GED: Influence My Thinking

We have GED in-house this year for Randolph students and I’m wrestling with the subject. I understand how valuable GED is for adults who, for whatever reason, didn’t make it to a diploma. I saw Kimberly Mansfield deliver a wonderful program as part of Gowanda’s Adult Education program. It was one night per week, free of cost to the students and the district, helping prepare for the GED those students who had dropped out and those adults in the community who wanted it. Makes perfect sense to me.

I can’t deny it’s a good thing that we have our students coming to RCS for their GED instruction and attending BOCES for a vocational certificate–it’s definitely better than dropping out, no argument there. I’m not sure why they don’t get the GED instruction at BOCES, while there for the vocational piece. Can we deliver the instruction in a better or more cost effective way than BOCES can for GED? I’m not sure about that. Could our RCS teachers offer something else to our students, like additional electives, if they were freed up from that GED assignment?

I wonder what’s best for our GED students. Most of all, I wonder if we tried every other option first and if they absolutely would have been drop-outs without this program in-house. What about alternative ed at BOCES? There’s a program that offers an alternative that results in a diploma.

Readers, if you have an opinion, please respond. Influence my thinking. GED students, help me to understand how GED at Randolph is better than GED at BOCES, or is it? GED Teachers, what do you think? Parents? In a cost/benefit analysis, wouldn’t the rest of our students benefit more from those teachers offering more electives? Would GED students get a better or equitable program at BOCES?

My biggest fear? That our in-house GED program will look like an appealing alternative to those students on the brink, that we’ll have more drop-outs to GED (yes, it still counts as an RCS drop-out in the eyes of the State Education Department) because it looks easier to our struggling students than hanging in there and getting a high school diploma.

Why Do We Need An Assistant Superintendent?

Because my position of assistant superintendent is newly created and it’s one that had only a week’s worth of discussion at the BOE, there has been some subsequent discussion in the community about it. While many have been congratulatory, I can’t ignore the concerns of some of my neighbors. In my experience, any time a district decides to spend money on an administrative position, taxpayers and personnel have the right to question why it is needed.

I understand this and asked our BOE about this very thing during our discussions. After all, I am a significant taxpayer in our district as well, both through our own home and through our rental property and my husband’s business. I pay attention to the way we spend the district’s money as much as anyone in our community.

I’ve seriously thought about trying to do both jobs, assistant superintendent and high school principal. If I wasn’t already working at least a ten hour day, and a couple of times per week, a 12-14 hour day, I would consider it. It’s honestly that I just can’t possibly imagine giving serious attention to K-12 instructional improvement while managing the day to day business of the high school. If I could, I would.

I also understand clearly that this position is designed as a direct intervention to our improving, but still poor, results in student achievement and in ranking on Business First. I understand that it will be my primary responsibility to do something significant about student achievement gains, to research and then design an improvement plan to move our district forward, thus benefiting every student.

Answering “why do we need an assistant superintendent?” leads me to do the same kind of research and comparison that we do in every other instance, what are other districts doing in regard to leadership designed to focus on instructional improvement? What, specifically, are those districts that we look to on every other measure doing better than we are in dedicating staff? Do they have someone in a similar position to the one created at Gowanda?

In Silver Creek, David O’Rourke leads through the Office of Instruction and Technology. While David does not possess the title of assistant superintendent, he functions as an assistant superintendent does.

In Iroquois, Robin Zymroz leads as an assistant superintendent and another administrator is responsible for instruction, student services, and assessment.

In Lakeshore, they’ve had an assistant superintendent for instruction for many years and in Akron, Sue Kovic is an instructional leader as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction. I’m not even mentioning all of our neighbors to the north who have these administrative positions and many more. I’ll just stick to the four districts above that I routinely look to for their ideas, programs and results.

With the governor dedicating increased aide, especially in the amount that’s been dedicated to Gowanda, we cannot ignore the significance of our leadership dedicated to instructional improvement. Yes, as a principal, I worked hard on this very thing. But as a principal, managing the needs of our students, parents and teachers is a full time job. In my opinion, my focus on instructional improvement, despite the significant changes we’ve made, has never been sufficient.  

We simply need more work in this area if we truly dedicate ourselves to gains in student achievement. If we’re going to compare ourselves to more successful districts, as we should, we can’t just scratch our heads and wail about why we’re not doing as well as they are. We have to also ask, “what are they doing that we’re not?”

I’ve been doing that for three years for the high school and the result has been increased electives, honors classes, a revised bell schedule to optimize instructional time, the elimination of ineffective curriculum and the addition of staff in remedial services, the addition of our summer school at no cost to our families, the revision of our AIS program, a culture of literacy initiative, positive programs for students, and a coordinated focus on instructional improvement and increased achievement on the Regents exams plus a drop out prevention study.

Asking questions and identifying improvements. Focusing on the results we’re getting and figuring out what we can do better. Addressing the tough issues in a compassionate, to the point manner. This is my strong suit. This is why the assistant superintendent position allows me to help our district move in a more significant way than I can as a high school principal.

What’s that definition of insanity I’ve heard before? To keep doing the same thing over and over, in the same way, expecting a different result.

We have the money now, thank you Governor Spitzer, we’re adding this position with a zero increase to taxes and we bring in a new high school principal which adds brain power to our team. Makes sense to me.

I’m game, let’s get to it.

The Complicated Cohort Story

I’d like to clarify all of the reporting of data that readers see. There are two ways that we are constantly looking at data–by school year and by cohort.

As a principal, I compare how we did on our Regents exams and graduation rate by school year. That’s what I reported in my earlier post, Winding Down. In addition, we pay attention to the number of student drop outs each school year.

However, the school report card and the Business First rankings look at data by cohort. Data analysis by cohort looks at the students who entered ninth grade together, for example this year’s seniors are largely from the 2003 cohort. What does this mean? That they entered ninth grade together in 2003 and are graduating this year, in four years, in 2007.

How does this get complicated? We pay a lot of attention to our Native American sub-group because we have not had good graduation rate results with this group. Remember that our Native American students add up to about 30% of our population. For example, last year’s cohort, called the 2002 cohort, had only a 48% graduation rate for our Native American students as opposed to 85% for our other students.

That should help readers understand why I pay so much attention to all of our kids. I simply must help more of our students get to a diploma and knowing that half of our Native kids aren’t getting there is unacceptable to me.

This year, I’ve reported to our BOE and written about it here, that we have 32 of our 36 Native American seniors graduating. This just tells you that I have 32 seniors graduating. However, that doesn’t tell the cohort story. Six of those thirty-six students are of the 2002 cohort. This led me to ask, “what about the 2003 cohort?” How many students started in ninth grade in 2003 and should be graduating this year? Is it higher than the 48% of the 2002 cohort?

Short answer, Yes. In 2003, I had 48 students enter the ninth grade (the 2003 cohort). Of those 48 Native American students, six transferred to other schools and six will complete their graduation requirements this August or in 2008. Of the 42 Native American students I should have graduated this year, 27 will graduate Friday night. Eight have officially dropped out, one student has passed away. 64% of our 2003 Native American cohort is graduating, much better than the 48% who graduated in the 2002 cohort. The other piece of that puzzle is that five students from that 2002 cohort are graduating this year, having taken five years and raising the passing rate for their cohort. Unfortunately, any student who takes more than four years, who we keep and compel to return, still counts against a school district as a drop out.

I think sometimes that the different ways of looking at our results can be confusing to our community. Hopefully, this post helps to explain a piece of the reason why.

Winding Down

We’re winding down now with only one Regents exam left tomorrow, Physics. Our results are pouring in, seniors on the cusp are being notified about graduation, and commencement is the day after tomorrow.

After two-three manic weeks, winding down feels great. Our new hires should be approved at the BOE tonight, our summer school appointments are going up too, and we’re all enjoying the anticipation of summer. Anyone who works in industry and resents the idea of two months off for teachers and students has never seen the exhaustion of our kids at the end of a tough Regents exam. This break is badly needed and allows us to come back refreshed in September.

Personally, I look forward to two months of work without students and staff. Granted, our implementation of a summer school changes that dynamic significantly, but I still get the chance to actually start and finish a project in the same day. I can complete a thought, as simple as that sounds. Summer is truly our time of renewal and is often the source of my own professional growth and the generation of many new ideas.

The very best part about this ending to the school year is the knowledge that G-Town has had a stellar year. Our faculty, staff and students have worked very hard to improve and our Regents results show significant gains. The combined January/June Regents results for this school year, which are in to date, show the following:

  • Comprehensive English   Increases to both the mastery level of 85%+ and to passing at 65% with 83%
  • Math A,Increases to mastery level, showing a 7% gain at 26%, and passing, showing a 15% gain at 94%
  • Math B, Increases to mastery level, showing a 3% gain, and passing, showing an 11% gain
  • Global History, Increases to mastery level, showing a 3% gain at 21%, and passing, showing an 11% gain at 77%
  • Comprehensive Spanish, increases to mastery level, showing a 17% gain at 56%, and 96% passing at 65

I’m not even considering our passing rate at 55% any longer, even though our students can still graduate with 1-3 of the five required Regents exams at 55%, depending on cohort. We’re operating from the standpoint that we need to help all students achieve at least a 65% on the Regents with the goal of mastery level at 85% and above.

We’re getting there G-Town. A great example of how far we’ve come is that our English passing rate of 83% that was just 68% in 2005 and of 77% in Global that was just 59% in 2005.

Thank you to every student, teacher, and staff member who helped make it happen. Thank you to the superintendent and BOE for supporting our ideas for instructional improvement. Thank you to our parents and community for pushing our kids and for supporting our budgets.

Business First Bites

I’m warning readers right up front that this is not going to be a positive post. I’ve struggled with how to post about this topic, I’ve avoided it, but it’s all that’s on my mind this week. It’s much of what’s on most administrators’ minds, if they’ll admit it or not.

Business First ranks the school districts in 8 counties, then the individual schools. I haven’t even seen the high school ranking yet, but history will show me I’ve no reason for optimism. That and the fact that our district fell overall doesn’t indicate I’ll have much reason to celebrate.

I was up this morning at 4:30 checking the stinking website to see if the high school rankings were out there. They only give partial information in the on-line reports prior to Friday’s publication, and that’s not the bottom 20 where we’ll most likely sit, it’s the top 20. I’ve no idea what our “number” is, our ranking. As they say, “it ain’t gonna be pretty.”

Please don’t post a comment telling me that it’s skewed or based on socio-economic status. Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter. Please. I’m not comparing us to Williamsville. I’m comparing us to other similar schools and we’re still falling short.

I’m frustrated, ticked off, exasperated, disappointed, and NOT in a positive frame of mind about this ranking. This feels like the ultimate judgment of everything we do and it really fries me. I KNOW we are doing tremendous things in G-Town, I’m not delusional or full of political crap. I live G-Town, all day, every day, 10-12 hours per day. I KNOW what kind of effort is going into our curriculum and instruction, into our kids.

I literally cannot think of one thing that I’ve asked our faculty, staff, or students to do that they’ve not done. And I’m an idea girl, I read and research while others are watching CSI. I hold full responsibility for our building. We have made significant improvements, and yes Jennifer, I remember that many either haven’t been in action long enough or even yet, but when will we see the results? Readers will just have to take my word on the improvements or read through my posts on this blog for the detail.

I want every educator, in every district ranked above ours, to stop and realize that you are welcome to come and visit any time you like, I’ll take any suggestion that makes sense for our kids, we work as hard or harder than any one of you, and we have a rock solid school. Don’t you dare judge us based on a Business First ranking until you’ve come here and walked in our shoes. And don’t even consider judging my kids as less than yours. Not for one moment. At least not to me.

You cannot imagine what it feels like to work this hard and make such little progress. And don’t give me any cliches about working smarter or anything like it.

I promise to be back as G-Town’s #1 cheerleader tomorrow, but for today, read how this part of it honestly feels too.

Gowanda High School Report Card

The Buffalo News has a story in today’s Sunday newspaper showing the NYS Report card for Erie and Niagara high schools. While our elementary school is in Erie County, our high school is in Cattaraugus County, so we’re not included in the report.

How does Gowanda stack up? The News reports passing rates (at 65%) and excelling rates (at 85% and above) for five Regents exams.

For 2006 in English, GHS is at 81% passing, 20% excelling (better known as mastery level) an increase from 2005 at 68% passing, 13% excelling. On the Math A Regents, 85% passing, 21% excelling; up from 2005 with 83% passing, 13% excelling. On US History, 89% passing, 43% excelling, up from 2005 with 76% passing, 30% excelling. On Global History, 70% passing, 17% excelling, up from 2005 with 59% passing, 16% excelling. And Biology, 78% passing, 10% excelling, down from 2005 with 85% passing, 19% excelling.

While we do not have the results of many of our Erie and Niagara county neighbors, when looking at our year to year improvement, it’s obvious that we’re getting there. On seven of nine Regents exams in 2006, we show strong improvement over 2005 results.

When compared to our other neighboring contract districts of Lake Shore, Silver Creek, and Salamanca, on many measures, we are doing as well as or better, depending on the exam and the school. Our mastery levels, or excelling, must continue to improve. Our friends in Silver Creek knock it out of the park in this area, with excelling/mastery levels ranging from 33% to 64%. Still, when compared against our previous year’s data, we are showing gains here. 

Salamanca, who’s population is nearest ours, struggles with the same problems showing passing rates of 81% on English, with 33% excelling; on Math A passing 68% with 12% excelling; on US History passing 73% with 36% excelling; on Global History passing 52% with 16% excelling, and on Biology passing 64% with 7% excelling.  

For G-Town readers who, like me, wondered where we fall in this school to school comparison, this post should provide the information you need. For G-Town teachers, parents and students, I’m learning that improvement and achievement gains take time. Our Regents results show evidence of your strong work and efforts to bring success to all Gowanda students. Thank you–I look forward to June, when we expect our best results yet.

The Personal Side of the Graduation Rate

cross posted on LeaderTalk

What if there isn’t a darned thing I can do to prevent some of our high school students from dropping out? What if there really isn’t any way to leave no child behind?

Here are some of my statistics of our G-Town drop-outs from September 2004 through January 2007.

  • 40% signed out, 60% just stopped showing up
  • 45% are white, 53% Native American, 2% Hispanic
  • 49% are male, 51% are female
  • 58% of the white students are male, 65% of the Native American students are female
  • 40% are aged 17, 30% are aged 18, 31% are in grade 10, 25% in grade 11, and 25% in grade 12
  • 33% are passing and on track when they drop out, 53% have major attendance issues
  • 77% were retained, 52% once, 43% twice, 5% three times
  • 56% live in poverty

What does that data tell me that will truly help me change the course of those students’ lives and get them to graduation?

You can see that 53% of my drop outs are Native American while only 30% of my population is Native American. A significant problem. We have a tri-district “Native Voices” initiative, in which we study our Native American students by meeting with our kids one on one and in small groups, face to face, to talk about their learning. Our mission is to learn more about our Native American students so that we can make our schools the best possible places they can be, working together to understand what works and what doesn’t work.

We’ve worked together as a team, three neighboring districts who all share the students of the Cattaraugus Territory. We are administrators, counselors, psychologists, Title VII support personnel, and parents. It’s been an incredible experience, one ripe with opportunity to improve culture, climate, and pedagogy. 

We’ve realized lots of things that we can do better and our next meetings will focus on implementing change. I think we’ve already made great gains in climate and culture. Our discipline reports and daily attendance support this premise.

But what about those students who remain unaffected by all of the positive changes, who despite us and our endeavors, will choose to leave?

We need another alternative for them. And not typical alternative education that’s just sending our kids who won’t play by the rules to another location, same time, same days, same Bat channel. We need real options for kids who won’t/can’t succeed as we are today. We need a different time, a different delivery mode, a new approach, a real solution, a different system.

So we enter year two of Native Voices, knowing that we’ve figured out some ways to make our schools better for the students we keep. Knowing that we’ve got to find a solution for those who walk. There isn’t anyone who can dispute that every child desperately needs a diploma to meet with any kind of economic success.

Here’s my problem. I’m a change agent. If you’ve read this blog or worked with me, you know this. I’m constantly thinking about what we can do better and I work hard to make meaningful change for our students, faculty, and community. I want our students to succeed and I aim to climb the “rankings”.

But it’s so darned slow. Our results on the State measures are changing only incrementally. We’re a school in good standing making adequate yearly progress, with a 73% graduation rate for all students while the state standard is 55%.  But my personal standard as the administrator most responsible is 95-100% and no “progress is adequate” for the students who are still dropping out.

How long does it take to see significant results? How long does it take until every kid sticks with me until the diploma?

Four Years to Graduate Or No Goal?

At the conference I attended on Friday, I was very pleased to hear Chancellor Bennett’s response to my inquiry about cohort outcomes after four years of school and cohort outcomes after five years of school. Chancellor Bennett’s response to my question was extremely positive and in favor of the idea that it’s okay to take five years for students to get to graduation.

Currently, under NCLB, the four year path is the only one that counts favorably toward our graduation measure. This is a crucial measure for high schools and in one like ours, is a significant difference. I have argued here before and have written to the Commissioner about the fact that we’re keeping kids in school, we’re getting them back for the fifth year, and that should be a positive outcome.

On our most recent school report card, for the 2001 cohort, we jump from 68% graduating in four years to 76% in five years. For our male students that same figure jumps from 60% to 72%. Our students with disabilities jumps 21% in five years versus four years. Yet we continue to be held to the four year path as our standard of success.

No goal, no win at the federal level. Not fair and too narrow minded in its view of success.

True Confessions of a High School Principal

Here’s a straight to the heart honest confession for you. Ready? Half the time I wonder if anything we’re evaluating, planning, changing, adding, and/or eliminating is really going to make a difference. The other half of the time, the time spent reading everything I can get my hands or mouse on, I’m more and more convinced we’re on the right track. Today I came home from a meeting, firmly planted in the second half, the winning half.

We have a Regional Curriculum Council that meets monthly. It’s made up of school leaders from school districts across two BOCES, BOCES leaders, staff developers, and content specialists. We met this morning and I came back to school completely jazzed.

Our literacy initiatives are right in line with what all the research shows will help our kids. And the best part? We decided to head that way based on our own evaluation of our own kids. And we’re right. That feels good.

Scholastic’s Read 180 program was presented at today’s meeting. As I research reading programs, it’s hard to find something for my 9-12 kids. This may be it, if we can find the money. We’re already talking about blocking some of our classes, not all, just some and our ELA AIS and Remedial Reading would be a pair now.

High Schools New Face is happening again next summer and I’ll be able to go and help with the conference. That’s where I met Will Richardson and learned how to do this. And this has been a daily source of professional growth for me, one I wouldn’t give up if I had to.

What else? Our attendance rate is up, our scores are improving, and we’re keeping kids in school (but not necessarily graduating in four years). We have plans for improvement in scheduling with more instructional time and our literacy plan. AIS has been improved dramatically, our community college courses and electives are cooking, and the elementary and middle schools are sending us students who are better prepared every year.

So the next time I sound like I’m back in the first half, worrying that in the end it’ll all amount to nothin’, somebody please tell me to go read this post.

An Open Letter to Governor Spitzer

Dear Governor Spitzer:

I’ve read the description of your executive budget recommendations for elementary and secondary education. Thank you. Your financial support of public education is unprecedented in my seventeen years in education. We’ve said “show me the money if you want improvements” and you’ve effectively said, “Here it is, now you better make it happen.” Our rural district is one likely to receive an annual increase in Foundation Aid in excess of 10 percent. Under your plan, we will be required to develop a Contract for Excellence that indicates how we will spend new State funding on measures that have been demonstrated to effectively increase our student achievement and graduation rate.

That would be right up my alley, Governor, because it’s my job to do just that, increase our student achievement and graduation rate.  I welcome the challenge and especially the opportunity to problem solve with a new perspective. In the 28 months I have worked as G-Town’s high school principal, it has been my focus to examine all of our practices, from AIS to instructional strategies to literacy to use of time, AND to implement changes that will help our students improve, while managing day to day operations.

I must admit that as I research, evaluate data, and read about successful school districts, particularly with students of poverty, I sometimes place good ideas in my file folder entitled “research”. This isn’t exactly an “active” file. As we currently evaluate ideas, initiatives and solutions, I’ve tried to implement changes with very little, if any, fiscal impact. For example, I recently set my counselors to the task of rethinking our entire schedule. I asked them to think only of maximizing instructional time, allowing the details like the breakfast program, crossover teachers to the middle school, and departure times for vocational students to sit on the back burner. I asked them to dream big, to let go of past practice, and determine something more effective. My only limit on their planning? It can’t cost any more money.

How do your recommendations change all that? We can now truly “dream big” with the idea that we can possibly fund another bus run for an after school program or an additional FTE to make that schedule work, if need be. Maybe we can increase the school day or year. Maybe we can hire that literacy coach. Thank you for the possibility to reach a little bit higher. Hopefully, a lot higher.

Here’s what I need though. Specifically tie the money to academic, instructional programs that directly benefit students. I hope you’re already planning this, but haven’t seen it spelled out anywhere. Don’t allow the increase in aid for reform to end up financing something entirely different. Give district school boards and voting taxpayers some parameters on how the increase can be spent. Give me the authority along with the responsibility, to spend the increased aid on the programs that work.

If you want to assess my effectiveness, if you want me to stand behind my superintendent as he signs your contract for excellence, if you’re putting my job on the line, make sure I see the money.


Kimberly Moritz, NYS High School Principal