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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Book Club

I'll be meeting with the sixth grade learners tomorrow to survey the interests of those who have signed up to become members of a book club I will be leading. We'll seek nominations of books to feature in our reading group. We will meet in a classroom during lunch once a week to discuss reading selections as we progress through each book. In that manner, we can be casual, enjoy a meal, examine plots and character development, reflect on the author's intent, and draw inferences on future directions, all without infringing on class time.

I'm glad that nearly every sixth grader has expressed a desire to join the book club, and I'm excited by the level of interest and appreciation the boys and girls have in reading outside of required class assignments. It's critical that school leaders identify what's important in school by showing their values and beliefs rather than simply telling of their values and beliefs. What better way to shine a spotlight on the signicant role of reading in developing minds than having the superintendent lead a book club?

There are a number of different directions we can go once we get started with our book club. We can eventually create our own projected endings prior to actually finishing  the book, or skecth out potential sequels based on our interpretation of the context and plot of the book. In a related possibility, I have communicated with the community representative of a big-box book store in the region who appears receptive to my proposal that our learners produce written reviews of books that could be placed in a binder and located in the appropriate section of the store for customers who want "expert" reviews and recommendations of books for their own kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews... prepared by kids instead of some adult writing from an adult perspective on a book targeted for youth.

There are a lot of opportunities for our book club as we move forward.

This is just one step in what I hope and trust will be many expanded opportunities for our school as we all move forward.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Scoop

The Parent Teacher Organization of the school sponsored an ice cream social - Get the scoop on Dr. Mugits. The attendance was great, to the point we nearly ran out of ice cream. The cafeteria was full or people and the room was filled with smiles and laughter. I worked alongside PTO volunteers and assisted by scooping out chocolate ice cream to a large number of enthusiastic children. That role allowed me to greet everyone as they lined up for cones and cups of vanilla or chocolate flavored ice cream.

I enjoyed serving up dessert and interacting with so many families. It was a great opportunity to meet parents and get to know which kids belonged to which adults. I appreciated the effort and support of the Parent Teacher Organization. The group is comprised of parents who generously donate their time and energy to provide constructive opportunities for all of the learners in the school. They have embarked on a fundraising campaign intended to obtain money that they will  invest in programs and possibilities that enhance the school environment.

I encourage every parent who follows this Blog to contribute your interest and time in helping the PTO in their quest to brighten the future for the boys and girls of Green Island.

On another note. I was surprised, and pleased, to have three different twelfth graders check in with the secretary and schedule separate appointments to meet with me to ask questions and discuss issues of interest. That's really the essence of why I chose to become the superintendent of Green Island. Beyond the fact that the leadership position offers me the opportunity to work across all grades within a school system, it more importantly supplies me with a small enough learner population that I can come to know all of the learners and feel I can make a difference in their future. I'm glad they initiated the interaction and felt comfortable seeking me out.

So, the scoop is - I really like it in Green Island!!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Little Kids In The Big Office

This morning marked the first day of our school-wide mentoring program. The concept and purpose was originally mentioned in an earlier Blog entitled, "What's Staff Development Anyway?" In brief, every learner in the school, from Kindergarten through 12th grade, met with their assigned staff member for a twenty minute interaction designed to heighten the value of relationships in the school. These groups consist of five or six learners for each staff member. All staff members have responsibilities as mentors. Mentors have been provided a list of developmentally appropriate skills and experiences as a resource guide for leading sessions that meet every two weeks for the entire school year.

I met with a group of seven children, with representation from Kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade. We  met in my office. I never knew where the superintendent's office was during my entire thirteen years as a student, and I never met him until the day he gave me my high school diploma. The kids were unfazed by my title and office, since they see me on a regular basis in the hallways or cafeteria, if not the entrance of the school each morning.

The goal of this initial session was to get to know each other. Following introductions and the sharing of birthdays, the children each wrote their name on a paper and drew pictures of activities they liked and things that they enjoyed. We engaged in casual chatter while they filled the papers with bright colors. Of the seven children, three had birthdays in January, including one that shared the same birthday as mine. As children this age would do, they quickly identified us as twins. Following that readily manufactured deduction, they returned to their drawings. I performed a simple magic trick from among the many different tricks I routinely employ during workshops I provide as a consultant to other school districts and organizations on the subject of school improvement. The children were very impressed with the slieght of hand! One quickly dubbed me the Magic Teacher, which is easier to say than my last name.

That's actually not the first nickname I've received from a kindergarten child already this year. As I've discussed in a previous Blog, I greet all of the learners as they enter the school each morning. I've only missed two days, one of which was yesterday due to my attendance at a conference out of town. In fact, I was happy to hear a parent tell me that her family missed me yesterday and my absence was noticeable. During these morning interactions I acknowledge smiles whenever I find them and encourage those without a smile to discover a reason to create a smile and share it with others. Well, one little girl in particular responds to my request for a smile with giggles every day, and then a big smile. On the night of Open House I was walking down the hallway which I thought was empty. That is, until I heard a child's voice fifteen yards behind me belt out, "There he is, Smiley Boy!" I turned to see who she was addressing, only to find out it was me! She was walking to her class with her hand in her father's hand, we were the only people in the hallway. She recognized me and pointed me out to her dad and told him I always ask kids to smile as they walk up the steps of the school.

It's humbling to realize that after thirty-three years as a school leader, blessed with leadership awards, armed with a hard earned doctorate's degree and the title and responsibility of serving as a superintendent - I'm simply a Magic Teacher and The Smiley Boy to the kindergarten children in Green Island. It's an important reminder of the world as perceived by five year-olds, and a reminder not to take myself so seriously.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The New Heatly?

Today's blog is short on words, but potentially long on meaning.

I attended a Heatly soccer game last week. During the course of the game, while I stood within hearing distance of a group of high school learners, I overheard a discussion among a couple of them. They gave no indication that they were aware that I was standing not too far behind the gathering. It seems that one of the group, a resident of Green Island, had enrolled in a private school over the summer and his friends were asking about his experience at the new school. Included in his response was a final qualifier, as if justifying the decision to transfer - "It's better than Heatly," to which a former classmate quickly and proudly replied, "Not the new Heatly!"

If there is to be a new Heatly, it will take more than one person believing. If there is to be a new Heatly, it will take more than words. If there is to be a new Heatly, it's not because the old Heatly was unacceptable, but rather because the challenge of our time demands adaptations in order to meet with success in an ever changing world. A successful transformation will require a persistent, concerted, and coherent commitment - but that declaration, so soon after the opening day of school,  is certainly the signal of a beginning.

It was a reaffirming clarion. I will remember the young man's words in context - "Not the new Heatly" - as a form of motivation whenever our challenge to increase performance measures approaches a point of being overwhelming.

Friday, September 24, 2010

When A Game Is Not Just A Game

This afternoon I watched the varsity girls soccer team earn yet another victory. They are off to a fine start, maintaining their progress and momentum, while gaining valuable experience and developing the team awareness that will propel them to more wins. I have attended every home game of our three soccer teams - mixed boys/girls modified, varsity boys, as well as the aforementioned varsity girls. Each of the teams has presented themselves with admirable character, dedicated effort, and improved play.

We have a high percentage of our student body participating in athletics and other extra-curricular activities. This degree of engagement has been lauded in earlier blogs referencing the positive correlation between extra-curricular participation and academic success in school. I would suggest that there may exist a similar correlation between the participation of staff with extra-curricular activities and the overall academic success of the school. That is, when staff willingly involve themselves in accepting the responsibilities associated with leading an activity beyond the school day, whether it's student council, junior class advisor, basketball, or any other program, they demonstrate a commitment to experiences that foster important skills and cultivate constructive character traits that often produce successful futures for our boys and girls.Furthermore, the opportunity for the adolescents to interact with school staff members outside of their normal school roles and the confines of scheduled periods, formal titles and conventional classrooms, offers an engaging learning experience on a personal level that can enhance the teacher:learner relationship through what amounts to a casual mentorship program. These interactions can provide evidence of care, compassion, dignity, tolerance, and respect.

These programs, as varied as they are in scope and form, contribute toward team building, cooperation, goal orientation, effective interpersonal communication skills, and a vivid sense of the relationship between investing commitment and generating success. These same characteristics are valued within any organizational culture. So, the adults supervising the extra-curricular activities are essentially growing and reinforcing the same skill set and expertise as the adolescents they are leading. How can that not benefit a school environment attentive to the hard skills of measuring outcomes, performance standards, frequent assessments, conscientious monitoring of progress, and  the soft skills of collaboration, initiative, creativity, and communication?

Our school needs to encourage staff members to stretch past the school day and beyond traditional roles, and recognize and respect those who already indulge in extra-curricular activities, to create a vibrant, multi-dimensional atmosphere that will move us forward in our quest to improve our academic performance.This goal is not a game, but rather a serious endeavor linked to our survival.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bank Accounts and What Counts

I don't believe that anyone entered the field of education to get riches measured in money and luxuries. However, I became enriched yesterday afternoon through a thoughtful surprise - the kind that rewards many educators and happens just often enough to sustain their dedication and extend their hope.

While I was away from home attending our first Open House my wife answered the phone and discovered the caller to be a young man who went to a school in Texas where I served as principal over twenty three years ago (he's 36 years old now - don't waste time doing the math, I'm very old experienced ).

My wife explained that she would give me his number and I'd return his call the next day. I finally reached him in between a meeting I had at the University at Albany and the beginning of our Open House. He described a conversation he and a few friends were having about people from elementary and junior high school who made a difference in their lives. He wanted to let me know that he appreciated the belief I had in him many years ago despite the difficulties he and his family were encountering in his childhood and the troubles he wrestled with at school. He added that he didn't really understand why I did what I did and said what I said during our conversations when he was sent to the office. And then he updated me on how his life has evolved since we were last together. He told me was married to a terrific woman and explained how proud he was of his own two kids. He shared his hopes for his children and informed me that he had a good job. It was a pleasant and privileged conversation. He made my day - and then some!

Most of all - his phone call, after all these years, reaffirmed the energy and effort that I devote to my responsibilities. Making a positive difference in others is what counts more than bank accounts. After all is said and done your legacy is much more valuable than how much money you made.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Lesson Learned

Although we are not yet finished with our Open House events, I can already say I've learned a lesson. Tonight was the second of three such activities scheduled on consecutive nights. Since these programs are scheduled so early in the school year, and I am still new to the district, they have occurred with less involvement on my part than I would normally provide. I will admit that I allowed everything to proceed as it has in the past because I am new and assume "that's the way it is" or, "it must have worked in the past because we keep on doing it." That may border on being irresponsible and I apologize if it appears so. Sometimes you don't realize what can be improved until the experience unfolds. However, I've seen enough to offer an observation that we can, and will, do a better job of organizing and promoting any future Open House.

First, let's begin with advertising the events. It's not enough to simply list the programs on our website. Even if people have Internet access, it doesn't mean they check the district website every day. While our district website is an award winning website and offers a lot of important information, we are competing for your time and attention with many other entertaining attractions (television, other computer programs, movies, family time, recreation...) and it would be foolish of any school to imagine that parents routinely and anxiously visit our website each and every day. A survey conducted at the school where I worked prior to coming here revealed that the average parent checked the district website just a little over once a week. There could have been, and should have been, written reminders sent home to encourage parents to come visit Heatly during Open House. We could've enlisted the support of the Parent Teacher Organization to reach out and contact other parents over the phone to invite them to attend.

Second, scheduling events on three straight evenings does not seem accommodating to busy parents and may approach a sense of indifference toward the reality of those we serve. That's difficult and inconvenient for many parents to fit into their personal schedules, particularly if their attendance at a school function requires child care services for children at home. Not only is it a time crunch issue, but it also results in a challenge to find a babysitter - and pay for one too! Showing your support for your child's education at Open House should not require you to pay more than your time and interest. We should be able to condense the number of evenings for Open House, and still allow opportunities for parents with more than one child to visit with multiple teachers and classrooms rather than force them to commit to as many as three different nights.

Third, free child care services can be supplied during Open House by either representatives of our Parent Teacher Organization or in combination with high school honor society or student council members who seek community service responsibilities. This would make it less inconvenient for some parents to attend Open House - without cost as well. We could make the gymnasium available for play activities or a movie projected on a wall of the gymnasium or several other engaging possibilities.

Fourth, our need to attract parents to Open House and other school activities is like that of a store seeking to lure shoppers in to buy items. I may go to a store only because of one product featured in a sale advertisement, but find myself buying other items that I discovered while I was in the store. And, if the products proved to be worthy, and the service was helpful, then I would more likely return again - and again. Why not solicit a donation of gift cards from any of a number of businesses that recognize the value of parent involvement in schools.? Why not give each parent a numbered ticket when they arrive at Open House and then have them drop it off in a box near the end of the program and then draw tickets for door prizes? Why not offer some snacks and beverages too? Once we get people in the door then it's our responsibility to convince them to come back by demonstrating an interesting and quality program.

I regret if this blog sounds more like a rant, but it's meant to reflect our need to examine what we do, how we do it, and most importantly, why we do it? I can assure you that we'll look at Open House and whatever else we could be doing better and make the necessary commitment and changes to improve.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Year Opens Up

The school year continues to unfold as we progress from the shine and luster of the first day and become immersed in the day-to-day work that makes a difference in our future.

The District Leadership Team met in an all day planning session at the Municipal Center. This group of volunteers is comprised of parent representatives, student council representatives, teachers, and administrators. The members have accepted the responsibility of examining available data on the school and converting it into information that will direct us in our improvement efforts. Test scores and survey results formed the basis of our analysis today. We reviewed a summary of last year's activities and assessed our current performance levels so we can update professional development strategies, advance our goals, and stretch toward our potential. There's a lot to be done, but it's realistic and achievable. I am confident that the District Leadership Team will provide the support and direction that will bring clarity to our purpose and relevance to our efforts.

This evening marked the first of three Open House events this week. The relatively small turnout of parents was a disappointment for me but it serves to demonstrate the work we have to do to attract an increase at next year's high school Open House. Generally speaking, in the many years I have been a school leader, the number of parents at Open House for secondary schools tends to be much smaller than the number that come in at the elementary level. However, it's obvious we have to promote the activity more, and differently. With the year that separates this Open House from next year's high school Open House, we will seek to increase the curiosity, the concern, and the commitment of parents to a degree that will reflect better attendance.

Those who did visit the school had an opportunity to walk through the schedule of their son or daughter and meet the teachers. The teachers supplied an overview of expectations, class policies, and general units of study. The parents also had an opportunity to register for Ed-Line, a computer portal that allows parents to access their child's grades and academic performance via a computer at home. This is a unique chance for parents to remain aware of individual achievement levels. In addition, several classrooms featured the newly acquired SmartBoard technology referred to in an earlier blog entry. The Librarian also distributed attractive bookmarks which listed a number of valuable resources contained in computer databases, complete with passwords and codes.

Tomorrow evening is another Open House - and tomorrow morning begins early with a 6:00 am breakfast with many of the 11th graders at a local diner to meet prior to arriving at school to receive their class rings - so I have to go now and get some sleep.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What's It All About?

The start of the school year has been very enjoyable for me. I have appreciated the courtesy and accommodations that people have extended me as I work to become an active contributor to the Heatly School community. The mood has been upbeat. I remain optimistic and enthused. 

After so many years of service as a school leader working with hundreds of staff members and thousands of learners, I have experienced the full spectrum of human dynamics and emotions. There have been joys and sorrows, happiness and tragedy. Despite the highs and lows, I have found that a clear and consistent course based on core values and bedrock beliefs is the most effective strategy in maintaining your personal orientation and balance. Perhaps the best example of this attitude is reflected in the following essay I wrote that appeared in the publication, The Harvard Desktop. The subject of this essay was a comparison of two different experiences that occurred days apart from each other in a school where I worked before coming to Green Island.


Opposite Directions

It was perhaps the most conflicted of any week in a career that spans two dozen years as a principal. Never before had I experienced such a wide sweep of the emotional pendulum in such little time. The difference between the beginning and the ending was tragically brief, ninety four years separated by a matter of days.

On Saturday, January 5th, 2002 I attended the 100th birthday celebration of the grandmother of one of our Kindergarten teachers. That was the first time I had ever met a centenarian and she readily qualified as the oldest person I had ever known. Three days later, on Tuesday morning January 8th, I was informed that a six year old kindergarten student in our school, had died. He was the youngest person I had known who passed away.


The tiny elderly woman, bounced around, almost as aimlessly as a pin ball in an arcade game, as she shuffled from person to person and posed for photographs. Her movements had the same effect that directors obtain by conveying speed in films through slow motion. I had seen her several times at school when she came and played an active role in assisting her granddaughter with class parties like Halloween and Valentine’s Day. She helped shepherd the five year olds about the varied activities without a trace of discomfort or inconvenience. It was truly amazing and inspiring.

A display of mementos highlighted her life. The front page article in the local paper that day called attention to her 100th birthday and chronicled her migration from Hungary as well as other personal accomplishments. It was surrounded by faded and yellowed photographs of the past, various newspaper clippings heralding special occasions associated with her life. There were countless other artifacts. The most interesting piece of the collection was a copy of her driver’s license that listed her birth date as ’02, predating cars and before anyone imagined the turn of another millennium and the resulting confusion computers would have with another ’02.

The hall was festive and full of people. Most of them were members of a vastly extended family that stretched from New York to Alaska. They were renewing connections that had withered by separations measured in time by calendars. I could see people of all ages, from new born babies to the one hundred year old honoree. The collection provided a human landscape that an anthropologist could examine with the same delightful intrigue of a paleontologist investigating fossil filled, layered rock formations. Mixed in were people like myself who shared interests and acquaintances with the woman somewhere along those one hundred years. There was her doctor, the mayor of the small town where she resided, fellow senior citizens, friends, and neighbors…

The diminutive woman, perhaps no more than four feet six inches, hustled about fueled by the adrenaline and excitement of such a special event. She was the center of attention and absorbed the notoriety, transferring it into energy that allowed her to scurry about the room and among her well-wishers. She shook hands, received pecks on the cheek, and posed for countless photographs. Her smile broadened with each flash, her eyes sparkled with every kiss.

It was a remarkable ceremony that left me in awe of everything she must have experienced, from man’s first flight to the moon landing, from World War I to expansive military conflicts too numerous and frequent to assign Roman numerals. The perspective afforded her by virtue of living one hundred years was unbelievable and profound.


However, I would soon feel the shocking reminder of the frailty of human life, a life that would only experience six birthdays, six Easters, six Fourth of July’s, six Thanksgiving’s, six Christmas’s, and six New Years. 

The phone rang in my office at 7:30am that morning. I recognized the name of the caller as a mother of two children enrolled in our school. Her voice was weary and her words were fragmented. She volunteered that she was speaking on behalf of her neighbor and, in a tone that grew noticeably more sullen and morose with each breath, she reported that the boy next door had died just hours earlier. She explained that she was serving at the request of the parents and alerting the school of the tragic incident.

There have been few surprises in my lengthy administrative career. This was one of them. I spoke without thought and only measured my words after hanging up the phone and attempting to recount what had transpired. Somehow it didn’t seem believable or official, yet it was hardly something to question.

I assembled the office staff that had trickled in while I was on the phone. I closed the office door and explained what had happened. We agreed that our primary focus in replying to this terrible situation was to maintain our composure and pursue a course of action in concert with the values and beliefs that have governed our school culture. We decided to exercise the same constancy of purpose we had enacted following the terrorist strikes of September 11th, 2001. That approach was articulated in the clarion issued on September 12th to the staff, and re-created below:

This is a day that will define us – not as educators – but as people. This is a day that we were not prepared for by college, but by our parents, family, and friends. This is a day to ignore the scores on a test, but concern ourselves with the test of our mettle.

Our school is special because of the people within it. You were each hired because of your care and compassion, commitment and cooperation. If we are determined to pursue a mission borne of fostering hope and feeding dreams, then we must sustain that belief throughout this day and those that follow.

Let us conduct ourselves with dignity and civility, sensitivity and faith. We must serve as purveyors of information, and reservoirs of understanding. Rest anchored to facts, not fiction; objectivity, not opinion.

When the school bell rings, on this day that the nation mourns, we may be judged - not by grades and points, but by hugs and tears. If we are resolved to a future of freedom, then we must remain strong, speak as one, and act for all.

We easily found the church in the tired looking industrial town that hugged the Hudson River. The bulbous dome that capped the Ukrainian Orthodox Church stood above the weary brick factory buildings. That dome, plus the lengthy trail of parked cars that flanked the street, beckoned us to the correct church.

The word somber does not describe the emotion that blanketed the gathering of people brought to this small, nondescript spot of earth for the expressed purpose of extending a saddened, tearful good bye to the young boy.

We stumbled past the grief stricken gauntlet of people that stood motionless on the sidewalk and made our way into the church. The pale and aged exterior of the facility disguised an interior of bright azure blue walls accentuated by icons splashed with gold. The Russian letters, except for a backward R, were familiar but the combinations of jumbled consonant and vowel arrangements were foreign. There were a number of older people, parishioners who spoke with appropriate accents and followed the prompts of the priests and the choreography of the church rituals, who stood along the walls and encircled those seated in the pews.

No matter the age and background of those present, the common denominator among the crowd was the focal point of their eyes. The small casket that was placed on a table at the front of the main aisle was a magnet for the eyes of everyone. Of particular attraction was the small size of the coffin. I had never seen a coffin so short. It was a startling reminder of the child’s short life.

The route to my heart was navigated by a sense of sound that was overwhelming. A stooped, older man in the first pew, with gaunt cheeks and puffy red eyes identified himself as the boy’s grandfather by his weeping as much as by his age. He was forlorn, and desperately willing to trade places with the small grandson he had outlived, unlike the expected path of successions of generations. The plaintive wailing of the grieving mother, unleashing her anguish like a siren, her cries resonating throughout the small church and engulfing those who arrived to say goodbye to the child, formed a macabre soundtrack with her father-in-law. Cantors, although chanting in a foreign tongue, expressed themselves in the universal language of loss and grief, with dirge like tones, and depressing rhythm.

The length of the ceremony was extended by the use of English and Russian languages to convey faith based farewells to the six year old. An hour later the congregation oozed from the church and lurched to the next phase of the funeral, ushered to the cemetery by state police cars. The tombstones announced rows and rows of eastern European names. The somber, wind swept cemetery was bereft of color save the green carpet, mimicking grass, that covered the mound of dirt from the excavated site of the grave.

It was soon over, after a few shovels of dirt were ceremoniously tossed upon the casket prior to lowering it to its final resting place.


While newspaper headlines splash plenty of ink across the land with tales of questionable practices and woeful test scores, the events of that week reinforced that schools are in the business of providing care, first and foremost. This essay is not meant to diminish the significance of academics and the responsibility of educators to effectively deliver instruction. Instead, it asserts that the fundamental basis of schooling exists within the following adage –

People don’t care about what you know, until they know that you care.

Friday, September 17, 2010

So Far, So Good

The first full week of school is history now, and we are moving forward.

The school board sponsored a "Meet and Greet" event last night to introduce me as the new superintendent. The meeting allowed me to acquaint myself with several members of the community. There were insightful questions and an interactive dialogue. I'm grateful for the opportunity to engage with community members and learn about the issues and concerns they have about the operation of the school and the direction for the school district.

I've learned quite a bit since the opening day. I've spent as much time as possible out of the office so I can look, listen, and learn everything I can about our school. First, I have found that the climate, or the culture of the school, is inviting and accommodating. The learners are cordial and vibrant. The staff is dedicated and cooperative. The community has high hopes and expectations for the school system.

I've enjoyed greeting the kids as they enter school each morning, exchanging smiles and encouragement. I have also been at the front of the building as they exit each afternoon to gauge how many leave with smiles at the end of day. During each of these daily experiences I've been able to meet parents as they drop off or pick up their children. It's a reminder of how important relationships are in any school, especially a small, single building school district.

I'm learning more names each day. I'm feeling more comfortable in my new role each day. It all adds up to reaffirm my interest and commitment to the district.

The teachers have been impressive in and out of the classroom, particularly as evidenced by their voluntary participation in several different committees that all share a common goal of improving our school. They are more than ably supported by a cadre of teaching assistants who display an active role as members of our instructional team. The custodial staff, although a person short of being fully staffed, has been hard working and responsive. The kitchen and cafeteria workers appear to exhibit the same level of responsibility serving the needs of hundreds of children at school as they would when serving their own sons and daughters at the dinner table at home. The office staff has been both versatile and dependable as they tend to the many varied communications and interactions that confront them each day. The treasurer and business manager have done a remarkable job of maintaining a conscientious and diligent attitude toward the important task of monitoring our funds and safeguarding the finances essential to compliance with state regulations.

Just this week I met with the Policy Committee charged with the responsibility of reviewing, revising, or initiating policies designed to support our progress through clarity of purpose, defining parameters, and constructive communication. I also met with the Instructional design Committee which examine sour teaching strategies to make sure we are operating effectively and efficiently in response to the instructional needs of our learners. I have previously conferred with the safe Schools Committee as they evaluated procedures and policies in the district intended to sustain a safe environment for all members of the school community. And, as I explained in a blog a few days ago, I participated in several different staff development exercises during the training sessions held last Tuesday afternoon. There has been a clear focus on organizing the resources within the school and directing them to leverage increased performance levels. It's been a hectic, but exciting, eight days of school so far.

It's an honor and privilege to serve this community.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The bell tolls for fire drills.

The shrill shriek of the buzzer and bell system signalled two fire drills, one this morning and another in the afternoon. We are required to conduct eight fire drills between the start of the school year and December 1st, and four other drills before the close of the school year. Safety is a major issue when one considers there are over 370 people in the school and the fact that the population is spread over three different floors of the building. Each drill follows a prepared protocol and the practice is timed. Two minutes and forty six seconds transpired before the building was completely evacuated during the first drill of the year. We have many children new to the school, either newly enrolled transfers from other schools or Kindergarten learners who just started school. Their experience with the initial drill showed up when we scheduled another drill later in the day. It took only two minutes and nineteen seconds  for the school to empty out the second time.

Efficient organization and effective communication are the key elements that combine to ensure a safe drill and careful preparation in the event we ever experience a fire. Toward that goal, specific roles are assigned to staff members and clear channels of communication are implemented. Our next drill will involve a blocked exit to check on the ability of staff and learners to react when they are prevents from using their primary route of egress due to an imaginary fire. Safety is not always convenient. By that, I mean a real emergency will occur without observing the weather, the temperature, or the time of the day. Although it was a beautiful day today, an actual fire could happen during a rain storm, during brutally cold temperatures, or right in the middle of lunch. We must be prepared, and that's why we hold these drills.

We will acknowledge Fire Prevention Week next month by cooperating with the Green Island Fire Department on a joint exercise that will offer both organizations an opportunity to test their skills. We will introduce a change in procedures during a drill that week to determine the ability of our staff to quickly and accurately account for all children and adults in the building. We will then report the findings to the fire-fighters so they can respond in a search of the building for missing people. That will be an important challenge for the emergency responders and require them to become familiar with the building, since a real fire would likely cause panic and children who have become separated from their class/adult may seek refuge anywhere in a building - particularly a building with so many nooks and crannies. Our staff must rapidly examine their rosters, check who is absent - maybe someone on their way to the nurse's office when the alarm sounded, or someone who had been dismissed earlier for a dental appointment.... This process must account for visitors, volunteers, substitutes, interns, and student teachers. You can imagine how this can be complicated and why we practice. Following the special drill involving area fire-fighters, our Safe Schools Committee will seek feedback from the department that will allow us to make certain that safety remains a primary focus. The fire department personnel will report open classroom windows that could feed oxygen to a growing fire, locked doors that could impede access by fire-fighters searching the building, and any other factor that could be improved in our emergency response plans.

Today's blog is meant to build your confidence in our emergency plans. We'll discuss our lock-down drill at a later date. In addition, we'd also like you to realize that an effective school is involved in addressing far more issues, and meeting many more challenges, than simply teaching the 3 R's of Reading, 'riting, and 'rithematic.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Business of Learning

This morning I attended a breakfast meeting of Green Island area business leaders hosted by Green Island Mayor Ellen McNulty-Ryan. It was a great opportunity to get acquainted with people representing many different organizations around town. But why would a school superintendent appear at a meeting of business leaders? It's because the Green Island Union Free School District is an educational enterprise serving hundreds of learners and thousands of taxpayers as customers, employing over fifty people, and exercising an annual operating budget of a fraction under seven million dollars. We are clearly a business. Our business involves growing people by feeding them experiences, skills, and knowledge with the goal of enhancing their future, sustaining their hopes, and nurturing their dreams - and we must do this while balancing the needs of the children with the ability of the community to offer the resources necessary for this endeavor.

As such, we have interests shared with many of the other businesses represented at the breakfast meeting. We place a premium on communications and marketing. For instance, our district just received the highest possible rating of "excellence" in a statewide competition sponsored by the New York State School Board Association involving the judging of school websites. This blog is another example of extending communication between school and community. Our School News Notifier is yet another example. All of these efforts go beyond our traditional note/call/email from the teacher to the parent. Our "bottom line" is performance as measured by the results of state mandated tests of learning standards created by new York State. We carefully examine the data from these tests to indicate our progress and respond with a continuous improvement plan with the same conscientious attitude that one would evaluate their revenue and expenditures to determine how solvent their business is. Customer service is another link we share with businesses. Recent surveys administered to staff, learners, and parents have provided us with valuable information on the degree to which we meet the expectations of those we serve. Financial well being is certainly an area we monitor closely to meet our responsibility to be as efficient as possible. We explore opportunities to access and invest local, state, and federal funds to leverage success. We must practice fiscal conservancy like everyone else, being careful, planning ahead, and maximizing our resources.

Perhaps the best example of our role in the "business" of Green Island is found in the impact we have on the community. Quality of life is a key  issue with people buying homes and the perceptions people have of the school, particularly prospective house buyers, enters into their decision making process. Education is a significant investment in the future of children. Parents interested in protecting that investment want to make sure that their children will receive a high return for their tax dollars. If consumers have a low level of confidence in the school's ability to make a difference in their child's future then they will likely turn elsewhere when they hunt for a home. If enough people brush Green Island aside as an educational option, then that impacts the supply and demand in the local housing market - which effects the average price of homes in Green Island for anyone who intends to sell a house or anyone seeking a home equity loan. You can talk to a realtor and they can explain this relationship with more precision and dollars and cents.

I have seen the way an improving school or an excellent school can make a difference in the housing market by shaping supply and demand. The more people who want to purchase a house in a particular district, the more the seller can charge to take advantage of supply and demand. Effective schools can become the rising tide that floats all boats. As Chief Executive Officer of the Green Island Educational Enterprise, it is my responsibility to be the steward of the organization and lead it to its collective potential, not only to benefit the children of the school, but to positively impact the quality of life in the community, the general perception of the community, and the economic viability of the community. I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and work with Mayor McNulty-Ryan and others who share an interest in constructing a better future for Green Island.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What's Staff Development Anyway??

We had a half day of school for our learners today so we could schedule and hold a staff development opportunity for our staff members. What is that about? What do they do at school when the kids aren't there? Why don't they do that stuff during the summer? Well, simply put, if our staff is not growing and expanding their skills and knowledge base, then our learners will not likely grow either. These days include experiences which are designed to promote the potential of staff members by updating their understanding of any recently adopted local, state, or federal guidelines; practice new techniques; initiate programs; and collaborate on continuous improvement efforts of the district; and much more. Most businesses, big and small, whether it is GE, Momentive, or National Grid, conduct training to keep up with the latest procedures and technology impacting their bottom line. Those training sessions usually take place during the normal work day on company time. So it is with schools.

The activities today were varied and far reaching. I'd like to focus on one event in particular that was on today's menu of training sessions. We are introducing a mentoring program in which every one of the over three hundred learners will be divided into groups of five or six and are scheduled to meet every two weeks with an assigned staff member for twenty minutes. The primary objective of the mentoring program - which emerged from a proposal generated by the District Leadership Team (a committee consisting of staff members, administrators, and parent representatives) - is to strengthen the relationship between staff members and children of all ages. Effective, trusting relationships within a climate of dignity, care, and compassion are essential if we expect to demonstrate progress in achievement. This message follows the core of my previous blog on the value of greeting people with a welcoming and accommodating attitude.

All of the staff have been informed of their group members and have prepared introductory cards for each member that identify themselves and indicate where the group will meet. I have a group comprised of six children in Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades that will meet in my office. Expectations and boundaries have been created so no one feels uncomfortable. Our district has specially trained staff (counselor, social worker, school psychologist) who can provide specific support and valuable resources to assist on an individual level in unique and challenging situations. Topics have been selected for discussion during their sessions so group members can have a forum to get to know one another through the dialogue. Topics will be adjusted to meet the ages and developmental levels of group members. Examples of the topics include - getting to know each other; what is good and bad stress; study skills and habits; nutrition; appreciating diversity; respect; bullying; Internet safety; and others. The skills we hope to develop among the group members include - goal setting; communication; decision making processes; self-management; time management; safety; stress management and others.

I consider this program to be a great investment in the future of our children, and a great reflection of the dedication and commitment of all staff members to meet the needs and interests of children of all ages, at all stages. I'm excited to meet and get to know the six members of the group that will meet on Tuesday, September 28th in the superintendent's office.

Morning Greetings

I try to be out in front of the school each morning to welcome people into the building. So far, I've been successful in meeting that responsibility, but a 7:30 am meeting tomorrow will prevent me from this opportunity. It's an important element in creating and sustaining an organizational culture constructed around people and relationships as the platform for achievement. Psychologist Abraham Maslow conducted landmark research on the needs of humans and established that there is a hierarchy of needs among people of all cultures across the globe. Until one level of need is properly addressed it's unlikely that the person will be able to advance to meet higher needs.

While I'm not doing this research justice in a summary, I will offer a brief overview. The most basic need is for safety, food, water, and shelter, since without these needs met the person won't exist very long. Maslow then cites a series of needs he classified into categories. It's interesting and worth noting that the human need for acceptance is considered a greater and more necessary need than the human need to achieve. It is precisely because of the message contained in this research that I've always prioritized acceptance above achievement and therefore invested more attention and energy toward accommodating the needs of people to feel affiliated, respected, and connected before motivating them to improve their grades and increase achievement.

That's why it's important to have learners and staff alike to be greeted as they enter the school. A great example of the significance of this initial contact can be found at Walmart. The giant discount shopping center has a greeter at their entrance. Usually, the greeter appears the age of a grandparent. they are jovial and congenial, often making comments beyond a simple hello or good morning. These greeters are not volunteers, they are paid staff members. Before you wonder why a business that is oriented around the bottom line of profits spends money on someone to perform such a trivial and apparently unnecessary function, think again. The purpose of the greeter at Walmart, beside offering directions to shoppers seeking a particular item, is to reduce theft. that's right - theft reduction.

Studies show that the mere interaction that a shopper has with the greeter is an effective deterrent to any thought of shoplifting because the brief exchange personalizes the experience as opposed to a potential thief going in the store and justifying ripping off a business because the store is an impersonal retail giant bulging with profits and huge amounts of money. Actually, while there are many reasons for Walmart to realize success it just may be because they have paid attention to small points, like greeters, that may a big difference. The cost of the greeter is less than the loss due to theft that the store experienced before they hired greeters, so the greeters pay for themselves! Now, if a greeter can have an impact like that at Walmart, you can only imagine the positive influence someone an have by welcoming people to school with a smile and comments on their new outfit or haircut, or questions about their favorite team or plans for the day.

It's a start.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Technology Applications

Our school has introduced new technology this year designed to enhance instruction. We have had four Smartboards installed in the building. These interactive white boards enables the teacher to project a large image of their computer screen on to a 4 foot by 6 foot screen, access web based programs, allow learners to directly engage and manipulate learning components - and more. The Smartboard detects touch and enables the learner to use their finger to perform many of the same functions as a computer mouse/cursor/keyboard – scroll, right-click. The Smartboards were purchased in an arrangement that takes advantage of an opportunity to maximize the financial aid we receive, thus reducing costs.

The reaction to the new device has been exciting. They have been placed in areas of the school intended to increase access by staff members. For instance, there is one located in the Library. that permits the equipment to be used by teachers who sign up for the 33 different time slots it's available. Similarly, there are other rooms that offer limited access as well. Several teachers have already received training in the use of the Smartboard and specific training will be provided for others during an upcoming staff development day so we can supply teachers with the resources to increase achievement levels among our learners.

We will have a teacher led demonstration of the many instructional features of the Smartboard at our next school board meeting on Thursday, October 7th at 7:00 pm.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Scoreboard

This morning began with an assembly involving the secondary level learners in grades 7 - 12. The purpose of the meeting was to make sure that everyone understood our baseline data as a starting point for our improvement efforts. Before we could launch a strategic path toward improvement we all had to realize why it was necessary to improve.

The gymnasium was a perfect setting for the assembly. The scoreboard was turned on and featured the 62 -45 outcome of the 2009 Central Hudson Valley Boys Varsity Basketball championship game. Heatly claimed the victory and a banner hangs on the gymnasium wall testifying to the accomplishment. Basketball is an extremely popular sport at Heatly and the school has a history of excellence despite being one of the smallest schools in the league. There are many reasons to be proud of this success.

Unfortunately, Heatly has struggled lately to experience success in academics compared to other schools and the New York State learning standards. The Green Island Union Free School District is one of 54 school districts (out of the state's 720 school districts) that has been identified as a SINI school (School In Need of Improvement) based on underperforming results on state mandated tests. While nearly 50% of of the males and females at the secondary level participate in athletics, 100% are participating in academics. Although I am an avid sports fan and former competitive college athlete, our school district mission is framed around preparing all graduates for college, career, and citizenship, and the sports program represents an important, but small part of that preparation. We must be provide an academic program that will make our graduates more competitive in the future job market. It's not enough to defeat our opponents on the field or on the court and then find our graduates either unemployed or working for those same opponents years later. We must seek to experience the same sense of victory in the classroom to enjoy prosperity in the future.

Therefore, we removed the score of the championship game from the scoreboard and replaced it with scores that indicate our academic performance as it compares to our Central Hudson Valley opponents. We were below the league average on our state tests in English and Language Arts in grades 3 - 8; we were below the league average on our state tests in Math in grades 3 - 8; the same differences were found when looking at High School English and Math test scores as well. In fact, it turns out that the only statistic we were above average in was the percentage of learners who were suspended from school.

This was the stark reality confronting the assembled audience. Even though the scores are publicly available on the state education department's website and annually listed in area newspapers, the collective comparison was new to those seated on the bleachers. It was quiet and perhaps a bit uncomfortable. After allowing the weight of the information to set in, I offered examples of overcoming personal obstacles using the same characteristics that enabled athletes to gain victories. We need to change the attitude in the classrooms and through the hallways from "I'll believe it when I see it" to "I'll see it when I believe it." The first step involves believing that success is possible.

We need to be a large academic team with a game plan. We have to be focused on a commonly shared goal, willing to sacrifice the time and energy required to increase performance levels, dedicated to improvement, supportive of one another, receptive to feedback, and ready to practice. As coach of this team, I felt we needed to start by acknowledging where we are right now so we can see and understand the challenge awaiting us. This is a game we can't afford to lose.

Forty minutes after the scoreboard lit up we were ready to begin the long season ahead. This will be a message that will echo at regular intervals throughout the school year. We will monitor our performance, update our strategy, commit to success, and reinforce progress.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The First Day

There is nothing like watching over 300 learners, children, adolescents and young adults walking up the sidewalk, sporting new clothes, bearing backpacks, and boasting smiles, to inspire your efforts and reaffirm your commitment as an educator. I enjoyed visiting with parents and grandparents and welcoming everyone to school on this opening day. I even got to help out by taking pictures of families as they sat on the newly installed benches that flank the stairs of the entrance

Our responsibility at Heatly is a public covenant prominently displayed on the letterhead and website of our school. Our mission states our purpose: "Every student will graduate prepared for college, career, and citizenship." It's that simple - and that challenging. The words are minimal, but long on meaning. However, the measure we use to determine our success is not located within a database of numbers or test scores, but rather on the faces of the children eagerly approaching the school doors. Our primary task can be identified by reducing the many activities of school personnel into one sentence - like the reduction of fractions to their lowest terms - make sure that the children enter the school with a smile each morning and leave with a smile each afternoon. That's actually a statement very similar to the one that the late Walt Disney used when urging employees to promote the success of his world famous Disney World complex - "Make sure all of the guests leave with the same smile they had when they arrived."

It's our task to find out what might have occurred to rob a child of a reason to smile as they begin their day, and try to change that experience through appropriate interventions designed to resurrect hope and opportunity. Our commitment throughout each and every child's day in school is to generate reasons to maintain the level of hopes and dreams that produce smiles.

Within minutes of arriving at school, the children exchange greetings with classmates separated by the summer, comment on new clothes, whisper anxiously about their teachers, and retreat to their respective classrooms. The hallways are silent. As I walk through the building I am amazed at how quickly the atmosphere of the school becomes task oriented. Each classroom I peer into reveals the same signs of an engaging environment that one would expect to find on the 75th or the 125th day of school. The transformation is nothing short of remarkable and every bit a testament to the professionalism and commitment of our staff.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Playing It Safe

Well, tomorrow's the big day. The "Back-to-School" sales advertisements will end, the future will begin, one day at a time. We expect over three hundred learners of all ages and stages to enter the building tomorrow to collaborate with our staff on inventing their futures.

Among the many responsibilities we assume at school, and well beyond the "three R's" of reading, 'riting, and 'rithematic,"  is the need to ensure a safe environment. Security is essential and the need for it has been reinforced over and over in news reports across the country of violent acts committed by school intruders. It is unfortunate, but true, that we have to exercise measures of security that perhaps never existed when the parents of today went to school years ago, but reality often dictates changes. We want your son and/or daughter to feel secure at school, and we also want you to rest assured that we are acting in the best interests of your child. But, as we have seen in several different day-to-day activities, security has a price. That is, the effort to provide safety costs us all in terms of conveniences, like longer lines and delays at airport screenings.

I am speaking of the change for elementary age children entering the building. We have pointed out in earlier correspondence through the school district, that all of the elementary learners will enter through the main door of the building instead of the north door at the lower level of the school. We want to control foot traffic and restrict access to the school so that visitors, parents, and children must now pass through the greeter at the main entrance. This change may be uncomfortable for some, but we want safety for all.

Your cooperation and understanding regarding this matter will be appreciated.
Best wished to everyone tomorrow!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Labor Day Leads to Labor Year

Labor Day is upon us. The end of summer has drawn near. The school bell awaits the end of its slumber - and hundreds of staff members and learners will begin a challenging school year with the collective intent of asserting improved levels of achievement. This progress will require labor throughout the 180 days of the school calendar. It will be hard work, but we can avoid exhaustion by pinpointing where to apply our efforts.

There is a story. I'm not sure of its authenticity, but it certainly makes a point about labor.

It seems that a large company in the capital district region was an early entry into the electronics field years ago. At the time, the research and development necessary at the start-up of an industry required a great amount of investment and trial and error.This company had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsoring an electrical engineering wizard's creation of what amounted to be a huge collection of wires, switches, tubes, and many assorted components that miraculously worked in harmony to generate power. It was an impressive feat of scientific work that remained a mystery to all but the genius who invented the equipment.

The unit continued to function after the scientist retired. However, there came a day when the generator broke down. Despite the efforts and energy of several different scientists from the company's stable of electrical engineers, the machine sat idle. Finally, the company invited their retired star engineer to return and examine the large piece of equipment. The old man walked around the generator and looked here and there, nodding his head every so often, and scribbling notes. He stood transfixed for a while as he contemplated the issue. And then, after ten minutes of diagnosing the problem, he reached in and made a single adjustment to bring the machine to life.

His triumph was met with cheers by the owners of the company because the retired scientist had salvaged their significant investment. They were elated and patted the scientist on the back and then asked him how much the repair would cost them. He calmly replied that his fee would be $10,000. That figure astounded the owners. They noted that the scientist only worked ten minutes and made a solitary adjustment, which prompted them to declare the bill exorbitant. They demanded an itemized bill. The scientist casually jotted down a few strokes of the pen and issued the itemized account of his services. "Labor = $1.00. Knowing where to apply the labor = $9,999.00." The scientist left the building soon thereafter with a wad of bills.

Our staff and learners have to concentrate their efforts to leverage success and optimize their potential. Working smarter will trump working harder and longer. Good intentions are not enough to meet high performance standards, we have to exercise effective strategies and apply focused skills. That process will start with a plan to conduct a review of available test data that would be comparable to instructional forensics. Data is inert until someone looks for a difference that makes a difference and converts it into information that can be used to produce power, just like the scientist did when he performed one simple adjustment and restarted the generator. We have been studying test data this summer to develop a map for progress by examining an item analysis of the responses to individual test questions to find out how many learners missed each question, what strands of learning standards had the highest percentage of missed questions and subsequently discovering areas which require further attention, refined curriculum, and alternative methods of delivering the knowledge and skills needed to make gains on our performance on the annual state mandated tests.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Board Members are not Bored

This evening marked another school board meeting. There is one regularly scheduled meeting that takes place at 7:00 pm on the first Thursday of each month. The meetings generally consume from an hour to perhaps two or two and a half hours, depending on the issues included on the agenda and the participation of any members of the audience.

Beyond the actual meetings, there's a lot of preparation involved on the part of school board members during the length of their elected terms. They must maintain an awareness of policies and practices that impact the school. They must examine data on the financial health of the school system, the instructional performance of the staff and learners, and state and national influences in the form of legislation and regulation. They must balance the needs of the children with the resource capacity of the community. They must represent the Green Island community in matters of interest and investment. They must make difficult decisions with long term consequences. They must listen with care to their fellow citizens who communicate concerns, ask questions, advocate positions, offer advice, and make demands. They are expected to know everything about the school even though they have their own jobs, families, and countless other responsibilities calling out to them as well.

The role of a board member can often be a thankless and overlooked position, but it clearly contributes to the quality of life within a community. Despite all of the challenges expressed above, every member generously devotes themselves to this civic duty without any compensation for the time, energy, effort, and commitment it takes to be a responsible and effective member of the board of education. Serving as a school board member is among the highest forms of community service. Consider the amount of money necessary to operate a school district each year (nearly $7,000,000.00 for Green Island), the number of people involved (approximately 400 learners and staff members) and the impact their decisions have on the future of children in Green Island (priceless) and you can only imagine what an immense civic duty they perform.

I applaud those school board members everywhere who are willing to act in the best interests of their community, for the future of all children, with little regard to the inherent sacrifice it requires. Rarely have so few, done so much, for so little.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Which way did they go?

If you remember the Lewis Carroll story of Alice's Adventure in Wonderland you may recall one of the quotes that has remained in my memory for years. Alice is lost and looks up on a branch of a tree along the road and asks the Cheshire cat for directions. After realizing that Alice doesn't exactly know where she's going, the cat replies, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there."

Time, money, and effort all have their limitations.This is certainly true with the Green Island School District. Therefore, our staff needs to use these resources wisely because we have no margin for error. In other words, we must clearly understand where we're going as a district and make sure that we travel in the most effective and efficient route so we don't waste time, money, or effort on our way.

I am convinced that the staff is committed to reaching high levels of performance, the learners are more than capable of meeting challenging standards of achievement, and the community is extremely supportive. However, the best plans and intentions are diminished if there is not a coordinated and persistent focus on common goals with shared meanings. It's the leader's responsibility to communicate a vision of the future with enough clarity and credibility that others can see it and commit their energy and effort toward making the vision a reality. The leader must breathe life into the vision and sustain the course for the school. We know where we have to go at Heatly. We must work together to promote the success of all children on the annual state mandated tests of learning standards. There's no question on the destination, but I believe there needs to be more attention and agreement on the path we take.

School improvement is a journey, and often an adventurous trek. It's not much different than hiking into the wilderness. One of the valuable objects to take along on such a trip is a compass. Without it, when surrounded by tall trees that hide landmarks in an unfamiliar terrain, you can get lost and wander about in circles, growing tired, frustrated and fearful.

Here's an explanation of reading a compass (in red type) along with my comments (in parentheses) on references to what we will be doing at Heatly on our trip to success.

Basic Compass Reading

No matter the compass, one end of the needle always points North. It is almost always the RED end, but its a good idea to test your compass before starting to use it. (our efforts, like the needle, must always point North - and our North will be success in learning)

To read your compass,

Hold your compass steadily in your hand so the baseplate is level and the direction-of-travel arrow is pointing straight away from you. (We must hold our goal and commitment with a steady hand, balanced between the needs of the learners and the capacity of the community to support our efforts)

Look down at the compass and see where the needle points. (We have to maintain our vision and stay the course)

Turn your body while keeping the compass right in front of you. Notice that as the compass rotates, the needle stays pointing the same direction. (No matter the circumstances, we must not lose sight of our goal or waver in our commitment)
Keep turning until the needle points East, keeping the direction-of-travel arrow and North mark facing straight in front of you.

Important: This is a very common mistake! The compass needle is pointing towards East so I must be pointing East, right? No, no, no! (We can't be misled or distracted from addressing the unique needs of individuals, differentiating instruction, or using alternative means of teaching designed to produce success)

To find the direction, you must turn the compass dial until the North mark and the "Orienting Arrow" are lined up with the North end of the needle. Then you can read the heading that is at the Index Pointer spot. (Once we reach agreement on our purpose and consensus on our roles, we will have the proper orientation to confidently take our first step on a long journey).

Our entire staff will return to school next Tuesday to embark on the daunting task of leading 330 boys and girls on a year long trip to success. It is my responsibility to define the compass points and orient everyone so we all understand where the red needle is on our compass, where North is, and where the orienting arrow is - so we don't get lost. If I can convince everyone of our direction and we stay true to the objective of promoting success for all learners, at all ages and all stages, then we will arrive at our destination when the results arrive from the state tests later in the school year.

See you there!