Special Ed Staying Home

Today I welcome our Director of Pupil Services, Dr. Mary Rockey, to help readers better understand some changes we’re planning in special education. As you read, please consider that the changes are in the best interest of our children at the same time that we can make the changes with very little impact to our budget. I’m proud of the work that’s being done in this area by Mary and her entire staff. When we make decisions that benefit our kids in ways we haven’t tried before, decisions that expand learning exponentially, we do out best work.

Read on to see what Dr. Rockey says:

I would like to begin by thanking Mrs. Moritz for the opportunity to explain some of the changes that have been occurring at RCS regarding special education services.  While there are many reasons, I believe the most important one is that our children will be educated in our school.  In the past, we have sent children to other schools and paid these schools to educate our children.

The three big changes that are occurring are:

  1. increasing of special education programs at RCS instead of sending students to other schools
  2. having our own summer school for students with IEPs
  3. providing preschool special education services

1 – Special Education Classes at RCS

Let me give an example.  Suppose we have a student who has some problems.  Even though she is in fourth grade, she can’t identify the letters of the alphabet or write all of the letters in her name.  In the past, this child would have gone to a different school, perhaps in Salamanca or in Ashville.  She would have had to ride the bus for a very long time each day, going to school and coming home.  She would have been in class with children who live far away from her so it would be difficult for her family to help her get together with school friends to play.  Randolph Central School would pay for both the transportation and the school program, which for most of these programs is in excess of $3,000 per month. However, if this student comes to our school, and is in class here, the cost is far less than $3,000 each month.  And, the student has the advantage of being in the school and involved in the activities in her community.

2 – Summer School Special Education at RCS

The same example is true for our decision to have our own summer school program.  In past summers, we have sent children to Salamanca and Ashville.  The cost of these programs, in dollars, exceeds what we would pay if the classes were here at RCS.  But more than that, our students will be with us in the summer.  There will be no need to get used to a new teacher, new speech therapist, new counselor, for the six week summer session.  The students will already know these people and the staff knows these children.  This means that progress won’t stop for our children because there won’t be a “get to know” each other time period.  And the transition back to classes in September will also be easier for each of these children.

3 – Preschool Special Education Services at RCS

This is a bit different than the previous two changes that are occurring because preschool services are currently not provided at all by RCS employees for those with special needs.  Currently, other providers either come into the school or go to RCS children’s homes to provide preschool services and they receive the revenue for these services from the county of the child’s residence.  Sometimes, our three and four year olds are sent to Little Valley or Salamanca for school each day.  RCS is responsible through the New York State Education Department for these services, even though they don’t provide them.  Now that we are approved to provide these services, our children will be seeing our speech therapists, our teachers and RCS will receive the revenue for providing these services.

I want to assure everyone that a detailed analysis of each of these programs has been conducted and discussed at length with our BOE.  Each of these changes will benefit our children while reducing costs to RCS and our county taxpayers. If you have any questions, I am delighted to discuss any of these changes with you.

Dr. Mary Rockey

Comparing Attendance

Our attendance rate for the district is up, I would say considerably—96.14 in February of this year as compared to 92.76 last year and 92.93 the previous year. And 96.65 in January as compared to 95.13 last year and 93.95 in 2007-08.  95.38 in December as compared to 93.83 last year–you get the picture. That’s wonderful!

It’s not easy to increase this number. I know, as a principal I analyzed my attendance data, incorporated positive school-wide programs to increase it, believed the climate and our relationships with kids made a difference. Still I saw incremental improvement.

So what’s going on at Randolph? What’s different this year? What factor can we point to? We need to know so that we can make sure it continues and further support the change. Any ideas?

Facebook–to Filter or Not to Filter?

In November, 2009 we created a Randolph Facebook page and we opened Facebook in school for everyone. We’re four months in and there’s some good news and some bad news about Facebook and it’s use in our District.

So what do you want first, the good news or the bad news? The good news is that our RCS Facebook page is 540 members strong and has proven to be another route of communication within our community. We post everything from news about our students’ success to when and where to go for Little League sign-ups. There’s not been one single problem or inappropriate comment left. Our extended Randolph family has found a place to connect.

Some of our teachers also have Facebook pages where they’re communicating with their students and parents about homework and class news. Sure they have the school website but I commend those teachers for meeting our students and parents where they are, on Facebook. The FB pages should all link from the website and should ALWAYS include parent access.

Another good thing is that complaints about texting in class are almost non-existent now. We’ve somewhat replaced texting as the mode of communication with Facebook. As one of our teachers noted, “this is the modern day passing of notes.”

Here’s the bad news. Overwhelmingly, our teachers report that Facebook is consuming our kids. Our labs are overflowing with students who want to get in there to do Facebook, not class projects or research or homework–Facebook. We have students with some serious academic needs who aren’t using school time to get any work done because they’re on Facebook every possible moment.

And who’s going to take an elective class when offered the option to go to a lab and talk to friends on Facebook instead? They’re teenagers. Social connections are more important to them than anything else, just as they were when we were in school. Sorry Teacher, but sometimes my friends are just way more interesting than your subject.

So how do we find any balance? We can’t easily filter by user. In other words, if you’re in good academic standing, you can be on Facebook during your study halls. If not, get to work. (Maybe that would be a great motivator!) We can’t filter by time of day–to have it open during the early morning and again at the end of the day. I’m thinking of this especially for our teachers who have no time at home to manage their school Facebook page due to family responsibilities. If we block it completely, they lose the time/convenience/ability to get on and update for their students and parents.

Teachers responded to my question of “how’s it going?” with endless comments about what a distraction Facebook has become. I think part of this is that our kids are able to work in multiple windows at the same time, working on a paper, checking Facebook for a few seconds, back to another source for the paper, back to writing and that’s hard for us to understand. The trouble seems to be that while some of our kids are really good at materials management—paper or on-line–others just aren’t. They’re not good at prioritizing or time management or work completion. Are we making it even harder for those students by offering them another distraction?

If we choose to block Facebook, you realize it’s a temporary “fix”, right? As our kids become more and more ‘wired’ with their own blackberries and ipods, they’ll be accessing Facebook and the web 24/7. At least when we battle the “no cell phones during my lesson” fight, we’re helping them learn that NOW is not the time. We have a lot of kids who aren’t figuring that out on their own.

Can’t wait to see the comments this post solicits. 😉 Our students will be leading a revolution over this–but you know what I suspect–most of them know that they or their friends are focusing way too much on Facebook and way too little on learning. What’s wrong with connecting on Facebook outside of the school day?

What Drives Us?

Fred Deutsch is a school board member in South Dakota who I’ve been reading at School-of-Thought for a while now. I am usually struck by how much the same things are for Fred in his district as they are for us in ours. He posted yesterday about a presentation he attended at a conference he’s at in DC. The presentation was by Daniel Pink about the three levels of what drives us.

I’m particularly interested because we sometimes  hear teachers or parents complaining that a child just isn’t motivated. Fred recounts the first two levels of drive and I completely agree with Pink’s assessment of those two followed by his thoughts here,

But it’s the third drive that Pink spent most of the session discussing with us — the concept that people will do things because it’s interesting, because people want to get better at it, or because people inherently want to make a difference in the world.

Go read Fred’s whole post for more information. The first two levels are certainly nice, but the third is what pushes me to do my best every day. How about you? How about our kids? As a teacher, don’t you strive to provide learning opportunities to students that are interesting or that help them see their place in the world or that allow them to improve with 21st century skills? Aren’t those the lessons that most “grab” every kid, pushing him to learn more intensely?

I wonder, perhaps Pink’s book Drive might be a great book study for those teachers thinking about focusing on motivation in their Professional Learning Networks next year?  I bet our teachers working together can figure it out for our kids, even for our most reluctant learners.

Classroom Visits

After over a year in this superintendency, I’m achieving one of the most important goals I set in my entry plan. When I started the job, I made a commitment to visit every classroom. It probably goes without saying that I’ll be more effective as a leader and make better decisions as I come to know our district well. One of the ways I can do this is by spending time in our classrooms.

However, that’s been easier said than done for me. After starting in December of 2008, there was definitely a transition period when I was learning 1000+ things at once while making decisions, developing relationships and trying to do a good job of it all. But even after this year started, I still struggled to make the time to leave all of the office work behind and head to the classrooms. There’s just so much in this position that I never even imagined existed when working in other capacities within a school system.

Problem solved now. I asked my secretary extraordinaire, Maureen Pitts, to help me be a better superintendent. Since she has access to my calendar, she agreed to schedule me for “unscheduled” classroom visits. By doing so, it’s a part of my daily routine and I don’t decide to work on something else instead. She’ll schedule me for two or three teachers at a time, all in close proximity to each other.  I get the chance to see what our kids are learning, come to know our teachers a little bit better and to show that what happens in our classrooms is the most important thing that happens in our district every day. I’m focused on learning. (Thanks Mrs. Pitts!)

It’s especially important as we set forth to follow our BOE vision for the district of “Learning with Passion, Innovation and Leadership”. If we say that learning with passion, innovation and leadership is what’s most important to us as an organization, then I need to walk it, not just talk it.

And the learning I’m seeing in our classrooms every day? As varied as the teachers and students in them with wonderful opportunities for learning at every level. Once again I’m reminded that Randolph Central is exactly the district where we can move forward as our learning opportunities become more and more filled with passion, innovation and leadership—–we’re well on our way already!

Friday, 11/20/09 Early Dismissal

Winning Far West Regional ChampsWhat a wild ride we’re on with RCS Football! As most of you have probably heard by now, our incredible football team beat out Dundee to become the Far West Regional Champions on Friday night in Rochester. GO CARDINALS!

This means they advance to play Groton on Friday night, 11/20/09, in Rochester again at 5:00. That’s our last step on this journey to the State Championships which will be held on Saturday, November 28 in Syracuse.

What are our plans for this Friday regarding school and a possible early dismissal?

We learned last Friday that a 1:00 dismissal didn’t seem to work for most families with over 100 students dismissed before 1:00. That also didn’t allow for any of our bus drivers (usually ardent fans of our team!) to attend with everyone else. In addition, we had lunches to get in before 1:00 and the whole thing will just work better if we call it a 1/2 day, dismissing students at 11:30. This also affords us the opportunity to have an ENORMOUS, ENERGETIC AND ENTHUSIASTIC send off in which a cavalcade of fans can follow the buses to Rochester!

Staff and faculty will be expected to stay and work their usual work day–our teachers often ask for more time to work together on curriculum planning or on their integration of technology or on their websites–unless they choose to go to the game too.

A parent broadcast message will be going out soon, the news is updated on our Randolph Facebook page (with 300 members already!) and we’ll send notes home in our PK-6 backpacks this week. As always, please contact me with any questions.

I think we have another State Championship on the way!!!

H1N1 Clinic RCS-ON SCHEDULE

Our H1N1 Clinic is on schedule for tomorrow morning, in the elementary building, from 9:00 until 12:00 or while supplies last. There’s been much in the news lately about clinics being cancelled. However, I just got off the phone with Mary Ann Powers from the Cattaraugus County Health Department–the sponsors of the clinic–and she said we’re set to go tomorrow.

I do want you to know that the majority of the vaccine available to our RCS students is the mist as opposed to just a few doses of the inject-able vaccine. If you want to read more about the difference as you make a decision for your child, you can go to the Cattaraugus Health Department website to read more about the flu shot or the nasal spray mist. There is a limited supply available tomorrow of either types–only about 370 doses–so remember it’s on a first come, first served basis.

Is H1N1 at Randolph Central?

For the first time today, our attendance has taken a dip which may or may not indicate that our turn for H1N1 at Randolph Central School is here. We are up to 14% absent in our elementary school as compared to last week when we averaged 7% and we’re at 11% in the high school when we averaged 5.6% last week. We’ll watch our numbers closely this week to see if today is an anomaly or a trend.

What we do know is that we have some children who have been identified to have Influenza A. This may also indicate H1N1. Either way, it’s important that we again review what will help prevent the spread and possibly the severity of the flu–stay home if you’re sick and stay home early in the illness.

I’ve been reading about H1N1 since last year and listening to my colleagues who’ve had it affect their school districts before ours so that we can learn as much as possible. This doesn’t make me an authority on the topic but with responsibility for our entire school community, I need to be well informed. Please realize that if you have questions or concerns specific to H1N1, you should contact your family doctor.

Here are some things that I’ve learned from listening to my colleagues and from reading sources such as the guidance from the CDC which you can read here. We recently included guidance about H1N1 in our school newsletter too.

  1. Stay home when sick.  Flu symptoms may include fever, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills and fatigue. In H1N1 flu infection, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur.
  2. Wash your hands frequently.We have Beverly Bennett from the Cattaraugus County Health Department coming in to work with our PK-3 students for a hand washing clinic in our elementary school on October 21, November 2 and 4 .
  3. We are routinely and effectively cleaning all of the rooms in our buildings.
  4. Based on the guidance from the CDC and the Department of Health, it is highly unlikely that we will close school.

Stop, Drop & Roll with These Third Graders

Check out this WONDERFUL way that teacher Kevin Hind found to use technology to engage kids and help them to OWN THE CONTENT. I particularly love the way these third graders work hard to come up with something unique in each answer. It also allows our parents to see what’s happening first hand and besides, who can’t use a reminder of fire safety lessons?

Randolph Elementary Third Graders Rock and Roll!