When I took the job of superintendent at Randolph Central in October of 2008, no one thought I would stay here for the rest of my career, including me. My family had bets on it and I heard far too many times in those first years “but what happens when you’re gone?” When opportunity comes knocking, it’s hard to ignore. My mother’s words to me when I first considered if I should stay at Gowanda or apply at Randolph have never left me. She said, “Kimberly, you just have to pick a place and stay there or you’re never going to make the difference that you want to make.”
I’ve since watched school districts open and fill that I would have loved to apply to: Silver Creek and Jamestown, now Frontier and Hamburg, soon my home district of Gowanda. It’s wonderful to talk with someone who’s asking if I’ll consider applying. Boosts my ego a bit and all. My reply remains, “thank you for thinking of me but I’m committed to Randolph. The Board of Education makes a commitment to me every July when they extend my contract for another year. I can’t walk away from them, from my colleagues, or from the goals and the success that we’re realizing.”
The struggle I often have now is that my fourteen years of experience as an administrator, including what I’ve learned here as the superintendent, leave me thinking, “But I know what to do there to make things better!” I stay here because I believe in what we’re doing, in the teams that we’ve worked hard to develop and in our ability to change the world–or this little piece of it called Randolph Central School District. Sounds corny? But it’s true. Most significant to me personally, is that I get to be the kind of superintendent here that I want to be, one who knows our students and teachers and community members. Where else could I have students who want to come in and have lunch with me or talk to me about their problems or visit with me at athletic events?
I read an article yesterday by a veteran superintendent, When and How to Leave Gracefully. The author Art Stellar says,
While typically lacking such public revelations, every superintendent moves on professionally at some point, whether by personal choice or someone else’s. Superintendents are, more often than not, short-term hired hands, migratory workers on a professional level.
I understand that the author’s message is largely about recognizing when it’s time to move on and how to do so well. But his article made me want to write this post, How to Stay Gracefully. If leading for significant, long lasting school improvement results from building relationships based on trust and mutual respect–then how does that happen when administrators are moving from district to district? According to a recent article in the Buffalo News, search consultant Vincent Coppola indicates there are about ten superintendent openings in NY now and projects another ten openings in January. I suggest that there are ways to stop this trend.
We need stability and commitment in school leadership. I’m not criticizing anyone for pursuing opportunities, I’m suggesting that staying the course is good for a District and for the superintendent. Just like in a marriage worth it’s salt, there are ups and downs–good days and bad. We employ honesty and listening skills and belief in the best intentions of the other person to get through it. Those are the same things we must use as leadership teams, BOE members and School Administrators, to stay the course together for the good of our schools and communities. Because you know what? Just like in a marriage, it’s unlikely that there’s someone or someplace better out there—you just haven’t had the time to figure out the faults or weaknesses of that other superintendent or school district yet.
How do we make a long term superintendency successful? Well for one thing, let’s talk about money. I know, no one who’s making the money wants to talk about it. But honesty and transparency are part of the gig as a public school administrator. Boards have to determine what their goals are–do you want to boast that you have the lowest paid administrators in three counties? Or do you want to secure a superintendent at a competitive salary so that she doesn’t have to pay attention to every opening in every neighboring district? Our School BOE did just that, without my request, three years ago. And while my good intentions, my mother’s words, and my plan to make a difference influence my thinking to stay here–let’s be honest. I would be considering other positions if I knew I would make much more money elsewhere–that’s what most people would do given the opportunity in any field.
Remember too that a superintendent is not awarded tenure and is accountable to the School Board, the community, the faculty and staff and the students on a daily basis–Districts aren’t tied to a superintendent who isn’t doing the job by a lengthy dismissal process. BUT, communities should view it as a long term commitment and once you realize you have someone who’s communicating with you honestly and listening to your elected School BOE while making good decisions for the District, you should pay a competitive salary to keep that person. The work of a school superintendent isn’t going to change drastically from one school to another.
Please talk openly and honestly with us about our shortcomings. I watched someone lose her job in my first year as an administrator, seemingly without warning, and I thought then, “that needs to never be me!” I need to be aware, to listen, and to improve my performance continually. As a school BOE don’t leave us to wonder what you’re unhappy with or where we’re falling short. Give us the opportunity to improve. Communication, honesty, commitment and relationships? Sounds much better than a revolving door of rookie administrators.
On October 10, 2013, NYS Education Commissioner John King met with parents and teachers in Poughkeepsie, NY to talk with them through a PTA Forum about the Common Core. In watching that session online, I was struck by the comments of one of the parents who spoke about her three young sons and said, “Change is not easy but childhood should not be this difficult.”
I can’t stop thinking about her. She’s right. Childhood isn’t supposed to be difficult. School should be challenging and inspiring and creative and thought provoking. Children should go home tired from a hard day’s work. Then they should play and talk to their friends and have dinner with their families, not spend another one to two hours doing homework.
If you, as parents of K-8 children, are continually frustrated with the homework you see coming home, talk to your child’s teacher. We should not be sending homework that we know will just frustrate our students (and parents). Homework should be a reinforcement of the topics learned and it should be brief. There is NO reason for our K-8 children to spend more than 15-30 minutes on homework. The homework should be reasonable. Please also realize that we may be teaching Math in ways different from the ways in which you learned Math. That doesn’t mean your way was right and this way is wrong. Please don’t tell your child, “I don’t know how to do any of this–it’s ridiculously hard!” as that isn’t going to help your child gain confidence with the material.
So what do you do? Encourage your child to try all of the problems–without the cell phone or TV or iPod on–without distraction. If you’re telling us that it takes your child 60 minutes to do homework but 50 minutes are wasted on distracted thinking, then it’s really not 60 minutes of work. I’ve heard the building principals tell teachers repeatedly that homework cannot be graded punitively. Some of our children have no one to help them at home either, we know this. Homework is about practice, just like getting better at a sport takes practice. But we can’t kick kids off the team with bad grades for poor performance in practice. This doesn’t mean our students don’t need to do homework, just that it needs to be intentional, meaningful, and brief–and our students need to complete it then. On their own. Don’t let your kids train you to do their homework. If your kids are asking you for help without attempting it first themselves, then you’re working harder than they are and it’s not YOU who needs the practice.
And if there’s stress on you and your family because of what you’re reading on Twitter or Facebook or in the news? PLEASE do not let what you read about other districts color your perception of how we’re handling change here. We are listening. To our teachers, our students, and our parents. No one performs better under stress, least of all our children. I’m exhausted at the end of the work day as I’m sure many of you are too. It’s our job as parents to expect the best of our children, to demand that they work hard and be the best little people that they can be. It’s not necessary to turn every night at the dinner table into a battle over school and homework. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for your kids. Enjoy them. Talk about something other than what they’re working on in class. Listen to them and instill confidence in them that they can do it. Read a story to them for fun or go for a walk outside or whatever else helps you find joy at the end of a long day.
And for our teachers and administrators–this message is for you too: I’m an adult who needs time to STOP THINKING when I’m home in the evenings. I need to read magazines and think about fashion and home decorating and how I want to rearrange my furniture. I need to talk with my mom and my daughter, hope my son will call from college (even though he never does, but hey, I hope), make dinner for my husband (most days), get a pedicure with my friends, exercise and RELAX. If I have an evening that requires a couple of hours of work, I do NOT return to school the next day my best self.
For your mental health and well being, we need you to have that same time in the evening, with your families. Many of you aren’t getting it right now because you’re cramming to learn module lessons but remember that what you did last year worked well. We showed strong gains. Fall back on those things that you know you’ve done well, study the modules and do the best you can. All of the change doesn’t have to happen at once. We’ve got this–our very best teachers are the same teachers who are running themselves ragged to improve. I appreciate your hard work AND I want you to have a balance in your life too, just like our students.
Why do we need to change what we’re teaching our children? Most people have been pretty happy with Randolph Central, right? Just let my kids be happy, I don’t care if they learn as much math as possible in each grade–provided they’re learning and getting good grades. Here’s the trouble with that idea–as the superintendent I get to see the whole PK-12 continuum. I know our students can do more than we’ve expected of them in the past.
How do I know? Because for 25 years in education I’ve maintained relationships with graduates from Randolph, Gowanda, and Pine Valley. Think about this honestly now. How often has an 18 or 19 year old said to you, “Wow! I really worked hard in school! I was totally prepared for college, these professors are nothing compared to my high school teachers. Or, my employer is so happy with the way I can pick up a project and run with it. He wishes I could teach the other employees my basic math skills and how to communicate well in writing.”
I’ll tell you how often-NEVER. And that’s just not okay. We’re not here to hang out for 12 years, these are the most critical and accessible years of learning our children have and my personal and professional mission is to make them the most advantageous they can be for every RCS student. And that means every student is going to be expected to do his or her best–the same things I expected of my own two children and continue to expect to this day.
And here’s something else, our administrators are visiting classrooms and seeing our students meet the challenges. In listening to our teachers, I hear them saying that our students are accomplishing more than they thought possible. I have lots of thoughts about how this happened, about how we reached the point in education when not enough is expected of our students, but I will reserve that thinking for another time. I will only say that we are failing our brightest students as over the past several decades we expected too little of them which led them to expect too little of themselves. We see it every year as our juniors and seniors drop courses like Chemistry and Physics and Calculus for an easier route out of high school. Easier doesn’t make any of us better. And through the 1990′s when worrying about every child “winning” and their self esteem more than about challenging them was “de rigueur” didn’t help much either.
Yes, Randolph Central is a good school system already. But good isn’t enough for our teachers and students. If any District can collectively figure out how to successfully improve our school system, we can. Just like the teachers, I’m making good, thoughtful decisions every day, along with our entire leadership team. I’m listening, I’m considering and I’m adapting where needed. We aren’t mindlessly implementing the common core modules. We’re making the best local decisions we can and following the requirements of NYSED in purposeful ways. Just as we’ve always done. We’re also improving, expecting more of ourselves and our students, and striving to meet the highest standards possible.
Randolph has been #1 on the athletic fields and courts for many years. It’s time we step up and become #1 academically as well. That will, in fact, serve our students well in the long run as all will need good jobs some day and few, if any, will become professional athletes.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been meeting with our PK-8 teachers at grade level meetings (content area meetings with 7-8 Math and ELA) with two purposes in mind. One, I wanted to listen. Our teachers are not alone in their implementation of new curriculum–they are supported by our curriculum coordinator and building principals and teacher leaders. I needed them to know that they have my support too, that I’m listening to them on how common core implementation is going, and that we as a leadership team are not working in isolation of the realities of the classroom. Two, I wanted to check my own thinking and know if what we planned to do this year is working in the classroom–if our leadership expectations are realistic and if so, are they clear to our teachers? As every district has made different local decisions and I know many of our teachers have friends and family in other districts, I wanted to make sure our teachers understand what we’re doing at RCS with the common core standards and the common core modules as developed by NYS (yes, they’re two different things). Today, I begin a series of posts to share our expectations with our larger school community.
I’ve been talking about making good instructional decisions for some time–it was the main idea of my opening day session with teachers both last year and this year. In some districts, the common core modules ( instructional units developed by NYS) are being implemented fully, page by page. In other districts, teachers and administrators began a couple of years ago to develop their own curriculum aligned to the common core standards. In Randolph, we have a combination of the two approaches.
Listen, no matter what the State intended K-8 curriculum may be, our teachers must make good instructional decisions for the students seated in front of them every day. If it’s a teacher at grades 7-12, those instructional decisions may be different for the period 2 Biology class to the period 11 Biology class. Our teachers are not teaching the common core modules, as developed by NYS, without consideration of 100 other factors on any given day. Most important is careful consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of the 20-25 students seated in front of them–what background knowledge do those students have, what curriculum were they taught in prior years and what learning did they retain? What are the interests and skills of the students? All factors that great teachers have considered in planning lessons for decades.
And since the beginning of time, including when I started teaching, we have had to consider the NYS standards in our subject area and where I taught, it was a local decision that all teachers meet the Career Development and Occupational Studies standards too. We’ve had textbook materials to factor into our decisions, state tests to consider, and if we were lucky, a curriculum left by the teacher we replaced. How do the common core modules and standards come in to play now? Well, those NYS standards were pretty darn vague. Most of us complained about them and as administrators thought, “a teacher could plan any lesson she likes and simply type in a NYS standard to make it fit.” We complained that the standards needed to be a more substantial curriculum that teachers and administrators could follow. For years I have included in my leadership a goal to have a more consistent curriculum grades K-8 so that our students would have a strong, common experience not just learn something due to the luck of the draw or whatever teacher he gets that year. So now we have these curriculum modules, but we don’t know yet if they are reliable since they’re very new and are relatively untested.
So our teachers, our experts in the field, are evaluating the NYS common core modules as they align to the common core standards and as they align to our other instructional materials including iReady and Ready, our reading series materials and our data on students through formative and state test results. We don’t wish to abandon, disregard, or relegate to an “if I have time” status any of those good things we’ve been doing the past few years that have helped our students meet with greater success. We realize our mathematics K-8 curriculum has not had the emphasis needed to prepare our students for Math in high school. We began addressing that problem two years ago and have made great gains–luckily in many grade levels the modules are enhancing what we’re doing. And when we find that they’re not, or a teacher has a better way to teach something, or our students aren’t ready for a module lesson–we’re modifying and adapting. But we are aligning to a more rigorous set of standards than what we’ve had in the past (more about that tomorrow).
The analysis and study of the modules is being done largely on the fly by hard working, dedicated teachers who didn’t have the opportunity to do this in advance of the school year in any detail because the modules are still coming out from NYSED. New modules come out from the State weekly. We are using the common core modules as a curriculum resource to help us raise our standards as our students are ready. Teachers are expected to study the modules and to make good instructional decisions for their students as we continue to align our taught curriculum to the stated common core curriculum. This will take time. We are doing the best that we can in an imperfect implementation system—but always with the best interest of our students in mind. If it doesn’t feel that way in your home–please talk to your child’s teacher. In Thursday’s post, I’ll write more about homework.
Tomorrow: Why Do We Need to Change At All?
I’ve been writing here since 2006 with a genuine interest in better communicating with our school community and also to provide a space where people within our school community can share their thinking with me. Oftentimes, I will receive a comment that the writer asks I not share publicly or a separate email in which the writer wants to keep his or her thoughts between us. I write and read because I want to be a better superintendent. If I ever reach the point when I’m working in an echo chamber, I will need to retire. The absolute worst leader I could be is someone who believes solely in her own ideas and decisions without considering the ideas of others within our organization and community.
I also learn from asking questions and believe wholeheartedly that we’re better together than we are alone. Collectively, our teams learn from one another, offer different points of view and make better decisions–if we listen to one another first.
This weekend, I received four comments from people beyond our school community that I haven’t yet posted to the blog. Over the past seven years of writing, I can count one or two times that I haven’t posted a comment and that was only because the comment was in some way laced with profanity or unjustly injurious to someone within the organization.
Why am I hesitating to post these comments? Well, read these excerpts of the comments to get a better idea of what exactly the comments are about, all left in response to this post.
Reader #1 writes:
I am thankfully not in your district, but I am appalled at your response. To consider a child who is abiding by parent’s wishes as insubordinate in regards to testing where there IS a refusal option, (Source: New York State Student Information Repository System (SIRS) Manual, pg 64). There is no given grade, no consequences for the child, or harm against the school, seems to really be pushing the extreme of the definition of insubordination. (Source: New York State Student Information Repository System (SIRS) Manual, page 64 and 8.) Don’t blame NYSED for this. This is strictly under your district. NYSED leaves it to districts to determine what, if any action should be taken in the event students are not tested.
I suppose that is what I find most troubling about your post, you are offering regulations provided by NSED, but not disclosing them fully or presenting the whole picture to the parents. I’m not sure what you expect parents to do regarding testing they deem harmful to their children? Sit back and just take it?
How is it you claim to want to work with parents, yet your post clearly states what it is believed parents cannot do, rather than what they can do?
Reader #2 writes:
Sometimes, standing up for what you believe in puts you in a difficult position. This is quite true. Some would say a student who refuses the test is “insubordinate”. I would say s/he is practicing civil disobedience to make a point that continues to fall on deaf ears!
Your post sounds like a warning to parents not to challenge YOUR authority. Many districts have been able to work WITH parents in a reasonable way. Apparently, under your guidance, your schools won’t.
Be a leader! Do you really believe the common core and the Pearson assessments represent quality education?
Shame on you!
Reader #3 writes:
Parents may not have a legal right to dictate what schools teach, but we sure as heck have the right to voice our displeasure when we see all of the crap that CC is forcing on our kids. We’re the ones who see first hand the negative effects on our kids. We’re the ones watching our child’s future getting bleaker and bleaker because we have politicians and special interest groups falling all over themselves to experiment and profit off of the games they’re playing with education in this country! When we see English class being turns into a political science experiment meant to brainwash our kids into the current political regime way of thinking, when we see the blatant disregard for the US Constitution and the laws of our country perpetrated by our politicians and educational leaders – we sure as hell have the right to fight back! YOU as educators and administrators do not have the right to bully kids and parents who disagree with you, to outright lie to them about what they can and can’t do. Giving a child multiple detentions when they’re exercising their right to refuse a test is just plain wrong! And they CAN refuse those state tests, kids all over the country are doing it. Why else would the codes and instructions for how to handle refusals be built into the testing instructions? And leaving a special needs child unattended in a hallway because they won’t participate in a benchmark test? Unconscionable!! And the teacher making disparaging remarks to that same child? Inexcusable!! YOU are the ones who should be vastly ashamed of your actions!
What bothers me about the comments left by Readers #1-3 is that it seems that they didn’t even read my original post closely. That’s why I commented on my own post to clarify—this is about a child being instructed to “opt out” on an almost daily basis during the regular school day. Refusing academic intervention services when we know the child needs help or in the case of a special needs child who is refusing to take the regular progress monitoring testing the teacher needs to make good instructional decision making. This wasn’t about the NYS K-8 assessments—I know the points being made about refusal of the NYS tests—but do the writers know that my response to opting out of regular instruction and testing comes straight from education law? I’m not writing this to use my authority or to intimidate. I’m writing to help explain why we have to respond to what becomes a daily distraction–a child refusing to do what the teacher asks. And what teacher is making disparaging remarks to a child as Reader #3 writes? I’m lost by how much is inferred from one post.
Did they even read my post? Or are they using this blog to further their own agenda? I’m glad people are fighting for what they believe in—I believe the discourse on common core AND APPR AND SLOs (because much of what’s being named common core, isn’t) is good—but it is also laden with much bad information, emotion, talk of political agendas and attitudes that remind me of those espoused by religious zealots.
There’s room in the conversation for more than one point of view but the only way we will learn from each other is through a respectful analysis of the ideas.
What bothers me next is the apparent need for writers to attack me without even knowing me, our District, our practices, my character or what we stand for—who are basing their ideas on about 1000 words printed to add another voice to the discussions our community members may be reading in the popular press or frankly, on Facebook. This is most apparent in the last comment that follows here.
Reader #4 writes:
Kim, Kim, Kim, … Parents Do have a right to refuse this corporate schlock you feel obliged to defend. We didn’t ask for it and neither did the teachers. Neither did you if you can be honest about it. But some very wealthy people tucked a few key politicians into their pockets and set about declaring an emergency in American education that they just happened to have the cure for, at a price. Well the price is steep, it’s costing us billions but the real price is it’s robbing our kids of a chance to love learning. It’s causing our kids to hate school and hate themselves. How many more Administrators are going to stand up to this and call it out for the child abuse it is. How many more blog posts do you have in your file before you realize you are on the wrong side of education, the wrong side of kids, the wrong side of history and ultimately, the wrong side of right and wrong. Trying to keep a job that asks you to defend child abuse must be a lonely futile endeavor. Any time you’re ready to stand up for kids and education we will welcome you into the light. Until then you deserve no support and even less respect. P.s. i know you won’t allow this through so I posted it on FB. Cheers!
What purpose is served by patronizing me from the very beginning and using my first name as if this man even knows me at all? And then calling me out about posting his comment? An argument is so much more powerful if made intellectually rather than emotionally. And why is it necessary to call my character into question to make the point? Is the only way that side of the argument holds true is by calling me personally into question?
I won’t use this blog post to defend my own character. That will only incite further comments placing me forever on the defensive. And frankly this reminds me of that person we all know who isn’t really listening to us in the first place but is instead just waiting for us to shut up so that he can voice his own opinion louder or more vehemently or by attacking us for disagreeing. I realize that in responding to the comments I may elicit more comments from them–some would advise me not to acknowledge the comments at all–but I have read about and thought about the ideas presented by these readers and considered our own practices more than the four readers can know from a blog. I cannot solve the national or state debate nor do I honestly have the time and mental energy to engage in an endless back and forth about this—with those outside of our school community. I trust that our own school community knows this about me and feels welcome to come in and meet with me or ask me to a meeting or to attend one of our community forums which include “Clarifying the Common Core”. Or talk to our teachers and principals, don’t just take it from me. As always, we want to be the very best we can be for our 1000 students and that includes teaching to the common core standards, which can be found here.
There are many sides to the changes in education today. Some needed and some not, and I’m guessing what’s which varies depending on who’s talking. What I can speak to is our district, our experiences, and our future. Much good is coming of all of us working together toward common standards and goals—in particular a clearer path for all children through our school that will lead to greater success as we make good instructional decisions for all.
With the “opt out” of state 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 doesn’t mean they have the right to dictate what the public school district teaches (our curriculum) or on what programs we use for instruction or for remediation (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 has adopted the national P-12 Common Core standards. 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 http://www.engageny.org/. Don’t believe everything you read on websites from across the country, 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.
Tomorrow morning our students return and it’s one of my favorite days of the year. Everyone returns with enthusiasm in whatever favorite new outfit they’ve chosen. And the best part is that I get to help our littlest ones find their classrooms. I really enjoy seeing our students return and watching the bittersweet goodbyes from parents bringing their child to school for the first time. Parents, please know that we will cherish your babies—that our teachers will love them and expect the best of them. And so will I.
At the same time, we will have high expectations for each child. We want our students, your children, to learn and to grow and to experience a positive yet challenging school year. Attached you can look at the opening day presentation I gave to our entire school family of employees yesterday. Randolph academic success is on the rise and we are working hard so that our students can be successful in every aspect of our programs. We look forward to working with you and we hope that you will also have high expectations for your child.
Why are our expectations for children so important? Here’s a personal example. My parents were clear in their expectations for me as a student—my grades had to be above a C. So that’s what I worked for, to get above a C–B’s worked just fine in my house.
We like to think every generation gets smarter than us, right? Our expectation for our own two kids was that they had to have their grades above a 90 average. That’s a higher expectation than my parents had for me and both of our children met that expectation every ten weeks. I remember quoting, “hey, to he (or she) who much is given, much is expected”—meaning your life is good, your brain is good, get to work! When our son was a senior in high school, he had to write a paper in which he spoke about his strong relationship with his dad for 90% of the paper and then on the last page wrote, “and I’m thankful that my mom had her foot on me through all of school or I never would have done as well as I did.” Not exactly gushing in it’s emotion for his mom, but hey–you get the point. He’s now a senior at St. Bonaventure on an academic scholarship that requires he maintain a 3.0 average. What do you think he maintains?
Please expect more from your children. I’m betting they can get there. We’re doing the same here at RCS and we’re expecting more of ourselves too. I’ve never forgotten something I read at the beginning of my administrative career, written by Todd Whitaker in What Great Principals Do Differently, “Great teachers have high expectations for students but even higher expectations for themselves.” I’ll work on everyone here at RCS having high expectations for themselves–first of all ME–please help us by working on having high expectations for your children at home–in school attendance, academic performance, behavior and treating everyone with respect. Deal?
Something happened a week ago and I can’t get it out of my head. That usually means I’ve got to write about it so it’s out here instead of running a track through my mind. During a recent visit to the doctor’s office, I was in the waiting room when a mother and two young boys entered the room. Immediately these two little guys took over the office. They were running around, sitting in the middle of the floor, breaking up some small toy and throwing it around the room.
What was mom doing? That’s the part I can’t get out of my head. She sat passively and looked at a point on the wall without talking to, scolding or acknowledging them. I was quiet as long as I could be, thinking “this is none of my business” but when the older of the two worked feverishly to shove one of the pieces of the toy into his ear, I couldn’t take it any more.
I engaged both in conversation saying, “I bet I can guess what grade you boys are going into!” First and third grades, I got it right. Neither boy made eye contact with me (much like their mom). When I said, “don’t stick that in your ear! That’s going to hurt you!” The mother looked at the boy and then at me and I said in a friendly way, “my niece once stuck a lego up her nose and they had to go to the emergency room!” At least the young man stopped when I told him to do so.
Once in the examination room, this family was placed in a room next to mine and I could hear the chaos continuing until the physician’s assistant walked in and said, “stop that and sit down.”
I’ve been thinking about parenting as a skill set ever since. This woman was completely lacking in any parenting skills with no idea of what to do. We end up with children in a school system who have no idea how to behave because they’ve never been taught. I’m not pointing fingers at her, I’m saying she appeared to have no skills as a parent, much like I have no carpentry skills. Only I can hire a carpenter to build something correctly and in her case, she can’t hire anyone and it’s her children who suffer.
I’ve certainly known over-indulgent parents in my work and personal life, this was something beyond indulgence. Goodness knows we all parent differently. There’s nothing that says my way of parenting is better than someone else’s. But my own mother did a really good job and the proof is in her two productive children who have loving families and pretty good kids too. Somehow along the way my role models figured it out and I parented the way I’d learned from example. What about this woman and the others like her? Who helps her learn what to do?
As a school system I would love to reach out to that mom and others like her. Not to say “I’m an expert and this is what you must do” but to say, “I know parenting is hard, I’ve got some experience and some ideas that worked with my kids—can I help you learn what to do with yours?” No parent EVER has done her child a favor by NOT teaching him or her how to behave in this world. Parenting is positively the most important job any of us has to do.
How do we reach those parents who are the neediest? How do they admit to someone like me what they don’t know? Do they even know what they’re doing isn’t working? Does it take Child Protective Services or the county getting involved? And even when the school gets involved, we walk carefully on that line of helping vs. telling parents what to do. I know our elementary counselor is wonderful at supporting our children and families but more often than not parents end up angry and feeling like we’re meddling in their home life.
To further complicate my thinking on this is my strong belief that I want the freedom to make my own decisions and choices without “big brother” telling me how much soda I can drink or which guns I can own or dictating exactly what education must look like at RCS. Does my desire to help that mom who looked so lost and alone and helpless equate to government’s desire to dictate everything to us?
I’d love to hear your thinking on this one! If we offered parenting classes in the evening, I don’t know who would even come–how would we get this mother to attend without insulting her?
I learned of the death of Larry Wells, a young man who I had the great privilege of teaching at Pine Valley in the 1990′s, via the local news and social media. Later this afternoon, I will attend his wake at a Forestville funeral home. I’m writing today to remember him as I knew him, not as the victim of a violent crime as has been widely reported.
When I was a young, first year teacher at Pine Valley Central School in 1990, Larry Wells was a member of my seventh grade class. As a Spanish teacher in a small district, I then taught that incredible class for four years to follow. If you’ve never attended or taught in a small rural school district, I’m guessing it may be hard to imagine what it’s like.
The students know each other, and all of us as the adults working with them, extremely well. I remember entering those classes with my teaching materials on a cart as I taught in various classrooms and had hardly a clue as to what I was doing. Clutching my college notebook, I greeted my seventh graders with the best that I knew–and it wasn’t enough. They were an energetic, close knit handful and I didn’t yet have the skills to teach them well. Luckily, I attended some excellent staff development training early on where I learned cooperative learning techniques. I returned to school the next day, took each class out into the hallway and said to them, “what I’ve been doing wasn’t good enough. From this day forward we’re going to re-enter that classroom and try something new”. They became accustomed to my efforts through four years of classes with me (what a privilege to teach them for four solid years!) and would often remark, “oh no, she’s been to another conference, here we go!”
This was quite a crew, heavy on boys who couldn’t have cared less about learning Spanish. They were all about football from long before I taught them in seventh grade and eventually the boys went on to win the Class D, Section Six Championship. Larry Wells was an integral part of this class and that team. When considering my teaching strategies, I tried anything I could think of to connect my content to football–including elaborate peer tutoring ‘games’ for review that I linked to football.
Larry Wells was one of the best of the bunch. And his wife, then girlfriend Jill Lucas, was too. Larry and Jill were bright, friendly, caring and involved in everything. They were never in trouble, the class couple, devoted to one another. Mostly they joined me in laughing along at the antics of their classmates. Who could resist the humor of Richie, Max, MJ, Michael, Brent, Shawn, Justin or Tim?! Josh Roth and Larry Wells were never at the center of it, but they certainly enjoyed the fun as much as I did. And Jill was blessed with a great group of girls in that class too–girls who were about the only thing that kept that bunch sane.
I miss that class. I’ve never known a group of students better or hoped more for them. In my mind’s eye, they’re all just the same as they were ‘back in the day’ at Pine Valley. And something like what happened to Larry should never have happened. Not to him. Not to any of them.
Working in education for 24 years now, I’ve suffered the tragedy of losing students. The loss of Larry Wells to his family, to his coworkers, and to his friends is devastating. For the family that we were as a faculty and the Class of 1996, we grieve too.
All of my love, thoughts and prayers to Jill Lucas Wells and Larry’s loved ones. You are not alone, we stand with you in honoring and remembering one of the best kids I’ve ever known, Larry Wells.
It matters to me. Always has, especially when I hear colleagues discuss why it shouldn’t. I don’t know why I wouldn’t want our school district to be as good as or better than similar schools around us? As a community Randolph is clear that we want to be the best in athletics and to celebrate our students’ success. Why wouldn’t we want that same excellence academically that we enjoy athletically?
I’ve written about academic school improvement here many times before and as the superintendent, it’s my number one mission—to provide the very best education we can to each and every student while being fair to our taxpayers. We do so many things well here, with outstanding teachers, administrators and students, why did we sit in the bottom third of all 97 WNY school districts for so long?
As the superintendent, I research what our colleagues are doing who are more successful than we are just like a good coach studies game film. I also research what’s expected from NYSED and what’s working in the field. While I’ve made some mistakes in my career—I never fully believed in curriculum mapping as a real change measure and yet implemented it in Gowanda—I do believe our efforts at Randolph are paying off in terms of higher expectations for ourselves and for learning for our students. Our teachers have always worked incredibly hard and this year they’ve been focused on data team meetings to further individualize their instruction for all children during intervention and classroom instruction. We’re also working together on our curriculum and raising our expectations at every grade level so that our students may achieve more as they move through our system. I’m so proud of our team and of our students for meeting the challenge!
Business First ranks all of the elementary, middle and high schools, and districts based on the past four years of NYS test results and Regents exams. Here’s a link to how the ranks are determined. No mystery, no magic. Just the facts on how our students fare on tests over the past four years. And I believe we’re good enough to get from the bottom third of the 97 school districts to the top third. So does our School Board and Administrative Team. And here’s the proof that we’re getting there after a decade of little to no movement in these rankings.
Our elementary school ranked 174 out of 281 which is up 28 spots from last year’s rank of 202. Our middle school results rank us 123 out of 208, up 22 spots from last year’s rank of 145. Our high school rank is 68 of 135, up 14 spots from last year’s 82. And even though we saw improvements from 2011-2012 in middle and high school, our district rank was stuck at 74 of 97. This year I’m delighted to say that we are ranked 59 of 97 WNY Districts, up 15 spots from 74 the last two years.
We are focused on the right things, we are taking what State Ed mandates and making it reasonable where we can and making it work for us. Our students will graduate having the same excellent education they’ve always gotten, but with even higher expectations and achievement. Thanks to everyone for getting us here!
As our BOE President, Dave Adams, said, “congratulations to you all as you all had an impact on this achievement. Continue the hard work and support all of your fellow teachers and administrators to make this a total team effort and we are confident that you can move RCS to even higher rankings in the years to come!”