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Friday, March 30, 2012

The Giving Tree and Public Schools

One of my favorite authors, the late Shel Silverstein wrote several short but profound books. Among the most well known of his works is The Giving Tree. The thin volumes with the cartoon-like drawings are easily and often mistaken for books intended for children. However, the messages embedded within the stories are powerful, especially my personal favorite, The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, and should be welcomed by adults and people of all ages.

As I sat in my office this afternoon, during a rare pause in an otherwise hectic day made more vexing by the looming budget crisis that seems to envelope all public school districts in the state of New York, my eye caught The Giving Tree peeking out from a lengthy shelf of books.

That's when I made the connection. The tree in The Giving Tree that grew weary and forlorn as the little boy matured from a young child to an old man reminded me of the relationship our country has had with its public school system. Free public schools started in the mid 1800's with Horace Mann as a vocal proponent and leader of the cause. By the end of the 19th century public schools outnumbered private schools in the nation. The public schools were heralded as a purveyor of democracy, offering children the opportunity for social mobility and the prospect of Horatio Alger's "rags to riches" path to advancement. Public schools were considered central to the mythical "melting pot" so often ascribed to the assimilation of mass waves of immigrants pouring upon the shores in search of a better future. Public schools have provided a steady stream of distinguishing individuals who have stimulated progress, earned countless Nobel prizes, birthed incredible innovations, and become difference makers on the world stage.

Yet, the current state of public schools sadly resembles Silverstein's tale of the transformation of the tall and robust tree to a small stump. The many uses of the tree have been exploited and slowly ravaged over the years by the boy as he grew to a man. Reduced to a mere stump, the "tree" remains a proud servant and nonetheless valiantly offers comfort to the now elderly boy who sits down and rests on the stump.

As you watch the brief, original video (see link below) narrated by Silverstein, please think of our public schools condemned to a fate like that of the tree - its leaves collected by ardent critics, its apples picked by alternative schools, its branches stripped by regulators and policy-makers, its trunk cut by sustained and deep budget cuts.... Please watch - and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What Good is Data if it's not Updated and Accurate?

Our State Department of Education rightfully promotes the use of data to formulate teaching and learning strategies. Who hasn't heard the refrain of data driven schools? Who can argue against accessing data to convert into actionable information?

Similarly, who could argue against the use of data in high stakes decision-making exercises involving the distribution of state tax funds to support public schools? I CAN - when the data is outdated and therefore inaccurate. What's the old saying - junk in, junk out?

As you can see below from a PowerPoint slide extracted from a presentation generated by Dr. Rick Timbs of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, the state of New York is not using the most recent census data collected in 2010 as a platform to extrapolate the formula that determines how much money each school district receives. This is significant, because our school district is still being identified as an "Average Need" district based on the 2000 census data, when in fact the updated figures readily available from the 2010 census would more correctly cite us as a "High Need" district, and thus qualifying as the recipient of much more aid. The difference is critical to our continued improvement efforts at a time when funding is scarce.

Many thanks to Dr. Rick Timbs of the Statewide School Finance Consortium for advocating for the equitable distribution of state aid to public schools.

Problems with the Foundation Formula and GEA

6.) Need/ Resource Capacity Computation

The Need/Resource Capacity (N/RC) uses the 2000 census data which is eleven years old, and Free and Reduced lunch data from 2000-01 and 2001-02.

The state should use the most up to date indices of poverty/wealth when formulating a state aid distribution for education.

Where the N/RC is used? GAP Elimination Adjustment

Total General Fund Expenditure (TGFE) check - limits aid lost in relation to the district's TGFE. If a district is high need then the aid lost is limited to 6.8% of the 2010-11 TGFE. Average need districts can lose up to 11%. Need-Based Restoration differentiates the dollar amount restored per student based on the N/RC.
(N/RC is also used to determine High Needs Building Aid)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What we have to do - What we want to do

I endured a difficult encounter this morning with a teenager who evidenced immense frustrations and unfortunately expressed emotions in all the wrong ways.

As I sat back this evening and relaxed while browsing twitter feeds I discovered a profound quote that I lifted from a great author (Harvey Mackay) on business issues. The sentence jumped out at me because it summed up the essence of what contributed to the teenager's anger. Mackay stated -

"I tell myself this every day: We do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do."

At this point in time, if there was one sentence that I wish teenagers would examine and digest while they struggle in and with school, it would be Mackay's mantra featured above. If you've ever been a parent, you can probably relate to the meaning of Mackay's quote. That is, teens (and this one in particular) may pursue what they want to do prior to properly addressing what they have to do. This philosophy is not unique to teens, they just seem to manifest it more often.

I'm guilty of over generalizing and simply attributing the impatience and consternation of teens to the live-for-the-moment, instant gratification world they have found so comfortable. The impetuous drive toward personal goals that often leaps beyond reason and practicality among adolescents seems to reverse what Mackay suggests.

Let's take an example that's easy because it happens so frequently. It can be excruciating to watch the initial practices of the modified level (7th and 8th graders) basketball season. Players loathe the fundamental drills so essential to long term success in the sport, like bounce passes, dribbling with the less dominant hand, executing set plays such as in-bounds drills and setting picks and screens. Instead, nearly all of them just want to scrimmage and hoist up high-risk low-success three point attempts or improvise plays on an individual level outside of any cooperative and coherent teamwork.

Some of it may evolve from the "me first" mentality emerging from watching NBA games that appear to foster the star-power nature of the sport's promotion and marketing strategy built around players who need only one name to be identified - i.e. "LeBron" or "Kobe." These single named icons almost obscure or transcend the identities of their teams. Some of it may be related to a reluctance to practice the conventional fundamentals that are viewed as boring and redundant.

The same may be perceived in the classroom. Homework or skill work is viewed as nothing but busywork. Creating graphic organizers or developing outlines prior to generating a report is seen as a waste of time and something that merely gets in the way. This perspective isn't confined to math and reading classrooms. In music, for example, many smirk at calls to practice, and express a desire to just play the instrument.

Well, if I really expect teenagers to slow down and conscientiously commit to what they have to do before they move on to what they want to do, then I'd be as unrealistic and impulsive as I suspect so many of them are - which is why I will keep on getting up each morning and persist in working constructively with teenagers at school as they wrestle with the peculiarities that define their development. After all, if my memory serves me well, there was a little bit of that in me back in the day.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Reality Show Reality

Okay. I admit it. I don't understand the ever-growing interest in Reality TV Shows. Apparently there's enough voyeuristic desire to watch other people that an entire industry has emerged, producing improbable titles and subjects ranging from Teen Mom to Hoarders to Real Cops to Auction Hunters to I Know My Kid's a Star. Wikipedia lists over 100 different programs in the genre, with popular shows spawning succeeding generations through a number of closely related knock-offs. It some respects, watching other people live out their "ordinary" lives (let's face it, how ordinary can you be when a camera crew captures virtually everything you do or say?) appears eerily similar to visiting a zoo and observing animals in their artificial habitats of confinement.

What I find even more bizarre is the fascination with another evolving trend. That is, celebrities. I don't mean people who have earned that status by virtue of successfully plying the acting trade in film, stage or television; or highly paid athletes who have parlayed their skills into a magnet of attraction for star struck fans in stadiums filled to capacity. I am referring to empty celebrities who have no discernible skill or talent. They are somehow famous for being famous. Other than the tactical, shrewd marketing strategy release of their sex tapes, what do publicity hounds Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian manifest as a skill or talent of distinction? What would anthropologists 100 years from now infer of our society when examining countless artifacts chronicling the exploits of people like Hilton and Kardashian who are ever present in the media merely for smiling and dressing suggestively whenever a camera appears?

Anyway -  what does this trend convey to our children? I have noticed a disturbing pattern during my daily lunch experiences with children involving their responses to the dialogue starter - "What do you want to be when you grow up?" In the past, and clearly present still, elementary age children often reply to the question by stating their desire to be a pro athlete, a rock star, doctor, veterinarian, marine biologist,... Lately however, the simple answer - "a celebrity" is gaining in frequency.

Perhaps the old Horatio Alger "rags to riches" story of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and improving your life through hard work and determination is somewhat exaggerated in its reach and maybe mythical, but how would you describe the desire to become a hollow, "famous for being famous" individual absent any marketable skill or trade or purpose other than manipulating the media and effortlessly enthralling devoted fans? This is what many children aspire to be? This reminds me of the discussion on nutrition involving good calories that offer something positive to your diet and health versus empty calories that fill you up without contributing anything productive to your system.

Maybe I'm just becoming an old grouch. Maybe I should pitch the idea for a reality show on old grouches who have lost touch with the pulse of a changing world. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Put Into Perspective

I love sports, but...

Peyton Manning, former quarterback of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, just signed a free agent contract with the Denver Bronco's that will pay him $96,000,000 for the next five years. Put into perspective, his annual salary of 19.2 million dollars is two and a half times the annual cost to operate our entire school district and nurture the dreams and sustain the hopes of 330 learners.

In over 100 years of professional baseball - played by over 100,000 different players - there are less than two hundred batters with a .300 batting average or higher. That means that you would be considered a star as long as you fail to get a hit in less than seven out of ten plate appearances. Put into perspective, it requires a much, much higher standard of achievement to reach the mastery level on state-wide assessments administered in New York.

"March Madness" is the term used to describe the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament that is held each year in that month. The real March Madness can be found in the annual report, "Keeping Score When It Counts," by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida. The study calculated the graduation rate for male basketball student-athletes as 66 percent in 2011. That's an unacceptable rate of completion among colleges - many of whom are perceived as excellent institutions of higher learning. Put into perspective: What would happen to a public high school in New York if they produced graduation rates that low each year? Fortunately, the presidents of these colleges collectively reside in the State of Denial instead of the State of New York.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Julius Caesar and the Bridge to Everywhere

March 15th in the year 44BC.
The Ides of March.
Julius Caesar, dictator of the Roman Republic was assassinated on that day when he was fatally stabbed twenty-three times by a large group of conspirators.

Many, many, many years later.

March 15th, 2012.
I was scheduled to speak at a community forum on the impact of a loss of $348,080 of revenues due to the inability of a local power authority to make their annual contribution in lieu of taxes.
Though I was certain not to suffer the same fate as Caesar, there was the potential for daggers thrust in the form of angry remarks by irate tax-payers regarding the prospect of a significant tax increase proposal to support the school.

It didn't happen.
I presented information on what happened to our budget and why, what we've done so far, and what we plan to do in the next several weeks to construct a budget that will seek to balance mission and money - the needs of our learners and the capacity of residents to fund the investment. Instead of expressing rage, worried residents proud of their small community and school district asked only a few questions about the road ahead. It was reassuring as our board of education and I move forward in examining data and wrestling with difficult decisions. It was reaffirming for me as a superintendent in the second year of serving the community.

March 15th, 1977.
The Green Island Bridge, which spans the Hudson River and connects to the city of Troy, collapsed under the impact of flooding caused by snow melt, 2,7 inches of rain over a short period of time, and the resulting run-off. The current bridge was not completed until four and a half years after the collapse.

Thirty-five years later Green Island has an opportunity to ensure that a strong bridge connects the community with it's school district. A bridge that will withstand the onslaught of a considerable decreases in state aid, a similarly sized reduction in federal grants, as well as the loss in funding from the local power authority. A bridge that will allow today's learners cross over to become tomorrow's leaders. A bridge that will help transport learners toward their dreams and hopes. A bridge to everywhere...

May 15, 2012
We don't have four and a half years to fix the bridge. We have two months to reinforce the bridge and buttress the structure before the community votes on the proposed budget. There's a great deal of cooperative work to do, creative ideas to generate, and a commitment to make around common goals and shared meanings.

We'll see.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What Do You Value?

Tonight's Blog post is the shortest that I've created among the 200+ entries generated since arriving at Green Island as the superintendent. However, it may be among the most meaningful. Take a moment and reflect on the following quote from Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States.

“Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.”   

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Use Your Head!

Among the hundreds of books I have collected on leadership and business is a volume that is frequently dog-eared, with several post-it notes protruding from the pages, and enough yellow streaks through the text to fill two highlighters. The book is The Renewal Factor, by Robert Waterman. I have extracted a great many ideas for school leadership from the wisdom shared by Waterman.

As our school confronts yet another threat of painful, debilitating reductions that could include personnel and programs, I am reminded of a story that Waterman related about the time (mid 1980's)when H. Ross Perot was involved in leadership at the automotive giant General Motors. Perot had sold his company. Electronic Data Systems to GM and retained a leadership role with the expanded GM empire.

"A GM executive says that when H. Ross Perot saw something that needed doing inside GM and told a GM manager to do it, the man replied 'it's not part of my job description.' "
Perot responded, "You need a job description? I'll give you one, use your head!"
The bemused GM executive said. "Can you imagine what chaos we'd have here if everybody did that?'

Our district was recently surprised to discover that the local power authority, a hydroelectric plant, had lost 75% of its revenue and was unable to contribute an annual contribution they provided the district in lieu of taxes. The amount represents 5% of our overall budget, or 10% of our local revenues. The loss of funds likely places us in a precarious position in which we either have to exercise significant cuts or seek voter approval of a large increase in taxes, or a combination of the two possibilities - all at a time of economic stress. None of the options are entertaining.

Our response will be crafted in short order after a public forum next week to inform the community of our dilemma and to obtain insight into the reaction of the community members and their level of support. Following that, there will be several board of education meetings to examine our options and plot a strategy designed to balance our mission and our money - the needs of our learners and the capacity of our community to invest in the process of converting today's learners into tomorrow's leaders.

Until then, and after the issue is resolved, we need the entire staff to roll up their sleeves and use their heads as we seek opportunities to maintain our direction and adapt to the potential losses. Despite the fears expressed by the GM excutive who worried about the ensuing chaos if everyone used their heads, the prospect of chaos that could result from a school district unprepared to contend with the economic realities is a far greater source of fear. 

These are not normal times. In fact, the perception of normal has changed drastically in the last few years. As the saying goes, "you can't use yesterday's solutions to solve tomorrow's problems." Job descriptions won't matter, neither will roles. Collaboration, accommodation, creativity and resolve are needed. We have to look around corners and over horizons. We must abandon what got us here and set out on a voyage of discovery and convert the risk into an opportunity. An opportunity to exploit the urgency as a means of transforming what we do and how we do it. What better time to restructure than a time when the structure is challenged?

We have to be mindful of the pledge each of us must follow by periodically asking ourselves the following questions as we pursue our responsibilities to promote dreams, sustain hope and push the district to its potential. We can use our answers to the questions as a guide to future endeavors.

1. Is our school district a system you would want your son and daughter to attend?
2. Is our school district a system you would want to attend if you were between 5 and 18 years old?
3. Is our school district an environment where you are comfortable spending half of your waking
4. Is our school district an organization in which you would invest your tax dollars?

I'm not sure how this will all turn out, and I'm a little anxious as well, but I know that its times like these when leadership matters most. This is why I became a superintendent - to make a difference.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What Is A Superintendent? and, Why Are You A Superintendent?

Learners in our school district can sign up to have lunch with the superintendent. The individual who signs up is able to invite three friends to join them in my office. The experience allows me to nurture relationships and stay in touch with those we serve. It also permits me an opportunity to explain who I am beyond the role and title. That's important because one of my young visitors recently asked, in between bites of a sandwich, "What is a superintendent?"

That's an interesting question I think all superintendents should ask themselves at regular intervals. The question was made all that more difficult to answer because it was generated by a six year old. The response had to offer an explanation understandable to someone that age. There was no need to talk about developing budgets, forming coalitions, negotiating contracts, addressing the media, interacting with the public, creating instructional strategies...

"Well," I began, "a superintendent is responsible for everything in the school district." That was a start that made sense to me but her puzzled facial expression indicated that I needed to revise the reply. I changed gears a little and continued. "The superintendent is really the director of smiles. I greet everyone at the front of the school each morning and I check for smiles. If you don't have one, then I try to find out where it went and what the adults at school can do to get your smile back. Maybe you lost your homework, or you are having trouble with a classmate, or you are worried about a test. I'm the person who works with all of the adults in school to make sure that you are wearing a smile when you leave school each day. That's how we know if we're doing a good job at school, by the number of kids who leave with a smile." That seemed to satisfy her.

However, a few bites of the sandwich later, she followed up with another innocent question. "Why did you grow up to be a superintendent?"

Ah. I guess I should have expected that since our lunch centers around dialogue starters I pose to stimulate conversation, such as - Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world? What's your favorite TV show? What character would you like to be in any book or movie you've experienced? What do you want to be when you grow up?...

The table turned on me a bit.

"Actually I wanted to be a teacher and help kids just like a couple of special teachers I had who helped me when I was a kid. I taught 5th grade. Then, I wanted to help more kids than the ones I taught in my class, so I became a principal. I enjoyed being a principal but after working with kids from Kindergarten to 6th grade I wanted to continue to help them after they went to middle school and high school, so I became a superintendent. Now, I have a chance to help everyone in the whole school district. I'm like a teacher for everybody in the school district."

She smiled and nodded her head before concluding, "That's nice. You help me with my smile every morning!

Even though John Quincy Adams, our 6th president, never served as a superintendent, he summarized the goal of the superintendency when he said the following: "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." That describes our purpose and meaning as superintendents.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, or, Under the Heels of Midgets?

The annual Mid-Winter conference of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, which concluded today, provided attendees with an interesting contrast in directions and substance.

Marc Tucker, President and CEO for the National Center for Education and the Economy, delivered a thought provoking presentation entitled, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. (see PowerPoint below). After divulging the indicators that revealed test data on international benchmarks demonstrating that the United States is sinking lower in achievement compared to many other industrialized nations, (14th in Literacy, 25th in Math, 17th in Science) Tucker shared the results of an extensive study that examined the policies and practices of the top ten countries on the international assessments. In other words, let's look at what the high performing countries are doing. He then supplied a snapshot of current practices and policies in the U.S. and compared them to what the exemplars were exercising in policy and practice. The differences were startling. Of special note, Tucker effectively explained away the myths and excuses that are typically constructed by those who defend our depressed national statistics and seek to deflect criticism.

Now, contrast Tucker's points with the message that Dr. John King, Commissioner of Education for the State of New York, conveyed in the latest iteration of the not-ready-for-prime time template for the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). The PowerPoint below is not the exact one King used. I could not find it on the department's website, but I did discover the hot off the press APPR updated document this afternoon. This contains the thrust of his efforts to describe how "we're going to get there." The document actually remains unfinished as the politicians in Albany continue to wrestle with the details of the plan.  (see PowerPoint below).

You will note that King's presentation plots a course of action that shows we are moving further away from what the successful countries are doing according to Tucker's presentation. Among other distinguishing characteristics separating us from the higher performing countries, we have more regulation, laws and programs (often at odds with one another), we display less emphasis on diagnosis and prescription, and we link teacher pay and retention to scores on standardized achievement tests - all opposed to common methods and designs of the educational programs of the more successful countries.

Now, if the striking differences between these two strategies wasn't enough to puzzle you, the last speech offered at the conference was by Charlotte Danielson.

Although her model of teacher evaluation is one of several approved by the state education department for use in the 700 school districts throughout the state that are tasked with implementing the APPR, Danielson emphasizes challenges inherent in using teacher practices and results of teaching in high stakes personnel decisions with several cautionary notes in her summary (slide 28 of the PowerPoint) where she advises that
both elements must be highly evolved before they are used for high-stakes personnel decisions.

There you have it. Draw your own conclusions.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Jenga of School Budgets

School districts throughout the state of New York continue to immerse themselves in the inevitable and debilitating process of peeling even more layers of programs and people from their budgets in order to comply with a new state mandate on a 2% tax levy cap. This is the third consecutive year in which school systems have felt the constraints imposed by reduced state aid to public school education. Add any number of unfunded state mandates to the equation and you soon become more than a little weary and worried.

Exasperated administrators and board of education members tasked with the responsibility of shaving dollars from the annual operating budget have conjured up many different images to describe the impact of decreased funding. A giant boa constrictor wrapped around a school building has been suggested by several as an appropriate symbol. However, yesterday morning I realized that the process more accurately could be likened to the game of Jenga.

Here's how you play: (from Wikipedia)

Jenga is played with 54 wooden blocks. To set up the game, the included loading tray is used to stack the initial tower which has 18 levels of three blocks placed adjacent to each other along their long side and perpendicular to the previous level (so, for example, if the blocks in the first level lie lengthwise north-south, the second level blocks will lie east-west).
Once the tower is built, the person who built the tower moves first. Moving in Jenga consists of taking one and only one block from any level (except the one below the incomplete top level) of the tower, and placing it on the topmost level to complete it. Only one hand should be used at a time when taking blocks from the tower. Blocks may be bumped to find a loose block that will not disturb the rest of the tower. Any block that is moved out of place must be returned to its original location before removing another block. The turn ends when the next person to move touches the tower or after ten seconds, whichever occurs first.
The game ends when the tower falls in even a minor way—in other words, any piece falls from the tower, other than the piece being knocked out to move to the top. The winner is the last person to successfully remove and place a block.

Our school district has been built over many years. Hundreds of staff members, thousands of learners and millions of local tax dollars have contributed to the construction of the district and its successes. The tower of programs, practices, and personnel is experiencing conditions similar to the game of Jenga. Imagine each block in Jenga representing a program or staff member in the school. One by one individual blocks are gently removed from the tower, each one weakening the structure as it's pulled out. While the board of education and I replicate the competitors in Jenga who hope to avoid pulling out a block that prompts the tower to collapse, carefully extracting money from the budget in an attempt to avert major disturbances to the overall operation of the school and the pursuit of the district's mission, we recognize that at this rate the system is destined to crumble in a few years. There are only so many cuts that can be made before the integrity of instruction is imperiled and performance standards and morale levels become victimized.

Our only hope is that the economy recovers enough to restore state aid to former levels of support, and/or the state funds are distributed in a far more equitable manner pursuant to the legal outcome championed by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity when it won its court case against the state in 2007 for not fulfilling the constitutional right to a sound basic education for all public school students in the State of New York. Unfortunately, the depressed economy prevented the state from enacting the required change after a single year of distibuting the money in that manner.

Friday, March 2, 2012

What Is A Mission?

This is another excerpt from a manuscript on school improvement I have prepared but not yet submitted for consideration of publishers.

What is a Mission?

     A mission should be a short statement that embodies what your school is really about. Determining the critical attribute of your organization is the most difficult step in the improvement process. It’s far too easy and tempting to merely state that the primary purpose of your school is to educate children, and leave it at that. You’re going to have to be more discerning than that. Liken it to the doctor’s diagnosis and analysis. A careful insight will prevent the doctor from being misled by symptoms, and propel a persistent search for causes.

     The aim of the mission is to assert the critical attribute of the organization, the single driving force propelling the energy of the school staff. If the mission isn’t expressed in terms related to teaching and learning then you’re in the wrong business.

     Look beyond the obvious. For instance, it would be simple and quick to assume that because we work at a school our mission would take the shape of - “graduating all students.” In Making It Happen, author Alan Weiss recalled an example from two decades ago to illustrate the dissonance between what an organization thinks consumers want and what the consumer really wants. Weiss explained how sales of Kodak film increased significantly when Kodak comprehended what they were really selling.(Weiss, 27) Kodak’s advertising strategy had traditionally emphasized technical aspects of the film, like emulsion rate and speed. But, consumers generally purchased film for weddings, anniversaries, vacation excursions, birthdays,… In other words, people weren’t trying to become the next Ansel Adams, they were buying memories, not film. Kodak eventually shifted the thrust of their advertising campaign to commercials of backyard picnics, ball games, parties and the like. They began selling memories rather than film. That switch spoke volumes regarding purpose and inspiration.

     Unfortunately, although Kodak may have adeptly recovered from a misguided advertising strategy in the instance explained in the previous paragraph, they never recovered from their inability to transition from film to digital and subsequently the company filed for bankruptcy this past January. That missed opportunity will be reviewed in an upcoming Blog post when we turn our attention to the subject of organizational change.

     Another example is available in merchandising. The Swiss watch industry was experiencing a 25% downturn in sales years ago when inexpensive and easy to read digital watches entered the market and quickly began to displace analog devices. Faced with bleak prospects, an insightful manufacturer altered marketing strategies by advertising watches as jewelry or versatile accessories to clothing rather than the singular purpose of a timepiece. Swatch rode the crest of this popular wave and regained lost market share. (Peters, 231)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Snow Days - School Days - Pay Days

There's no school today due to the return of winter in the form of a snowstorm and the prospect of a mix of rain and sleet to follow throughout the day. This is our first cancellation of school this year due to inclement weather. It's otherwise been an unusually moderate winter, with far below normal amounts of snow.

Now that I've cleared snow from my driveway and arrived at school, I'd like to clear up something else. Teachers are not paid for snow days. In fact, teachers work a number of school days according to their labor contract with their school district, no matter how many days school is closed for unexpected reasons. The state of New York requires a minimum of 180 days in a school year. There may very well be additional days for staff development activities beyond that 180. However, this means that teachers must comply with the stated number of days defined by their contract, regardless of any snow days. That is, if the contract requires teachers to work 181 days, the school district typically builds in more days to account for the possibility of cancellations due to inclement weather. Though these days are usually referred to as snow days there are many schools across New York that closed school for several days this September because of flooding.

For example, let's take the district with 181 days of work expected of the teachers. They construct a schedule for the year that may have 185 days of school. In that manner, they have the use of four days (185-181) in the event that school has to be cancelled without infringing on the minimum number of days in the contract or state mandate. If they do not use all of those four days then the remaining days are normally returned to the teachers and learners in the form of days off of school later in the year after any threat of a snowstorm has passed. Traditionally, this results in extended time off coupled with the Memorial Day weekend. If the school uses more "snow days" than they allocated in their calendar, then they have to either add extras days at the end of the year or shave days off of a previously scheduled vacation break - like April. That's exactly what several school districts will be doing this year due to flood related days off at the beginning of the year.

Unfortunately, absent this understanding, people outside of the school perceive that the teachers and learners are getting an extra holiday! This is not true. The length of the school year is the same despite the number of days school is cancelled.