School Safety at Springville-Griffith Institute CSD

Following the recent violent attack on innocent lives at a school in Florida, I’ve heard from families, BOE members and employees who have written to me with concerns about school safety here. I’d like to share the work we’ve been doing on this topic over the past year and the changes we’re considering moving forward.

In early 2017 we contracted with Corporate Screening & Investigative Group to conduct a security and climate survey and risk assessment of the district. This was a thorough investigation conducted by Tony Olivo and his team in which he evaluated our school exterior and play areas, our school interiors and our staff and administrative practices.

What we learned from this assessment influenced many of the decisions we’ve made about our security practices. We’ve changed our safety drills from twelve fire drills per year, with one early evacuation drill, to practicing all of our emergency drills. While the topic of a school shooter makes everyone uncomfortable, we believe we must discuss, prepare and practice how to respond so that every member of our school family feels empowered to act responsibly in ways that can save lives.

The truth is that in the event of an emergency such as an active shooter, every person here has to be prepared to think quickly and to make the best possible decisions. Who can call a lock down in the event that they see something is wrong? Anyone. Who can call 911 in the event of an emergency? Anyone.

Please know that we also pay attention to each and every report  about anyone who may be making threats or expressing alarming ideas or thoughts on social media. “SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING” is an important mantra for our students, employees and families to remember. We need everyone acting as advocates for student safety. Are the concerns false sometimes? Sure, but better that we investigate concerns than ignore them. We also have a full staff of school counselors and social workers who work with students who are struggling–please tell an adult if something seems worrisome so that we can get help to those in need.

School safety is the responsibility of every member of our school community. From the security and risk assessment, we implemented the following.

  1. All doors are to be locked at all times. In the event of an active shooter entering one of our schools, a quick response is paramount to saving lives. Teachers cannot be fumbling for keys to lock doors. Instead the doors should be locked so they can be quickly closed.
  2. All district staff are expected to wear their SGI name badges at all times while on duty and to use them to enter buildings.
  3. We have improved morning entry procedures for Boys and Girls Club students so that our buildings aren’t wide open and unlocked prior to the start of school.
  4. To the extent possible, everyone should enter through one centralized arrival point.
  5. We added a door monitor at SES and we now require all visitors to show and leave ID while visiting our buildings. This is in an effort to verify that people are who they say they are and to be able to quickly identify who is in our buildings.
  6. We dedicated time for ALL STAFF to learn more from Tony Olivo and NYS Trooper Tom Kelly about SGI Situational Awareness and Security as part of our staff development days. We conducted follow up training for our door monitors. I believe this kind of training needs to be repeated annually.
  7. We have two district level leaders who have school safety as a primary responsibility and are therefore charged with the task of routinely evaluating our practices, keeping current on what we can do better and reminding everyone of our responsibilities.
  8. Our building level safety teams are empowered to implement procedures that make sense for their buildings. An example is when the Colden Elementary Safety Team identified that parent pick-up at the end of the day will be better contained and safer if moved from the cafeteria to the front of the school.

We have a School Resource Officer, Erie County Sheriff Frank Simmeth, who we share with North Collins, provided to us through funding from Senator Pat Gallivan. Senator Gallivan is meeting with us next week to further discuss law enforcement’s role in school security.

What else can we do? In our current capital project, the bids were favorable enough that we have some funding to spend on things that weren’t initially planned. We also have Smart Schools Bond money available. I have specified that school safety improvements are our #1 Priority for the use of these funds. Following are possibilities we are considering.

  1. Technology solutions that allow us to lock down all doors within a building immediately.
  2. Improved security cameras placed where law enforcement and our security audit indicate.
  3. Aegis Technology that helps deliver a safer school by working with our existing camera system to provide proactive real-time alerts that will protect staff and students.  Tony Olivo is joining us at our March 20 BOE meeting to discuss this technology with us.
  4. There is a film for the glass in our doors and windows that can be applied and would delay entry from an armed intruder.

We will be discussing school safety and security at our March 20 BOE meeting, 6:30 at Springville High School. We invite our employees, students and families to attend.

Will some of the outcomes of our safety improvements make things a bit more inconvenient? Perhaps. Will some visitors feel that the precautions aren’t necessary? Maybe. Is it worth it? Yes.

We want our families to feel welcome when they enter our buildings. We want you to feel a part of what we’re doing at SGI–please visit us! We just want to be smart and safe about it. When you come to my home, you’ll find the doors locked. When I see who you are and determine that I know you, that it’s safe to open my door to let you in, I’ll be warm and welcoming. Isn’t that how you are at home? That’s what we’re attempting to do here in our efforts to keep every child and employee safe at SGI.

And if all of these precautions are unnecessary? I’ll be very grateful. 

 

 

SGI–Go Green?

As a school leader, I’ve never been afraid to admit what I don’t know and I’m not somehow who knows a whole lot about environmental stewardship. I would guess I know about as much as an average citizen. I have had the good fortune of learning much more on this topic from Reed Braman and Seth Wochensky, two of our Springville community members who have formed a local environmental organization called Green Springville.

Our school district has six buildings and one of the biggest footprints in our community. I want us to do our part, to make changes wherever we can and to be better.

The Green Springville organization should likewise be an SGI initiative within our schools. We talk about recycling, but are we truly recycling? Are we involving our students in education about environmentally sound practices and allowing them to have a voice in how we can be better? Are we affording them the opportunity to solve this problem and change the world, their future, in positive ways?

Changing our practices for the better will take all of us thinking about ways in which we can make that happen. I KNOW we have employees in every building who are more knowledgeable on this topic than me. We need a cadre of volunteers who are passionate about improving our efforts–teachers, support staff, students, families–who can work in every building to improve our practices. I believe the students will drive the project, given some guidance from the adults.

SHS Principal James Bialasik is on board. Who’s out there who will raise your hand to participate on building level teams, alongside students, to make changes within our district? You don’t have to know everything about environmental stewardship. You just need the passion and energy to make a difference. In Tracie Hall, director of the U.S. Green Building Council and SGI alum, we have an incredible resource for information and resources. We also have the Green Springville group on our side.

See your principal before Winter break and raise your hand to make SGI a greener district!

 

Top Ten Things Learned in the 4th Grade Band

Some of you will recall that I joined the fourth grade band at SES at the beginning of this school year. If you don’t remember, you can read about it here. Every Tuesday the plan was for me to join the band (about 45 fourth grade students) at 2:30 and then in a small group for our clarinet lesson on Thursday. Then there were the hours that should have been devoted to practicing and you can see where I’m going with this. This was a bigger time commitment than I originally understood!

Today is the culminating clarinet activity for me, as I join my fourth grade friends for our Winter concert. We have four songs to play and I’m frantically practicing in the hope that I won’t embarrass either my friend Anna, who has had to share her music stand with me these last four months, or the rest of the students. I keep hearing BOE president Allison Duwe’s words in my head, “you don’t have to be perfect Kim; you can even make a mistake up there and it’ll be okay!”

Without further ado, here are the top ten things I learned in the fourth grade band this year.

  1. When the conductor lifts her hands, I’m in the ready position. Likewise as an audience member, I’ll now know to applaud when the conductor lowers her hands at the end of a performance. You’re thinking, “Duh, everyone knows that!” Um, no, I didn’t.
  2. I know what the notes E, D, C, and F look and sound like. I also can identify whole, half and quarter notes as well as a rest.
  3. I’m not tone deaf. I just needed to learn more about the subject.
  4. There were days when I felt much like Billy Madison. I’m not sure our fourth grade students will ever be able to take me seriously as an authority figure.
  5. Practice is important. (I already knew this one)
  6. Mrs. Briggs calmly and effortlessly garners the attention of all 46 of us and has the confidence to allow us to play, mess up, even fail. Learning is messy. That’s good.
  7. In the last lesson before the concert, I asked a question. Mrs. Briggs reacted much better than I would have done. I would have felt the need to keep the students practicing to get all four numbers right! Instead she stopped, allowed the students to answer my question, and took as much time as we needed, even though we only practiced two of our four songs. She was CHILL.
  8. Our students love their instruments, lessons and band. Band is noisy, chaotic, expressive and fun.
  9. I’m pretty darn good at the video game “Staff Wars” and this may be the only way in which I gained the respect of the students in my lesson group.
  10. You can teach an old dog new tricks. If the old dog is willing to take a risk, be vulnerable, and learn.

Computer Science and Maintenance Electrician

This morning I’m starting my day in the Dunkirk school district where I’m traveling with our capital project team to visit a new P-TECH center that’s opening in February, 2018. P-Tech stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School and we have the possibility to bring a center to our school district.

What would you think about a P-TECH center right here in Springville? Working with Alfred State University and Erie 2 BOCES, we would offer two pathways for students: Computer Science and Electrical Construction and Maintenance Electrician. Through this collaboration, students would be concurrently enrolled in high school and college course work. Students would complete the six-year program with their Regents diploma from SGI and Associates Degree from Alfred State. This program would be available to our SGI students and other students in our region.

Imagine if we have the chance to build partnerships with area industries and equip our students to fill vacancies in high need areas! A P-TECH center on our campus could also be used for adult learning in the evenings and help to grow our vibrant community. We could renovate  the district office building into a vital P-TECH learning center through a capital project that would allow the local costs of the project to be fully paid by BOCES through rent for their programs.

Renovating the District Office into a student space makes good financial sense for us too. The way state aid on a capital project works is that any non-student occupied space, like our current district office, gets ZERO state aid back for work we have to do to maintain the building like our roof replacement. In our student occupied spaces, work is eligible for 79.8% state aid back. In the case of this P-TECH project, it would be a state aided capital project AND BOCES would pay the 21.2% local taxpayer share through their rent of the space.

  1. BOCES programs for area HS students in two viable trades for which industry is experiencing shortages.
  2. Springville owned building, renovated with zero cost to the local taxpayers.
  3. Springville students can attend the program, right here in district.
  4. Adult learning opportunities in the center in the afternoons/evening, possibly with Alfred State (how awesome would that be?!)

As I’ve been researching this opportunity and planning with BOCES over these last few weeks, I can’t come up with a reason for us NOT to do this in Springville. Can you? What an opportunity for a learning center, right here in Springville!

We would look to open the center in September, 2018, utilizing four classrooms at SHS and needing six classrooms in September, 2019. To open the renovated center in September, 2020, we would need to bring the project to a vote in May of this school year. I recommend we do so with our regular budget vote to save on the cost of a capital project vote.

Much more to follow, including public meetings to answer questions and review details. Please contact me with any feedback. As always, I’d love to hear what you think!

We Need YOU

Our leadership team and teachers continue to focus on something called Change School, a learning space where we think about redefining rural public education in Springville. For decades our students have received a solid, fundamental education. With the accelerated changes within our world, we see an urgency to transform our school system.

To our solid, fundamental education, we are talking about ways to support and encourage learning opportunities that develop students’ natural curiosity, where they discover, connect, collaborate, contribute and adapt. Interested in re-imagining school and having a voice in what it means to be an SGI graduate? Please call me at 592-3230 or email me at kmoritz@springvillegi.org to join our coalition for change.

Teachers, students, parents, support staff members and community members are all welcome! Our first meeting will be in January, more details to follow.

Finding Time for Everything

There have been many times in my life when I’ve answered an enthusiastic “YES!” when asked to do something that later proved challenging to manage. Perhaps none of those have been as challenging as finding the time in my schedule, weekly, to get to SES for Band and clarinet lessons. When I committed, I must admit that I thought, “it’s one half hour per week, I can do it!” without thinking of the time needed for lessons and practice.

In case you missed my original post on this topic, on the first day of school, I challenged our school community to become more of a learning community. In response, our SES Instrumental music teacher asked me to learn a musical instrument, something I’ve never done. I thought, “Yes! This will give me a chance to model that we can all push ourselves to learn something that’s otherwise hard for us. And I’m over fifty, so it should be good for my brain.”

While I have enjoyed learning the clarinet, I’ve struggled to keep my schedule open twice per week for this learning. And to be completely honest, I’ve wondered every time I’ve made it to the lesson if it’s the right use of my very limited time. Could I be using the time to meet with groups of students or to visit teachers’ classrooms? I’m coming up on my two year anniversary in March, 2018 and while I’ve gotten to know many of our teachers, there are still many who I’m very conscious of not yet knowing.

Plus there’s the not so tiny issue of this job I’m paid to do every day.  My time is spent on reports and capital project planning; on conversations with the members of our leadership team both individually and on team; on talking with anyone who wants to meet with me or who calls with a problem; on managing personnel issues (320 employees and our school district doesn’t have an HR dept., that’s two amazing secretaries, me and our business administrator); professional learning on Twitter, in ed journals/books, and in change.school; on analyzing every aspect of our organization and every budget line to look for areas in need of improvement. Budget season is right around the corner and evaluations and well, you get the picture.

If I have the time to join the fourth grade Band to learn to play the clarinet with them so that I can better understand our music programs, perhaps I should be spreading that time out across the rest of our programs and operations? 

If you struggle to find the time to fit everything in, I understand. 

I’m not a quitter. I’ve no idea how to explain to the fourth graders that I just don’t have the time to be there twice per week when I know their parents likely teach them, as we did our own kids, “once you start something, you finish it”. I’ll hang in there until December’s concert as I said I would do from the beginning.  But good gracious, I hope those kids on the clarinet are practicing because they will definitely need to drown out my less than stellar performance. 

Are FB Posts/Comments Credible Sources?

NO. It’s 9:48 on Tuesday morning and I’m responding to inquiries from the press because of calls they received and a FB post. The post indicates a “warning to ALL parents” about MRSA in the middle school and anger that we haven’t informed the parents.

According to our school physician, Dr. Robbin Hansen, and the Erie County Health Department, there is no recommendation or requirement to keep someone out of the workplace or school for MRSA. Provided the individual is being seen by a physician and that the infected area is covered, there is no reason to keep him or her out of school. Furthermore, we have no right nor permission to reveal one student’s health condition to anyone else in the school community.

I had to be educated about MRSA too. So I went to the most credible sources I have, the school physician and an epidemiologist at the Erie County Health Department. Both said that this is a fairly common infection today and provided the individual has the wound covered and is being seen by a physician, presents no risk to our student population.

I’m not a medical authority. If you still have questions, call your own physician or the health department.

Empowering Our Children

Here’s my two cents as a parent. I recognize that every family  has their own values; following is what worked for us.

When I was in grade school, I remember asking my mum to come to school for some reason–some slight that I felt or problem that I had. My mother’s response was, “I’m not fighting your battles for you. Go figure it out.” 

I’ve been doing just that my entire life. She empowered me. In her message she was also saying, “you can do this. I trust you to do this.” She wasn’t oblivious, the poor woman listened to me talk endlessly about every aspect of my day BUT she expected me to handle my own stuff. I believe I’m a strong, courageous, independent thinker because of her. 

We therefore raised our two children in precisely the same way and they too are strong, courageous, independent thinkers.

Yes, there are times when parents need to get involved and ask questions, particularly if it’s a situation where the problem is with one of the adults in the system. And if a child truly doesn’t have the resources to handle a problem on his or her own, we need to work together to support and strengthen that child’s strategies. As a school district we also work hard to monitor behavior and correct when necessary, with a litany of progressive discipline as needed. We listen to both sides. We ignore nothing. 

Sometimes parents show their children love by saying, “I’ve got this! I will fight for you! No one is going to talk/do this to you!” I’m suggesting that we strengthen our kids by talking problems through with them, offering suggestions and empowering them to handle the problems themselves.

I wonder if I had fought every battle for our two kids, would they be the independent, capable adults who they are today? Believing in their ability to problem solve worked. I’m still listening to them and offering suggestions, then knowing they’ll do the right things and make good decisions.  The greatest accomplishment of my life is right there, in those two strong, courageous adults.

 

Adults In Our Learning Organization

Learning–the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught.  For what seems like forever, schools have talked about developing students who are life long learners and yet, we loosely support professional development by sending teachers to some conferences or signing off on hours spent learning “Google classroom” or strategies for using YouTube in the classroom or “behavior strategies for elementary students”.

I’m guessing, or better said hopeful, that all of the professional development hours our teachers engage in are meaningful. I’m wondering how much time is spent after that Master’s degree continuing to learn about learning–the very reason we exist?

In the book And What Do YOU Mean by Learning?, Seymour B. Sarason talks about productive learning.

And by productive I mean that the learning process is one which engenders and reinforces wanting to learn more. Absent wanting to learn, the learning context is unproductive or counterproductive.

In schools, we are often focused on the acquisition of knowledge or skills that help students achieve on a NYS test. I challenge that helping our students to acquire that level of learning is the bare minimum we should expect of ourselves.

I taught for eleven years, one year of grades 5-8 Science, Spanish and literature in a small Catholic school and ten years of grades 7-12 Spanish and business in a small public school. I was as much of an adult learner then as I am today–constantly reading professional publications and attending relevant conferences when possible. Still, my students acquired enough knowledge to do well on the NYS exams. And you know what? Very few of them wanted to learn more and fewer acquired/retained the knowledge beyond the exam.

I did the best that I knew how, every day. Just as all of our teachers and employees do every day at SGI.

However, in leading this school district, I’m committed to working with everyone within our school community to consider what a Springville-Griffith education means. We’re not complacently settling for the status quo. And the only way I know how to bust the status quo?–

We’ve got to keep learning about learning. Every adult in our system. If you listened to me or to our keynote Will Richardson on opening day talk about the need to change public schools and thought, “I like school the way it is now” or “thank goodness they’re here to correct all of these other people” or “this too shall pass”, then you’re missing the point. It’s not about a prescriptive plan of “if we do/buy/implement this, then we’ll have changed”. That plan would end two minutes after I walk out of the door to retire some day.

We’re asking you to learn. We need to learn more about the acquisition of knowledge and skills today, in 2017. The world has absolutely changed and the access our students have to vast, incredible amounts of information has too. We have to do more than prepare our students for the exams. Our students need to have ample opportunities within every school day to discover, create, develop their talents and curiosity, to explore, ask questions and connect. I didn’t offer enough opportunities in my classroom for students to do any of those things. Are we now? Some days. In some classrooms. For some students. 

That’s not good enough. Our leadership team is going to share resources with our teachers–articles, books, podcasts, and feedback– throughout this year. We’re going to continue our own learning. We’d like to support you in your learning. We’re going to work with all of you in our school community to develop and communicate what it means to be a learner at SGI. We’re going to reimagine what school can be for our students at the same time that we meet the expectations of a NYS public school district.

I think we can do this and do it well. We all come here every day to make a difference. Let’s make sure it’s the very best difference that every SGI student deserves in 2017. Please be thinking about what YOU can do to learn more. And I promise, we will do our very best to support you.

 

Studying a Musical Instrument

Last week marked my tenth year opening school as a superintendent. All of our school employees are invited and it’s my chance to make an impression. I try hard to inspire and to set the course for the coming year.

This year, I challenged everyone by saying that if what we most want for our students is that they be agile, curious, interested, independent LEARNERS, we must be that very thing first. We can’t talk about developing a learning community committed to creating learning environments where modern learners discover, connect, contribute and adapt to the changing world– if we’re not doing so first.

What I didn’t count on from that first day is the meeting I had last week with one of our newest music teachers, Miss Jamie Newman. Miss Newman scheduled a meeting with me after opening day and at that meeting she invited me to join her fourth grade introductory band lessons. Her reasoning was simple, come and learn what it is that music teachers do, first hand. I heard her saying, “I so believe in the importance of music in our schools that I want to share it with you. Here’s a place where curiosity, discovery, creativity–those goals we have for every learner–happen every day”.

My reason for agreeing was also simple. If I’m going to walk the talk, push boundaries and ask our educators to move beyond what we’ve always done, well then, I suppose I’d better be doing the same thing. I’m a voracious learner, curious and hoping to learn from everyone I can about how to be better. I’m unafraid to tackle hard subjects, have difficult conversations, or accept a new challenge.

But this? I can assure you that there is likely no learning experience that would push me, my own boundaries and limitations, my own insecurities and feelings of ineptitude like this one. I’m in a full body sweat just writing about it here. 

I’ve never studied a musical instrument. When I was a kid, growing up in Pittsburgh in the seventies, my parents said no when I came home from school and asked about studying an instrument. I don’t know if it was a financial decision or why, I just accepted that they said no. I also don’t remember any basic music or chorus classes other than a teacher in the 7th grade who sat at his desk while we sang songs from a textbook on our desks. He was less than enthusiastic and certainly didn’t teach me a thing. I also can’t read music. Suffice it to say that I’m unlikely very evolved in music appreciation as nineties rap is my favorite playlist.

Because of my early education, I have little to no knowledge or understanding of music. When a friend comments that someone is singing off-key, I have no idea what they mean. I’ve observed music teachers as a school administrator and focused on the ways in which they teach the class with virtually no idea of the quality of their content. This is a weakness for me.

I sincerely hope Miss Newman knows what she’s getting herself into. I did go online and use an app that promised to identify if I’m tone deaf or not. I’m not. I scored an 86%.

I was encouraged to learn that a very small percentage of the population is actually tone deaf and more likely they just lacked a musical education. I also learned from the app that “everyone else is perfectly capable of becoming an excellent musician!” That may be overly optimistic.

My first band lesson is at 2:30 today. Clarinet. I’m sure our fourth graders will help me if I need it.

If I can do this, maybe everyone can find 30 minutes per day to read about modern learning or listen or try something new? I promise it’ll be worth it. At Springville-Griffith Institute, we are committed to developing curious learners–including our educators.