Dream Me Success

Let me dream for a moment. I’ve written before about initiatives in G-Town and our efforts to improve. As a fiscally responsible principal, I’ve always tried to make those changes with little impact to our budget. But now, with our Governor’s proposed increase to foundation aid, I’m really starting to think about how we could improve. Like a full 9-12 summer school program, with transportation, offered to our students here for free. Most of our kids who drop out do so because they fall behind on credits earned, due to lack of attendance, or lack of effort, or intense needs that warrant a reduced course load each year. They most often can’t get to the neighboring summer school (30 miles away) and they sure can’t afford it.

The five year plan. Super Seniors. Most kids don’t stick around for that fifth year. I treasure every student who does stay for the long haul. And when they do stay, they still count as drop outs in our accountability rate with the State. More and more are sticking around. Too many are dropping out–about 24 per year.

But what if I could offer them the chance to gain credits in July and August, attendance and effort the only cost? Keep them on track to graduate in four years with kids their age? Make it a palatable schedule, so they’ll come? Would this be a significant improvement on the path to graduation in four years, enough to entice my reluctant learners to stay with me?

And I haven’t even talked about offering booster courses for kids on the fence. . . or enrichment. . . or more community college courses. . . or intensive academic intervention services. And fewer class periods in our school day, because those kids on track to graduation have plenty of time to get in their credits and then we could spend longer than our 38 minutes per period. 38 minutes is nothing. Fewer but longer class periods with summer school to help our reluctant learners stay on track. And hey, I’m just getting started, I’ve only been thinking about this since Thursday. What will happen when our entire faculty starts to dream like this?

Presentation Changes

Readers may wonder why I keep changing my presentation on this blog. I’ve been experiencing some difficulties with the sidebar, so changed the presentation and readers weren’t able to comment (thanks Jonathan for telling me).  Now I’m changing back, hoping it fixes the problem.  If you’re trying to comment and are unable to, please email me at kmoritz@gowcsd.org.

An Open Letter to Governor Spitzer

Dear Governor Spitzer:

I’ve read the description of your executive budget recommendations for elementary and secondary education. Thank you. Your financial support of public education is unprecedented in my seventeen years in education. We’ve said “show me the money if you want improvements” and you’ve effectively said, “Here it is, now you better make it happen.” Our rural district is one likely to receive an annual increase in Foundation Aid in excess of 10 percent. Under your plan, we will be required to develop a Contract for Excellence that indicates how we will spend new State funding on measures that have been demonstrated to effectively increase our student achievement and graduation rate.

That would be right up my alley, Governor, because it’s my job to do just that, increase our student achievement and graduation rate.  I welcome the challenge and especially the opportunity to problem solve with a new perspective. In the 28 months I have worked as G-Town’s high school principal, it has been my focus to examine all of our practices, from AIS to instructional strategies to literacy to use of time, AND to implement changes that will help our students improve, while managing day to day operations.

I must admit that as I research, evaluate data, and read about successful school districts, particularly with students of poverty, I sometimes place good ideas in my file folder entitled “research”. This isn’t exactly an “active” file. As we currently evaluate ideas, initiatives and solutions, I’ve tried to implement changes with very little, if any, fiscal impact. For example, I recently set my counselors to the task of rethinking our entire schedule. I asked them to think only of maximizing instructional time, allowing the details like the breakfast program, crossover teachers to the middle school, and departure times for vocational students to sit on the back burner. I asked them to dream big, to let go of past practice, and determine something more effective. My only limit on their planning? It can’t cost any more money.

How do your recommendations change all that? We can now truly “dream big” with the idea that we can possibly fund another bus run for an after school program or an additional FTE to make that schedule work, if need be. Maybe we can increase the school day or year. Maybe we can hire that literacy coach. Thank you for the possibility to reach a little bit higher. Hopefully, a lot higher.

Here’s what I need though. Specifically tie the money to academic, instructional programs that directly benefit students. I hope you’re already planning this, but haven’t seen it spelled out anywhere. Don’t allow the increase in aid for reform to end up financing something entirely different. Give district school boards and voting taxpayers some parameters on how the increase can be spent. Give me the authority along with the responsibility, to spend the increased aid on the programs that work.

If you want to assess my effectiveness, if you want me to stand behind my superintendent as he signs your contract for excellence, if you’re putting my job on the line, make sure I see the money.

Sincerely,

Kimberly Moritz, NYS High School Principal

G-Town Talks Blog Policy #001

Our G-Town students have recently weighed in on this principal’s blog in a big way. Anyone following a post from January entitled “Cheating or Initiative”, has seen the large number of comments generated by our students. It’s been a great learning experience for me and is probably one that would send many principals running. However, through disagreement there’s a lot to be learned. If I didn’t keep the blog, I’m not sure students would have expressed their opinions and I would be left thinking everything was resolved when, for some, it just wasn’t.

As I work hard to be a principal who is approachable, who investigates and listens, one of the things I always remember is that sometimes things that don’t seem like a big deal to me are a very big deal to someone else. It’s important for me to respect and honor each and every student. Oftentimes the decisions I must make don’t please everyone, sometimes they seem to please no one. Because of this blog, students were able to express themselves in a way that allowed for further conversation. That’s important to me.

Here’s one thing I learned though. Sometimes people will say things anonymously, on-line that they would never say in person. And while it may be okay for other blogs, or chat rooms, or message boards, it’s not okay for me. So here’s my first official “Blog Policy”. For me, on this blog, as a public high school principal, it’s important to own what you say. If you want to post a comment, I welcome it, agree or disagree. But if you write, please step up, attach your name to your words, and own your ideas. After all, that’s what I’m doing every time I write here so I’m not asking you to do anything I wouldn’t do. And if you can’t say it on-line, openly, then come and see me, call me, send me an email. I am always interested in what you have to say.

G-Town Talks Blog Policy #001: “Kimberly Moritz, Author of G-Town Talks, recognizing the importance of discussion, differing points of view, and a fair exchange of ideas, believes everyone deserves an equal opportunity to post comments to this blog. Therefore, all will be provided the opportunity to post a comment provided they register their name and email address. Anyone who chooses to post anonymously will not have the comment allowed on the blog.”

Blog Etiquette

I have been posting to this blog since July. In more than 100 blog posts, I have never stopped a comment from posting until now. I have a topic posted regarding a small group of students in our Physics class. I have allowed all but two comments. As students write comments, of which I am very appreciative, it is very clear about whom they are talking. I will neither now, nor ever, allow comments which specifically malign a student or teacher in our school or community. Those are private conversations I am happy to have, but I have maintained that my blog will not be used to call names or to demean anyone.

Students who comment appropriately will always be allowed, as they have been on the post “Cheating or Initiative?”

Leadership MEME

Cripe. Miguel Guhlin tagged me in a meme. This one is “What are seven qualities we don’t know about you that help you be a leader?” This meme thing makes me crazy. I see the tag, I think “wow, isn’t that nice that he thought to tag ME?”, next I think, “cripe, what am I going to write?” Okay Miguel, here goes. And for any readers who know me personally, if I’m at all delusional here, call me out on it, would you please?

1. I’m a good sport. I’ll play along, like this meme, even if I’d rather not, even if I’m out of my comfort zone. I’ll try.

2. I’m not always the smartest person in the room. The person who thinks she’s the smartest person in the room is seldom a good leader.

3. I’m very curious. Because I know I’m not the smartest person in the room, I’m not afraid to ask you questions.

4. I need a lot of information. In the “True Colors” test, I’m extremely green. Once I know we’ve asked all of the questions, given careful consideration to an idea, I can accept “no” for an answer. But only after careful consideration, research, and proof. Consequently, if you want a “yes” from me, show me you’ve done your homework. Well.

5. Guts. I’m not lacking any.

6. Love. I’m not lacking any of that either. Especially for kids.

7. Some say “it’s good like this, why mess with it?” I say, “it’s good like this, how can we make it better?

And now my tags to seven other leaders, administrators, or directors, as Miguel suggested. These are seven of the twelve blog authors who I read each and every time they write.

1. Lisa R. at HR Thoughts

2. Chris Lehmann at Practical Theory

3. Christian Long at think:lab

4. Neil Rochelle at changing high schools

5. Pat Aroune at Educational Change

6. Rick Scheibner at RickScheibner.net

7. Doug Noon at Borderland

On What Should I Focus?

I’m betting this post, about a small issue, will resonate with many readers. Do you know what a “blanket” email is? That’s when the boss sends an email to all 76 employees about something that probably only applies to about 20 of them. For example, we have a rule in our school that students aren’t allowed to wear hats or hoods in the building. It’s been well communicated to staff and students over the years. It’s not a big deal issue, until half the staff finds themselves enforcing the rule while their colleagues let it slide in their own classrooms.

Hats and hoods are just one example of this, it could be any school rule. I remember the issue of inconsistent application of the rules from my teaching days and it continues to come up in my administration. Teachers end up ticked at each other, those enforcing the rules feeling like they’re always “the bad guys”, while their colleagues let kids do the very things they just corrected.

But back to the point of the post, the “blanket” email. It goes like this, “Thank you to those of you who are consistently asking students to remove their hats and hoods. If you’re not doing this, then get to it and do your job.” Those teachers who are applying the rules end up insulted that I’ve blanket emailed everyone. Why not just email those who aren’t doing their jobs?

Because I honestly refuse to take the time in my job to send personalized emails to 20 individuals about such a trivial matter, something they should be doing anyway. AND, I want the teachers who are complaining about it to see that I am addressing it. I understand that this is part of our day to day business, I understand that we need consistency, I understand that it’s my job to follow through and make everyone accountable. I also understand that, like teachers, I  have a great deal to do in my work day. A “blanket” email takes me 2 minutes, while personalized to “violators” takes me 30 minutes. I’d rather focus my other 28 minutes on something more meaningful.

I’d hope that the focus of my principalship will be remembered as one of literacy, attention to instructional strategies and content, positive schoolwide behavior management, technology, good fiscal management, increased achievement and graduation rates. I hope when I’m gone from G-Town I’m not just the leader who was always polite in reminding people to do the routine parts of their jobs. If my approach is at times too direct, I don’t apologize.  

A Message to Teachers Worth Reading

Chris Lehmann is the principal at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Whenever he posts, I read. He is the kind of colleague who I wish was at the district next door, so that I could call him about common issues and see him at principals’ meetings. Instead, I get to consider ideas with him, through blogging, which is a very close second to the district next door.

This morning I read a post by him that is so thought provoking and is written with such passion, by both writers, that I have to share it with you here. Please read his whole post, it’s well worth your time, if you teach, have taught, or will ever teach.

The message Mr. Lehmann delivers in the end of the post is a must read for every teacher in our country. I couldn’t possibly say it better as Chris writes,

Dan, you’re bright and multi-talented, you could do any number of jobs really well, and I know someone will soon offer you a job to leave teaching. They’ll offer you more money and more societal prestige, and given that you still think about how you almost became a CPA, you’ll probably be tempted. So I’m going to tell you something that my boss Steve told me the first time someone offered to triple my salary to leave teaching and go work for them (hey, it was the dot.com 90s in NYC, what can you do?) He said, “If you want to go do something else, go do it. The offers won’t go away, but more importantly, you need to decide what you want from your life. If you want to be a teacher, teach. This is the life, this is the pay, and you’ve got to decide what you want. If this is what you want, do it, don’t apologize for it, and don’t spend your time second-guessing it.”

Undue Criticism of Special Education

I’m frustrated with the finger pointing that sometimes occurs between general education teachers and special education teachers. In the seven years I’ve been an administrator, in three different districts, I’ve seen this occur too often. At times, when a student accomplishes something through the services of a special ed teacher, gen ed teachers have the audacity to say the special education teacher did the work for the student. This is insulting to the student and to the special education teacher.

If we think about the different roles of the general education and special education teacher, we see a different focus. Generally speaking, the special education teacher focuses on each student’s strengths and weaknesses and works to capitalize on one and improve the other. General education teachers focus on delivering the content, while differentiating instruction, for all students in the class.

As I see it, everything the special education teacher does is to help the student succeed for you, the general education teacher. Why then, do general education teachers sometimes criticize the special education teachers when the child meets with that success? This seems absurd to me, because that’s exactly what the special ed teacher is hired to accomplish. Strengthening our students, helping them to succeed– this is the basic purpose of our school system.

General education teachers, special education teachers, teaching assistants, guidance counselors, specialists, administrators, and students have one goal: student success at every level. It’s nobody’s business to point the finger at any other person in the system. It’s everyone’s business to work together as a team in the best interest of the child.

Teachers who determine that students could never do the work without the special education teacher doing it for them should let go of their trusty bell curves. It’s time.

Where Do I Sign Up to be a Charter School?

As Governor Spitzer announces his interest in more than doubling the number of charter schools in our state, I’m beginning to do some research so that I can better understand the initiative. The very first article I find is out of Georgia and the author details a state plan as follows,

 A plan that would give entire school systems the same freedoms as existing charter schools moved one step closer to passage on Tuesday, clearing a Senate committee on a party-line vote. The classification would allow systems to run schools free from many state and federal regulations – including rules on class size, school hours and the hiring and firing of teachers. 

Maybe I’m naive but that sure sounds like a push for more local control. Why do school systems need to be named charter school systems to provide local leaders with decision making ability?

I have to return for a moment to my NYSUT days as a Committee of 100 member, lobbying in Albany, and point readers to NYSUT’s view on charter schools. An obvious question comes to mind:

If we think it’s good practice to form charter schools who can operate free from the regulations governing public schools, then why do we support the regulations governing public schools?

As a 17 year veteran of public schools, working hard to make a difference every day, I can’t be trusted to make good decisions without regulations, but I could be as a charter school applicant?