My mom

The best person I’ve ever known passed away on Friday, March 28, 2014. It’s her words I speak when parenting my own children, it’s her thinking that drags me to work even when I’m sick, and it’s her advice that still guides me now, at 50 years old.

My mom was raised in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of a stay at home mom and a father who worked his way up from mailman to postmaster with two younger brothers, Bob and Jeffrey. Her dad was one of 13 and her mother was one of 3 so family was absolutely everything in her life. Her aunts, including Linda Sue who was a year younger than my mom and never let her forget it, were a source of great love and joy to her throughout her life–her dinners with the aunts were treasured.

To this day I think my mother’s natural class and grace, something our beautiful daughter Bryna inherited, came from her Grandma Houston who immigrated from England. Unfortunately I think Bryna also inherited her germophobia from my mother, who was known to carry two combs in high school-one to loan and one to use.

At about the age of 17, my mom went to a dance. Undoubtedly she was with her friends Alice and Susie and it’s there that she met my dad. There’s no one on this earth that my mother loved more than her own father, except my father. He was trouble in every imaginable way including dragging her across the country when I was only one month old so that he could work in the mines in Montana. It wasn’t long and my mom came home to live with her parents. My dad followed shortly afterwards—setting up house with all of the other hooligans on Francis Road in Plum Borough, until we moved to Renton where there were, of course, more hooligans.

Now if you knew my mom and if you know my dad, then you know that two more opposite people have probably never married. In exasperation, (because my dad could do that to me) I asked my mom, “WHY did YOU marry HIM?” to which she always replied, “I just knew I had so much love in my life and I could give that to your dad.”

Well he definitely returned that love. It took him a while to grow up and to learn how to show it but no one could have loved my mom more or taken better care of her over these last ten years, and especially the last two. Thank you Dad. The last words I heard her speak, in the throes of her last hours, were to my dad, “I love you. I love you. I love you.”Dad and Mom and Me

So what lessons did I learn from my mom? While listed in my mom’s vernacular, if you think about them–they’re not a bad guide to a happy and healthy life.

  1. Avoid public restrooms at all costs.
  2. If someone is picking you up, you’d better be standing at the door when they arrive because they’re doing you a favor.
  3. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.
  4. Get a grip!
  5. Good friends make life much better.
  6. Don’t EVER lie (and that was delivered with a smack on the bum at the age of 5, I remember it to this day.)
  7. When mad at my husband, she’d listen to me complain and when I got all done she’d say, “it’s not really worth it Kim, just go give him a kiss and tell him you’re sorry.”(I would think, “did she listen to a word I just said?!”)
  8. Don’t put your kid on a pedestal cause it’s a long way to fall.
  9. No one is perfect, don’t expect your kids to be.
  10. And most important of all, that I could do absolutely anything I put my mind to–my mom is the one person who throughout my entire life believed in me, thought the best of me and loved all of me, even the ugly parts. And no matter what happened, or how hard I fell, her constant response to anything was, “you’re fine!

My mom was loving and caring and thoughtful. She was NOT, however, a patient woman. At Jendoco, where she worked most of her life, I pity anyone she ever trained on anything because GIRL, you better get it the first time! And she told me of a time when her colleague Scott was walking by her office on a Monday and my mother, always polite to a fault, said, “good morning Scott, how was your weekend?” When Scott walked in and sat down to tell her, my mom SAID, “wait a minute! I don’t have time to actually hear about it!”

My children got to witness this infamous LACK of patience when they were little. We got into her car in a parking lot and when she looked to back up she saw someone and said, “oh it’s okay, she’s got a walker.” It wasn’t a five count later when she turned around and said, as only my mom could, “what the hell is she doing back there?!” And yes, they learned the Pittsburgh word “jag off” while riding in the car with their Mimi. See, no one is perfect. :)

I can honestly say that the one person my mom had enormous patience with was my brother Ziggy,  “the Prince”. And that’s just because he wore her down, day after day. It was an amazing thing to me as he did one thing after the other that I wouldn’t have dared to do and yet she just loved that kid without fail. Her only regret was being too ill to play on the floor with his 6 year old daughter Kaylee as she did with my two kids. She loved her three grandkids for everything that they are, just as they are.

Even in the midst of my mom’s debilitating and heartless illness, she was looking for a lesson to be learned or someone she could help. She always wanted to be of some use. I found 9 or 10 notebooks in which she’d journaled over the course of her sixties, a decade dominated by her litany of auto-immune disorders. In August, 2011 she posed a question to herself, “In ten years, what do you want to be known for?” Her answer, “being a child of God and raising two great kids.” Next she asked, “What kind of personality do you want to be known for? giving and loving”. And finally, “What three things would you change about your life right now if you could? To stop worrying, not to have this disease, and to just relax and enjoy life”. Always working on herself while accepting us exactly as we are—except for our son Tallon. Her last lecture to me two weeks before her death was in regard to him. She said that people needed to stop telling him he’s handsome because that’s not going to sustain him—it’s what’s on the inside that’s important. She said “don’t get me wrong, I love him and I see how handsome he is, but that’s just not important in life.” Duly noted Mom.

My mom was a beautiful example of class and grace and kindness and love. She inspires me still to try to be a better person. And at the same time, I know she loves me just as I am, ugly parts and all. We were all lucky to have known her

Cross Posted in the Salamanca Press, March 26, 2014

I find government and politicians to be extremely frustrating. It sometimes seems they spin everything to meet their purposes and rely on the fact that the general public has little understanding of the details of any given proposal. And yes, I realize that many readers are now thinking, “Well yeah, how did it take her this long to figure that out?”

School finance is a great example. The governor, senate and assembly all play politics with their budget proposals for education. Politicians and their comparisons of each other’s budget proposals don’t help us. Foundation aid to our schools hasn’t changed since the school year in which I became a superintendent, 2008-2009. Consider the increases to the costs of everything from fuel to electric to food in the years since then! Our contractual salary increases and benefits have increased, even with the cost savings measures our unions have agreed to in every contract we’ve negotiated during that time.

I understand that we have well intended, caring and dedicated representatives in Albany. How those people ever get anything done within what seems to be a convoluted system is what I don’t understand.

At Randolph, we WERE a district who weathered the storm of funding freezes better than many districts due to our Board of Education’s decades long and fiscally responsible, yet State disapproved, method of maintaining reserves beyond the 4%. That’s changed for us after five years of maintaining budgets with little to no increase in state aid. After all, in Randolph we can raise less than $50,000 with a 1% increase to the tax levy. We are a district with many poor children who need us and the education, programs and meals that we provide to them. In an $18 million budget, we heavily rely on state aid. We have reached the breaking point. This means that my colleagues in other districts who were following the ridiculously low 4% unappropriated reserve rule have got to be believed  when they say they cannot continue as they are or cut anything more.

Simply put, we cannot continue as things are at 2008-09 foundation aid levels. We need a total elimination of the Gap Elimination Adjustment. That’s the only solution that will help our schools. School districts have managed as well as they could but there is nothing left for many to cut as Governor Cuomo touts a state surplus of millions. The gap elimination adjustment was started to help the State eliminate its budget gap—that gap has clearly been eliminated in the State budget now. Programs to school children must be restored.

Our governor continues to publicize “increases” to aid for schools. What he doesn’t make clear is that communities like Randolph will likely never see much of those monies. I cannot move to full day PreK, as much as I know our Randolph children would benefit, without a guarantee of full reimbursement. We cannot afford it. I have neither the time nor the staffing to go after these “grant” based monies that keep being offered by our governor–genius really, as then it’s a promise of money that most of us can’t obtain. There’s also an education tax credit which is absurd for a district like ours, who on earth do they think we have in Randolph who’s going to be able to afford to give us private donations

The state officials who we elect must restore education funding. That should be the goal of every elected official in NYS. We cannot raise the money on the backs of our taxpayers. We will not. Our students deserve a quality education—just as those in the wealthy districts of NYS continue to provide to their students. We need the representatives of our rural WNY region to continue to fight for full restoration of the GEA.

 

The following is excerpted from a letter to teachers dated 3/24/14 from Commissioner King. The points contained within are worth emphasizing and it is my hope that families will also see that we have a measured approach to assessment. From NYS Commissioner John King,

When you communicate about test procedures, there are a few critical points to reinforce:

1. The best preparation for testing is good teaching. In my visits across New York in the past four years, I have seen many inspired and passionate teachers share new lesson plans that help students learn to problem-solve, think critically, read analytically and communicate clearly. That’s what these new assessments measure. Rather than rote memorization or test taking tricks, these new tests require real analysis of and response to real-world problems and authentic texts.

2. Every question on the New York Common Core Assessment was written for New York, reviewed by New York educators and field-tested with New York students. This is New York’s assessment of our standards and the curriculum taught by our teachers. Do not let anyone say otherwise. Additional information about how the questions are designed can be found at http://www.engageny.org/resource/common-core-assessment-design.

3. Parents and educators know that performance on a single assessment does not tell the whole story about what a student knows and can do. It’s simply one way to determine the overall progress of our schools and our students. Moreover, although placement and retention decisions are made at the district level, the Department neither requires nor encourages districts to make promotion or placement decisions using student performance on state assessments in grades 3-8. If districts choose to consider state assessments in grades 3-8 when making promotion or placement decisions, they should make adjustments to ensure students are not negatively impacted by the Common Core transition and should use multiple measures for this purpose – not grades 3-8 state assessment results alone – including the judgments of a student’s teacher and principal.

4. As we all learned last year when we first administered the Common Core assessments, the test is harder, and the proficiency rates will be lower than on the old tests that did not reflect the higher standards. This does not mean our teachers are any less effective or our students are any less prepared. It simply means we have set higher aspirations as we work to help our students be truly college and career ready.

He goes on to remind us that,

Educators should understand that their evaluations are never based exclusively on test scores, but rather on a range of measures, including principal observation. Last year’s evaluations identified just one percent of teachers in the lowest category (ineffective), and these teachers need to remain in that category for two years in a row – despite receiving additional support through an improvement plan – to even be considered for the new due process dismissal procedure established in the evaluation law. In the meantime, we have – collectively – spent hundreds of millions of dollars on teacher training, curriculum development and support since the standards were adopted in 2010.

Families, while testing has become an integral part of students’ education at every level, we recognize the concerns you may have about the upcoming testing and want to not only alleviate any fears your child may have, but also any concerns you may have about the use of these assessments in placement or grading.
We do not use these assessments as a sole determination in any type of program placement. We simply look at them as another measure of performance we have, in addition to many other valuable measures.

Each child is unique; we look at the whole child in school, not how they perform on any single assessment. We certainly do not want any of our students to stay home simply to avoid taking one of these tests for fear of this. If you have any questions about other ways you can assist your child at home or questions about the testing, please do not hesitate to contact your child’s teacher, principal or reach out to me directly. Thank you for your continued support.

GEA RallyOver the past several days I have been in Albany with my superintendent colleagues from across the State of New York. On Tuesday we attended lobby day where we met with our legislators to try to influence them in the State Budget process. There’s a significant problem in education funding and it’s called the GEA (Gap Elimination Adjustment). The purpose of this post is to help everyone understand what’s happening in our State with regard to education funding and how it impacts us here at Randolph.

When you first read the words Gap Elimination Adjustment, it sounds like the governor is eliminating a gap in funding for schools, right? In fact it’s just the opposite. It was to help to eliminate the gap in the State budget. Only problem? The governor has been all over the media discussing the surplus he’s got now.

Basically the governor proposes how much state aid each district is entitled to and then he subtracts an amount from that figure. For example, his proposal for aid to Randolph this year (which includes about 16 different aid categories) is $12,708,810 (last year it was $12,910,111). His proposal then eliminates $435,199 of that aid. To further complicate the issue he then proposes a Gap Restoration of $163,231.

Now please consider the 2.0% tax cap making it so districts cannot raise the tax levy (this is the portion of the school budget that the local taxpayers fund) more than the cap. As you’re already realizing nothing is simple in school finance and the cap is similar. Randolph Central technically is permitted to raise taxes 3.6% this year under the cap but we would be unlikely to go beyond the 2.0% anyway. For this discussion, let’s consider the 2.0% which is $94,834.

What do you think is the greater financial concern for our district-the tax levy cap or future state aid levels? We aren’t a wealthy district from down state who raises the majority of our revenues through the taxation of our property owners. The School Funding Fairness in New York State report by Bruce D. Baker, Rutgers University, lists Randolph Central as one of 50 Districts in NYS with the largest formula funding shortfalls per pupil in 2013-14. We will have a shortfall of $271,968 under the governor’s proposal because of the Gap Elimination Adjustment. Raising taxes isn’t the answer and the burden on our local taxpayers is already high enough. That’s why we’ve worked hard to make cuts and to keep our expenses in check, so that we could deliver a budget to our taxpayers that included NO tax increase for the past five years.

Over 70% of districts are still receiving less state aid than they received in 2008-09. We have worked hard to use our excess reserves to meet the increases in our budget year after year. Luckily it’s taken us longer to reach the point of cutting programs or positions than most districts in NYS. We can attribute that to prudent financial management and planning.

BOE President Michael Evans explains the position of the Board of Education,

In our district we have a veteran team of school administrators and board members most with tenures extending over 15 years of involvement in the NYS education system.  David Chambers has led the district’s financial management efforts for over 22 years. Other veteran players involved include Superintendent Kimberly Moritz, and past Presidents David Adams and Louise Boutwell. We have been prudently trimming back on our fund balance and by using the monies held in the various reserve funds but, please understand we intend to continue to manage much the same as we have over the past many years. We do not intend to manage our local district finances the way the state or federal government have managed their own. We believe a general fund balance and prudent reserves are the common sense approach to managing given turbulent state and national financial situations.

On Monday, March 10, from 7-8:30 p.m., Southern Tier districts will join together in the Gymnasium of the Ellicottville Central School District, 5873 Route 219, Ellicottville, New York, to host “Rally to Restore GEA Funding Cuts.” The event will feature an overview of the crisis from fiscal expert Dr. Rick Timbs, Executive Director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium. Our intent is to highlight the looming educational crisis in our region and to kick off a season of citizen advocacy to address it.

We’ve done everything that’s been asked of us as expenses continue to increase and we’ve done so at 2008-09 state aid levels. Please join me at the Rally on Monday so that we can impact the thinking of the politicians who are making the decisions about 70% of our school budget.

 

Dear NYS Politicians:

I write to you today first as a taxpayer and a registered voter, second as an educator. As a property taxpayer in both Erie and Cattaraugus counties and a wage earner in NYS, much of my salary goes to support programs in NYS and your salary, as well as my own as a public school employee. As a registered independent voter, I participate in every election. I appreciate that many of you are well intended individuals who work to make a difference in the communities you serve, for that I thank you. I point out that I am a voter and a taxpayer in the hope that it will get your attention as I am beginning to believe that winning elections is all that matters to many of our politicians in NYS.

What I do not appreciate are the ways in which many of you are over reaching and becoming involved in every aspect of my life. I am a reasonably intelligent woman, I would challenge that I am as intelligent as you are, and I do NOT need you to mandate every decision as if I’m totally incapable of deciding anything on my own. Rather than speaking to all of the personal freedoms and responsibilities that I’m concerned about, I will speak specifically to that area of which I have particular expertise, gained from 25 years in the field—public education.

We are in a period of transition in public education, one in which we are raising expectations and aligning content for the children of all of our NYS public schools. This is happening in a HUGE way and is a very complicated issue–some of it we’ve gotten really right and some of it we’re still working to get right. I wrote about some of the changes in a blog post earlier this week here. In our district, the Randolph Central School District, in which I am the superintendent, we have worked very hard to improve our academic programs for all students. Specifically, we have worked to align our curriculum to the common core standards. This has been incredibly hard work for everyone involved, including our teachers, students and parents. And it’s been worth it because our students will exit our school better prepared than students who graduated under the previous ambiguous, convoluted NYS learning standards.

What do I need from you? I need for you to direct those parents who are contacting you to talk to us, the experts in the field. You are not an expert in education.  It’s often been said that everyone who’s gone to public school considers himself to be an expert in education. Well I’ve flown on an airplane and I’m certainly not an expert in aviation. We have a system in place with the Board of Regents and the State Education Department and LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS (who by the way are unpaid servants in our communities) to govern our actions. When you hold forums and speak about common core on the news–you repeatedly demonstrate a poor grasp of the complex issues at hand (again read here, for a start) and you frankly confuse our parents and community members. Stop speaking out in your obviously limited understanding of common core and using public education as leverage in your political campaign. It’s self serving arrogance at its finest.

I have watched our commissioner of education hold public forums, attend Senate education committee hearings, and make himself accessible to our communities repeatedly. At every turn, MANY do NOT listen to him. Politicians and others continue to use those opportunities to advance an agenda, espousing rhetoric without a thorough grasp of the facts or any intention to accept there may be another side to the argument.

If as a fellow taxpayer, parent, or community member, you would like to meet with me to talk about the complex issues involved in transforming education—please contact me as I would gladly meet with you to discuss the changes, the problems, and the solutions. But if you really want to understand, you’d better give me more than 20 minutes on lobby day with one of your aides because you’ll never attain a clear, thorough picture otherwise.

If you truly care about public education and the children of this state, get out of the way. Allow the local school boards, the educators in the schools, and the current state education department leaders to do our jobs. We know it’s messy, we know what we need to do better. Talk to us about your concerns. Tell parents to talk to us about their concerns, then get out of the way and let us do it.

LOCAL CONTROL OF OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

Kimberly Moritz, Randolph Central School Superintendent

P. S. Call me any time for a meeting, a phone call, to Skype, Google Hangout, whatever works! 716-358-7005

As the New York State Teacher’s Union (NYSUT) takes a firm stance against the implementation of common core and Commissioner King, I’m more aware than ever of the need for our students to learn a curriculum aligned to the common core standards. Why? Because I want our students to be active learners and citizens who read the overwhelming amount of information coming at them carefully—learners who are able to discern evidence based facts from hype and opinion and just plain old lies. We need our young people to be students who are engaged and open-minded—but discerning—readers and listeners. The very issue at hand–implementation of the common core standards–has become so convoluted, confused and misused that those very skills are critical.

Every change in education is often labeled “common core”. Just this morning on the radio I heard a report that the “governor is calling for an end to standardized testing of students in grades K-2″. That’s wonderful considering NYS doesn’t have standardized testing of students in grades K-2. In our school district, we extend our iReady diagnostic and interim testing to grade levels K-2 because those grades are critical, integral parts of our K-12 system and that local assessment choice keeps all grade levels focused on a continual K-8 pathway that better prepares our students for grades 9-12 math and ELA. The story is almost always much more complex than the simplicity at which it’s reduced to in a sound bite.

To demonstrate that complexity, consider that as a district leader I support our implementation of the common core standards in our school system and I agree with NYSUT’s stance too. If ALL state and federal involvement disappeared from our schools tomorrow, under the direction of the Randolph Board of Education and the Administrative Team, along WITH our teachers, we would continue to implement the common core standards and to use iReady diagnostic testing, computer based instructional modules and materials to align our curriculum. We would continue to have a focus on continuous school improvement and increasing our academic expectations. We would continue to use the Danielson rubric for teacher evaluation and the MPPR for evaluation of our principals. We would continue to support teacher collaboration in developing curriculum at grade levels, aligned to the common core standards. Our curriculum coordinator and principals would continue to listen to our teachers, to study the common core and materials available, and to use all of the data and information at hand to make good instructional decisions for our students.

And we’d support these requests of the state teachers union:

* completion of all modules, or lessons, aligned with the Common Core and time for educators to review them to ensure they are grade-level appropriate and aligned with classroom practice;

* better engagement with parents, including listening to their concerns about their children’s needs;

* additional tools, professional development and resources for teachers to address the needs of diverse learners, including students with disabilities and English language learners;

* full transparency in state testing, including the release of all test questions, so teachers can use them in improving instruction;

* postponement of Common Core Regents exams as a graduation requirement;

* the funding necessary to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to achieve the Common Core standards. The proposed Executive Budget would leave nearly 70 percent of the state’s school districts with less state aid in 2014-15 than they had in 2009-10; and

*a moratorium, or delay, in the high-stakes consequences for students and teachers from standardized testing to give the State Education Department – and school districts – more time to correctly implement the Common Core.

Support for common core standards is NOT sinking here–every parent I talk to wants as much for his or her child as possible. Our teachers are working hard to figure it all out, modifying curriculum to meet the standards AND to teach the students in front of them, who come with a mix of prior year common core standards attainment and skills. It has been difficult for everyone–especially with the poor timing and sometimes poor ELA module development and delivery. Would we be better off with a slower implementation? In my 25 years in education, I’ve never seen this kind of cooperation in implementing a K-12 curriculum so I’m not so sure. It’s been hard, messy, stressful—just like every other major change I’ve ever experienced in life. And as I’ve said often these last couple of years, we’re figuring it out together–teachers, parents, administrators and BOE members.

Maybe not smooth sailing yet, but certainly not sinking.

Workplace Flow

January 22, 2014

There are days on the job in education when everything I’m doing just feels right and I know I’m in the right place. Yesterday was one of those days. We spent the morning meeting with the architects from CannonDesign on our vision for capital project planning and that was followed up with a Board of Education meeting and a Common Core ELA Parent Forum meeting last night. Now one might think, why would sitting in meetings be considered a good day?

It’s exhilarating in this work to problem solve and plan and prepare our educational programs and spaces for future generations. It’s equally rewarding to meet with colleagues and parents to discuss the current changes in education in our district and to do the same, problem solve and plan. But the reason yesterday was one of the days when I experienced “flow” or the energy that a productive day at work produces? Our students.

I have the privilege of sharing lunch with two different groups of students. One group consists of eighth grade students and the other ninth graders. Each group is remarkably different in their choice of conversations and both are the highlights of every work day for me. For 30 minutes, I get the chance to listen to our students. They talk about sports, PS3, their classes and projects, and their interests outside of school. We’ve talked about the merits of bread crumbs and analyzed the contents of the school lunch chicken patties. It’s my connection to our students and my opportunity to remember the main reason we’re all employed, our students.

They ask me the most incredible questions and we have intellectual discussions about everything from WiFi to the emphasis on athletics or academics to their essays for ELA. And I’m my absolute best self with them. Of all of the incredibly good things in my life, the best is knowing with certainty that I’m doing that thing in life that I was meant to do.  I first learned of this idea from  Dr. Lloyd Elm  in his commencement address to the graduating class of 2005 at Gowanda Central School when I was the principal there. If you haven’t found that thing that you were meant to do in this life yet, I encourage you to seek it out. And I hope we find ways in our educational program for our students to discover that thing they’re each meant to do too.

So when I’m in a meeting to begin to discuss the future of our school district in regard to its facilities and grounds, I’m planning with those same students in mind. What will they need and what will the future generations need for learning spaces? When the BOE meets and talks about the upcoming 8th grade trip to Washington, DC for which our principal, Laurie Sanders advocated, they’re thinking about the needs of our students. And when we meet with parents about the more rigorous work of the common core standards, we’re thinking about continuous improvement and listening to them about what we can do better.

Education is an incredibly rewarding path; what could be better than having the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our young people?  I am grateful for the opportunity.

Extremely excited about this new opportunity for our students.  Watch this video and tell me our Randolph students wouldn’t benefit in a BIG WAY from our own RCS after school TED-Ed Club. If anyone’s interesting in this, let me know. If no one else wants to start the club here, I’m going to!

Continuous Improvement at 49

December 30, 2013

I suppose it could be the advent of the new year. Or maybe the fact that it’s very quiet here at school this morning. Or it may even be turning 50 in another week. But something’s definitely got me thinking about the big picture, life in general and where I go from here. Yeah, it’s probably that 50 thing. And no Dad, I’m not finally having the mid-life crisis you’ve been waiting for since I turned 40.

What I am having is a look at my life, both personal and professional. As my mom has always encouraged me to do, let’s look at the pros and cons, the good and the bad of life at this juncture of turning the big 5-0.

Plus Side/Pros/Assets/Strengths

1. Two great kids.

a. Bryna. Married to another great kid, Cory. Both with solid jobs making good money, house and property (in the Randolph school district–bonus when they finally get around to giving us a couple of grandkids), they’re devoted to each other and obviously in love.
b. Tallon. Graduating from St. Bonaventure with above a 3.0, Deans List a couple of semesters, treats his mama with respect and love, does anything his dad asks him to, headed in all the right directions.

2. Derek. Husband of 26+ years. Still loves me, puts up with whatever I manage to throw at him and I still look forward to seeing him at the end of a long day. Collaborator, partner, friend, love.

3. Family. Derek and I have our parents to talk to, to love, to drive us crazy. My brother and Derek’s sister have beautiful families with terrific spouses and great kids. We all seem to like each other very much.

4. Friends. I, simply stated, have the most incredible friends imaginable. They are fun and funny and they are there for me and love me even when my ugly shows. Took me a very long time to learn this but I understand it now. Friends don’t have to love us but they seem to manage it anyway. Thank you.

5. Career. (Notice how I’ve got my priorities straight–career didn’t come first. And yes, took me a long time to learn this too and I may not be honest here but I know it should be this way, that’s a start.) I love my work, the day to day, the people, the KIDS, the challenges. Not everyone can say that either. I’ve got great coworkers, an incredible BOE, and really good friends among my superintendent colleagues.  I like coming here every day and genuinely appreciate all that I have in my professional life.

Minus Side/Cons/Liabilities/Areas in Need of Improvement

1. Longevity. I don’t want this life to end. It’s big and beautiful and messy and I hate thinking I’ve got maybe 20-30 years left. Or one, who knows. So I’m going to try to put this out of my mind–no control here anyway. Make the most of every day and all that.

2. Health. Why is it that we work all of our lives to do our best, to improve, to take care of ourselves, to make a difference and in later life we may be riddled with physical illness, difficulties, indignities. I don’t like this, it’s not fair, it makes me angry and sad. As my mom says, life’s not fair and we just have to suck it up. Life doesn’t owe us anything. I do wish it would go a bit easier on her, my mom, though.

3. Career Success. I want to do a better job here at Randolph. This week. Next week. And for the next however many years but at least six. The Winter Break always pushes me to consider all of the things I can do better like reaching out to every employee and listening, giving positive feedback and praise when due, visiting more classrooms, writing and communicating more effectively with our entire school community, knowing more of our students and parents, putting together a smart, necessary capital project that’s good for our students and community, attending more events here at school—and—continuously improving my own work performance and the performance of our entire school community. Always looking to those areas in need of improvement.

4. Exercise, taking care of myself. Yeah, yeah. Need to exercise more, eat less, eat healthier. I’m trying!!!

5. Being a better friend. Making my friends a priority, especially those I seldom see like Lisa. Lisa is my college roomie and we now meet once per year in Chicago, for St. Patrick’s Day, and I look forward to it all year. No matter how busy life gets, I know we prioritize each other and our life-long friendship that weekend.

And my resolution for 2014, the same one I seem to have made for the past 30 years–to stop swearing. I’m a smart enough woman to use better words than those so if you hear me messing up on this one, call me out please. Have a wonderful and happy new year and when you see this old lady at 50? Be gentle.

The Penalty Box

December 19, 2013

Years ago, when I was a principal, I put every child’s name on a separate piece of paper and taped the pages up in the hallway after school. During a faculty meeting, we all went into the hall and signed our names to the pages of those children with whom we thought we had some sort of a relationship—did we know something about the kid’s home life/interests/activities or did we think the child would come to us with a problem?  I then took down the pages and for any student who had no signatures we determined to connect him or her to the school in a meaningful way. We planned who would reach out to the child, who could easily engage with him to talk about possible interests, and we brainstormed the best ways to follow through. Why? Because the way we connect to our students, the ways in which we notice them and let them know that they are important—-that matters.

We used to have out of school suspension. How dumb is that? You’ve done something really egregious and your consequence is to stay home for three to five days. Sign me up, right? Instead we now have an in school suspension (ISS) program and for all but the most serious safety issues, which are few and far between, our students are here in school for any consequence needed as part of our progressive discipline. I’ve referred to the ISS room as “the Box” for my entire administrative career, a throwback to the many years of sitting at the rink watching my son play hockey.  Fighting on the ice? Five minutes in the box. Fighting in school? Five days in the box.    Damen and Tallon Pond Hockey

But it’s not really that simple. Sitting in the box in a hockey game is just that, sitting and waiting to be let out. Sometimes a penalty that resulted in a stint in the box was even considered worth it—I know since my kid was a goon on the ice and often spent time in there. Our in school suspension rooms cannot be the same as that time spent in the penalty box on the ice. They cannot be a place to just sit and wait to get back out. Time spent in that way doesn’t do anything more than more thoroughly alienate a student from the school.

HockeyInstead we now have an ISS room that’s working for us because it’s working for our students. It’s physically connected to the HS Main Office and it’s staffed by our Teaching Assistant, Deb Luce, who’s connected to the students she serves. What she does in there with her “frequent fliers” reminds me very much of good parenting—she kicks them in the butt when needed, most often regarding their inability or unwillingness to complete school work. Students who are approaching ineligibility spend a lot of time in there—as a proactive way to keep our reluctant learners on track. But as good parents do, Mrs. Luce doesn’t just kick them in the butt when needed, she also pats them on the back.

The students Mrs. Luce works with know that she cares about them. They know that the Assistant Principal who likely assigned the ISS cares about them because he checks on them. And they know that the Principal and the teachers care because the room is connected, it’s open and it’s frequently visited by all of us.

It’s not a place to further disconnect our kids, get them out of the way or alienate them because of their bad behavior. It’s a place to more consistently connect them to our school so that they care.  And when they say they don’t care, we show them that we care enough for both of us.

We’re far from perfect, we can do more for so many of our students—but this is a darn good start.