Working Together as a Community Has as Much Impact as Opting Out

I love a good conversation about education! Last evening I had the wonderful opportunity to have such a conversation with the parents of two of our elementary students. They met with me to talk about their concerns about education and the direction the New York State Education Department is headed. I hope they enjoyed the conversation half as much as I did–even though it lasted for two solid hours and I’m sure they had the bedtimes of their children to worry about when they left here at 9:00!

What did we talk about? If I had to summarize that conversation, in which this mom and dad offered countless astute observations about the education of their girls, I’d say it was about the impact of state testing and the common core curriculum on their children. They talked about the anxiety, the frustration, and the tears associated with school this year.

This young couple spoke of the loss of family time as their daughter spends three hours per night on homework, often on our new Math curriculum and the difficulty in solving problems as it’s done with the common core. Three hours of homework for 8-12 year old children? That’s ridiculous. No elementary child should have more than 20-30 minutes of homework total. You tell me as an adult if you want to come home from work and then work for another couple of hours?

These caring, dedicated parents wondered why their children are in front of a computer so much, why they don’t know things that we learned in school like state and local history and geography. Why are so few papers their children bring home  focused on social studies or science? When do they get to do projects in school like the one created for the academic fair that their daughter was so excited about? And why is their child so worried about her performance on a state test, to the point that she’s afraid it’s going to affect the rest of her life because she was told it will be on her permanent record?

What’s my answer? Public education has changed dramatically in the past two years. I’ve said many times that this has been the most stressful, rapidly changing time in my career. The impact has seemingly hit us in waves. The first wave was my own, as I studied the changes and began to plan implementation three years ago. Next were the administrative team and the teachers who were involved in studying the APPR regulations with me and making decisions about our plan. Also affected last year were those incredible teachers of Math and ELA in grades 3-8. And last summer and this school year it affected the rest of our teachers as they came to better understand the portfolio reviews and the pre and post assessments in every subject and the changes to the curriculum.

But now the wave of anxiety is affecting our children. That’s our fault. It’s not okay for us to increase the level of anxiety in the children we are charged with educating and caring for to the point where they no longer want to come to school. ADULT employees must seamlessly handle the stress of a changing work environment without impacting children. The students take their cues from us. Our message must be, “We have worked hard all year and prepared for these tests. We’ve got this. I’m confident you will do your best!” That’s it. No threats, no coercion, no panic mode teachers. We are adults, we’re paid to handle the stress of change; the students are our responsibility not our partners in panic.

Think about the ugliest of divorced couples with kids. They use coercion and bribes, over-share information, malign the other parent and HURT their own children in the process. We cannot be like those parents as educators. We must be like those parents who do their best to protect their children from their own pain and anxiety.

And about those other questions? When is the time for social studies and science and creativity and joy in learning? I honestly don’t know. The best I can do is promise our entire school community that we will continue to work hard, to support our teachers and to figure it all out together. I don’t have all of the answers. I’m frustrated too. I know there are some good things to come from all of the State Ed changes. We did need to improve our instruction in Math as a school district so that our students really know their math facts and how to solve problems. Our students will be better at reading, writing, and discussing–they’ll be better at citing their sources and have more extensive vocabularies.

What I don’t know is how we’re going to meet the new challenges while maintaining all of the rich, wonderful things we’ve always done with our students. I can’t figure that out alone–I need our teachers doing that with us. As we master this new curriculum we will get better at bringing in all of those good things we’ve always done. These are tough transitional years, let’s do everything we can so that it’s not tough on the children we’re charged with teaching. And no, I still don’t think the answer is for our parents to opt their children out of state testing. But I will respect and support parents who decide that’s the answer for their families.

Just think of the impact those two young parents have already had on our educational community by meeting with me and asking questions and thinking deeply about the education of their children. Our faculty and our admin team are talking about these issues and will continue to focus on a balanced approach to our education for Randolph children. We have incredible educators, parents and children—if anyone can do all of this it’s Randolph Central. I’m in it for the long haul, I’ll stand with you, I’ll listen and I’ll work with you to make it better.

Hiring Decisions

Originally written for the Salamanca Press, published March 28, 2013

It’s almost hiring time again, for those of us lucky enough to have any positions to fill. With four elementary teachers retiring, we are replacing three and the advertisement for the positions has a closing date of April 5, 2013. Which means my amazing assistant, Maureen Pitts, will be inundated with hundreds of applications and resumes soon.

Hiring is one of the most important jobs that we have. One of the two primary factors in your child’s success at school is the teacher standing in the room, the other is the parenting.  We take interviewing very seriously with three phases of interviews, including a lesson taught to our students.  We are on a mission to improve our instruction at RCS, so we’re looking for the best of the best—teachers who have high expectations for themselves as well as for students.

Hiring is also one of the most difficult jobs that we have. No matter who we hire, someone who didn’t get the position is upset, angry, disappointed. And likely so is the unemployed candidate’s family. In small communities like ours, everyone knows everyone and everyone has an opinion. However, just because you love someone doesn’t mean that person is the best fit for our position or the best candidate for the job. I’m glad you think so, loving that person and all, but we work hard to look at the candidates objectively and to hire the best, most qualified person.

You may think the candidate is hired because of who he or she knows, but I can guarantee those connections only get someone a possible foot in the door at a first interview. After that, you’ve got to be the best in the interviews and lesson—no matter who you are.

Here’s what’s interesting, there will be readers who get what I’m saying and readers who refuse to accept it. And if you’re a candidate for a teaching position who’s convinced yourself that you’re NOT getting positions because of 100 reasons other than your own skills, abilities, resume, or performance, then we definitely don’t want you working at Randolph Central.

In other words, the best employees take personal responsibility. They own it, including their own mistakes. They don’t make excuses. They don’t look around to see who else they can point at for the error or believe in an external locus of control.  The best employees have high expectations for themselves and when they fall down, they are already analyzing why and how so that they can do better the next time—before they even hear from me or one of the building administrators.

Snow Days

Please note: This blog post was originally written for the Salamanca Press, February 28, 2013 and I have re-posted it here.

Snow Days. Argh. On Friday, February 1, 2013, Randolph Central was open and then they called a driving ban in Randolph. What a mess. Yes, I should have closed. Here’s what goes into a decision about snow days.

Beginning early in the morning, around 5:00 am, I have text messages and phone calls from three different employees who reside in our district, one of whom is the head of our bus garage, Brian Hinman. Last Friday, I heard from all three around 5:30 am and all looked good to go. At 6:38, I received a text from one of them saying, “Whoa. Maybe we should rethink this now.” I called Brian Hinman and asked him what he thought—Brian said, “Let’s go.” Many drivers are out on the road at that time and it’s quite late to cancel. Sometimes timing is everything, by 7:15, it was quite clear that we would have been better off cancelling school.

What am I thinking about during that hour or two in the morning? Student safety, of course, first and foremost. If those three gentlemen, who’ve driven our roads, tell me it’s unsafe to transport our students then we’re closing. Plain and simple. No debate. But I also don’t want to cancel and then have the weather be fine—we have to look at the conditions just before our buses are out on the roads. Why? Because for every working parent, I know there’s a scramble to line up child care at the last minute or a sick day or personal day that has to be used. I know that local employers may run short staffed as they have employees who call in to work because they need to stay home with their kids. And frankly, I want our students here in school with us so that we can do our jobs.

Am I watching the news and the weather? Sure. But to be honest, those weathermen can get really worked up, especially if it’s a slow news day. And why don’t I cancel when our neighboring districts cancel? We are one of the largest districts in NYS geographically, 254 square miles. That means I have to consider the information from those people within the district more carefully than the fact that another district has closed. For example, Jon Peterson might close over at Cattaraugus Little Valley because his residents in North Otto are getting pounded while the sun is shining in Onoville.

We have a Randolph Facebook Page and I took my fair share of criticism for NOT cancelling that day, even after putting up my own post that said I should have cancelled. Parents were worried, I get it. Some of the criticism focused on this idea that we don’t call a snow day because we want the state aid. That’s ridiculous. We already have more school days scheduled per year than we receive state aid back on anyway—and receiving money for attendance isn’t going to influence any superintendent’s thinking.
There was also concern that it was cold enough to cancel a couple of times this year. With that I respectfully disagree. For cold, I follow the guidelines from the NY Statewide School Health Services Center, considering school closure with sustained wind chills of -25 to -40 degrees. We haven’t had that here in Randolph this year.

The strangest thing to me is that anyone would think we’re putting the safety and welfare of our students at risk deliberately. I’ve devoted my entire career to education and caring for our students, it’s not even remotely within me to be ill intended like that—nor is it for my superintendent colleagues. It’s the weather, it’s unpredictable and miserable at times–I promise you we’re doing the best we can with these decisions. Believe me, they’re harder decisions to make than I realized before I sat in this seat.

 

Dale Carnegie, 31 Years Later

As a 17 year old in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity through Junior Achievement (JA) to take a Dale Carnegie course. I won a scholarship and took the course downtown at the William Penn Hotel with other area high school graduates. It was one of many good experiences I was fortunate enough to have through my involvement in Junior Achievement and in Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA). Looking back I can say that my work in those two clubs shaped the entire rest of my professional career and life.

I learned about leadership. True, I’m still learning about leadership in  my 13th year as a school administrator—but the lessons I learned through my Dale Carnegie course have stayed with me and are as relevant today as they were then. I’m reminded of those lessons as I subscribe to their Twitter feed.

Here are my top ten lessons learned through Dale Carnegie at 17 years old that still matter to me today–and I’m putting them into my own words as I’ve remembered them all of these years. For direct from the source information go to their website.

1. In Public Speaking–speak about what you know and use personal experiences and stories to make your point. I am as comfortable speaking to a room of 500 as I am speaking to an administrative team of 5 because of this lesson.

2. Instead of worrying about things you can’t control, put them into airtight containers and stop thinking about them. This one I’m not so good at even after 31 years of practice, but I still remember the lesson.

3. When considering a risk or a worry, consider what’s the worst thing that can happen. Reconcile yourself to that outcome and then move forward.

4. No one else controls your happiness, you own it through your own thoughts and decisions. I totally live by this one.

5. Think about everyone on your team and what motivates each of them. I’m often analyzing everyone who works in our District. I want to figure out what makes each member of our team tick and what’s important to him or her. I want to be a leader who makes others want to be their best. This is the same with our best teachers and their students.

6. Listen more than you speak. My advice to my daughter when she started dating was to ask the boy lots of questions to get him talking. She said that worked for getting conversation going and that the first boy who actually asked her questions back, she’d marry. Which she did.

7. Own your mistakes.

8. Don’t worry about what people say about you. Work in a way that makes a difference to them.

9. Instead of giving orders, get buy-in.

10. And of course there was an entire word association technique to remember information and people’s names that I don’t quite remember but wish that I did.

Has to be some strong content to stick with me all of these years–I’m grateful to those teachers and fellow classmates from 1981.

Communities for Learning, C4L

As I’ve been writing on this blog since 2006 (wow!), I’ve used the space for several purposes. Originally, it was primarily a space for me to get my thinking about all of the issues in my principalship out of my head. I could process my ideas and best of all, solicit the thinking of others. Since that time, I’ve used the blog to share my thinking, listen to others, disseminate information, celebrate success, think out loud about family and life situations, and communicate with our school community.

This week, I’m in Connecticut at Communities for Learning, where I’ve taken on a fellowship. My goals are ambitious and in service to our school district. I’m hoping to study my own leadership, our team leadership and our school improvement efforts. I’m planning to do precisely what we’re asking our teachers to do: to create an intentional plan for school improvement in the same way that they have to intentionally plan their curricular units and instruction around the common core curriculum. We saw significant improvement and success in some areas this past year—I want to know how to help teachers identify why. I also have a publishing requirement with the fellowship. Why does that matter? Because when we get to where we’re going, from #202 as an elementary school to #102, it will be helpful to the field of education if we’ve documented how we got there. Too often we can’t pinpoint what programs or changes made the difference–I’m setting out to write about and document our efforts.

Why do I need to come to Connecticut to do this work? Because within this Communities for Learning fellowship, I am working with colleagues from across the State who come with a variety of expertise—teachers, principals and other administrators, along with Giselle Martin-Kniep, Joanne Picone-Zocchia and Jennifer Borgioli  from LCI. Also, I’m here with other fellows who will share their own ideas about school improvement, who will listen to our RCS plans and initiatives, and who will then give guidance and feedback about our development of an intentional and cohesive plan for school improvement.

What do I most hope to learn over this week and then continued work with the Community throughout my fellowship this school year? How do I have meaningful conversations with our administrators and teachers in which we can examine our past practices, determine what’s made a significant difference in our student learning and achievement, and replicate those efforts throughout our system? How do I help teachers continue and improve their work in data inquiry and sharing best practices? How do I help them to do so without judgment and without jumping to conclusions about why they or others saw greater success this past year? How do I make connections so that every member of our school community sees their inter connectedness and how valuable is their role in the bigger system? And how do I best lead so that everyone feels valued and understands the importance of aligning curriculum and instruction so that OUR STUDENTS have a consistent, rigorous path through our system in which all students maximize their learning and therefore, their academic success?

And Communities for Learning—Giselle and Joanne who I mentioned earlier? That’s also the organization who developed the MPPR, our rubric for evaluating our principals—so another goal of my fellowship is to learn how to use the MPPR to increase the capacity of our entire administrative team. If we improve our leadership, everyone benefits.

So you may or may not be interested in my writing this week. . . but I’ll be back to using this space to get my thinking out of my head, to solicit your feedback, and to learn how to be a better leader for our school district. Please chime in if you read something here that gets you thinking about something you want me to think about too!

Dear NYSED, Please Send Answers

Dr.  King:

Good morning Sir. This is Kimberly Moritz, superintendent of Randolph Central School District. We are working like fiends to do everything right, as you’ve asked. We are implementing the common core curriculum, REALLY implementing it, not just a lesson here or there—because we see this as the number one priority for our district’s improvement. Also, we purchased and implemented iReady as our local measure in Grades K-8, Math and ELA, and we are studying the results in our Data Inquiry Teams so that we can make good instructional decisions. We’ve implemented the Danielson rubric, with in-district training for administrators, teachers and teacher leaders. We’re learning every day and trying to get better. Our teachers are working on portfolios to use in end of the year APPR meetings with building administrators on Domain #4 of the rubric—-and all of this with a contract that would have precluded us from moving forward until 2012-13. Why is it working? We’ve shared decisions with our teachers union and worked collaboratively to get this right. We did all of this to give our teachers and building administrators the opportunity to learn and grow, to experiment with all that we’re expecting, all that you’re expecting, BEFORE it’s used in a publicly reported, by teacher and administrator, composite score.

We’re planning parent forums to better communicate the changes to our parents. We’re evaluating our schedules in both buildings and in particular are analyzing our delivery of AIS services so that we can better correct any gaps in learning that our students may have from previous years. We’re talking  a lot about fluid ability grouping so that we can do more for our students who are at the top academically and so that we can better differentiate our instruction.

And now I’m starting to work on determining the scoring bands that you’ve set forth on http://engageny.org/: the Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, Ineffective bands. They don’t work. They hurt teachers and principals who are doing everything you’ve asked us to do. I don’t know what proposal I can possibly develop for my work with our union leaders. My concern is that the scoring bands are going to place all of our teachers and principals into a position of fear and intimidation—a position from which no one does their best work. And that will affect the entire climate of our buildings. And that will negatively affect our children. Here’s what I’m talking about.

Wonderful and Typical RCS Teacher hypothetically receives:

13/20  for growth on the State Assessments which is in the Effective Range

15/20 for the iReady results which is in the Effective Range

15/20 for the Portfolio Review of the Domain #4, Danielson Rubric which is in the Effective Range

31/40 for a solid proficient rating on multiple evaluations, Danielson Rubric which is in the Effective Range

74 Composite Score on the NYSED Scoring Bands which is in the Developing Range

So a teacher can be effective in each of the sub-components and developing overall? How is that possible? You have a problem Sir. And it goes without saying that it will be as difficult for our best teachers to be in the Highly Effective Range, EVER, as it is for our smartest fourth graders to achieve a 4 on the State ELA test. Which we’re working on, by the way. We want more 4’s and more 3’s and well, even without the TESTS, we aim to do a better job, aligning to the common core, making data driven decisions, doing all of the things well that you’ve asked us to do. Believe it or not, we do want every child to succeed and we understand we’ve got to be more deliberate in making that happen through the common core curriculum and data analysis, NOT through fear and intimidation. Not through the composite scores you’re instituting.

Two things will happen. One, I’ll have to hire three more administrators to help me with all of the teacher improvement plans indicated by your scoring bands. Two, our teachers will be demoralized, defeated, and ready to give up.

We get it Commissioner King. We are going to transform this district from the wonderful, productive place that it already is into a more focused PK-12 continuum of curriculum that positively affects student achievement in big ways. And we’re also going to be sure that while productive, we don’t suck all of the joy out of learning. Your insanely punitive scoring bands are not going to help make that happen. Raise expectations, think the best of us, help us to get there. Reward us when we do. The scoring bands and the publicly reported composite scores will not help us get there.

Sincerely,

Kimberly Moritz, Superintendent

Priorities in a Time of Change

When we consider all that is NEW from NYSED this year:

1. the new evaluation system for teachers and principals,

2. the portfolio that teachers are keeping to show evidence in Domain #4 of the Danielson 2011 rubric,

3. the portfolio that principals are keeping to show evidence of goals in the Multidimensional Principal Performance Rubric

4. the student learning objective goals every teacher will have to develop in 2012-13

5. the changes to the state assessments–one hand preparing kids for the NYS assessments this year with one hand in common core for next year and K-2 all common core this year. . . with no clear idea of where the Regents exams are going. . .

6. the local assessments, iReady at RCS, with interim assessments for Data Analysis Teams

7. the impending composite score in 2012-13 for each teacher and principal

8. and the shifts to the Common Core Curriculum in Math and ELA.

With so much at once, we simply must consider where to put the majority of our energy and prioritize.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about 24/7 for the past seven months. At Randolph Central School, we’re going to do all that we can to implement the changes, as we have been. But we have to consider which of these eight changes has the greatest potential to make a difference for our children? What makes the most sense for our future success at RCS?

The new teacher and principal rubrics (or measures) are necessary improvements to our evaluation systems. In education, we haven’t done a good enough job of communicating well about our teaching and leading. This has the long term potential to make a difference for every teacher and principal—if we can get to the place where we’re sincerely talking objectively about “this is what’s great about what you’re doing, this is what can be better”. Lots of work to do in trust building, speaking directly and honestly, knowing our craft well enough to have meaningful discussions, and collaboration–it’s a two way conversation not just a post observation “if I sit here and nod my head long enough, I’ll be able to get out of here and have some prep time left” lecture. We’ll get there, we’ll do what’s expected. This is NOT our priority.

The portfolios are not our “best bet” or our priority either. We’ll comply with this, we’ll develop the portfolios, we’ll reflect on our practice, and we’ll have some good discussion. Not going to be our priority, does not have the potential for improving our success with students in the short term.

Now the state assessments. We do need to think about the state assessments and as any Regents teacher will tell you, of course we focus on preparing for the end of year assessment–we’d be crazy NOT to. As a teacher, I studied my Regents exams, analyzed the results–kicked myself when there was a question or two for which I KNEW I hadn’t adequately prepared my students, planned for next year’s instruction, gave ongoing assessments throughout the year to determine what we needed to review, reteach, etc. This is what we’ve always done well. And the State hasn’t been clear enough about where State assessments are headed for us to prioritize. Part of what we do, not the main change we need to attend to now.

And we’re not going to prioritize the SLOs, Student Learning Objectives.  We’ll learn more about SLOs, set them, practice SLOs and comply—but this is not the number one priority for us either.

So what is? Teaching the Common Core Curriculum and conducting internal Data Analysis while raising our expectations for all students. We make so many decisions in education based on our gut or our instinct or our impression of kids—and we’re just as guilty of it in administrative decisions. We can’t do that anymore. I taught this way too. This isn’t a criticism. It’s acknowledging that the way we’ve planned our instruction has been hit or miss and it isn’t good enough. We had to figure it out on our own and now we have to follow the Common Core curriculum. I say “Hallelujah and About Time”.

We have to look at how our students are doing, each of them, throughout the school year and we have to modify our instruction to match what they need us to teach next or again in the common core curriculum. I know we have teachers, in every district, who see the curriculum as a guideline, a suggestion, or something to consider when you’re planning your observation lesson because you have to slap some standards on the top of your lesson plan. That’s not good enough. Not even close. It’s what we have always done because no one gave us a good alternative or anything else at all and the textbook became the curriculum, because after all, what else did we have?

In grades K-8, we simply must teach the common core curriculum. With integrity. Not once in a while. NOT the textbook. NOT the lessons you’ve always loved to teach. The common core curriculum. With total fidelity. It’s not just a guideline. In Math and in ELA. If we don’t do that at every grade level, the teacher who follows you cannot bring your kids to the levels that are needed. Non negotiable. And when we have an articulated curriculum with new assessments from SED, it’ll be the same for our other core subjects too, K-12.

We had to figure out what to teach on our own for decades, we had NYS learning standards that frankly were unclear and anything BUT specific. NYS is now telling us what to teach, when. We must do this. And we must assess our kids throughout the school year to see how each child is faring—THEN we must remediate weaknesses AND push EACH child to his or her fullest potential. And while we’re at it, we’ve got to expect more of our students in the classrooms, we’ve got to push them harder and work them more. I believe they can do it. Why? Because I’ve been in our classrooms. Our teachers are extremely hard working professionals who love our kids. We’ve got to adjust what we’re teaching and push harder—our students can do it. They should be mentally exhausted when they leave at the end of the day. Some of our students aren’t even close to using all of their brain power, especially not our top students. Love them enough to expect more of them.

Why do I KNOW we can do it? Because I’ve never seen a more dedicated, harder working faculty. We can’t do whatever we figure out on our own in our individual classrooms anymore, we’ve got to deliver a cohesive continuum of common core instruction that leads each of our students to his greatest potential.

Our job has always been to love and care about our students. Our goal is help each student maximize her success.

How Are We Going to Do this Work?

As I said in yesterday’s blog post, we are conducting a time study of our administrative staff to determine our own efficiency and effectiveness, as well as to analyze how and when we will be able to implement the changes in teacher evaluation and testing as mandated by the New York State Education Department. In this post, I’ll  examine the increases in time required of building level administrators just to implement the new evaluation system, not including the increased time they’ll need for testing and data analysis.

Consider this.

Currently our three building level administrators,  elementary principal Jerry Mottern, high school principal Dave Davison, and special education director of pupil services Mary Rockey, supervise and evaluate 92 teachers and professional staff (guidance counselors, psychologist, OT, PT, Speech, etc.). In our current system, all 16 of our non-tenured teachers are evaluated three times annually. Our 76 tenured teachers are evaluated once annually. Each evaluation takes the administrator about 110 minutes at a minimum. That’s 110 minutes times 76 tenured teachers plus 330 minutes times 16 non-tenured teachers. Under our current evaluation system that results in 13,640 minutes or 227.33 hours. Remember that this doesn’t include the time I spend visiting every classroom or the APPR meetings held with every teacher at the end of the school year or the informal visits to the classrooms by principals and Mary.

For Dave Davison, this means 92 hours spent evaluating teachers; for Jerry Mottern 88 hours spent evaluating teachers; and for Mary Rockey 48 hours spent evaluating teachers UNDER OUR CURRENT SYSTEM.

With the changes mandated by NYSED for evaluating teachers next year, here’s what it will look like in 2012-13. Those same 16 non-tenured teachers will still be evaluated three times annually and the 76 tenured teachers will be evaluated a minimum of twice annually (for this conversation, we’re not even going to consider the time spent with teachers who perform at an ineffective or developing range and have to go on a Teacher Improvement Plan).  Under the new evaluation system, we estimate that each evaluation will take a minimum of 240 minutes. The 240 minutes includes  the required pre-observation meeting, the evaluation, time to write up the evaluation, and the post evaluation conversation. That’s 480 minutes times 76 tenured teachers plus 720  minutes times 16 non-tenured teachers. Under the new evaluation system that results in 48,000 minutes or 800 hours.

You’re probably thinking by now, well how many hours does a principal work? Consider that while they do work year round, they have a maximum of 181 days to observe teachers. Within the school year, there are 6 hours and 40 minutes of  teaching time per day or 72,400 minutes per year; 1206.67 hours. Of the 1207 hours that our principals and special ed director are working with teachers and students, at least 800 of them will be needed for evaluation: 328 hours (27%) for high school; 324  hours (27%) for elementary school; and 148 hours (12%) for special education. As compared to the 8% of time at the HS now on evaluation, 7% ES, or 4% special education. Consider the change alone—what a huge increase! For Dave Davison, that’s a 237.5% increase in time spent on evaluations; for Jerry Mottern, a 285.7% increase; and for Mary Rockey a 200% increase.

If  NYSED is now requiring that roughly 25% of our administrators’ time be spent in formal evaluations, and that’s the minimum required, I wonder how they will get it all done well. I’ve been a building principal and there are management duties that simply must take place. Some can be extremely time consuming and some will have to take precedence over those observations: talking to and meeting with parents; listening to students and solving problems; listening to our teachers; discipline (we have a Dean of Students, but he doesn’t do all discipline);  evaluating support staff, teaching aides, cleaning and custodial staff; solving bus and personnel and scheduling problems; completing endless paperwork for SED and the Business Office; budgeting; supervising the athletic program at the HS level; running or attending meetings for CSE, CST, department leader, content area or grade level, faculty, admin team, etc.; state and interim testing supervision; planning and most important program implementation and follow through, something that often gets short shrift and is vital to our improvement.

That may seem very reasonable as an expectation for a building level administrator. You may be asking “why can’t they accomplish all of that in their work day? They’re well paid and should be able to do whatever is  expected”. My answer? They will get it all done, but to what degree of excellence with that increase to work load?  We’re not aiming for the status quo and nothing more. I want us to do all of it really well, significantly impacting what’s happening in our classrooms toward school improvement at the same time that we’re still doing a good job of managing our buildings. If you’ve never been a building principal, don’t judge this–you’ve honestly no idea what they do all day. You’re simply not qualified to judge. Neither was I until I did it.  It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done in regard to time consuming, mentally exhausting, non-stop action and demands on my time and energy.

Those are the numbers behind our discussions about how we do business, about how we’re configured currently as an admin team. That’s why we’re examining all of our roles and responsibilities to determine our best course of action moving forward. We’ll consider this and more as we continue to discuss all of the options with the BOE. We are NOT considering adding another administrator to do the work. Instead we’re looking at what we all do now, how we pay BOCES for a three day per week curriculum coordinator who cannot evaluate teachers and a Teacher on Special Assignment for discipline who cannot evaluate teachers, and analyzing if there are things we could change and do better.

I’m not sure what our end result will be. We may continue as we are. I’m certain that I’ll be picking up a portion of the evaluations and I’m not yet sure how that will affect the mandated appeal process for teachers. I’m sure we have a hard working administrative team who wants to do it well. Beyond what SED has required that results in unfunded mandates and increases to our expenses (like staff development in the new evaluation system and purchase of the locally selected assessments), we will not do it on the backs of our taxpayers.

You’re always welcome to join us at the BOE meetings for the discussion or to call, drop me an email, invite me to come to you to talk about the issues, or stop by to see me. We’ll figure it out, it’s just going to take a bit of collaboration, analysis and careful thought.

Fair Hiring Practices

Do you know why the hiring process is a confidential one? Because every applicant has the right to privacy throughout the interview process. Participants on an interview committee are instructed about the confidentiality of the process and expected to adhere to it, no matter who it is who’s asking. Each applicant deserves that privacy either because of it’s impact on their current employment or because of their personal reputation and because of the law that guides hiring practices.

In a small district like ours, there are situations that arise in which people think they absolutely have the right to know about a decision that’s been made. In some cases, like student discipline, it is actually illegal for me to discuss someone else’s child with you. When a parent demands to know what happened to the “other kid”, it can be frustrating when our response is, “we followed through and followed the code of conduct.” We literally cannot tell you the detail of that other child’s discipline. Makes sense, right? You don’t want us talking to other parents about your child either.

In hiring a new employee, we hire the very best candidate for the job, based on the performance of each candidate in the interview process and the reference checks. I may like a candidate very much, may have had her as a student while I was a teacher or a principal, may very much want the candidate to succeed BUT that doesn’t mean it gives the candidate an edge. All that gets someone is a first interview–a “TBI” mark on the applicant’s file. “TBI–to be interviewed”,  means that for some reason, either the applicant lives in the district or has been given a strong recommendation from another district or has substitute taught successfully for us in the past, I am flagging this person so he or she gets a first interview.

After that, each candidate chosen has an initial interview in which he or she is asked questions by a committee that includes the principal, curriculum coordinator, and teacher leader. This initial interview can be any number of qualified applicants and is often 20-30 people.  Of those, the strongest candidates are invited back to teach a lesson to our students in one of our classrooms. This is the critical piece of the puzzle–the one in which we analyze how the applicant interacts with students, how well she knows the curriculum, what he chooses to use for instructional strategies. How well did you plan? Are you flexible, can you adapt to whatever the students throw at you? And how much effort did you put into the lesson? Are you pulling out all of the stops, bringing us your A game? Because after all, this is a lesson to beat all lessons if you want to be considered for the final interview with me, a BOE member and the principal. I ask the committee to send us two strong candidates, either of whom they would be comfortable. At that interview we ask tough questions. We want to see how candidates handle the pressure, if they can hold onto an idea mentally, do they show passion and enthusiasm and optimism?

We make the best decision we can. At that point, I don’t care where you live, who your parents are, or how well liked you may be in the community. Those are all nice features, but those are not what seal the deal and get you the job. It’s not an easy decision and it’s not an easy phone call when I let the #2 candidate know afterward that he hasn’t gotten the job. It’s just the way the process works and we do the best that we can to make good decisions.

It’s hard on the teachers who participate on the committee, hard to stand up to the criticism if a local favorite isn’t hired, hard to be courageous and stand behind our process. And remember that it’s a confidential process so as much as you may think you have a right to know everything, it’s just like that discipline example–you don’t. At the end of the day, we want to be the very best district that we can be with the most talented, engaging, innovative, passionate and smart teachers we can find. In the hiring process, someone gets the job and someone else doesn’t.

Public Ranking of our Teachers

I get the public accountability piece of education, I truly do. We are accountable in a myriad of ways from our requirements through the Freedom of Information Law, the public reporting and necessary voter approval of our budget, our FOUR different required auditors we work with, See Through New York and their reporting of employees and their salaries, PLUS the every day accountability of 1000+ students and parents who talk about what’s happened in school. I support all of that, we have nothing to hide, we are a public institution.

I’m supportive of our new requirements for a better teacher evaluation system and a  deeper analysis of and accountability for student assessment data. I believe that data inquiry teams are a long time coming and as I’ve said over and over again, we are better together than we are apart—teachers working together to learn from each other and improve instruction for every student is the key to our future success.

What I can’t support is vilifying our entire profession. Even with  all of the changes we are implementing and all of our obvious accountability measures—somehow the public perception of teachers and public education as a whole is fraught with negative, mean spirited, ill intended criticism. Every time an article about education is printed in a newspaper, I prepare to read the ANONYMOUS comments left by our citizenry. Self appointed experts who know everything there is to know and are happy to tell you what’s wrong with what you’re doing without even owning their statements.

So now we’re going to publicize our teachers composite scores? How each classroom of kids performs every year? And by the way, that’s not even right for our kids–in a small school such as ours it doesn’t take long to figure out who those kids are or from what families. That’s just what we need– a community pointing it’s fingers at each other because we’re not doing better based on “your kids”.

Should we analyze that information and evaluate it? YES. Should we do our jobs as administrators and hold low performing teachers accountable? ABSOLUTELY. Should the public be entitled to what is otherwise known as a confidential personnel matter? NO.

Read Diane Ravitch’s post on this topic, “Why Naming Names is Wrong”. She’s much more eloquent than I am and makes the point perfectly. Here’s a portion of what Diane writes,

I recently had an email exchange with Thomas Kane, the Harvard economist who advises the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on these issues, and he told me he opposes the public release of names linked to evaluations. I asked if I might quote him, and he authorized me to say exactly what he told me. He wrote:

“My reason for opposing public release of teacher-level value-added data is to preserve some minimal level of privacy in the supervisor-employee relationship, to maintain some space for teachers to brainstorm with their peers and their supervisors about ways to improve. I’m sure many Americans would not want their performance appraisals published in the newspapers or to have their supervisors write a letter to the editor about their latest annual review. Without some privacy, people will not have the ‘space’ to have an honest conversation about strengths and weaknesses, areas where they are working to improve. I treat the feedback I get from peer reviewers (on journal articles, for instance) and from employees (in the form of confidential employee surveys) very seriously, and use them as a chance to improve. I’m not sure I could do that if they were published in the newspaper. I’m also not sure referees, supervisors, and employees would be as honest if they knew their comments would be made public.”

We need our teachers working together to solve educational problems with our neediest children, without competition and fear of condemnation.