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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Difference A Year Makes

Last year at this time I was winding down a twenty year career as an elementary principal in Schuylerville, New York and preparing to assume responsibility for leading the Green Island Union Free School District. I was experiencing a great deal of work and more than a little bit of conflicting emotions during the transition.

A year later finds me on my feet after looking, listening, and learning about the multiple dimensions of the school system. I am in a much better position to assert leadership designed to leverage success. Twelve months ago, there was so much information coming at me all at once that I likened it to drinking water from a fire hose. Now, I can devote more energy and effort at reviewing our people, our policies and our practices with an eye on how we can effectively coordinate the three areas to promote improvement.

I'm excited about our prospects despite the issues that will confront us as we move forward. The recently passed 2% property tax cap will pose a significant hurdle if it constrains our possibilities by restricting finances. More than ever before, as funding shrinks, we must expand our support among community members and taxpayers. The only way to exceed the cap, and I suspect the increases in pension costs and health care expenses will prompt us to creep beyond the cap, will be to acquire at least a 60% approval among voters for our budget. Our performance must rise to increase the confidence and perceptions people have regarding our operation and if we expect to secure an appropriate budget. Efficiency and effectiveness will help gain the public trust and investment.

In addition, the Annual Professional Performance Review that was modified and expanded in the last month represents another obstacle. The proper implementation of the components of the APPR requires significant training. There are more questions than answers emerging from the state's recent intervention. I believe the state is moving too fast (the impact of political pressure and misplaced rhetoric) and has advanced beyond the ability of the state education department to develop and articulate some of the elements of the code. That leaves school districts everywhere groping for assistance in addressing issues (i.e. what are the assessments necessary to use in measuring teacher performance in those grades and subjects that currently lack state-wide tests?).

Finally, not only has the state education department leaped ahead like an anxious army that has outstripped its supply lines ($$$$) and risks becoming vulnerable,  but the tax cap constricts school systems precisely at the point in time when they are contending with Race To The Top mandates and APPR.

There's a considerable amount of work ahead.... but this summer allows the time to prepare for the challenges.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A New Orientation

After spending the school year looking, listening, and learning about the school environment and organizational culture, I am now in a position whereby I can more confidently lead the school district. Observing the social, political, and instructional landscape of the system equips me with the insight that can enable me to leverage change and pursue improvement efforts beyond merely intervening in urgent situations. I will spend time over the summer to develop plans to implement more concerted strategic efforts directed at addressing weaknesses, exposing flawed practices and unwritten policies, and enhancing existing strengths.

The starting point for this venture was shared yesterday at our final staff meeting of the school year. I wanted to stimulate thought, challenge current perspectives, and subsequently change our orientation. The main objective of the meeting was reinforced by a poem written by Joseph Malins, in 1895. The poem was enriched and brought to life through a skillful narration featured in a youtube video. The message is crucial to our need to adopt a more efficient and effective platform for our school operation for the upcoming school year.

'Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said, "Put a fence 'round the edge of the cliff,"
Some, "An ambulance down in the valley."

But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
For it spread through the neighboring city;
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart became full of pity
For those who slipped over the dangerous cliff;
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds and gave pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.

"For the cliff is all right, if you're careful," they said,
"And, if folks even slip and are dropping,
It isn't the slipping that hurts them so much
As the shock down below when they're stopping."
So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth would those rescuers sally
To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,
With their ambulance down in the valley.

Then an old sage remarked: "It's a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause,
When they'd much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief," cried he,
"Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley."

"Oh he's a fanatic," the others rejoined,
"Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He'd dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No! No! We'll support them forever.
Aren't we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?"

But the sensible few, who are practical too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than cure,
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropists dally,
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.

Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
"To rescue the fallen is good, but 'tis best
To prevent other people from falling."
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence 'round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley.

-- Joseph Malins (1895)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In A Fog

"Bert and I" are the comic creations of storytellers Rob Bryan and the late Marshall Dodge, both of Maine. They spun humorous tales associated with the peculiar thoughts and arcane behaviors of the native inhabitants of Down East Maine.

One such story involves two lobstermen who were out plying their trade when a fog as thick as pea soup rolled in and engulfed their small boat. Since the two operated their business on a shoe-string they didn't have the money needed to purchase radar or a fathometer that could safely guide them through the foggy conditions.

Instead, they resorted to Yankee ingenuity as a means of navigating through the thick gray blanket that surrounded the boat. Bert trudged up to the bow of the vessel lugging a heavy sack of potatoes while his work-mate stayed at the helm of the boat manning the controls. Bert reached in and grabbed a couple of spuds, stood steadfast on the bow, peered straight ahead and began throwing potatoes, one at a time, out ahead of the boat as far as he could possible heave. Then, he paused, cupped his hand to an ear and listened carefully. If he heard a splash he directed his partner to maintain the current course. If he didn't hear a splash he quickly yelled to his shipmate to veer the boat sharply to the left or right in hopes of avoiding whatever object, perhaps another boat or a rocky shoreline, that the potato had struck.  

While the method that Bert and his partner used in the fog may have been inexpensive, it was hardly reliable and accurate. The sharp turn to either left or right also depended on a quick "best guess" as to what alternative to pursue when confronted with an unknown obstacle. That's not a particularly effective strategy either.

In terms of organizations, like schools, the mission of the organization serves as the navigational tool that allows the company to continue on their course, make decisions with reference to the course, and prioritize strategies on the basis of alignment with the mission. A mission crafted with clarity enables employees to have an important reference point to guide their behavior and their actions so they don't suffer from the ambiguity and mystery of foggy conditions that prevent them from understanding where they are and where they are going. Too many schools lack an inspiring mission that provides direction for their efforts. As a result, they are reliant upon the leader to show them the way. If the company is in a 'fog' and disoriented they are dependent upon their leader's ability to 'throw potatoes.' That's not a recipe for effectiveness.

I played baseball and enjoyed success as a pitcher, but I wouldn't want a school district to rely solely on my ability and arm strength to toss a potato into the fog to plot our course of action and where we might go as an organization in the future.

I have experienced some instances of patchy fog during my first year as a superintendent here in Green Island. There have been times when it was difficult to see very far ahead, or identify other objects in the area. That is a natural consequence of being new to a system and unfamiliar with practices and policies, especially those that are unwritten and based on replicating traditional rituals. I have felt like I was throwing a potato here and there. But, now that a year has transpired and I have a clearer view of the environment, I feel confident that I can express our mission in terms that will lead to focused action designed to successfully pursue our goals and sustain a course toward meeting our collective potential. That path will promote opportunities for our graduates to be prepared for college, career, and citizenship.

I will unveil the specifics of that strategy to our staff on the final day of school - this Friday, June 24th - and convey it in a Blog entry soon thereafter. I want staff members to have the summer to digest the message and create opportunities to actively contribute toward the mission in new and different ways.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Looking Back

Today marked the beginning of the end. The first day of the last week of school. It's time to reflect on the year.

A great deal has happened since I started work in Green Island on July 1, 2010. The map I had created to guide me on the journey did not use the typical compass points of North, East, South, and West but rather Look, Listen, Learn, and Lead. I had examined all of the publicly available data (attendance figures, test scores, survey results, budget...) on the school district before I expressed an interest in the position so I was acquainted with enough of what needed to be done to have some platform for action. However, I resisted, as much as possible, the urge to jump in and initiate wholesale changes. I believed it would be more beneficial in the long run if I waited patiently and gained a better perspective on people, programs, and practices before trying to "fix" things.  That stance certainly did not prevent me from responding to issues that warranted immediate attention. I did precipitate changes when and where I felt it was necessary to intervene. But, by and large, I collected information and opinions by observing and the organizational culture and experiencing the school environment. Leadership could be wielded more effectively once I earned political capital, established credibility, and demonstrated integrity. That would take time and require looking, listening, and learning.

If there was one focal point within my personal vision for the school district that distinguished itself from other issues and needs, it was the perception that the school community was under-performing due to a lack of clarity, common goals, and shared meanings among the staff and learners. This is to say, I suspected that the human resources necessary for success were already present within the school, but that these resources were not developed to their capacity. I accepted responsibility for maximizing our collective potential through efforts to empower others - not by giving them anything in particular, but by not taking anything from them. Perhaps  better explanation of this concept and belief can be found by the following story of a famous Italian artist...

When asked how he could so miraculously carve warm, emotion laden human forms from cold, lifeless marble, Micheangelo Buonarroti responded that he never carved anything "in" marble. Rather, he revealed, his technique was to merely "chip away" the excess marble from the form already within the marble, so it could be free. His task was to liberate the form "from" the marble, not to carve his abstract concepts into it.

Time will tell what impact, if any, I've made on the school district this first year as superintendent. But I will measure my progress relative to advances in liberating the potential from the people on staff instead of gauging success by means of confining mandates and imposing constrictions. Once we reach a point where staff members can confidently exercise their professional development, skills, and training, we will encounter expanded opportunities for achievement and increased possibilities for success.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Importance of Fathers

As we acknowledge Fathers day, I thought that I would post a reminder to fathers everywhere of the important role they can play in the education of their children. Here's an excerpt extracted from an article entitled - A Call to Commitment: Fathers' Involvement, that appeared in the magazine -Children's Learning - June 2000.
What's Special About Fathers' Involvement?
Research shows that students perform better academically, have fewer discipline problems, and become more responsible adults when their parents are actively involved in their learning. But, over the years, "parent involvement" often has meant "mothers' involvement." In schools, pre-schools and Head Start programs, and within the family itself, it has been assumed often that mothers have the primary responsibility for encouraging the children's learning and development. These assumptions miss the importance of fathers' involvement. In addition, the adverse effects of a father's absence on the development of his children are well documented. Nevertheless, over half of the children in the United States will spend part of their childhood in a single-parent home (Cherlin, 1992).

Following are some areas in which fathers' involvement has significant effects on children.

Modeling adult male behavior. Fathers demonstrate to their children that male adults can take responsibility, help to establish appropriate conduct, and provide a daily example of how to deal with life, how to dress, how to regulate closeness and distance, and the importance of achievement and productivity. If they have an active religious or spiritual life, fathers, like mothers, can serve as models in that area as well (Hoffman, 1971).

Making choices. Children glean from their fathers a range of choices about everything from clothing to food to devotion to a great cause. This promotes positive moral values, conformity to rules and the development of conscience (Hoffman, 1971).
Problem solving abilities. Research shows that even very young children who have experienced high father involvement show an increase in curiosity and in problem solving capacity. Fathers' involvement seems to encourage children's exploration of the world around them and confidence in their ability to solve problems (Pruett, 2000).

Providing financial and emotional support. Economic support is one significant part of a father's influence on his children. Another is the concrete forms of emotional support that he gives to the children's mother. That support enhances the overall quality of the mother-child relationship, for example when dads ease moms' workloads by getting involved with the children's homework (Abramovitch in Lamb, 1997).

Highly involved fathers also contribute to increased mental dexterity in children, increased empathy, less stereotyped sex-role beliefs and greater self-control. And when fathers are more actively involved, children are more likely to have solid marriages later in life. (Abramovitch in Lamb, 1997).

What Our Children Tell Us
"I can't spend much time with him because he's working. Sometimes I go with him to work on the weekends. But I just wish that he wouldn't work so much." (Galinsky, 1999)
From a 14-year-old: "If a child has something to say, listen to them. They might teach you something." (Galinsky, 1999)

Enhancing student performance. In families where both the father and the mother are highly involved with their children's school, the children enjoy several advantages.

  • Children's enjoyment of school is enhanced.
  • In two-parent families where fathers are highly involved in children's schools, students are more likely to get top grades and enjoy school than in families where fathers have low involvement, even after taking into account a variety of other child and family conditions that may influence learning. In these circumstances, the chances that children will get mostly As are higher when the father is highly involved than when the mother is highly involved (NCES, 1997 ).
  • In general, children have better educational outcomes as long as either the mother or the father is highly involved. Children do best when both parents are highly involved.
  • When parents are highly involved in their children's schools, the parents are more likely to visit museums and libraries, participate in cultural activities with their children, and have high educational expectations for them. (NCES, 1997).

While children do best when both parents are highly involved, as long as either the mother or father is highly involved in their school's activities, children have better educational outcomes in general than those whose parents are not so involved. For example, in single-parent families headed by fathers, with higher father involvement:

  • Thirty-two percent of children in grades K-12 got mostly As compared to 17 percent of those with low-involvement fathers;
  • Eleven percent of children in grades K-12 were suspended or expelled compared to 34 percent of those with low-involvement fathers;
  • Thirteen percent of children in grades K-12 repeated a grade compared to 18 percent of those with low-involvement fathers; and
  • Forty-four percent of children enjoyed school compared to 30 percent of those with low-involvement fathers (NCES, 1997).
  • Children do better academically when their fathers are involved in their schools, whether or not their fathers live with them, or whether or not their mothers are involved. When non-custodial fathers are highly involved with their children's learning, the children are more likely to get As at all grade levels (NCES, 1997).

Fathers' Involvement in Education

Kind and scope of family involvement. High involvement by the father or mother can make a positive difference for children's learning across grades K-12.

High involvement at the early childhood level refers to the frequency with which parents interact with their young children, such as how often they read, tell stories, and sing and play with their children (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). These experiences contribute to children's language and literacy development and transmit information and knowledge about people, places and things.

For purposes of this report, high involvement in school-related activities means that a parent has done three or more of these activities during a school year: attended a general school meeting, attended a regularly scheduled parent-teacher conference, attended a general school or class event and served as a volunteer at school. Parents are said to have low involvement in their children's schools if they have done none or only one of the four activities (NCES, 1997).

In 1999, the National Center for Fathering conducted a national telephone survey researching involvement among resident and non-resident fathers. Given what we know about the effects of high involvement, the results were staggering. Over 40 percent of fathers had never read to their school-aged children.

"Time is something, once it's gone, it's gone forever. So, you can look back and think, 'Well, gee, I wish I would have spent more time with my kids when they were younger. I wish I would've spent more time with them when they were in high school,' whatever. But once time is gone, that's it." (Galinsky, 1999)
In the mornings, "We got to ride in the car together — we had a good time in the car. We could say a few nice words to each other and start the day in the right way." (Galinsky, 1999)

The National Household Education Survey of 1996 (discussed in NCES, 1997) collected data on the academic achievement of students and their family's involvement in their schools during the first quarter of 1996. Phone interviews were conducted with parents and guardians of over 20,700 children from three years old to twelfth-graders. Here's what the survey found about the overall kind and scope of family involvement.

  • The most common involvement activity in which parents participate is a general school meeting, such as a back-to-school night.
  • Most parents do participate in at least some of the activities in their children's schools. But parents in two-parent homes tend to divide the task of involvement between them. To save time, one or the other will attend, but usually not both.
  • Parents who are highly involved in their children's schools are more likely to also be involved at home. Similarly, families who are involved in their children's schools tend to share other activities with their children as well.
  • Highly involved parents are more likely than all others to believe that their children will get further education after high school and will graduate from a four-year college.
  • Highly involved parents offer their children greater connections to the larger community. These parents are more likely to belong to an organization such as a community group, church, synagogue, union or professional organization. They are also more likely to participate in an ongoing service activity and to attend religious services on a weekly basis.
  • Parents are more likely to be highly involved if their children attend private, as opposed to public, schools. But private schools often make parental involvement a requirement; thus, part of the higher involvement may be a matter of school policy.
  • High involvement in schools tends to decrease as school size increases.

Other sources add to the research on the kind and scope of family involvement.

  • Parents tend to decrease their involvement as their children move up the educational ladder. This decrease may be due to parents' idea that involvement in schools is not as important as children grow up. Additionally, there have been fewer opportunities for parental involvement as children become older (Zill and Nord, 1994).
  • Parents are more involved when they are confident that they can be of assistance to the child, when they believe that the child is capable of doing well in school and when they have high educational aspirations for the child (Abramovitch in Lamb, 1997).

Two-parent families: kind and scope of fathers' involvement. The involvement of one parent in a two-parent home motivates the other parent to be involved. However, dads are less likely than moms to attend a parent-teacher conference or volunteer at school. Stepparents are less likely to be involved than natural or adoptive parents.

Parent level of education appears to be a more important influence on parent involvement than is family income. For example, nearly 60 percent of first-time kindergartners were read to every day by a family member if one or more parents had a bachelor's degree or higher while less than 40 percent of first-time kindergartners were read to every day by a family member if that member had less than a high school education (NCES, 2000).

As the labor force participation rate of mothers with young children has increased, so has the percentage of children receiving child care from someone other than their parents before entering first grade (West et al., 1993) or during their kindergarten and primary school years (Brimhall et al., 1999). Those kindergarten children whose mothers have less than a high school education are more likely to receive before- and/or after-school care from a relative than from a non-relative or center-based provider (NCES, 2000).

Full-time maternal employment (mothers who work 35 or more hours per week) reduces maternal involvement at all grade levels. However, at all grade levels, fathers with full-time working wives have more involvement than fathers without full-time working wives (NCES, 1997).

Parental involvement in schools is closely linked to parental involvement at home. Higher father involvement is particularly related to the number of activities the family participates in with the children, the frequency with which a parent helps with homework and whether a parent regularly participates in a community service activity.

In general, fathers' involvement in their children's schools decreases as children grow older. The decline may also be attributed to the school offering fewer opportunities for parental involvement as children grow older. However, the pattern of decline differs between fathers in two-parent families and those in single-father families.

  • In two-parent families, the proportion of children with highly involved fathers drops from 30 percent to 25 percent between elementary (grades K-5) and middle school (grades 6-8), but then drops only slightly, to 23 percent, in high school (grades 9-12).
  • Among children living in single-father families, there is no decrease in the proportion that have highly involved fathers between elementary and middle schools (53 percent at both grade levels), but a large decrease between middle and high school (to 27 percent) (NCES, 1997).  
    What Fathers Can Do at Home, at School and in the Community
    Fathers can initiate or participate in activities that help their children succeed academically. Helping children learn can increase success in school. The nature and frequency with which parents interact in positive ways with their children reflect the parents’ investment in their children’s education (NCES, 2000). Here are some steps that fathers can take at home, at school and in the community that make a positive difference for their children’s education.
    At home, fathers can:
    • Read with their children. The ability to read well is known to be one of the most critical skills a child needs to be successful. Parents and caregivers often ask how they can get their children interested in reading, interested enough to turn off the TV and to read on their own?
    Years of research show that the best way is for the parent to serve as a model reader by reading to the child and by reading themselves. If the father can’t read the text, he can stimulate his child’s imagination by telling stories using a picture book. In addition, he can ask other significant adults to read to younger children and ask older children to read to him. He can take frequent trips to the library with the child to check out books and get to know the children’s librarian and children’s library programs.
    • Establish a daily routine. Fathers can set a time for homework, chores and other activities; use TV wisely by limiting viewing to no more than two hours a school day; and work with their child on homework and special projects, guiding them through the steps involved and encouraging them along the way. Parents don’t need to have in-depth knowledge of a subject, but can be supportive of their child in working through tough spots in her or his school work.
    • Make the most of bedtime. Bedtime is a terrific opportunity for fathers to connect with their children. For one thing, the audience is definitely captive! There are also fewer distractions. But perhaps most importantly, there is no judge standing by with a scorecard rating the dad on his performance.
    At bedtime, a father can enrich a child’s life merely by recounting what he did during the day. Discussing the day’s events shows interest in the child and builds his or her knowledge. A father may also tell or read a story. Every moment he spends and every word he says builds a relationship with his child.
    At school and other childcare and child development programs, fathers can:
    • Participate in efforts to keep their children’s schools or childcare centers safe.
    • Plan for the future by talking with their children and school counselors about future high school courses and postsecondary career options.
    • Attend parent-teacher conferences and school or class events.
    • Volunteer at school. Fathers are welcome at schools as tutors, as leaders of afternoon or evening clubs, as chaperons for field trips, social activities or athletic events, or as classroom speakers who share information about their work and the world of work and how education contributed to their expertise on the job.
    • Visit their child’s school or center. Father-child breakfasts or lunches are good opportunities to informally share a meal with children and learn about their daily school experiences, successes and concerns.
    • Meet their child’s teachers and learn about school curriculum, and how to become involved in activities.
    • Pitch in to help meet school and program needs, such as installing new playground equipment, cooking at a school picnic or painting and repairing school property.
    • Join the Parent Teacher Association or other parent groups at their child’s school or childcare center. At meetings, they can make their voices heard regarding their concerns and ideas for school improvement.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

An Investment In Learning - One Learner At A Time

On Monday of this week I accompanied one of our seniors to a reception, during which he received a gift of a laptop computer to assist him when he enters college next September. The donation was made possible by a generous, forward thinking man in the area who is sensitive to the financial challenges facing many graduates as they work to invent their futures through higher education. The man who has spearheaded this valuable venture has used his role in public service to coordinate with computer technicians and civic oriented businesses to provide upgraded, refurbished laptops to nine deserving, college bound seniors representing three different high schools in the immediate area. The computers were made available via the financial support of businesses in the region who recognize the vital difference a computer can make in the hands of a learner. The volunteer technicians loaded the computers with the software necessary for college learners to tackle assigned tasks. In addition, if the recipients of the computers encounter any difficulties with the units, they can contact the provider who will then have the technicians service the laptop.

These laptops are incentives designed to support the learner and sustain their commitment to obtaining a college degree. The graduates had to provide evidence of an acceptance letter to college and a commitment signed by their parents to replace/return the laptop in the event that the learner did not successfully complete their first year of college.

All nine learners appeared sincerely grateful for the investment made in their future. If their facial expressions were any indication, they were very appreciative as they were presented the gift. Each learner announced the college they were attending and their respective major areas of study. Our representative expressed a desire to pursue engineering. In fact, when I saw him today he was excited to explain to me that the laptop contained special programming specific to engineering. Furthermore, he was already developing an excel spreadsheet for a program he was developing at his work site. I believe this laptop will not only help him financially by sparing him the added expense as he finances his education, but it will also further his learning by offering a potent instructional tool that is a necessity in college today.

I applaud the generosity and vision of the organization that has now experienced three years of extending laptops to graduating seniors. This investment will likely lead to generating opportunities for learners who might otherwise struggle financially to acquire a computer and suffer educationally without a computer.

This is a great example of an individual developing an idea and collecting like-minded people who cooperate to leverage success in the future by investing in individual learners. Their gifts of laptops will fuel the educational pursuits of these nine graduates.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Food For Thought

It's important to maintain our focus and sustain our commitment as we count down the number of days remaining in the school calendar. We can't be distracted by the approach of summer and veer off course from the values and beliefs that form our foundation and serve as a catalyst for the future. Here are some interesting quotes involving education that may prompt us all to reflect on our perspectives.

The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.  Sydney J. Harris

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in schoolAlbert Einstein

The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.  Franklin D. Roosevelt

It'll be a great day when education gets all the money it wants and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy bombers.  Author unknown

An educational system isn't worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn't teach them how to make a life.  Author Unknown

Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know. Daniel Boorstein

Education is not the filling of a pail, but th elighting of a fire. William Butler Keats

Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. Malcolm Forbes

Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.  G.K. Chesterton

Much education today is monumentally ineffective.  All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.  John W. Gardner

Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.  Roger Lewin
The great difficulty in education is to get experience out of ideas.  George Santayana

My parents told me, "Finish your dinner.  People in China and India are starving."  I tell my daughters, "Finish your homework.  People in India and China are starving for your job."  Thomas L. Friedman

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

An Appetite For Learning

Education is a life-long endeavor that does not stop at graduation from high school or college. It is a pursuit that operates much of the time outside the walls of any classroom. Experience is frequently our own teacher, offering real-time feedback and providing many practical lessons. As long as our world continues to change, we will be required to adapt in order to survive, and learning is central to sustaining progress. Learning has often been described as a journey, not a harbor. The process is every bit as important as the product.

These are all notions that warrant the consideration of those anxiously awaiting the receipt of a diploma later this month at Heatly, and other high schools across the nation. Consider this event simply a transition from one chapter in life to another. Forty years have elapsed since I walked across the stage, shook hands with the superintendent (the first time I ever met him) and thought I was finally finished and liberated. Thirteen years completed, at times with the perception that it had been a sentence and incarceration. It was really only the beginning.

I had learned a lot during my public school experience but it was like riding a bike with training wheels. It was a controlled process oriented around the stimulus response interaction led by the teacher and responded to by children. The learning was fairly passive within the confines of a uniformly shaped classroom, with the same classmates all day, daily routines conforming to the predictable rhythm of periods and bells at regular intervals.

In contrast, when I arrived at college, it was an awakening. The training wheels were off and I struggled to find and maintain my balance, wobbling a little and fearful of falling down or crashing. The environment grew exponentially, with far more learners, scattered through numerous buildings. Some of the classes were located in lecture halls that swallowed up as many people as I had in my graduating class in high school. There were no homeroom teachers responsible for getting your day started. No bells to guide you down a long straight hallway to your next class. No guidance counselor to shepherd you toward course selections. No regular routines that create a mechanical, robot-like stupor as you move through the school day. No deep and caring relationship between teacher and learner forged over the shared time of daily classes in a self contained room. No parent to offer support and check to make sure you did your homework.

Continuing with the bike riding analogy, I acquired a sense of independence and a firmer grasp of responsibility as I began to keep a steady balance and ride with more confidence. I found myself being able to extend my progress and broaden my horizons. It was a great feeling. I increased my intensity and focused on the opportunity to continue to grow as a person. I felt more in control of my future.

All these years later and I still have an appetite for learning that keeps me going. Reflecting back on my own public school career as a learner motivates me as a superintendent to exercise influence and leadership to differentiate the thirteen year journey from the one I experienced. It needs to be a path that provokes more creativity, encourages more higher order thinking, stimulates the development of problem solving skills, and promotes as many questions as answers. Most of all, it must be an experience that prompts learners to pledge themselves to a life of learning.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fun Friday

Friday, June 10th, was the annual Senior Class Trip. It was an opportunity for the group, on the cusp of final exams and the threshold of departing the school after thirteen years, to get away and have fun. Nearly every 12th grader went to Six Flags New England Amusement Park for the day. Two parents, the senior class advisor, and I, each drove a vehicle to Agawam, Massachusetts and we all spent a full day at the largest amusement park in the region.

I had a great time! The weather was fine. The rides were exciting. The park was entertaining. But most of all, I really appreciated the camaraderie among the close knit group of seniors. Though the class is small, the differences among the members, however subtle, clearly span the spectrum of likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and varied interests. Yet, they all got along without a single problem. My first school year in Green Island is nearly over but I still remain surprised by the distinction between the culture of Heatly and any other school where I've worked. Like nearly everything organization, there are advantages and disadvantages regarding the size of the school. For every plus I can identify and attribute to our small school district, I can easily find a minus that is a countervailing force.

Beyond all of the factors that impact a school, objectively or subjectively, measurable or not, it really boils down to the relationships between and among the members of the school population. That's what captivated me as I observed the interactions of the seniors during their day at the park. They all seemed to enjoy the experience. At times they broke off into small groups, separating according to their interests in the different types of rides or foods. The seniors re-configured themselves throughout the day, although it never seemed that the groups were formed at the exclusion of any of their classmates. At those times, I found myself thinking back not only to other schools where I've worked, but even to my own high school experience.

Perhaps I wandered off in my mind to those days long ago when I was in high school because my graduating class recently had a reunion and people were re-connecting via social media prior to the event. However, as I reviewed current Facebook profiles and reminisced I realized that there were a number of people I graduated with that I really never knew. I didn't attend a particularly large school. I was one of approximately 175 in the graduating class. My wife, by contrast, graduated with over 600 classmates. I thought back to what might have left so many of my classmates a mystery to me. It wasn't the many years that separated today from the graduation ceremony so long ago, nor was it any particular social matter either. Instead, the lack of familiarity was more the result of 175 learners spread out in a fairly rigid academic caste system that differentiated groups by projected learning levels and separated them into respective tracks of classes which greatly restricted interactions except for lunch periods and electives - like art, music, and physical education.

The vast majority of seniors at Heatly have attended the school since they began their formal learning careers in Kindergarten. They have experienced approximately 1300 days in school together as a single class, especially during their elementary school years. The few electives that we provide only serve to separate them for brief periods of times measured in  40 minute intervals. As I expressed earlier, this can be either good or bad. That is, if they get along with each other it's great. However, if there's friction between people in the form of personality clashes the closeness of the group can produce a very awkward situation with little opportunity to escape the clutches of the conflict, and threaten to divide others into factions.

What I observed at the park was the best possible outcome of this thirteen year experience. I sincerely enjoyed the chance to watch each of the seniors laugh, have fun, and connect with each other. They were respectful and accommodating to one another despite whatever differences might otherwise separate them. There were no concerns regarding behavior or anything for that matter, and it was perhaps the most relaxed chaperoning experience I've had (since the Heatly Junior Prom - another example of the togetherness of a class of varied individuals).

The most amazing part of the day at the park? Well, I have forever been averse to riding on any rollercoaster. I've never had an interest in that kind of ride. But, at the beckon of the seniors, I went on the Bizarro Rollercoaster, reputedly one of the biggest, fastest, most electrifying roller coasters in the country. It was scary and breathtaking, but I endured the ride because the group was so enjoyable I couldn't turn down their request (really it was more of a challenge when then discovered I never rode a rollercoaster. In fact, I also went on another rollercoaster that turned upside down and went in reverse as well.

All in all, it was another interesting experience that has contributed to making my time at Heatly so memorable.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Senior Moment

The annual Senior Night at Heatly High School was held this evening. The ceremony is a showcase for seniors as they near graduation. They worked with their class advisor to create a presentation for friends, family, and interested community members. It's a nice way for the seniors to say good-bye through a staged performance that reflects their memories and perspectives on the Heatly experience.

The program began with a skit that was entitled, "A Day in the Life of A Senior." Needless to say, I was pleased to see that the beginning reference point for the typical day of a 12th grader began with one of their classmates portraying me outside the school welcoming learners as they arrive in the morning. It was an interesting experience as I watched myself through the eyes of these seniors. The young man who filled the role of superintendent turned in a great job of acting (though I must admit that in my daydreams, when I imagine my life unfolding on the screen I expect Matt Damon or Brad Pitt to portray me!).

The play continued on through each period as the seniors gave a very entertaining view of the day from their unique vantage point. It was funny - and touching, since the event was signalling how close they were to ending a thirteen year long affiliation with the school - all in one building. As much as they are anxious to be "liberated" from high school and either enter the workforce or college, they also show signs of sadness, realizing they are that much closer to dispersing soon and leaving the known for the unknown.

Each senior left the stage and presented flowers to their parents. It was great to see the hugs and sense the emotions. A PowerPoint slide show offered a series of photos of each senior, progressing from baby pictures to their senior yearbook portrait. It was a personal experience beyond the reach and possibility of most high schools. At Heatly, everyone knows each other and they've been together for a long time. This was a meaningful moment that can best be savored with a small senior class. Everyone mattered. Everyone was included. Everyone enjoyed the night.

Senior Night was a success. The class really worked hard at coordinating the program and organizing roles and props for the skit. Now they can relax. Tomorrow I accompany the seniors to Six Flags New England where we all hope to enjoy the senior class trip, complete with good weather and the thrills and chills of amusement park rides. I'm sure there will be a lot to Blog about after this experience - if they don't wear me out on the rides!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Good Sport

Last night marked the annual all-sports banquet of Heatly High School. Athletic teams representing participants from grades 7-12 were recognized as teams and individuals. Each coach presented team members and acknowledged the accomplishments of the team and distributed awards to distinguishing performers. The Heatly Booster Club organized the event and evidenced a remarkable job of producing a wonderful evening for a packed house at the local American Legion Hall.

In terms of wins and losses, there were highs and lows throughout the various sports campaigns. Yet even among those teams that were challenged to gain victories, there were stories of perseverance and commitment that served as important lessons. The coaches were encouraging and supportive.

The program featured the display of the league championship banner earned by the undefeated Heatly girls basketball team. There were also honors for a number of different athletes that garnered inclusion on the Central Hudson Valley League all star teams in soccer, basketball, baseball, and softball. And, in my opinion, beyond the wins, the biggest victory celebrated during the program was the introduction of the scholar athlete teams that were recognized by the state athletic association in response to a cumulative team grade point average in excess of 90. Our girls varsity soccer, girls varsity basketball, and boys varsity basketball each were accorded this extraordinary status. Furthermore, there were awards for athletes who excelled in the classroom (90 or above grade point average among all courses during a sports season) for two or three sports seasons. The athletic director noted that the contingent of scholar athletes called up for that recognition was the largest number in quite some time. These individuals responded with determination and success to the challenge extended to them way back on the second day of school when I met with the entire body of high school learners and prompted them to seek excellence in the classroom, not just on the playing fields and basketball courts. Athletic success was a great goal but winning in the future job market was an even more noble venture. They have made us all proud and have raised the standard for succeeding years of performance.

In an interesting note on the influence and breadth of sports, basketball, which after soccer may be the most international of sports, was the subject of one of the first emails I received from my son only days after his arrival in Mongolia as a Peace Corps volunteer. Basketball has spread far beyond the borders of our country since James Naismith was credited with inventing the sport in Springfield, Massachusetts. A review of NBA rosters will reveal a growing number of players who represent many different countries. Well, my son, who was an important contributor to his high school team that won 17 games in a row all the way to the New York Section II championship game, discovered the reaches of basketball when he and a few fellow Peace Corps volunteers happened upon a group of players on a court in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. He described the outcome of the pick-up game between Americans and Mongolians in his own words - "Dad, we were schooled!"

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Can You Hear Me Now?

Much has changed in the field of public school education since I began my career in 1975. I could fill volumes of writing on the various new programs, practices, and policies. If you spot three educators who have been in the profession for more than twenty years and ask them what they think have been the most dramatic changes in schools during that time they would likely respond with a wide range of answers. That's how different education is between then and now.

So, I will offer my thoughts on an issue that has recently impacted education, or more importantly, socialization. This concern extends far beyond the walls of a classroom or the fences of a schoolyard. I am referring to social media. The effects of exchanges between and among teens outside of school invariably leaks inside the school. The written interactions often assume greater impact because the words are not transmitted in any face to face meeting. While the exchanges are not anonymous (although sometimes they can be sent without an obvious trail from the author or posted as a third party on a mutual friend's Facebook "wall") they are not personally delivered in real time.

The amount of time and energy that staff members of secondary schools now devote to issues that originate outside of school is growing and troublesome. No matter how often you try to explain that written comments shared through social media are impossible to retrieve and extinguish (just ask a certain congressman from downstate New York about his Twitter communications) they don't grasp, or choose not to grasp the significance of the advice. Once you write something and send it to one person it has the potential to subsequently be passed along to an expansive audience. After the "send" button is clicked there's no turning back. This is unfortunately and especially true when we express our thoughts and feelings while angry. You can issue apologies but the original words are still out there and available for review and sharing. Trying to amend your impatient and impertinent words is as futile as trying to put toothpaste back into the tube after you've squeezed some out. It doesn't work.

I am not stating facts since I haven't carefully analyzed the discipline data, but it surely seems like texting, Facebook rants, and the like, contribute to causing a disproportionate amount of problems between teens that eventually lead to discipline referrals. Much of the time the root of the problem begins outside of school.

We couldn't even begin to enforce a rule prohibiting the possession of cell phones in school. That would require frisking each of the 330 individuals as they enter the building each morning. The ever decreasing size of cell phones makes it easy to slip into a pocket and avoid detection. We do have a rule that if the cell phone is taken out it will precipitate a series of reactions starting with a warning and advancing much further up the hierarchy of disciplinary responses. However, it's not hard for a learner to ask to be excused to the bathroom and then, outside of the view of a staff member, engage the cell phone in checking emails, sending messages... There are teens who can type out messages on their cell phone without even looking at the tiny keyboard. That certainly makes it more difficult for staff members to determine possession. Please note, I don't mean to single out teenagers, although they are most notable in using cell phones, an increasing number of elementary age children also have their own cell phones. This last point likely surprises those readers of this Blog who do not have children. Cell phones have become ubiquitous - to the degree that some teens firmly believe they have a right to possess a cell phone in school or anywhere. This small electronic communications device has become something of an appendage to their hand, a necessity, a life-line to socializing.

I think that some parents, perhaps more than I imagine, truly believe that the cell phone is a safety apparatus because it allows a child to quickly access help in an emergency and notify parents of pressing issues and deep concerns. The publicity that followed the dreadful tragedy of school violence at Columbine High School twelve years ago featured the manner in which staff and learners trapped inside the building hiding from the two shooters were able to contact emergency responders and receive assistance. That clearly demonstrates the potential value of cell phones. There's no doubt about that.

Thankfully, incidents of school violence are few and far between - and I can assure you that I recognize the importance of cell phones in other types of emergencies as well. Yet, cell phones seem to have also become some sort of tether between parent and child. There have been instances of parents calling their children during school, in the middle of class, to check up on them. The 24/7 access that results from the cell phone connection between parent and child may inhibit development of the child by extending support too far. A child can't learn to ride a bike and experience some degree of independence if the training wheels remain attached to the bike.

It's just my opinion.

Monday, June 6, 2011

In Between - Not Here, Not There

Learners and staff members here and everywhere hardly need to view the calendar to know that it's close to the end of the school. If that fact has somehow escaped them then the very hot and humid weather predicted for the end of the week will serve them notice of the approach of summer.

I'm sure that most of the learners are excited about the impending conclusion of the school year and the prospects of fun that await them during the upcoming summer vacation. I chose my words on purpose. I don't really believe all of the learners at Heatly are genuinely enthusiastic about ending the year. I suggest that because after thirteen years of school (in the same building), the members of the senior class, most of whom have attended no other school but Heatly, may very well harbor mixed emotions about the end of the year and the exclamation point of their departure - graduation.

Despite what they say, and there's no doubt they are elated to graduate, I imagine that they are also experiencing a growing level of anxiety and uncertainty. It doesn't matter if they "know" what they're going to be doing after graduation. Whether they have a job lined up or have been accepted at college, they are nonetheless leaving behind an environment of security and familiarity. Regardless of their level of satisfaction with the school, they have practiced a routine arranged around bells that sound at regular intervals and staff members who have known them for years. That will all change no matter what they do. They'll be new all over again. They'll have to prove themselves at their new job or with their new classmates. They'll have to adjust to a new environment and different expectations. In many cases they won't simply be leaving school behind but their friends and family members as well.

I observed my son experience this range of emotions in the last few months after he received his acceptance letter from the Peace Corps. He had long hoped to become a Peace Corps volunteer and now he was a few months away from realizing that goal. He became a step closer when he was notified of where he would be posted. As each week passed he edged closer to departure - more excited, and more scared. It was a bit of an uncomfortable blend of feelings. I think he was as reluctant to admit his fear of the unknown and the challenge that beckoned him as the seniors of Heatly and every other high school are to acknowledge their worries and insecurities about crossing a threshold and writing the next chapter in their lives.

Transitions are often a dichotomy, particularly when they are long in arriving. The more time we have to contemplate the changes, the more doubts and fears enter our thoughts. In a Blog post much earlier in the year I shared a list of books that have resonated with me over the years. Among them is a book written by one of my favorite authors, Robert Fulghum. The book is entitled, From Beginning to End - The Rituals of Our Lives. Fulghum is a Unitarian minister (I am not Unitarian, just someone who really appreciates great works of writing no matter what their background) who has experienced and presided over many of the rituals that often define our lives - births, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. He gathered up reflections of these experiences and offers thought provoking perspectives. Here's a brief summary from his website:

"From Beginning to End - The Rituals of Our Lives was published as the result of hundreds of requests for Fulghum to share his insights and experiences in celebrating the rituals, habits and routines that bring structure and meaning to our daily lives. Filled with anecdotes, wit and wisdom, this book explores life events and passages, large and small, as sacred - enriching who we are both individually and collectively." Published 1995

I heartily recommend this book for everyone, since we all experience these rituals from one view or another - as a graduating senior wondering what happens next; as an anxious parent worried about the birth of a baby; as a worried parent perplexed and heartbroken about placing an elderly parent in assisted living,... No matter who we are or where we are in life, Fulghum's words are reassuring and wise. It would be a great read over the summer.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Relays are generally a track and field term that identifies a race in which four runners form a team and each member runs a designated distance. The intervals are marked by the exchange of a baton that signals the transition. The baton is handed from one runner as he completes his stage of the race to another who immediately embarks on his segment. This hand-off is repeated until the fourth runner crosses the finish line.

I went to a bit of a different relay last night. It was the annual Relay for Life in Green Island. This event, starting at 6:00pm Friday and lasting through the evening before ending at 6:00am Saturday, served as a fundraiser for the fight against cancer. It also represented a solemn recognition of those who survived cancer, those who are presently battling cancer, and those who were defeated by cancer.

This relay also marked the end of the first stage of my professional relay. That is, the first opportunity I had to meet the residents of Green Island after being selected as their new superintendent was last year's Relay for Life. So, in a way, this relay is a benchmark of sorts for me.

It doesn't seem like a year has transpired since my initial visit. The pages of the calendar have been flipped without notice. Yet, much has happened in the time between the two relays.

Last night's visit was certainly much different than last year. I struggled during the previous relay to remember the names of everyone who was introduced to me. I was nervous and anxious. I had left a secure, tenured position where I had earned credibility, enjoyed concrete evidence of success, and acquired the benefit of political capital. I walked around the track that evening reminding myself that I was starting all over. the job was new and the role was different. I didn't know anyone in the school district. I realized the challenge facing me as an outsider (it had been twenty years since the district had a superintendent who had not worked their way up the organizational ladder from within the system). I was confident in my preparation, but acknowledged that I lacked experience in the position of superintendent. I was physically walking in circles around the track that evening and emotionally walking around in circles within my head.

However, last night I was relaxed throughout the experience. I enjoyed visiting with people I've befriended during the year between the relays. I met with learners of all ages from the school who were participating in the relay. I felt as if I was part of the community. It was a reassuring and comfortable feeling.

In terms of the organization, while there's much to do and much distance to cover before we can even suggest that Heatly has reached its potential, there have been incremental steps that reflect progress. Instruction and related issues appear to have emerged with greater attention. Evaluation and feedback of staff has increased to comply with state mandates of the Annual Professional Performance Review. Efforts to maintain effective communication within the school and with the community have produced positive results. Expectations regarding achievement levels have been articulated to all members of the school community. Students have gradually been replaced by learners. Investing has been substituted for spending. Programs have been expanded. The budget was passed with overwhelming approval, despite an increase in investments above the inflation rate during a time of economic constraints. The School Board sustained its membership and stability - an important element in constancy of purpose and strategic consistency as the district is expected to once again be faced with fiscal challenges.

There are more points of note, but there are also issues to be addressed. Differentiation of instruction and classroom management techniques are two areas that beckon further work. Integration of curriculum is another advance we can make. Our school must reach out and involve parents as meaningful partners to a greater extent than we have so far. The change in cut scores on the state mandated assessments will threaten the confidence level of the staff and learners. It's been predicted that these changes will negatively impact many, many school districts. The expectations accompanying New York's Race To The Top requirements will bring forth changes in the form of new common core learning standards. This represents yet another change in a lengthy series of changes imposed by the state and federal education departments. I believe that most school systems across the state have had their fill of externally imposed changes. The threat of alternative educational providers, particularly local charter schools, cannot be overlooked. The costs associated with losing learners to other agencies will deplete our resources and exacerbate our precarious financial status, sending us into a dangerous, downward spiral.

We must become more competitive to continue our progress. This will require sensitivity to the marketplace, a coherent response to the needs of learners, and an expanded outreach to the community. Success will depend on even greater clarity and commitment. Increases in efficiency and effectiveness can stimulate improvement. Collaboration is vital. Additional growth in programming - such as school-to-work internships and college classes during high school - will benefit our learners and ward off potential losses in enrollment to private, parochial, and charter schools.

On an individual level, I want to improve my time management and related organizational skills. I'd like to get out in the community more, especially with respect to businesses in Green Island, so we can convey our mission and increase the understanding among stakeholders of our meaning and message. I want to be more aggressive in seeking and securing grants that could provide funding at a time of need and further our growth in programs. I must become intimately acquainted with the guidelines associated with the federal and state initiatives that will unfold in the coming year - like Race To The Top requirements and the common core learning standards and recent adaptations to the Annual Professional Performance Review and...

There's a lot do, but our district can successfully respond to the challenges. I'm confident of that based on the progress we've experienced this first year working together. The summer will offer time to analyze data, reflect on future possibilities, generate solutions to vexing issues, and reinforce our resolve. I'm looking forward to September!


Thursday, June 2, 2011

District Leadership Team

Collaboration, integration, networking, relationships... These are all concepts that can contribute toward success in organizations. Schools are no exception to this prospect. It's no longer enough to work harder and longer in order to stimulate improvement. It's about working more effectively and efficiently, and that requires seeking opportunities to leverage success, finding a difference that makes a difference, examining the organization from a new perspective, and attempting alternative solutions. That's where collaboration, cooperation, and other efforts to initiate progress enter the improvement process.

Our school system's shared decision making council, the District Leadership Team, met today in a full day session. The members of this group are individuals elected by their colleagues from a specific committee. For example, the following groups regularly meet to review issues and report back to the DLT: Professional Development; Safe Schools; Instructional Design; Technology; Policy Committee. Each of these different committees selects a member to represent them on the district-wide governing body. The resulting mix is a good cross reference of the staff and allows multiple vantage points that assist us in addressing needs and issues within the district.

The agenda today was robust and significant. We discussed the proposal for a revised master schedule that would position us in better standing to nurture non-academic goals through a morning assembly program focusing on reinforcing a sense of community among elementary grade learners, and a formal recess each day that would acknowledge the need for elementary children to indulge in a much needed break and opportunities for recreation and socialization. The secondary level learners would benefit with a few more electives that would broaden the curriculum and afford some flexibility in scheduling.

We examined the many different factors that impact a master schedule. The process of creating a master schedule for a small secondary school is surprisingly more complex than performing the same function in a much larger high school because we have only one section of each class whereas multiple sections available in the larger school enable that school to place learners among several different sections in the event of a conflict among conflicting courses offered at the same time. Furthermore, because our special area teachers (physical education, music, art) are shared between the elementary school and secondary school - each with different class schedules and time frames - the arrangement of their classes is problematic since the secondary school operates around uniform blocks of for each and every subject, while the elementary school varies the length of classes among the different subject matters. It's like playing with a Rubik's cube. Each move impacts previous moves and may prove disruptive. You must juggle several options all at once.

We also involved ourselves in dialogue on attendance policies, behavior trends, classroom management issues, and instructional strategies. The common denominator among these different issues is ultimately instructional practice that is designed to engage learners in meaningful, relevant, and challenging growth opportunities. The lesson must appeal to the interest of the learners, create a need for investing in the work, and demonstrate a value they can derive from the experience.

Finally, we reviewed the survey results of staff members responding anonymously to questions eliciting feedback on components of the school. This process was conducted in the presence of a BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) liaison who has helped the team in school improvement activities, as well as the four new members of the Inquiry Team that BOCES is providing area school districts as they meet expectations of the recently approved Race To The Top guidelines. This cadre of staff development and resource specialists offered a fresh view of our collected data and asked clarifying questions as we compiled goals for the upcoming year.

There were other points of interest and discussion that contributed to a full and rewarding day. It's important that we work together like this to invent our collective future. It's one way we can remain a small school with BIG ideas - by maximizing our potential through the synergy of common meanings and shared interests.