Randolph Readers Share Space with G-Town

While I was at Gowanda, I made a commitment to share a significant responsibility with my two wonderful colleagues, Bill Schindler and Barb Dempsey. Even though I’m now at Randolph, I plan to follow through with the commitment and so we will be leading a student tour to Switzerland, Italy and the French Riviera that leaves this Friday at 4:30 am. This was a commitment that I discussed with our BOE members during the interview and so I’ll be using my vacation time to travel with the group.

This will be my fourth student tour to Europe, the first which I led from my teaching position at Pine Valley in 1997. Every trip has been an incredible experience for the students and definitely for me. I recall planning that first trip in wonder that I would have the opportunity to travel abroad, something this small town coal miner’s daughter never imagined before that day.

I love that my life has landed me here in Western New York and I’m truly blessed in my personal and professional life. But I love seeing and imagining all of the other amazing places that I could have landed if I was born to a different life or made different choices. I recognize what an incredible opportunity this trip provides and I can’t imagine doing it without students. Well, about day eight when we’re exhausted from the non-stop twelve hour days I might be able to imagine it, but right now all I can think about is the anticipation of the small town kids who are going on the adventure of a life time. I’m privileged to get to see it with them and through their eyes.

So Randolph Readers, we’ll be sharing this space with G-Town (Gowanda) Readers over the span of the tour as I’ll be blogging about our trip. I managed to post about the trip when we went in 2007 and it was a great success. We don’t have cell phones over there and pay phones are hit or miss so the blog is a way to keep those nervous moms at home (Mrs. Kerker ;-)) vicariously in touch. And feel free to post a comment because I’ll be sure to share them with the group. It’s easy, give it a try!

Get ready to join us for the trip of a lifetime Readers, but first we’ve got about 24 hours of travel time from Friday through Saturday morning–stay well while we’re gone.

Randolph’s “Jack Wax”

So mixed in with budget preparation for last night’s BOE meeting, I got to go to the Inkley’s Sugar Farm yesterday with our kindergarten students. We got the deluxe tour, learning how the trees are tapped and how the sap becomes that delicious maple syrup we all love. Listen to this–they set up picnic tables outside and served all of us waffles with syrup and sausage. As if that wasn’t enough, every child took home a bottle of maple syrup to remember the day! The generosity of this family was incredible. My favorite was the warm syrup drizzled on snow, I think they called it “jack wax” and I could have eaten it all.

This is the best possible type of field trip, right in our backyard hosted by our friends and neighbors. I still remember a field trip my first grade class took to Turner Dairy Farm in Pennsylvania–it was a whole other world than I knew, but right in our own backyard. 

I really had too much work to do yesterday to justify going with our kids, but it was a good opportunity for me to get to know our students, teachers and parents a little bit better. As usually happens when I’m with the primary grade students, I left thinking I’d missed the boat by not teaching elementary ed all of these years. The students I got to ride on the bus with were amazing. There’s just no way to feel but upbeat and positive when spending a morning with five year olds!

Over and over again, I’m blown away by our phenomenal students at Randolph. I can’t stop writing about it. From the interviews they’ve done with me to the kindergarten trip to the musical to the PTA Academic Fair to our school receiving this award for our sportsmanship from Rich Hill and the Catt County Officials,

Each year the Cattaraugus County Basketball Officials recognize the one school in the county which displays the best sportsmanship. This includes both girls and boys contests and encompasses varsity, JV, and modified levels. The actions of coaches, players, and fans are considered. We have several schools with excellent sportsmanship, but none were as fine as Randolph for the 2008-2009 season.
To recognize this significant accomplishment, the Cattaraugus County Basketball Officials would like to present you with a banner between the girls and boys exceptional seniors game on Thursday, March 26 at Olean High. The time would be approximately 7:30. On behalf of the Catt. County Officials, I would like to congratulate everyone involved.

Way to go Randolph! I’m proud of you and thank you for continually making us look great. It’s easy to expect the best of you because you just keep delivering it. We need to never take this for granted–I know I’m not! And just think, about the time those kindergarten students are ready to graduate, I’ll be eligible for retirement. We’ve got a good long way to go together. 😉

RCS Impact Group Impacts ME

Part of my professional growth as an administrator has included shifting from my focus on building positive relationships with students to building positive relationships with faculty and staff. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still about the kids but I realized about two years ago that I did a much better job of getting to know my students, of nurturing them and giving positive feedback, of showing an interest in and caring about them than I did my faculty and staff.  I just really love the kids and truly enjoy their company.

But as a superintendent, I really needed to make the transition. I now see my responsibility to every adult who works in the system in the same way that I see my responsibility to students–to expect and think the best of each and every one of them and to show it. I always believed that my students would do what I asked in the classroom or in the school as principal because I first showed them that I genuinely cared about them, expected the best of them, and wasn’t afraid to call them out on it when they failed to make good decisions. I continue to work hard every day to form relationships with the adults in our school, on our BOE, in our community: to see them as I’ve always seen our students, in the best possible light.

But I still miss the students. I don’t get a lot of F2F meetings with them now. There are times when I’m too tied to this desk and I walk through the school or over to the elementary school just to be with them. I keep the door to the hallway from my office open so that I’m accessible, but also so I can hear the students. I love the noise and commotion of our kids in the hall. But they don’t need to come and see me very often–there are others in our system who fill that role for them.

Every now and then though, I get a little piece of it back. One of our sophomores emailed me and asked if he could talk to me about the RCS Impact Group. I was happy to meet, but like most of my meetings, assumed it would be so that I could solve some problem or hear a complaint.

Instead three students, a sophomore, a senior and an eighth grader, along with a parent, came in to talk about the Impact group–get this–to ask what they could do to help at school. It’s a student led group and they meet with other kids one day per week during lunch periods for positive conversation, fellowship, prayer and support. They wanted me to know what they were doing and to talk about any possible service projects we might have at school. I found myself asking them questions, talking about different things at school, and just enjoying their company.

I am amazed at the level of leadership exhibited by these students. The eighth grader spoke with the wisdom of a much older girl showing an understanding of the “issues” her peers confront and still giggling like a 13 year old should.

They were like a breath of fresh air in this office in which much of the conversation focuses on budgets and numbers and layoffs and problem solving. I will think of them often and be reminded that the positive energy of our students is still what absolutely energizes me in this work. If I find that positive energy lacking in myself, I’ve only to open that door to the hallway and let the air blow through.

I wish every kid in our school could find a way to meet during lunch on Tuesdays with our Impact Group–I’m sure we have students who could use a little positive energy as much as I can!

The Tech Driver Ed Program

There is a ton of “stuff” here at the NYSCATE conference: gadgets, interactive whiteboards, clickers for student response, hardware, software, laptops, mini notebooks, document cameras, and on and on. Lots of ideas circulating about how to use it all, the need to take a stand on where we’re going as districts, the difference between what the kids are doing inside our walls and outside with technology.

The biggest idea I’m walking away from this conference with is the same one I’ve been reading about for the four years I’ve been reading/blogging now. I have to be a mom for a moment to explain it because I think many of my best decisions as a school leader are made when I consider, “what do I want for my own son?”

Our son Tallon is sixteen years old. He’s learning how to drive a car. We ride with him. I make suggestions that are sometimes more urgent than at other times. He listens, he adjusts. He’s learning to make good decisions behind the wheel. I’ve included conversation about how much we love him and how potentially dangerous his decisions can be and how important he is to us and therefore how important those decisions are to us. Follow? We’re taking at least six months, countless hours of practice, and further restrictions until he gains lots of experience even once he has the license.

I know that ultimately, he’s a sixteen year old boy and in the time of his life when he may make decisions that have consequences beyond his immediate consideration. I remember being fearless at his age, driving way too fast, getting pulled over and then the police officer/judge working to correct my behavior. I remember listening to my parents, I knew what was right or wrong, I made decisions for better or worse.

In my son’s use of technology, who’s doing all of the above? Many of his friends’ parents, my peers, know a lot less about technology than I do. Who’s talking to them, boys and girls, about the way they look on-line? About the social connections they’re making, the information about themselves that they’re giving away, the light in which they portray themselves, the bullying that’s taking place, the websites that expose them to content they don’t need to see, the future potential consequences of their decisions? Who’s helping him to understand this: “while you may not care now that your full name is on that YouTube video you created with your cousin, someday you might when a college admissions counselor says no, or a potential employer.”

See the point for me isn’t that we prohibit him from EVER doing anything wrong. I’m not delusional, I know that’s impossible. I just want him to know the consequences and to make a more informed decision. Even when our kids know the consequences, they still take risks. But right now, I’m fairly certain that our students don’t even understand the risks or long term implications of their on-line identity or of cyber bullying or of the importance of limiting what’s out there for others to see. Do they?

I know he’s going to figure out the how of using technology, in incredible ways that I couldn’t even imagine. I just want to be there to talk about it, to reason it through with him, to be a parent (and how many of our parents don’t have a clue on this topic?) and to help him understand. I totally want him to go for it with his creativity and connections–just want it to be in a smart, responsible way.

So if kids don’t know how to participate in a smart, responsible way and parents don’t know how, what the heck are we waiting for as teachers? Kids have the keys to a car that no one else in the family may know how to drive and we haven’t designed our driver’s ed programs yet. Or should I say “still”?

More to it Than Winning

Whenever our high school athletes compete in regular season and play-off games, I think they learn about much more than the technical aspects of the sport. The athletic field can be a place to learn about team work, sportsmanship, heart and how to win/lose gracefully.

I would be much more disappointed if our athletes and coaches did not conduct themselves with dignity and class than if they lose. Our Boys Varsity Lacrosse team played a play off game last night at a neighboring school. Our boys lost. I know our coach and players and I know from all reports that they lost with dignity and class.

When the opposing team, the winning team, rallies their players by posting a sign that says “Make ’em cry boys” and then plays the song “Big Girls Don’t Cry” over  the PA system at the conclusion of the game, three times in succession, it shows a definite lack of dignity and class. It reflects poorly on the coaches and the school. I’ll take a loss over that kind of behavior any day of the week.

Thank you Gowanda Lacrosse athletes, coaches and parents for teaching our boys what it means to become men, the right way.

Former Teacher Sentenced Today

It’s all over the local news by now, but one of our former teachers and advisors was sentenced today for grand larceny. The former teacher advised several student activities and coached during his years at GCS. During that time he managed to short our student activity accounts to the tune of at least $81,000. This happened a couple of years ago, was found by our central treasurer, Susan Rebmann, and confirmed by our own business office and outside auditors.

This all came to light in the first year that Sue and I were here, the 2004-2005 school year, so you can see that this man’s sentencing was a long time in coming. I’m happy he’s sitting in the county jail today instead of the story running on America’s Most Wanted. Thanks to the efforts of the NYS police and our own SRO, Jennifer Alessi, he was arrested when he returned to the area for a different court case in December. He’s been in jail since then and remains there after sentencing today, completing his 6 months of jail time which will be followed by 5 years of probation. The restitution issue will remain in the courts for some time. He will never teach in New York state again.

This has been a complex issue for many of our former students as they admired their teacher, advisor, coach.  I should say that they still do admire him as several students have continued to show their support of Gill. I think this support shows one of two things, probably depending on the person. One, the support can show that all of us are multifaceted individuals, bringing both good and bad to the table. Members of our school community who continued to support the former teacher must continually look to the good that they find in him. Two, the support may show that it’s easier to assume the school district was at fault than to admit to being duped by someone. Either way, each individual is entitled to judge the former teacher based on his or her own knowledge of the man.

While there are lots of reasons to justify, debate, argue or fault his actions, for me, the main injustice has always been that he took advantage of the very students for whom he was entrusted to care. Every day, we can find students working hard in our community at part time minimum wage jobs to pay for the many expenses of the junior and senior school years. Working at Jubilee or Rite Aid or one of our fast food restaurants to save up enough money to pay for the prom,  senior dinner dance, the senior trip, and yearbook. I hate that those same hard working kids paid more for many of those things than they otherwise would have because the fundraising events that they were also working hard on didn’t supplement the costs. Their trusted advisor and teacher instead pocketed tens of thousands of dollars, at the expense of those students. I find that reprehensible. That’s personal. It affected every student who fund-raised, bought a yearbook, paid for athletic gear, went to the senior dinner dance.

That’s why I’m glad he’ll never teach again, that he continues to sit in jail, that he’s paying the consequences of his actions. That’s why it was worth my time this morning to travel to Olean, to sit in the court room, to wait to hear the sentencing. For every student who couldn’t be there, I was, to hear him be held accountable. For every member of our community who bought a ticket to a spaghetti dinner thinking it was in support of our kids, but was really supporting this teacher, I was there to hear the consequences.

St. Valentine Brings It

Valentine’s Day is an interesting day in a school. There’s just too much pressure. We have kids who have been dating and who sometimes have differing expectations and therefore end up arguing. We have students who decide this is the perfect day to show how much they like someone. We have students who feel ignored and wonder if anyone special will ever notice them on Valentine’s Day. We have others who hate the whole day and all that it represents.

And think about our younger students with all of the pressure of paper valentines. I always made my own kids give one to every student in the class, when really, they didn’t want to give one to every kid. And the “counters”–those students who walk around all day reciting the number of valentines they’ve received. Oh brother, what a pain in the neck those kids are!

What I like the most about the day are those kids who decide to go for it and surprise someone with their interest or affection. Now those kids have to take a serious risk. It’s never easy to reveal how you feel about someone, especially when you’re not sure if it will be reciprocated. But you’ve got to admire the guy who goes “all in”, buys the flowers or candy and puts it out there. Who the heck knows what will happen? The girl may have been just waiting for the boy to express his interest, she may be totally shocked by it, or actually a little put off. Hopefully, she reacts with dignity and kindness and thinks of the admirer’s feelings too. But the thing I love the most is the obvious sign of moxie, guts, chutzpah. That’s the guy I want on my side, the one who’s not afraid to go “all in” when it really counts.

What’s that expression? “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Too many people play it safe to avoid being hurt. My hat is totally off to guys like R.D. today. Even if he doesn’t get the reaction he’s most hoping for, he’s top dog in my book. I love a guy with guts. And making someone else feel valued and liked? Well, that’s NEVER a bad thing.

A Little Perspective Gained

Our son, Tallon, plays hockey for a 15-18 year old league in Fredonia, New York. This weekend his team hosted a tournament, the Aaron Gibb tournament, named after a player on the team who was tragically killed in a car accident last April. The team played really well, with 12 of the players on our team 18 year olds for whom this game was really personal.

They lost it in the championship today 2-3. As the mother of a rookie on the team, a 15 year old, I just kept praying that Tal would work hard, do his best, and NOT make any mistakes including penalties. The coaches and players for our team showed real class this weekend, honoring their former teammate.

The game was intense and I ended up sitting amidst parents from the other team.

Now anyone who’s ever seen me at a wrestling meet would tell you I can be a boisterous parent. I love the sport, I yell and cheer, I am definitely more engaged than during any of the other sports I watch. Today I got a little perspective sitting with the opposing fans.

We’re obnoxious as parents. Really. I don’t feel nearly as passionately about hockey, so I was quiet. But geez. These parents were yelling and swearing (I NEVER go that direction) and the woman seated with me had a small child with her. What’s wrong with us as adults that we become so engrossed in being a spectator that we lose ourselves?

Part of it is wanting our kids to do well so much that we feel “cheering” them on will actually have an impact. My kid just thinks I should keep quiet, that’s the impact I’m having. For me, it’s also about cheering louder for the kids who I know don’t have parents in the stands. But the parents who lose it, who pound the wall or swear at whatever, what is that?

I think I’ll work on keeping my mouth shut in the future, keeping quiet unless I’m positive the only thing I’m yelling is, “WAY TO GO!” Not sure I’ll get there, but sitting with the other side today certainly pointed out how stupid they look and consequently, how stupid I must look when I get carried away with the game. Something to work on, that’s for sure.

From the Tedious to the Titillating

We have a snow day today so my reading meeting is postponed until Wednesday. That leaves me with an unexpected “bonus” day to get some work done. I am spending the day researching grants. Not that I’m a grant writer. Not by any stretch. But I did attend a 1/2 day workshop and it is on my list of duties. I have no particular expertise, just this niggling reminder that’s constantly in the back of my brain that it’s the one thing on the list of duties in my assistant superintendent position to which I’ve not attended. I guess I put off that which least appeals to me?

I wade through pages and pages of possible grants only to find out we don’t qualify because we need a poverty rate of 20% and ours is only 16.95%. Or we need to fund 50% and I know we won’t make that commitment for that specific initiative. Or the grant application is so HUGE that I realize I’ll have to chuck all the things I’m most committed to in my work, just to work on a grant that I might not win anyway. I guess this is why people make a full time job out of grant writing, they’re qualified and expert in the job. Anyway, enough complaining, I’m writing this for a brief break from the grueling grant search, no sense talking about it the entire break.

This brings me to something that is really exciting. Check out the incredible questions our 6th grade Science students are asking on their teacher, Mrs. Phillip’s, new blog.

Is the balck hole another name for the galaxy? how many stars are in the galaxy?

do you know if there is globle warming on any other planet besides earth?

 some people say that if you go in the black hole its like a time portal.If scientists find a nother planet or living organisms what will we do?

hello…….i wonder if there is any other planets we dont know about????

when they say planets have rings around them what are the ring made up of?

how come we dont have rings around are planet?

Mrs.Phillips are there any living organisms out in space like aliens or parasites or even protists,fungis,monerans,human,and animals?

are stars reproducible?

How do scientists kno so much about other plants wen they never been there?and becuz its so far away they cant send anythin in space!! its weird

when there are star clusters what is the reason for that to happen?Do they cluster at a sertain time?are we going to be talking about how star clusters form?I think it would be a very interesting thing to do?GTG bye

Tell me those questions aren’t the springboard for an entire unit?! Tell me that kids aren’t as inquisitive as they once were or that they’re only interested in XBOX and television. Hogwash! These kids are stoked about learning, they’re asking questions that show some deep thinking, and they have a teacher who shows enough innovation and initiative to let them ask the questions and direct the lesson flow. Very cool stuff indeed. Much cooler than grant writing.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Web?

Cross posted at Leader Talk

As far as education professionals go, I’m fairly liberal in my thoughts about the uses of technology in our schools, specifically access to the web. On more than one occasion, I’ve talked about opening access so that our students can explore, create and learn from sources other than us. I’ve believed that opening access should come with a lot of discussion and education about the appropriate uses of the incredible wealth of information available that comes with a wealth of nonsense as well. If we don’t talk to our kids and teach them how to discern what is reputable and reliable, who will? If we don’t talk about Internet safety with them and social networking, will their parents be knowledgeable enough to get the job done?

And then I land on a student website that so obviously invites a problem, I’m left seriously concerned about his health and safety. A website where student creativity and expression includes way too much personal (really personal) information, including the student’s first and last name. A website with provocative pictures and details about the kid that leave little to the imagination. Information that’s accessible to everyone, friends, family, and predators.

As a school administrator, my first concern is to work with the parents to communicate the problem and to offer whatever assistance we can give. I find myself communicating a problem that I’m not sure the parents understand, with implications that are far reaching. How do we do more to educate our parents and students about the danger of this sort of personal exploitation while encouraging teachers and students to utilize all that is good about the web? In my experience, the response is often that adults conclude the web is a bad thing all together, because if its misuse in a case like this one.

As an adult learner, I have no problem discriminating, considering the source, looking at the possible bias. I have no problem avoiding the million and one websites out there that focus on nonsense. I don’t think blocking access to the web at school is going to teach our kids how to do those things. I’m certain that opening it up completely to students who are still developing their good sense and judgment isn’t the answer either.

Good parents pay attention to what their kids are doing on-line, just like they pay attention to every other aspect of their lives. Good schools need to pay attention too and as far as I can see, the lines are getting blurrier and blurrier as to who holds the responsibility for teaching safe on-line behavior. Neither of us, the parents or the school, can assume the other is getting the job done.