An Open Letter to NYS Politicians

Dear NYS Politicians:

I write to you today first as a taxpayer and a registered voter, second as an educator. As a property taxpayer in both Erie and Cattaraugus counties and a wage earner in NYS, much of my salary goes to support programs in NYS and your salary, as well as my own as a public school employee. As a registered independent voter, I participate in every election. I appreciate that many of you are well intended individuals who work to make a difference in the communities you serve, for that I thank you. I point out that I am a voter and a taxpayer in the hope that it will get your attention as I am beginning to believe that winning elections is all that matters to many of our politicians in NYS.

What I do not appreciate are the ways in which many of you are over reaching and becoming involved in every aspect of my life. I am a reasonably intelligent woman, I would challenge that I am as intelligent as you are, and I do NOT need you to mandate every decision as if I’m totally incapable of deciding anything on my own. Rather than speaking to all of the personal freedoms and responsibilities that I’m concerned about, I will speak specifically to that area of which I have particular expertise, gained from 25 years in the field—public education.

We are in a period of transition in public education, one in which we are raising expectations and aligning content for the children of all of our NYS public schools. This is happening in a HUGE way and is a very complicated issue–some of it we’ve gotten really right and some of it we’re still working to get right. I wrote about some of the changes in a blog post earlier this week here. In our district, the Randolph Central School District, in which I am the superintendent, we have worked very hard to improve our academic programs for all students. Specifically, we have worked to align our curriculum to the common core standards. This has been incredibly hard work for everyone involved, including our teachers, students and parents. And it’s been worth it because our students will exit our school better prepared than students who graduated under the previous ambiguous, convoluted NYS learning standards.

What do I need from you? I need for you to direct those parents who are contacting you to talk to us, the experts in the field. You are not an expert in education.  It’s often been said that everyone who’s gone to public school considers himself to be an expert in education. Well I’ve flown on an airplane and I’m certainly not an expert in aviation. We have a system in place with the Board of Regents and the State Education Department and LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS (who by the way are unpaid servants in our communities) to govern our actions. When you hold forums and speak about common core on the news–you repeatedly demonstrate a poor grasp of the complex issues at hand (again read here, for a start) and you frankly confuse our parents and community members. Stop speaking out in your obviously limited understanding of common core and using public education as leverage in your political campaign. It’s self serving arrogance at its finest.

I have watched our commissioner of education hold public forums, attend Senate education committee hearings, and make himself accessible to our communities repeatedly. At every turn, MANY do NOT listen to him. Politicians and others continue to use those opportunities to advance an agenda, espousing rhetoric without a thorough grasp of the facts or any intention to accept there may be another side to the argument.

If as a fellow taxpayer, parent, or community member, you would like to meet with me to talk about the complex issues involved in transforming education—please contact me as I would gladly meet with you to discuss the changes, the problems, and the solutions. But if you really want to understand, you’d better give me more than 20 minutes on lobby day with one of your aides because you’ll never attain a clear, thorough picture otherwise.

If you truly care about public education and the children of this state, get out of the way. Allow the local school boards, the educators in the schools, and the current state education department leaders to do our jobs. We know it’s messy, we know what we need to do better. Talk to us about your concerns. Tell parents to talk to us about their concerns, then get out of the way and let us do it.


Kimberly Moritz, Randolph Central School Superintendent

P. S. Call me any time for a meeting, a phone call, to Skype, Google Hangout, whatever works! 716-358-7005

Support for Common Core Standards Isn’t Sinking Here

As the New York State Teacher’s Union (NYSUT) takes a firm stance against the implementation of common core and Commissioner King, I’m more aware than ever of the need for our students to learn a curriculum aligned to the common core standards. Why? Because I want our students to be active learners and citizens who read the overwhelming amount of information coming at them carefully—learners who are able to discern evidence based facts from hype and opinion and just plain old lies. We need our young people to be students who are engaged and open-minded—but discerning—readers and listeners. The very issue at hand–implementation of the common core standards–has become so convoluted, confused and misused that those very skills are critical.

Every change in education is often labeled “common core”. Just this morning on the radio I heard a report that the “governor is calling for an end to standardized testing of students in grades K-2”. That’s wonderful considering NYS doesn’t have standardized testing of students in grades K-2. In our school district, we extend our iReady diagnostic and interim testing to grade levels K-2 because those grades are critical, integral parts of our K-12 system and that local assessment choice keeps all grade levels focused on a continual K-8 pathway that better prepares our students for grades 9-12 math and ELA. The story is almost always much more complex than the simplicity at which it’s reduced to in a sound bite.

To demonstrate that complexity, consider that as a district leader I support our implementation of the common core standards in our school system and I agree with NYSUT’s stance too. If ALL state and federal involvement disappeared from our schools tomorrow, under the direction of the Randolph Board of Education and the Administrative Team, along WITH our teachers, we would continue to implement the common core standards and to use iReady diagnostic testing, computer based instructional modules and materials to align our curriculum. We would continue to have a focus on continuous school improvement and increasing our academic expectations. We would continue to use the Danielson rubric for teacher evaluation and the MPPR for evaluation of our principals. We would continue to support teacher collaboration in developing curriculum at grade levels, aligned to the common core standards. Our curriculum coordinator and principals would continue to listen to our teachers, to study the common core and materials available, and to use all of the data and information at hand to make good instructional decisions for our students.

And we’d support these requests of the state teachers union:

* completion of all modules, or lessons, aligned with the Common Core and time for educators to review them to ensure they are grade-level appropriate and aligned with classroom practice;

* better engagement with parents, including listening to their concerns about their children’s needs;

* additional tools, professional development and resources for teachers to address the needs of diverse learners, including students with disabilities and English language learners;

* full transparency in state testing, including the release of all test questions, so teachers can use them in improving instruction;

* postponement of Common Core Regents exams as a graduation requirement;

* the funding necessary to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to achieve the Common Core standards. The proposed Executive Budget would leave nearly 70 percent of the state’s school districts with less state aid in 2014-15 than they had in 2009-10; and

*a moratorium, or delay, in the high-stakes consequences for students and teachers from standardized testing to give the State Education Department – and school districts – more time to correctly implement the Common Core.

Support for common core standards is NOT sinking here–every parent I talk to wants as much for his or her child as possible. Our teachers are working hard to figure it all out, modifying curriculum to meet the standards AND to teach the students in front of them, who come with a mix of prior year common core standards attainment and skills. It has been difficult for everyone–especially with the poor timing and sometimes poor ELA module development and delivery. Would we be better off with a slower implementation? In my 25 years in education, I’ve never seen this kind of cooperation in implementing a K-12 curriculum so I’m not so sure. It’s been hard, messy, stressful—just like every other major change I’ve ever experienced in life. And as I’ve said often these last couple of years, we’re figuring it out together–teachers, parents, administrators and BOE members.

Maybe not smooth sailing yet, but certainly not sinking.

Workplace Flow

There are days on the job in education when everything I’m doing just feels right and I know I’m in the right place. Yesterday was one of those days. We spent the morning meeting with the architects from CannonDesign on our vision for capital project planning and that was followed up with a Board of Education meeting and a Common Core ELA Parent Forum meeting last night. Now one might think, why would sitting in meetings be considered a good day?

It’s exhilarating in this work to problem solve and plan and prepare our educational programs and spaces for future generations. It’s equally rewarding to meet with colleagues and parents to discuss the current changes in education in our district and to do the same, problem solve and plan. But the reason yesterday was one of the days when I experienced “flow” or the energy that a productive day at work produces? Our students.

I have the privilege of sharing lunch with two different groups of students. One group consists of eighth grade students and the other ninth graders. Each group is remarkably different in their choice of conversations and both are the highlights of every work day for me. For 30 minutes, I get the chance to listen to our students. They talk about sports, PS3, their classes and projects, and their interests outside of school. We’ve talked about the merits of bread crumbs and analyzed the contents of the school lunch chicken patties. It’s my connection to our students and my opportunity to remember the main reason we’re all employed, our students.

They ask me the most incredible questions and we have intellectual discussions about everything from WiFi to the emphasis on athletics or academics to their essays for ELA. And I’m my absolute best self with them. Of all of the incredibly good things in my life, the best is knowing with certainty that I’m doing that thing in life that I was meant to do.  I first learned of this idea from  Dr. Lloyd Elm  in his commencement address to the graduating class of 2005 at Gowanda Central School when I was the principal there. If you haven’t found that thing that you were meant to do in this life yet, I encourage you to seek it out. And I hope we find ways in our educational program for our students to discover that thing they’re each meant to do too.

So when I’m in a meeting to begin to discuss the future of our school district in regard to its facilities and grounds, I’m planning with those same students in mind. What will they need and what will the future generations need for learning spaces? When the BOE meets and talks about the upcoming 8th grade trip to Washington, DC for which our principal, Laurie Sanders advocated, they’re thinking about the needs of our students. And when we meet with parents about the more rigorous work of the common core standards, we’re thinking about continuous improvement and listening to them about what we can do better.

Education is an incredibly rewarding path; what could be better than having the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our young people?  I am grateful for the opportunity.

Continuous Improvement at 49

I suppose it could be the advent of the new year. Or maybe the fact that it’s very quiet here at school this morning. Or it may even be turning 50 in another week. But something’s definitely got me thinking about the big picture, life in general and where I go from here. Yeah, it’s probably that 50 thing. And no Dad, I’m not finally having the mid-life crisis you’ve been waiting for since I turned 40.

What I am having is a look at my life, both personal and professional. As my mom has always encouraged me to do, let’s look at the pros and cons, the good and the bad of life at this juncture of turning the big 5-0.

Plus Side/Pros/Assets/Strengths

1. Two great kids.

a. Bryna. Married to another great kid, Cory. Both with solid jobs making good money, house and property (in the Randolph school district–bonus when they finally get around to giving us a couple of grandkids), they’re devoted to each other and obviously in love.
b. Tallon. Graduating from St. Bonaventure with above a 3.0, Deans List a couple of semesters, treats his mama with respect and love, does anything his dad asks him to, headed in all the right directions.

2. Derek. Husband of 26+ years. Still loves me, puts up with whatever I manage to throw at him and I still look forward to seeing him at the end of a long day. Collaborator, partner, friend, love.

3. Family. Derek and I have our parents to talk to, to love, to drive us crazy. My brother and Derek’s sister have beautiful families with terrific spouses and great kids. We all seem to like each other very much.

4. Friends. I, simply stated, have the most incredible friends imaginable. They are fun and funny and they are there for me and love me even when my ugly shows. Took me a very long time to learn this but I understand it now. Friends don’t have to love us but they seem to manage it anyway. Thank you.

5. Career. (Notice how I’ve got my priorities straight–career didn’t come first. And yes, took me a long time to learn this too and I may not be honest here but I know it should be this way, that’s a start.) I love my work, the day to day, the people, the KIDS, the challenges. Not everyone can say that either. I’ve got great coworkers, an incredible BOE, and really good friends among my superintendent colleagues.  I like coming here every day and genuinely appreciate all that I have in my professional life.

Minus Side/Cons/Liabilities/Areas in Need of Improvement

1. Longevity. I don’t want this life to end. It’s big and beautiful and messy and I hate thinking I’ve got maybe 20-30 years left. Or one, who knows. So I’m going to try to put this out of my mind–no control here anyway. Make the most of every day and all that.

2. Health. Why is it that we work all of our lives to do our best, to improve, to take care of ourselves, to make a difference and in later life we may be riddled with physical illness, difficulties, indignities. I don’t like this, it’s not fair, it makes me angry and sad. As my mom says, life’s not fair and we just have to suck it up. Life doesn’t owe us anything. I do wish it would go a bit easier on her, my mom, though.

3. Career Success. I want to do a better job here at Randolph. This week. Next week. And for the next however many years but at least six. The Winter Break always pushes me to consider all of the things I can do better like reaching out to every employee and listening, giving positive feedback and praise when due, visiting more classrooms, writing and communicating more effectively with our entire school community, knowing more of our students and parents, putting together a smart, necessary capital project that’s good for our students and community, attending more events here at school—and—continuously improving my own work performance and the performance of our entire school community. Always looking to those areas in need of improvement.

4. Exercise, taking care of myself. Yeah, yeah. Need to exercise more, eat less, eat healthier. I’m trying!!!

5. Being a better friend. Making my friends a priority, especially those I seldom see like Lisa. Lisa is my college roomie and we now meet once per year in Chicago, for St. Patrick’s Day, and I look forward to it all year. No matter how busy life gets, I know we prioritize each other and our life-long friendship that weekend.

And my resolution for 2014, the same one I seem to have made for the past 30 years–to stop swearing. I’m a smart enough woman to use better words than those so if you hear me messing up on this one, call me out please. Have a wonderful and happy new year and when you see this old lady at 50? Be gentle.

The Penalty Box

Years ago, when I was a principal, I put every child’s name on a separate piece of paper and taped the pages up in the hallway after school. During a faculty meeting, we all went into the hall and signed our names to the pages of those children with whom we thought we had some sort of a relationship—did we know something about the kid’s home life/interests/activities or did we think the child would come to us with a problem?  I then took down the pages and for any student who had no signatures we determined to connect him or her to the school in a meaningful way. We planned who would reach out to the child, who could easily engage with him to talk about possible interests, and we brainstormed the best ways to follow through. Why? Because the way we connect to our students, the ways in which we notice them and let them know that they are important—-that matters.

We used to have out of school suspension. How dumb is that? You’ve done something really egregious and your consequence is to stay home for three to five days. Sign me up, right? Instead we now have an in school suspension (ISS) program and for all but the most serious safety issues, which are few and far between, our students are here in school for any consequence needed as part of our progressive discipline. I’ve referred to the ISS room as “the Box” for my entire administrative career, a throwback to the many years of sitting at the rink watching my son play hockey.  Fighting on the ice? Five minutes in the box. Fighting in school? Five days in the box.    Damen and Tallon Pond Hockey

But it’s not really that simple. Sitting in the box in a hockey game is just that, sitting and waiting to be let out. Sometimes a penalty that resulted in a stint in the box was even considered worth it—I know since my kid was a goon on the ice and often spent time in there. Our in school suspension rooms cannot be the same as that time spent in the penalty box on the ice. They cannot be a place to just sit and wait to get back out. Time spent in that way doesn’t do anything more than more thoroughly alienate a student from the school.

HockeyInstead we now have an ISS room that’s working for us because it’s working for our students. It’s physically connected to the HS Main Office and it’s staffed by our Teaching Assistant, Deb Luce, who’s connected to the students she serves. What she does in there with her “frequent fliers” reminds me very much of good parenting—she kicks them in the butt when needed, most often regarding their inability or unwillingness to complete school work. Students who are approaching ineligibility spend a lot of time in there—as a proactive way to keep our reluctant learners on track. But as good parents do, Mrs. Luce doesn’t just kick them in the butt when needed, she also pats them on the back.

The students Mrs. Luce works with know that she cares about them. They know that the Assistant Principal who likely assigned the ISS cares about them because he checks on them. And they know that the Principal and the teachers care because the room is connected, it’s open and it’s frequently visited by all of us.

It’s not a place to further disconnect our kids, get them out of the way or alienate them because of their bad behavior. It’s a place to more consistently connect them to our school so that they care.  And when they say they don’t care, we show them that we care enough for both of us.

We’re far from perfect, we can do more for so many of our students—but this is a darn good start.

How to Stay Gracefully

When I took the job of superintendent at Randolph Central in October of 2008, no one thought I would stay here for the rest of my career, including me. My family had bets on it and I heard far too many times in those first years “but what happens when you’re gone?” When opportunity comes knocking, it’s hard to ignore. My mother’s words to me when I first considered if I should stay at Gowanda or apply at Randolph have never left me. She said, “Kimberly, you just have to pick a place and stay there or you’re never going to make the difference that you want to make.”

I’ve since watched school districts open and fill that I would have loved to apply to: Silver Creek and Jamestown, now Frontier and Hamburg, soon my home district of Gowanda. It’s wonderful to talk with someone who’s asking if I’ll consider applying. Boosts my ego a bit and all. My reply remains, “thank you for thinking of me but I’m committed to Randolph. The Board of Education makes a commitment to me every July when they extend my contract for another year. I can’t walk away from them, from my colleagues, or from the goals and the success that we’re realizing.”

The struggle I often have now is that my fourteen years of experience as an administrator, including what I’ve learned here as the superintendent, leave me thinking, “But I know what to do there to make things better!” I stay here because I believe in what we’re doing, in the teams that we’ve worked hard to develop and in our ability to change the world–or this little piece of it called Randolph Central School District. Sounds corny? But it’s true. Most significant to me personally, is that I get to be the kind of superintendent here that I want to be, one who knows our students and teachers and community members. Where else could I have students who want to come in and have lunch with me or talk to me about their problems or visit with me at athletic events?

I read an article yesterday by a veteran superintendent, When and How to Leave Gracefully. The author Art Stellar says,

While typically lacking such public revelations, every superintendent moves on professionally at some point, whether by personal choice or someone else’s. Superintendents are, more often than not, short-term hired hands, migratory workers on a professional level.

I understand that the author’s message is largely about recognizing when it’s time to move on and how to do so well. But his article made me want to write this post, How to Stay Gracefully.  If leading for significant, long lasting school improvement results from building relationships based on trust and mutual respect–then how does that happen when administrators are moving from district to district? According to a recent article in the Buffalo News, search consultant Vincent Coppola indicates there are about ten superintendent openings in NY now and projects another ten openings in January. I suggest that there are ways to stop this trend.

We need stability and commitment in school leadership. I’m not criticizing anyone for pursuing opportunities, I’m suggesting that staying the course is good for a District and for the superintendent. Just like in a marriage worth it’s salt, there are ups and downs–good days and bad. We employ honesty and listening skills and belief in the best intentions of the other person to get through it. Those are the same things we must use as leadership teams, BOE members and School Administrators, to stay the course together for the good of our schools and communities. Because you know what? Just like in a marriage, it’s unlikely that there’s someone or someplace better out there—you just haven’t had the time to figure out the faults or weaknesses of that other superintendent or school district yet.

How do we make a long term superintendency successful? Well for one thing, let’s talk about money. I know, no one who’s making the money wants to talk about it. But honesty and transparency are part of the gig as a public school administrator. Boards have to determine what their goals are–do you want to boast that you have the lowest paid administrators in three counties? Or do you want to secure a superintendent at a competitive salary so that she doesn’t have to pay attention to every opening in every neighboring district? Our School BOE did just that, without my request, three years ago. And while my good intentions, my mother’s words, and my plan to make a difference influence my thinking to stay here–let’s be honest. I would be considering other positions if I knew I would make much more money elsewhere–that’s what most people would do given the opportunity in any field.

Remember too that a superintendent is not awarded tenure and is accountable to the School Board, the community, the faculty and staff and the students on a daily basis–Districts aren’t tied to a superintendent who isn’t doing the job by a lengthy dismissal process. BUT, communities should view it as a long term commitment and once you realize you have someone who’s communicating with you honestly and listening to your elected School BOE while making good decisions for the District, you should pay a competitive salary to keep that person. The work of a school superintendent isn’t going to change drastically from one school to another.

Please talk openly and honestly with us about our shortcomings. I watched someone lose her job in my first year as an administrator, seemingly without warning, and I thought then, “that needs to never be me!” I need to be aware, to listen, and to improve my performance continually. As a school BOE don’t leave us to wonder what you’re unhappy with or where we’re falling short. Give us the opportunity to improve. Communication, honesty, commitment and relationships? Sounds much better than a revolving door of rookie administrators.

What’s With This Homework?

On October 10, 2013, NYS Education Commissioner John King met with parents and teachers in Poughkeepsie, NY to talk with them through a PTA Forum about the Common Core. In watching that session online, I was struck by the comments of one of the parents who spoke about her three young sons and said, “Change is not easy but childhood should not be this difficult.”

I can’t stop thinking about her. She’s right. Childhood isn’t supposed to be difficult. School should be challenging and inspiring and creative and thought provoking. Children should go home tired from a hard day’s work. Then they should play and talk to their friends and have dinner with their families, not spend another one to two hours doing homework.

If you, as parents of K-8 children, are continually frustrated with the homework you see coming home, talk to your child’s teacher. We should not be sending homework that we know will just frustrate our students (and parents). Homework should be a reinforcement of the topics learned and it should be brief. There is NO reason for our K-8 children to spend more than 15-30 minutes on homework. The homework should be reasonable. Please also realize that we may be teaching Math in ways different from the ways in which you learned Math. That doesn’t mean your way was right and this way is wrong. Please don’t tell your child, “I don’t know how to do any of this–it’s ridiculously hard!” as that isn’t going to help your child gain confidence with the material.

So what do you do? Encourage your child to try all of the problems–without the cell phone or TV or iPod on–without distraction. If you’re telling us that it takes your child 60 minutes to do homework but 50 minutes are wasted on distracted thinking, then it’s really not 60 minutes of work. I’ve heard the building principals tell teachers repeatedly that homework cannot be graded punitively. Some of our children have no one to help them at home either, we know this. Homework is about practice, just like getting better at a sport takes practice. But we can’t kick kids off the team with bad grades for poor performance in practice. This doesn’t mean our students don’t need to do homework, just that it needs to be intentional, meaningful, and brief–and our students need to complete it then. On their own. Don’t let your kids train you to do their homework. If your kids are asking you for help without attempting it first themselves, then you’re working harder than they are and it’s not YOU who needs the practice.

And if there’s stress on you and your family because of what you’re reading on Twitter or Facebook or in the news? PLEASE do not let what you read about other districts color your perception of how we’re handling change here. We are listening. To our teachers, our students, and our parents. No one performs better under stress, least of all our children. I’m exhausted at the end of the work day as I’m sure many of you are too. It’s our job as parents to expect the best of our children, to demand that they work hard and be the best little people that they can be. It’s not necessary to turn every night at the dinner table into a battle over school and homework. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for your kids. Enjoy them. Talk about something other than what they’re working on in class. Listen to them and instill confidence in them that they can do it. Read a story to them for fun or go for a walk outside or whatever else helps you find joy at the end of a long day.

And for our teachers and administrators–this message is for you too: I’m an adult who needs time to STOP THINKING when I’m home in the evenings. I need to read magazines and think about fashion and home decorating and how I want to rearrange my furniture. I need to talk with my mom and my daughter, hope my son will call from college (even though he never does, but hey, I hope), make dinner for my husband (most days), get a pedicure with my friends, exercise and RELAX. If I have an evening that requires a couple of hours of work, I do NOT return to school the next day my best self.

For your mental health and well being, we need you to have that same time in the evening, with your families. Many of you aren’t getting it right now because you’re cramming to learn module lessons but remember that what you did last year worked well. We showed strong gains. Fall back on those things that you know you’ve done well, study the modules and do the best you can. All of the change doesn’t have to happen at once. We’ve got this–our very best teachers are the same teachers who are running themselves ragged to improve. I appreciate your hard work AND I want you to have a balance in your life too, just like our students.

Why Do We Need to Change At All?

Why do we need to change what we’re teaching our children? Most people have been pretty happy with Randolph Central, right? Just let my kids be happy, I don’t care if they learn as much math as possible in each grade–provided they’re learning and getting good grades. Here’s the trouble with that idea–as the superintendent I get to see the whole PK-12 continuum. I know our students can do more than we’ve expected of them in the past.

How do I know? Because for 25 years in education I’ve maintained relationships with graduates from Randolph, Gowanda, and Pine Valley. Think about this honestly now. How often has an 18 or 19 year old said to you, “Wow! I really worked hard in school! I was totally prepared for college, these professors are nothing compared to my high school teachers. Or, my employer is so happy with the way I can pick up a project and run with it. He wishes I could teach the other employees my basic math skills and how to communicate well in writing.”

I’ll tell you how often-NEVER. And that’s just not okay. We’re not here to hang out for 12 years, these are the most critical and accessible years of learning our children have and my personal and professional mission is to make them the most advantageous they can be for every RCS student. And that means every student is going to be expected to do his or her best–the same things I expected of my own two children and continue to expect to this day.

And here’s something else, our administrators are visiting classrooms and seeing our students meet the challenges. In listening to our teachers, I hear them saying that our students are accomplishing more than they thought possible. I have lots of thoughts about how this happened, about how we reached the point in education when not enough is expected of our students, but I will reserve that thinking for another time. I will only say that we are failing our brightest students as over the past several decades we expected too little of them which led them to expect too little of themselves. We see it every year as our juniors and seniors drop courses like Chemistry and Physics and Calculus for an easier route out of high school. Easier doesn’t make any of us better. And through the 1990’s when worrying about every child “winning” and their self esteem more than about challenging them was “de rigueur” didn’t help much either.

Yes, Randolph Central is a good school system already. But good isn’t enough for our teachers and students. If any District can collectively figure out how to successfully improve our school system, we can. Just like the teachers, I’m making good, thoughtful decisions every day, along with our entire leadership team. I’m listening, I’m considering and I’m adapting where needed. We aren’t mindlessly implementing the common core modules. We’re making the best local decisions we can and following the requirements of NYSED in purposeful ways. Just as we’ve always done. We’re also improving, expecting more of ourselves and our students, and striving to meet the highest standards possible.

Randolph has been #1 on the athletic fields and courts for many years. It’s time we step up and become #1 academically as well. That will, in fact, serve our students well in the long run as all will need good jobs some day and few, if any, will become professional athletes.

How Randolph Is Implementing the Common Core Standards

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been meeting with our PK-8 teachers at grade level meetings (content area meetings with 7-8 Math and ELA) with two purposes in mind. One, I wanted to listen. Our teachers are not alone in their implementation of new curriculum–they are supported by our curriculum coordinator and building principals and teacher leaders. I needed them to know that they have my support too, that I’m listening to them on how common core implementation is going, and that we as a leadership team are not working in isolation of the realities of the classroom. Two, I wanted to check my own thinking and know if what we planned to do this year is working in the classroom–if our leadership expectations are realistic and if so, are they clear to our teachers?  As every district has made different local decisions and I know many of our teachers have friends and family in other districts, I wanted to make sure our teachers understand what we’re doing at RCS with the common core standards and the common core modules as developed by NYS (yes, they’re two different things).  Today, I begin a series of posts to share our expectations with our larger school community.

I’ve been talking about making good instructional decisions for some time–it was the main idea of my opening day session with teachers both last year and this year. In some districts, the common core modules ( instructional units developed by NYS) are being implemented fully, page by page. In other districts, teachers and administrators began a couple of years ago to develop their own curriculum aligned to the common core standards. In Randolph, we have a combination of the two approaches.

Listen, no matter what the State intended K-8 curriculum may be, our teachers must make good instructional decisions for the students seated in front of them every day. If it’s a teacher at grades 7-12, those instructional decisions may be different for the period 2 Biology class to the period 11 Biology class. Our teachers are not teaching the common core modules, as developed by NYS, without consideration of 100 other factors on any given day. Most important is careful consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of the 20-25 students seated in front of them–what background knowledge do those students have, what curriculum were they taught in prior years and what learning did they retain? What are the interests and skills of the students? All factors that great teachers have considered in planning lessons for decades.

And since the beginning of time, including when I started teaching, we have had to consider the NYS standards in our subject area and where I taught, it was a local decision that all teachers meet the Career Development and Occupational Studies standards too.  We’ve had textbook materials to factor into our decisions, state tests to consider, and if we were lucky, a curriculum left by the teacher we replaced. How do the common core modules and standards come in to play now? Well, those NYS standards were pretty darn vague. Most of us complained about them and as administrators thought, “a teacher could plan any lesson she likes and simply type in a NYS standard to make it fit.” We complained that the standards needed to be a more substantial curriculum that teachers and administrators could follow. For years I have included in my leadership a goal to have a more consistent curriculum grades K-8 so that our students would have a strong, common experience not just learn something due to the luck of the draw or whatever teacher he gets that year. So now we have these curriculum modules, but we don’t know yet if they are reliable since they’re very new and are relatively untested.

So our teachers, our experts in the field,  are evaluating the NYS common core modules as they align to the common core standards and as they align to our other instructional materials including iReady and Ready, our reading series materials and our data on students through formative and state test results. We don’t wish to abandon, disregard, or relegate to an “if I have time” status any of those good things we’ve been doing the past few years that have helped our students meet with greater success. We realize our mathematics K-8 curriculum has not had the emphasis needed to prepare our students for Math in high school. We began addressing that problem two years ago and have made great gains–luckily in many grade levels the modules are enhancing what we’re doing. And when we find that they’re not, or a teacher has a better way to teach something, or our students aren’t ready for a module lesson–we’re modifying and adapting. But we are aligning to a more rigorous set of standards than what we’ve had in the past (more about that tomorrow).

The analysis and study of the modules is being done largely on the fly by hard working, dedicated teachers who didn’t have the opportunity to do this in advance of the school year in any detail because the modules are still coming out from NYSED. New modules come out from the State weekly. We are using the common core modules as a curriculum resource to help us raise our standards as our students are ready. Teachers are expected to study the modules and to make good instructional decisions for their students as we continue to align our taught curriculum to the stated common core curriculum. This will take time. We are doing the best that we can in an imperfect implementation system—but always with the best interest of our students in mind. If it doesn’t feel that way in your home–please talk to your child’s teacher. In Thursday’s post, I’ll write more about homework.

Tomorrow: Why Do We Need to Change At All?