My Name in Lights (Well, Almost)

I’ve been writing here since 2006, largely for our school community and I’ve also contributed occasionally to LeaderTalk, a blog written by educators on the Education Week website. A couple of month ago, Jay Goldman, Editor, The School Administrator, contacted me about writing a guest column for the magazine. The American Association of School Administrators is an international organization for educational leaders.

It was exciting for me to receive an advance copy of the June 2010 issue of the School Administrator which included my guest column. Distribution of the magazine is to roughly 20,000 individuals in school system administration and is also available on the magazine’s website.

I got a kick out of seeing my name and article in print and my mom will be proud of me, which is always a good thing.  So thanks Jay, for asking me to share my thinking. And for those administrators or teachers who are still “thinking” about blogging—there’s no way Jay would have known I existed if I wasn’t out here writing on the blog every month. Blogging truly is a way to get your word out and to collaborate with others. It’s one of the most worthwhile professional practices I’ve encountered which enhances my own learning and helps me to better communicate.

Our Children Graduating

This post is of a more personal nature but I’m thinking a lot lately about graduation. I’m picturing all of the families who come to graduation and celebrate the accomplishment. For years as a senior class advisor and then as a high school principal, I was responsible for commencement. Every time I told the kids, “yes, this is your graduation but we do this the right way for your parents, that’s why you take it seriously.” For us as parents, it’s a rite of passage, a significant symbolic event, an end to childhood. A big change.

Bahamas 2010 039

Our son, Tallon, graduates from high school next month. Our daughter, Bryna, graduated from college in December and is planning a wedding for Spring, 2011. I know I’m always going to be a parent, but parenting changes when they leave for school or the military or workforce and go out on their own.

Now just for the record,  I’m not some psycho helicopter parent by any stretch. We’ve raised our kids to be strong and independent, and I fully support them as they go out to make their own way, in their own way.

But I’ve been a full time working mom for half of my life now and I’m not sure how to adjust my thinking. I feel overwhelmingly sad that this time in our lives is ending at the same time that I’m enjoying the time and attention with my husband. How I’ve always defined myself–working MOM–that’s changing.

I already miss them. And the family of four that we were. We’ll just never be that little team again. We have Cory, Bryna’s fiancé now, and it’s already adjusted our thinking–he’s part of us, I plan for five now, not four. But mostly, I plan for two and when Tallon leaves for St. Bonaventure, that will be even more true.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every part of my life. I loved high school, while others couldn’t wait to get out. I had a blast in college. I thought teaching was going to be my whole life–couldn’t imagine doing anything but teaching at Pine Valley forever. And now at Randolph, I feel like the RCS superintendent of schools is what I’m meant to do. We have wonderful friends who I adore and I still love my husband after 23+ years, what more could I ask for?

To do it all over again. With bells on. For every parent who cries at graduation, for every mom who starts to enjoy doing the kid’s laundry more than you complain about it, for every dad who gets home from work a little earlier because you know your teenager is going to be home that evening–I get you. We’ve got precious little time left in this stage, before they walk the stage–I’m going to savor it and pay attention to it and enjoy.

And I bet the next part’s going to be pretty darned good too.

Closing Facebook?

Thank you to everyone who either commented, emailed or stopped by to weigh in on the topic of Facebook. Are we closing it? Yes and no.

We’ve decided to leave Facebook open for those students who are “taking care of business” at school. What does that mean? For those kids who understand the balance of getting work done and doing it well, who take care of their academics first, who have shown that they are responsible enough to manage everything–Facebook will remain open for those students in Grades 9-12.

However, for our kids in Grades 9-12 who aren’t taking care of business–those students who aren’t completing homework and classwork–those on Phase 1 or 2 for failing two or more subjects because they didn’t get their grades up when given the opportunity, Facebook will be blocked. It will also be blocked for those students who abuse the privilege by repeatedly accessing Facebook during class time or for any harassment/bullying that occurs on Facebook during school.

And why not grades 7-8? Developmentally, these are our students who struggle the most with time management and prioritizing. They also have been involved in the most “drama” since we opened Facebook. Frankly, every school minute lost because five girls are ticked off and carrying on in the guidance office or principal’s office because of something someone posted on FB is wasting precious instructional time. There are enough distractions at grades 7 and 8 without Facebook exacerbating it.

We are developing a Digital Citizenship course in the future that helps our students learn more about how to manage everything they can access on line and more. We have some neighbors who have had great success in this area and we’re hoping to talk with them during the development.

Opposing Viewpoints

If you missed the discussion that took place in the comments section of my blog post Resistance to Change, then you missed a good discussion.

A couple of people have stopped me  since that “blog” discussion happened to say things like, “SEE! That’s why I’d never write a blog, you’re too exposed.” or “Are you okay?” and there was a general reaction of some that it was almost scandalous that anyone posted opposing thoughts here.

That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen on the blog. If I only wanted the conversation to go one way, I wouldn’t allow any comments. I’d just keep putting my word out without listening. But here’s the problem with that idea, I’m not always right. None of us is.

I realize I’m very comfortable with debate, argument, discussion, and conflict from studying the learning styles as advanced through Thoughtful Classroom, the work by Richard Strong and Harvey Silver. I’m an “understanding” learner and so one of the ways that I learn and improve my thinking is through analysis and discussion. Just because you disagree with me doesn’t make one of us right and one of us wrong.

It’s through discussion that we can come to better conclusions together. Knowing that I had a teacher who got a very different message than what I intended worried me. I called several people who I know read the blog regularly and were also in attendance at Thursday’s roll out of the Professional Learning Networks. I needed to know if others got the same message he did, “had I totally screwed up? Is that what my message was?” See, I learned that at least one person walked away with something other than my purpose–that’s important to me. And worse, if others read the blog and that comment and thought, “well, that wasn’t what I thought she was saying, but geez, is that what happened?” then I’ve got a bigger problem.

Here’s the thing, those conversations have always taken place in hallways, parking lots and faculty rooms—-but SELDOM with the administration. With the blog, I get to add my voice to the conversation and I also get to hear what some others are thinking. Best case scenario in the conversation on that post? I get to clarify some thinking and I get to learn from the readers who comment. Thank you to Teacher, Matthew K. Tabor, Cody Heaps and Dan Scapelitte for commenting.

I keep saying that we’re better collectively than we are apart–this is another example of that same thing–it applies to me too. I’m better if I know what everyone is thinking. I might not always agree and sometimes I have to take a stand that some won’t like, but we’re all better if it’s done openly and honestly, F2F or on the blog or in an email or whatever—collaborating and communicating strengthens all of us. Everyone doesn’t always get her way but together we make better decisions, especially if we can acknowledge that there’s more than just our individual point of view to consider.

Through our diversity we can come to better learning with passion, innovation and leadership—open minded and kicking the heck out of that status quo. Looking forward to hearing more from you!

Commuting to Randolph

This is a true story. I couldn’t make this up. Here’s the voice mail message I had to leave for my business official this morning:

David, I’m going to be late for work. You have to take the conference call at 7:30 with the attorney and tell him we’ll call him when I get there. I have an Amish guy in the car with me and we’re looking for his horse.

My commute from home to school is 22 miles of  beautiful country roads. No traffic jams, no toll booth, no guy next to me with road rage.

This morning, like every morning, it was dark out and I was humming along as usual.  As I rounded the corner by Everett Mosher’s old farm, I saw a horse racing toward me down the side of the road. Before I could think through what the heck I should do about it, I came upon an Amish man standing in the road, waving his tiny flashlight wildly.  Not being the dumbest person on the planet, it didn’t take much to realize, “here is the owner of the rogue horse”.

I don’t know what you would do, but I stopped. I was worried someone would hit that horse or this Amish guy! As you would expect, he wondered if I’d seen his horse. I naturally exclaimed, “Yes, I just saw him racing down the side of the road, get in and we’ll go get him!”

It wasn’t until we were headed down our third back road when I thought, “how am I going to get out of here? I’ve got a lot of work to do today.  I can’t be chasing down run-away horses with some Amish guy!” But what could I do? I made every turn he asked me to, looked for tracks in the snow on the side of the road, and peered into every field. When we stopped at every other barn and I waited as he ran around it looking for his horse, I couldn’t help but think, “now here’s something that doesn’t happen when you’re the superintendent of Williamsville or Clarence or Orchard Park.”

His frequent expletives of “doggonit” and “that fricken horse!” were hysterical but I didn’t dare laugh because the guy was ticked. Here was my glimpse into another culture, right here next to me in my car. When he saw his horse in a pasture on some godforsaken back road, I felt immense relief. As he jumped from the car and said, “I hope I can catch him”, I did what any working woman would do. I hightailed it out of there before the horse took off and I was back on the hunt again!

Only a small school rural superintendent gets adventures like this one–gotta love it. 😉

Why No Blog Posts?

So I’ve been busy, okay? I know, I know. It’s always busy and I’ve been remiss in posting to the blog. This is an important communication tool about what’s happening here at RCS–and if you’re reading then you must be interested. I know very well that we can say something 10 times in 5 different ways and there will still be people who say, “what?! I didn’t know that–you didn’t tell us!”

Also,  communicating openly and honestly is a personal and professional part of who I work hard to be,  so let’s get back to it—I’ll be posting on a number of topics over the next week. If you have any questions or comments, as always—I‘d love to hear them.

Snow Days and Bus Drivers

Making the call to close school or keep it open isn’t easy. When I watch the weather reports on the local news, I remember that Buffalo doesn’t have much to report because they make every storm sound like the end of the world as we know it. Then I’m up by 4:30 or 5:00 talking to other superintendents and our transportation guys to figure out what it looks like in Randolph. When our neighbors cancel, I pay attention.

This morning my friend and colleague, Jon Peterson, called at 5:00 am to tell me he was cancelling at Cattaraugus-Little Valley. Where was the snow? The northern part of his district. We’re at the southern end. So I went with my guys on the ground here in Randolph and stayed open.

My commute is from Gowanda through the Pine Valley district and into Randolph. I live only 22 miles from the school and most days the drive is a breeze. This morning was a little rougher and I’m pretty sure it’s because the Conewango plow crews (who keep roads in Randolph and Pine Valley districts clear) concentrated their efforts on Randolph who was open. Driving through South Dayton and Leon in the Pine Valley district was interesting, but I’m glad they focused on clearing the roads for our Randolph buses. The entire drive in I thought I’d made a mistake to stay open and found myself praying that everyone would arrive safely.

Which brings me (finally!) to the point of this post. Our bus drivers were on their runs, without complaint, doing the job with the same dedication and excellence as every other day. When I came up behind one of our drivers this morning, I thought “Look at that bus just humming along getting all of our kids to school safely.” And as I saw the parents waiting in their cars to put their kids on the bus so they could head off to work, I figured it wasn’t such a bad decision to stay open after all.

Thank you to every school bus driver charged with the crucial task of transporting our most precious cargo, our children, every day. You are an important part of our school family and I was reminded of that again today.

Empowering Teachers and Students

I’m attending the NYSCATE conference in Rochester, arrived yesterday morning and leaving tomorrow afternoon. I’ve been coming to this conference about technology in education off and on for many years, the first of which was as a teacher for Pine Valley. Why do I come? To stretch my thinking, learn something new, talk with others who have similar interests. What am I leaving with? A renewed sense of commitment that we can do more and we can do it better.

I started yesterday as I expected, attending sessions that left me with notes like, “consider Fablevision’s Animation-ish for Mrs. Griffith, it looks better than the software she’s got; Starboard vs. Smartboard–what’s the cost? Any promos on quantity purchase?; check out more about Qwizdom as a flexible student response system; look at the Lumens document cameras, with a 5 yr. warranty, for Science teachers; ask if anyone is using Brainpop’s digital citizenship piece.”

That’s what I signed up for–ideas about smart technology. What I got next ramped this conference up considerably for me. Chris Lehmann. I’ve been reading Chris for at least three years, he’s the principal of Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, a magnet school. When I started blogging in 2006, Chris was also out there writing and along with Christian Long we had some of the best conversations of my early blog learning. To finally meet Chris face to face reminded me why those conversations were so helpful to me.

I want to leave education when my time is done having done something important and meaningful that benefits our kids, our teachers and our community. I don’t think it’s my job to keep everything just as it’s always been–that’s how we will eventually become obsolete and I’m not game for sailing into retirement knowing I did nothing to change, that I didn’t lead our organization. We can do this better. Not that we aren’t doing it well, just that we can do it better. School can have more meaning and purpose for our students than it does now. And here’s why attending Chris Lehmann’s afternoon session and key note last night left my brain spinning early this morning. Chris talked about how they have made the entire learning experience different at Science Leadership Academy and on every point I thought, “why can’t we do that?” It wasn’t that he’s a magnet school and we’re not. It’s that they have a vision and goals and a plan–a system of student learning to which  every member of the organization is committed, focused on, and working.

Too many people in our educational system are comfortable and happy with the way things are to the point that they don’t make anything better happen. As Chris said last night, then it’s all about them not the kids. And what did Chris say that I’m most considering? “It’s not about engagement. A TV show can be engaging. It’s about empowerment and meaningful work.”

From Wikipedia we can learn what the Science Leadership Academy is about and what they are committed to,

The Science Leadership Academy, or SLA, is a magnet high school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that opened in September 2006. The school is a partnership between The Franklin Institute and the School District of Philadelphia. SLA is a 1:1 laptop school where all students and teachers use Macintosh laptops as their primary learning tool. This is the first year with a full house of students, grades 9-12, with approximately 500 students in the school. The first class of seniors will graduate from the Science Leadership Academy in June 2010.

The Science Leadership Academy is an understanding-driven, project-based school where the learning is centered around the five core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection. Students do benchmark projects every quarter to demonstrate the application of their learning.

In Spring 2009, SLA was named an Apple Distinguished School, one of only 33 schools in the nation with that distinction[1]. In addition, SLA was featured in the April 2007 Edutopia Magazine article, “My School, Meet MySpace” where the school is called “… [John] Dewey for the digital age, old-fashioned progressive education with a technological twist.”[2]

Inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection. Exactly what I hope my own kids will  do well as adults. Empower my kid and give him meaningful work. He isn’t going to get anywhere in life by being a good test taker. Better yet, empower our kindergarten students and first graders and let’s give them those experiences all the way through–let’s make their education relevant and a part of their lives that they can’t wait to get to each day. I’m not saying we have to be SLA, but why can’t we be RCS, just better? Why can’t we give our kids meaningful work in our classrooms and empower them? Lots of our teachers are already doing that, from Kindergarten through the Senior year. We need more work as a system to make it happen consistently and with planning and for every child in every classroom. And that’s the same thing just about every other public school needs too. Let’s not wait for them. Let’s make it happen in Randolph.

And why is Randolph any different, why can we make it happen? Because we already do this better than any other public school district I’ve been in–our kids are learning in meaningful ways in classrooms throughout this district every day. Let’s plan for it to happen as a system.

Learning with Passion, Innovation and Leadership.

When is Life Fair?

Unless you’re brand new to this blog, you know by now that our football team is headed for Rochester Friday, for the last game before STATES on November 28, 2009. It’s something to celebrate, a huge student success and it’s a part of our program. Not a more important part than any other but it is a part of us. We applaud the 110% efforts of our players and coaches and I personally can’t wait to get there on Friday!

Sometimes the smallest things just become ENORMOUS for people. You’ve probably read here how we handled the dismissals, first at 1:00 last week with everyone permitted to leave and then at 11:30 this week with employees allowed to leave to go to the game or work in their rooms if not.

Amazing as it may seem, a lot of conversation and planning goes into something like this. I walked in the door on Monday thinking, “we need to just have school all day on Friday. We can’t give up that instructional time and for many families RCS football doesn’t mean a lot. I worried about child care issues for working parents and as one parent said to me, ‘what message does that send to our kids if we say it’s okay to miss school for a football game’.” All of that was on my mind as I met with our admin team, our AD, and others. I knew from the week before that I had the BOE’s support either way, but that generally most of them said, “This is a big opportunity for our kids and our school, a success to celebrate.”

I do support our kids in every success that they have, on the athletic fields and off. Randolph has much more experience with state championships than I do and part of my job is to understand the community I serve. This is a town that supports its athletes and I’m a part of that as the school superintendent. Together we made the decision to dismiss at 11:30. Why 11:30 and not 1:00? Because last week’s 1:00 departure time left us with 27% of our kids, in addition to the athletes involved, leaving at 11:30 anyway. And can we please remember it’s not like anyone thought “woo hoo! Football game, a chance to dismiss school!” It’s because the game starts at 5:00 on Friday in Rochester–if it started at 7:00 or was on Saturday, we’d have a big send-off here at school at the end of our regular day and otherwise it’d be business as usual.

The final decision (after MUCH discussion) just seemed logical. We’re dismissing early for a semi-final state athletic event. If a teacher or staff member is going to the event, paying his or her own gas and ticket in the door for RCS, then okay—he or she doesn’t have to take personal time. If they’re not going to the game for which we’re dismissing, then they can enjoy having time to work alone in the classroom catching up on something, planning, working on the website, communicating with parents. Or if someone wants to leave for a doctor or personal reason, he or she can use personal or sick time given. Seems simple enough to me, but I’m learning that no matter what, every-one’s got an opinion and I’m not even going to try to make everyone happy.

There’s a bit of an uproar about “fair” and a sense of entitlement that employees should all just have the afternoon off or that everyone should have to use their own time, going to the game or not. Don’t get me wrong, there are LOTS of employees who quietly said, “Cool. Time to work in my room? I’ll take it.” or who can’t wait to get to the game. Others aren’t interested in going or have other commitments that evening, and that’s okay too.

But how about “fair” for the taxpayers who expect us to work for the wage we’re given? How about “fair” for all of the parents and community members who want to go but work at jobs where they can’t get out early or who can’t afford to drive to Rochester? This issue of fair is a bit ridiculous and when is anything completely “fair” to every possible party? My mom would say, “Life’s not fair, get used to it.”

It’s a football game. Not a huge life or death injustice that’s been dealt to anyone. It’s a positive event, something to celebrate. We will work hard to make sure we honor all of our student successes. This is one of them.