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Monday, October 22, 2012

Superintendent 3.0

The last school year began with flood that sent water seeping into the building, and ended with the community approving a 12.47% tax levy increase and the state department of education according our school district the status of an "effective school district" rating three years after the school system was identified as a "school in need of improvement."

It was certainly a year of benchmarks and experiences.

That brings us to another new school year. This is my third year as the superintendent of the Green Island Union Free School District. Today is October 22, 2012 and I have struggled to produce Blog entries on a regular basis, after posting daily during the previous two years.

There may be several reasons for the dearth of Blog posts. Among the explanations: the well is running dry - after over 300 postings it becomes more difficult to offer fresh perspectives; time is a limited commodity that is rapidly consumed by other needs and challenges. However, the chief obstacle likely causing the reduction is the increasing frustration I have encountered while contending with the breadth and depth of state change initiatives mandates imposed on public school districts across the state of New York. Not only are these requirements draining in terms of energy, they are exhausting my reservoir of resiliency in terms of logic and context.

First, let me express my support for the intent of the changes. These measures, such as the Annual Professional Performance Review (and all the acronyms encumbered within the APPR), are aimed in the proper direction to precipitate improvement in public school achievement levels, and, in the case of the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), promote a sensitive response to the need to develop and sustain a safe and accommodating climate in school buildings. But, my lament is derived from my opinion that there are too many changes at the same time. It is overwhelming. It has prompted anxiety levels among educators that approaches the point that provokes a counterproductive response among those charged with implementing the policies and practices.

I would hope that there is no opposition to the Dignity for All Students Act ( And, because I believe that learners will be more productive when they are assured treatment with dignity and respect by those sharing the school environment, it would be appropriate to present this significant policy mandate first and with full attention. There is a great deal of awareness and training of staff and learners expected for DASA to become an integral part of the school culture. Additionally, because offenses are reportable to the state, there is a considerable amount of paperwork and administration involved in the process.

Only after DASA is successfully enacted in all schools for an entire school year, should the state embark on the next critical piece of legislation, that being the APPR ( Unfortunately, the compelling and simultaneous mandates compete for the vital resources of time and training - both elements requiring money at a time of economic scarcity across the state. Research on the subject of organizational/institutional change would reveal that competing major change initiatives are apt to dilute success rates regarding implementation.

Who can argue against improving achievement levels in our schools since education represents such a tremendous investemnt in the future of our society? I clearly support well designed proposals seeking to leverage increased success rates in public schools. Yet, tomorrow I will attend my third conference and training session associated with APPR in the last four days of school! Similarly, for all the testing that is invoked on our learnners, there is a cost in instructional time - a resource that has not expanded in years. I was recently in texas for a funeral and during the brief visit I interacted with former colleagues who are presently exposed to the same demands for more frequent tests that we are in New York. One person summed matters up with the following assertion: "All of the weighing of the hog doesn't change the quality of the bacon."

I feel my energy is depleted at a physical, emotional, and psychological level. I wouldn't be surprised if the end of this school year finds a higher percentage of superintendents retiring than the average number over the last few years. I wrote an essay last year titled, APPR leads superintendents to AARP (American Association for Retired Persons).

Perhaps, after wrestling with the puzzling nuances of the state required APPR format in a race to submit a plan for approval to avoid a threatened loss of state aid, and incorporating the requirements for DASA, (and completing the detailed BEDS - Basic Education Data - i.e. how many computers are in the school?, how many books in the library?...) I will be able to resurrect a stronger sense of purpose and meaning and regain my writing voice with more frequent Blog entries.

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