Rugby Life Lessons

Updated August 9, 2017: I’m headed to the SGI Coaches’ meeting held with our Athletic Director Joe DeMartino this morning and I’m thinking about this post from 2012. Seems worth publishing again, given our Fall sports season kicking into gear. It’s five years later and I believe that it’s these lessons that have served our son well and led to success in his occupation today–more than anything he learned within the walls of his college classrooms.

Reposted from original, October 10, 2012. 

Everything my kid needs to learn to succeed in the future, he’s learning on the rugby field. I’m sure every athlete on every athletic team in the country probably thinks that my premise is true for his sport. Maybe so. I’m just not sure I’ve seen anything quite like this before.

This is a team of young men so dedicated to each other, to their coaches and to their alumni that winning is the only acceptable outcome. They practice once to twice per day and the matches are grueling. Pushing through physical pain for the good of the team? Not a problem. Every man doing his job well, to the best of his ability and then some? A requirement. The technical aspects of the sport are amazing to me—including how each of those 15 men must get it right for everything to go as planned, with a check in the win column.

I cannot believe how much our son loves this team and this game. Especially given the fact that we thought he was going to play hockey at St. Bonaventure—a sport he’s played since first grade. We had barely heard of rugby when he called us three days into his freshmen year to tell us he was going out for the team. But what an ideal sport it wound up to be for our young man.

I’ve watched him learn some critical lessons on this team—lessons that will serve him well for the rest of his life. Lessons that for the most part hold true in my own work within a public school team.

Tallon Moritz’ lessons learned on the rugby field:  

1. It’s all about the team. You can’t be selfish. Ever. That goes for everything from scoring to missing practices.

2. The alumni built this team, we owe it to them to carry on their traditions and to win. They also support us financially. Show them respect and gratitude. And aspire to be successful so we can give back in the same ways.

3. Our coaches aren’t paid to be there. They come because of their dedication to us. We owe it to them to show up and work.

4. There’s no glory, no money. We do it for each other, the coaches and the alumni, that’s all there is.

5. Every game day, every guy needs to think he’s the worst one on the field. That means working even harder so that I don’t let the rest of the team down.

6. On film day, same thing. Watching film isn’t about seeing some great play you made, it’s about  analyzing what mistakes we made so that we can avoid making them the next time.

7. We get maybe four-five years of this and it’s some of the best years of our lives. Let’s do something great to remember it well. We can see it in the eyes of our alumni, they’d give anything to be back on that field with us. Appreciate it while we’ve got it. 

8. Good coaching does teach you something.  Respect what the coaches say. I thought I couldn’t catch a ball. Then I had coaches and team mates who showed me how, I practiced, I learned.

9. Hard work pays off. Starting without any knowledge of the game and hoping to play all of a B side game freshmen year can result in a starting position on A side as a junior if you want it and work hard enough.

10. Leadership means being the guy that no one wants to let down. I’d still do anything not to disappoint the guys ahead of me, guys like Nick Sylor, Nick Maurer, and Alex Brussard.

11. This sport teaches us how to be good men, not just good rugby players. We address the refs as ‘Sir’ or ‘M’am’ because of respect, it’s a brutal gentlemen’s game. As the premier Franciscan school in the country, we’re representing more than ourselves or one rugby team. Own that.

12. Our mindset is “anything for the team”–being the guy who would die for the team on the field–that’s called intestinal fortitude. That’s what separates good from great. We CAN be great.  Mental attitude is as much as physical ability.

As a public school administrator for thirteen years, I know that the lessons he’s learning on that field will equate to success in any work place. The very best members of any organization know that listening for feedback, analyzing and self assessing, hard work and dedication all lead to tremendous success. Each of us doing our part for the team, the organization as a whole, so that none of us lets the rest down? If public schools understand the concept of team, school improvement success will be a given.

 

As Educators, Are We Learning?

The BOE members and SGI school administrators spent all day on Monday, August 7, 2017 together with Will Richardson from change.school. 

Most school districts have a BOE retreat annually when they often revisit their goals and achievements from the previous year and set goals for the next year.

In our case at Springville, we’ve spent the past 18 months working to develop a sense of teamwork and a better understanding of the district. With several new administrators and some in new roles, coupled with my arrival as the superintendent in March, 2016, we’ve been working to listen to and understand everyone within the organization, while hopefully building trust.

As a superintendent, I have two main “teams”. The BOE members and the school administrators. I feel a keen sense of responsibility for and to every member of our school community but these two teams are the mainstay of our leadership. Bringing them together for a shared day of learning made sense.

From my perspective (and I hope theirs!), it was a terrific day in which we had the opportunity to learn together and then to begin the conversation about what we believe about learning and what we most want for our students moving forward. I’ve written previously here about my own thinking in regard to schools and how little we’ve adapted to the changes within the world.

As a leadership team–and ALL OF US as educators– we need to first and foremost be learners. As an organization whose primary purpose is learning, how much are the adults within our organization learning together? Are we all keeping current with the ways in which our students are learning outside of school? Are we reading the new research available about the science of the brain or the articles written on what literacy means today or reading books by the great thinkers in our profession (some written long ago) that point the way to productive learning that creates the curiosity to learn more? Personally, Seymour Sarason has blown my mind this summer–how have I not read him before, as a 28 year veteran??

I’m not criticizing our lack of learning as educators–I’ve been a leader for seventeen years in a public school system and I’m as responsible as anyone for the way things are now. My experience shows that we have not been systems that learn, study, analyze, collaborate and show agility surrounding the very thing we exist for–LEARNING. 

I’m aiming to change all of that here in Springville. And after yesterday, it’s good to know I’ve got an entire leadership team dedicated to the same. As the adults in the learning organization continually discover, develop, interact and contribute in our own learning, just think how that will positively impact our 1800 students!

Remember it doesn’t have to be bad to be better–that’s my new personal motto.

 

Are You Curious About Learning?

Last week I asked members of our Springville school community to share their stories of learning at SGI. I heard from parents, teachers, support staff members, BOE members, and former students. I’m incredibly grateful for the time that so many of you took to write and tell me your stories!

Please consider adding YOUR voice to the story of Springville-Griffith Institute. You can email me at kmoritz@springvillegi.org–don’t let worries of length, spelling or grammar quiet you–no judgment here. I just want to read what your experiences have been. And check this out! Students who aren’t interested in writing to me during the summer but love selfie videos–you can tell me your story here, on Flipgrid! It’s super easy–give it a try!

Here’s what I’ve learned about our story of learning so far.

We value encouragement of every student, opportunities to try just about anything through clubs, sports, PE, and technology classes, respect for everyone within our school community and beyond, and finding the joy in learning. Our students are polite and caring, respectful of each other and of adults. Students feel loved and safe and connected to the adults who include our teachers, administrators, support staff, bus drivers and families. We see a Springville education as a time to help students develop a love of reading, to find a sense of self, of confidence and tribe, while feeling valued, encouraged and loved.

Our teachers often find ways to teach that make learning meaningful–examples include Mr. Karb and Mr. Beiter’s middle school social studies classes where students learn by doing with project based units and real world connections about “how to take action to address problems, not admire the problem”.

From more than one person I heard compelling stories of Mrs. Laurel Rugh’s elementary classroom, “In fourth grade, I was lucky enough to have Mrs. Laurel Ruch as my classroom teacher.  Her room was unconventional…a table with benches, couches, easy chairs, a loft running around the outside of her space, a wood workshop, kitchen, and “Corner Store”.  She taught fractions through the doubling and tripling of recipes, and then we executed the recipe.  Running the store (which sold school supplies, snacks, wood projects) we learned to count change, keep track of inventory, interact with customers.  She used the architecture of Buffalo to teach the history of our region and relate it to that of other cultures.  Our year came to a close using the money we had earned, to journey to Buffalo for a 3 day field trip.  She was creative, constantly pushing the envelope and thinking out side of the box. To say her room was “hands on” would be an understatement.  I believe the education I received in fourth grade was influential to the remainder of my career as a student (and an educator).  My hope is that SGI can encourage teachers to place students in authentic learning environments as much as possible, to think outside of the box, and to create!

I heard from a mother who’s son felt incompetent after receiving a 2/4 on a NYS math test in 3rd grade and hated math until 5th grade when Mr. Noeson taught Math through fantasy football and therein made a connection that worked for him. I heard about a note attached with the gift of a Harry Potter book by Mr. Scarpine, current SES principal/former teacher, that inspired a lifelong love of reading and Harry Potter.

I’m guessing we have 1000 other stories about meaningful learning experiences –please share them with me, there’s no deadline here. 

I was deeply affected by the words of a teacher who said that he knows a percentage of our students are succeeding academically while many are nice and pleasant to work with but don’t necessarily see the importance of learning. He spoke honestly of the many creative lessons he’s developed on his own, that often fell short with a number of his students and he asked, “what methods can we come up with as a district to get all students interested in learning?”

And there it is. Exactly the work we can do to move forward as a district. We will be a learning organization in which we develop a vision centered on learning for all students. We’ll  collaborate and create a culture of inquiry, innovation and exploration. We can do this together–learning what other ways there are to learn and then taking a risk and trying them. Our leadership team starts on August 7 and then we’ll move that work out to everyone else in our school community when school starts.

We’ll do what our Springville Middle School students are taught in their social studies classes. Instead of admiring (or blaming or commiserating or relishing) the problem that our current traditional educational system isn’t good enough, let’s take action to address it. Let’s make school at Springville a place where the really meaningful learning I’m hearing about in your stories is valued, talked about, learned from and expanded. Let’s determine what’s best about what we do now and figure out a way to do more of it. It doesn’t have to be bad to get better.

Let’s grow as a district, reimagining and redesigning what a Springville education looks like for every student. Together. Keep telling me your stories Springville, I’m listening. 

SGI–Website Redesign Coming End of June 2017

How many people want to be the same as everyone else? Do you want SGI to be exactly like every other public school district in Western New York? Or do you want us to distinguish ourselves, to highlight all of the amazing learning opportunities here in Springville? Shouldn’t we show how our kids excel in FFA and lead as safety patrol officers in our elementary schools or musicals and take on community service projects at every opportunity? I say, YES! Let’s showcase all of the ways in which SGI is special and let’s begin by doing it on our school website.  Look for the changes to hit sometime next week, likely 6/26 or 6/27.

Our strong, clear message to our community is that we’re aiming to ensure that an SGI public education is the very best choice for our families. Our new website design will help us to communicate that message and to continue to be a place where our families can find important information.

What’s different? You’ll find that navigating to the content you need is easier. Calendar, directions, and contact information are clear and easy to find from multiple locations. Links to our social media sites and all the news you want about our SGI students will be front and center. It’ll read well on your mobile device and engage our community beautifully.

Bottom line? Our new website gives you the content you need, provides a place where we can highlight who we are as a district and does so in a stunningly cool way that helps us, and our students, stand out from all the rest.

Many thanks to Webmaster Ben Higgins and DFS Business Solutions who worked tirelessly to make this transition happen and to take the vision and make it a reality (and for indulging my 999 questions and comments). I can’t wait to see what they continue to do with the site!

 

Learning Out Loud

I’m engaged in a learning opportunity for the next 8 weeks at change.school with Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon. We’ve only been through weeks zero and one and yet I’m already inspired by the engagement with the larger community of learners and excited about the possibilities ahead.

I’ve never been a leader who believes in maintaining the status quo. My job is to evaluate all aspects of the organization and identify areas in which we can improve. That desire to make a significant difference is what influenced my thinking when I made the move from an 8 year superintendency in a district I loved to a new role as the superintendent here in Springville. I wanted the challenge of working to improve a school district that frankly has suffered somewhat over the past decade.

Now that we’re through the initial getting to know each other time, I’m planning to start writing here about my learning experiences at change.school–to learn out loud. If I write about something I’m thinking or struggling with or excited about and it strikes you or you want to share your thinking back, please do. You can comment here or call me, email or stop in. I’d love to hear what you think as I work to develop a playbook moving forward.

I believe we’re in a very special time here in Springville, at a “tipping point” in public education as described in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. We can’t be complacent about the way school’s always been–no matter how much some of us may love the way it’s always been–we need to work hard to make public education the best choice.

Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District is the perfect public school district where we can transform public education. I can see it. This BOE and this administrative team and this faculty and staff together with our incredible students and families—we can change our school so that we’re realizing today’s goals for learning for today’s students.

Now, let’s spend some time figuring out where we’re going and what we want a Springville-Griffith education to be, together I’m betting on US, that we can do it better than it’s been done for over one hundred years. We’ll keep what’s wonderful and add in what makes more sense.

And don’t worry–I won’t say, “hey I had this great learning experience and now this is what I’m telling everyone to do next”. Instead I’m working on a playbook–a plan or set of strategies for moving forward to determine together where we’re going and who we want to be. 

Teacher Appreciation Week at Springville-Griffith Institute CSD

Teacher appreciation week is a great time to thank your own or your child’s teacher. There will be lots of ways in which families and administrators reach out to recognize our incredible teachers this week. Thank you for taking an extra few minutes to think of a way in which you can recognize a teacher who’s made a difference in your own or your child’s life.

I, too, would like to thank and recognize the teachers, counselors, social workers, school psychologists, therapists, and teaching assistants of our school district–you all make up our “teaching staff”. In the fifteen months since I started at SGI, I have had the opportunity to visit with many of our teachers at grade level or department meetings, in one on one meetings scheduled by a teacher to talk about a particular problem or goal, at events or in a classroom visit. And believe it or not, we still have teachers who I’ve not had the opportunity to sit and talk with, teachers who I don’t know.  I’m working on this and would love it if more of you scheduled meetings with me or invited me to visit your classroom! It’s nice outside again, so walking meetings are also available.

What have I found to be unique and special about our SGI teachers as a group? They are one of the most optimistic and hopeful groups of educators I’ve ever known. We’ve had almost a complete turn over of our Administrative team with a new principal in every building, a new director of special education, and a new school business administrator. Our assistant principal/athletic director is now in a different building. With all of this change, I see our teachers accepting our new leadership team and working hard to follow their direction.

We’re weathering a terrible tragedy this year and we’ve done it together, supporting one another. I’m grateful to everyone  who’s reached out to a colleague with a message of support, love and caring.

Through numerous leadership changes, and at times turmoil, our SGI teachers have continued to do all of the right things as they dedicate themselves to our students. They care deeply about our children, their programs and the progress of our district. They see the best in our students and in each other and I can’t think of a more valuable outlook than this one of optimistic hope. 

So I say THANK YOU to every Springville-Griffith Institute teacher. You are valued and appreciated for everything you do for our SGI students. I’m so very grateful that you’re here, doing this work with me.

Rejoining Students, Staff and Faculty

The district offices here at Springville are located in a separate building, one that I’ve affectionately referred to as “the shed” for the fourteen months of my time here. I’ve only once worked in a district with a separate district office and we saw those administrators as disconnected from the work that the rest of us were doing in the buildings with our students. They likely weren’t disconnected, instead were good, hard working people, but that was our perception of them.

Our central office staff are all here to serve the needs of the employees, students and families of SGI. Our BOE members and I have discussed the fact that central office is in a separate building and that we could better serve our families from within the school buildings. For this reason, the District Office will be moved to what is currently the wing in SES that we lease to BOCES. Both the superintendent’s and business administrator’s offices will be moved, likely in late 2017-18. This is an opportune time as within the capital project we are already abating and replacing all of the flooring. The reconfigured classrooms to office space will be relatively minimal and once we have finalized a plan with the architects, we will present the changes at a BOE meeting. This is within the scope of the project and I will not allow it to distract from other priorities; it will be bid as an alternate. We will construct a separate district office entrance at the north end of that hallway for the community  and we will have doors installed to close off the rest of the building from the DO wing if needed (near the Kindergarten hallway).

We are an administrative TEAM. I hope everyone else is starting to feel that as much as I do. Every day when I come to school, I try to do the right thing. Sitting in a separate office building from our students, faculty, staff, and building administrators simply does NOT feel like the right thing to me. I want to help and support our elementary principal as his backup and I want Mrs. Townsend, our principal for special programs supporting our middle school principal as her backup. Our principals are amazing, but I’ve done that job and some days you just need an extra pair of hands to help with the work. We already have four administrators in our high school, so it is only logical that we move the district office staff to Springville Elementary.

This move is about teamwork and all of us pitching in to support one another as we serve this community. If we have an “all hands on deck” approach to problem solving and managing our buildings, that includes Maureen Lee, Kathy Townsend and me. In order for us to be more available and approachable, we need to support in the buildings. Bottom line, I do not believe that the best leadership model is one in which we have a separate, “ivory tower”, central office leadership team.

What will become of the district office building? The credit union will continue to operate here. We’ll move our Family Support Center here, once our space is ready at SES. In that way our families can meet with our talented social workers in a more private space—the space they’re in now is simply small and insufficient. Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Larry Strauss and Central Receiving will be here, as well as Campus Construction Management, already in place to manage our capital project through the next 3 years. Records Retention will be here too and we’re discussing the possibility of offering space for rent to the community.

I know that change is hard for lots of people. Sometimes change that’s hard is also well worth it and helps us to improve as a system.

 

Administrative Changes

Dear SGI Families:

As you may remember, we attempted to combine two administrative positions into one with Mrs. Kate Werner serving as SHS Assistant Principal and Director of Special Education. We knew from the beginning that this could be an unrealistic and untenable work load and so agreed to a three month trial period. At last night’s February 13 BOE meeting, the BOE approved the following changes.

In order to best serve the students and families of our district, we are planning to move Mrs. Werner to full time Director of Special Education on March 1, 2017. Her office will be located, as it is now, at the high school. The needs and options for our special needs children and families are often complex and varied. Our families and our faculty and staff within the Special Education department will benefit from Kate’s full time attention and dedication to our children.

As part of our administrative restructuring we have planned to eliminate the SMS assistant principal position for the 2017-18 school year. We are pleased to announce that Mr. Joe DeMartino will be moving to the position of SHS assistant principal and athletic director on March 1, 2017. Mr. DeMartino is delighted for the opportunity to work with Mr. James Bialasik in our high school and to continue to lead our entire athletic department, including our coaches. We’ve already had good conversation about revitalizing our sports programs with a vision for SGI athletics and brainstorming about how to better support and celebrate our coaches and athletes. I look forward to seeing what James and Joe can accomplish together!

Please know that our entire administrative team is dedicated to working hard to serve the families of our district, to support our teachers and employees, and to lead with transparency, honesty and ethics. I feel personally fortunate to work with this incredible team of leaders. I look forward to many years with this team and all of you. Thank you.

Facebook, Problem Solving Venue?

Recently, one of our SGI parents posted a question to the “Be Neighborly Springville” Facebook page. This question is about the location of the parent pickup/drop off line for Springville Middle School and the location of parent parking for Springville Elementary School.  Another parent tagged me in a comment asking for me to elaborate.

As a school superintendent, I use social media daily. I would guess I communicate as much as or more than most of my colleagues via this blog and Twitter. These blog posts then go to the SGI webpage and to our SGI Facebook and Twitter feeds too.

However, I didn’t respond to this Facebook thread. Why? Because as much as I like Facebook (to keep in touch with family, former students and colleagues), it felt like a slippery slope to respond to a question that also offered an opinion and then was followed by the opinions of 6-7 other residents. I worry that answering the question on Facebook would lead to our families using that more often to voice an opinion/ask a question AND that they would then expect an answer from me. I already check my voicemail and email incessantly so that I can be responsive, am I also going to check Facebook for questions? 

This was an innocuous discussion and the opinions offered were largely spot on. But I’m not sure that Facebook is the place where I should be problem solving and engaging in a conversation with our parents. Too much can be misunderstood. I think there’s often good reason to pick up the phone and call me or the principal or the teacher. Facebook is the place where we used to go to see pictures of everyone’s kids and to stay in touch. As a professional, that’s all it’s ever going to be for me.

It’s not the place for us to communicate clearly, for me to really listen and understand either the question or the concern. It’s not the place for our families to go when they need answers. Anyone can contact me via email at kmoritz@springvillegi.org OR via phone at 716-592-3230. I’m hyper connected to both of those and I’m committed to responding to people in a timely manner.  Nothing replaces a good old fashioned face to face conversation if our goal is to listen to understand rather than to listen to respond.

Back to that question that generated about 17-18 comments on Facebook.

so we can’t park in the back circle at SES, why is it ok to park in the circle at the middle school? it makes no sense

We have the parent drop off/pick up line for SMS in the District office parking lot to improve safety for our student bus drop off/pick up at SMS. Parents stay in their vehicles and our SMS students should be old enough to safely walk to and from their parents’ cars. I also see parents driving through the District Office lot in the morning at the back of SES for drop off. I’m actually watching the line of cars drive by my window right now!

But for parents parking for pick up/drop off at SES, we can’t have cars parked in this back lot other than in the parking spots. The district office is also our central supply area. We have deliveries here throughout the day, our food supply trucks come through this lot to deliver at the back of the middle school, and cars have to be able to get in and out of parking spots. The fire lane question is a good one–honestly, we shouldn’t have cars parked along the building side walks in what we consider the “fire lane” at any of our school buildings. I will ask our SRO, Ashley Vogl, to review all of our procedures.

Since my source of information for the conversation was a FB post, if I’ve misunderstood and got the question wrong–please CALL ME to talk about it. We’re always going to be better if we work to talk things through.

 

Director of Special Education Kate Werner

As many within our school community have already learned,  SHS Assistant Principal Kate Werner is our new Director of Special Education. While this was initially announced as an interim position, the SGI BOE did approve Kate Werner as our Director of Special Education at Monday night’s BOE meeting.

Mrs. Werner brings to the position a wealth of experience, strong relationships within our district, and great connections with our families. Kate will maintain her assistant principal position and will take on the additional duties of the special education department. She and SHS Principal James Bialasik have had the opportunity to discuss their roles and responsibilities and I’m grateful for their teamwork in determining how this combination of roles can work well for SGI.

Our special education staff and students are an invaluable part of our school family and I am delighted to have Kate Werner at the helm. Mrs. Werner has already met with her new staff in each of our buildings, sent a letter to our families who work with our special education department, and made connections within the Erie 2 BOCES for resources and support.

Our special education office, currently at the Springville Elementary School, is being relocated to the Springville High School over the holiday break. To reach Mrs. Werner, please either email her at kwerner@springvillegi.org or call her at 592-3256.