RCS Moving to the Split Break

It’s that time of the year when we work on the school calendar. It seems that every year for the last decade, the topic of the Spring Break comes up. For the 2012-13 school year calendar, it’s again an issue as Randolph Central has remained on the two week break as almost all other districts across New York state are on what’s called a split break, a week in February and a week in April.

Why do we care what the other districts are doing? Well, for one thing, we have 22 districts who are part of the Cattaraugus Allegany BOCES. All of the other 21 districts are likely to be on the split break next year, basically following the BOCES calendar. Our BOCES students are one part of the equation, now their instructional days will match BOCES and everyone else’s too. Another part is that we can participate in shared staff development with other districts and share other services more easily.

More importantly, the New York State Education Department, which is initiating wide ranging and sweeping change in education right now, plans the assessment schedule for NYS testing with the idea that a vast majority of it’s districts are on a split break. It doesn’t do us any good to be an outlier in that equation.

Educationally, it’s always been a debate either way. There are those who argue that it’s not sound to take kids out of school for two weeks just prior to the NYS testing schedule and those who argue, as I always have, that it doesn’t make sense to take kids out of school and interrupt instruction  twice instead of once. The truth is that there’s no compelling research to support that one way is better than the other.

Our BOE discussed the topic last evening at our February 1, 2012 BOE meeting and we determined to move to a one week break in February and a one week break in April, following the BOCES calendar for the 2012-13 school year. 

At the end of the day, we are a NYS public school who must comply with and follow the mandates and testing calendar of NYS.  That trumps all of the other arguments. I regret the disappointment that I know some of our school community members will feel. We are developing a draft calendar now and will have it BOE approved at a future BOE meeting.

Priorities in a Time of Change

When we consider all that is NEW from NYSED this year:

1. the new evaluation system for teachers and principals,

2. the portfolio that teachers are keeping to show evidence in Domain #4 of the Danielson 2011 rubric,

3. the portfolio that principals are keeping to show evidence of goals in the Multidimensional Principal Performance Rubric

4. the student learning objective goals every teacher will have to develop in 2012-13

5. the changes to the state assessments–one hand preparing kids for the NYS assessments this year with one hand in common core for next year and K-2 all common core this year. . . with no clear idea of where the Regents exams are going. . .

6. the local assessments, iReady at RCS, with interim assessments for Data Analysis Teams

7. the impending composite score in 2012-13 for each teacher and principal

8. and the shifts to the Common Core Curriculum in Math and ELA.

With so much at once, we simply must consider where to put the majority of our energy and prioritize.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about 24/7 for the past seven months. At Randolph Central School, we’re going to do all that we can to implement the changes, as we have been. But we have to consider which of these eight changes has the greatest potential to make a difference for our children? What makes the most sense for our future success at RCS?

The new teacher and principal rubrics (or measures) are necessary improvements to our evaluation systems. In education, we haven’t done a good enough job of communicating well about our teaching and leading. This has the long term potential to make a difference for every teacher and principal—if we can get to the place where we’re sincerely talking objectively about “this is what’s great about what you’re doing, this is what can be better”. Lots of work to do in trust building, speaking directly and honestly, knowing our craft well enough to have meaningful discussions, and collaboration–it’s a two way conversation not just a post observation “if I sit here and nod my head long enough, I’ll be able to get out of here and have some prep time left” lecture. We’ll get there, we’ll do what’s expected. This is NOT our priority.

The portfolios are not our “best bet” or our priority either. We’ll comply with this, we’ll develop the portfolios, we’ll reflect on our practice, and we’ll have some good discussion. Not going to be our priority, does not have the potential for improving our success with students in the short term.

Now the state assessments. We do need to think about the state assessments and as any Regents teacher will tell you, of course we focus on preparing for the end of year assessment–we’d be crazy NOT to. As a teacher, I studied my Regents exams, analyzed the results–kicked myself when there was a question or two for which I KNEW I hadn’t adequately prepared my students, planned for next year’s instruction, gave ongoing assessments throughout the year to determine what we needed to review, reteach, etc. This is what we’ve always done well. And the State hasn’t been clear enough about where State assessments are headed for us to prioritize. Part of what we do, not the main change we need to attend to now.

And we’re not going to prioritize the SLOs, Student Learning Objectives.  We’ll learn more about SLOs, set them, practice SLOs and comply—but this is not the number one priority for us either.

So what is? Teaching the Common Core Curriculum and conducting internal Data Analysis while raising our expectations for all students. We make so many decisions in education based on our gut or our instinct or our impression of kids—and we’re just as guilty of it in administrative decisions. We can’t do that anymore. I taught this way too. This isn’t a criticism. It’s acknowledging that the way we’ve planned our instruction has been hit or miss and it isn’t good enough. We had to figure it out on our own and now we have to follow the Common Core curriculum. I say “Hallelujah and About Time”.

We have to look at how our students are doing, each of them, throughout the school year and we have to modify our instruction to match what they need us to teach next or again in the common core curriculum. I know we have teachers, in every district, who see the curriculum as a guideline, a suggestion, or something to consider when you’re planning your observation lesson because you have to slap some standards on the top of your lesson plan. That’s not good enough. Not even close. It’s what we have always done because no one gave us a good alternative or anything else at all and the textbook became the curriculum, because after all, what else did we have?

In grades K-8, we simply must teach the common core curriculum. With integrity. Not once in a while. NOT the textbook. NOT the lessons you’ve always loved to teach. The common core curriculum. With total fidelity. It’s not just a guideline. In Math and in ELA. If we don’t do that at every grade level, the teacher who follows you cannot bring your kids to the levels that are needed. Non negotiable. And when we have an articulated curriculum with new assessments from SED, it’ll be the same for our other core subjects too, K-12.

We had to figure out what to teach on our own for decades, we had NYS learning standards that frankly were unclear and anything BUT specific. NYS is now telling us what to teach, when. We must do this. And we must assess our kids throughout the school year to see how each child is faring—THEN we must remediate weaknesses AND push EACH child to his or her fullest potential. And while we’re at it, we’ve got to expect more of our students in the classrooms, we’ve got to push them harder and work them more. I believe they can do it. Why? Because I’ve been in our classrooms. Our teachers are extremely hard working professionals who love our kids. We’ve got to adjust what we’re teaching and push harder—our students can do it. They should be mentally exhausted when they leave at the end of the day. Some of our students aren’t even close to using all of their brain power, especially not our top students. Love them enough to expect more of them.

Why do I KNOW we can do it? Because I’ve never seen a more dedicated, harder working faculty. We can’t do whatever we figure out on our own in our individual classrooms anymore, we’ve got to deliver a cohesive continuum of common core instruction that leads each of our students to his greatest potential.

Our job has always been to love and care about our students. Our goal is help each student maximize her success.

RCS Kindergarten Class Profiled

A reporter recently visited Lisa Burris’ kindergarten class with the purpose of understanding education today at this level. Liz Skoczylas did a great job of capturing the complexity of the day as printed in Sunday’s Jamestown Post Journal.

Liz says,

Going into Lisa Burris’ kindergarten class at Gail N. Chapman Elementary School in Randolph, one might expect a day filled with building structures out of blocks, learning ABCs and possibly eating some paste.

The reality of the day was much different, as the level of knowledge the five- and six-year-olds possess was far beyond expectation.

Read the whole article to learn more. It’s a nice profile of just one of Randolph’s outstanding teachers and classes!


SLO-Student Learning Objectives

As we work together to implement all of the new mandates from the New York State Education Department, I have done so with diligence and optimism. Except on one point in particular. Teacher accountability through student testing is now mandated in a bizarre, hard to understand, impossible to implement and what seems to me at this point to be a useless waste of our teaching and learning time with students called “Student Learning Objectives”. I’ve purposely neglected to write about it here because I thought perhaps with time, I would come to better understand the usefulness, have an attitude adjustment and present a better leadership stance on the topic.

Then today I read an article in the Washington Post, written by Carol Corbett Burris, principal of South Side High School in New York.  Carol was named the 2010 NYS Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. Ms. Burris did such a fabulous job of describing the SLOs that I would like to share her article from the Washington Post here.

Let’s just hope that the leadership at NYSED can consider the great strides we’re making in useful ways with teacher and principal evaluation, data inquiry teams with interim assessments, and implementing the common core as they reconsider this act of compliance clearly designed to make every teacher accountable in some way, practical or not.

New Year’s Resolution

I love a fresh start. We get to feel that twice per year in education, once in September when our students and teachers return to school and once with the new year. As someone who constantly analyzes and considers how things could be better, my New Year’s resolution for change needs a different slant —I’m resolving to accept and be happy with all that my life is just as it is, to relax and enjoy and love and relish each day.

That applies to my work life as much as to my personal life. Particularly this school year, with the changes from NYSED to our evaluation systems, our student testing and accountability systems, and the tax cap provisions–we’ve had to focus on change and school improvement. I like that work but I’m afraid we’re focusing on it so much that we’re losing sight of all that’s RIGHT in our schools.

I’m resolving to continue to work hard at improvement WHILE RELISHING all that’s good about our public school system.

For starters:

1. A remarkable group of 1000 or so students who come to Randolph Central each day expecting our best and giving us theirs.
2. A bright, caring and dedicated faculty who do whatever it takes to do the very best that they know how with our students and often go the extra mile to do everything from dressing up and dancing as a Christmas tree to helping students or meeting with parents after school to providing gifts for children in our community through the Community Cupboard.
3. Professionals and families throughout our school system and community who support our students in EVERY endeavor.
4. An administrative team who cares about our school community, accepts and works hard to implement some incredibly time consuming change, all without complaint and with good intentions. A team who works with me more than they work for me and with whom I can really think through our leadership.
5. A support and clerical staff who does what it takes to keep the place and our buses running efficiently, cares about our kids and families, and handles a whole lot of front line problem solving.

6. BOE members who approach every meeting, every policy or budget decision, and every problem with an open mind, caring about the quality of education we’re providing and our school community immeasurably.

I get the evaluation and accountability pieces. I get the need to improve the system. I believe everyone working and living in our community wants us to be the best that we can be. We are  above all a group of people who come together with a common bond, of Randolph Central School and the children who we serve. We are well intended, caring professionals who love the children we are privileged to influence. No one wants us to do that well more than we do. We’ve got this, together, and in time. I’m going to work harder to appreciate each person who walks through our doors every day, helping us to get there.

BOE Meeting Discussion Items

A point of clarification about our BOE meetings may be helpful. It’s my impression that the “Discussion” section of our BOE meetings may be inadvertently causing some confusion. There are very specific rules on what can be discussed in an Executive session of the BOE meeting. You can find the RCS BOE policy on Executive Session on our website here.

Why do I think there’s confusion? It seems when someone reads the BOE agenda or minutes and an item is discussed in open session or during an administrator’s report to the BOE, often it is thought to be a “done deal”. That couldn’t be farther from the reality. That’s why our agenda is delineated into discussion items and BOE action items.

Here’s a good example. From the “Discussion Item” section of our October 5, 2011 BOE minutes:

Discussion Item: Mrs. Moritz discussed planning for the APPR, assessment, and
improvement of RCS. Mrs. Moritz stated that she would like to begin a
conversation with the Board to discuss the possibility of hiring our curriculum
coordinator directly instead of through BOCES. With all of the new requirements
for the state-mandated APPR plan, additional oversight is needed. It makes a
difference if we have a dedicated position; someone who’s primary responsibility
is program and curriculum implementation and follow through. Look at the recent
Special Education audit – it was excellent, best one RCS has ever had; that’s
because of Dr. Rockey’s position and direct oversight of the Special Education
department. We need to start thinking about this as other districts may be
discussing the same thing and qualified candidates will be hard to find. Mrs.
Moritz will do a cost analysis for the Board. Discussed our current Curriculum
Coordinator’s position and how the district will receive curriculum information
through BOCES. Discussion held. Mrs. Moritz stated that we need to analyze the
Dean of Students position vs. a Director of Curriculum and Instruction. Do we
need both? Mrs. Moritz asked the Board to keep thinking about it. Maybe post the
position in February? Mr. Evans asked for more information on the accountability
of the position. More info./discussions at future meetings.

This was a discussion, that’s all. The truth? I don’t know what the right direction is right now.  I need our BOE members, our Administrative team and our teachers thinking about it with me. Placing an item in open discussion is a deliberate and conscious effort to get everyone thinking about something long before a BOE action happens. That’s why we have open meetings laws and why we solicit input from others–so that we can consider all of the alternatives in advance. It doesn’t mean we’re adding a position, it doesn’t mean we are reconfiguring our current staff, and it doesn’t mean we aren’t. It just means we have an issue up for discussion. Please consider talking with me about your thoughts on any of those Discussion items or anything else happening in the District.


Happy Birthday to My Daughter

It’s our daughter’s birthday today, Bryna is 24 years old. Her birthday has me thinking about parenting and particularly, how stressed and freaked out I was as a young parent. Let’s just say I was a little high strung when I was in my twenties and raising Bryna.

I wish I knew then what I know now, that everything would work out. The truth is, I had no idea what I was doing. When it was time to leave Brooks Memorial with her as an infant, I remember quite clearly thinking, “why are they letting us take her home? Do they realize we have no clue how to do this?” Then as we went through the earliest years with her and into elementary school age, I thank God that her father was in her life too because I was so hard on her. I’m not sure what I was thinking as I reflect on pictures of that young girl and I remember the expectations I had for her. Expectations which she always managed to meet or surpass. But why didn’t I just let her be?

And when I’m not being so hard on myself, it’s good that we had those expectations, right? She couldn’t have turned out any better. She’s a loving daughter, a wonderful friend, a dedicated, caring teacher, a protective sister and a loyal, loving wife. Our conversations around education that we have are the highlight of my day. She exhausts me often and I realize it’s in the same way I probably exhaust others–with her endless questions and analysis of everyone and everything.

So what’s the right balance as a parent? How do we know how much to push and how much to just love and let them be? Maybe that’s where we got lucky that we’re a two parent family—I always said that Derek was the better parent than me. But what would have happened if our kids were raised by only him? Or only me? It’s got to be an even harder job for a single parent.

Maybe the solution is in paying attention and some serious self reflection as we go along. Loving them enough to set those expectations and then to support them when they fall short. If I had to identify what helped us to succeed as parents, I’d truly quote all of the things my own mother taught me. The best of all of them? My mom taught me to teach Bryna that she is strong and capable, that she’s not the center of the universe, that she needs to conduct herself with class, straighten her feet, love her brother unconditionally even when it’s hard, respect her elders, wash her face before going to bed, work hard every single day, be loyal to those you love, let the small stuff go, when you’re angry with your husband–just go give him a kiss and forget about it, wash your hands continually, and don’t judge others because you’re far from perfect.

Maybe all of those lessons, with high expectations that gave a little more wiggle room, and loving her with all of my heart would have been the key. We came close. That’s as much as we can do as parents. Love you Kid!

Out of District-Is it Worth it?

On an average week, I’m out of the district for some sort of meeting or staff development or training about one day of five. Last week, I was at principal evaluation training in Rochester on Monday and Tuesday, in district on Wednesday, and out at Data Driven Instruction on Thursday and Friday. I’m now on strike–refusing to leave the district for anything. 😉 I think my next scheduled day out of district is November 7 for more training, this time on the Danielson teaching evaluation rubric.

Is it worth it when I’m traveling to all of these meetings/conferences/etc.? To be honest, it depends. Sometimes the information presented is repetitive or just isn’t pertinent to where we are at RCS. Most often, I leave having learned something important about the direction NYSED is headed or better understanding the tax cap law or hearing a new idea that’s worth consideration.

Never is it more worth it than what I experienced this past Thursday and Friday. Why? I got to learn about data inquiry teams with several of our Randolph teachers. The training was very well done by our BOCES experts, namely Tim Clarke, Tiffany Giannicchi, Brian Crawford and Melissa Devitt. Good teaching was modeled, the content was relevant and important. But the primary reason it was extremely worthwhile for me? The time I had to work together with five elementary teachers and four 7-12 teachers, along with their building leaders. The chance to listen to them, clarify my own thinking and hopefully come to a better collective understanding was invaluable.

I’m more confident than ever that in our own analysis of our student data, collected from our interim assessments and analyzed by our teams of teachers, we will greatly improve our students results. Not because it’s about the test scores but because it’s about the curriculum and better differentiation. As we align every grade level to the common core curriculum and zero in on what each child needs to absolutely know before moving on to the next grade, we will have a systemic solution to maximizing growth for every child.

I’m hopeful that a better evaluation system will help us to improve but I’m excited about the improvement we will see when our teachers have the chance to look at an entire class of students collectively–grouping and regrouping to meet each individual student’s needs. We’ve got a lot of work to do—–a system analysis is next to consider how we fundamentally work to serve our children—-but it should prove to be the most meaningful work we do to ensure we are maximizing learning for all of our children.

I keep repeating myself on this one–we are better together than we are individually and we know what to do to improve. Working with our RCS teachers on Thursday and Friday reminded me AGAIN that we have wonderful, hard working teachers who can figure this out together with us. Learning with Passion, Innovation and Leadership? I saw exactly that in our teachers on Thursday and Friday. Thank you!

What Are Our RCS Teachers Learning This Year?

As district parents know, our staff development days are scheduled throughout the school year (10/31, 1/27, 2/21, and 5/25), with teachers and professional staff here at school learning while our students have the day off. Have you ever wondered how we spend our time on those days?

Traditionally in districts, these days were “sit and get” experiences. Administrative Teams worked diligently to schedule something for every minute of the day with a one size fits all approach. Think about it. It’s difficult at best to plan a day or two of training in which the content is relevant for everyone from the guidance counselors to the teachers of special subjects to the HS Mathematics teacher to the Kindergarten teacher. Prior to this past year, the best configuration of this staff development I ever experienced was a sharing day in which teachers with different expertise did mini-sessions for our colleagues. Back in the day as a teacher at Pine Valley Central, I remember offering a session on Easy GradePro, one of the first electronic gradebooks.

We started working in small groups last year called Professional Learning Communities. Our intent was two-fold in implementing this type of structure for use of our staff development time. One, we wanted to create opportunities for our teachers to collaborate and problem solve, to use  curiosity and imagination, and to communicate with one another. Teaching has historically, and I’m generalizing here, been an isolated, independent profession in many ways. We know that we’re better together than we are separately and so we hoped that using our staff development time to work together in self-selected small groups to study relevant curriculum and instructional topics would get everyone talking and sharing best practices. Ultimately, we hope that teachers will see that they can safely ask each other questions, brainstorm and learn from one another without fear of judgment.

And two, we knew we had to change our culture in these ways to prepare our teachers for the important work that they will do together on data inquiry teams. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are the ideal structure for teachers to use in creating parallel tasks, creating and administering common formative assessments, and analyzing data from NYS assessments, interim assessments and other student data.

I’m excited to see what our teachers learn this year as they research, plan, analyze and discuss relevant topics that should improve learning for our students. We have teachers in grades PK-6 studying project based learning, common core standards, differentiated reading centers, using music to enhance learning, and writer’s workshop.

Our PK-6 teachers and professional staff are also using their PLCs to assess student reading and math progress, create common formative assessments and parallel tasks, create science kits, develop multi-sensory math manipulatives, collaborate on speech and language development of reading skills, and using interactive whiteboards and iPads to enhance learning at the preschool level. Using NYS Math and ELA assessment data to drive instruction and to individualize student learning is a particularly relevant topic that’s also being studied. Our art teachers are working together across the grade levels on the art curriculum and our elementary PE teachers will implement a SPARK fitness curriculum. Our occupational therapists are working on a handwriting intervention curriculum, something that is invaluable for many of our students.

Our 7-12 teachers and professional staff will learn more about and plan to implement digital portfolios, develop a curriculum on health, wellness and success, implement a 7th and 8th grade 1:1 Technology Initiative, develop informational text units collaboratively between ELA and social studies, and continue the implementation of new technology initiatives. I look forward to hearing more about what our teachers learn about peaking student interest in young adult novels and connecting students to the workforce.

Is it harder work than sitting and getting whatever we as an Admin Team think will be best for everyone? Absolutely. And much more valuable.

Annual Professional Performance Review Plan CHANGES

I must admit that all of the changes from NYSED have left my head spinning. Our APPR Committee, including five teachers and three administrators, has worked hard since the beginning of July to make sense of it all and to make collaborative decisions about what’s best for us here at RCS. The APPR Plan is on the website as a series of links and files, under District. If interested, please take some time to read the documents and follow the links.

As administrators, we have much to learn about the Danielson 2011 Teacher’s Rubric  and our role as lead evaluators. In fairness, we believe teachers deserve  professional development in the use of the tool with which they’re about to be evaluated. On October 31, our next Superintendent’s Conference Day, teachers will have half a day for their Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and half a day of professional development on the Rubric– Understanding the Framework, the four levels of performance and one aspect of one Domain–Student Engagement. As an Admin Team we will be working with a lead expert directly from the Danielson group 3-5 additional days during this year. One of the things I’m most interested in is the coaching day, when the Danielson trainer works with us to visit classrooms and then talks with us about how we talk about teaching with our teachers.

The Danielson Rubric has four domains, the last of which is entitled Professional Responsibilities. Under the new State Regs, and agreed to in our APPR Committee meetings, we will have 40 points of the teacher’s Composite Score based on multiple evaluations on the first three domains. The fourth domain will be based on a Professional Portfolio worth 20 points of the Composite Score. (Remember that the other parts are 20% for State Assessments and 20% for Locally Selected Assessments.)

And speaking of Locally Selected Assessments, we’ve selected iReady. We are meeting with the sales representative next Thursday to negotiate a price and to get these assessments into place as soon as possible. Why the rush? I want our teachers to have their preliminary diagnostic assessments done as early in the school year as possible.

I remain, as always, optimistic that the changes the new regulations have mandated will help us to improve learning for all of our students.