SGI Family Survey Results

Within this post, please find the results to a family survey that we sent out and kept open over the past few weeks. We received 314 responses to the survey, with 32 people taking the survey more than once resulting in 282 unique responses. I’m grateful for everyone who took the time to participate and to share your thoughts in the comments. To understand our purpose for conducting the survey, here’s the introductory letter that accompanied it.

Dear Families:

We can’t believe it’s been ten months since the beginning of the global pandemic that’s forced significant changes upon our school system. Thank you to all of our families who have reached out to share your thoughts, encouragement, suggestions for improvement and gratitude. This has been the single most challenging time of my 32 year career in education and we very much look forward to the day that our students return to us fully in-person, 5 days per week.

Our leadership team, in collaboration with our teachers and BOE members, have made what we’ve thought were the best decisions for the students of SGI. We turn to you to tell us how things are going for your children. For every parent who asks for more rigorous learning opportunities and more instructional time for students on remote days, we hear from families who say, “we’re managing as well as we can now and cannot do anything more.”

Please help us to get a sense of where you are as a family by participating in the survey that follows. We are looking for opportunities to improve instruction for our students at the same time that we acknowledge that every family is different. Your answers will help to guide our decisions moving forward as we face the reality that it may be longer than we hoped before we’re back to “normal” in our schools. As we return to the hybrid model on January 4, 2021, please know that we will clearly communicate any changes to our current plan in a timely manner so that you can manage the changes in your own family.

As a system, you can count on us to carefully focus on your individual comments where there is room for improvement and an ability to change. For example, if the comment was “get our kids back to five days of in-person instruction!“, we cannot do that under the requirement to maintain six feet of distance between our students. There’s nothing we’d like to do more than have 5 days of in-person instruction and yet I can’t deliver on that request.

I also want to acknowledge that the preponderance of positive feedback and understanding of the situation in which we exist under this pandemic was heartening. Thank you for the positive feedback and words of encouragement!

Who participated in the survey? We had an even distribution of families, with 41.7% of respondents identifying as SHS families, 36.9% as SMS, 41.3% as SES and 13.1% as CES which is reflective of our student population distribution.

How are we doing on communication? 78.3% of respondents agree that we are keeping you well informed. Within the comments we learn of times when someone isn’t receiving a return email or phone call from someone at SGI–this is NEVER acceptable. When you reach out to a teacher or administrator, you should expect a response in a timely manner. If you do not receive one, please try following up with a phone call and/or contacting the building administrator.

I also see a repeat comment from families that says, “give us a heads up sooner if my child isn’t doing well.” Please never hesitate to call the teacher, counselor, or principal to get more information and we will focus on being more proactive. Families can always keep up to date on grades by accessing PowerSchool any time, day or night. Please let us know if you need help with logging in and call or email the teacher if you are worried about the grades that you see there. Especially at the MS/HS levels, 90% of the time your child does know why the grades are low and has already had that conversation with the teacher.

Remote days–is the amount of work and time on the computer just right? Here we have 33.7% of our respondents disagreeing that the amount of work and time on the computer was just right. The next question digs a little deeper to find out if that’s because families want more or less time and work.

Do families believe their children can handle more scheduled time working directly with a teacher?  

The answer to this question is as varied as the families we serve. As you can see 44.3% of families agree that more scheduled time on remote days is preferable, with 35.3% disagreeing.

We have been working to develop a more robust schedule for remote days since November. We are looking to add in more time directly on a schedule with teachers on Wednesdays and ways in which we can add teaching support for all students on remote days. 

I need to spend a bit more time on this topic. We have heard our teachers make impassioned pleas to focus on only our in-person students on their two in-person learning days, as we planned from the beginning. As one veteran and well respected SES teacher said to me,

for the two days that we have students in-person, it is precious little time to focus on our children. Please don’t take that away from me or divide my attention by asking me to teach my remote children at the same time. We are making progress under the hybrid model, our students are doing well and they are not far behind where we would normally be at this time of the year.

We understand that teachers want to be with their students, uninterrupted and face to face when they are in school. However, we also understand the need to increase engagement and contact time with students when they are remote. This is why we are considering other ideas for offering more synchronous learning on remote days. It is our hope to have a plan in place for the beginning of the next semester. Three days per week without direct contact with teachers is not good for kids; we have to do better.

Is the school work on remote days manageable and meaningful? Are we extending the in-person learning or giving what’s perceived as ‘busy work’? I found these results to be encouraging and reflective of the hard work our teachers have done on developing asynchronous lessons. 56.1% of respondents agree that the work is meaningful with just 23.2% disagreeing. Our principals are dropping in on remote lessons, just as they always do in the regular school day to look for areas where they can provide feedback, encouragement and support to our teachers.

Last, to make life a little more exciting (!), I added a question about whether or not our families plan to have their children vaccinated. I can only say that I truly hope the decision about whether or not to mandate the vaccine is NOT left to us in individual school districts. As you can see here, the results are again, as varied as our families.

We will continue to focus on all students and families, doing the best that we can under these unbelievable circumstances. Thank you for all of your support, understanding and love for the Springville-Griffith Institute CSD. Your thoughts matter to us and we love hearing from you!

Tell Me About Your Kid

We’re now almost six weeks into the 2020-21 school year and in our district, 94% of our students are learning in a hybrid model with two days of in-person instruction and three days of remote learning. The other 6% of our students are in a fully remote model.

I’ve been receiving more feedback about learning from our families than ever before in my twenty years as a school administrator. All of that experience prepared me to listen carefully, study the issues, do my research and make solid decisions, that I should then carefully communicate. All of that experience, plus ten solid years as a classroom teacher did nothing to prepare me for one new challenge for public schools.

We now have to figure out how to differentiate learning for our families too.

Great teachers work hard to know their students well. They come to learn their strengths and weaknesses and to design lessons that reach every student where it’s needed. It’s called differentiating and it’s exactly what it sounds like–differing how and what we teach based on the students in front of us.

Based on the parent emails and phone calls I’ve received; I recognize that now our teachers and our plans have to differentiate learning for our families.  I’ve had emails from parents requesting more–more time on direct learning through the computer, more supplemental activities that they can do at home, more time for in-person learning. I’ve also heard from families who want less–longer deadlines, fewer assignments to complete, less work on remote days.

Here’s an example of a family concern that came my way that never would have likely hit my desk before this year. The mother of a first grader noticed that her daughter was doing a tracing paper–trace the letters or numbers. She was frustrated at the lack of rigor in this work. She knows that her daughter can recognize and easily write all of her letters–so why was this assigned?

Differentiation for families? Well, that teacher has other parents in the class who don’t have the time and ability to work with their children. We’ve asked teachers to send/post work that’s manageable, what can a first grader do on her own? And of course, some of our first graders still need that activity. In an in-person class, the teacher would have quickly seen that the tracing activity was far below the abilities of this first grader. The teacher would have differentiated her instruction and moved the child on to more relevant learning. Now, it’s going to take longer for that teacher to identify all of the different strengths and weaknesses of her students and to modify her instruction to meet each child’s needs.

Families can help teachers learn more about our students.  Instead of seeing that tracing paper as a concern about the overall quality of teaching, use it as an opportunity to email the teacher and tell her about your kid. Give her information about what you see when your child is working remotely. And teachers, ask our families for information. Parent/Teacher Conferences need to be a two-way conversation now more than ever before–not just a lecture on all of the things your child needs to do better (they never should have been that conversation).  We’ve got to find additional ways to get to know our students really well, ways that bridge the gap left by only two days of in-person learning. Our teachers have time to talk with you on our fully remote Wednesdays. Ask for a virtual conference or telephone call. Teachers, offer families time to talk.

For our middle and high school students, teacher your children to advocate for themselves at this age. They can also communicate with their teachers, ask for help or tell the teacher what’s not working. This is critical for all children in any year, and especially now. My own mom always pushed me to advocate for myself saying, “I’m not fighting your battles for you, go talk to them!” There’s a parenting lesson that’s served me well my entire life.

Our School Community Responds to Reopening Question

What concerns, questions or ideas should we consider when planning to reopen schools? 

That’s the question I asked of our school community last week. Thank you to the 247 people who took the time to respond, share comments and then rate the thoughts of other members of our community. You can read the full report here. 

Please note the survey questions as well. 58% of our survey participants said that they are extremely or relatively comfortable sending their children back to school if the health orders allow it, while 30% are hesitant and concerned and 8% are extremely uncomfortable or will not send their child to school without a vaccine.

Would our survey participants prefer online distance learning or socially distanced in-person learning? 86% prefer to have our students return to us. And last, I asked how satisfied our community is with our communication and response. 67% are somewhat or very satisfied, 13% are neutral and 20% are somewhat or very unsatisfied.

The top thoughts report is accessible in the link in the report. Please know that we will carefully consider all 258 thoughts that were shared in the exchange. Many of the thoughts expressed are shared by our leadership teams–our school administrators and BOE members.

What are we doing to prepare for the new school year? We’re participating on an Erie 2 regional reopening workgroup that brings together educators from across our WNY school districts. We’re awaiting guidance from NYSED and the Governor. Most important, we’re planning a Springville Reopening Committee to consider the guidance from the Erie 2 workgroup and NYSED. We will develop our own plan for Springville. If you’re a parent or student in our district and you’re interested in participating on our SGI Reopening Committee, please email me at kmoritz@springvillegi.org.

As things have changed rapidly throughout this closure, our team of educators have responded to every new challenge with agility and the needs of our students foremost on our minds. We will continue to do so through the remainder of this trying time. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts with me.

Our Students Need to Return to School in September

Here’s  an email from a mother of four children in our school district. She clearly articulates the struggles of so many families with school age children throughout this closure. The email is reprinted here with her permission.

One SGI mom wrote:

Good afternoon Mrs. Moritz,
I hope all is well with you and your family.
I am trying to review Power School to see where my children stand in terms of grading and it is extremely confusing to me. I have over 200 emails from the school, for the kids google classroom updates, since this pandemic began.
All four of our children have been trying to keep up with schoolwork, as best they can, given the current pandemic.
I am not sure how their Pass/Fail grades will be determined exactly, but I would ask that all of their teachers take the following into consideration:
01) We have one chrome book, which we borrowed mid-way through this pandemic from SGI, for all 4 kids.
02) All four of our children are using this same one chrome book, which I think has to be returned this week as I borrowed it from the high school, and the kids still have past-due work, which I assume needs to be completed, in order to pass given the Pass/Fail grading system?
03) Both my husband and myself have been considered “essential employees” since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
04) Being considered “essential”, both of us have been required to go into our places of employment during normal business hours (roughly 8am until 6pm) since March, when most people were able to at least work from home. Then, we need to work full days still and try to come home and “homeschool” four children, with one laptop and extremely sluggish internet. Hence, some assignments perhaps not uploading correctly and probably some missing.
While I am certainly not trying to make excuses for possible missing assignments, I do believe that most people are under the impression that parents have actually been home during this entire time and that simply is not the case with our family.
I actually do think most families have had at least one parent, if not both parents, at home with their children during this entire time, since March. Unfortunately (or fortunately since we both still have jobs) my husband and myself have been obligated to go into work everyday as usual since March, when the kids were initially released from school.
We are doing our best to ensure our four kids keep up on their school work, to the best of their abilities, and ours, given the tools and resources available.
I would greatly appreciate if the school district and teachers take this into consideration when grading our children in (10th grade), (7th grade), (6th grade) and (3rd grade), at the close of this school year.
Please advise if I need to forward this to any additional personnel at SGI High School, SGI Middle School or Colden Elementary School.
Thank you for your time and please stay safe!

This well spoken SGI mom and I have since connected and I hope she found my words to be reassuring. If our students, particularly at grades K-6, have been connecting with our teachers and attempting to continue their learning, they’ll pass. Much leniency is also in place for our grades 7-12 students while we attempt to keep adolescents moving forward in their learning and achieving course credit. We would have given her four chrome books if we knew she needed them. I cannot imagine the stress she has felt daily as she worried about her children at home, plus school work plus her own work responsibilities.

The current model of remote learning is not the way in which we need to reimagine our schools. Do we need to constantly evolve and rethink the way we do things in our schools? YES! And we need our students to return to us to do so.

Our students left us in mid-March with school being a safe, normal, and nurturing environment where the adults in the buildings care for each of them. If that isn’t a child’s experience because of bullying or a difficult teacher, then that’s a different problem we work on. Our vision at SGI is to be a place where everyone finds value and meaning every day.  Our mission is to be a learning community that cultivates meaningful relationships, commits to continuous growth and improvement, says “YES” to voice, choice and creativity and knows that learning is limitless.

We need our students to return to school in September to live that mission fully.

I know the decision to reopen our schools won’t be up to me–that the state of the Covid-19 crisis prior to September will determine Governor Cuomo’s decision on whether or not we’re reopening schools. We’re knee deep in graduation plans that meet ever evolving guidance and building level planning of some sort of end of the year recognition/connection with our students. We’re nose deep in preparing for reduced state and federal aid revenues–the amount of which is still unknown on this 10th day of June–and considering all of the possible ways to mitigate revenue cuts.

While we’re working on all of the logistics of what re-opening schools MIGHT look like, can we please still have hope for a relatively normal return to school?

Look, I believe that everyone in our organization and every family has done their very best during this time. We’ve all learned how to do things differently. But this has not been the same as having our students with us all day. There has most assuredly been a loss of learning for our students and I worry very much about our neediest children.

We’ll follow all well researched guidance that the CDC/DOH/NYSED give us to keep our students and employees safe.  We need to take smart precautions that keep our students and employees safe while trying to return our students to a school environment that feels safe, nurturing and normal.

 

What’s Gone Well During this School Closure?

We’re knee deep in figuring out the deadlines for school budget votes and Board of Education elections, as impacted by the Governor’s latest Executive Order. Throughout this school closure we’ve had many questions that we needed to answer and decisions to make. I’m not sure I’ve ever found the work of a school superintendent to be more intense or difficult. So in the midst of all of it, I checked in with our school community and asked everyone for the positives—what good may come from this closure?

The results of this latest thought exchange can be found in this summary report. We asked,

What’s gone well for you during the school closure that may be different from the norm or what you’d expect? What are possible changes you want to make when life returns to “normal”?

I found the thoughts shared to be encouraging and reflective of the caring, supportive community that is Springville-Griffith Institute CSD. Please take the time to read the report. I hope you’re as uplifted by the thoughts shared as I am!

We will reflect carefully on the lessons learned about learning and the way we do “school” after this health crisis. If we just return to the way we’ve always done things and a status quo, we’re missing a massive opportunity to improve learning for all kids. Here’s a Buffalo News article by Jay Rey in which I’m quoted as saying,

I actually hope that after all of this is over maybe we can have some lessons that we learned from this time,” Moritz said. “Perhaps some of these things we’ve clung to don’t seem so important anymore and we can focus on how we really define learning.

I hope that people will really think about the equity challenge and finally see how impossible homework completion is for some of our neediest children. I hope that we’ll capitalize on remote learning for our students who are home sick or who otherwise can’t put in the seat time requirements.  We need to think about maintaining the family connections that so many talk about in the ThoughtExchange. I hope we’ll reconsider our thoughts on “proving” learning through arbitrary grading procedures. Most of all, I hope we’ll really analyze and commit to improvements about the actual curriculum content and pedagogy that we employ in every classroom, every day. As teachers were forced to consider “power” standards, the most important learning that’s necessary for each class, did they also recognize that we’re teaching some content that’s irrelevant, unnecessary, and easily found online? If so, then we need to do the hard work of identifying what will be different in our curriculum and instruction that will improve learning for all kids.

Let’s come out of this health crisis better than we entered it.

Springville Generosity

On a daily basis, I’ve been grateful for someone in our organization, their work and dedication. Today I want to thank a group of individuals in our school community who came together to support our essential workers.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart to:

Julie Noeson

Carla Roetzer

Kate Cummings

Marlene Clark 

Valerie Brown

Wendy Cocca 

Sherry Bligh

Lisa Braman

Kara Andrews 

Polly McCauley 

Denise Lawton 

Elizabeth Casey 

John Baronich

Sue Reinhardt

Lilian Quinn 

Cristin Benz and Lily Benz

Jay McCrory 

Alex Simmons and Andrea Simmons

Christine Small 

Stephanie Sullivan 

John Mrozik

James Bialasik

Reed Braman

Frank Noeson

Rebecca Roudebush 

We are here Monday-Thursday, cleaning, preparing and delivering meals, and otherwise keeping the district running. Last week, I gave all of our masks and gloves to the local medical community. Most were dust masks from the shop, some medical masks. Saturday, the guidance changed and everyone is now supposed to wear masks in public–including everyone who’s here working every day. We are social distancing to the extent possible, but our essential employees have been on my list of people I’m worried about. This morning, I was able to give everyone working at SGI a handmade mask. Here’s mine.

Between Saturday morning when I put out the call for help and this morning at 7:30, our school community came together and made 200+ masks for our employees. I am so very grateful to everyone who did this for us. Having worked in Springville these past four plus years, I’m not a bit surprised at the generosity and caring of our community because I’ve been lucky enough to live it, every day.

Coronavirus Preparedness

Dear SGI Families:

On February 12, 2020, I sent a letter home to all of our families regarding the Coronavirus. A template was sent to superintendents from NYSED and NYSDOH. I want to point you back to the letter as it can be found on our District website, in case you’ve misplaced it. Here it is.

I know that many of you have been asking questions. I watched Governor Cuomo’s address on Coronavirus at 9:45 am this morning and was relieved to hear that the two suspected cases in WNY tested negative. I assure you that we will do everything possible to plan how to handle a Coronavirus emergency in our district. At the same time, I’m encouraged when I read the facts and I encourage you to do so too. Here are two good resources for you to consider. NYSDOH guidance and the CDC. I’ve been inundated with emails from various sources but can point you to none more valuable than those two sites.

PLEASE stress the importance of good hand washing to all of our children—demand it of them and of yourself. We are working to print posters on hand-washing for every classroom and restroom now.

Our full Administrative team is meeting this week to discuss and to plan. We will:

  1. Review our cleaning protocols AGAIN. These were reviewed with the flu outbreak we experienced, and the protocols are similar. Facilities Director Dave Seiflein is working with Hillyard to identify any opportunities for improvement, to answer the question of whether our hand sanitizer, that’s alcohol free, is effective enough, and to plan for the training of all cleaning and custodial staff that’s already scheduled for 3/20/2020. Again, good hand-washing with soap and water is a great method. Teach our littlest ones to do so while they’re at home please.
  2. Review our food service practices and protocols.
  3. Review all scheduled domestic and foreign student travel and monitor those planned trips closely.
  4. Planning for the worst—if we have the need to cancel school for an extended period of time, can we provide an education virtually? What would this look like? Are we equipped to do so, as least for our SHS coursework needed for graduation?
  5. Review perfect attendance awards—a main recommendation is to stay home if ill, therefore we will discuss the ways in which we reward good attendance. This is a tough one because we want our students at school but NOT if they’re sick.

If you have thoughts you would like to share that may benefit our SGI approach moving forward, please email me, call (716-592-3230) or talk with any member of our administrative team who can relay those ideas at our Friday morning meeting. We can work together to keep our school family safe.

Thank you.

Kimberly Moritz

How Steep the Cost of Transparency in Leadership?

It’s a pretty quiet day in the office when there’s a snow day. When I started this work over a decade ago, I received a phone call from our local veterinarian, Dr. Inkley, on such a day. My snow day call probably wasn’t 100% necessary–that’s how those calls go sometimes.Weather can be fickle. Dr. Inkley said,

Kim, when you close school and it’s not needed, I lose all of my employees for the day. Most of them are working moms who then have to take the day off to care for their kids. Please keep that in mind when you make the call.

I’ve had John’s words in my mind for every snow day call since. No, I’m certainly not going to have school if we shouldn’t but there isn’t always a clear cut answer. I understand that my decision to cancel school has to be about student safety first and foremost. There are other consequences to the decision. In every district there are children who are safer, warmer, and yes, better fed, at school than at home. Time off from school is a stressful event for those children. Calling a snow day means 4 am calls to the transportation supervisor who’s calling all nine of our highway superintendents to seek their input, studying the weather forecasts and talking to colleagues in other districts. It’s not as simple as it seems.

On Thursday, February 27, 2020, I called a snow day. Then I easily drove to and from the school through one portion of our large 161 square mile district. I was thinking about all of these things and I posted a tweet. Then the internet, and my life, blew up for about 12 hours.

My tweet: “Where, exactly, did this blizzard hit? Because I’m really regretting my decision to close schools. When the NWS and the news talk blizzard and huge snowfall, I can’t ignore that. I’m sorry to every working parent who had to take off a day from work for childcare.”

IF you know me, you know that I often post questions, use ThoughtExchange, and ask our school community for feedback. I genuinely felt regret that my decision, which from my drive through one part of our district seemed unnecessary, may have inconvenienced our families. If, for one moment, readers could read the tweet without whatever attitude they may have inferred on Thursday, they perhaps would just read it as it is. I wanted to know where the snow hit. What I expected from the tweet and what I got were two very different things.

A few students did tell me about the weather at their homes. But what ensued after this tweet was so disproportionate that I’m still astonished by it. Quickly I had a request from the Buffalo News and Channel 2 for an interview which I did via phone. People then started contacting me via direct message on Twitter, which is not something I use regularly, nor do I use Facebook messenger. I’m available and accountable to our district residents and families through email, telephone calls, and in person meetings. I then received a message and took a call from a Channel 7 reporter who told me she was passing me to her colleague. I said, “great, please give her my number.”

I could see my phone blowing up. I was doing something else and could not attend to it.  I briefly changed my Twitter account to private because I was alarmed that my profile and background pictures included my grandson and they were being shared in really negative ways, on the news, and in retweets. I was mortified that his beautiful face was being shared far and wide. Over 100 new people, many without any Twitter profile of substance, started following me. I went into a meeting and was unable to tend to the calls/messages/tweets for two hours.

At some point a reporter at Channel 7, who I’m guessing had a sense of urgency for a story, sent her own tweet,

Interesting. It looks like @kimberlymoritz chose to speak with only certain media outlets today before setting her account to private and ignoring our calls after she said she would do a phone interview with me.

The hatred, judgment and condemnation that were directed at me via tweets, direct messaging, emails and phone calls were unbelievable. People called for my termination. Our BOE president received an email directly calling for that termination. I was called a MORON, an IDIOT, a poor leader, horrible, suggestions of drinking on the job, and asked if I have kids. There were hundreds of comments and retweets. It seemed everyone had something to say.

It was awful. I kept thinking, “all of the work that I’ve done over a 30 year career, the programs I’ve started, the support I’ve given to employees and other leaders, the countless decisions I’ve made on behalf of our students and families, the love that I’ve shown, and my professional reputation is reduced to this?”

Over one tweet? People far and wide decided to extrapolate, infer, imagine or make up all sorts of things about that one tweet. I wrote it so I know what I was thinking and intending.  I was leading as I have for 20 years, from a place of honesty and transparency. I was self reflecting and taking responsibility for what may have been a poor decision on my part.

What did these people, who don’t know me or my work, get out of this? They had to take the time to comment in vicious ways. And this isn’t just me–this is happening to leaders in every aspect of our society and to, really, anyone who puts themselves out there at all. I’m asking what the HATERS (as one student called them) get out of it? And what is our response? Should I have responded to, argued with, or defended myself on every comment? Who has the mental energy or time for that? A few people who do know me entered the fray and quickly became exasperated by it.

No one wants to bring on a media maelstrom. However I’m glad that it happened to me and not to a member of our administrative team. I’m grateful for the countless positive, supportive messages, texts, emails and tweets supporting me.

I would have been really hurt about this earlier in my career where now I just feel concerned about where we are in the world that anyone can use social media to yell horrible things at anyone else. I’m worried about the personal attacks. I’m wondering what happened to appropriate civil discourse.

We had our Erie 2 BOCES school superintendents meeting yesterday. A colleague said the most important thing of this whole event to me:

Imagine what our kids feel like when they’re attacked on social media like this.

I believe in public accountability, especially for public employees. I have a responsibility to our students, families and taxpayers. This public scrutiny and disparagement is something altogether beyond that and it leaves me wondering.

What does this mean for our future? Who among us will want to step up, to take a risk, to be courageous as they face this kind of scrutiny? Who will want to lead? 

Gratitude in the New Year

I’ve been thinking a lot about all that there is to be grateful for in our school district. If we reframe our thinking from “I have to go to school today” to “I get to go to school today”, we can look at all of the great things around us rather than focusing on any negatives. As adults in the system we have a responsibility to approach each day in a positive, optimistic way because our students take their cues from us.

The building principal and teachers set the tone for the whole day–a teacher who sees a grumpy principal in the hallway may wonder, “what did I do to make him mad?” or “I wonder if there’s something bad happening.” The same goes for students who have a teacher who’s off or negative that day. For our students who come to us with a higher level of anxiety already, the attitude of the teacher has a huge impact.

I remember a quote–can’t remember if it’s a movie, cartoon or something else–in which a character says, “I’m fine! I’m not upset or angry!” and the response is “tell your face that.” We do have to be conscious to refresh our physical screen–our faces, attitudes, body language–for each new encounter.

I love the fresh start of the school year and then again, the turn of the calendar to a new year. Here’s my top ten list of those things for which I’m grateful professionally. What’s yours?

  1. The other 312 SGI employees who come here everyday to do their best for our students and families. Whatever our work–driving a bus, cleaning the buildings or fixing the systems that keep us running, clearing the driveways of snow, cooking, clerical, teaching, leading or supporting–we all come here in the service of our 1700 students. Thank you for bringing your best, every single day.
  2. Our Board of Education members, volunteers in the classroom or on a field trip or special day, PTA members. Thank you for your support and for caring about everyone!
  3. Warm buildings, good food, loving hearts.
  4. Families. We have supportive, well-meaning families who support our schools in 1000 different ways.
  5. School Resource Officer Deputy Ricky Lundberg who goes above and beyond every day to help our students and to keep everyone safe.
  6. Our leadership team–the people I most rely on day in and day out. As hard working, smart, caring, dedicated and professional a team as I’ve been a part of anywhere.
  7. My professional network–the colleagues I call with questions, attorneys, construction manager, architects, financial advisors, auditors, NYSCOSS friends, and BOCES employees. I don’t know everything but I sure do know who to call to ask for help. For those who have become my friends over the years, I’m especially grateful for you.
  8. Our local taxpayers for supporting our school budgets and also our students who often ask for fundraising help. Our local businesses are the best!
  9. Our STUDENTS–the reason we exist and an incredibly kind, sharp, open group of young people who give me hope for the future. 
  10. My family, especially my husband Derek, who have supported my work as a school administrator for 20 years. Thank you for always tolerating my schedule, the nights I’m too tired to cook and my very early bedtime.

I plan to hold onto this list in 2020 and to enjoy each and every day at SGI. Best wishes for a happy, healthy new year to our entire school family!

Teaching Swimming in Elementary PE

Before I get to changes at SGI, I’d like to share something personal.

I remember the first time I mastered “floating” in the pool. I was in the 8th grade and my best friend’s sisters took us to the New Kensington public pool. I grew up in a coal mining town outside of Pittsburgh. While our little town was filled with hard working coal miners and their equally hard working wives, we were short on swimming pools. As in, no one had one. I don’t even remember being in a pool prior to that trip to the public pool a couple of towns away. My swimming “lessons” started late in childhood with that trip and were sporadic at best.

Consequently, I’m not a great swimmer. The funny thing about that is that it’s the only exercise I can say that I truly love. About 10-12 years ago, we put in a pool at our home. My husband was adamantly against this, complaining about how much work a pool is, until I explained that I wanted to put in a pool because we could–I’d worked hard to get ahead and I knew we could afford it. It was something beyond anyone’s access when I was growing up and for me it was a symbol of my own achievement. Every day that our Western New York weather affords me, I’m swimming laps in our pool. I’m grateful that my husband listened to me and agreed that it was the very best reason for a pool plus that he puts in the work to take care of it for me.

Here I am more than forty years later as the superintendent of a school district where we have a school pool in the high school and that’s when we teach our students to swim. Do you know we have students who hit that 9th grade year and don’t know how to swim? This is completely illogical to me. That’s not the year when you want to admit to everyone that you don’t know how to swim. It’s irresponsible that we have a resource in our swimming pool and in our excellent PE teachers, and yet we aren’t taking advantage of the opportunity to teach our elementary students to swim.

I know that there are opportunities for children to learn how to swim within our community. I’m grateful that there are so many families who can take advantage of those swimming lessons. However, that doesn’t afford access to every child. The beauty of a public education is that everyone gets access to the same opportunities. I contend that this needs to include swimming lessons in physical education classes for ALL elementary students.

We’re starting with fifth grade this year–that’s the year when it seems least disruptive to our school schedule, according to SES Principal Chris Scarpine. In meeting with our PE teachers on Monday, they confirmed for me that younger would be better and so we’ll work to move this to 3rd and 4th grade next year. Of course we’ll do this the right way, with plenty of certified instructors and life guards. I truly hope that our families and teachers will support this endeavor. Swimming is a life skill that can indeed be a life saving skill and it’s important for all of our students. Very grateful to the administrative and PE teams for working on the logistics to make this happen at Springville-Griffith Institute for CES and SES students this year.