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.

 

Thanksgiving Traditions, Even When the Turkey’s Terrible

Thanksgiving was always the one holiday of the year when my husband, our two children and I all traveled to Pittsburgh, where I grew up. It was something we thought of as my mom’s holiday–the one time every year when she knew she’d have us and my brother’s family all at her dining room table.

We lost my mom in March, 2014. She was the very best person I’ve ever known and the loss was devastating for me. As she struggled through about ten years of a debilitating illness, my daughter and I would travel to Pittsburgh and help her to make Thanksgiving dinner. I learned how to make that meal in exactly the same way that my mom, and my grandma and my great grandmother made it. 

For the last two Thanksgivings, we’ve struggled to find our way as a family. The Thanksgiving after my mom passed, my dear friend Rachel had us over for dinner with her family. It was generous of her and delicious and just weird. This was her family, not mine! And while the meal was definitely better than any my mom and I had made (let’s face it, my mom and I were never good cooks and the turkey was lousy most years), it didn’t taste like ours.

Then last year we traveled back to Pittsburgh where we met my dad and my brother and his wife for a Thanksgiving dinner at the local Italian restaurant. Good gracious that was awful!

This year brings a new tradition and I think we’ll finally get it right. We’re having dinner tomorrow at my in-laws. It’ll just be the four of us because our son lives in Florida and our daughter will be at her in-laws. But on Saturday, my beautiful daughter Bryna–who’s as much like my mother as a person can be–will come over and help me prepare Thanksgiving dinner in exactly the same way the three women before us did it.

I think that’s what traditions and family holidays must be about, right? Remembering all of the people we’ve loved and who have loved us while treasuring the family we have at the table.

The turkey may suck, but it’ll be a great reminder of all of the Thanksgivings before this one. I can imagine my mum shrugging her shoulders and saying, “I never really liked turkey anyway Kimberly.”

I sincerely hope that the next four days bring everyone lots of time with those you love the most. Happy Thanksgiving!

A Grieving School Community

945506_1298473950196763_692095451487601794_nAs a school administrator, I’ve been writing about school leadership here since 2006. Nothing been as challenging to me as a person as dealing with the loss of 7-year-old SGI student Alyssa Hearn in a tragic school bus accident 12 days ago. As difficult as it is to write about, it’s important that we communicate about this horrible event so that we can continue to support Alyssa’s family, one another, and our community as a whole.

Friday, November 4 was the single worst day in a young family’s life and it was the single worst day of my career and that of many others. No parents ever imagine that a child will predecease them.  And no teacher wants to think that a healthy 7-year-old will get on the bus and not return to school.  The grief of Alyssa’s teachers in the days following the accident was an obvious result of how much our teachers love our students. The bus drivers and counselors and school administrators who came together with our local clergy and families on Saturday and then again on Sunday in Springville’s community vigil, showed the remarkable strength of our community. The love and support shown for one another in our community over the past 12 days has reminded me and many others of all that is right with our world in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

As the superintendent, I feel a deep sense of obligation to determine what occurred on November 4th and to make sure that a similar tragedy does not occur in the future. As so many of our parents are asking, how does this happen? We are all working cooperatively to determine what happened, and to see what we can do to prevent similar tragedies in the future. The Erie County Sheriff’s Department is continuing its investigation of the accident. At the same time, the NY State Education Department has already been in District to evaluate the accident and determine if there is anything it can incorporate into school bus safety and training for all drivers across the State.  And the District is conducting its own internal investigation into what happened.  I pledge that we will look at that day and accident from every imaginable angle to learn if there was anything we could have done differently, and what the District may do to attempt to prevent a similar accident in the future.

I am incredibly grateful to this community for the ways in which everyone has reached out to love, honor and support Alyssa’s family and our entire school community. There’s no administrative coursework or training for how to respond to such a horrible accident. As a leader of the District I have sometimes felt like I was fumbling in the dark these last 12 days, making decisions from a position of caring and love while hoping we get it right.

Thank you to each and every person who has reached out to me or others in our school family to make a connection and to help us find our way out of the dark. I appreciate it more than I can adequately express here, and ask for your continued assistance as we work together to support Alyssa’s family and the entire community. #springvillestrong

Course Correction

The best educators are continually analyzing what we do and how it can be better. Every teacher who’s had several sections of the same class knows that the lesson gets better and better as the day goes on. We “course correct” as we study how our students respond to the lesson. The minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, write:

To err is human; therefore, one of the most important skills we can develop is course correction. It’s crucial to recognize when a mistake is a mistake . . . and then to change course and move forward a better person.

Or to move forward a better school system. As school leaders this is often a place where we fall down. We purchase and implement a program or textbook series or we create and hire a new position to solve a problem and then we walk away. That seldom works.

Once we implement, we have to continue to listen, to pay attention, to follow through and to course correct where needed. The hardest part is finding a balance between where to set non-negotiables (systemic expectations) and where to allow for course correction.

Here’s an example of  the course correction needed here at SGI with the implementation and convergence of two different plans with two different, but similar, technology solutions.

First we have our Response to Intervention (RTI) Plan. The purpose of this plan is to use a valid, reliable diagnostic tool for early identification and then support of students potentially in need of intervention in grades K-5.  A dedicated team of teachers and administrators worked with our Director of Special Education, Shelly Sarikey and Dr. Lisa Kilanowski, an associate professor of psychology at Niagara University to develop our RTI Plan. They outlined the goals, identified a benchmark assessment and detailed the progress monitoring and program specifics of each tier of intervention.

Second we have our Academic Intervention Services (AIS) Plan. The purpose of this plan is to combine a valid and reliable growth measure and individualized instruction for every student grades K-6.  Implemented during the Intervention Block (IB) that all K-6 students have every day, this personalized learning path is developed for all learners. The adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction helps us meet the unique needs of each individual student. Coupled with the fluid ability groups designed in our AIS Plan, teachers are able to focus on the needs of a smaller group during IB, also challenging our most advanced students.

As we implemented both of these plans, we assumed they would run concurrently and we would be sure to meet the needs of all of our students. What we found was a complicated set of circumstances including a diagnostic tool for the RTI plan that was new and just didn’t work well. I’m forever grateful for the ways in which our Administrative Team has continued to pay attention, listen to our teachers and parents and then to course correct. 

What does course correction look like in this case? Lots of listening to everyone involved and plenty of face to face discussions that led us to say, “why can’t we use this one valid and reliable diagnostic tool to satisfy the goals of both plans?” It requires changes to the RTI Plan, but not in the area of intent or goals, just in the area of the assessment tool and progress monitoring.

Our specialized RTI teachers can still do what they’ve always done–use a multitude of strategies and materials to work with small groups of students to intervene and differentiate instruction for every student. At the same time, the tool they’ll use to progress monitor their students is aligned with what the classroom teachers are using and they have access to the same individualized diagnostic instruction. 

It’s one thing to have a great plan on paper. It’s another thing to implement a plan successfully. It’s critical to “administer” the plan and to make changes as needed. It may be messy while we figure it out, but it’s worth it. Thank you to our entire SGI team for working through the implementation of two new plans intended to help our students succeed in our schools.