First Days

Is there any day better than the first day of school? I LOVE this day. Not only is it a long arduous summer working here with just our Admin team and custodial/clerical staffs,  but this summer was particularly difficult with all of the changes we were studying from the New York State Education Department. So on this day, I am the happiest educator anywhere—delighted to remember why we’re here as I see our students laughing and walking through the hallways.

Our students return happy and excited and wearing their new school clothes—looking their very best. They haven’t had any bad days yet, no failures, no peer problems. Just refreshed and ready to go. Our teachers return happy and excited too, wearing clothes they haven’t probably looked at in two months. They haven’t had any bad days yet either and they return with renewed energy, plans about their curriculum and hope that they’ll have students they can love as much as those they said goodbye to in June.

I especially love the elementary building on the first day of school. The Pre-K and Kindergarten students who enter so timidly, ready for this new experience, are probably my favorite. More than one or two moms leave a bit teary eyed and at least one Pre-K student let her feelings be known at a volume hard to believe from a tiny little four year old. The most tender part of the day is watching all of the older siblings walking their younger brothers and sisters to their classrooms—many who aren’t “too cool” and kiss and hug them goodbye. What a wonderful way to be introduced to this new world of school!

Rest assured parents: we love them, we’re delighted to see your children return and we will do our very best to care for each child and to teach all of them to love learning. Welcome Back RCS!

As Our Professional Learning Communities Evolve. . .

With everything that’s headed our way with the changes to the APPR and teacher accountability, we need our teachers to start thinking about the future of our PLCs with us.  If you read the work on PLCs that has been written by Rick and Becky DuFour, you’ll learn that PLC teams are involved in collective inquiry, action research, improving achievement for students, results oriented learning. They say,

“We have a model in schools that was never designed for all kids to learn. No one teacher can possibly serve the needs of all kids in his or her class but WE can serve the needs of all of our kids together. What you do in your PLC should be supporting what you already have to do in your daily job, working together to make sure every kid succeeds.”

I’ve known since our original planning for PLCs that we need the work done during that time to focus on critical questions with student outcomes. With the increased teacher accountability through the APPR Process (20% State Assessments, 20% Locally Selected Assessments, 60% Multiple Evaluations), I’m so excited to see our teachers making significant shifts in their  PLCs. My original plan was to take 3 years to better understand the process before delving deep into the critical questions. All we hoped for in the first year was to change professional development for teachers, give you the opportunity to work together and decide your own learning goals instead of on size fits all, “sitting and getting” conferences. And you did a wonderful job of collaborating and sharing!

I know from one on one conversations that some of you have had with me that many of you are ready to shift your PLCs to these critical questions with student outcomes–tied to the Common Core and assessments.  I’m excited as I review many of the PLC Planning sheets, the areas of study are more directly related to student outcomes..

Specifically, what do I mean by that?    A team of fourth grade teachers or a team of ELA teachers  work together to take the common core curriculum, design and deliver parallel tasks, with formative assessments. The PLC time is used to do all of that and to take a hard look at the data— how ALL of the 4th grade students do BEFORE the state assessment. Why?So that teachers can say to one another, “my kids bombed this content or skill and yours did well–what did you do so that I can do it too?” That’s why the first year was critical in learning this type of professional development. We first had to learn how to build trust and listen to each other. PLCs should be looking at data, our own results, to learn together about what we can do better.

With everything coming at us from SED, you’re missing a huge opportunity if your PLC is about the latest tech tool or gadget. YES, it’s important to continue to work on learning with passion, innovation and leadership BUT it’s on top of our solid foundation of SED Common Core curriculum and student achievement goals. There are ample opportunities at Randolph Central where we offer Technology training one day per week all summer, employ Tiffany Giannicchi three days per week to support you, and Mark Carls two days per week to help you with your technology learning goals. You need only schedule them to come to work with you. These are all resources that have vanished from many other districts.

If anyone can do all of this work well, fully implementing the Common Core, better preparing students for the new assessments, working together to make sure all of our teachers and principals thrive in the new evaluation system which includes 40% objective measures—it’s all of us at RCS, together, here and now.


Best of the Web and Sports Programs

This is the week when we receive the Business First Rankings. In addition to being compared to the other 95 school districts in Western New York for everything to do with our academic results, Business First looks at several specialized rankings too. The academic rankings are announced in groups, one per day, and I will post more about our achievements as compared to previous years later this week.

I am pleased to announce two special distinctions that Randolph Central has achieved this year.

Congratulations to EVERYONE involved in our athletic programs, as we are ranked #11 (out of 96) for our Sports Programs—-WOOT! This is a distinction we’ve received previously and a HUGE accomplishment to be in the Top 15 for another year. Thank you for all of the hard work here.

A new accomplishment is to be ranked in the Top #12 for Best of the Web. Actually, it’s the Top #6, with Randolph Central ranked #1 for Schools of our size. Great job by everyone who contributes content on our website but particular congratulations to WEBMASTER Michael Frame for his work on making ours the Best in Category this year! Thank you!!

RCS Budget Passes

Our 2011-12 budget passed voter approval yesterday 153-19. Thank you to everyone in the community who came out to vote. I also want to thank our business official, Dave Chambers, our School BOE members and our Admin Team for the budget development work that preceded the final budget as presented to the public. I would guess that our exceptionally low voter turnout is indicative of community satisfaction with the reductions to the budget and to the tax levy. Randolph is about the best place to be that I can think of, especially at this time in New York State.

After last year with eleven candidates running for the BOE, this year brought only our two incumbents to the race. Who can figure what makes the difference from one year to the next? We congratulate Louise Boutwell and Tonia McAllister and thank them for their continued service to the district and to the community. We have a solid team of BOE members with varying perspectives who work hard to help lead the district. They challenge my thinking, push for excellence and question our policies and decisions appropriately. I’m looking forward to another productive year with our BOE Team and our entire school community!

1:1 Laptop Research and Analysis

We’re thinking a lot about a 1:1 student laptop initiative for our district. In the research and analysis part of a major implementation like this one, we’re looking at every possible angle BEFORE we even think about actually moving forward.  We’re already past the “WHY?” and “IS IT WORTH IT?” parts of the analysis. I know first hand what’s happening with technology, our instructional methods and learning at RCS and we have definite pockets that are ready for it, while many of our other classrooms are right on the cusp. As we push forward, we know that putting the technology into the hands of our students on a 24/7 basis is necessary. The costs are  relatively low, with a device available at $99—(that’s the cost of one textbook), so it’s not hard to imagine how we’ll cover the costs.  Making this happen without impacting our community taxpayer will obviously be a must in this economic climate.

We’re looking at various options and considering the most cost effective and useful devices and options, including purchases through BOCES and eRate, of course. After researching it, we will put the information into the hands of our Tech Committee, which includes parent and student input.

We’re considering some questions now that I’m thinking may or may not be significant hurdles to a possible implementation.  I’m sure others of you have already been there.  The purpose of this post is to see what solutions may be out there to a couple of problems. Here’s what I’m wondering about:

1. What’s the most cost effective way to get kids in our rural community connected? Not every home has Internet access. Are we close enough with pilot projects to imagine the school becoming the Internet provider for every household that contains a student? Or do we look at an option like Verizon and the same kind of connection I use now at my own home (where we don’t even have cable available to us)?

2. How do we handle the inequity? Some of our kids already have what they need at home. In fact, they have better devices and access than we’ll put into the hands of our students. How do we say to one student, “here’s a device and an Internet connection because we know you don’t have it at home.” and to another student, “you’ve already got what you need, right?” That sounds reasonable but will we have families who say, “why does she get that when we don’t?” Yet it seems ridiculous to give every child a device and a connection just to be “fair” when we know many are already set. Or is that what we need to do?

3. What happens when a student damages or loses his device? What do we do if a family refuses to accept the responsibility of their child receiving a device?

We are in the very beginning planning stages, all advice is welcome!

Geraldine Ferraro

When I was at Gannon University in the early eighties, our country had it’s first female vice-presidential candidate running, Geraldine Ferraro. For reasons I can’t imagine or remember, Ms. Ferraro came to Erie, Pennsylvania to speak during the campaign. I was a Junior at Gannon and I remember walking to Perry Square to give a listen.

She was running mate to Walter Mondale, I was twenty years old, a Republican and naive to just about everything that was politics. My only concerns at that point in my life were my boyfriend and circle of friends, my job and my college classes–probably in that order. But I was also a young woman, learning how to think about the world, independent and strong minded. Geraldine Ferraro was intriguing to me and as the first female candidate running at this level, I wanted to hear what she had to say.

There was  a small group of young men who were chanting and carrying signs, young Republicans who were opposed to something. Ferraro as candidate? Anything from the Democrats? Mondale/Ferraro politics? I can’t remember the detail but I do remember looking at them and then looking at Ferraro and thinking, “those young men are all anyone leading this country has ever looked like and here stands before me someone like me.” She was the strongest representation of POSSIBILITY I’d ever seen.

She was more than the first female vice-presidential candidate, for me she represented something much more personal. She was the opening up of the future for me and women like me, she was a mirror and a passport and a possibility. Seeing her gave me concrete proof that  I could achieve and be all that I wanted to be. For a young woman with ambition and hope and strength, it was all I needed to make me believe that anything was possible in my own life. I’m sorry to hear of her passing and grateful for what she did while she was here.

“It’s a beautiful thing, the tree. . .”

I have two projects from Elementary School that I most remember. The first was a poem entitled, “The Tree”. I remember it because I received some positive accolade or other from the teacher and then it was mounted and displayed publicly at some event. The second was a speech I was chosen to give, along with three other students, to the parents at 6th grade graduation. We stood on the playground in front of the rows of chairs and I gave a speech in which I took the position to defend euthanasia. I was ten years old and I remember it to this day. Most likely because I thought, “huh, maybe this is one thing I can be good at“. You know what? Today I’m as comfortable speaking to a large group of people as I am talking at the dinner table.

What’s significant about remembering those two things  is that it demonstrates what matters to our kids. When they get to create and produce something of their own that then receives some public recognition, it has more meaning for them. It’s why social media and sites that allow our kids to create and post publicly are so wildly popular. The student thinks, “The class we’re skyping with is going to see this, or all of the people who come to the Academic Fair will, or anyone who reads our class website/blog/wiki/glogster page/google doc.” That has more value for most kids than when only the teacher sees the project and gives feedback.

The second memory, about the 6th grade speech, is significant because it taught me something about myself.  Helping our kids figure out what they’re good at and encouraging them is one of the most valuable life lessons our school can support. Especially if we can teach our children that not everyone has to be an athlete or a dancer to be successful and valuable.  Even as young as ten, I knew I wasn’t the smartest kid in the class or the prettiest or skinniest or the most athletic or _____________ (whatever, fill in the blank). Here was something the teacher thought I could do well, better than all but three other students in the sixth grade! It always came as a bit of surprise to me when I made it for something or came out on top—AND those are the moments when I began to figure out who I was, at what I could excel, and most important, who I could be in my future. That’s what mattered most from my Grades 1-12 experience, not that I knew I wanted to be a teacher (I didn’t) but that I had a strong sense of who I was, what I did well and what was best left to those who did it better.

Anti-Teacher/Administrator Sentiment

Here are some of the headlines in my Google Reader this morning.

From CNN:

  • Shots, clashes reported in Cairo
  • Pirates target the Maersk Alabama again
  • 7.2 earthquake hits off coast of Japan
  • Seven kids die in farmhouse fire
  • Outgunned rebels stand up to Gadhafi forces

And from the Buffalo News:

  • National Guard Unit leaving this morning for Iraq
  • Full courtroom for Hassan sentencing
  • How well did your school do in social studies?

Some of our politicians and the media have elevated education to the level of concern that we normally find in only the significant, tragic events in the headlines above. I can assure you that every single day at Randolph Central School, 1000+ students are learning and 200 adults are working within the system to transport, feed, and educate those 1000+ students safely. At the same time, we have significant oversight with four different auditing requirements and an involved Board of Education, a leadership team that takes accountability and excellence seriously and an entire institution dedicated to improving learning in every way possible.

We are accountable to our employees, our students, our parents, our BOE members and our taxpayers on a daily basis. We respond to every member of our school community in a timely and responsible manner. We have kept taxes at bay for three years in a row, with the fourth budget at a 0% increase to our taxpayers on deck.

We are not the enemy. We are dedicated to our children and our taxpayers. We are earning our wages. We are cognizant of the hardships of our community and also of the rich support and collaboration we enjoy from those who live here. We treasure that relationship and will do everything we can to honor it. We are not the enemy.

Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Come see for yourself.

The Governor’s Proposed NYS Budget

By now you probably know about our governor’s proposed budget. As a resident of NYS and taxpayer, I’m glad we have a governor who is attacking the State deficits head on. I understand how difficult it has to be to get this huge machine of NYS under control with regard to spending and special interest groups.

As a school superintendent, I also understand it. The taxpayers of the district are never far from my mind. The school aid cut for RCS is larger than we expected at 5.98% ($596,209)  but smaller than that of many of our neighboring districts.

Thanks to the planning of our fiscally conservative administration and BOE, we have a fund balance that will help us through this year. We also offered the retirement incentive last year of which 12.5% of our teachers took advantage, bringing payroll savings to the district. Those savings coupled with the savings from the elimination of a more expensive health insurance plan (PPO) for our Administrative, Teaching and Support Staff groups puts us in good stead for the 2011-12 budget year. For now.

No small, rural district such as ours can sustain programs for kids with cuts like this from state aid over more than a few years. We don’t have “extras” to cut like larger, wealthier districts have–we don’t have a violin teacher or an equestrian program or elective teachers. We have a solid basic program with Art and Music, Technology and Athletics and we need to sustain those opportunities for our students.

The governor must include proposals that offer significant cost reductions for school districts: capping the amount districts must spend on health insurance, adding a less costly pension tier or requiring pension contributions from all of us, reductions in the cost of health insurance and relief from Triborough, the state’s law which severely limits a school district’s ability to achieve concessions in contract negotiations. Districts and organizations from across the State who represent us have been lobbying for this kind of relief.  All of which were noticeably absent from the Governor’s budget. Hand in hand with the state aid cuts, they would have been much easier to manage.

Are We More Alike than We Are Different?

Saturday night at our house will hopefully bring our college boy home with his friends. Belfort faces Silva in the UFC. With our clan, that’s a big draw. Our daughter and her fiancé will be home, my in-laws will be up.

Here’s the thing about watching the fight at our house. There’s no talking allowed during the bouts. This is serious business. With a husband who’s taught karate for 30+ years and two kids who rank among his fewer than 25 blackbelts over that many years–we’re talking serious as a heart attack furor over the UFC. When Tallon was little, we played 20 questions with “I’m thinking of a boxer. . . ”

So here’s where it gets interesting. My “girls” asked to come over that night too. I have an incredible group of girlfriends and we love to laugh, share a glass of wine- – -yeah, it gets LOUD. My husband’s definitive answer to this request from them was “HA!HA! No way!” We are compromising with my promise that we’ll stay in the dining room, the exact opposite end of the house. Husbands in the living room with the fight, happy as clams. Wives in the dining room with good conversation, ditto on the happy part.

This all makes me reflect on conversations at Educon, led by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, exploring the lack of gender diversity in the edtech thought leader space. Actually, I’ve been reflecting on that session since I left it on Saturday. I’m thinking a lot about those differences in the genders and what each of us brings to the workplace based on our gender.

I’m wondering about our gender differences and while I realize generalizations are typically unfair no matter what they are. . . I’m going to be paying attention to this issue as I watch people interacting. Yep, going to be analyzing my friends and the people with whom I work.

I’m wondering if there are gender traits that I bring to personal relationships that I leave at the school house door in my role as a superintendent?  Is that good or bad? Does it contribute to my leadership or take away from it?