Our Students Need to Return to School in September

Here’s  an email from a mother of four children in our school district. She clearly articulates the struggles of so many families with school age children throughout this closure. The email is reprinted here with her permission.

One SGI mom wrote:

Good afternoon Mrs. Moritz,
I hope all is well with you and your family.
I am trying to review Power School to see where my children stand in terms of grading and it is extremely confusing to me. I have over 200 emails from the school, for the kids google classroom updates, since this pandemic began.
All four of our children have been trying to keep up with schoolwork, as best they can, given the current pandemic.
I am not sure how their Pass/Fail grades will be determined exactly, but I would ask that all of their teachers take the following into consideration:
01) We have one chrome book, which we borrowed mid-way through this pandemic from SGI, for all 4 kids.
02) All four of our children are using this same one chrome book, which I think has to be returned this week as I borrowed it from the high school, and the kids still have past-due work, which I assume needs to be completed, in order to pass given the Pass/Fail grading system?
03) Both my husband and myself have been considered “essential employees” since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
04) Being considered “essential”, both of us have been required to go into our places of employment during normal business hours (roughly 8am until 6pm) since March, when most people were able to at least work from home. Then, we need to work full days still and try to come home and “homeschool” four children, with one laptop and extremely sluggish internet. Hence, some assignments perhaps not uploading correctly and probably some missing.
While I am certainly not trying to make excuses for possible missing assignments, I do believe that most people are under the impression that parents have actually been home during this entire time and that simply is not the case with our family.
I actually do think most families have had at least one parent, if not both parents, at home with their children during this entire time, since March. Unfortunately (or fortunately since we both still have jobs) my husband and myself have been obligated to go into work everyday as usual since March, when the kids were initially released from school.
We are doing our best to ensure our four kids keep up on their school work, to the best of their abilities, and ours, given the tools and resources available.
I would greatly appreciate if the school district and teachers take this into consideration when grading our children in (10th grade), (7th grade), (6th grade) and (3rd grade), at the close of this school year.
Please advise if I need to forward this to any additional personnel at SGI High School, SGI Middle School or Colden Elementary School.
Thank you for your time and please stay safe!

This well spoken SGI mom and I have since connected and I hope she found my words to be reassuring. If our students, particularly at grades K-6, have been connecting with our teachers and attempting to continue their learning, they’ll pass. Much leniency is also in place for our grades 7-12 students while we attempt to keep adolescents moving forward in their learning and achieving course credit. We would have given her four chrome books if we knew she needed them. I cannot imagine the stress she has felt daily as she worried about her children at home, plus school work plus her own work responsibilities.

The current model of remote learning is not the way in which we need to reimagine our schools. Do we need to constantly evolve and rethink the way we do things in our schools? YES! And we need our students to return to us to do so.

Our students left us in mid-March with school being a safe, normal, and nurturing environment where the adults in the buildings care for each of them. If that isn’t a child’s experience because of bullying or a difficult teacher, then that’s a different problem we work on. Our vision at SGI is to be a place where everyone finds value and meaning every day.  Our mission is to be a learning community that cultivates meaningful relationships, commits to continuous growth and improvement, says “YES” to voice, choice and creativity and knows that learning is limitless.

We need our students to return to school in September to live that mission fully.

I know the decision to reopen our schools won’t be up to me–that the state of the Covid-19 crisis prior to September will determine Governor Cuomo’s decision on whether or not we’re reopening schools. We’re knee deep in graduation plans that meet ever evolving guidance and building level planning of some sort of end of the year recognition/connection with our students. We’re nose deep in preparing for reduced state and federal aid revenues–the amount of which is still unknown on this 10th day of June–and considering all of the possible ways to mitigate revenue cuts.

While we’re working on all of the logistics of what re-opening schools MIGHT look like, can we please still have hope for a relatively normal return to school?

Look, I believe that everyone in our organization and every family has done their very best during this time. We’ve all learned how to do things differently. But this has not been the same as having our students with us all day. There has most assuredly been a loss of learning for our students and I worry very much about our neediest children.

We’ll follow all well researched guidance that the CDC/DOH/NYSED give us to keep our students and employees safe.  We need to take smart precautions that keep our students and employees safe while trying to return our students to a school environment that feels safe, nurturing and normal.

 

Teaching Swimming in Elementary PE

Before I get to changes at SGI, I’d like to share something personal.

I remember the first time I mastered “floating” in the pool. I was in the 8th grade and my best friend’s sisters took us to the New Kensington public pool. I grew up in a coal mining town outside of Pittsburgh. While our little town was filled with hard working coal miners and their equally hard working wives, we were short on swimming pools. As in, no one had one. I don’t even remember being in a pool prior to that trip to the public pool a couple of towns away. My swimming “lessons” started late in childhood with that trip and were sporadic at best.

Consequently, I’m not a great swimmer. The funny thing about that is that it’s the only exercise I can say that I truly love. About 10-12 years ago, we put in a pool at our home. My husband was adamantly against this, complaining about how much work a pool is, until I explained that I wanted to put in a pool because we could–I’d worked hard to get ahead and I knew we could afford it. It was something beyond anyone’s access when I was growing up and for me it was a symbol of my own achievement. Every day that our Western New York weather affords me, I’m swimming laps in our pool. I’m grateful that my husband listened to me and agreed that it was the very best reason for a pool plus that he puts in the work to take care of it for me.

Here I am more than forty years later as the superintendent of a school district where we have a school pool in the high school and that’s when we teach our students to swim. Do you know we have students who hit that 9th grade year and don’t know how to swim? This is completely illogical to me. That’s not the year when you want to admit to everyone that you don’t know how to swim. It’s irresponsible that we have a resource in our swimming pool and in our excellent PE teachers, and yet we aren’t taking advantage of the opportunity to teach our elementary students to swim.

I know that there are opportunities for children to learn how to swim within our community. I’m grateful that there are so many families who can take advantage of those swimming lessons. However, that doesn’t afford access to every child. The beauty of a public education is that everyone gets access to the same opportunities. I contend that this needs to include swimming lessons in physical education classes for ALL elementary students.

We’re starting with fifth grade this year–that’s the year when it seems least disruptive to our school schedule, according to SES Principal Chris Scarpine. In meeting with our PE teachers on Monday, they confirmed for me that younger would be better and so we’ll work to move this to 3rd and 4th grade next year. Of course we’ll do this the right way, with plenty of certified instructors and life guards. I truly hope that our families and teachers will support this endeavor. Swimming is a life skill that can indeed be a life saving skill and it’s important for all of our students. Very grateful to the administrative and PE teams for working on the logistics to make this happen at Springville-Griffith Institute for CES and SES students this year.

School Safety When Alleged Threats Are Reported

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, we had two different incidents that captured the attention of our students, staff and families. Our SRO, Deputy Lundberg, our principals and I were well aware of the issues, investigated them fully and worked with the families involved. Neither issue constituted a real, credible threat to our schools. 

In the first case, a rumor was spread about a MS student “shooting up the school” that was completely untrue. Not a germ of truth to it. Still, the right thing happened and students who heard the rumor told parents and a few of the parents notified law enforcement of the alleged threat. Our middle school principal, Ms. Shanda DuClon, and SRO Lundberg investigated the claim thoroughly and directly, concluding that this was a middle school rumor.

Middle school students have engaged in this kind of mean spirited behavior forever. Hurtful gossip and rumors are never acceptable and through the course of the year we have had instances where a child has made up a claim that another student is intending school violence. This takes the concern to an entirely new level. Law enforcement and school administration investigate every single mention of a threat. This takes up a colossal amount of time while rocking the security we want our students to feel at school–all from a falsely reported incident. There must be consequences for children who falsely report by fabricating a story about school violence. Talk to your children about the damage done by making up any kind of rumor about another student, and most especially this kind which can result in law enforcement bringing consequences for falsely reporting.

But let me stress, if students hear something from anyone that constitutes a threat to oneself or others, they should immediately bring it to a teacher, parent, administrator or other trusted adult.

In the second case, high school students overheard part of a potentially concerning conversation and did the right thing and reported it to the high school principal, Mr. James Bialasik.  He and Deputy Lundberg did a thorough investigation and concluded that there is no threat, no intention by our student to do harm to others, no hit list or “shooting up the school” plan.

“See something, say something”–that’s the mantra we’re all following. People need to report to school and law enforcement authorities when they see or hear something. If it’s after school hours and you or your child have first hand knowledge of a threat, by all means, report it to law enforcement.

At the same time, please remember that rumor and conjecture can grow exponentially. Remember that old telephone game we all played in elementary school? Whatever was stated at the beginning of the row of students is never even remotely the same at the end. This happens even more on social media. We now have two students, one MS and one HS, who are faced with wondering if everyone heard the rumors and thinks they’re going to do something to harm others. A difficult pressure for young people.

Regarding communication from the school to our students, employees and families, I will share information with you when I can. You have my absolute word that we will communicate with you, as I’m doing now, as soon as possible.

Here’s my cell phone number: 716-258-8361. Report school safety concerns to law enforcement first, especially after school hours. But you can text or call me if you’re afraid for your child because of what you’re hearing or reading on social media. I’ll tell you what I can, which may simply be “we’re aware of the issue and are working on it. We’re confident that our students and staff are safe to come to school.” I won’t ever give you the details about someone else’s child, but I’ll tell you what I can. And if we’re not confident our employees and students will be safe at school, then our emergency plans will go into play and you’ll receive a parent broadcast.

School violence is by far one of the worst tragedies of my lifetime. It’s terrifying and involves those we hold most dear, our children. Let’s work together to do the very best that we can to care for all of our SGI children.

Construction Update on P-TECH Academy

If you’ve driven down Newman Street you can’t help but notice the incredible progress on the transformation of our old district office building into the planned P-TECH Academy. This is Springville’s collaborative project with Erie 2 BOCES and Alfred State, scheduled to open in September 2020. We have students from area districts, along with our own Springville students, attending now in our high school. To read more about P-TECH go here and here, also here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re someone who’s curious about construction, following are the highlights of the capital project for the CAM P-TECH Academy.

  • The existing building is 12,000 SqFt.
  • The addition is 20,000 SqFt.
  • There are 10 classrooms:
    1. Two Computer Information Classrooms
    2. Two Electrical Classrooms
    3. One Science Classroom
    4. One Languages Other Than English
    5. One English
    6. One Math
    7. One Social Studies
    8. One Health
  • One Gymnasium/One Cafeteria, there is an operable partition between the two that can be opened and closed depending on usage needs.
  • Small kitchen with a Serving Area.
  • Locker rooms.
  • The Electrical Classrooms have taller ceilings to allow for student electrical conduit to be raised up in the air without hitting the ceiling.
  • The Entire Building is Air Conditioned for year-round use.
  • There is a Vegetative roof on the addition (except the Gymnasium roof)
    • The Vegetative roof has an irrigation system
    • The Vegetative roof has a leak detection system
  • The Gymnasium roof is reinforced as a future provision for Roof Mounted Solar Panels
  • Most of the building will have an exposed ceiling painted white.  Areas that will have a ceiling are: Bathrooms, Offices, Locker rooms, Main Office/Reception Area.
  • The corridor floors will be a polished concrete floor.
  • All lighting on/ inside the building will be L.E.D.
  • The main entrance will have a tall ceiling that is sloped.  The lights hanging from the ceiling will mimic the circular floor pattern.
  • The exterior of the building will be constructed out of a Metal Wall Panel System of which there are two contrasting types.
  • The roof on the spine is a Standing Seam roof.

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!