletes on all of our teams that include football, soccer, girls’ volleyball, girls’ tennis, girls’ swim and dive, boys’ golf, cross country, and cheerleading. At this point the question remains as to if there will be students from West Valley who want to try out for each team, but they are encouraged to do so for all Fall sports. West Valley Superintendent Eric Lawton has committed to sending their athletic director every day on the bus with the WV student athletes. He has offered the WV gym space, busing if needed should we ever be short of drivers, to host athletic contests at WV and to cover additional costs that we may incur from the addition of West Valley athletes.

A recent pre-annexation study showed both of our districts to be very similar on all measures. I’ve worked in small rural districts the majority of my career. When I started as the superintendent, I thought I was coming to a “big” district. What I’ve found is so much the same as the other rural districts I’ve worked in, like Randolph and Pine Valley where I spent twenty years. We have open, honest, hardworking families who expect the best FOR their children and OF their children. We very much identify as a small, rural district. Just like West Valley.

We have more students, a small, thriving business community and a great hospital. Other than that, West Valley students and families will find we’re much more alike than we are different. Our families, faculty, staff, administration, and coaches will welcome West Valley student athletes warmly, encouraging and expecting the best of them. I hope they’ll give SGI a chance!

SMS and SHS to start later in the morning?

Update: Thank you to everyone who’s commenting on the blog and on Facebook. For your thoughts to be included in the analysis of the thoughts of our school community, please add your thoughts to the Thoughtexchange too. See links below.

Our Board of Education is discussing unifying our school schedules so that elementary, middle and high school students begin and end the day at the same time. As you know, our SMS/SHS students begin their days very early—our MS students enter the building at 7:05 am. We have students boarding our buses as early as 6:20 am. There’s current research (linked within our ThoughtExchanges) that shows this can be problematic for adolescents. We have students waking up to get ready for school as early as 5:30 am. Imagine this for our student athletes who are out late for games, arriving home after 11:00 pm. That is simply not enough sleep.

For elementary school students, we’re not proposing a significant change. We’re considering a change that has our Middle and High School students moving to a schedule that both begins and ends later in the day (for example, 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM).

We need to hear from you before we move forward with these discussions. How would this change impact your learning, your schedule and your family life?

Our board is meeting in the next couple of months to discuss this topic further and the feedback you provide in this Thoughtexchange with help inform that conversation as well as our final decision. Please take a few minutes to share what is important to you and rate the thoughts of others.

Our Family/Faculty/Staff Exchange: https://my.thoughtexchange.com/#392284991

Our Student Exchange: https://my.thoughtexchange.com/#899398479

Thank you!

Griffith Institute FCU

The Griffith Institute Employees Federal Credit Union has long occupied space within one of the District owned school buildings. Because the credit union is a separate organization from the Springville-Griffith Institute CSD, with a separate Board of Directors, our new auditors, Buffamante Whipple Buttafaro, P.C.,  recommended in this year’s audit that we develop a formal lease agreement that would outline the use of such space and other incidentals.

To my knowledge, there has not been a lease agreement previously nor has the Credit Union ever paid to occupy space or for other incidentals such as internet access, email, etc. within the District. Consider, if you will, that we have many other private organizations within our District who do not enjoy this same benefit.

This recommendation by our auditors led us to also consult with our school attorney, Hodgson Russ LLP, and to review the recommendations of an earlier safety audit.

We learned from our school attorney that we needed to consider a couple of points. First, they concur that a lease agreement identifying the use/cost of school district space and incidentals is necessary. Second, they identified that we must have the space available to house the Credit Union, without impairing the educational mission of the District. In other words, are we giving space to the Credit Union that could otherwise be used by students and teachers? The presence of the Credit Union office in District facilities necessarily reduces the District’s flexibility with respect to space utilization moving forward. Third, making space available in District facilities to the Credit Union could trigger “private business use concerns under the IRS”. There are restrictions on the amount of benefit that may be conferred on a private organization, such as the Credit Union, utilizing District facilities. Should we afford space within our District facilities to one private organization? Fourth, consider school safety. Credit union membership is open to all present and past district employees and their family members. Does it make sense to have Credit Union members entering our school buildings during the school day for credit union business? Given our increased safety measures to keep all students and staff safe, is it prudent to have this business conducted next to our classrooms? We should limit the people entering our school buildings for non-school related business to the extent possible.

Ultimately, the future location of the credit union is a matter within the discretion of the Board of Education. In light of the factors expressed above, on the advice of our auditors and our school attorney, the Board of Education has decided that the safest and most prudent course for the District is for the Credit Union to relocate off of District property.

If you are a member of the Griffith Institute Employees Credit Union, you may expect further information about a new location and hours of operation from your Credit Union Board of Directors. They are welcome to continue to occupy space within the old District Office building until April 1, 2019.

What makes you want to learn more?

Thank you to our AMAZING SGI STUDENTS who participated in our first Thought Exchange, sharing your ideas about what you most enjoy about our schools and what you think we can do better. We also appreciate all of the teachers and staff members, parents, and community members who participated. Our team of administrators is studying every thought that was shared and looking for ways to improve. You can read more about what we learned from everyone here.

Next we’re hoping to delve deeper into your ideas about learning. What happens in school that makes you think, “Yes! I wish we could learn this, in this way, every day!” What most works for you as a learner?

And from our families, our teachers and staff–what do you most wish for our students in regard to the kinds of learning we encourage and build here at SGI? 

Please take a close look at our opening day video, within the exchange, in which I asked students, teachers and principals, “what do you most love to learn? Where do you learn about that? What happens in school that makes you say ‘YES! I wish we could do this every day!’ and what do you wish we’d NEVER do again?”

Now’s your chance to answer the question, “What are the most important things we can do to ensure that our students are inspired to learn?” Afterwards, please take some time to rank the thoughts left by other members of our school community. And remember, some of our youngest students are participating so please don’t judge spelling or the way someone shares a thought. We want to hear from everyone!

Here’s the exchange–thank you!

We’ll keep this exchange open from Thursday, November 1 through Friday, November 16. Don’t forget to go back and rank thoughts near the end of the exchange.

SGI Community Shares Ideas

We recently asked our school community, “what are some important things you appreciate about our district and what opportunities for improvement do you see?” We had two different thought exchanges, one for students and one for adults. Following I share the results of those two exchanges. THANK YOU to the overwhelming number who participated! We truly value what everyone in our community thinks. . . it’s why we did the exchange in the first place–to hear from you. And the response? Overwhelmed me! We had 123 adults share 80 thoughts and rate the ideas 1,446 times. Our students really rocked with 1,096 students sharing 1,877 thoughts and 72,488 ratings. Thank you, thank you!

Here are the results of our adult exchange.      And here’s what our SGI students had to say.

You’ll notice the reports show top thoughts from each group–those are the ideas with which the largest number of participants strongly agreed. I love the #1 thought from the adult exchange in which someone appreciates our willingness to be open to new ideas and opportunities. That’s what this is largely about–asking our school community what you think so that we can consider other points of view when making decisions about the future. And our student exchange must have been completed on some HOT days because students are really looking for air conditioning, an idea we’ll need to vet in future capital projects.

The thoughts about school lunch really hit home too. We hired Laura Watson this year, Director of Food Service. Laura is shared with Holland Central and her first and most important task is to evaluate everything about our current school breakfast and lunch program to determine ways in which we can improve. Our BOE members have made this a priority over the past few years and I can see from what the students have to say that the BOE members were right. It’s a bit of validation that we’re headed in the right direction with Laura Watson here at SGI.

Our leadership team will study all of the thoughts and take heed to make necessary improvements where possible. I’m looking forward to our next thought exchange in which we ask questions about learning–looking for what our school community most believes about learning and who we want to be as a school community. More to come and we want to continue to hear from you!

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.