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

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

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

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

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

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

A Grieving School Community

945506_1298473950196763_692095451487601794_nAs a school administrator, I’ve been writing about school leadership here since 2006. Nothing been as challenging to me as a person as dealing with the loss of 7-year-old SGI student Alyssa Hearn in a tragic school bus accident 12 days ago. As difficult as it is to write about, it’s important that we communicate about this horrible event so that we can continue to support Alyssa’s family, one another, and our community as a whole.

Friday, November 4 was the single worst day in a young family’s life and it was the single worst day of my career and that of many others. No parents ever imagine that a child will predecease them.  And no teacher wants to think that a healthy 7-year-old will get on the bus and not return to school.  The grief of Alyssa’s teachers in the days following the accident was an obvious result of how much our teachers love our students. The bus drivers and counselors and school administrators who came together with our local clergy and families on Saturday and then again on Sunday in Springville’s community vigil, showed the remarkable strength of our community. The love and support shown for one another in our community over the past 12 days has reminded me and many others of all that is right with our world in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

As the superintendent, I feel a deep sense of obligation to determine what occurred on November 4th and to make sure that a similar tragedy does not occur in the future. As so many of our parents are asking, how does this happen? We are all working cooperatively to determine what happened, and to see what we can do to prevent similar tragedies in the future. The Erie County Sheriff’s Department is continuing its investigation of the accident. At the same time, the NY State Education Department has already been in District to evaluate the accident and determine if there is anything it can incorporate into school bus safety and training for all drivers across the State.  And the District is conducting its own internal investigation into what happened.  I pledge that we will look at that day and accident from every imaginable angle to learn if there was anything we could have done differently, and what the District may do to attempt to prevent a similar accident in the future.

I am incredibly grateful to this community for the ways in which everyone has reached out to love, honor and support Alyssa’s family and our entire school community. There’s no administrative coursework or training for how to respond to such a horrible accident. As a leader of the District I have sometimes felt like I was fumbling in the dark these last 12 days, making decisions from a position of caring and love while hoping we get it right.

Thank you to each and every person who has reached out to me or others in our school family to make a connection and to help us find our way out of the dark. I appreciate it more than I can adequately express here, and ask for your continued assistance as we work together to support Alyssa’s family and the entire community. #springvillestrong

Welcoming the Class of 2029

I love this–the Springville Faculty Association presented all of our Kindercamp (incoming Kindergarten) students with this great “Class of 2029” bag which included items from our teachers and the community.FullSizeRender

Included in each bag were:

  • books from the SFA
  • bus magnets with important district phone numbers from the SFA
  • Play-Doh and matchbox cars from Walmart
  • a magnet from Bertrand Chaffee Hospital
  • bracelets for SES girls from Fresh Floral & Gifts
  • stuffed animals for CES girls from Lu Lu Belle’s
  • informational items from LOVE INC.

Thank you to everyone who donated and for the SFA members for acting on a great idea. The Class of 2029, wow!

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The Comprehensive School Climate Survey Results

During our School BOE’s last goal setting initiative, BOE members determined to survey our school community. The primary goal was to determine what is the perception of our school community–school personnel, students and parents–in regard to our climate for learning. We received the results of the survey, done in each of our buildings, yesterday and while the full report is 143 pages per building, I’m sharing the summary reports here, in our school newsletter and of course, with our BOE members.

According to the National School Climate Center we had a strong return rate in both buildings. In our 7-12 building we had 76.94% of our students, 58.72% of our school personnel, and 23.25% of our parents participate. In our elementary school, our 3-6 population participated with 87.80% of our students, 48.86% of our school personnel and 27.38% of our parents. If you double click on any of the photos below, you will be able to see them enlarged.

Here is an explanation of the school climate survey  What is School Climate

and the 12 indicators examined.  12 Dimensions Our 7-12 building had the following overall results: Students Rankings School Personnel Parents Response

And  Gail N. Chapman posted these survey results:

Students GailSchool Personnel GailParents Gail

 

The BOE members and administrative teams will be studying the detail of the results. As you can see from the charts in this post–the overall results are very favorable. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Welcome Back to School Randolph Cardinals!

Tomorrow begins a new school year which offers each of us the incredible opportunity to make a fresh start. I’m looking forward to making 2014-15 my best school year yet. My goals include spending time visiting classrooms to learn more about what students are learning, reaching out to the community regarding everything from the common core standards to our capital project proposal, and improving my communication with all constituencies within our school community. I also want to exercise at least 3-5 times per week, eat less and to be kinder to everyone I come into contact with in AND outside of school.

I’m also super excited to spend time with our new grandson, Blake. Blake Lee BoothAfter all, I’ve got to help him to prepare for his 1st year of school at Randolph Central in Pre-K, September, 2018!

If there’s anything I can do to help you make this your best year ever, just say the word. Go Cards!

Excitement and Pride

If you will, allow me a bit of explanation about my excitement for today’s visit from Chancellor Emeritus Bennett and Deputy Commissioner Slentz. Consider your own career. We spend 8-12 hours per day on the work that we do. If you love your work and you’re passionate about it, you think, read and “talk” about it outside of the workplace. But who really wants to hear about your work in your circle outside of the workplace? Don’t get me wrong, my husband and friends–we do listen to each other. But even with one of my closest friends, a teacher in a neighboring district—we only talk “school” so much. For one thing, it leaves out the rest of the group and for another thing, we’re usually trying to relax, have fun, forget about work! The only person who wants to talk “school” more than I do is my daughter who is a 5th/6th grade teacher in another neighboring district.

Today, with our incredible teachers and students and administrators, I get to talk “school” with two leaders in education who care as much about what we’re doing here as I do. I cannot wait for their arrival so that I can watch them as they discover the work that our teachers and students are doing in our classrooms. So that I can brag a bit about our improvements and results; and tell them about our collegiality and support for one another. So they can see what a unique and wonderful community we have here in Randolph.

And the best part? Everyone’s got their game faces on! The buildings and grounds crew have been spit shining this place like there’s a wedding this afternoon; many of our students are dressed up because they’ve heard we have some State Ed “big wigs” coming today. And our teachers are ready to go, just like every other day. It’s also mid-May and a Friday. . . our seniors have agreed to NO senior pranks or shenanigans today, of all days. So no one will be releasing the pigs on the first floor that the Class of 2014 has been teasing me about all year. Thank goodness for that! And a huge thank you to every member of our school system who’s helped us prepare to show how it’s done here.

Workplace Flow

There are days on the job in education when everything I’m doing just feels right and I know I’m in the right place. Yesterday was one of those days. We spent the morning meeting with the architects from CannonDesign on our vision for capital project planning and that was followed up with a Board of Education meeting and a Common Core ELA Parent Forum meeting last night. Now one might think, why would sitting in meetings be considered a good day?

It’s exhilarating in this work to problem solve and plan and prepare our educational programs and spaces for future generations. It’s equally rewarding to meet with colleagues and parents to discuss the current changes in education in our district and to do the same, problem solve and plan. But the reason yesterday was one of the days when I experienced “flow” or the energy that a productive day at work produces? Our students.

I have the privilege of sharing lunch with two different groups of students. One group consists of eighth grade students and the other ninth graders. Each group is remarkably different in their choice of conversations and both are the highlights of every work day for me. For 30 minutes, I get the chance to listen to our students. They talk about sports, PS3, their classes and projects, and their interests outside of school. We’ve talked about the merits of bread crumbs and analyzed the contents of the school lunch chicken patties. It’s my connection to our students and my opportunity to remember the main reason we’re all employed, our students.

They ask me the most incredible questions and we have intellectual discussions about everything from WiFi to the emphasis on athletics or academics to their essays for ELA. And I’m my absolute best self with them. Of all of the incredibly good things in my life, the best is knowing with certainty that I’m doing that thing in life that I was meant to do.  I first learned of this idea from  Dr. Lloyd Elm  in his commencement address to the graduating class of 2005 at Gowanda Central School when I was the principal there. If you haven’t found that thing that you were meant to do in this life yet, I encourage you to seek it out. And I hope we find ways in our educational program for our students to discover that thing they’re each meant to do too.

So when I’m in a meeting to begin to discuss the future of our school district in regard to its facilities and grounds, I’m planning with those same students in mind. What will they need and what will the future generations need for learning spaces? When the BOE meets and talks about the upcoming 8th grade trip to Washington, DC for which our principal, Laurie Sanders advocated, they’re thinking about the needs of our students. And when we meet with parents about the more rigorous work of the common core standards, we’re thinking about continuous improvement and listening to them about what we can do better.

Education is an incredibly rewarding path; what could be better than having the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our young people?  I am grateful for the opportunity.

The Penalty Box

Years ago, when I was a principal, I put every child’s name on a separate piece of paper and taped the pages up in the hallway after school. During a faculty meeting, we all went into the hall and signed our names to the pages of those children with whom we thought we had some sort of a relationship—did we know something about the kid’s home life/interests/activities or did we think the child would come to us with a problem?  I then took down the pages and for any student who had no signatures we determined to connect him or her to the school in a meaningful way. We planned who would reach out to the child, who could easily engage with him to talk about possible interests, and we brainstormed the best ways to follow through. Why? Because the way we connect to our students, the ways in which we notice them and let them know that they are important—-that matters.

We used to have out of school suspension. How dumb is that? You’ve done something really egregious and your consequence is to stay home for three to five days. Sign me up, right? Instead we now have an in school suspension (ISS) program and for all but the most serious safety issues, which are few and far between, our students are here in school for any consequence needed as part of our progressive discipline. I’ve referred to the ISS room as “the Box” for my entire administrative career, a throwback to the many years of sitting at the rink watching my son play hockey.  Fighting on the ice? Five minutes in the box. Fighting in school? Five days in the box.    Damen and Tallon Pond Hockey

But it’s not really that simple. Sitting in the box in a hockey game is just that, sitting and waiting to be let out. Sometimes a penalty that resulted in a stint in the box was even considered worth it—I know since my kid was a goon on the ice and often spent time in there. Our in school suspension rooms cannot be the same as that time spent in the penalty box on the ice. They cannot be a place to just sit and wait to get back out. Time spent in that way doesn’t do anything more than more thoroughly alienate a student from the school.

HockeyInstead we now have an ISS room that’s working for us because it’s working for our students. It’s physically connected to the HS Main Office and it’s staffed by our Teaching Assistant, Deb Luce, who’s connected to the students she serves. What she does in there with her “frequent fliers” reminds me very much of good parenting—she kicks them in the butt when needed, most often regarding their inability or unwillingness to complete school work. Students who are approaching ineligibility spend a lot of time in there—as a proactive way to keep our reluctant learners on track. But as good parents do, Mrs. Luce doesn’t just kick them in the butt when needed, she also pats them on the back.

The students Mrs. Luce works with know that she cares about them. They know that the Assistant Principal who likely assigned the ISS cares about them because he checks on them. And they know that the Principal and the teachers care because the room is connected, it’s open and it’s frequently visited by all of us.

It’s not a place to further disconnect our kids, get them out of the way or alienate them because of their bad behavior. It’s a place to more consistently connect them to our school so that they care.  And when they say they don’t care, we show them that we care enough for both of us.

We’re far from perfect, we can do more for so many of our students—but this is a darn good start.

Vandalism

Vandalism. Senior Pranks that cause damage. Graffiti. Why is any of it necessary?

Last night, the mural that our students and Art teachers created in Town was vandalized. This happened along with the vandalism of some of our local churches. Vandalism is a problem that I cannot get my head around. I understand that those who commit the act aren’t worried about the costs to repair, replace or clean the damage. But I don’t understand what they hope to gain?

What’s the vandalism about in the mind of the person committing it? Is it done out of anger? Boredom? Spite? Mischief? Jealousy? Hate?

From where I stand, vandalism feels very hurtful. Perhaps that’s the intention, to hurt others? But why then? We have students and teachers who gave freely of their own time to try to do something good for our Town, why would anyone want to hurt them? It’s so senseless. I try really hard to listen and understand and think about the other person’s point of view but in this case I truly cannot understand. It  makes me very sad. What is lacking in the people who deliberately destroy the property of others? What need does that act feed in them?

What’s the point?

On a similar topic, I’ve always hated senior pranks for the same reasons. Maybe they start in good fun, but I’ve seen students get carried away with them and do irreparable damage to their school and to themselves. And even when it doesn’t result in real damage–who do they think has to clean up the messes left behind? Some good hard working cleaner or custodian who doesn’t deserve that extra load in their work day, that’s who. For those of us who work in education and strive every day to make school a better place and to make sure every student feels valued and cared about—vandalism and senior pranks gone awry are just a big slap in the face.

 

Students and Me

As a superintendent of schools, my day to day work is very different than in any other role I’ve had from teacher to assistant principal to principal. On any given day, I may have tasks and projects lined up that require little to no contact with anyone else in the district. Forms to be completed, budgets to analyze, reading and writing and analyzing, documents to study, attorneys to speak to, phone calls to return. There are plenty of other days when I’m involved in meetings all day or visiting classrooms or listening to others. But what I don’t get that I had in every other role is day to day responsibility for a group of students. As a teacher, I obviously had my class schedule and rosters of students and as a principal, well at least there was discipline! As the superintendent, I visit classrooms and I can always hang out in a kindergarten room if I need a little kid time–but I’m just a visitor to those students.

Until this year. For reasons I can’t remember, I have a small group of Randolph Seniors who stop in throughout my day and often have lunch with me. It’s the very best part of my day. They argue, they ask questions, they talk about the issues on their minds, they complain, they drive me crazy. I love it. 

Why? Because it’s why we all do what we do–the pure joy of spending a work day with kids. Students have always been my absolute favorite people—talking with them, listening to them, and yes, trying my best to influence them positively. They would add here that more than once I’ve chastised at least one of these stellar seniors in a manner very similar to how I spoke to my own children, before they became adults. Just a little bit, I get to be teacher and mom again. Pure Joy. 

I will miss them terribly at graduation, I’ll probably cry just as I did each year as the principal. And my fervent hope is that yet another group of students finds their way into my office next year. Keeping me real.