Wait, We DO Get NYS 3-8 Assessment Data

In the media, on blogs and twitter, I continue to read that one of the main arguments against the NYS 3-8 assessments is that they are totally secret– that there’s no information available to our teachers about how their students did so how does it inform their instruction– that we can’t see the test questions.

These statements are simply not true. We had our results on August 14, 2014. We shared them with our teachers last summer. They used the results, along with what they knew from our iReady adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction, to plan for the 14-15 school year.

Let me say it again. We do know how our students did on the test questions as they are tied to the standards. We have information about how our RCS students did on the test, how they did as compared to other students across the state by question,  and we know what standard each question was tied to so we don’t need to see and analyze the actual test questions. Isn’t it better to focus on the learning standards than to try to teach to the test?

We use this information to make instructional decisions about our curriculum for the following year.  We analyze which learning standards the majority of our students missed. Our curriculum coordinator and administrators analyze the results-but more importantly, our teachers analyze the results. As an example, last year our 7th grade students scored poorly on questions that were tied to ELA standards on poetry. That was certainly an easy fix, as our 7th grade ELA teacher looked at it and said, “well that makes sense since I never got to the module on poetry.”

Further, when teachers identify that a majority of students miss questions, they can often find them here. I would go so far as to suggest that NYSED posted the questions which were most frequently missed as I was talking with a curriculum coordinator in another district who found every single question that the majority of her students grades 3-8 missed.  Then she sat with her teachers and they unit planned for the year to ensure that each grade level made the right curricular decisions.

So why do so many people think we have no access to information about the results? Do other districts not know how to access the data through the (WNY)RIC? Is there not an administrator in every district to access this information and share it with teachers? We’re small and we have a curriculum coordinator, Jamie Berg,  who works with our CIO, Mike Frame, and our admin team to get this information out of the NYSED portal. . .we were able to analyze this at an admin retreat on August 14, 2014.

Why, then, do so many people continue to say that we don’t have access to information about how our students performed on the NYS math and ELA assessments? 


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.


RCS Returns to Two Week Spring Break

At last night’s BOE meeting, BOE members voted unanimously to return to the two week spring break in the approved calendar for the 2015-16 school year.

There’s a long history in Western New York surrounding a split break with a week off in February and another week around Easter or two weeks around Easter. Districts have varied on their approach with a real effort on the part of the local BOCES leaders, for obvious reasons, to have all component school districts on the same calendar.

For many years Randolph maintained the two week break as we understood from our families that this was their strong preference. In the 2012-13 school year, we switched to the split break so that our students who attend BOCES programs would be on the same calendar with the rest of the schools in the Cattaraugus/Allegany BOCES.

After three years of aligning with the rest of the schools, we are returning to the two week break from March 14, 2016-March 25, 2016. Why? For me, the most compelling reasons have always been instructional. What’s best for kids when considering their learning and achievement? Is a split break better because students only miss one week at a time and therefore retain learning? Or does a split break mean there’s even more lost instruction because of the loss of quality engagement the days before two breaks instead of one?

When evaluating the change to a split break, I spoke with some of our teacher leaders and found that for instructional purposes, they strongly prefer the solid instructional block from the Winter Break around Christmas and the New Year to a two week Spring Break. They opined that breaking twice is less effective.

Next we considered the argument that we have many families who don’t go anywhere on the break anyway, because they can’t afford a trip or the time off from work. What we found, instead, is that our families largely drive if they do take a vacation and they can’t do so with only a one week trip. For the most part, our families can’t afford a trip over only one week because they can’t fly everyone somewhere. And many of our families continue to take two weeks during the Spring break, with the problem of missed school days for their children. Our daily attendance rate, which is usually around 95-98% was down to 79% before our break this March.

While realizing the impact it will have on our approximately 40 BOCES students who will have a different calendar for 8 school days, we have planned to transport students during the first week of the spring break if they will attend. And in February, when BOCES is on break and we are in full session, the CTE students will have half days here at RCS.

It’s important that we work well with our neighboring districts and our BOCES. It’s also important that we respond to the needs of our families in our community. The approved school calendar for 2015-16 will be posted on the District website.


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?


The Cuomo Manifesto

It’s April 1 and the final budget bill was approved by lawmakers last night. Rather than discussing the insanity of the last few days with ill planned proposals for education reform, I’m going to concentrate on the implications for us in the 2015-16 school year.

Information may be forthcoming that will make the changes clearer, but as a district leader I think I owe it to our school community to discuss how I see this playing out for us, at least based on the information we have today. If you’re reading this from another part of the state and you see the governor’s education reform differently, please allow that I’m writing this from my perspective in our district. I respect and understand that a piece of the reform like “receivership” may loom large for you; I’m writing from a Randolph Central perspective for our teachers and parents and BOE members.

There’s a lot being written about changes that I don’t see as big changes at all. Either it’s already in the plan, it’s modified very little or it’s manageable.  Let’s consider those first. Under the NOT A BIG DEAL category:

  1. Requiring teachers and administrators to register with NYSED every four years. (2016-17) Those of us old enough to have “lifetime” or permanent certification must register every five years.
  2. Requiring 100 hours of PD as a condition of that re-registration. (2016-17)
  3. Probationary period of four years instead of three years. Commencing with persons appointed on or after July 1, 2015. (Hey, I’m a district leader, I like this change.)
  4. Two categories with multiple measures within each: Student performance and Teacher observation.
  5. Educators who teach English and math to 3rd-8th graders to be partially evaluated on NYS test results and Regents teachers evaluated on Regents results.
  6. Teachers whose courses don’t end in state exams will be evaluated based on “student learning objectives”.
  7. NYSED approved local assessments (iReady for us) may be used as a second test.

Under the COULD BE A BIG DEAL category:

  1. One of the two required teacher observations will be performed by an “independent” evaluator, who can be a principal or administrator from another school within the district. Thank goodness we don’t have to hire someone to do a job we’re already paid to perform! So consider the plan we have now. The building principal usually does one formal and one informal (more if a probationary teacher). Now the building principal will do the formal and the teacher may have the second, informal evaluation conducted by the principal from the other building, the assistant principal, the director of pupil personnel services, or me. We could even allow teachers to list a preference of RCS administrator for the second evaluation and work to accommodate that request.
  2. Pair #5 and #7 above and we have what we have now for the student performance piece of this, teachers of Math and ELA, grades K-8. If iReady isn’t approved as a second test, I cannot imagine us considering MORE testing as an option.
  3. Teachers whose courses don’t end in state exams will be evaluated based on “student learning objectives”, which will be developed by the state. About 80% of our educators teach courses that don’t end with state exams. This change is simply LUDICROUS. NYSED does not have the capacity to determine SLOs for every music, PE, non-Regents, agriculture, PE, SPED teacher in our districts. But hey, I already see little value in the SLO piece of the current APPR Plan, so maybe this should only be listed under the NOT A BIG DEAL category. It’s far from equitable to what the 3-8 math and ELA or Regents teachers face.
  4. The State Education Department “shall determine the weights and scoring ranges” and “set parameters for appropriate targets for student growth” for the required and optional components and sub-components of the rating system. Yeah, good luck with that–how on earth do they think they’re going to do this and accurately identify the ineffective teachers across the state (within 700+ districts) who they deem need to be replaced? And who do they think is going to replace them? Poppycock.
  5. Additional funds subject to the implementation of an APPR by November 15, 2015 consistent with the provisions outlined in the enacted budget and subsequent regulations. Why not? I’ve personally already spent at least 100 hours on the development and subsequent approval process for the plan they mandated and we negotiated. What’s another 100+ hours?

Please focus on what matters and do NOT become caught up in the state budget reforms. We’re doing good things for our RCS students each and every day. Students and employees are safe and loved and supported. Everyone here has worked incredibly hard to align our curriculum to the more rigorous common core standards, we’ve raised expectations and our students are learning more–all excellent improvements in our own education reform. We’re challenging all students now, not just our most challenged students. We will figure this out together, do the best for our students and school community, and continue to improve with support.

We are public school educators, committed to the students we serve. We love our work and we will not be downtrodden because of the rhetoric and demands of politicians who are elected, given our trust to wield their power wisely, and then seldom fail to disappoint.

Capital Project Vote Results

Thank you to the many district residents who came to our school yesterday to cast your vote on the two propositions for capital project improvements! The results are as follows:

Randolph Central School,Capital Project Vote Results 3/24/15

PROPOSITION #1, District-wide Capital Improvements Project, 2015 Passed

Yes __351____No __320____

PROPOSITION #2, Athletic Facilities Improvements Project, 2015 Failed

Yes _239_____No _438_____

_687__ voters

We will now devote ourselves to developing the details of our proposition #1 parking lot improvements and our submission for approval of the project to New York State Education. I appreciate all of the thoughtful input from our community members and employees and will work hard with our dedicated BOE members, Campus Construction Management, and CannonDesign to get the very best value for the $7,050,545 approved by the voters.


Proposition #1 Student Parking Questions

Where will our RCS students park in our proposition #1, which includes a parking lot plan?

With our capital project vote two days away, I realize our students are concerned about this question. The simple answer is that our ‘Juniors’ lot remains exactly the same and there will still be parking where the ‘Seniors’ lot is now but it will likely be the ‘Employee’ lot. There will be significant additional parking at the tennis court lot,  visitor parking at the bus garage where we currently park extra vehicles and overall we are gaining 44 spots.

The drawings we have included in the materials we’ve published are not detailed to the level we will use when we go to bid. The architects call these ‘conceptual drawings’ and I’m glad because I’ve learned some things that I will follow through on with them after the project vote this Tuesday.

What have I learned from listening to our employees, students and participants at the public hearing that we can now work to include in the detail?

Assigning a specific parking spot to every employee and student with permission to park is high on my list of great ideas. Working with the architect to really look at the entire traffic flow plan again–including where two way traffic is planned,  finding a way to afford to include the exit drive parking lot and walkway directly from the top parking lot to the field, and how to add even more parking where possible are also on the list.

Now you may be asking ‘isn’t this a final design’? Of course not! When residents vote on Tuesday, they are approving a conceptual design and a total proposition dollar amount. We are permitted to spend less than the voter approved total, but not a dime more.

Our BOE members and I have already met with our construction manager to talk about the VALUE of the project. We want the District’s monies worth out of this project! After Tuesday’s vote we then are prepared to pay the costs of a detailed design by CannonDesign, our architectural firm. We will fight to make the most of every dollar.

And please don’t worry about snow removal. This is a question that’s come up that I don’t quite understand. We will handle the snow just as we always have–we haven’t always put it in the same place that we do now. Remember when we piled it directly in front of the elementary school? We can figure this out.

Thanks to everyone for the feedback and conversation! This is how we end up with the best possible result. After Tuesday, please continue to express your ideas and questions and I will include them in our work with our construction management company, Campus, and our architect, CannonDesign.  We also have a good team working on this with the varied expertise of our BOE members and our employees at RCS.



Capital Project Financing

What’s all of this going to cost me, as a taxpayer?

For the $7,050,545 Proposition #1 Capital Project, the average cost to the taxpayer varies based on two factors. Do you have STAR/SENIOR STAR and what is the full value of your home?

For SENIOR STAR recipients, there is no annual cost to those taxpayers with homes valued under $80,000. An $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $1 annually; $2 annually for a $90,000 home.

For STAR recipients on a primary residence, a $60,000 full value homeowner will have an average additional cost of $2 annually; an $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $3; $4 annually for a $90,000 home.

For non-primary residence homeowners, a $60,000 full value homeowner will have an average additional cost of $4 annually; an $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $5; $6 annually for a $90,000 home.

For the Combined $9,815,000 Proposition 1 & 2 Capital Project:

For SENIOR STAR recipients, there is no annual cost to those taxpayers with homes valued under $60,000. An $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $6 annually; $10 annually for a $90,000 home.

For STAR recipients on a primary residence, a $60,000 full value homeowner will have an average additional cost of $13 annually; an $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $21; $25 annually for a $90,000 home.

For non-primary residence homeowners, a $60,000 full value homeowner will have an average additional cost of $25 annually; an $80,000 home will carry an average additional annual cost of $34; $38 annually for a $90,000 home.

Please come to vote on Propositions #1 & #2 on Tuesday, March 24, from 2:00-8:00 in the high school cafeteria. We’ve been responsible to our taxpayers with zero percent increases since 2008 and we continue to be responsible with the project propositions we put before you for your vote on March 24. Please come March 24, 2015 to support our students and programs!

Project Financing



Prop #2-Artificial Turf Multi Purpose Athletic Field

Proposition 2, resurfacing our existing natural turf football field as an artificial turf multi-purpose field is the most exciting proposition in this capital project. As we consider the campus of Randolph Central and our limited green space, this is the only field we own and can therefore invest in improvements—we could take what we currently have and make it so much better!

By investing in artificial turf for this field, we won’t have to restrict access as we’ve done for so many years to keep it useable for the home Varsity and JV football games, one soccer game for girls and one for boys, and four youth football games. Instead we will be able to allow access to this field for every football game, soccer games, and physical education classes. The community requests to use the field for other purposes that we’ve had to deny could be allowed. And what I love most about this idea is that what we already have–a beautiful stadium with a concession stand and bathrooms and bleachers and lights–could be used so much more!

Our track absolutely must be resurfaced now. This is the perfect time, if we’re ever going to consider artificial turf, for us to invest in this field for our students. Our athletic programs are a point of pride for this community. None more so than our FIVE TIMES SINCE 2005 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP FOOTBALL TEAM!

Instead of saying “a grass field was good enough for me, it’s good enough for everyone else”, let’s say “our programs are as good as or better than anyone else’s in the state of New York–our students deserve this!”

Proposition 2


Student Safety-Our #1 Priority for Prop #1

From the beginning of our planning process in 2013, the BOE members, school personnel, students and community members agreed that improving the safety of our parking lot for our students and community members is our #1 priority. We spent a considerable amount of time evaluating how to gain more space, including a removal of the bus garage and reconstruction of outside parking of buses off the campus.

Ultimately the BOE responded to the concerns of the bus drivers and to their own concerns about tearing down a building that we have, determining to leave the bus garage intact. That left us with the task of determining how to improve safety with a clearly delineated parking lot plan and at the same time, a much needed increase in parking, considering our limited space.

What does this new parking lot design provide us that we don’t have now?

  1. Two way traffic in and out of our campus on what is currently a one way entrance and a one way exit drive. This plan allows for greater access in and out in the event of an emergency and it also provides multiple parent drop off spots so that all traffic is not moving through one exit point at the same time that our buses are unloading/loading and our students are moving across our campus.
  2. Separate bus lane areas.
  3. Additional parking of 42 new spots.
  4. Extended parent drop off/pick up lane. Three designated parent drop off options.
  5. Raised crosswalk with gate control between our two buildings.
  6. Expanded parking areas at the elementary and tennis courts.
  7. Safer curbing and distances between parked vehicles and the main entrance to the high school building.
  8. Daytime visitor parking along the entire west side of the bus garage with all outside transportation vehicles parked off of the campus. This was the concession to keeping inside parking of our buses that we then have at least the space up to the building for the improved safety and parking.
  9. Clear safe crosswalks through our parking lot to our multi-purpose field, athletic stadium.

Parking Lot Changes