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Monday, January 31, 2011

A Hoover And A Vacuum

"A good teacher is like a candle -it consumes itself to light the way for others." Author unknown

A candle went out in Green Island.

Friday, January 28, 2011 marked the final day of teaching for Mrs. Karen Hoover. She retired after devoting herself to promoting the success, nurturing the dreams, and sustaining the hopes of nearly 2,000 learners during a career that spanned over three decades at Heatly (almost 6,000 days of school and more than 30,000 lessons) and reached across generations of learners from the same families. She prepared teenagers for life through high school English, bringing meaning to words and breathing life into books. She encouraged learners to think and to grow.

Communication is a valuable necessity in our society and she delivered learning experiences designed to enhance the ability of her class members to express themselves in speech and writing, interpret the intent and purpose of others, make inferences, draw conclusions, analyze plots and characters, wield creativity - and much more. For her commitment to these lofty goals and the countless other endeavors she experienced, she will be greatly missed.  The community was enriched by her contributions and commitment; the staff was the beneficiary of her grace and dignity, as well as her professionalism and dedication; and the learners were transformed by her care and compassion, and her effort and energy. I consider myself fortunate to have worked with her, even if it was for a brief six months. Her departure, though well deserved, leaves a significant vacuum in its wake.

"A teacher affects eternity: she can never tell where her influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Congratulations Mrs. Hoover!! Thank you for everything you've done for Heatly. Your influence will surely spread well beyond Green Island and extend far into the future.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Milestones And Millstones

The Heatly High boys varsity basketball team had a game tonight. They won. That wasn't the big news to me. I certainly don't discount the victory or the effort. The outcome of the contest wasn't diminished by an overly confident expectation of the Hornets winning. On the contrary, their opponent fielded a roster that was considerably taller. Plus, they had defeated Heatly in their previous match-up. It shaped up as a major challenge. It was an extremely exciting and close game, with lead changes back and forth during the final period. The game was in doubt up until the buzzer signaled that the home crowd could breathe a sigh of relief. Yet, as I said, the win was secondary to me, despite a tremendous overall team performance.

Instead a young man graciously lifted a burden off his back and demonstrated a rather remarkable dedication to his teammates by sustaining his commitment to their common goal - victory. Let me explain. Prior to the start of the season most area fans and astute followers of local basketball were well aware of the prowess of one of the members of the team. As a newcomer to Heatly, I had already been informed by many that one player stood out. He was the star. He participated on the basketball team representing the region in the annual Empire State Games. His talent, proven in previous campaigns, would attract the defensive attention of competing teams. However, this same attention held the threat of obscuring the contributions and abilities of the rest of the team. It would shape up as a fairly young team in experience and a team lacking great depth. There was a strong possibility that his individual effort could dwarf the development of the other players on the team and consign them all, him included, to a lackluster season. It would be possible for him to command the spotlight and pursue individual statistics - at the expense of the team. As a senior in his last season of high school competition, it might not surprise people if this scenario occurred. Two questions loomed - 1) would he value his own statistics and glory above the needs of the team? 2) would his new coach be able to effectively harness the individual talent and promote team unity and spirit - and success?

He knew before the game, though it was not common knowledge, in fact only a handful of people were aware of it, that he needed 19 points to reach a universally accepted milestone in high school basketball anywhere - 1,000 career points. It's surely a mark of distinction reached by a very small percentage of players. That figure was a realistic possibility; maybe more accessible to his grasp than a victory was to the team's reach.

The first quarter ended with him netting five points. He was therefore on pace to achieve the mark. Heatly jumped out to a fairly comfortable, though not commanding, lead after the initial period. The team was operating at an efficient level, with distinct signs of effective team work. Crisp passes, well executed plays, patient exercise of fundamentals, a concerted approach to defense, and an offense characterized by quickly moving the ball around to open up seams and create opportunities for good looks at the basket, all contributed to their early success. The players were all contributing and making great plays with desire and determination. Their momentum continued through the second quarter, yet the margin became perilously close as the teams concluded the first half. The player had accumulated six more points for a total of eleven tallies. He was a little more than midway to his goal. Along the way he was distributing the ball very well and involving his teammates in the flow of the game. He was exhibiting tenacious defense and displaying overall qualities that elevated the performance of the team. His effort and determination were beyond reproach.

The crowd all knew that the winner of this game would likely not be determined until just before the final buzzer sounded. The opponents returned from the locker room with a vengeance. They rose to the challenge and fought hard to tie up the score during the third period. Confidence appeared to waver, the boys of the home team seemed to tire a little, their play looked more pedestrian. It was not looking good. The player had accumulated only a few more points during this period. It didn't look like he would net the total necessary to reach 1,000. And, it was not looking like the team could maintain their path to victory.

The final quarter picked up with the same intensity and rhythm and back and forth lead changes as the prior period. The game was spellbinding. They key was Heatly's ability to continue to follow their strategy and avoid deviating from their pre-determined plan for success. The player's focus was definitely on leading the team to victory rather than adding to his point total. He did not force shots, he did not demand the ball, he did not waver from his commitment to the team. His selfless play not only ended up making a difference in the game, I believe it made a difference in him. He sacrificed opportunities for shots to promote the odds of success. The other team concentrated on him as a primary threat and that attention allowed his team mates to step up and  fill the void in scoring. Heatly grabbed the lead with under a minute. The teams traded baskets. Time was running out and the opponents had little recourse other than committing fouls with the hope that our players would miss free throws and they would secure the rebound for a chance to regain the lead. He was fouled as the lead stood at one with six seconds remaining before the buzzer. His first of two free throws expanded the lead to two. Another free throw would not only require the opponents to make a three-point play just to tie the score, but it would be his 19th point and membership in the exclusive 1,000 point club.

He missed the second foul shot. The other team called a timeout to plan a final play. It didn't work. They failed to score and the clock ran out. Heatly won! He did not reach the coveted milestone, yet he lifted a heavy millstone off his back. He is clearly a very talented individual who will undoubtedly reach 1,000 points soon after the start of our next game on Tuesday evening, but more importantly, he showed everyone what a great team player he is. And, in my book, that's an even more important milestone - reaching for excellence while leading others to victory.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Challenge Of Leadership

Perhaps the most challenging part of being a new superintendent is the struggle to look, listen, learn, and adapt to the organizational culture while communicating a personal vision guiding the direction of the district. There are unwritten policies and practices intricately embedded (often hidden to anyone new to the system) within any organizational culture over the passage of time and through every change in leadership. The institutional history of a school district is usually more difficult to learn than the history of civilization – which is at least available in book form.

Similarly, school districts are generally stressed by the introduction of a new superintendent. Anxiety and fear produce a degree of insecurity and uncertainty. People may be threatened by the prospect of changes that might accompany the new leader. What worked before, and who was important before, might be impacted by changes, however subtle and innocent.

The transition can be viewed as a lengthy, rickety bridge over a deep and treacherous ravine one must cross. Successful assimilation requires a mutual adaptation in which both parties – leader and followers – learn from each other and form the cooperative synergy and reciprocal respect necessary for attainment of commonly shared goals.

This give and take process whereby people work toward developing relationships creates an orientation point for the system. It offers a focal point and an opportunity to identify roles. Leadership is a tremendous responsibility. The absence of leadership (or ineffective leadership) can undermine an entire organization.

Here’s an example of a group acting without a leader, meandering about aimlessly. The excerpt is from The Art of the Leader, by William Cohen.

The Processionary caterpillar is an insect that earned its name because of its unusual manner of movement. They crawl in single file lines, head to tail in large processions to feed on foliage. The leader seeks the mulberry leaf, the main food of this caterpillar. Wherever the leader goes the rest are sure to follow directly behind. French scientist Jean Henri Fabre conducted a study of their routine. He formed them into a circle around the rim of a plate, so there was now no leader and no follower. He placed one of their favorite foods, mulberry leaves, in the center of the plate. The scientist wanted to know how long they would maintain the circle with no leader and no objective. The caterpillars continued their circle until they were so weak that they couldn't reach the leaves even though their food was only inches away. They continued to go forward with no objective at all.

Leadership is also situational and dependent on circumstances. Leadership may be derived from a specific skill or experience that vaults someone into a key role. Effective leaders grow other leaders by creating learning opportunities that empower people. Here’s one such example extracted from Malcolm Gladwell’s book (one of my favorites) Blink. He is quoting Paul Van Riper, a commander involved in important war game simulations who shares a leadership strategy he calls – “In command, out of control.”

By that I mean that the overall guidance and intent were provided by me and the senior leadership, but the forces in the field wouldn’t depend on intricate orders coming from the top. They were to use their own initiative and be innovative as they went forward.”

Staying with examples of leadership evolving from the armed forces, Chip and Dan Heath, co-authors of the book Made to Stick, explain a similar form of leadership called Commanders Intent.

It’s an Army planning process that specifies the plan’s goal, and the desired end-state of an operation. The commander never specifies so much detail that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events. As soon as people understand what the intent is they begin generating their own solutions.”

I prefer to exercise the leadership strategies described in these last two examples. They both follow the maxim that power is the only thing that multiplies when it’s divided. That is, you recognize the benefit of enabling others through training and support. In this manner you enrich the organization by growing people capable of demonstrating initiative and creativity as they pursue stated goals. They can wield ingenuity and innovate solutions while accepting responsibility and operating under accountability. Out future at Heatly depends on accessing the potential of each individual and harnessing it in a common cause.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Can't Stomach The Rebellion

Any crisis produces the possibility that anxiety and fear may collaborate to cause people to do or say things that they would not ordinarily do or say. We may be transformed by the drama or trauma of a crisis. The current economic crisis is no exception. Diminishing resources often prompt people to look at issues differently. Elements of an organization threatened by fiscal problems can either forge a unified response to the common threat or they can collapse or even turn against one another. Schools are certainly liable to fall prey to this potential hazard. When the budget cuts appear inevitable, it's not uncommon for one unit of the organization - a grade, a building, a department, a bargaining unit... to turn against another unit to avoid suffering cuts. This sort of organizational cannibalism is not sustainable. In-fighting can lead to the system restructuring itself by survival tactics espoused by the loudest or most forceful group. When triumph over another unit becomes the objective, the whole system can lose sight of its true objectives and veer off course from their stated direction. In the long term, creativity and cooperation, combined with fidelity to the mission and a focus on the future, will more likely secure success despite the economy.

Here's a parable that offers a glimpse at the chaos and confusion that occurs when an organization turns against itself. I cannot recall where I heard this or where I may have collected it, but its been stored in my reservoir of quotes and stories related to educational leadership.

Once a man had a dream in which his hands and feet and mouth and brain all began to rebel against his stomach.

“You good-for-nothing slacker!” the hands said. “We work all day long, sawing and hammering and lifting and carrying. By evening we’re covered with blisters and scratches, and our joints ache, and we’re covered with dirt. And meanwhile, you just sit there hogging all the food.”

“We agree!” cried the feet. “Think how sore we get, walking back and forth all day long. And you just stuff yourself full, you greedy pig, so that you’re that much heavier to carry about.”

“That’s right!” whined the mouth. “Where do you think all that food you love comes from? I’m the one who has to chew it all up, and as soon as I’m finished you suck it all down for yourself. Do you call that fair?”

“And what about me?” called the brain. “Do you think its easy being up here, having to think about where your next meal is going to come from? And yet I get nothing at all for my pains.”

And one by one the parts of the body joined the complaint against the stomach, which didn’t say anything at all.

“I have an idea,” the brain finally announced. “Let’s all rebel against the lazy belly, and stop working for it.”

Superb idea!” all the other members and organs agreed. “We’ll teach you how important we are, you pig. Then maybe you’ll do a little work of your own.”

So they all stopped working. The hands refused to do lifting and carrying. The feet refused to walk. The mouth promised not to chew or swallow a single bite. And the brain swore it wouldn’t come with any more bright ideas. At first the stomach growled a bit, as it always did when it was hungry. But after a while it was quiet.

Then, to the dreaming man’s surprise, he found he could not walk. He could not grasp anything in his hand. He could not even open his mouth. And he suddenly began to feel rather ill.

The dream seemed to go on for several days. As each day passed, the man felt worse and worse. “This rebellion had better not last much longer,” he thought to himself, “or I’ll starve.”

Meanwhile, the hands and feet and mouth and brain just lay there, getting weaker and weaker. At first they roused themselves just enough to taunt the stomach every once in a while, but before long they didn’t even have the energy for that.

Finally, the man heard a faint voice coming from the direction of his feet.

“It could be that we were wrong,” they were saying. “We suppose the stomach might have been working in his own way all along.”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” murmured the brain. “It’s true that he’s been getting all the food. But it seems he’s been sending most of it right back to us.”

“We might as well admit our error,” the mouth said. “The stomach has just as much work to do as the hands and feet and brain and mouth.”

“Then let’s get back to work,” they cried together. And at that the man woke up from his dream. To his relief, he discovered his feet could walk again. His hands could grasp, his mouth could chew, and his brain could now think clearly. He began to feel much better.

“Well, there’s a lesson for me,” he thought as he filled his stomach at breakfast. “Either we all work together, or nothing works at all.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Instant Change? Unprepared For Change? Why Do We Change? (and other questions)

Change is a constant. There's no avoiding the phenomena. In fact, our history is the story-line of accumulative changes in politics, social adaptations, technological advances, and economic turbulence. Change is occurring at such a rapid rate that the term exponential often accompanies the word in anything you read on the subject. Change happens much more quickly than we accommodate it and integrate it into our daily lives and routines. That is, change prevails whether we like it or not, whether we are prepared for it or not. Success and survival often depend on our ability to adapt.

Few people enjoy change - except babies with dirty diapers! It has been said that people don't resist change - they resist being changes. There is a significant point within that last statement taht warrants serious attention prior to invoking change of any sort.

Here's some comic relief to share with you to offer a perspective on the speed of change.

Change is not as fast as some people imagine:

Yakoff Smirnoff is a Russian comedian who emigrated to the U.S. where he has appeared in countless shows featuring his wry observations on American society. Here's one story he's presented that provides insight on change.

Smirnoff welcomed a Russian friend to America and took him around to show him the sights. While visiting a supermarket he wanted to show the tremendous amount of different items available. "Look at this" Smirnoff pointed out, "powdered eggs, just add water and you have eggs." "Wow!" exclaimed his friend. Walking down the next aisle. "Look here, powdered orange juice, just add water and you have orange juice!" "Fantastic" said his friend. Then, as they went down the next aisle the friend screamed "Holy cow!!" America, what a country! What will they think of next?" Smirnoff looked over at his friend and realized the man had picked up some baby powder.

As a new superintendent anxious to prove myself it can be tempting to initiate change as an imposing signature on the district. It's true that there are points and programs that may require alterations to either improve or to comply with new state mandates or local policies. There is inherent pressure to reaffirm the school board's decision to hire the new superintendent. You want to demonstrate that you're worth the investment, that you are the right person to lead the system, and that you know what you're doing. There's a great sense of responsibility and duty. Yet, too much change, too soon, can undermine your efforts and dilute credibility.

On the other hand, if you're not continuously monitoring the performance of the organization and checking for opportunities to improve effectiveness or efficiency, you can encounter an entirely different set of problems that produce the same fate as changing too fast. 

Here's an explanation I read in one of the many interesting books written by Robert Waterman. He uses a recipe to boil a frog as the means of advising one of the perils of not responding fast enough to the need for change.

If you want to boil a frog you must start with a pot of water the same temperature as the pond it came from. If you begin with water too cold or too hot, it will prompt the frog to leap out of the container. However, if the water's the same temperature as the pond then you can ever so slowly turn the heat up in small increments and the frog will not detect the difference. If you're patient enough you'll end up with frog legs for an appetizer!

That's what happens to school districts that are blind to subtle changes in the economy, the political terrain, the values and beliefs in the community, or the pace and scope of technology. You end up "dead" because you didn't perceive the need or the opportunity to change until it was too late.

So, a balance between too fast and too slow is necessary. The system is always wrestling with the dynamic interaction - change, whether its externally imposed or internally initiated, whether it's viewed as positive or negative, disrupts the organization's equilibrium. Their is turmoil while the system adjusts and integrates new habits, policies, strategies... until equilibrium is restored --- and then you start all over again. It can feel like you're on a treadmill without an off button.

The key is perhaps in managing change. It is a process, not an event. How do you manage change? You can begin by vigilantly studying the environment for signs of change on the horizon, maintaining firm core values of the school system that endure regardless of what else changes in the organization. Nurture a resilient and flexible organization that allows for accommodating change as a viable and constructive force. Don't view change as an enemy but respect it as a factor contributing to your success or your demise. Examine opportunities to integrate changes. But, most importantly, make sure you understand why you're doing what you're doing. The story below is an example of sustaining a routine or practice well beyond the existence or memory of whomever started it.
One Easter, years ago, I observed my wife and young daughter preparing a special dinner. This was one of those great experiences whereby one generation passes along the traditions that collectively form the thread of a family to the next generation. My wife had cut off a sizeable portion of each side of the ham prior to baking it. This left a fairly small ham in a rather huge pan. That provoked the curiosity of my daughter, who asked her mom why she did this. I was sure that the explanation would reveal a special recipe or technique handed down through the family. But, my wife wasn't really sure of the reason herself except that her mom had demonstrated the same method when she was little. However, she was certain that it always produced a delicious ham. Upon my urging she called her own mom for specific reasoning. My mother-in-law was similarly dumbfounded and simply replied that her mother had always experienced success with the same method. Finally, fueled my growing interest a call was placed to my wife's grandmother to find out why everyone cut off the ends of the ham. Grandma simply replied "I only had a small pan so I had to cut off the ends to make it fit."

This is why many organizations resist change, "It's the way we've always done it."

You'll need to change at some point - just make sure you anticipate it, prepare for it, adjust to it, and understand why you're changing and what benefits may be derived from the experience. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Testing Your Vision

Mid-term exams and several Regents tests are scheduled for this week. These are demanding assessments that undoubtedly raise anxiety among learners. There are almost as many different ways to prepare for tests as there are people who take them. We each find a preferred form of preparation that works for us and we sustain that strategy across subject areas.

However, beyond studying for the tests by reviewing content, making lists, memorizing data, and practicing with classmates, there are methods that really don’t involve subject matter at all. Instead, learners can approach any test by expanding their vision. I don’t mean getting a new prescription for eye glasses or contacts. I am referring to tapping into our own minds by developing an image of the desired outcome. I’ll explain in the following paragraphs. Also, we must make sure that we don’t limit ourselves by our immediate surroundings, or perceptions, whether self-made or adopted from others, of our capabilities, skills, and attitude. More on that later.

First, let’s look at generating a vision of our personal objective, in this case success on the exam. Stanford neurophysiologist Dr. Karl Pribram calls this “feedforward.” He uses the term to describe those images of achievement that stimulate creative action. A clear and persistent mental image prompts the same neural connections in the autonomic nervous system as an actual experience, and research has shown that the body has difficulty distinguishing between the two. That's why a vivid mental picture of ultimate success helps steer an individual intuitively to a desired objective.                      

At one time the record for running a mile was 4 minutes and 1.4 seconds. That standard was set by the great Swedish runner Gunder Hagg in 1945. No one thought it was humanly possible to run a mile in less than four minutes. Runners had apparently accepted that belief as if it was fact. That opinion placed severe limitations on the performances of competitors. That mark stood as immutable for nine years. And then, in May of 1954, Englishman Roger Bannister ran the distance in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds. Interestingly, within a short time period thereafter 26 different men broke the four minute barrier. It was a matter of breaking through a wall firmly constructed of opinions and beliefs.

I have shared the following quote in an earlier Blog. The remarkable Italian artist Michelangelo once offered an explanation for his ability to create works of wonder. He said that instead of accepting the cynical phrase - “I’ll believe it when I see it” he followed the reverse of that adage- “I’ll see it when I believe it.” We have to believe in possibilities and imagine the desired outcome before we engage in the challenge. Will it insure success? No, but it will certainly increase the chances compared to a pessimistic or skeptical perception of our future.

Perhaps one of the most unfortunate situations is one in which we impose restrictions on ourselves by limiting our own opportunities. This takes many forms. Notable among them is placing blinders on our vision. We do that when we fail to explore options, create choices, search for alternative solutions, or imagine different possibilities. Let’s look at an example from the field of anthropology.

Anthropology Professor Colin Turnbull of Columbia University studied the members of a rainforest tribe. The subjects lived entirely within a lush environment of dense vegetation that surrounded them and therefore prevented them from looking at any great distance. Their visual perceptions were confined by the plant growth around their habitat, and the canopy of trees that loomed above their heads and obscured the sky. Turnbull developed a good working relationship with a native named Kengee. One day he took a very long hike with Kengee, all the way to the edge of the rainforest. They stood atop a hill and looked down to the land below. It was the first time Kengee had the opportunity to see beyond the thick green plants that encircled his small village. There were water buffalo standing in the field below. "Insects" cried Kengee. He had incredibly poor depth perception from his years in the rainforest that suffocated the ability to see far. They walked down to the field below and naturally the 'insects,' or water buffaloes, became larger and larger as they came closer and closer. "Magic" exclaimed Kengee, “You turned those insects into large animals.”

The French author, Marcel Proust, once wrote "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes."

Whether it’s success on tests or achievement in other endeavors, our personal vision is likely to determine our outcome. Finally, I’ll end this Blog with a quote from Helen Keller, who was both deaf and blind. She reflected on people who could see but could not imagine possibilities and sadly remarked, “It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.”

Friday, January 21, 2011

21 Things I've learned During Lunch

      I have learned the importance of making sincere and sustained efforts to interact with learners. I never met the superintendent of the school district where I received my diploma until he handed me the document on the day of my graduation. It may not be impossible to lead a learning organization without really knowing and understanding those you serve, but I’m certain it increases the odds of success when you experience a firm connection.
      There are multiple opportunities at Heatly to meet with learners of all ages, at all stages. They start with greeting everyone as they walk up the sidewalk of the school to enter the building each morning. Walking the hallways provides additional chances to speak with and listen to learners. Extracurricular activities also allow for engaging with learners. But, the most enriching experience thus far has been hosting different guests for lunch every day. Any learner at Heatly can stop by and sign up for lunch by meeting with the superintendent’s secretary and receiving the next available date on the lunch calendar.
      Here’s what I have learned from these power lunches.
1.   My age is somewhere between 24 and 92 – depending on whether the elementary children reference me with their parents or their grandparents, since those are the most common forms of measurement and comparison. High school learners exercise more tact and diplomacy and politely underestimate my age - especially as we near the end of the marking period.
2.   High School learners are far more shy and reserved about having lunch with the superintendent than the elementary age learners – partly due to their understanding and respect for the position, partly because it’s such a novel concept, and partly due to some confusion about whether it’s considered cool to have lunch in the superintendent’s office.
3.   All of the learners have dreams and hopes that they share in response to dialogue starters I pose to them – “What would you like to be when you grow up? What character would you like to be from any movie you’ve watched or book you’ve read? Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world? What would you do if you had a magic wand?
4.   After listening to many different tales spun by those seated around the table (including me)  I have a better understanding of the maxim that experienced teachers offer parents – “We’ll believe only half of what the kids say happens at home if you believe only half of what kids say happens in school.”
5.   I have discovered that even the most confident appearing learners also reveal fears and anxieties once they feel comfortable to talk freely. Just as they all have dreams and hopes, they also possess worries and frustrations.
6.   No one shares my interest or faith in any Detroit professional sports teams.
7.    Kids may use dozens of different words to explain their perceptions and values, but when they describe characteristics of their favorite teachers the words are almost always synonyms of care or compassion.
8.    There are few things in life more uplifting than a child’s smile, laughter, or sparkle of
       an  eye.
9.   Despite nuances that offer some degree of distinction, there is really little that separates kids from one another. They’re much more alike than not.
10.  I can’t imagine, much less count, the number of slices of pizza I have seen during the power lunches.
11.  This Justin Bieber kid is pretty popular…
12.  Some sandwich combinations kids have created defy logic and strain reality.
13.  It's always a pleasure to see the look on someone's face when they discover a nice little
       note from a parent in their lunchbag.
14.  I never considered how many different food items could be covered with ketchup.
15.  During different gatherings over the holidays, adults were largely unimpressed with the collection of jokes I’ve acquired from my young lunch-mates. Proof that people lose their sense of humor as they age!
16. School isn’t bad, but sometimes it gets in the way.
17. I have more appreciation for the dedication and work of the custodians who clean the superintendent’s office each night, particularly the crumbs and spills offered as evidence of hosting active diners earlier in the day.
18. I now know almost everything about the Harry Potter series and the Twilight books – although I’ve never read any of them!
19. I am now so old that the television series I enjoyed in my youth are now apparently too old to even be featured on Nickelodeon, and thus beyond the scope of kids today.
20. Teenagers who once wanted to be celebrities, professional athletes, or rock stars now speak more realistically of their futures.
21. Finally, you can learn a great deal if you just show patience, respect, and a willingness to listen to kids instead of just hearing them - and you'll usually feel much better afterwards. Try it!!!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Marshmallows And Drop Outs

What do marshmallows have to do with high school drop-outs?

My passion for reading, together with a thirst for knowledge that can leverage self-improvement, has introduced me to many great books. Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson and colleagues, is one such work. The authors provide a number of important insights that offer advice on creating positive and constructive personal change.

Among the references used to substantiate the objectives and conclusions of the authors is an explanation of the marshmallow test conducted by Dr. Mischel of the Stanford University psychology department (on page 115). Rather than summarize the piece and potentially diminish the value of the thought provoking message, I am providing an excerpt from the book for your review.

"When 'Timmy,' age four, sat down at the gray metal table in an experiment room in the basement of Standford's psychology department, the child saw something that caught his interest. On the table was a marshmallow - the kind Timmy's mom put into his cup of hot chocolate. Timmy really wanted to eat the marshmallow.
The kindly man who brought Timmy into the room told him that he had two options. The man was going to step out for a moment. If Timmy wanted to eat the marshmallow, he could eat away. But if Timmy chose to wait a few minutes until the man returned, then Timmy could eat two marshmallows.
Then the man exited. Timmy stared at the tempting sugar treat, squirmed in his chair, kicked his feet, and in general tried to exercise self-control. If he could wait, he's get two marshmallows! But the temptation proved too strong for little Timmy, so he finally reached across the table, grabbed the marshmallow, looked around nervously, and then shoved the spongy treat in his mouth.
Actually, Timmy was one of dozens of subjects Dr. Mischel and his colleagues studied for more than four decades. Mischel was interested in learning what percentage of his young subjects could delay gratification and what impact, if any, this character trait would have on their adult lives. Michel's hypothesis was that children who were able to demonstrate self-control at a young age would enjoy greater success later in life because of that trait.
In this and many similar studies, Mischel followed the children into adulthood. He discovered that the ability to delay gratification had a more profound effect than they had originally predicted. Notwithstanding the fact that the researchers had watched the kids for only a few minutes, what they learned from the experiment was enormously telling. Children who had been able to wait for that second marshmallow matured into adults who were seen as more socially competent, self-assertive, dependable, and capable of dealing with frustrations; and they scored an average of 210 points higher on their Scholastic Aptitude Test than people who gulped down the one marshmallow. The predictive power was truly remarkable.
Companion studies conducted over the next decade with people of varying ages (including adults) confirmed that individuals who exercise self-control achieve better outcomes than people who don't. For example, if high schoolers are good at self-control, they experience fewer eating and drinking problems. University students with more self-control earn better grades, and married and working people have more fulfilling relationships and better careers. And, as you might expect, people who demonstrate low levels of self-control show higher levels of aggression, delinquency, health problems, and so forth."

The author went on to declare: "Delayers are simple more skilled at avoiding short-term temptations. They didn't merely avoid the temptation; they employed specific, learnable techniques that kept their attention off what would be merely short-term gratification and on their long-term goal of earning that second marshmallow."

Perseverance, determination, commitment, and the ability to delay gratification are just some of the character traits that prove helpful to those planning to meet with success in school and achieve at levels that will leverage a productive future. On the contrary, dropping out of school and cutting short one's education greatly inhibits prospects for the future. Let's look at a publication from McREl (Mid-Continental Regional Education Lab) entitled, Changing the Odds for Student Success: What Matters Most for a statistical description of the bleak road ahead for high school drop-outs.

Poverty rates of families headed by drop-outs are more than twice that of families headed by high school graduates.
A drop-out is more than 8 times as likely to be in jail or prison as a high school graduate and nearly 20 times as likely as a college graduate.
Over a lifetime, drop-outs earn $260,000 less than a high school graduate.
The Life expectancy for high school drop-outs is five years shorter than college graduates.

Dropping out of school is a classic example of making a decision that appears to benefit someone in the short-term by escaping a situation of dislike or discomfort and maybe even entering the job market while former classmates remain in school paying time and energy without deriving immediate gains or money. However, those quickly obtained benefits of relief or money evaporate in comparison with high school graduates in the long-term analysis as illustrated by the statistics outlined above. Self control and the willingness and ability to delay gratification are powerful personal strategies.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Let's begin this Blog entry with a quote that appears appropriate for consideration as we continue to encounter economic uncertainty at the local, state and national levels. The issues raised by fiscal problems have produced more questions than answers.

"A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that's unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push." Austrian Philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Change occurs at accelerating rates of speed. What's new today soon becomes old. Technology in particular has been a vehicle of rapid change. However, the impact technology generates has escaped the confines of labs and the domain of the geeks to arrived with great impact in the social arena through networking programs and social media platforms. Someone once opined that "Nothing is certain but change." That has long been true, but it seems that change has proliferated to a level that approaches overwhelming.

We can no longer apply yesterday's solutions to the problems of today. Authoritative declarations (when you're a hammer, every problem looks like a nail) in top-down organizations that secure short-term compliance are not only antiquated but provoke near rebellion and fail to promote long-term commitment. It's not enough to merely define objectives and articulate finely tuned strategies, there must be a reason offered stimulating enough to enlist the investment of energy and effort worthy of followers. Cooperation and collaboration, empowerment and shared decision-making are the tools more likely to leverage success at group levels. Wittgenstein suggests as much when he encourages people to pull rather than push. A clear vision of a desired future borne of clarity and meaning, credibility and possibility, can pull people forward. Narrow roles, rules and regulations intended to push people often prove to be counter-productive and inhibit the creativity needed to develop alternative solutions.

Let's pull together instead of pushing apart.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Question Why?

I encourage teachers to think of a single, guiding question as they craft their lesson plans. How would you respond if, in the middle of delivering the lesson, a child raises their hand and simply asks - "Why do we need to know this?"

If the teacher's response is - "Because its on the regents or state tests or the weekly test...." or, "Because it follows our last lesson, or prepares us for our next lesson" or,  "Because it's on the state required curriculum" or any other reply that eerily sounds like a dressed up "Because I said so!" - then the interest and commitment of that child and others is likely to wane. Everyone wastes their time and energy in that scenario.

Let me share an excerpt from another of my favorite books. The passage that follows is from Made to Stick, by Dan and Chip Heath (page 194). This selection describes how an algebra teacher responded to that inquiry from a learner questioning the value of algebra.

"Frustrated and indifferent students often question, “Why do I need to study Algebra?” Most teachers usually reply that Algebra provides procedures for manipulating symbols to allow for the understanding of the world around us, or more simply, you need it to get your diploma,… Dean Sherman, a high school Algebra teacher responds – “You will never use Algebra. Think of weight lifting. People don’t lift weights to be prepared should, one day someone knock them over on the street and lay a barbell across their chests. You lift weights so you can knock over a defensive lineman, or carry your groceries, or lift your grandchildren without being sore the next day. You do math exercises so you can be a better lawyer, doctor, architect, prison warden, or parent. Math is mental weight training."

Teachers are regularly faced with daunting challenges. My advice has long been to consider the approach most people seem to have when choosing a book to read or a television program to watch. Imagine that you are interested in reading and you opt to go to the bookstore to buy something to read. You don't have any particular book or author in mind, perhaps just a genre. Typically, you'd examine the rows of books for a title that stimulates your interest. You might pull the book from the shelf and scan the blurb inside the cover or at the rear of the cover. You might even read the first paragraph, but you certainly don't take the time to sit an dread the entire first chapter before making a decision whether to purchase the book or not. Similarly, when we want to watch the television and don't have a special program in mind, we grab the remote and surf the dozens and dozens of available channels until we discover something of interest. If you timed yourself during the channel surfing you'd probably find that you spent only seconds at each channel before continuing onward in pursuit of a particularly interesting program.

Our time is a precious commodity that cannot be replenished. Neither can we call a time-out and stop time from passing. Therefore, we are competing with many other attractions for the attention of learners who have grown up surrounded by overwhelming choices in the marketplace of ideas and multi-media messages. If we can't offer them a lesson introduced with relevance, meaning, and interest then we may not be successful in enlisting the investment of their time, energy, and commitment.

Those of you who are, or have been, parents, fully understand that the "Because I said so," command is often futile because it lacks purpose and reason beyond simple authority. At best, it elicits short-term compliant behavior rather than long-term committed behavior. At worst, it engenders feelings of disillusionment and detachment that create distance.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Pumped Up, Locked Down

The day began early and on a positive note, with a post-observation conference. I appreciate the opportunity to observe classrooms because I always learn new pedagogical techniques that enhance my instructional leadership skills, and it's a reaffirming experience. Watching a teacher effectively orchestrate the many variables that influence the successful implementation of learning objectives serves to remind us of the importance of our work and news our commitment. This experience sustains our meaning and purpose, despite the omnipresence of distractions in the form of fiscal concerns, questionable state and federal policies and mandates, and other extraneous issues that occasionally intrude on our path.

Later in the morning I was surprised by the entire learner population and staff of the elementary school as they greeted me with a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday" when I entered the cafeteria. There were all sorts of handmade cards and entertaining posters displayed on the walls. Every child had a smile and a cupcake of equal sweetness. The kids joined together for an extended version of the song in which they started with the number one and sang - "Are you one? Are you Two? Are you ...? I eventually was forced to interrupt them for fear they would lose their voices before they counted up to the actual number of my age! It was a pleasant surprise that really boosted my spirits and represented another reason why I have enjoyed becoming part of Heatly. Where else could the superintendent of schools feel so connected with the learner population? All of the kids know me, and by now I know almost every one of them as well.

Another distinguishing part of the day involved a Lock-Down drill. This was our second of the school year. It involved a member of the local police department. As soon as the signal was broadcast the school instantly became as quiet and still as a ghost town. Not a person could be seen or heard. The building administrators and the policeman then checked all of the doors up and down the hallways on all three floors, and looked inside to see if we could detect anyone. This drill also provided the law enforcement with the chance to become more familiar with the nuances of the building in the event they ever had to respond to an emergency in the school. The cooperation of the staff and learners was evident in the efficiency they demonstrated  while conducting the practice session.

There were a great many other experiences before and after these events. However, the day seemed to have ended as quickly as it began. The kids were anxious to start their three day weekend and the staff were just as excited to cash their paychecks. We are a little shy of the half way mark of the school year as semester exams approach. I've been so busy I can't imagine where the time has gone. It seems like my first day at Heatly, July 1st, was a recent memory. So much has happened, yet so much more remains to be done.

I'll close this Blog with an inspirational and thought provoking quote that I found yesterday amid the vast number of articles written in the wake of the Tucson shootings last Saturday. One of the journalists who penned an essay reflecting on the tragedy closed the work with a reference to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords improved medical condition and the need for our society to recognize the importance of civil discourse instead of vitriolic and divisive exchanges -

"Gabrielle Giffords opened her eyes today. We all need to open our eyes as well."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Class And Schools: From The Outside In

I enjoy reading and have been described as a voracious reader with a reverent appreciation for books. Books have long represented much more to me than what I discover within their covers. They have approximated a value beyond intellectual - approaching spiritual. By that I mean that what I have extracted from books has stimulated my self-confidence, enhanced my perceptions, expanded my social mobility, and elevated my financial standing. If the story of my life was reduced to one graphic, it would be an image of a little boy bounding up stairs made of stacks of books, leaving poverty behind as he heads towards a future of opportunities and possibilities.

One non-fiction book that I have read and re-read, highlighted, underlined, and repeatedly dog-eared is Class and Schools, by Richard Rothstein. I encountered the book on the reading list of the doctoral program I completed at Sage Graduate School in Albany, New York. It has been thought provoking and enriching. I highly recommend it to educators. If you are a frequent visitor to this Blog you will find references to Rothstein's work here and there. The book explains Rothstein's analysis of how social classes shape learning outcomes in our society.

This Blog entry will direct attention at the influences outside of school that impact achievement among learners inside of school. I believe the information contained in this posting can benefit educators and parents alike.

Rothstein references a number of studies which examined the impact of school on achievement. He points out that none of these research projects identified school as a major source of impact on the variation in achievement between and among learners and between and among schools. That is, the studies sought to determine the factors which contributed to different learning levels among children and to what degree the school they attended had influenced their different performance levels. Rothstein claimed: "Nonetheless, scholarly efforts over four decades have consistently confirmed Coleman's core findings: no analyst has been able to attribute less than two-thirds of the variation in achievement among schools to the family characteristics of their students." (p. 14) That reinforces the contention that two children with virtually the same innate levels of intelligence may produce widely different levels of achievement despite similar interventions in school.
Rothstein cites several different areas of influence. One study demonstrated the strong relationship between the number of books found in the home (and other sources that promote a text rich environment)  and the learning performance of children. The more sources of reading, the higher the rate of achievement. This particular predictor of success was consistent when studied in many different countries. (p. 20) Another study examined the amount of spoken words from an adult to a child and researchers found that "on average, professional parents spoke over 2,000 words per hour to their children, working-class parents spoke about 1,300, and welfare mothers spoke about 600. So by age 3, children of professionals had vocabularies that were nearly 50% greater than those of working-class children and twice as large as those of welfare children." (p. 28)

Yet another research study analyzed "how often parents verbally encouraged children's behavior, and how often parents reprimanded their children. Toddlers of professionals got an average of six encouragements per reprimand. Working-class children received two. For welfare children, the ratio was reversed, an average of one encouragement for two prohibitions." (p. 28) These findings have been identified as contributors to the general achievement gap that separates these three social classes.

Furthermore, one other significant leverage point involves what experiences children have available to them outside of school hours and during the summer vacation period. Rothstein asserts that "the advantage that middle-class children gain after school and in the summer likely comes mostly from the self-confidence they acquire and the awareness they develop of the world outside their homes and immediate communities, from organized athletics, dance, drama, museum visits, recreational reading, and other activities that develop their inquisitiveness, creativity, self-discipline, and organizational skills." (p. 11)

These are just some of the important elements explaining inputs relative to outputs - how social class experiences outside of school influence performance within school. There are several different health related issues that also reflect differences between social classes that contribute to varied levels of success in school. It's a book worth reading. Of particular note, the findings of the research studies contained in the book offer suggestions for educational policy makers supporting measures such as: summer school programs, structured after school programs that combine academics with recreation (involving social skills, teamwork, conflict resolution, and leadership training); more specific and in-depth screening of young children for health and visual concerns, early intervention programs for pre-schoolers...

Of all people, I clearly do not think that achievement and potential success are cast in stone by the socio-economic status of any particular child. I grew up in a large family of seven children. Both of my parents limited their futures, and inhibited our childhoods, by dropping out of school after tenth grade. We received monthly allotments of government commodity food at home and free lunch at school. Hand-me-down clothes were generously offered by sympathetic neighbors. But I did not allow those impediments to interfere with creating my future. I did not accept the obstacles I faced as anything but temporary challenges. I did not listen to those who held diminished expectations of me based on stereotypical perceptions related to income level. But it was very difficult and required an enduring commitment and willful resilience. As a result, I wanted to learn more about what could be done for the disadvantaged outside of school to help them inside of school. Rothstein's book was extremely helpful.

These studies provide insight into critical areas within a parent's sphere of influence - regardless of social class. The advice includes: developing a text rich environment at home and modeling the benefits of reading; engaging in purposeful conversations with your children; exercising an awareness of the ratio of encouraging statements to reprimands during your interactions with children; seeking opportunities outside of school that nurture important social and recreational skills; and cultivating stimulating activities for your pre-schooler.

I'll close with a personal and daily mantra - a quote from Henry David Thoreau: (it contains three of my favorite words - dreams, imagine, and success)

If one advances in the direction of their dreams,
and endeavors to live the life they imagined,
they will encounter success unexpected in common hours.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Looking For Questions On A Snowy Day

The snow continues to fall. Enough fell overnight and this morning to prompt Heatly's first cancellation of school due to inclement weather this school year. The expected amounts exceed twelve inches. I've removed the deep white carpet that covered my driveway and expect to have to repeat the process again before leaving for work tomorrow morning. Until then, I've been able to attend to school work that's accumulated to the degree it's semi-organized in stacks littering my desk. In addition, I've compiled some topics for future Blog posts. My personal goal has been to generate and produce a Blog entry for each and every day of school this year, my first as a school superintendent.  

However, as I relax and catch my breath from the snow-blowing and shoveling, I've opted to contribute a brief posting on this day off requesting readers to submit subjects of particular interest. I'm curious to discover what questions and/or ideas readers have on education, schools, and related issues. Please contact me through this site or if you would like to offer a question or an issue as the focus of a future Blog entry. Your name will not be used.

I would appreciate hearing from you. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Maintaining The Course In Spite Of The Curse

School was in session for the morning only today. We experienced productive staff development activities during the afternoon. The focus of these learning opportunities were Inquiry Based Learning projects and Smartboard strategies. The presenters offered practical techniques designed for teachers to enhance the delivery of instruction.

A regularly scheduled staff meeting followed the professional development sessions. It was a challenging meeting for me. The topic was the State of the School District Address.

I began by reaffirming my decision to join the learning community at Heatly this summer. It was a conscious decision despite evidence of a struggling system. The scores on state mandated assessments had attracted the state department of education's designation as a School In Need of Improvement. The enrollment of learners has been declining slightly each year for the last several years. The staff was ravaged by significant cuts last spring. The economic crisis remained a threat. The district hadn't had a superintendent from outside the district in twenty years.

I applied to serve Heatly because of the opportunity it presented for an individual to make a difference. These last six months have reinforced that decision. The staff is committed to improve and stretch to reach their collective potential. The learners have been refreshing and engaging. The community has been accepting and supportive. The school board has been resolute in their efforts to facilitate success.

Yet, we remain in a struggle, largely cursed by a fiscal crisis that continues to constrain public schools. We are unaware of the specifics of anticipated state aid and that lack of knowledge inhibits planning. The new governor and state legislature have significant issues to wrestle over before they can present us with specific financial figures, including the prospect of consolidation of local governments, (school systems?) which poses a threat to Heatly. We anxiously await the outcome of the posturing and rhetoric so our annual operating budget can be constructed. Until then, much is held in abeyance. Beyond the reduction in money effected by the state cuts to school aid, additional amounts have been lost as enrollment drops, and funding has been further diminished by the cost of tuition for learners who had transferred to Charter schools over the summer.

You might say we are surrounded by swirling forces and curious question marks. Nevertheless we are in position to advance in the same manner I had referred to in an earlier Blog posting of January 6 entitled, "Surrounded!" We can either retreat in a defensive posture that merely delays the slow and inevitable defeat, or sigh and surrender to overwhelming odds, or we can identify our objective, coordinate our energies, marshal our courage and attack in another direction. Our survival dictates the latter choice. Our commitment ensures the last choice. Our future warrants that final option.

Let's start by re-framing our organization. Imagine you own a business, such as a restaurant. Success depends on many factors but it largely rests on your ability to attract and retain customers, pure and simple. Look at the variables that must combine to produce success. You may have the best chef in the area but the quality of the food can be negatively impacted by unreliable, uncooperative and indifferent waitstaff who mistreat customers and dissuade them from returning. Conversely, even the most amicable and helpful waitstaff cannot overcome poorly prepared food that disappoints customers. Prices must be perceived as appropriate or many potential customers may not ever step foot in the restaurant. The environment of the restaurant certainly weighs in the decision people make regarding their selection of a place to enjoy a meal. Location is a concern as well, particularly if parking is limited, or the parking lot is distant enough from the restaurant that people are inconvenienced to walk through the rain or snow. In short, each of these factors contributes to the performance and success of the business - and if just one drops below acceptable standards your business may end up bankrupt.

Public schools are a business and any educator who disagrees with that perception will likely experience great difficulties during the present and prevailing distress that shadows the issue of school finance. Heatly must operate as a business. Customers (learners) have to be our focus. Attracting and retaining these consumers determines our progress. Quality control, soliciting feedback from customers, earning the confidence of investors (the community stakeholders who vote on our budget in May) and marketing our services and products can go a long way to help us forge success.

All departments must not only commit to success but also cooperate and recognize the interdependence required for goal attainment. This is not the time to be divisive and seek to preserve one department's share of the resources by casting aspersions toward the quality or viability of another department within the school or suggesting reductions in another unit. Collaboration is critically important to generate the synergy necessary for our school, or any school, to overcome the challenges we face and the expectation to do more with less.

Lastly, I placed a guillotine on the table in front of the staff as I explained the dire foe we face. I willingly inserted my arm through the opening and thrust the blade down. It passed through my arm and landed at the base of the stand. I then withdrew my arm, free of any signs of harm, and insisted that we could also survive cuts. It may help that I perform magic, but we really won't need magic - just common goals and shared meanings. I am convinced that we can continue to improve and meet with progress despite the obvious pitfalls that we confront.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Tucson Tragedy - Now What?

The unimaginable and incomprehensible catastrophe that occurred in Tucson, Arizona last Saturday was shocking on many levels. The incident begs several questions of teachers and parents - "How do we explain this to kids? What do we say? What can we do?

My November 2nd Blog posting entitled, "Who Wins?" spoke to concerns about the increasingly fiery rhetoric evidenced during the election campaigns and the impact those war of words might have on children. It also expressed disappointment with the perception that our society was becoming more divisive and exclusionary in an "either-or" political atmosphere, and lamented the waning presence of an accommodating and inclusive "and-both" environment. Collaboration and constructive conflict resolution yielding mutual benefits still exist but are largely obscured by all too frequent headlines and newscasts of winner-take-all arguments where victors appear to be decided by who yells loudest and longest. Civility has become a casualty.

Let's look at the varied layers of the Tucson Tragedy.

People have certainly and understandably focused on the miserable and misguided young man who pulled the trigger over and over. Anger has been articulated in as many forms as you can describe and perhaps exhausted the dictionary's reservoir of descriptors.

The innocent and unfortunate victims have been the recipients of countless prayers and supportive thoughts. We all know their names now and have read of their lives. Tributes to the killed and the injured reflect a diverse collection of everyday people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, intersecting with a fate twisted by a deranged young man. They are someone's spouse, sibling, parent, child, friend, and neighbor. They are no different than you and me.

The aftermath of this horrific act has produced even more discord, with people divided by interests flooding airwaves and Internet sites - gun control versus 2nd amendment advocates, democrats versus republicans, left versus right, talk show hosts versus mainstream media... This is no way to show honor and respect to the victims and their loved ones. If we don't collectively steer clear of these disputes we will lose the opportunity to convert this terrible shooting into the impetus needed to launch a self-analysis on a nationwide scale. Rather than expend energy in further arguments over blame and responsibility we should step back, take a deep breath, examine the issue candidly and objectively, determine a future direction in our best interests, and engage in dialogue on the difference between debate and argument, between freedom of expression and unbridled vitriol, between impartial facts and intentionally distorted fictions... There's a lot of work to do.

There's no easy way to talk to children about death, whether its the loss of a pet or a grandparent. The shootings that claimed six lives and injured fourteen others in Tucson will be a challenge to discuss with children, particularly since one of those who died that day was a nine-year old girl.

A young man undeniably killed six people and injured fourteen others and in the process inflicted pain and anguish across our country in waves of grief. That is unmistakable and unforgivable. But, one thing we can do - after we work our way through the mind boggling events of that day and pray for the victims - is to avoid allowing the worst of humankind to cause us to lose sight of the best we have to offer.

First, we must be thankful we have public servants like Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other political representatives like her who willingly sacrifice their time and efforts to shape policy and legislation designed to ensure our freedom and protect our rights. Remember, she was promoting constituent access to elected officials in her "Congress on a Corner" event at the time she was shot. Let's not forget her 20 year old intern (in his fifth day of work for Giffords) who bravely ran in the direction of the gunshots and rushed to provide assistance to those in need. He discovered Giffords lying in a pool of blood and went to her side, holding her head up to prevent her from choking on her blood, applying pressure to her wound to help stem the bleeding, and holding her hand as she suffered from the agony of the shot that pierced her brain. What about the emergency medical staff who had Giffords in the able hands of highly skilled trauma doctors within 38 minutes of the shooting? - a fact that increased her odds of survival. How about the lady, wounded by a bullet, who grabbed the bullet clip the shooter had ready to replenish his gun and increase the victims? There were also the two men who wrestled the shooter to the ground and restrained him until police arrived. There was the man who died while shielding his wife from the line of fire. And, I'm sure there are more people and more stories that will emerge from the tragedy. However sad and unfortunate it is that we have despicable individuals like Jared Loughner within our society, we are blessed to also have a much larger number of incredible individuals like those ordinary people who performed at extraordinary levels during the chaos of that Saturday.

Let's honor and support the victims, appreciate and acknowledge the heroes, and learn from the experience.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Alphabet Soup

Perhaps most professions, and nearly every workplace, has their own language to describe and explain procedures and practices. We've all been in hospitals and overheard terms broadcast on the intercom that mean nothing to us. We've been confused by legal phrases bandied about by lawyers. The sports world abounds with words and acronyms that render us senseless. Although these examples and many more like them may be the norm, education should be free of acronyms and other disturbingly confusing descriptors because schools are so public in stature, and represent an institution trafficked by a large percentage of the populace.

I recently suggested during a District Leadership Team meeting that any members guilty of using an acronym should toss a quarter into a jar for later use by the council. This is particularly vexing since we have learners and parents among our membership. I am providing a glossary in an effort to translate educational gibberish for the layperson. Much of the list has been extracted from the North Carolina Department of Education. The compilation will likely fall far short of every term you've been puzzled by, but here it is:

American College Test. An assessment taken by students as a precursor to college/university admission.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurobehavioral developmental disorder. It is primarily characterized by the co-existence of attentional problems and hyperactivity, with each behavior occurring infrequently alone and symptoms starting before seven years of age.
Average Daily Membership. The number of days a student is in membership at a school divided by the number of days in a school month or school year.
Academic Intervention Services. These support services are available to learners who receive a score of 1 or 2 on state mandated tests.
Advanced Placement. A program that enables high school students to complete college-level courses for college placement and/or credit.
Adaptive Physical Education is a direct service that can be provided to a special needs child, should the Committee on Preschool Special Education or the Committee on Special Education determine that the child is in need of such service. In many cases, if a child is identified as visually impaired, physically handicapped, severely multiply impaired, or other health impaired, he or she will be warranted APE services.
Adaptive Physical Education  is an adapted, or modified, physical education program designed to meet the individualized gross motor needs, or other disability-related challenges, of an identified student. The program can be provided one-on-one, in a small group, or within the general physical education setting.
Adequate Yearly Progress. All public schools must measure and report AYP as outlined in the federal No Child Left Behind law. AYP measures the yearly progress of different groups of students at the school, district and state levels against yearly targets in reading and mathematics. Target goals are set for attendance and graduation rates as well. If a school misses one target, it does not make AYP.
The Comprehensive Educational Plan process is designed to reflect requirements identified in NCLB that will assist schools to implement programs to meet the instructional needs of all students.
Students who are suspected of having a learning disability are referred to a multidisciplinary team called the Committee on Special Education. The Committee on Special Education is responsible for servicing children with disabilities from 5 to 21 years of age. Children who are identified as having a learning disability are referred for Special Education. Special Education means specially designed individualized or group instruction or special services or special programs to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities.
English Language Learner. Student whose first language is one other than English and who needs language assistance to participate fully in the regular curriculum.
Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This is the principal federal law affecting K-12 education. When the ESEA of 1965 was reauthorized and amended in 2002, it was renamed the No Child Left Behind Act.
English as a Second Language. A program model that delivers specialized instruction to students who are learning English as a new language.
Grade point average.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This federal law, reauthorized in 2004, is designed to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living.
Individualized Education Program. The IEP is a written statement for a student with a disability that is developed, at least annually, by a team of professionals knowledgeable about the student and the parent. The plan describes the strengths of the child and the concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child, and when, where, and how often services will be provided. The IEP is required by federal law for all exceptional children and must include specific information about how the student will be served and what goals he or she should be meeting.
The Instructional Support Team is an innovative program whose goals are to maximize individual student success in the regular classroom, while at the same time serving as a screening process for students who may be in a need of special education services. It is a positive, success-oriented program which uses specific assessment and intervention techniques to help remove educational, behavioral, or affective stumbling blocks for all students in the regular classroom.
Local Education Agency. Synonymous with a local school system or a local school district, indicating that a public board of education or other public authority maintains administrative control of the public schools in a city or county.
Limited English Proficient. Students whose first language is one other than English who need language assistance to participate fully in the regular curriculum and the statewide assessment system.
No Child Left Behind. NCLB is the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and represents a sweeping change in the federal government's role in local public education. NCLB's primary goal is for all public school children to be proficient or above in reading and mathematics by 2013-14. Title I schools that do not meet certain student achievement standards face sanctions under this law.
NovaNet is the computer based instructional program used at Heatly that diagnoses the needs of individual learners and prescribes a path of learning activities with frequent assessments to monitor progress and guide the individual to successfully recover credit in a class they had previously failed or achieved at lee than acceptable levels of performance.
Professional Development represents opportunities for educators to acquire additional skill training.
Pre-Scholastic Assessment Test. Normally taken by high school juniors as a practice test for the SAT. Some schools use the PSAT as a diagnostic tool to identify areas where students may need additional assistance or placement in more rigorous courses.
The Parent Teacher Organization is a voluntary group comprised of parents of Green Island learners who have banded together to support the school through fund raising efforts and program development.
Academic Intervention Services and Special Education services may be delivered to learners with the classroom when the teacher "pushes in" or when the learners leave the classroom for another location in a "pull out" manner.
The Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion dollar competitive grant based, federally supported, initiative that emphasizes the following reform areas: Designing and implementing rigorous standards and high-quality assessments; Attracting and keeping great teachers and leaders in America’s classrooms; Supporting data systems that inform decisions and improve instruction; Using innovation and effective approaches to turn-around struggling schools; and Demonstrating and sustaining education reform. New York state was recently awarded approximately $700 million dollars to stimulate school improvements among the districts across the state. Green Island receives $15,320 spread over a four year period to direct efforts in curriculum, instruction, and data management.
Response to Intervention seeks to prevent academic failure through early intervention, frequent progress measurement, and increasingly intensive research-based instructional interventions for children who continue to have difficulty.
The SAT is often taken by high school juniors and seniors as a precursor to college/university admission. It assesses a student's verbal, mathematical and writing skills.
Supplemental Services, external to the school itself, are made available to those learners who score a 1 or a 2 on state mandated tests and require additional support. This is an option extended to parents as a choice.
Title I
Title I is the largest federal education funding program for schools. Its aim is to help students who are behind academically or at risk of falling behind. School funding is based on the number of low-income children, generally those eligible for the free and reduced price lunch program. Many of the major requirements in the No Child Left Behind federal law are outlined in Title I – Adequate Yearly Progress, teacher and paraprofessional standards, accountability, sanctions for schools designated for improvement, standards and assessments, annual state report cards, professional development and parent involvement. Title I used to be known as Chapter I.
Title III
Title III is the section of No Child Left Behind that provides funding and addresses English language acquisition and standards and accountability requirements for limited English proficient students.
Title IX
Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 bans sex discrimination in schools receiving federal funds, whether it is in academics or athletics.