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. 

Tragedy and Emergency Preparedness

Dear Parents, Students, Faculty, Staff and Randolph Community Members:

First and most important, let me express my deepest condolences to the families of the victims in Sandy Hook. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone touched by this worst imaginable tragedy.

Second my thoughts turn to my own children and to our school community. I was talking with our Kindergarten students in Ms. Burris’ classroom just this week about the books they chose during library and the movie the Avengers and which superhero is the best. The faces of our beautiful RCS children haven’t left me as I’ve followed the news out of Sandy Hook these last 24 hours. Last night, my husband Derek and I met our own adult children for dinner and I hugged each a little longer than usual. I think too of my beautiful niece Kaylee, the innocence and delight in her young face and of bright McKenna, my friend Danielle’s daughter–both Kaylee and McKenna are precious four year olds who I treasure. How do we do everything within our power as adults to protect the children we love? How do we control for the unpredictable mayhem that was this evil event?

It is with these thoughts and emotions that I consider our #1 job at Randolph Central–the safety and welfare of every child in our care. Please know that it is with overwhelming love for our students and an understanding of the sacred trust you give us when all 1000 students enter our buses and doors each day that we do our jobs. We have a staff of faculty, support personnel and administrators who do this work because they want the best for each child.

What steps are we taking to protect our children? This is my fifth year as the superintendent of Randolph Central. As with everything else, I’m constantly analyzing and assessing how we’re doing–in every aspect of our operation. We have emergency plans in place and we began talking last year and have continued this year about how well we all know these plans, how up to date and effective they are, and examining our vulnerabilities. Like Sandy Hook, we are a close knit, caring and supportive community. We know one another and the community largely loves and supports us as a school system. That love and support can also breed complacency, a feeling of safety and trust for our neighbors. Generally, that’s a wonderful thing.

I began to really think about this last year and members of our Safety Committee invited Trooper Jen Czarnecki into the schools to help us learn things like: where are our weak points? What can we do better with daily security? How can we improve our fire drill procedures? How about our cameras and procedures for visitor entry? Asking those questions led to work by Trooper Jen Czarnecki and our Assistant Principal Jason Halpainy, along with the rest of our Administrative team, in making improvements and to plans for next Friday’s emergency drills. We will conduct more than just our annual lock-down, take cover, and emergency go home early drills. We have a planned evacuation drill for Friday, a drill we haven’t conducted in many years. We also will have Trooper Jen Czarnecki, other members of the NYS Police, and the Director of the Cattaraugus County Emergency Services, Christopher Baker, assessing our procedures and conduct during the drills so that we can learn what we need to do better.

Considering the events of the last 24 hours in Connecticut will fill us with a renewed sense of urgency about what we can do better with our own emergency drills and everyday procedures. As one Randolph parent wrote to me in an email last night, “I wouldn’t mind being slightly inconvenienced to provide better safety for my children and the other students.” She’s 100% correct–we have to reevaluate our entry ways, our procedures for visitors and children pick-ups in light of keeping everyone safe. At the end of the day–we must know that safety and security comes first, that our adults know how to react in the face of a real emergency, and that our parents will support our efforts to improve–even if it means a few extra minutes when they come to pick up their children.

You also should know that I’ve had several meetings this year with Lt. Edward Kennedy and others from the NYS Police about how we can work together to improve safety at RCS. Lt. Kennedy has extended an invitation for greater involvement in our schools that we have embraced. When the trooper on patrol is in our area, he stops at the schools just to walk through—for the purposes of protecting our children and improving our systems. On Tuesday of this past week, Trooper Moran met with me to identify an area in our camera system that will lead to improved systems at RCS. He complimented us on being proactive with police involvement and on our willingness to welcome those more expert than us into our schools to show us how to improve.

I’m not sure what could have happened at Sandy Hook to prevent this tragedy. I’m sure the news media will be all over that with speculation, along with experts in law enforcement. If preparing for such a tragedy helps us to save one life—it is well worth all of our efforts and care. Please know that as the superintendent for Randolph Central, I will do everything within our power to protect our children, as will every adult within our school system.

As always, you may contact me at any time to discuss your concerns, your children, your ideas. Please carefully consider how you talk with your children about these events, paying attention to their ages and calmly showing them that all is still right in their world. Pay attention to the amount of exposure they have to the media coverage. We will have an extra level of visibility this week as an Admin and Counseling Team and we are here for anyone within our community who needs us. We need each other.

All the best,

Kimberly Moritz

Rooftop Stupidity

We have a new level of stupidity here at Randolph Central School and I’ve debated writing about it because I want it to STOP, not to gain any traction. For some bizarre reason, we have students who have decided that climbing up on our rooftops seems like a good idea. I’m writing this in the hope that every parent and every adult in our community will stress to our young people how seriously idiotic and dangerous this adolescent prank can be–and will call the police if they see it when we’re not here to notice. I’m honestly terrified that one of our beloved students is going to be hurt. Not only are there hazards on the rooftops but there’s the obvious danger of someone falling off of the roof.

What are we doing about it? In addition to monitoring, which seems honestly ridiculous to me—do we now have to pay supervisors to watch the roof during events??—we are making it very clear to everyone that this is trespassing and we will involve law enforcement, pressing charges, in addition to serious school consequences. While I hate for our students to get into that kind of trouble, I dread the possibilities of someone getting seriously hurt much more.

When your child asks to come to an event at school, PLEASE stress that your expectation is that he actually be at the event. As parents we need you to check up on your kid, know where he is, who he’s with and what he’s doing–that’s your job as a parent. And by the way, if we call you to tell you that your child did something like this, it’s also your job to give serious consequences at home. We have to work together on these issues. Consider that when your son or daughter asks to come to an event at school and then walks or grabs a ride–YOU are the only person who knows that’s where she’s supposed to be going. Monitor your kid’s whereabouts. It’s not about trusting your kid, it’s about making sure he makes good decisions at an age where that’s often a struggle for many of our children.

Does it sound like I’m lecturing you? I am. I’m worried about this behavior and terrified the stupidity is going to lead to someone getting hurt. Please help us on this one. Thank you.

What Inspires You?

At the evening session of Communities for Learning, the question of “What Inspires You?” was posed. I sat listening as educators shared personal passions like photography and nature and Art and thinking that what inspires me is my work. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been really good at in my lifetime. The chance to make a difference for children? What could possibly be more inspiring?

School was an incredible experience for me as a child. Teachers are the people who took care of me in the sixth grade when my father was seriously injured in a coal mining cave-in and my mother was consumed with caring for him through rehab. Teachers are the people, along with my mom and my grandparents, who encouraged me to try everything from leadership roles in clubs to acting in the Sr. Class Play to competing in DECA. My father was very strict and not at all “inspiring”, I wasn’t permitted to date or to go anywhere but he allowed me to do anything that was school related. So I joined everything! School was the place where I began to learn what I was good at and what I was better off leaving to others with more ability and talent. I’m grateful for those experiences and I am compelled to recreate them for our students. It’s the reason we’ll be supporting two musicals next year, not just one for HS, but one for ES too. Look at the huge number of students who are touched by that experience!

I’m most inspired by those experiences that we create that touch students who aren’t connected to us through academic or athletic success. For those of you who will remember, it’s why I started the Randolph Rumble in 2002-03—to showcase the talents of an amazing group of young men who were disenfranchised in our system. In talking to them because they wouldn’t participate in gym class or for disciplinary reasons, I learned that they had a band called Post Mortem. At that point I asked them to perform at the Randolph Rumble–a culminating activity originally designed as a school wide behavior management program to improve attendance and school climate. They rocked that auditorium and from that day forward those boys were somebody in our school, they had an identity and a voice. And every one of them graduated and continues to be successful today. It’s one of the moments in my career that most inspired me and of which I’m most proud.

Another is Joe Tyler. When I arrived at Gowanda, Joe was in the 9th grade and his dad saw me in the hall one evening. At that point it didn’t look like Joe was headed for much academic success. His dad told me, “I need that boy to go to BOCES and learn a trade so he can get work some day”. Because Joe was technically a 9th grader and BOCES occurs in 11th-12th grade, it wasn’t typical to send him. I said, “I’ll send him to BOCES for a trade!” and handing Joe Tyler his HS diploma was one of the best moments of my whole life. He found what worked for him and graduated from HS.

Our kids and helping them find success and happiness, that’s what inspires me. Every time one of our students walks through my door to talk to me about something, that what fuels me. How about you?

Dive Duck, Dive

In our elementary school this morning, our PK-6 students attended a kick-off play for our six weeks of PARP (Parents as Reading Partners). Our talented Maura Morgante, kindergarten teacher and playwright extraordinaire, directed the cast which included a diving duck, cow, dog, horse, rabbit, hen, goat, sheep, pig, and Farmer Brown. I’m the goose in these shenanigans. I had the pleasure of joining a fantastic group of teachers willing to stretch and play and perform for our students.

Why do they do it? Because our teachers will do virtually anything to engage and inspire and love our kids. It was hot and sweaty in those costumes and if any of them are like me, they felt kind of silly dressing in an animal costume and performing on stage in front of their colleagues. But seeing the faces of our littlest ones and knowing that now  every teacher will focus our students on READING for pleasure, that’s definitely worth it.

Each grade chose an animal for whom they’ll be reading over the next six weeks. So I’ll be pulling on the bright orange tights and donning my feathers to rally our Pre-K students, encouraging them to read the most minutes with their parents so we can show that mean Farmer Brown that we can win the contest.

I love our students and teachers and the enthusiasm in which they embrace each precious day with our children. I’m so lucky to be here, on this day and in this job. It was only 30 minutes of the day, for some of those teachers the only 30 minute break they’ll have today, but it makes a difference. And for those classes that headed off to iReady testing right after the play–yes, our number one goal is improving student achievement and learning–-our number one job is loving every kid we’ve got at RCS. Thanks for doing that every day.

Spanish in the Valley

I taught Spanish and Business for ten years at Pine Valley Central, a little district that borders the one I’m in now.  Back in the day, I was able to obtain certification for the position after only 24 credit hours in Spanish. Business, I had to have 36 hours. I entered my Spanish classroom in 1990 clutching my college notes for dear life.

That meant I always felt inadequate in the content. When I finished my course work my professor said, “and now you go to Madrid.” My reply? “What should I do with the 2 year old who lives in my house?” Obviously, I couldn’t leave my daughter and husband for a year abroad.

I loved teaching in every imaginable way, but mostly I just loved my students. I always felt like a fraud, not fluent enough, not good enough. My students did very well on the State exams, but I never got over that feeling that I should be fluent. When I became a principal, it was a relief. I could just focus on the parts of the work that I knew I was good at, without feeling so inadequate.

Now we have the wonders of Facebook and other social media and I’m reconnecting with all of these amazing students who I taught in the nineties and the feedback I get from them is so positive and warm and caring that I wonder, if my Spanish had been perfect would I have been a better teacher?

Cause honestly, I’m thinking no matter how perfect my Spanish had been, my students wouldn’t likely remember any more of it than they do now. But they do remember me and how I treated them, how I listened to them, how I cared about them. We do our best with the content, what’s more important is that we do our best with the kids.

Closing School For Freezing Temperatures

We closed school today because of freezing cold temperatures. The noon news is reporting these are the coldest temps since 1996. I don’t know about that but at -13 to -14 plus a wind chill that put us at -24, it seemed like a smart decision today.

I hate to close school for two reasons. One, it’s a lost day of instruction. Two, it’s a real hardship for working parents. It is a very involved decision when there’s snow but in the case of freezing temps, we actually have some guidelines from the National Weather Service that we can use. A temperature of -10 degrees is enough to cause frostbite within 15 minutes.

You might argue that our kids aren’t waiting outside for the buses that long or required to walk far to school. Do you know what the problem with that argument is? Watch our students getting on or off the buses some day. MANY of them, particularly our older students, come to school ill equipped for the weather–wearing only a hooded sweatshirt or less. The picture of our kids without hats, gloves, boots or in many cases, a proper winter coat, definitely affected my decision this morning. If you’re a working parent like me and you leave for work before your kid leaves for school, take the time to talk to your child about what he or she is wearing to and from school. You might be surprised!

Two Weeks in April

Just want to mention while it’s fresh in my mind: the week before a break is NOT EASY for lots of kids. The anticipation of two weeks away from school, out of the routine, sometimes on their own. . . causes huge anxiety. This should be considered in the debate over one week in February and one week in April–it just means twice as much anxiety.

I know this is always a complicated issue and this is just one factor, but in this regard—keeping it at one longer break as opposed to two shorter makes the most sense.

I hope all of our families have a safe Spring Break, filled with lots of family time together, reading and fun!