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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Difficult Call - A Necessary Call

I never subscribe to the, "This hurts me more than it hurts you" explanation prior to delivering disappointing news, whether it's a parent disciplining a child or, in this case, a superintendent calling candidates who were interviewed for a position to indicate they were not the person ultimately selected for the job. The messenger, no matter how much he or she regrets the necessity of providing the news, can't possibly imagine the full context of the situation and how the receiver processes the information. Despite my own personal experiences as an applicant for educational opportunities, including frustrations and dissatisfaction at not always receiving affirmative responses during these casting calls, I can not equate that to the unique properties and feelings of others.

There was never a doubt that the task would be challenging, but there was never a question regarding the need for the calls. It is unfortunate that many schools and districts simply let the interviewed candidates assume that if they are not contacted afterwards that it means they were unsuccessful in their attempt to gain employment. Others merely distribute form letters conveying the unfortunate news. Those two options are easy, but I don't believe they are necessarily right. I think the district's reaction represents a reflection on the school system in terms of values, dignity, compassion, and professional conduct. It's a matter of respect and courtesy to the individuals. They have marshaled the information - resume, application materials, transcripts, references - and invested the time and effort in preparing for and experiencing the interview. They are owed feedback that will offer them perspectives that could possibly improve their future prospects of securing a teaching position.

The current job market for prospective teachers is extremely difficult. Each person has earned (and either paid for or owes college loans) a teaching degree. As such, they are anxious to enter the teaching profession. The present economy has caused many districts, ours among them, to reduce staff members in budget cuts. There are not many schools advertising vacancies, which increase the anxiety of those seeking positions. There were 120 applicants for the post. The interview committee comprised of teachers and administrators interviewed 16 candidates. The interview alone is an indication of their promise and distinguished them from the deep pool of applicants. Eventually four candidates were selected as finalists and were invited for an additional interview.

When you have that many people applying for a single opening you should have the luxury of inviting more than a handful of excellent candidates in for interviews. We certainly had that experience. Engaging the best of the best in this process leaves you with assurances that you will end up hiring a high calibre instructor. This confluence of talent also poses a challenge to those involved in the decision making process. It can devolve into a hair splitting routine examining details and nuances of interpersonal communication and experience which eventually differentiates the individuals. This exercise produced the person who will fill the position but perhaps left three others feeling like the Olympic athlete who finished fourth in the competition by mere seconds or feet, and returns home without a medal after watching the three people ahead of them stand on the winners platform receiving their gold, silver and bronze medals.

If not the most difficult, these calls are certainly among the most daunting that I have made - and made many times over the course of a school leadership career now stretching thirty-four years. No matter how many staff members participate in this shared decision making process, each anxiously and willingly seeking input into a valuable decision, the final phone calls end up as the sole responsibility of the leader. But, in the end, you treat people how you would want to be treated, and if I was the applicant I would prefer to receive such information personally communicated with dignity and respect, with encouragement and understanding.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Losing Weight And Gaining Adequate Yearly Progress???

Losing Weight and Gaining Adequate Yearly Progress: A Fraction of the Traction and None of the Action

Lose thirty pounds in thirty days!! Take this pill and you too can shed inches from your waistline!! Simple weight loss from applying this lotion each night!! Eat all you want and still lose, by wearing this work-out suit specially designed by our research technicians!! If these advertisements really worked there surely wouldn’t be so many overweight people and schools wouldn’t be implored to respond to the increased percentage of children experiencing childhood obesity.

There is no instant weight loss for those who suffer from excess pounds. Yet, despite study after study identifying the elements of a successful weight loss program, generally involving reduction of caloric intake, good nutrition, and increased exercise, anxious people depressed by their weight or concerned about their health quickly turn to any of the many quick-fix pills and programs as alternatives. In fact, the authors of Influencer: the Power to Change Anything cite the findings of the National Weight Control Registry which demonstrate that the vital behaviors associated with sustained weight loss are: exercising on home equipment, eating breakfast, and conducting daily weigh-ins. (1) The temptation of a quick process losing maximum pounds with minimum effort is simply too alluring, hence the tremendous market of products and the countless infomercials teasing those in distress.

Similarly, there are no instant gains for schools suffering from low success rates and missing AYP. Nonetheless, many schools cited as being in need of improvement also appear to extend their hands with the fistfuls of dollars provided by the state or federal government and reach for the secret and rapid antidote for their maladies in the form of the right textbook series; the best test preparation program; the one best, scientifically proven way to teach Reading; the preferred ratio of computers to students; or some out of town prophet/consultant. If these solutions were indeed viable and easily replicated then there wouldn’t be any schools listed on state education department hit lists.

Unfortunately, there is an ever increasing number and endless variety of ready made, recipe-like improvement plans emerging in the wake of the No Child Left Behind legislation. The political and financial landscape is littered with commercially produced programs touted by skilled salespeople and erstwhile consultants all angling for position in the burgeoning marketplace of school improvement. The disadvantaged schools that shamefully appear on state lists of underperforming schools and embarrassing headlines of their local newspapers are especially vulnerable to the promise and prospect proclaimed by purveyors of vehicles touting lightning in the bottle methods of success.

Efforts to change and improve the operation of the school may be viewed by staff members with indifference or detachment. Such initiatives are too often either externally imposed on them by an outside agency or generated from within the school/district in a top down driven strategy without reference to the reality as perceived by the staff. As a result, the proposed change lacks or loses momentum because the staff has not sufficiently been involved in the developmental stages. Improvement strategies that do not embrace staff members as active participants in the action, lack traction.

If I have learned anything from my thirty three years of experience in public school leadership it is that success more likely emerges from a social, political, financial or cultural transformation, not a series of transactions. And, transformational change generally requires more time and patience than transactional change, though changes evolving from transformations are typically sustained longer. There are no short cuts or quick fixes. Once again, turning to Influencer, (a book well worth reading) the authors present six sources of influence in successful change efforts, either on an individual basis or an organizational level. They are; make the undesirable desirable; surpass your limits; harness peer pressure; find strength in numbers; design rewards and demand accountability; and finally, change the environment. This proposal, coupled with what we have long known as viable ingredients of effective schools, would serve any school interested in continuous improvement. The information is out there and readily available, the skills can be developed, and all that’s waiting is the constancy of purpose and the collective and sincere commitment of a school community. Warning: It’s hard work and it takes time. 

My recommendation of a guiding template for school improvement follows: 
a) communicate a credible and inspiring vision, b) manifest a mission that is believable and enduring, c) identify data points that leverage success, d) generate plausible goals that stretch the organization, e) nurture a productive and collaborative organizational culture, f) accept change as a process rather than an event, g) empower all staff members as learners and contributors, and h) recognize that leadership is distributive and situational rather than the purview of the few.     

Remember that this is not intended to represent a recipe. One must add, subtract, and modify according to the local needs and interests that make each and every school unique.


1. Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzer, Influencer: the Power to Change Anything. McGraw-Hill Books, NY, NY 2008

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hitting The Target

The previous Blog post discussed the work of our District Leadership Team at their meeting last Friday. We are experiencing progress, growing together as a collaborative team forming common goals and shared meaning as we pursue our collective potential.

The nature and process of goal formulation can be a dynamic and complicated exercise. I am confident that the District Leadership Team is demonstrating care and professionalism in developing strategies designed to promote success at Heatly School. However, some organizations struggle to reach a constructive platform. That difficulty reminded me of a short anecdote on creating goals that I thought was amusing enough to share with you. The story was told to me by Dr. Gene Huddle, a very skilled school consultant who taught me a great deal about leadership.


     A friend of mine was recently touring the back roads of New England. He is a rifle instructor with a Reserve Officers Training Center (ROTC) marksmanship group. As he rounded a curve in the road the sight of several targets covering the side of a large barn surprised him. Each target had a bright red bulls eye. And, smack dab in the center of each bulls eye was a bullet hole.
     His curiosity aroused, he pulled in the driveway and made his way to the farmhouse, intent upon receiving advice from the accomplished marksman responsible for the excellent target shooting. Certainly this information would help his students.
     An elderly man greeted his knock on the door. Brief introductions revealed that the old man was the sharpshooter. The man accepted my friend’s invitation for a demonstration.
     Moments later the farmer emerged from the house, grasping a rusty bucket in one hand, and an unimpressive, outdated rifle in the other. The man faced the barn, checked the wind, raised the gun, (though my friend could not see any target) and blasted a shot. Then the elderly man sauntered over to the barn with his bucket and calmly painted a target around the bullet hole he had left in the side of the barn.
     “Works every time!” exclaimed the farmer.

Friday, December 17, 2010

District Leadership Team

Our District Leadership Team met in a day-long session today. This group is comprised of the school principal, superintendent, and representatives of the parents, learners, and teachers. The committee is responsible for monitoring available information involving the school, identifying appropriate goals, and generating strategies designed to promote increased achievement levels within the school community.

It was a productive day. The committee received input from several different staff members who were invited to offer insightful perspectives on programs and practices. We discussed a wide range of issues that were related to our pursuit of progress, including the master schedule, the need to actively engage learners in meaningful learning experiences, program expansion, and enriching opportunities for learners. Most notable of the areas of focus was the exploration of a vision of the future of The Heatly School. It was a view not merely spanning a single school year from September through June, but stretching three years beyond the present. It was a chance to momentarily unburden ourselves from what is and imagine what could be and what needs to be. We examined the prospects of on-line learning, virtual classrooms, school-to-work career awareness programs, summer school, partnerships with local colleges, and other possibilities that would expand our reach beyond the walls of the school building to embrace the concept of being a small school with BIG ideas.

The experience reflected an atmosphere of collaboration. Here's an essay I was asked to prepare for the state department of education several years ago for a publication called The Possibilities Catalog. It speaks of the value and need for a synergy produced by cooperation among constituent groups within a school.

How ironic that shared decision making is often greeted with skepticism and reserve within an educational arena that simultaneously embraces cooperative learning as an attractive and appealing practice. The similarities between the two areas beg concomitant acceptance by any school sincerely interested in developing a community of learners. Both concepts rest upon the benefits derived from multiple perspectives obtained from the collaborative efforts of a small, heterogeneous group of people focusing on an assigned task. Learning evolves from the enriched insight available from a variety of stakeholders. Commitment is engendered through participation in crafting outcomes. Success is shared with all contributors.

     Instead, many schools are receiving the process of shared decision making as an unwelcome, externally generated mandate that will disrupt the traditional, albeit tenuous, relationship between labor and management. Many administrators fear a diminished leadership role (“The inmates will be running the asylum!”) while many teachers are reluctant to accept the responsibility of leadership (“Let the administrators make the decision, that’s what they get the big bucks for!).

     If school communities hope to experience effectiveness they must collectively pursue a vision which acknowledges that all staff members are capable of leading. This belief must be expressed with the same vigor that is employed when we preach that all children are capable of learning. Surely, staff members would receive training in leadership skills prior to the expectation that they exercise such abilities.

     The nature of typical schools, with egg crate classrooms resembling an archipelago of islands, serves as a detriment to the professional interaction that fosters collaboration. The privacy of teaching and isolation from other adults obstructs the cross fertilization of ideas. Schools need to promote a changed culture that nurtures individuality while also cultivating cooperation. Maintaining an organizational culture built upon a patriarchal covenant evidencing a top down, control oriented bureaucracy impacted by external authority is not conducive to harvesting the full potential of human resources in schools.

   Harold Leavitt suggests that, "the future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious." Too many schools have, unfortunately, waited for the merit of this concept to become quite obvious, and thrust upon them through mandates, before indulging in the mutually beneficial interaction that results from a genuine commitment to shared decision making. 

I enjoyed the collection of ideas and the creativity evidenced by group members. I believe the District Leadership Team will forge success through common goals and shared meaning. It will be interesting to discover how the committee guides our progress.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Tip Of The Cap (Tax Cap)

It is a wise man who said that there is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals.
      - Justice Felix Frankfurter

Let's examine this quote of former US Supreme Court Justice, Felix Franfurter, in light of the proposal to limit property taxes in New York state to no more than 2% above the previous year. This magical and somewhat arbitrary number is gaining political traction as if it's already been decided. Perhaps it will be, but first we should acknowledge the relationship between the Franfurter quote and what sounds like a fair (as in equal) proposal.

All communities, and therefore all school districts, are not equal. For instance, the Green Island Union Free School District receives approximately 43% of its revenue from state aid based on a formula that considers the property wealth and income wealth of Green Island. Lake George Central School, on the other hand, with valuable shore front property that produces a robust tax base, receives less than 10% of its revenue from the state. This same formula, as arcane and complex as the formula to construct nuclear fission in your backyard, is applied to all school districts throughout the state. This results in different districts receiving different amounts of funding from the state - all with respect to the ability of the local community to generate revenue. It accounts for rather significant differences in land value and income. So, for instance, the assessed property value of a shore front acre of land in the Adirondacks is worth much more than an acre of land in Green Island. That permits the local school district in the Adirondacks the opportunity to tax at a much lower rate than Green Island in order to generate an amount of money equal to the same tax receipts here in Green Island.

Let's take another look at the disparity in state aid funding. Imagine two districts that each have a 10 million dollar annual operating budget. We'll momentarily set aside the very small amount each district gets from the federal government for purposes of a simple explanation. After the state examines local property value and local income wealth they distribute aid to both schools. District A, because it's an affluent school system, only relies on state aid to provide 10% ($1,000.000) of their annual revenue with 90%, ($9,000,000) derived from local taxes. In comparison, District B receives 50% of funding ($5,000,000) from state aid, and 50% ($5,000,000) from the local tax base. Now, if the state rules that local property taxes are capped at no more than 2% above the year before that means that District A is capped at 2% above the $9,000,000 they raised in local taxes. That's a total increase of $180,000 additional money beyond the previous year. Meanwhile, District B's property tax cap of 2% above the $5,000,000 they raised in local taxes the year before results in an additional $100,000. There we have it. It's that simple. An equal (and fair sounding formula) rate of 2% tax cap applied to the two districts supplies unequal amounts of money. The affluent school system ends up with $180,000 and while the less affluent school system receives only $100,000. The financial gap widens and the rich get richer.The answer is to dispense state funds in an equitable manner, based on need, not an equal manner.

I'll conclude by reiterating Frankfurter's quote:
It is a wise man who said that there is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Game Breakers And Difference Makers

Before I get started I'll state that since I'm too old to be naive, I must be idealistic. Also, my grandmother once accused me of getting on a soapbox so much because I'm short and always felt the need to look taller. Those are my excuses. Now, I'm going to continue my rant Blog from last night. I spoke of the obscene salaries of professional athletes (and entertainers) at a time when schools struggle to meet operating budgets. The same lament can be expressed when looking at the financial plight of hospitals, fire departments and police departments and many other municipal areas.

In sports, there's a term for those individual athletes who extend themselves in near super-human efforts at a critical time in a game. They're called Game Breakers. They change the game in one play, they gain momentum with a flash, they weaken the will power of the opposition and they break open the game and lead the team to victory. Every once in a while an average player finds himself or herself in the right spot at the right time and they make the winning shot, hit the clinching home run or score the go ahead touchdown. That happens. However, a game breaker does this on a fairly regular basis, despite everyone in the stadium anticipating their move and expecting them to do something miraculous. It happens under tremendous pressure. It might be a Kobe Bryant jump shot at the buzzer, a clutch Tiger Woods chip out of the bunker on the 18th hole, or a Tom Brady touchdown toss to a receiver in traffic on the last play of the game. I'll admit my dream as a youngster - pitching a perfect game for the Detroit Tigers against the New York Yankees (watch the Kevin Costner movie, For the Love of the Game). Game Breakers are few and far between. Thus, these individuals are considered heroic and paid and celebrated accordingly.

Beyond the individual athlete, we celebrate championship teams. We often do this at the high school level. You can almost bet that soon after a team claims a state championship the accomplishment is proudly broadcast for all to see when they enter the school district's attendance area. You've seen them - "Welcome to _________, home of the 1987 state champions in ______." It is, understandably, a notable feat - besting all other competitors to cap off a victorious season. It takes a great deal of teamwork, focus, skill, and commitment to reach that peak. I don't discount the efforts of those fortunate enough to attain the highest status in any field. But (there's always a But), if the average high school has approximately 30% of the student body participating in athletics while 100% of the student body should be participating in academics, then why do we place such an emphasis on the accomplishments of sports?

I know that sports goes beyond what occurs on the field or court. I've posted Blogs promoting the extended value of extra-curricular participation and I've enjoyed considerable success myself as a high school athlete. One of my sister's has twice been named the top Track coach in the entire country. She has coached teams to 18 state championships (all noted on a large sign welcoming people to the city where the school is located). In addition, she has coached teams to 5 or 6 national championships. She and her husband (co-coach) have worked incredibly hard to provide the conditions for success for team members. They have justifiably earned the honors bestowed upon them. I'm not arguing the value or role of sports in schools (high school or college). I'm just questioning the degree of value and role of sports within the school's culture and mission as it relates to purpose, practice, programs and resource allocation.

For example, how many signs have you seen at the entry to a town that boast the number of National Merit Scholars from the local high school? The performance rate of the school district on state mandated tests? The percentage of learners who graduated? The percentage that have gone on to higher education? The percentage that have secured a job? The rate of attendance among the learners? The number of advanced degrees among the faculty? There are many metrics for success that are associated with and supportive of the meaning and purpose of the school district - but we only note signs of athletic prowess.

The indicators I have illustrated in the examples noted in the preceding paragraph contribute to the conditions that promote opportunities for what I would call Difference Makers. These are the people who eventually make a constructive and positive difference in the lives of others. They leave legacies of lasting impressions. The town, the region, the state, the country, or the world is a better place because of them. Sometimes it's a small idea that grows, or a little gesture that leverages a tipping point producing expanded benefits for others. We've all met them. The soldier returning home safely from duty (and those who experienced the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms) the teacher who took the extra time and care to acknowledge us and further our dreams, the fireman who helped us avert disaster, the volunteer at the soup kitchen or the hospital, the anonymous benefactor who brings cheer to underprivileged children during the holidays, the tireless person performing civic responsibilities beyond anyone's expectations. The list goes on and on. You don't have to be famous and have something named after you, or discover the cure for cancer, or make an extraordinary discovery. You just have to make a constructive and positive difference in the lives of others - enough that the recipient will endeavor to extend himself or herself in a similar manner. Recall the movie released in 2000 entitled, Pay It Forward.

There are many more possible Difference Makers than there are possible Game Breakers. You can promote both opportunities, but you should do so at a rate that consciously reflects your values. To what end should schools invest scarce resources of time, experience, and money? How do we define success? How do we celebrate success? What really matters?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Here's The Pitch

First, let me proclaim a personal history of passionate interest in sports. I have competed in sports, in high school (soccer, basketball, and baseball), college (soccer), and for several years beyond college. In particular, I have played at high levels of competition in soccer throughout the country. I have been an avid spectator and fan. My life-long loyalty to all of the professional teams in Detroit attests to my devotion (yes, even the Lions!! and no, I've never been in Michigan, much less Detroit - it's a long story). I can proudly recite statistics of all kinds and vigorously engage in debates about the best players, proposed trades, controversial officiating calls, and the best teams of all-time. I have been an active participant in fantasy baseball leagues for several years now. My collection of sports cards is further evidence of an infatuation with athletics.

However, I can't fathom the blatant disconnect between the economic reality gripping our nation (high unemployment, fiscal uncertainty, constant news of lay-offs, anxiety about the future...) and the ever increasing and obscene salaries thrown at professional athletes (for example, Cliff Lee's 120 million dollar contract for five years of work with the Philadelphia Phillies reported last night). In as much as I would have loved the Detroit Tigers to add Lee to their roster, and I have never read anything scandalous about Lee nor anything that would detract from his character - I'm sure he's a great guy who possesses incredible skill in pitching a baseball - I simply can't rationalize someone being paid so much at a time of such need. I know that his salary begets a large number of other jobs too many to count (his agent, stadium workers, auxiliary services and products...) but it still lacks the impact of, let's say, a cancer researcher discovering a new cure, an inventor developing an innovation that saves vast amounts of energy, a diplomat who averts war and strife with deft political strategies, - you get the point.

Let me put it this way. I am responsible for crafting a budget that effectively balances the ability of our community to provide financial resources with the needs of our learners to acquire the skills and knowledge that will allow them to improve our future. Our budget for this year is just under 7 million dollars. This covers the entire cost of educating 330 learners, from soup to nuts, from utility costs, salaries, supplies, debt service on a building project, technology, and a long list of other expenses. In other words, Cliff Lee's 24 million dollar a year salary (to pitch every fifth game - about 32 regular season games of approximately seven innings per game and an average of 100 pitches thrown, or roughly $7,500 per pitch - yikes!!) is over three times what it will cost to nurture the growth of 330 learners in pursuit of dreams and hopes in Green Island for one year. We could support the budget and educational program for our school community for three years with what Lee makes in a single year. I don't mean to pick on Cliff Lee. Who among us would turn down that amount of money? He certainly isn't the only baseball player or professional athlete who receives huge sums of money - and let's not forget that they couldn't make this much money unless the owners were also profiting in the business. And the entertainment industry is full of similar tales of excess.

At any rate, there's no other way to articulate this but to say - this is crazy!!

What does this suggest about the priorities of our society? How come virtually every page of the newspaper provides doom and gloom, from headlines of lost jobs and foreclosures to classifieds with too few advertisements for those searching for hope - and then you turn to the sports pages (or entertainment section) on any given day and find multi-million dollar salaries being reported as if people were using play monopoly money - and nobody seems to be disturbed by the sharp contrast. It's more amusing than the comic strips! I guess we only have ourselves to blame as long as enough people are willing to fork over hard earned money for tickets (and exorbitantly priced concessions and parking), special cable channels, overpriced game jersey's...

Me - I'm losing interest because of the ridiculous and ever increasing disparity between life and sports, reality and fantasy - and I'm worried about being able to convince taxpayers of the benefits of supporting an educational program that is more likely to produce the next great difference maker (inventor, medical researcher, everyday hero, or diplomat) than it is to produce the next great game breaker like Cliff Lee or Tom Brady or LeBron James or Tiger Woods.

That's my pitch for you to take a swing at.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Head In The Clouds

No, I'm not referring to the feeling of watching both the Modified and Varsity Boys basketball teams secure their first victories of the season at home tonight. That's a great step in the right direction as the teams gained confidence and experienced the degree of teamwork they'll need to continue to meet with success in the season. However, I'm speaking about the information on "cloud computing" I received from a technology conference I attended last Friday in Albany.

Technology Awareness Day is an annual event sponsored by the Capital Region Board of Cooperative services (BOCES) that features new developments in technology and subsequent innovations in instructional practices. A number of school districts presented examples of employing technology as an instructional tool to enhance learning. There were vendors touting data management systems, virtual classrooms, real-time assessment tools, interactive white boards, sound reinforcement systems, video conference programs, enabled teacher workstations, and much more. It's a far cry from the film strip projectors, mimeograph machines and overhead transparency projectors of my youth. It's also an incredible advancement from the first personal computers (Commodore Vic 20 computers with 128K of memory!!!) that I was extremely anxious to unpack in 1982 when the school where I worked as principal was the first in the area to introduce these miraculous pieces of technology. One can only wonder what's around the corner regarding future technological breakthroughs.

The keynote speaker closed the conference by delivering an informative presentation on the growing concept of "cloud computing." Rather than attempt to articulate an explanation in my own words, I'll provide the following quote from Wikipedia: (I've emphasized in boldface what I feel are the key elements)

"Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, as with the electricity grid. Cloud computing is a natural evolution of the widespread adoption of virtualization, service oriented architecture and utility computing. Details are abstracted from consumers, who no longer have need for expertise in, or control over, the technology infrastructure "in the cloud" that supports them. Cloud computing describes a new supplement, consumption, and delivery model for instructional technology services based on the Internet, and it typically involves over-the-Internet provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources. It is a byproduct and consequence of the ease-of-access to remote computing sites provided by the Internet. This frequently takes the form of web-based tools or applications that users can access and use through a web browser as if it were a program installed locally on their own computer. Typical cloud computing providers deliver common business applications online that are accessed from another Web service or software like a web browser, while the software and data are stored on servers."

This concept offers considerable promise to individual school districts and collections of school districts that could band together to develop a public/private cloud whereby the schools reduce reliance on infrastructure needs and share services and web based applications (public) but restrict access to the specific group of schools (private) to maintain security. It's an area that warrants further examination as an opportunity to explore efficient cost saving practices and the prospect of expanded services managed among schools.

We have introduced an on-line credit recovery system called NovaNet to allow learners the opportunity to work at their own pace in a computer controlled path of scope and sequence in specific curricula. The learners are closely monitored with frequent assessments designed to ensure that they master a skill prior to advancing further. Task specific feedback accompanies the learner throughout their experience. We are also investigating virtual classroom programs intended to expand learning opportunities beyond our present ability, given our budgetary limitations and staffing patterns. These programs are designed to supplement, not supplant, our current instructional organization.

As I've exclaimed in prior Blog posts, in order to remain a small school but have BIG ideas, we must be creative to increase competitive learning opportunities without further stressing our already strained budget. We can be both efficient and effective. It will require prioritizing needs, commitment, cooperation and ingenuity. It won't be easy, but it must be done if we want our graduates to compete for college admission and the job market.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Whine Seller

What does a school superintendent do?

Well, I don't sell whine, though this Blog entry might sound like I'm trying.

An earlier Blog (November 10th) identified a litany of reports that must be completed to satiate the gregarious appetite of bureaucracy. That offered some insight into one element of the role of superintendent of schools. Another component associated with the responsibility involves time. There rarely seems to be enough time. The purpose of this entry is not to cry about my role, but rather inform people of the wide ranging duties encumbered in the responsibility of serving as a school superintendent (maybe that's why I've never heard about anyone wanting to grow up to be a superintendent!)

Beyond the normal workday, which usually begins between 7:00 and 7:15 in the morning and extends through 5:00 in the late afternoon/early evening, are an array of school related activities. This particular week offers an eclectic range that typifies the work calendar.

Monday night's schedule revealed a contract negotiations meeting that began at 6:00 pm.The negotiations meeting brought together representatives of the teachers' union and the administration/board of education. Rather than drive home for a few minutes only to return to school, I remained at the office and attended to other tasks until the meeting started. Our efforts to reach agreement on a resolution paving the way for a contract settlement consumed a couple of hours. We did not reach a final and definite accord, although enough progress was made to stimulate some optimism. A discussion afterwards with board members and the district's legal counsel to explore strategy added another half hour to the schedule.

Tuesday marked the inaugural home game for the girls basketball program. The Modified Team kicked off the schedule with a tip-off at 4:30 pm. That game was followed by the Varsity contest. The final buzzer of that second game didn't sound until after 7:00 pm. I waited until all of the spectators vacated the building before leaving the facility. Dinner was concession food - two cups of goulash, a hot dog and a bottle of water. I have eaten cafeteria food for over fifty years so I am accustomed to grabbing food like this.

Wednesday was the boys turn to open up their home schedule of the basketball season. They also started competition at 4:30 pm, with the Modified teams in the early game. The Varsity teams followed afterward. The game was not completed until after 7:00 pm. Concession food dinner again. This time a slice of pizza and a delicious brownie to accompany the pasta. I had some pressing work so I sought refuge in the office to wrestle with the statistics involving proposed salary schedules for teachers. We are nearing an agreement and the figures had to be verified for accuracy. I remained glued to that challenge for another hour and a half.

Thursday night began with a donation of blood at the senior class sponsored blood drive in conjunction with the American Red Cross. That left me a little weakened by the experience. However, the night then picked up with the holiday spirit and the charm of children in grades Kindergarten, First, and Second singing seasonal songs in a Winter Concert. Christmas colors and merriment abounded. It was a very entertaining evening and a chance for me to meet the family and friends of our young learners.

Friday evening was free of any school function. It was a welcome respite from the busy schedule. These events are important opportunities for me to interact with the public. The school superintendent is often among the most visible and high ranking public servants in most communities. As such, there is an expectation and a need for the superintendent to engage with the public as the face of the school district - the same face that must be present during times of need and interest, such as a crisis or the presentation of the annual school budget (sometimes a crisis in itself). The superintendent must be perceived as approachable and accommodating, patient and willing to listen. It's hard to build that persona one person at a time from behind an office desk. Time invested in interacting with the public is time well spent in developing trust and respect. It allows you to advocate for the school's interests and needs. It enables you to gain a better perspective on the norms and desires of the community members. You're not a leader without followers, and you can't enlist followers if there's distance and differences between the two parties.

As crowded as my calendar gets, the time I spend at community activities, like athletic games, concerts, and other venues where people congregate, actually saves me time in the long run. When people don't know you, don't have an idea of your values, beliefs, and philosophy, don't understand anything about you - that's when you lose time. In the world of business it's been said that it takes more time and money to regain a former or dissatisfied customer than it does to find and develop a new customer. I'd rather invest the time in building relationships and forging communication channels by meeting people in a proactive manner during normal times than trying to catch up and get acquainted during a time of distress and dissatisfaction.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get some rest.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Season Of Giving

The children in Kindergarten, First, and Second grades presented a terrific holiday concert featuring a wide variety of seasonal songs that delivered the holiday spirit to audience members. The event was well attended by a grateful crowd. The smiles on the faces of the singers, and the nervous anxiety they displayed before the opening note, were soon replaced with the serious expressions of children who had prepared themselves with practice and pride. The decorations in the room and the holiday accessories worn by many of the children certainly signaled the approach of Christmas.

It is the season of giving, and our youngest learners gave a fine performance for family and friends tonight. But this certainly isn't the only way in which members of our school give of their effort and energy to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Just today, the Heatly High Senior Class of 2011 coordinated with the American Red Cross to collect blood from donors like myself and several other staff members and community members to meet a critical need during the holidays. Both the High School Student Council and the Elementary School Student Council regularly generate goodwill and support for many different projects and programs throughout the year, from a well organized recycling program to the collection of gently used Halloween costumes for those unable to enjoy trick or treating, to collections of personal care items for our troops overseas. There's also a large scale Food Drive in which high school students deliver bags and notices to every door in Green Island, then they pick everything up driving the streets of Green Island. Finally, after a great deal of cooperation and hard work, the food is sorted and organized. Boxes are then prepped for delivery to families in need. This year's Food Drive reached out to support 50 families!

In addition, the Heatly PTO collected non-perishable foods, toiletries and entertainment items (playing cards, crossword puzzles, etc) to send to the troops serving overseas during this holiday season. One of our staff members organized a group of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders who will be making holiday cards to send to American service members, their families, and veterans all over the world through the Holiday Mail for Heroes program this year. There have been community service groups representing the school that have generously offered time and assistance in any number of local activities, from supplying help clearing snow from the cars of senior citizens to volunteering to serve at special senior citizen breakfast events. The array of community oriented experiences is too numerous to list them all, while several other individuals or groups prefer to remain anonymous in their acts. Similarly, staff members, beyond those who serve in leadership roles advising our student groups, also pitch in and give back to the community through many different opportunities.

The Heatly School is a large and vital part of the Green Island community. Our school building is often the hub of activity within the village, from basketball games to concerts, from recreational programs to hosting the public voting booths, and a lot more in between. We recognize how crucial the people of Green Island are in providing the emotional support and the financial resources necessary to sustain the dreams and hopes of children pursuing excellence. We make a conscious effort to do our part and meet our responsibility as an active partner in the community. We strive to give throughout the year, not just in this season of giving. Look for our continued plans to make a difference.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Getting Back Up

Wins and losses are counted in many different ways for many different reasons. Everyone loses at something sometime, (I've certainly made more than my share) but successful people prevent personal defeats from getting them down. Instead, they learn from their misses and work hard to convert their mistakes into personal victories. Let's look at sports. At one time the legendary New York Yankee, Babe Ruth, simultaneously held the major league baseball record for most home runs and most strike outs. It's hard to swing for the fences if you're worried about striking out. Yet, if you fail to adjust as a result of the misses you're not likely to remain on the team.

Two separate experiences influence this evening's Blog. First, an interview committee comprised of several teachers and the two building administrators and myself spent half of the day meeting with candidates for a position teaching high school English. Second, the boys basketball program opened up the Central Hudson Valley League season in their home opener.

There were nearly 120 applicants for the teaching position that will become vacant upon the retirement next month of a longtime contributor to the dreams and hopes of many learners who had passed through the hallways at Heatly High. Ten dozen college graduates looking for a teaching role after acquiring the necessary degree and certification. If you even select the top 10% of the applicants to interview that still leaves you with 12 very well qualified candidates, each deserving a 30 or 40 minute interview. It's a lot of work and a very important responsibility. Yet, when you identify those who you will offer an opportunity to contend for the position, you are also disqualifying over 100 other potential teachers from consideration.

Each of our staff members seated around the conference table has at one point been in the same spot as the applicants; anxious and hopeful of securing their first teaching position. Each of us can identify with the feelings that the individuals wrestle with as they prepare for the interview, sit in front of ten members of the panel, and respond to questions both anticipated and unanticipated. Each person interviewed will receive specific feedback on their performance. Only one will be hired. The rest will help determine their fate in the future with other schools in the manner in which they integrate the feedback into their preparation for their next interview. If they incorporate the advice and opinions we provide into future experiences they may likely increase their chances for obtaining a position somewhere. If they choose to subscribe their inability to receive a job offer to the failure of the interview committee to perceive their potential, then they may very well meet with frustration during additional interviews elsewhere. We can all learn fro our setbacks.

That brings us to the boys basketball games. Both the Modified team and the Varsity team went down to defeat this evening. While there's always a sense of subjectivity within the officiating of the sport, the margin of loss both teams suffered would render that issue a mute point. Neither game was close after halftime. We can be proud of the consistent effort and refusal to surrender that both teams evidenced in their determined play. The question remains similar to what's been posed above - can we, will we, learn from the experience? If we do, then we can salvage something positive from an otherwise negative evening. We can learn something about ourselves in a situation like this. Did we give up? Did we begin to blame our teammates or coaches? Did we search for excuses?

It starts with our willingness to honestly and objectively look in the mirror after experiencing a loss - whether it's not receiving good news following an interview, or being humbled by the numbers on the scoreboard. What went wrong? How did I contribute to the loss? What can I do differently in a similar situation? What can I practice in order to improve? What strategic changes can we make? How can we work together to better our performance? Am I willing to commit to the difficult work necessary to improve?

I recall a quote I read once which offered the advice of the former undefeated heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Rocky Marciano. He said that it "doesn't matter how many times you fall, what matters is how many times you get up."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

That's The Way The Ball Bounces

Today was an exciting day at Heatly.

The school day began with another session of mentoring learners. The suggested discussion thread involved the subject of stress. It's an interesting point to be speaking with children about, but sadly it's a relevant aspect of the daily life of youth. Staff members focused on signs of stress, causes of stress, and ways to deal with stress. At the expense of sounding old - I don't recall my early years reflecting nearly the pressure and anxiety levels of today. It's a disturbing commentary on contemporary issues. And, as I mentioned in last night's Blog, it's another example of an area public schools should address, in spite of the absence of being the subject of an assessment, and perhaps because of the assessments. I recognize and accept that testing and competition are necessary elements in education but I suspect that like many things, moderation is best and we seem to be imbalanced in our efforts to the degree that anxiety and insecurity, self-doubt and worry, have become intimidating.

Later, in the early afternoon, we held a school-wide assembly to acknowledge the start of the basketball season at Heatly (at least the first home games). In addition to presenting the various basketball teams, the cheerleaders (all 22 of them) were introduced and provided with an opportunity to showcase their talents. There were also a series of basketball related activities involving staff members and younger learners so representatives of the different constituent groups comprising the school were active participants.

A special feature combined athletic success with academic pursuits of excellence when an emissary of the mayor's office delivered a speech congratulating our girls soccer team for their recent designation as a Scholar/Athlete Team based on their collective grade point average in excess of 90.0. The mayor's proclamation was read in honor of the team's success. this served to reinforce the clarion issued on the second day of school which encouraged the learners to invest the same passion, competitive spirit, and tenacity in the classroom as they have evidenced on the fields and courts of sports activities. The soccer team's exploits resonated with me as a fine example of what we are capable of performing. In addition, two players were accorded status as Section II all stars, while one young lady became the first known soccer player at Heatly to earn All-State awards as a member of the fourth team New York State Soccer Squad.

The great feeling emerging from the Pep Rally sustained itself through the opening two games of the year as the girls modified team easily outpaced their opponents. The level of execution of fundamental skills and the teamwork enabled the team to secure a wide margin early in the game and maintain the momentum through the final buzzer, meeting a well deserved victory. That win was followed up by the girls varsity team achieving a hard fought victory over the visiting team, nursing a slim lead for most of the game before finally pulling away in the last few minutes to secure an outcome measured by double digits. The girls, while limited to a team of eight players, nonetheless produced an excellent effort that maximized teamwork and a well planned strategy to yield the win. Both teams played smart, in that they ran their offense with efficiency and enacted an effective defense.

It was a successful day - and a lengthy day. After thirteen hours here (thankfully there was a fine selection of food available at the concession stand for my dinner) I'm finally going home. Tomorrow night is opening night for the boy's home season, and another long day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

On The Right Track

What direction are public schools going? What is the right track?

Let's talk about tracks for a moment. Train tracks, as in railroads. In the late 1800's railroads were dominant in the area of delivering large numbers of people and vast amounts of freight over long distances. Significant sums of money were concentrated in the hands of those who owned railroads (sometimes referred to as Robber Barons, like Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jay Gould). These railroad fortunes have disappeared, to the point where federal dollars had to bail out the companies who survived the impact of other forms of transportation, only to face bankruptcy and an uncertain future.

How did that happen? There are quite a few different contributing factors but surely one of the primary causes was the inability of the owners of railroads to define themselves in terms of the business they were conducting. That is, railroads considered their primary function as transferring people and freight from one point to another. If they had instead defined their business in more general terms as transportation, then they could have foreseen the potential to diversify services and ward off the negative influence of cars, trucks, and planes on the railroad industry. Rather than investing in the new technology of automobiles, tractor trailers, and jets, they remained singularly focused on railways. Hence, their decline as a factor in transportation industry. They missed the signs of change and the reach of their business because they defined themselves in a narrow fashion.

What does this have to do with schools? The emphasis on tests, assessments, and data analysis has deflected resources (particularly during economic stress) and attention from other elements of learning that don't lend themselves to measuring process subsumed beneath the bureaucratic labyrinth of No Child Left Behind and the Race To The Top initiatives. For instance, beyond the skills and knowledge we strive to develop among learners, are the attributes that extend the application of those skills and that knowledge into the workplace. How far will someone get just on the skills and knowledge if they don't also exhibit a constructive work ethic, honesty, dependability, cooperation, persistence, integrity, and on and on..? Don't these characteristics count?

I am reminded that the U.S. Department of Labor once stated that the number one reason people lose their jobs (other than layoffs prompted by financial problems in the industry) is not due to their lack of skill, but rather their inability to get along with others. As more and more occupations involve team work and collaboration, the ability of people to cooperate becomes essential to productivity and performance.

The revered London School of Economics states that they are in the transformation business. They expect that everyone who engages in coursework in any level at the school to be transformed as a result of that experience. The school exceeds the limited perception that they are in the teaching and learning business. In what ways are public schools transforming learners if we are directed toward increased assessments of skills and knowledge in those disciplines that are easily measured? Thus far, we have state developed and mandated assessments in Math and English Language Arts in grades 3-8, with Science in grades 4 and 8, and Social Studies in grade 5. There are Regents exams in Math, Science, History and English in select grades. What about electives? Music? Art? Physical Education? Kindergarten, First and Second Grades? What about cooperation? What about...?

Schools should be encouraged and enabled to promote success in skill acquisition and general knowledge as well as the characteristics and attributes that are necessary to maximize the application of the skills and knowledge. Schools should transform people through experiences between Kindergarten and grade 12. Let's not be derailed from our meaning and purpose. Let's remain on the right track to success by providing opportunities for learners of all stages and at all ages to realize their potential - not just on state tests, but in the workplace too.

I worry that the increased focus on material that can be tested is beginning to resemble those old movies when the train engine has run out of coal to fire its furnace and the engineers have resorted to tearing up the rest of the train foraging for anything that will burn and produce the energy needed to keep the train running. They feed the fire by tossing in wood stripped from the very rail cars it tows. In this case, public schools may be tearing up curriculum, or at least diminishing the value of certain curricula, to feed the appetite of the mandated tests that transport education.

I believe the future of Heatly depends on our commitment to transform people by extending learning opportunities through increased electives and expanded programs.  To be competitive with graduates of other schools we must explore low cost high impact alternative learning experiences through evolving technology platforms, such as our recent addition of NovaNet, a credit recovery program capitalizing on computer assisted instruction to offer learners a chance to regain credit in classes and avoid falling behind or, worse, dropping out. Other possibilities involve distance learning and an online, virtual high school curriculum to supplement, not supplant, our traditional programming. Expanding opportunities while remaining small will put our graduates in position to compete for admission to the colleges of their choice and to compete in the workplace, with the support of characteristics such as cooperation, and others that are more easily developed within a small learning community where everyone knows everyone and everyone matters.

We can be a small school with BIG ideas. We're on track.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Follow The Yellow Brick Road

I have served as a formal leader since I was 24 years old and given the keys to the school building and entrusted with leading a small elementary school in Stonington, Maine - many years ago.

Since that auspicious beginning, at an age when I didn't know what I didn't know, I've studied the subject of leadership with great interest in improving my skills and maximizing opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others. There's certainly an immense reservoir of research and opinions on leadership. A simple Google search seeking books on leadership discovered over 79 million results!! It seems like I've read a quarter of them.

There have been many texts that have offered insight on the challenges and issues facing leaders. Several have subsequently provoked changes in my views on leadership. James McGregor Burns and Warren Bennis are among the few writers who have distinguished themselves from the trove of authors and made a considerable impression on my perspectives. Yet, the source of perhaps the most enlightened advice on leadership was not a book, but an old movie. I'll explain the connection between this famous movie and leadership.

When I first watched The Wizard of Oz I was a young child. That initial screening produced great fear. I was scared of the flying monkeys that threatened Dorothy and her troupe of fellow adventurers, and not too fond of the Wicked Witch. As I grew older and watched the movie over time, I was able to perceive and understand more of the plot and the development of the characters. It made more sense to me.

The Wizard of Oz is a classic film and its been viewed by nearly everyone. We all remember Dorothy and her dog Toto being swept up by a tornado in Kansas and plunked into nowhere. She treks off on the yellow brick road to find the Wizard of Oz for assistance in returning home. Along the way she befriends a lion, a scarecrow, and a tin man. They too are in quest of something they lack. The tin man wants a heart, the lion hopes for courage, and the scarecrow desires a brain. After a succession of risks and challenges, warding off flying monkeys and terrible witches here and there, they finally arrive at Oz. During their meeting with the great wizard, Toto peels back the curtain and Dorothy and her companions are startled and disappointed to find that the great wizard is nothing more than an ordinary man projecting himself as an omnipotent, all-knowing wizard. They express their dissatisfaction and despair, feeling hopeless in their search for answers.

Ah, but this is the part that is so meaningful to me. Just when the travelers are convinced that the man is a fraud and all is lost, he explains to them that he can't give them what they want, and in fact, they already possessed the qualities and direction they thought they lacked. The lion had previously demonstrated his courage when he fought off the attacking monkeys. The tin man exhibited his heart when he agreed to join Dorothy to care for her on her adventure. The scarecrow exercised his brain when he cleverly out-foxed the monkeys and witches who threatened Dorothy. And, finally, Dorothy had the power to return home all along, by clicking her ruby red slippers together.

The point I extracted from all of this - a leader does not possess any wonderful wisdom, mysterious mastery, magical wands or fairy dust that can be used to transform people into something other than what or who they are. Instead, an effective leader works to help people find their potential and capacity - just like the wizard did.

In contrast, there was a school of thought on leadership in the mid 1900's referred to as The Great Man Theory. Those subscribing to that theory considered effective leaders as great men who wield the sheer power of their persona to shape people and events. Such leaders (Churchill, FDR, Eisenhower...)  were considered to have magnetic charisma, superior intellect, and indomitable strength that distinguished them from others. The belief was that leaders were born, not made.

If anyone in Green Island was hoping for a savior superintendent they were left with bitter disappointment. Rather than a Great Man leader, I have opted to follow what other researchers on leadership have coined as Servant Leadership. Wikipedia explains servant leadership as follows: "Servant-leaders achieve results for their organizations by giving priority attention to the needs of their colleagues and those they serve. Servant-leaders are often seen as humble stewards of their organization's resources." At the end of the movie, The Wizard of Oz resembled a servant leader. He was able to hold a mirror of sorts up to Dorothy and her companions to reveal that they already had what they needed, they just weren't conscious of it. That self-discovery will be essential for us to experience success at Heatly by meeting our potential and reaching our capacity. It will require a leader who listens, nurtures growth, shows tolerance, practices patience and accommodation, exercises praise and reinforcement, stimulates thought, communicates empathy, provides orientation and direction, offers support and helpful feedback - and knows when to get out of the way.

That's what I aspire to do in Green Island. Time will tell.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's In The Mail

There are multiple methods of communicating available to us today. School-age learners have grown up surrounded by the different forms - Instant Messaging; texting; cell phone; email; Skype, twitter, Facebook, and other social media; and several more resources. These channels offer rapid and mass exchanges of information, even conveying real-time visual transmissions. It seems like there's a revised or new and improved opportunity emerging on a weekly basis.

Our school district uses our website, weekly electronic newsletters, Facebook (PTO and Athletic Booster Club), mass email (School News Notifier) and the superintendent's blog as electronic examples of transmitting information. So we're not averse to adopting and exercising evolving forms of communication.

However, as old fashioned as it makes me appear, I still feel there remains room for postal deliveries - snail mail. I know, I know, that's so outdated....

I happen to believe that despite the various means of communicating that exist today, and maybe because of the ethereal nature of these forms of communicating, that a plain personal letter arriving unexpectedly in the mail box provides a unique and noteworthy surprise and sense of formality. I have elected to write congratulatory letters to deserving learners and staff members and distribute them via the postal system. What anyone over forty might remember, may very well be lost on those younger. I'm referring to people who grown up awash in technology, people who have rarely received a letter in the mail, much less anxiously awaited a delivery and raced to the mailbox at the sight of the post office vehicle. Hopefully, the novelty of such correspondence increases the the feeling of distinction.

If someone can invest the time and commit the energy to earn an award, an honor, or deserving recognition, then the least I can do is take a moment to express my appreciation and acknowledgement of the accomplishment in written form on official school letterhead. After all, it's difficult to hang an IM or a twitter expression on the refrigerator door at home for all to see. And, although Facebook allows you to communicate to countless "friends" all at once, you don't have something you can feel, and touch, and store away in a box of personal memorabilia.

In the last week or so I've sent off notes congratulating many learners for meeting performance standards for honor and high honor roll status; award winning art-work; outstanding musical presentations; acknowledgement as a member of a scholar/athlete team (and the coaches of the team); student of the month (and nominees); and a few more categories that escape my memory late at night after a board of education meeting. I want each recipient to feel special. I want it to mean something. I want them to know our district is grateful for their achievements. I want the message to be permanent and concrete, not something important for a short shelf life and disposed of and replaced to make room on the small cell phone screen for the next text or twitter or email. I want it to be shared again in the future when the recipient wishes to relive the experience once more.

I want the members of the Heatly School Community to understand that someone cares enough to take the time to communicate special and personalized messages of lasting meaning. It still matters.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You Can Quote Me On That

Every now and then I search various websites on the Internet to browse famous quotes. During that mental exploration I'll find one or two that particularly attract my attention - maybe the mood I'm in, or an alluring term, or just lyrical prose that strikes a chord within me.

Here are three quotes related to attitude that captured my focus., They are all attributed to the same person; famous American psychologist and philosopher William James.

"Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives."
"The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind."
"It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome."

Five months have now passed since I began work as superintendent of the Green Island School District. Much of my effort has been invested in addressing the importance of a positive attitude as leverage for success. While not as dramatic as a sweeping reform announced with fanfare, or as swift as a thunderous pronouncement of an infusion of new money, the focus on attitude can generate more lasting and more empowering results. Perhaps subtle enough that the various acts are lost on others or perceived as unconnected, the design of the strategy can nonetheless be potent.

It starts with greeting people at the sidewalk in front of the school as the school day is ready to unfold. It continues through pleasant exchanges each time I interact with people in the hallways, through the daily lunches with learners in the office of the superintendent, through the numerous letters of recognition and congratulation bearing school letterhead and mailed to recipients, and permeates interactions of all kinds. Each and every interaction is viewed as a potential opportunity to encourage a positive attitude with hope that it will subsequently be "paid forward" to someone else along the stream of interactions that occur countless times within a school building in the course of a day. Promoting and recognizing and rewarding evidence of a constructive and positive attitude must serve as our foundation. It simply mirrors the Golden Rule of treating others as you would like to be treated. As the leader of the district, I must set the example.

Before we can expect to realize our collective potential as a school of learners we must work together. That's difficult to do if we can't communicate and cooperate. And we aren't likely to engage in collaboration if we don't know each other, care for each other, and commit to common goals and shared meanings. Clearly, a positive attitude can stimulate and optimize success. It has the prospect of becoming contagious. With enough momentum, it can become like a snowball being rolled in snow and accumulating a greater mass as it moves along a path.

It's been nice to see an example of that as our school now extends a program to adults that was formerly devoted to learners. I'm referring to the "Gotcha" program that has acknowledged and rewarded learners who were caught displaying a positive act. The names of recipients are placed into a basket for a drawing at regular intervals to identify lucky winners of various prizes. A brainstorming session of a recent District Leadership Team produced the suggestion that we include adults in the program by allowing learners to exercise the opportunity to catch adults exhibiting positive acts and citing the instance for the "Gotcha" program.

Re-read those quotes from the start of the Blog and reflect on their meaning. How's your attitude? Are you sharing that with others?