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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Looking Forward

In an earlier Blog entry I mentioned how our school board held a School Board Advance rather than the typical School Board Retreat. I suspect that the agenda for either conference would be similar. It's the subtle difference in language and semantics that suggests a significant distinction in the two events. Perhaps it brings to mind the "glass half full versus the glass half empty" debate on perceptions. At any rate, at that time our district was wrestling with the debilitating designation by the state of being classified as a School In Need of Improvement. Furthermore, the constricting clutches of a steep decline in state aid threatened to suffocate our budget, our programs, and our personnel - all of which put the hopes and dreams of our learners at risk. Oh, and I was in my third month as a new superintendent. Other than that, everything was fine.

In other words, there was no route available for a retreat, no time to delay, no solace in excuses, and no gain in bemoaning our plight. What was done, was done. We could learn from the district's history and use previous selective experiences as a platform for the future, but we could not surrender to the past. We could only look briefly and infrequently at prior events in the same manner that the driver of a car glances occasionally at the rear view mirror as they continue to move forward, Hence, a School Board Advance instead of a School Board Retreat. After all, haven't schools found themselves in a particularly defensive posture for the last few years? Regretfully, too many schools have appeared to reach the point where victimization has become a reluctantly accepted position? Retreating wasn't an option.

Here are two quotes that relate to our position at that time:

First, from Danish Physicist Niels Bohr, "Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward."

Second, in his book, The Intuitive Manager, author Roy Rowan refers to the following:

"Feedforward" is the term Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram uses to describe those images of achievement that spur us to creative action. A mental image triggers the same neural connections in the autonomic nervous system as an actual experience, and research has shown that the body can't distinguish between the two. That's why a vivid mental picture of ultimate success helps steer an individual intuitively to a desired objective."
A little over a year has passed by since that School Board Advance. The primary outcome was a collective vision of our district as "a small school with BIG ideas." While we have made considerable progress and evidenced the implementation of several BIG ideas, we continue to have areas that warrant attention and improvement. Our District Leadership Team, comprised of learners, parents, and staff members, is involved in ongoing attempts to bridge any gaps between where we are and where we want to be. Our successes have served as sustenance for our efforts toward optimizing the learning environment. Confidence and morale show signs of growth.
Most notable among the achievements has been enriching our curriculum to retain our learner population and attract new learners rather that decreasing its scope and losing more learners to competing private, parochial, and charter schools in the area. Examples of this strategy include our investment in the creation of a new multi-disciplinary high school course on the history and literature of the Hudson River (our school is located on the bank of the river - close enough we experienced some flooding this August) and our engagement with an expansive array of on-line classes that offer elective and advanced classes.
We are no longer burdened by the stigma of the School In Need of Improvement label, having escaped its grasp with improved performance levels. Our enrollment has risen by seven percent. We avoided any staff layoffs in our most recent budget. We are on the threshold of additional advances.

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