Support for Higher Standards HERE, in Randolph

Yesterday I met with an organization called HANY (High Achievement New York) and the Buffalo News Editorial Board. They wrote about our meeting in today’s Buffalo News. 

Do you want to know why the common core learning standards have been a good thing? Because in aligning our teaching and learning to the more rigorous standards, our students are learning more, deeper, earlier and better. That’s it. For every student who graduates I want to know that we’ve filled him or her up with as much knowledge and skill as possible and then that we’ve “tamped” it down and filled him up again. I want what we do with our students in our instructional programs to really matter, to lead them to success in later life. It’s the reason why I’m a school superintendent–to bring focus to our instructional program and increase our expectations for everyone, first of all ourselves. My number one responsibility is to provide the highest quality education possible to all of our children.

I’m tired of the lunatics who continue to bash and personally berate anyone who dares to speak up and say, “hey, this is actually working for us.” You know why you don’t hear more success stories? Because 99% of educators are good decent people who are in this work to do their very best for the children they serve and they have no desire to put themselves out there to be attacked, maligned and belittled.  And for every lunatic who tears apart our story or attempts to tear down who we are in Randolph or me personally—go ahead, because you don’t know us, haven’t been here and cannot speak to our story. You don’t know the challenges of our children nor do you have the authority to question their accomplishments, race or background. I will not be bullied into keeping quiet about our work and our school success.

I continue to write and talk about the positive side of all of the changes from APPR and the implementation of the common core standards because it’s true that we needed to do better. My 25 years of working in public education in WNY lead me to say: we haven’t expected enough of most of our students; for students without significant external challenges or learning difficulties, it just hasn’t been all that hard to get a diploma; our brightest kids haven’t had to work to their full capacity; teachers have worked largely in isolation leading to a gazillion different pathways through our schools; administrators haven’t attended enough to the main reason we exist–our curricular and instructional programs.

We’ve had NYS learning standards for the entirety of my career (since 1990) and we’ve been testing students to check their attainment of the content in those standards almost as long, longer if you consider the Regents exams. I don’t care one whit what we call the “new” standards–I care about what alignment to clear, rigorous standards results in for our RCS students.

What we’re doing now is working. Our teachers, students and parents have worked incredibly hard to ensure that a Randolph Central education means something. We have an aligned, coherent curriculum in our elementary and middle school that challenges all of our students, not just our most learning challenged students. We’re making better informed instructional decisions on teams about what we teach and we’re using computer based adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction to differentiate for all of our students. We have systems in place that are working and our students are benefiting.

As for the NYS testing? As Buffalo Business First rolls out the school rankings this week, here’s ONE measure of proof that our students are achieving more: Gail N. Chapman Elementary is ranked 59 out of 262 elementary schools. That’s up from last year’s 104 and from 174 in 2013.

We’re here to keep children safe, to care for and love our children, to manage our responsibility to our school community and our taxpayers in a fiscally responsible manner. And we’re here to bring it, each and every day, with the best instructional program we can muster. Thank you to every family who entrusts your precious child into our care!


Parents & Opting Children Out of Public Education

With the “opt out” of NYS 3-8 testing that has been discussed in the media, some parents may begin to think that it’s possible to “opt out” of other testing, curriculum or programs that they dislike in our public schools. I’d like to address the question “Do parents have the right to direct the public schools on what their children will and will not be taught, on what tests they will and will not be given, and on what books they read?”

While parents have the right to direct the education and upbringing of their children, it does NOT mean they have the right to dictate what the public school district teaches (our curriculum) or what programs and materials we use for instruction  (ex. iReady).  According to NYS Education law and Commissioner’s regulations, as a public school district we are required to follow the state mandated learning standards.  New York State adopted the national P-12 Common Core standards, with some additions. These learning standards apply to all public elementary and secondary school students.

The NYS learning standards also apply to students with disabilities and those students who are at a risk of not achieving the learning standards must be provided and must participate in academic intervention services. The New York State Education Department has provided resources for schools and parents on the website  Don’t believe everything you read on websites from across the country or on Facebook, please cross reference your information with the NYS education laws and regulations.

Parents do not have a right to tell the school what their children will and will not be taught and as public school administrators and teachers we cannot follow parent directives. We are required to follow the directives of the NYS Department of Education. When parents advise their children to refuse all testing or to opt out of parts of the curriculum, it puts the child in a difficult position. Students are actually insubordinate if they refuse to participate in all testing or in our use of the instructional program iReady/Ready which we use in our Math and ELA programs, just as is the case with students who refuse to participate in physical education class or any other part of our academic programs.

Please know that we very much want to work with you in the education of your children.  As a public school district, we have more rules and regulations that we are required to follow than you can imagine—but we do want to hear from you, to talk with you about your concerns, to be flexible in the areas in which we can be. If you have any questions about the many changes that we’ve had in the past few years in education, or about anything, please contact your building administrator or me at any time.

Wait, We DO Get NYS 3-8 Assessment Data

In the media, on blogs and twitter, I continue to read that one of the main arguments against the NYS 3-8 assessments is that they are totally secret– that there’s no information available to our teachers about how their students did so how does it inform their instruction– that we can’t see the test questions.

These statements are simply not true. We had our results on August 14, 2014. We shared them with our teachers last summer. They used the results, along with what they knew from our iReady adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction, to plan for the 14-15 school year.

Let me say it again. We do know how our students did on the test questions as they are tied to the standards. We have information about how our RCS students did on the test, how they did as compared to other students across the state by question,  and we know what standard each question was tied to so we don’t need to see and analyze the actual test questions. Isn’t it better to focus on the learning standards than to try to teach to the test?

We use this information to make instructional decisions about our curriculum for the following year.  We analyze which learning standards the majority of our students missed. Our curriculum coordinator and administrators analyze the results-but more importantly, our teachers analyze the results. As an example, last year our 7th grade students scored poorly on questions that were tied to ELA standards on poetry. That was certainly an easy fix, as our 7th grade ELA teacher looked at it and said, “well that makes sense since I never got to the module on poetry.”

Further, when teachers identify that a majority of students miss questions, they can often find them here. I would go so far as to suggest that NYSED posted the questions which were most frequently missed as I was talking with a curriculum coordinator in another district who found every single question that the majority of her students grades 3-8 missed.  Then she sat with her teachers and they unit planned for the year to ensure that each grade level made the right curricular decisions.

So why do so many people think we have no access to information about the results? Do other districts not know how to access the data through the (WNY)RIC? Is there not an administrator in every district to access this information and share it with teachers? We’re small and we have a curriculum coordinator, Jamie Berg,  who works with our CIO, Mike Frame, and our admin team to get this information out of the NYSED portal. . .we were able to analyze this at an admin retreat on August 14, 2014.

Why, then, do so many people continue to say that we don’t have access to information about how our students performed on the NYS math and ELA assessments? 


Remembering Donna Shook Mormur, on Secretaries Day

When I was a little girl growing up in Pittsburgh in the sixties and seventies, my mother worked as a secretary at Jendoco Construction. My memories of her as a working mom during those years are dear to me still and I believe influenced me in myriad ways as a working professional woman today. I hold Administrative Professionals Day–(really?)–Secretaries Day dear because I have the utmost respect for the work that my mother did for most of her life.

For the last ten years of my mum’s life, she didn’t have it easy. We lost her a year ago at only 70 years old and in the end, she was constantly writing in notebooks–everything from recording her medications to her thoughts to her prayers. I believe that brought her comfort as it was much like she spent her life, taking notes, writing letters and memos, taking shorthand back in the day and preparing bids. I know she was a valued employee and that her work mattered because the people she worked with were like family to her. The company picnics, the dear friends she made and loved, the Christmas parties and the colleagues who emailed, called and visited her during her illness–they were as much a part of my mother’s daily life as we were.

Maybe it’s in watching her that I developed my deeply held belief that no position is better than or more important than any other in an organization. We all play different roles and when we work hard, with integrity and good intentions, we all contribute to the health and success of the organization, just in different ways.

When it comes to the day to day life of our school, many others are more important than I am–to the child who’s sick and needs the school nurse, or the parents who need information from a secretary, or a young student whose bus driver notices that no one is at home and so doesn’t drop the kid off at an empty house, or the teacher who needs a cleaner or custodian because a student has gotten sick in the classroom—those members of our school community are much more important on that day than I am. As teachers and administrators, we are central to the mission of a school, but it’s the support staff who do all that is needed to allow us to teach.

I’m incredibly grateful to every hard working, caring, dedicated employee at RCS. I’m thankful that my mother taught me that no one is better than anyone else, that no one is perfect, and that hard work and dedication are worth it.

Happy Secretaries Day to every wonderful, dedicated secretary doing the work each and every day! Of course in my mind, as good as you each are you’ll never measure up to my mom–but then, neither will I.


RCS Returns to Two Week Spring Break

At last night’s BOE meeting, BOE members voted unanimously to return to the two week spring break in the approved calendar for the 2015-16 school year.

There’s a long history in Western New York surrounding a split break with a week off in February and another week around Easter or two weeks around Easter. Districts have varied on their approach with a real effort on the part of the local BOCES leaders, for obvious reasons, to have all component school districts on the same calendar.

For many years Randolph maintained the two week break as we understood from our families that this was their strong preference. In the 2012-13 school year, we switched to the split break so that our students who attend BOCES programs would be on the same calendar with the rest of the schools in the Cattaraugus/Allegany BOCES.

After three years of aligning with the rest of the schools, we are returning to the two week break from March 14, 2016-March 25, 2016. Why? For me, the most compelling reasons have always been instructional. What’s best for kids when considering their learning and achievement? Is a split break better because students only miss one week at a time and therefore retain learning? Or does a split break mean there’s even more lost instruction because of the loss of quality engagement the days before two breaks instead of one?

When evaluating the change to a split break, I spoke with some of our teacher leaders and found that for instructional purposes, they strongly prefer the solid instructional block from the Winter Break around Christmas and the New Year to a two week Spring Break. They opined that breaking twice is less effective.

Next we considered the argument that we have many families who don’t go anywhere on the break anyway, because they can’t afford a trip or the time off from work. What we found, instead, is that our families largely drive if they do take a vacation and they can’t do so with only a one week trip. For the most part, our families can’t afford a trip over only one week because they can’t fly everyone somewhere. And many of our families continue to take two weeks during the Spring break, with the problem of missed school days for their children. Our daily attendance rate, which is usually around 95-98% was down to 79% before our break this March.

While realizing the impact it will have on our approximately 40 BOCES students who will have a different calendar for 8 school days, we have planned to transport students during the first week of the spring break if they will attend. And in February, when BOCES is on break and we are in full session, the CTE students will have half days here at RCS.

It’s important that we work well with our neighboring districts and our BOCES. It’s also important that we respond to the needs of our families in our community. The approved school calendar for 2015-16 will be posted on the District website.


Would I Opt Out My Own Child? No.

I have a wonderful friend with whom I get to talk about education on a regular basis. She texted me to ask if I think she should opt her child out of the NYS testing. I didn’t answer her as a school superintendent, or a NYS public educator, or a former NYSUT Committee of 100 member, or a writer. I could answer her as a friend, who cares about her children and wants what’s best for them. As a school superintendent, I’ve written about this subject before here and here and here in previous years. Here’s my response to her question:

No. Don’t opt your kids out of NYS testing. Do we want to teach our children that they don’t have to sometimes do things that are hard? Or that if we don’t like something the school or our boss or our parents decide, we can just say, “no thanks, I’ll pass”?

Instead of opting out–which I believe is much more about teacher evaluation tied to test scores than it is about the effects of testing on our children–talk to your kids about the purpose of the tests within our school system. Say, “this is a way for you to show what you’ve been learning all year. It’s a way for your teachers to measure what they’ve taught. If a lot of the kids in your class miss the same questions, the teachers know they need to do a better job with that material next year. The tests are a way for the school to know how they’re doing so they can keep improving.”

I would also go on to talk to my child and say, “testing isn’t something to stress out about. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You’ll not do as well as you want? There’s no terrible consequence. Just do what you always do, go in and give it your best shot. Take your time and read the questions carefully.”

Yes the APPR changes for next year are a disaster and I disagree with the governor’s education reform on several key points, including making student test scores such a significant portion of our teachers’ evaluations. So let’s make noise about that, let’s advocate for a fair and accurate measure of evaluating teachers, which I do believe includes some measure of student performance. Let’s work together–teachers and school leaders to develop plans that work. We don’t even have the guidelines from NYSED yet. The APPR plans we have in place right now don’t use test results to a ridiculous proportion–our teachers have done well under our current plans. Why opt out next week if what you’re really upset about are the changes for 2015-16 that we don’t have details on yet?


The Cuomo Manifesto

It’s April 1 and the final budget bill was approved by lawmakers last night. Rather than discussing the insanity of the last few days with ill planned proposals for education reform, I’m going to concentrate on the implications for us in the 2015-16 school year.

Information may be forthcoming that will make the changes clearer, but as a district leader I think I owe it to our school community to discuss how I see this playing out for us, at least based on the information we have today. If you’re reading this from another part of the state and you see the governor’s education reform differently, please allow that I’m writing this from my perspective in our district. I respect and understand that a piece of the reform like “receivership” may loom large for you; I’m writing from a Randolph Central perspective for our teachers and parents and BOE members.

There’s a lot being written about changes that I don’t see as big changes at all. Either it’s already in the plan, it’s modified very little or it’s manageable.  Let’s consider those first. Under the NOT A BIG DEAL category:

  1. Requiring teachers and administrators to register with NYSED every four years. (2016-17) Those of us old enough to have “lifetime” or permanent certification must register every five years.
  2. Requiring 100 hours of PD as a condition of that re-registration. (2016-17)
  3. Probationary period of four years instead of three years. Commencing with persons appointed on or after July 1, 2015. (Hey, I’m a district leader, I like this change.)
  4. Two categories with multiple measures within each: Student performance and Teacher observation.
  5. Educators who teach English and math to 3rd-8th graders to be partially evaluated on NYS test results and Regents teachers evaluated on Regents results.
  6. Teachers whose courses don’t end in state exams will be evaluated based on “student learning objectives”.
  7. NYSED approved local assessments (iReady for us) may be used as a second test.

Under the COULD BE A BIG DEAL category:

  1. One of the two required teacher observations will be performed by an “independent” evaluator, who can be a principal or administrator from another school within the district. Thank goodness we don’t have to hire someone to do a job we’re already paid to perform! So consider the plan we have now. The building principal usually does one formal and one informal (more if a probationary teacher). Now the building principal will do the formal and the teacher may have the second, informal evaluation conducted by the principal from the other building, the assistant principal, the director of pupil personnel services, or me. We could even allow teachers to list a preference of RCS administrator for the second evaluation and work to accommodate that request.
  2. Pair #5 and #7 above and we have what we have now for the student performance piece of this, teachers of Math and ELA, grades K-8. If iReady isn’t approved as a second test, I cannot imagine us considering MORE testing as an option.
  3. Teachers whose courses don’t end in state exams will be evaluated based on “student learning objectives”, which will be developed by the state. About 80% of our educators teach courses that don’t end with state exams. This change is simply LUDICROUS. NYSED does not have the capacity to determine SLOs for every music, PE, non-Regents, agriculture, PE, SPED teacher in our districts. But hey, I already see little value in the SLO piece of the current APPR Plan, so maybe this should only be listed under the NOT A BIG DEAL category. It’s far from equitable to what the 3-8 math and ELA or Regents teachers face.
  4. The State Education Department “shall determine the weights and scoring ranges” and “set parameters for appropriate targets for student growth” for the required and optional components and sub-components of the rating system. Yeah, good luck with that–how on earth do they think they’re going to do this and accurately identify the ineffective teachers across the state (within 700+ districts) who they deem need to be replaced? And who do they think is going to replace them? Poppycock.
  5. Additional funds subject to the implementation of an APPR by November 15, 2015 consistent with the provisions outlined in the enacted budget and subsequent regulations. Why not? I’ve personally already spent at least 100 hours on the development and subsequent approval process for the plan they mandated and we negotiated. What’s another 100+ hours?

Please focus on what matters and do NOT become caught up in the state budget reforms. We’re doing good things for our RCS students each and every day. Students and employees are safe and loved and supported. Everyone here has worked incredibly hard to align our curriculum to the more rigorous common core standards, we’ve raised expectations and our students are learning more–all excellent improvements in our own education reform. We’re challenging all students now, not just our most challenged students. We will figure this out together, do the best for our students and school community, and continue to improve with support.

We are public school educators, committed to the students we serve. We love our work and we will not be downtrodden because of the rhetoric and demands of politicians who are elected, given our trust to wield their power wisely, and then seldom fail to disappoint.

Capital Project Vote Results

Thank you to the many district residents who came to our school yesterday to cast your vote on the two propositions for capital project improvements! The results are as follows:

Randolph Central School,Capital Project Vote Results 3/24/15

PROPOSITION #1, District-wide Capital Improvements Project, 2015 Passed

Yes __351____No __320____

PROPOSITION #2, Athletic Facilities Improvements Project, 2015 Failed

Yes _239_____No _438_____

_687__ voters

We will now devote ourselves to developing the details of our proposition #1 parking lot improvements and our submission for approval of the project to New York State Education. I appreciate all of the thoughtful input from our community members and employees and will work hard with our dedicated BOE members, Campus Construction Management, and CannonDesign to get the very best value for the $7,050,545 approved by the voters.


Proposition #1 Student Parking Questions

Where will our RCS students park in our proposition #1, which includes a parking lot plan?

With our capital project vote two days away, I realize our students are concerned about this question. The simple answer is that our ‘Juniors’ lot remains exactly the same and there will still be parking where the ‘Seniors’ lot is now but it will likely be the ‘Employee’ lot. There will be significant additional parking at the tennis court lot,  visitor parking at the bus garage where we currently park extra vehicles and overall we are gaining 44 spots.

The drawings we have included in the materials we’ve published are not detailed to the level we will use when we go to bid. The architects call these ‘conceptual drawings’ and I’m glad because I’ve learned some things that I will follow through on with them after the project vote this Tuesday.

What have I learned from listening to our employees, students and participants at the public hearing that we can now work to include in the detail?

Assigning a specific parking spot to every employee and student with permission to park is high on my list of great ideas. Working with the architect to really look at the entire traffic flow plan again–including where two way traffic is planned,  finding a way to afford to include the exit drive parking lot and walkway directly from the top parking lot to the field, and how to add even more parking where possible are also on the list.

Now you may be asking ‘isn’t this a final design’? Of course not! When residents vote on Tuesday, they are approving a conceptual design and a total proposition dollar amount. We are permitted to spend less than the voter approved total, but not a dime more.

Our BOE members and I have already met with our construction manager to talk about the VALUE of the project. We want the District’s monies worth out of this project! After Tuesday’s vote we then are prepared to pay the costs of a detailed design by CannonDesign, our architectural firm. We will fight to make the most of every dollar.

And please don’t worry about snow removal. This is a question that’s come up that I don’t quite understand. We will handle the snow just as we always have–we haven’t always put it in the same place that we do now. Remember when we piled it directly in front of the elementary school? We can figure this out.

Thanks to everyone for the feedback and conversation! This is how we end up with the best possible result. After Tuesday, please continue to express your ideas and questions and I will include them in our work with our construction management company, Campus, and our architect, CannonDesign.  We also have a good team working on this with the varied expertise of our BOE members and our employees at RCS.



Capital Project Financing

What’s all of this going to cost me, as a taxpayer?

For the $7,050,545 Proposition #1 Capital Project, the average cost to the taxpayer varies based on two factors. Do you have STAR/SENIOR STAR and what is the full value of your home?

For SENIOR STAR recipients, there is no annual cost to those taxpayers with homes valued under $80,000. An $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $1 annually; $2 annually for a $90,000 home.

For STAR recipients on a primary residence, a $60,000 full value homeowner will have an average additional cost of $2 annually; an $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $3; $4 annually for a $90,000 home.

For non-primary residence homeowners, a $60,000 full value homeowner will have an average additional cost of $4 annually; an $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $5; $6 annually for a $90,000 home.

For the Combined $9,815,000 Proposition 1 & 2 Capital Project:

For SENIOR STAR recipients, there is no annual cost to those taxpayers with homes valued under $60,000. An $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $6 annually; $10 annually for a $90,000 home.

For STAR recipients on a primary residence, a $60,000 full value homeowner will have an average additional cost of $13 annually; an $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $21; $25 annually for a $90,000 home.

For non-primary residence homeowners, a $60,000 full value homeowner will have an average additional cost of $25 annually; an $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $34; $38 annually for a $90,000 home.

Please come to vote on Propositions #1 & #2 on Tuesday, March 24, from 2:00-8:00 in the high school cafeteria. We’ve been responsible to our taxpayers with zero percent increases since 2008 and we continue to be responsible with the project propositions we put before you for your vote on March 24. Please come March 24, 2015 to support our students and programs!

Project Financing