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!

Finding Time for Everything

There have been many times in my life when I’ve answered an enthusiastic “YES!” when asked to do something that later proved challenging to manage. Perhaps none of those have been as challenging as finding the time in my schedule, weekly, to get to SES for Band and clarinet lessons. When I committed, I must admit that I thought, “it’s one half hour per week, I can do it!” without thinking of the time needed for lessons and practice.

In case you missed my original post on this topic, on the first day of school, I challenged our school community to become more of a learning community. In response, our SES Instrumental music teacher asked me to learn a musical instrument, something I’ve never done. I thought, “Yes! This will give me a chance to model that we can all push ourselves to learn something that’s otherwise hard for us. And I’m over fifty, so it should be good for my brain.”

While I have enjoyed learning the clarinet, I’ve struggled to keep my schedule open twice per week for this learning. And to be completely honest, I’ve wondered every time I’ve made it to the lesson if it’s the right use of my very limited time. Could I be using the time to meet with groups of students or to visit teachers’ classrooms? I’m coming up on my two year anniversary in March, 2018 and while I’ve gotten to know many of our teachers, there are still many who I’m very conscious of not yet knowing.

Plus there’s the not so tiny issue of this job I’m paid to do every day.  My time is spent on reports and capital project planning; on conversations with the members of our leadership team both individually and on team; on talking with anyone who wants to meet with me or who calls with a problem; on managing personnel issues (320 employees and our school district doesn’t have an HR dept., that’s two amazing secretaries, me and our business administrator); professional learning on Twitter, in ed journals/books, and in; on analyzing every aspect of our organization and every budget line to look for areas in need of improvement. Budget season is right around the corner and evaluations and well, you get the picture.

If I have the time to join the fourth grade Band to learn to play the clarinet with them so that I can better understand our music programs, perhaps I should be spreading that time out across the rest of our programs and operations? 

If you struggle to find the time to fit everything in, I understand. 

I’m not a quitter. I’ve no idea how to explain to the fourth graders that I just don’t have the time to be there twice per week when I know their parents likely teach them, as we did our own kids, “once you start something, you finish it”. I’ll hang in there until December’s concert as I said I would do from the beginning.  But good gracious, I hope those kids on the clarinet are practicing because they will definitely need to drown out my less than stellar performance. 

Empowering Our Children

Here’s my two cents as a parent. I recognize that every family  has their own values; following is what worked for us.

When I was in grade school, I remember asking my mum to come to school for some reason–some slight that I felt or problem that I had. My mother’s response was, “I’m not fighting your battles for you. Go figure it out.” 

I’ve been doing just that my entire life. She empowered me. In her message she was also saying, “you can do this. I trust you to do this.” She wasn’t oblivious, the poor woman listened to me talk endlessly about every aspect of my day BUT she expected me to handle my own stuff. I believe I’m a strong, courageous, independent thinker because of her. 

We therefore raised our two children in precisely the same way and they too are strong, courageous, independent thinkers.

Yes, there are times when parents need to get involved and ask questions, particularly if it’s a situation where the problem is with one of the adults in the system. And if a child truly doesn’t have the resources to handle a problem on his or her own, we need to work together to support and strengthen that child’s strategies. As a school district we also work hard to monitor behavior and correct when necessary, with a litany of progressive discipline as needed. We listen to both sides. We ignore nothing. 

Sometimes parents show their children love by saying, “I’ve got this! I will fight for you! No one is going to talk/do this to you!” I’m suggesting that we strengthen our kids by talking problems through with them, offering suggestions and empowering them to handle the problems themselves.

I wonder if I had fought every battle for our two kids, would they be the independent, capable adults who they are today? Believing in their ability to problem solve worked. I’m still listening to them and offering suggestions, then knowing they’ll do the right things and make good decisions.  The greatest accomplishment of my life is right there, in those two strong, courageous adults.


A Teacher’s Heart

Knowing and loving our young people, either my students in the classroom or a troubled kid when I was a principal or a group of students as a superintendent is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. What could possibly have more meaning than working with our students, showing them that we love and care about them, expect and see the best in them?

On Friday night, at our SGI football game, I got to catch up with one of my Pine Valley students from the 1990’s because he’s now a parent in our district. Not only is Pine Valley a small school district but I taught Spanish so I got to teach the same kids for four-five years. We came to know each other well!

I’m not sure I can adequately express how much I enjoyed that visit on Friday night. I truly, with my whole heart, love that kid. And his classmates. Michael was in seventh grade in my first year at Pine Valley and I was there when his class graduated. In my head they’re all still about 14 years old. When I walked up to say hello to Michael I was shocked to see he’s got some wrinkles! Which of course I remarked on only to have him say, “You can’t say that to a grown man! You know you don’t have to say everything you’re thinking!” It was as if the twenty years that have passed were nothing. He was a kid in my class and I was the teacher who knew the best version of him.

Seeing him as a dad and a loving husband but still knowing the boy who he was–that was pure joy for me. When I think about the many gifts in my big, beautiful life, few compare to the gift of knowing my students as they become adults.

I’m incredibly grateful for my lunches with Nikki and Kristin, my phone calls to proof a paper for Ryan, that Jason doesn’t write me a ticket if I’m driving a bit too fast and stays to catch up, that Allison calls me for advice and makes time for lunch on school breaks, that I can read what they’re all doing on social media, and for my RCS lunch crew who came to see me this summer plus every other student who’s allowed me into their lives in some way.

I hope they know that I will always see them for the very best that they are, always expect the best of them and always love them with my whole heart. What a privilege it is to be a TEACHER.

When to Move On?

Other leaders in education have written articles about knowing when it’s time to leave a position or district. In most cases they are discussing situations in which tensions have grown, a BOE has changed, priorities and relationships transitioned, and it’s time for a superintendent of schools to move on. I went to hear retired Erie 1 BOCES superintendent Don Ogilvie speak on this topic and that of administrative resiliency earlier this year as part of the WNY Educational Services Council speaker series.

My question to Mr. Ogilvie was different. I wanted to know, “how do you know when it’s time to move on when things are really GOOD?” 

Since sometime over the summer, I’ve been thinking about our work at Randolph and the rest of my career. Things are really good at RCS! Sure there are things to do–there are always things to do in an organization with an $18 million budget, almost 200 employees, and 950 students. But we’ve generally got it figured out and as our teams have grown in their competence, I’ve felt more and more irrelevant.

Mentally I’m craving the kind of organizational systems problem solving that gives me a sense of purpose. I want to know that my work is making a significant difference that benefits students and employees. We’ve largely figured those things out at RCS over the past several years. We have experienced teachers, administrators who know our systems and how they best work to serve our students, and an incredibly experienced, thoughtful BOE–the place is humming along nicely. This is evidenced by our consistent and dramatic increases in academic achievement, our climate survey results, and our successful contract negotiations and positive budget votes.

So, what would you do? Continue to work in the environment you’ve tried so hard to create, knowing that your biggest problems are behind you? Or leave the sustainability of the system to the other leaders in the organization who have it down, choosing instead to look for another opportunity to impact an educational system elsewhere? Perhaps there’s another school system where those working hard within that district and those children and families could benefit from committed, sustained instructional leadership? And your sense of purpose and meaning could be renewed? Or do you sit back and enjoy the ride?

Correct Maslow Post

I have been the proud superintendent of the Randolph Central School District since the Fall of 2008. In this, my eighth school year here, I’ve decided to take on a challenge in another district.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have been selected and appointed as the superintendent of schools for the Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District. I will start there on March 7, 2016.

My reasons for this decision are centered on the incredible accomplishments of everyone at Randolph. The problems we had when I arrived have been eradicated: there is again trust between the employees, administration, and BOE members; we have systems in place in which teachers support one another with a coherent, shared curriculum; teachers are doing more with technology tools that personalize learning for all students every year; we’re on the cusp of purchasing a useful basal reading series that will help to improve our ELA instruction even more; everyone in the system is pulling his or her own weight; we have cleaner buildings (and floors!), and a capital project all set to go that will take care of masonry, roof tops, phone and data upgrades, fire detection and alarm systems, stage rigging and lighting, a safer parking lot flow, a new track and a new heating system in the high school. We continue to hold a strong budget position that balances the needs of our students with the needs of our taxpayers. And I have more confidence in our administrative team than ever before at RCS.

I’ve realized with every passing day “they’ve got this!” I want to have a feeling of purpose again, to go where I’m needed. I want to think and analyze and solve problems. And I’m 100% certain that with everyone we have here, working hard each and every day, our expectations of excellence will continue for all of our students.

What an honor and privilege it has been to be a part of the Randolph community these past years! Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the academic achievements, the state championships, the countless excellent lessons I’ve observed, and most of all, the relationships I’ve enjoyed with so many of you. A huge part of my heart will always be a Cardinal!

A Personal Thank You to My Father in Law, Fred Moritz

This Saturday, October 24, 2015, my husband will be accompanying his 92-year-old father, Fred Moritz, to Washington, DC on the Honor Flight Buffalo for World War II Veterans. This opportunity brings veterans to DC to see the memorials erected in their honor, all expenses paid. As veterans are not permitted to bring a spouse as guardian, my husband Derek gets to go with his dad. As part of the experience, Fred’s grandchildren were asked to write letters to him in which they express what he means to them. I’d like to take the opportunity to publicly honor the man who shaped so much about my husband and all five of his grandchildren.


Papa and Grandkids

Dear Papa,

I’m so very grateful for the opportunity to know you and to call you first dad and then Papa. As a nervous young college student, I came to Gowanda after dating your son Derek for a couple of years. Since Derek was my first boyfriend, I remember feeling very nervous about how to act when I met his parents. That feeling dissipated within moments of meeting you as your open, warm and generous spirit greeted me at the Palm Gardens. You then proceeded to take me on a tour of everything from the kitchen to the basement of the motel! From that first day, you treated me like someone special and what I most remember is always being able to sit and talk with you in those round chairs in the living room. You showed a genuine interest in me, my thoughts, and my career. You really listened to me, as you did with all of us. All of these years later, after almost 29 years of marriage to your son, your kind, caring and positive attitude continue to guide our family. Thank you, for every conversation, laugh, and dinner you bought. Most of all, thank you for being the man who you are–the man who so greatly influenced the man I married and love. Here are a few of the things I most remember from all of these years together.

You are generous to a fault. If you have $100 in your pocket, you find a way to give any one of us $120 if we need it. One of us can’t mention our own vehicle without you saying, “take my truck!”

Whenever any one of us messes up, you are the most supportive, loving parent we could hope to find. Before Derek and I were even married, I smashed that Capri I drove into a guardrail on Broadway Road. You and Derek showed up and instead of yelling at me as I was expecting (my own dad’s typical reaction), you both embraced me, asked if I was okay and told me it was just a car.

Even when Derek, Charisse, Bill and I were young and in our heyday, you could ALWAYS drink the rest of us under the table. We’d all wake up the next morning, hurting from the night before, and you’d be singing in the kitchen telling us, “you can’t soar with the eagles if you’re going to hoot with the owls!” But somehow you always managed to do so.

Thank you for teaching our children to dive, all five of the grandkids, with countless hours in that pool. A favorite family memory is definitely the day you were sitting by the pool, having cocktails with your friends and you suddenly decided one of the kids wasn’t diving quite right so you decided to show him how it was done. Fully clothed. Snookered.  With $100 dollar bills floating to the surface around you.

Those chickens. I will forever walk through the yard with my head down looking to avoid the chicken poop thanks to the ridiculous number of chickens you kept in the yard. For the tolerance of this alone, my mother in law deserves a medal. No one ever has loved a pet more than you’ve loved those darn birds.

When my own father was absent from my life, you stepped in and treated me with kindness and compassion and love. Thank you for always being a father to me. 

Because of your example, a valued family trait has always been chutzpah. Or in your words, “balls”–nothing worse than being a dunkie, right? I’m grateful that you helped us to instill courage into our children–the ability to take a risk and to stand up and do what’s right. I’m so very thankful that I’m married to a strong man who’s raised our own kids to be able to take care of themselves. I’m certain that even now at 92 years old you wouldn’t hesitate to use a quick right hook if needed.

Thank you for the great advice you gave me about how to drive in the snow on the way home from Forestville 30 years ago. I still hear your voice when I’m nervous on bad roads, “a constant speed Kim, slow and easy”.

Warning to Readers: There is some questionable language coming up–this post is intended to honor and memorialize Freddy for our family, which means including the expressions our children have grown up with. We have so many colorful expressions thanks to Papa, many that no one seems to know but us–our own family language: Papa

  • “they’re going to find her at the bottom of the bird cage”
  • “tell him to go piss up a rope”
  • “too many chiefs, not enough Indians”
  • “big as a horse”
  • “dumb as a box of rocks”
  • “you can’t get a racehorse out of a jackass”
  • “if I had a dollar for every time. . .”
  • “he’s a real dandy”
  • “that one’s getting whippy”
  • “next time, I won’t have my hat in my hand”
  • “have a hot toddy”
  • “they’ve got brakes, let ’em use them!”
  • “too stupid to get out of the rain”
  • “can’t find his a** with both hands” also, “doesn’t know his a** from a hole in the ground”
  • “lazier than a white dog”
  •  And who hasn’t been called “joe balls” by Papa?

Papa, I’m forever grateful for the model we have of how much you and Omi have loved each other for 50+ years. This is your #1 contribution to our family. Even when you’re constantly busting her chops, telling us that you slaved all day to prepare a meal when you couldn’t make toast if necessary or yelling at her to “sit down!”, you both stand as a clear and beautiful example to the rest of us of how to love one another, to make a family together and to stand beside each other through it all.

I love you Papa. I hope you and Derek have a fantastic day on Saturday. You definitely deserve this honor!

Papa and Derek, Charisse, Omi

Remembering Donna Shook Mormur, on Secretaries Day

When I was a little girl growing up in Pittsburgh in the sixties and seventies, my mother worked as a secretary at Jendoco Construction. My memories of her as a working mom during those years are dear to me still and I believe influenced me in myriad ways as a working professional woman today. I hold Administrative Professionals Day–(really?)–Secretaries Day dear because I have the utmost respect for the work that my mother did for most of her life.

For the last ten years of my mum’s life, she didn’t have it easy. We lost her a year ago at only 70 years old and in the end, she was constantly writing in notebooks–everything from recording her medications to her thoughts to her prayers. I believe that brought her comfort as it was much like she spent her life, taking notes, writing letters and memos, taking shorthand back in the day and preparing bids. I know she was a valued employee and that her work mattered because the people she worked with were like family to her. The company picnics, the dear friends she made and loved, the Christmas parties and the colleagues who emailed, called and visited her during her illness–they were as much a part of my mother’s daily life as we were.

Maybe it’s in watching her that I developed my deeply held belief that no position is better than or more important than any other in an organization. We all play different roles and when we work hard, with integrity and good intentions, we all contribute to the health and success of the organization, just in different ways.

When it comes to the day to day life of our school, many others are more important than I am–to the child who’s sick and needs the school nurse, or the parents who need information from a secretary, or a young student whose bus driver notices that no one is at home and so doesn’t drop the kid off at an empty house, or the teacher who needs a cleaner or custodian because a student has gotten sick in the classroom—those members of our school community are much more important on that day than I am. As teachers and administrators, we are central to the mission of a school, but it’s the support staff who do all that is needed to allow us to teach.

I’m incredibly grateful to every hard working, caring, dedicated employee at RCS. I’m thankful that my mother taught me that no one is better than anyone else, that no one is perfect, and that hard work and dedication are worth it.

Happy Secretaries Day to every wonderful, dedicated secretary doing the work each and every day! Of course in my mind, as good as you each are you’ll never measure up to my mom–but then, neither will I.


Would I Opt Out My Own Child? No.

I have a wonderful friend with whom I get to talk about education on a regular basis. She texted me to ask if I think she should opt her child out of the NYS testing. I didn’t answer her as a school superintendent, or a NYS public educator, or a former NYSUT Committee of 100 member, or a writer. I could answer her as a friend, who cares about her children and wants what’s best for them. As a school superintendent, I’ve written about this subject before here and here and here in previous years. Here’s my response to her question:

No. Don’t opt your kids out of NYS testing. Do we want to teach our children that they don’t have to sometimes do things that are hard? Or that if we don’t like something the school or our boss or our parents decide, we can just say, “no thanks, I’ll pass”?

Instead of opting out–which I believe is much more about teacher evaluation tied to test scores than it is about the effects of testing on our children–talk to your kids about the purpose of the tests within our school system. Say, “this is a way for you to show what you’ve been learning all year. It’s a way for your teachers to measure what they’ve taught. If a lot of the kids in your class miss the same questions, the teachers know they need to do a better job with that material next year. The tests are a way for the school to know how they’re doing so they can keep improving.”

I would also go on to talk to my child and say, “testing isn’t something to stress out about. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You’ll not do as well as you want? There’s no terrible consequence. Just do what you always do, go in and give it your best shot. Take your time and read the questions carefully.”

Yes the APPR changes for next year are a disaster and I disagree with the governor’s education reform on several key points, including making student test scores such a significant portion of our teachers’ evaluations. So let’s make noise about that, let’s advocate for a fair and accurate measure of evaluating teachers, which I do believe includes some measure of student performance. Let’s work together–teachers and school leaders to develop plans that work. We don’t even have the guidelines from NYSED yet. The APPR plans we have in place right now don’t use test results to a ridiculous proportion–our teachers have done well under our current plans. Why opt out next week if what you’re really upset about are the changes for 2015-16 that we don’t have details on yet?


My Social Media Mistake

Gosh darn it. Have you ever done something that afterwards you thought, “I’m an idiot”? I made a mistake last week that I can’t erase, I know better, it reflected poorly on me and I’m so sorry.

Social media. Ugh. I’ve tried to use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with our school community–primarily about all of the positive things happening here–and last week I totally blew it.

Calling snow days, cold weather days, making good decisions for the students–all of it results in emotional responses from parents, faculty and staff who weigh in on both sides of the issue. I can’t reiterate enough how many conversations with staff here, the highway superintendent and my colleagues in other districts  go into our decision. I always prefer to have our students here in school, that’s why we exist! I do think about the finances too–how much our payroll is for 186 days and that every time we cancel, we lose that day of productivity.

But that’s not the point of this post.

Last week I received a “tweet” from our students regarding the cold weather call we made to pick up our students door to door and to be in session on Friday. It was a short video that showed our students at play practice responding to my all-call that we would have school the next day. It was awesome and I loved it.

Then I tweeted–which goes to 800+ followers and then links to Facebook–a tweet that I meant primarily for those same students but of course went to everyone. I forgot about audience and perception and my professional role that is required as superintendent that is beyond being “tongue in cheek” with our students. It was a mistake. I’m not explaining it away–I was wrong.

For everyone who read my tweet that included an emoticon that showed me blowing a kiss–believe it or not, I meant that to say to our students, “love you!” but I can see that it didn’t come across that way. I also said, “giving you your money’s worth”–which led readers to interpret that money was more important to me than student safety.

How stupid I was! I cannot expect people who don’t even know me to “get” my message, delivered in 140 characters. The tweet was unprofessional and I should know better. I will not make the mistake again, we’re better than that–high expectations for everyone in our district starts with having high expectations for myself first.

Working/Stay Home Mothers

Paparazzski PhotographyI’m bringing back this blog post from 2007 for my daughter Bryna and all of the other working moms out there–to point out the benefits of a rich work life. As Bry headed back to work today, with her beautiful son Blake just over two months old, she was filled with excitement to see her work family and students and with guilt for leaving her little boy.

Bryna comes from a home in which I’ve always worked, both of her grandmothers worked, lots of moms worked. She also has a close aunt, Charisse,  who was a stay at home mom. What I know for sure is that while I was feeling guilty for not having home cooked meals on the table or sending her brother to Charisse’s house for day care, Charisse was feeling guilty for not adding to her family’s income or providing the same vacations we did. Here’s the thing–it doesn’t matter! The kids all turned out well as adults, they were well loved and supported in all that they did, and they all survived. Mine without the home cooked meals and hers without as many vacations.

Families come in all different shapes and sizes, with a million different configurations. Let’s stop judging each other and more importantly OURSELVES. At fifty years old I’m finally learning to say, “this is who I am and who I am is good enough.” Took me long enough.

Moms: Stay home if you want. Go to work if you want. Whatever you choose, give yourselves a break–that choice will dictate different things for your family–not necessarily better or worse things, just different.  Most of what you’re worrying about is craziness, live and enjoy–stop needlessly wasting mental energy on guilt. Just love your babies.