Just Four Minutes Per Period

If you’ve ever wondered if small schedule changes can add up to a significant impact on student learning, consider the following proposed changes to our 38 minute instructional periods.

Currently our students enter our building at 7:23, yet we don’t start first period until 7:50. Next year, we propose to begin homeroom in first period at 7:35, with just five extra minutes tacked on to first period. We will only take three minutes to pass between classes instead of four minutes. We will conclude our last period at 2:07 instead of at 2:04. We will go from six 20 minute lunches with six twenty minute (useless) study halls to four 30 minute lunches.  We will utilize all current staff without any increase to FTE’s.

What do we gain? Our eight instructional periods increase from 38 to 42 minutes. Four minutes, doesn’t sound like that much does it?

Four minutes per period. It equals 32 minutes of additional instruction per day. 720 minutes of additional instructional time per period/38 minute periods we have currently = 18.9 additional periods of current instruction per class

OR more simply put: 32 minutes per day; 96 hours per year; 18.9 days of instruction added.

With four more minutes per period. Within the teachers’ contractual day, without additional expense. Gains all the way. Students even gain a longer lunch period. And this building isn’t so big, our kids are just conditioned (or have conditioned us) to take four minutes to get there.

Thanks to a great planning team for working out the details, we’re making some progress. Now it’s up to our cracker jack instructional team to put those four minutes per period to good use. And I haven’t even mentioned the potential blocking for Science and English teachers every other day. . .

I Love My School

We had a substitute teacher yesterday who taught here for many years, but retired prior to my principalship. She hasn’t really substitute taught in our high school since my arrival. Shortly after homeroom I saw her and she said, “that young man over there has an ipod on.” My reply, “I know, we allow students to listen to their ipods in the hallways and ask that they remove them in the classroom.” Retired teacher, “and another young man was walking around with a full cup of coffee in my homeroom!” At this I just smiled and nodded my head, but was thinking “yes, I allow that too” as I held my own cup of coffee. It occurred to me that she probably thinks the inmates are running the asylum.

I should have told her that our daily average attendance rate has increased every year during my three years with rates in 2004 of 89.01% as compared to 92.43% in December and in 2004 January of 90.39% as compared to 92.77% this January.

I should have told her that we haven’t had a fight in our school that I can remember, certainly not this school year and that our ISS/OSS numbers have decreased significantly. I should have told her how the climate has changed, we respect our students instead of expecting the worst of them and that this is the reason for our increases. I should have shown her how we’re keeping more students in school for the fifth year instead of losing them to drop outs and how we’re increasing on the Regents results. I should have talked about our honors classes and JCC college credits.

Instead, I turned to talk to a student. And if the student was carrying an ipod or a cup of coffee, at least we were talking. I love this place.

Lucky 77

So. I understand there will be 77 new employees at the New York State Education Department. I wonder how I can expect this to help us here in Gowanda? What will they be doing? I wonder if they’ll be coming up with new ways to help and support local districts? Or will they just add a few more hoops?

LeaderTalk Kudos

When I write for this blog, G-Town Talks, I write for our students, teachers, and community. I write for my educational colleagues and fellow bloggers. To influence thinking or recognize achievement, to question and wonder, to elicit a response or to bring attention to an educational issue. I write for me too. To get things onto the blog and out of my head so I can actually sleep. And I write for the daily readers who number from 190-717 on the days I don’t write and 1025-1853 on the days when I do.

When I write for LeaderTalk, I’m very aware that I’m writing for someone else. I’m writing for the other writers on LeaderTalk, for Dr. Scott McLeod who organizes it, and for anyone else with an interest in school leadership.  I want to contribute in a way that increases readership for LeaderTalk and it feels like a higher standard.

So imagine my surprise when I hit LeaderTalk from my bloglines account and saw this post Kudos to Kimberly! where Scott says,

Kimberly Moritz’s first LeaderTalk post, Student Apathy = Teacher Apathy, was featured in The Education Wonks‘ 110th Carnival of Education, an occasional roundup of interesting posts related to education. Kudos, Kimberly!

Hmmm. Sounds great. Sounds like I hit the higher standard I was striving for on LeaderTalk. Here’s the kicker. I had to email Will Richardson to ask him why this link is a reason to receive congratulations. Honestly. I sometimes still feel clueless out here. Why? Because I’m just writing to write. When I start to get caught up in the feedburner, technorati, # of readers, clustrmaps, and techie stuff, I just remember Will’s advice to me when I asked about all of that,

Write Kim. Just write.

Okie dokie.

Idle Threats

There’s been a lot of conversation centering on Governor Spitzer’s “Contract for Excellence” wherein superintendents, boards, and principals will be held accountable for taking action and raising student achievement. But only if you’re a school that’s deemed needy financially, as compared to “successful” schools, to warrant an increase in foundation aid of at least 10%. We are and we do.

Does the governor’s office, or the public in general really think I’m not accountable now? I’m a public school administrator. Here’s who I’m currently held accountable by:

  1. 467 students
  2. 467+ parents and guardians
  3. 60 teachers
  4. 2 union presidents
  5. 20 support staff personnel
  6. 1 superintendent
  7. 1 business official
  8. 7 Board of Education members
  9. 2500 community members and taxpayers
  10. 3 administrative colleagues
  11. 3 members of my own family
  12. 1 me.

And the governor and his accountability through the contract for excellence are supposed to worry me? Two thoughts: if someone, including an official at State Ed has a good idea that will help my school improve, bring it on and I’ll give it a try,  no “contract for excellence” necessary AND if anyone wants to remove me because I neither get every student to attend school every day, pass every Regents exam with a 65% nor graduate, they darn sure better have someone better to replace me.

Why? Because this is my school district, where I live, shop, pay taxes, and educate my children. I don’t need the threat of removal to do my job nor do I find it motivational. This contract assumes the worst of me and I resent it.

Taste of Gowanda

Our Building Improvement Team hosts it’s second annual “Taste of Gowanda” contest this evening. Our inaugural event was held last year and was a huge success, bringing together students, faculty, and community members in this cooking contest. We have appetizers, main dishes, and desserts with 37 entries. There’s even a cookbook containing all of tonight’s recipes as designed by our business students for sale for $3.00.

The best part of the evening is seeing everyone interacting, enjoying each other’s cooking, and visiting. We have the prestige of winning and extremely cool trophies (handmade) for first place. After the judging, everyone in our community is welcome to come to taste for the small price of $1.00. Any profit we make on the sale of the cookbooks and the entry fees goes to the local Food Pantry.

It’s really just about inviting the public into our school in a positive way. Many thanks to Sue Rebmann for taking care of every detail, big and small, to her co-chair Beth Westerheide who did anything Sue didn’t think of (which wasn’t much), and to our judges and BIT members for helping.  Oh and thanks to Tom Janicki in our Art department for making the banner I said I would take care of as my part of the set-up. It’s great to be part of this team!

Head Barely Above Water

I don’t even have time to write and tell you why I haven’t had time to post. All is well, busy with student issues, strategic planning, emergency preparedness, evaluations, budget planning, bell schedules, and can’t even think of what else. Instead of trying to come up with a post, think I’ll go read a bit and invest in a little much needed input. Too much output lately. It’s either read everything I can find or go on a mad on-line shopping binge. Healthier to read.

HR Manager Lisa emailed me to ask why I hadn’t written. When I replied that I barely had my head above water she said I was lucky because she’s sprouting gills. Truth be told, we’re all in the same boat.

I Said What?

Have you ever had a moment where someone tells you something and your internal response is “how could they possibly think that?!” It’s one of those times here in G-Town where my perceived attitude is different from what I intend.

I’ve written previously about cell phones, et al. I’ve spoken to the students and to the faculty about our school rules on the issue. Students may carry them, but they are not permitted to use them in school between 7:15-2:15. We also provide locks for their lockers so that they have a secure place to keep valuables. However, I’ve never thought for an instant nor supported allowing students to use cell phones during instructional periods. That’s just absurd.

I know our kids text constantly. I also know that as a classroom teacher, no student would have text messaged or used a cell phone during my class. I wouldn’t have allowed it, would have given consequences if it happened, and would have counted on our mutual respect to prevent it.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when my department leaders indicated that my perceived “laid back” attitude toward  our students having cell phones on them and that I allow them to listen to MP3 players in the hallway, study hall, cafeteria—translates to a similar laid back attitude in the classroom.

We absolutely have to guard our instructional time. We have enough interruptions between snow days, vacations, student absences, and activities. Teacher control or principal’s control? It’s a no-brainer to me that this shouldn’t happen and yet, I haven’t appropriately set this tone.

Thus, my appearance on the announcements this morning reminding students of the “no cell phone use in school” rule. Couple that with the consequence for students that they’ll lose the phone until the next day. Since many think it’s a vital appendage, I’m sure there will be some teeth gnashing and crying as students use the phones during class, breaking the rule, and lose the phone for the night. I’m sure I’ll hear that I have no right. Luckily, we’ve made it clear in the past that students can’t have them AND I’m happy to make it clear to parents that we need their children learning in our school, not texting friends.

Can’t wait until the first student tells me, “I was just checking the time.” Fun times.

G-Town Show Down

We started our positive school wide behavior management program last Monday. It’s called the “Panther Power Program” and it culminates in a huge school assembly on the last day of school before Spring Break, April 5, 2007.

I started this program while working as an assistant principal at Frontier Middle, continued it as the high school principal at Randolph (where it continues for it’s fifth year), and look forward to it here in G-Town. While completing my admin program, Dr. Larry Maheady at SUNY Fredonia introduced me to it and I’ve been pleased with the results every year since.

Every adult who works in our building receives ten “Panther Power” tickets which they can award to students between now and the G-Town Show Down. The tickets are awarded to students for marked improvement in effort or achievement, continued strong effort and achievement, and excellent attendance. Students who receive a ticket bring the ticket stub down to the main office to turn in to me or to our Dean of Students. It gives us the opportunity for positive interactions with students. The ticket stubs all go into a box until the day of the G-Town Show Down. In total, we probably award about 700 tickets during the seven week period. And the ticket that the student can take home (I always say to put it on the fridge to gain some points with mom and dad) is the main reward.

But let’s be really direct, I choose this time of year for a reason. This is the hardest time for everyone to stay positive. The push through the third quarter until Spring Break. And why do I have the assembly the day before vacation? Precisely to keep kids in school and increase my attendance on a day that typically results in a high absentee rate. And I’m telling you after six years of success, it really works.

Many students would tell you that the day of the G-Town Show Down is the single best day of their school careers. I know, because they’ve told me that very thing. And what is the G-Town Show Down? It’s a 90 minute assembly where our students and staff perform on stage. It’s totally student run, with help from our Building Improvement Team. Students run the try-outs, organize the program, run the sound and lights, and emcee the event. We have acts that range dramatically on the talent scale. Our teachers have a band “The Ratler and the Shakers”, at Randolph they were Staff Infection, One Sick Band 🙂 , and the kids love it. Heck, I love it! Some acts are so bad that they’re good. We had a tech teacher, along with six students, dance the YMCA in a way you’ve not imagined. This year they’re up again, along with an awesome Native American duo on authentic drums and song, a kid comedian who completely came alive on stage last year, and some garage bands. This is a way for kids who can’t otherwise show their stuff to say “look at me, this is who I am.” And everyone is respectful and excited and totally jazzed about the event. It’s the best of who we are.

And the Panther Power ticket stubs? I give prizes between the acts to lucky students with tickets drawn–mostly t-shirts that say G-Town Show Down, and some prizes donated by our extracurricular clubs and classes. But the prizes aren’t what it’s all about. Our celebration of each other–that’s what it’s all about.