How Do You Change BOE Operations?

Another Superintendent Development Program Question #4:

How do you focus a board of education on instruction rather than managerial tasks? How do you change board operations?

I can only really speak to this in one school district, Randolph, but I realize that Boards of Education may vary greatly from one community to the next. In my experience over the past five years, I’ve found that getting to know and understand our BOE members are important. In my experience, BOE members are well meaning, caring community members who want to make a difference. Each member brings a unique background and often each is keenly focused on a different aspect of school operations.

I think about our meetings and plan for them in much the same way a teacher plans for a class. Because I’m anticipating their questions based on their interests, I come prepared. For example, I have a few BOE members who want to see the data, the comparison, and the deep analysis. I’d be foolish to present an idea without that, wouldn’t I? Likewise I have a BOE member who will always ask the cost and want to know that I’ve researched all other options first. We have BOE members who are deeply interested when we do a presentation on the details of our curriculum, others who love to hear about our student successes in and out of the classroom, and those who analyze the budget detail each month. They all play an important role in governing our school district with me. I learn from them, I’m a better superintendent because of them, and I work hard at my relationship with each of them. Much as I do with the other members of our school community.

Having said all of this about BOE relationships, I also acknowledge the important role I have in focusing the BOE members on the big ideas in education. In setting the agenda with the BOE President, we work hard to make sure BOE members are well informed on the hot issues in education and we include background information on important decisions IN ADVANCE, giving them time to think and to discuss before placing a motion on the agenda. I suppose if we didn’t bring important topics to them, they may be left to focus on the latest complaint heard at the grocery store. Their expectations for me and for the entire school district are much higher than that and we seem to have no difficulty focusing on what’s important in education (realizing that they do tell me about the complaints in the grocery store and then they trust us to do our jobs and take care of it).

As far as how we change BOE operations, the BOE largely “polices” itself.  If we’re discussing an issue that’s a building level management problem, someone is sure to speak up and remind the others of their main responsibilities: fiscal, curricular and policy. When I arrived here the BOE was very involved in the entire hiring process to a level I wasn’t accustomed to. I asked Lynda Quick, our BOCES Assistant DS, to come in and facilitate a conversation during a BOE Retreat on goal setting and how they wanted to function as a Board. At one point Lynda asked, “Who hires teachers?” One BOE member replied, “We do.” Lynda helped clarify for the BOE that the superintendent is their primary employee and it’s my responsibility to hire everyone else. We streamlined the process and now one or two BOE members serve on the final hiring committee with me. They trust me to do my job and take me to task if I don’t.

That thinking about hiring was something that evolved over time. They were well intended but misinformed. As I’ve written in other posts in this series, nothing beats an honest, straightforward, respectful conversation. They can expect that from me and I get the same from them. Similar to my relationships with other constituencies within our school community, BOE members want to know where they stand, they want to be a part of the conversation and decision making, and they don’t like to be surprised. That’s reasonable!

How Do You Uncover Organizational Dysfunction?

Question #3 from the Superintendent Development Program

What strategies have you used to uncover dysfunctions in an organization? What actions have you taken to address the issue and move the district forward, gaining the critical mass needed to make a change happen?

Dysfunction isn’t hard to spot. One word of caution is to enter an organization carefully and with great patience. Those who seek you out immediately may not be the key players within the organization. Previously I was in a position in which two teachers in particular stopped to see me OFTEN in my first weeks. They had a close relationship with my predecessor. Those two teachers both ended up leaving the organization while I was a leader there. One embezzled money from the extracurricular accounts and the other had multiple issues for which we had several serious conversations. The point is not that you need to be suspicious of those who reach out to you upon arrival but that you should be somewhat guarded until you have the time to get to know all of your employees. Had I allowed myself to appear aligned with those two teachers, I would have lost the respect of the many good employees I later got to know well.

I always think of what Janeil Rey said in my admin program at SUNY Fredonia. You’ve got to decide who you want to be angry with you, the good teachers or the bad teachers. If you’re not doing anything about the bad teachers, the good teachers are angry. I guarantee those who are in the organization know what the dysfunctions are and they are waiting and watching to see if you’re finally the leader who will recognize the truth and do something about it.

As far as gaining the critical mass needed to make change happen, my experience has proven that there are far more dedicated, well meaning, quiet and excellent employees in any school than there are bad. It’s just that the difficult employees are usually the loudest, most confrontational OR charismatic as in the case of the teacher who was skilled at gaining trust that led to embezzlement. Good employees often just want to keep their heads down, do their work and stay away from those they know are doing wrong. It’s our job as the leaders to do the right thing, the often difficult and courageous thing, and speak up to make a difference. 

“Not on MY watch” is a good motto to live by as a leader working to make a significant difference.

 

What’s been your greatest challenge since becoming a superintendent?

Last evening I had the great pleasure of participating in an interview with the 2013 Cohort of the NYS Superintendent Development Program, conducted through SUNY Oswego.  This was the Cattaraugus-Allegany-Erie Cohort and included administrators in districts around here. The team asked some great questions and I ended the interview wondering if my answers were at all similar to those of my colleagues who may have been interviewed previously.

I’m thinking it could be interesting and useful to new administrators (and to me) if I do a series of blog posts based on the  Cohort questions. I’ll post each question and give my answer,  and then I  invite conversation about my answer or tell us how YOU would answer the question. I would love to read how my fellow administrators from across the country think  and also how our school community feels about the questions and the superintendency. In other words, how would you like your superintendent to think about each question? Hopefully I’ll be on the mark but if not I can learn from your thinking—I can improve and do a better job for the RCS community.

So here’s the first one.

What has been your greatest challenge since becoming a Superintendent? Have you found the position to be what you expected?

My greatest challenge has been to always make the best decisions for our school, our students and families, and our taxpayers. As hard as I may try it’s always a challenge to get it all right. I really want our District to be the best that it can be for the future success of our students, for our employees and for our community as a whole. Wanting it doesn’t make it happen. The challenge is sometimes knowing which course is best in any decision and often knowing that someone will be upset with the outcome. It’s knowing that I’ve considered all of the information at hand–often times information others don’t have–and made the best decision for the District. That’s my responsibility and really no one else’s but the business official and the Board of Education.

What do I mean? Well, everyone has his or her own point of view, perspective, opinion. It’s based on the role that the person has within the organization–teacher or parent or student  or support staff employee–and the personal experiences of that person. I often can’t share all of the information that leads to a decision and can be the only one with all of the pieces of the puzzle. So my challenge is in building trust and making the best decisions possible so that members of our school community can have faith in me even when they only see the edges of the puzzle or problem I’m trying to solve. The only way I know how to build that trust is by always telling the truth, sharing what I can, and having the  best interest of the District in mind— which can sometimes be in conflict with the interest of an individual. The only way I know how to make the best decisions is by considering every angle, soliciting input from others, analyzing and then having the courage to make the decision, no matter how hard.

And the second part of that question: asking if I’ve found the position to be what I expected? I say 95% of it, yes. Having worked in other districts for some incredible leaders, I learned from some of the very best–mentors like Cindy Miner, Deb Ormsby, Kerry Courtney, Elizabeth Bradley, Janeil Rey. My time learning from Charles Rinaldi, Supt. at Gowanda Central, especially about school finance, was invaluable. The 5% I didn’t expect? All of the time I spend listening to the school attorneys!

I hope to hear from you–Question #2 tomorrow.

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.