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.

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.