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Monday, December 29, 2014

Schools and the Art of Selling - What and How Are They Selling?

As I relax on vacation during the holidays I have the rare opportunity to invest in reading articles and books that elude me during the course of busy work days and nights. One such article caught my attention and, as I read it, I couldn't help but think its message in terms of our public schools. That is, how do we present our process and products to current or potential consumers? Are we selling our ideas and prospects?

After all, education is an intangible. It's something that you can't see, feel, smell, or test drive, in the way you can sit in the comfort of a new car at the dealership, smell the distinct "new car" flavor, listen to the radio, see the dashboard console gauges, and take it for a spin before buying the car. Education is an abstract commodity purchased with a currency of hope, promise, prospect, and possibilities - all in the long term (often thirteen years) as opposed to driving off the lot in your new car and completing loan payments in five years.

Since we are "selling" ideas and hope we encounter a sales process quite different than selling something concrete that a consumer can see, feel, touch, smell, or taste. Furthermore, the consumer cannot instantly engage the product like they can with a hamburger from the fast food chain, a shirt from the store, or a car from the dealership.

Someone once contrasted this difference between the sale of a tangible product and an intangible product as follows - "It's easy to sell aspirin to someone with a headache, but it's very difficult to sell a life insurance policy to a twenty-two year old male." One meets an immediate need while the other is an invisible and long term purchase.

Now, please read the article linked below - then think about some of the differences when compared to a school:(for greater insight into the notion of the psychology of why and how people buy, read Martin Lindstrom's great book entitled, Buy-ology - How Everything We Believe About Why We Buy is Wrong).

Number 2 on the list, We've got a bag of tricks to get you to spend more,  reveals just a few of the sales techniques that grocery stores use to increase sales. I'm not suggesting schools employ deceptive practices, but rather that schools understand and accept that they are really selling intangible items like ideas and hope in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Our small district has over fifteen private, parochial, and charter schools within a fifteen mile radius of our school. We shouldn't confine our sales pitch to the single day of the year when citizens cast votes on the annual operating budget for their local school, but on a regular basis that is sustained throughout the thirteen year relationship they have with each learner (and the family, relatives, neighbors and friends of each learner in the community).

One particular element of those listed in the article involved the consciously created, research based traffic patterns developed by grocery stores (customers enter and proceed to the right of the store because most people are right-handed and that increases access to products and subsequent sales; higher priced items are located at eye level along the shelves;...). The four basic items most frequently purchased (bread, milk, eggs, and bananas) are spread out around the store to maximize your time there and the potential for customers to engage in impulse buying while progressing from bananas to milk to eggs to bread.Take a moment and consider the traffic pattern within the school where you work.

Too often, particularly at high schools, the first school artifacts visible to those entering the school are sports trophies. While these symbols are evidence of success and hard earned victories, athletics usually involve less than half of the learners in any high school. If our mission is focused on learning shouldn't we be promoting the success of our learners on an academic level. Wait, wait let me explain before you get upset and claim that sports builds character and contributes to the "whole learner." I was a three sport athlete in high school, as were my two children. All three of us also competed in sports at the collegiate level too. I understand the benefits of sports and how they reach beyond the playing field to develop skills (cooperation, communication, self-discipline,...) applicable to other endeavors. All I ask you to consider is this; when you shop for a car or a truck, the dealership does not display other products they also manufacture because the business of the dealership is to sell cars and trucks.

What does it say about our schools if the most prominent artifacts or symbols in the school are related to a small slice of the total pie? Another example; how often have you been driving around and enter a town that proudly displays a sign boasting of a state sports championship earned by the local high school. You know - welcome to our town, home of the 1992 football champions (found as you enter the town where my wife works as a teacher. Or, welcome to our town, home of the 1987-2012 state champion cross country teams (in a town where the cross country team is coached by my sister). Okay, now think back on these trips and ask yourself how many towns use large signs at their entrances to broadcast the percentage of high school graduates from the most recent class, or the number of national merit scholarships earned by graduates, or the attendance rate of the public schools in the town?????

Number 5 on the list contained in the article, We're Tracking you at every turn, shows how far behind schools are in developing profiles on consumers and identifying their interests and needs in order to provide new programs and practices in response.

Number 6 on the list, Nearly identical items may have vastly different prices,  reports how and why certain products (specialty cheeses, deli items, and nuts) are priced differently than similar or identical items elsewhere in the store. Different items, like different classes in our schools, have different overhead costs. However, we may not be presenting and explaining this information to our taxpayers.

Element number 7 on the list, We're trying to force you to spend more time with us, (so you'll spend more money with us) is in sharp contrast to the accommodations, or lack thereof, found in many public schools. Parents and other visitors often feel uninvited or have their visits sharply limited to evenings at concerts, games, or PTA meetings. Yes, I know of the prevailing security issues but how do we seek to make our schools welcoming and actually engage potential consumers and benefactors? (aren't all taxpayers benefactors, whether they vote yes on the budget ballot or not they still pay the apportioned tax rates on their properties) As a result, beyond the news we deliver in newsletters, social media, school websites, how much do parents and community members really know about the school they support with taxes?

There are other ideas to be culled from this article and prompt some brainstorming sessions among school staff members.

In summary, how are we trying to convince our potential consumers that our mission is worthy of them investing their hard earned money? What can we do to make our process and product more desirable? What marketing strategies can we develop to improve our business? Why don't we seem to extract useful information from the business world that could be converted into strategies to leverage improvement in our public schools?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tilting the Balance of Information

Traditionally, teachers harbored the authority within the classroom based on the perceived level of their role in the organizational hierarchy with respect to learners, and their expertise of the knowledge that formed the curriculum of the class. Technology has impacted that dynamic, particularly at the secondary level, through the democratization of information in terms of access, storage and application opportunities emerging from the power of the on-going digital revolution. That is, high school learners (and for that matter, nearly all learners) can readily retrieve information at their fingertips via their cell phones, thus reducing the teacher's "power" advantage. I mention high school learners because I believe they are more likely to grasp the change in the classroom dynamic regarding information.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not implying that the learner now knows as much as the teacher. Please note, I have refrained from equating information with knowledge. Effective teachers breathe life into information and convert it into knowledge. I'm merely pointing out that learners can instantly access information (assuming they have sharpened their search techniques) that had been within the firm domain of the instructor. This prompts teachers to maintain a conscientious command of facts since learners can quickly fact-check for accuracy. It should also serve as a reason for teachers to move well beyond rote facts and low level comprehension exercises and promote higher order thinking skills.

Here's a relevant excerpt from best selling author Daniel H. Pink's book, To Sell is Human.

"When buyers can know more than sellers, sellers are no longer protectors and purveyors of information. They’re the curators and clarifiers of it – helping to make sense of the blizzard of facts, data, and options. Today’s educators can no longer depend on the quasi-reverence that information asymmetry often afforded them. When the balance tilts in the opposite direction, what they do and how they do it must change."

Pink used examples in his book that support this change between provider and consumer. think of buying a car, for instance. The buyer can easily obtain price data on a specific model by comparing costs across many dealerships. The buyer can also discover reports on the car from many different websites and social media platforms sharing reviews by owners, consumer report research,... Thus, the buyer enters the negotiation with the salesperson with greater knowledge than they might have in a similar situation twenty years ago. That's what Pink refers to as information asymmetry = when one party in the provider/consumer equation has a disproportionate power through information that places the other party at a disadvantage.

Now, imagine this same relationship in the classroom. There is less imbalance between teacher and learner (and teacher and parent!). The question for educators becomes - what are we doing in response to this decreased information asymmetry? How have we changed our instructional delivery model? Have we successfully exploited the power of technology to increase the extent and complexity of outcomes? 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Right Direction, Poor Timing

The state of New York has unveiled two program/policy initiatives designed to improve school efficiency and effectiveness. Unfortunately, while they are well intended and point in the right direction, the timing is a bit off pace. It’s like watching your favorite film – but the audio is not synchronized properly with the video. You can still follow along but it’s not comfortable.

The 2014-15 state budget established a property tax freeze credit for homeowners across New York for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. If schools can prepare and pass a budget that remains below the allowable tax levy cap, according to the state formula, the homeowners in the district will receive tax rebate checks. The expectation is that the incentive to acquire a refund will generate pressure from homeowners that will subsequently leverage school districts to develop a budget of modest means, at best.

Our district met the criteria for the first year by gaining approval for an annual budget that was below the state guidelines dictating allowable tax levy limits. However, the second year requires school districts to craft efficiency plans that produce savings of at least 1% of the district’s tax levy in order for homeowners to qualify for their tax refunds. We must devise and authenticate savings of 1% of the tax levy for each of the next two budget years.
The goal of the efficiency measures is understandable. The timing is incomprehensible. The introduction of this plan has arrived several years after public schools in New York have been ravaged by drastic reductions in state aid to public schools. These fiscal cuts, experienced like patients undergoing surgery minus the anesthesia, have already compelled school districts to engage in financial retrenchment (significant staff lay-offs and loss of programming) and collaborative partnerships to increase efficiency. School districts must join with other school districts to share services and save money BUT these partnerships are only credited for purposes of calculating “efficiency” if they have been instituted since 2012. The problem is that the prolonged state aid cuts prompted districts to join together to save money long before 2012 and those cooperative efforts do not receive any credit in this new policy. So, if your school district exercised fiscal prudence prior to 2012 and sought savings through increased efficiency, they are penalized by not having such actions count as credit moving forward.

Our district has shared a food service staff and program with an adjacent district for many years. We have also shared transportation services with yet another school district. These two partnerships have produced savings that are exempt from consideration in the newly designed parameters governing the tax freeze credit program. These are two of the more common shared services that may likely impact savings to meet the 1% of tax levy limit. Now we are faced with the need to seek even greater savings, without the low hanging fruit of transportation and food services.

This brings to mind one of Aesop’s fables entitled The Ant and the Grasshopper. Wikipedia summarizes it as follows: “The fable concerns a grasshopper that has spent the warm months singing while the ant (or ants in some versions) worked to store up food for winter. When that season arrives, the grasshopper finds itself dying of hunger and begs the ant for food. To its reply when asked that it had sung all summer, it is rebuked for its idleness and advised to dance during the winter. The story has been used to teach the virtues of hard work and the perils of improvidence. Some versions state a moral at the end along the lines of "Idleness brings want", "To work today is to eat tomorrow", "Beware of winter before it comes.” We were aware of the impending winter in the form of continued reductions in state aid and the need to be more efficient but now the grasshopper districts are rewarded with new incentives to entice them to become more efficient – after the ant’s poorly funded districts had been busy adjusting to cuts of their scarce resources that have brought them to the brink of bankruptcy. 

The voter approved proposition entitled the “Smart Schools Act” also suffers from a lack of coordination between intent and timing. This act provides $2,000,000,000 to schools throughout the state in a fund that districts can access through a process requiring constituent developed technology plans that meet with state approval. Although some of the money can be allocated for very specific purposes attendant to pre-Kindergarten programs, the bulk of the act is intended to improve school use of technology as an instructional tool by supplying funds to acquire infrastructure (bandwidth, internet access) and hardware (interactive white boards, laptops…). There is NO MONEY available for the added IT staff needed to support and repair the many computers, interactive white boards and the like that will be purchased through the funds. That last fact is significant for underfunded school districts. Again, the goal is supportive and appropriate BUT the timing is not in concert with the goal.

Just a couple of years ago public school districts were informed of the state education department’s intent to have state exams administered via computer instead of the pencil and paper method in the 2015-16 school year. That determination prompted school districts to prepare for the necessary number of computers to accommodate the number of learners expected to take these tests. Since these tests are administered at the same time, that is the 4th grade Math exam is taken at the same time by all fourth grade learners in a school, then the schools must have a number of computers equivalent to the number of test takers. In other words, the integrity and security of the tests prevent schools form staggering the test taking schedule to minimize the amount of computers required.

Given the prevailing fiscal crisis that has haunted schools for several consecutive years now, it is impractical, nigh impossible, to suddenly purchase a large number of new computers. So, many schools, like ours, made incremental purchase of computers as allowed by budgetary constraints as soon as we possible following the announcement by the state. Additionally, even if one had access to the amount of money to buy many computers at once the district then runs the risk of having them all become obsolete or in need of repair – at the same time! Similarly, we began increasing our bandwidth and wi-fi access to meet the anticipated need of internet access by the test takers, and adding more computers here and there as the budget permits. In sum, we have expended valuable monetary resources to gradually get in position to meet the need to have state exams administered via computer in 2015-16.

Now, after the voter approval of the proposition this November 4th, we qualify for access to $254,706 through the Smart Schools Act. That’s great news (beyond the fact that most of what is purchased will cease to be functional long before the state taxpayers complete their financial obligation in paying for the bond issue), but a little late. We already spent money in preparation for the state requirement concerning the administration of state exams. That same money could have been invested in other well deserved programs had there been any indication of the scope and form of the Governor’s Smart School initiative prior to the vague (no specifics beyond the total amount per district) news blurbs that appeared in the last few months before the general vote.

One could suggest that school district leaders should have anticipated the approval of the proposition and planned accordingly once the measure was created. However, in terms of odds-makers, I’m afraid I would not succeed in that venture since I was surprised that the vote passed because there was so little known about its scope, the fact that the purchased products would not begin to last half as long as it will take to pay off the bond, and an absence of money for the staff needed to support and repair the many pieces of technology purchased though the proposition.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Technology and Debate

I believe it was former national news anchorman Tom Brokaw who lamented that the internet instantly allows us to communicate with and befriend people all over the world, yet holds the possibility that we are left not really knowing the person living next door. Like most everything else, technology can be both a positive and a negative, depending on how we exercise its potential.

Technology is a vital tool within our schools. Schools are critical elements of a vibrant community. At times the two do not constructively intersect.

Public school education is a fertile ground for debates. In part, since most people have attended schooling of some kind for at least thirteen years, the shared experience leaves many people with a deeper knowledge and broader perceptions about education than they might have on small engine repair or architectural design or any other subject that is far less common in experience.

The leadership of a school or school district is not always right. “What is right,” when juxtaposed with the mission of the school, is more important in my opinion than “who is right.” Advanced degrees and specific titles are not dictators in a democracy. There are many subjects regarding education that could pose as focal points for productive consideration by diverse constituent groups in a community. The responsibility of a leader is to articulate positions on issues, whether they are popular positions or not, and attempt to convey them with appropriate explanations and context, and a willingness to adapt to changes or new information that might alter a previously made decision.

Oftentimes, the busy schedules of parents prevent them from making a regular commitment to attend meetings at school that could afford opportunities for discourse on subjects and concerns. That’s certainly understandable at a time when financial stress has prompted many to extend work hours or obtain additional work, or parents are juggling family schedules, or they are struggling with child-care as a single parent. Many schools maintain an active social media presence through facebook, twitter, or blogs, which combine to offer channels inviting an open and expanded virtual assembly over a time frame that accommodates varied schedules.

However, it seems like the ability to bring people closer through advancing technologies has also contributed to a fracturing of conversations and the creation of partisan camps. Most issues have multiple sides that can spawn differences of opinion that may lead to emotional expressions in support of particular points. Rather than promoting opportunities for many people to participate in an engaging dialogue examining possibilities, issues that could be discussed in a large format may be reduced to narrower conversations among people who share similar beliefs. Instead of accessing forums via readily available social media platforms, groups identify their perspective on an issue and then retreat to separate and private forums (i.e. facebook pages) based on common beliefs and a reluctance to entertain differing thoughts. This splintering effect provides some comfort to those refraining from a full scale discussion through semi-private exchanges that reinforce each other’s opinions and reaffirm their sentiments. But, as a consequence of people seeking refuge with shared beliefs we all lose the prospect of learning something new, contemplating or adjusting our position, or persuading opposing views to adopt our perspective or adapt their position. This smaller pool of perspectives in a more limited form of dialogue between people of similar opinions may leave some convinced that “everyone I know” thinks this way, or “everyone else feels the same way,” thus entrenching their original stand on an issue.

Additionally, the privacy of a faceless series of exchanges among people of similar beliefs can embolden people to extend their opinions beyond the boundaries they might otherwise hold when they are involved in a personal and real-time exchange of ideas in a more formal social setting. I suspect the language and emotions displayed in the narrower philosophical format of a private facebook page may not resemble an exchange people might evidence in a public forum at a school meeting. Such a prospect allows for feelings and expressions to escalate and eventually devolve to a degree of division that inhibits or prevents the cooperation among diverse groups that can enrich our school community.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Income, Educational Attainment, and Achievement

The Buffalo based "Business First Guide to Upstate School Districts "was published on-line this week. It was titled, Income data for Upstate New York school districts. Business First will be releasing additional reports in the coming days and weeks on other rankings of the 430 school districts in the region they have defined as Upstate New York.

I am not writing this Blog entry to discredit or question the statistics or the interpretation that Business First reports. Regardless of what one feels about their construct, it is consistent across the years of their studies. If nothing else, that offers some opportunity to view the data in a longitudinal perspective.

The Business First website produces a section entitled, Frequently Asked Questions. The following question was extracted from that list (in italics and underlined for emphasis).

QUESTION: Your ratings seem to be biased toward affluent suburban schools. Williamsville and Clarence, for example, always do well in your Western New York report. What does that prove?

ANSWER:It proves that the educational climate in those districts is consistently excellent. No one denies that socioeconomic factors give some suburban districts an advantage. But that advantage can’t be ignored. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way of the world.

Employers don’t give a break to graduates from districts with bad ratings. Colleges don’t lower their admission standards for students from substandard schools. The state doesn’t reduce its Regents requirements for teens from poor districts. Our rankings, likewise, apply evenly to everyone.

The same link between money and quality exists in college ratings. U.S. News & World Report annually ranks Ivy League universities among the nation’s best. A large number of their students are affluent, yet no one disputes the quality of those institutions.

With that issue in mind, I reviewed the data base that Business First provided in their report on income data and it reaffirmed the widely held and thoroughly researched correlation between family income and learner achievement. Of the top 50 highest performing school districts in upstate New York, 33 of them were also represented in the top 50 highest income districts on last year's report on the highest achieving school districts in their coverage area. I used last year's data since Business First hasn't yet published their findings on performance. I believe it's a very safe assumption that the rankings in school district performance will closely resemble rankings of the previous year. Just as interesting are the results of educational attainment levels of adults (also from last year because they haven't published new data yet) sorted by school district community. Of the top 50 in that category, 39 also appeared on the top 50 list for overall school district achievement levels. That's a pretty strong link between educational attainment and income in a community and the ability of that community to provide substantial resources that promote achievement.

There appears to be an inverse relationship between poverty levels, as measured by the percentage of learners eligible for free and reduced lunch, and achievement levels. In other words, the higher the percentage of learners qualifying for free or reduced lunch, the lower the level of school district performance. This was referenced in the Business First FAQ response noted earlier in this Blog - No one denies that socioeconomic factors give some suburban districts an advantage.

Oh well. As Business First explained in the first paragraph of their FAQ response, "It's unfortunate, but it's the way of the world."

It is unfortunately, for too many underserved and unprivileged children and those committed to educate them, "the way of the world." But public school education doesn't have to be like that. It doesn't have to remain like that simply out of custom or disproportionate political leverage exerted to maintain the gap between the fortunate and the unfortunate - a gap that appears to be growing. However, politicians at the state level are resistant to right the wrong at a time when new money in the form of a budget surplus eludes their grasp. (ALTHOUGHT THERE IS PRESENTLY A FAIRLY SIGNIFICANT SURPLUS AT THE STATE LEVEL AWAITING THE LEGISLATURE WHEN THEY RECONVENE IN THEIR NEXT SESSION) Unless added or new revenue emerges (see above) the existing funding formulas will stay intact. The only alternative, beside complying with the court ordered results of the litigation brought on by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity 
would be to reach in and adjust the funding formula to be equitably distributed and address the needs or school districts lacking resources due to low property and income wealth - the CWR (Combined Wealth Ratio). This would require a "Robin Hood" strategy of redistributing money by reducing state aid to affluent schools and providing the excessed amount to districts identified as high need school systems. Such a plan would be political suicide for those politicians seeking to remain in office. Sadly, I suspect that the percentage of socio-economic groups within the voting population is also skewed, with more advantaged people casting ballots at a far higher rate than those in need. If that's true, it shouldn't victimize the children of the economically disadvantaged, who can't vote.

I am reminded of an exchange witnessed 23 years ago, at a time when the state intervened during an ongoing school year and withheld funding to public schools in response to a budget shortfall at the state level. The superintendent of the district I worked for (a rural district of 1,700 learners) reached for his phone and called our area representative at the state level, a politician of considerable clout, and requested financial assistance in the form of discretionary "member money" (i.e. pork barrel) that the superintendent had received when working as a business manager in his previous job at a large suburban/affluent school system (approximately 10,000 learners). The rejection was swift and blunt - "Sorry, I don't get my votes from there."

"It's unfortunate, but it's the way of the world" and "Sorry, I don't get my votes there." form an epitaph to be inscribed on the gravestones of high need schools throughout New York.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Management of Education

I have made a conscious effort over the years of this Blog to offer insight into the educational arena and prevent posts from slipping into a series of rants. With that said, I must extend a perception of education that will threaten that vow.

Although there are needs for specific protocol that dictate uniformity (i.e. procedures during safety drills,...) and conformity (i.e. compliance with appropriate regulations) the reach of such practices and expectations has extended itself to the point it begins to permeate the environment of a growing number of school districts. Without getting into the politics and competing perspectives on the Common Core, I would present that collection of learning standards as evidence of contrived compliance through the leverage of federal funds (Race To The Top money) made available as incentives to states (at a time when they are experiencing budget shortfalls in education) that accept the learning standards.

As the federal government has increased their influence over education at the local level (through regulations in special education, Title I, Title IX, the Homeless Children and Youth Act, No Child Left Behind,...) the impact of district influence has decreased in an inverse relationship. The more the federal and state departments of education have seeped into the school buildings, the less impact the locally appointed school leaders can exercise on instruction. Similarly, local decisions are becoming more muted and Boards of Education find themselves complying more with external regulations and creating less in terms of tailoring programs and practices to meet  needs and expectations unique to the local community.

In other words, we are moving closer to the management of education and away from the leadership of education. In sum, as a school leader who has valued innovation and imagination in developing programs and practices, I am glad that I'm nearer to the end of my educational leadership career than the beginning.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Across Four Decades

This September marked the fortieth “opening day” of my career as an educator. (Sadly, I remember when I once considered anyone forty to be old) Much had transpired in public education through those four decades, with far too many changes to count.

However, there are several fairly dramatic changes that have impacted education across those years. Of course, there are the obvious factors, such as federal interventions in the form of special education, title IX, and extending to programs and concomitant regulations like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. We attempt to make the list short by using acronyms (NCLB, RTTT, SPED, AIS, ESL,…) that depict programs with long term implications.

Those broad, sweeping federal mandates/initiatives are common to public school districts throughout the country. Lesser known, because they lack the power of headlines and the effect of simultaneously inflicting pressure on all schools at once, are the varied sources of unwelcome concern that have leaked into school buildings over the years like toxins that neither emit sound or detectable odors and challenge the capacity of schools, heretofore oriented primarily on the 3R’s, to respond.

Among these vexing issues that had previously not inserted themselves into public education on such a scale or depth are: more prominent mental health related issues (growing rates of stress and anxiety, suicide, acts of violence); the tumultuous dynamic of families (increased divorce rate, blended families, grandparent led units, homeless…);  technology aided social platforms (cyber bullying, sexting,…); technology assisted intrusions (hacking school financial accounts or data);  In regards to the last two categories, I certainly do not mean to infer that technology has spawned malice and mischief. There is no question that technology has provided a significant and lasting constructive force in teaching and learning, but it has been accompanied by opportunities of exerting negative influence as well by those with devious intent.

Public schools are contending with non-instructional issues at a level unprecedented in my forty years in education. Most public schools serve both breakfast and lunch. All public schools must accommodate the needs of the homeless through compliance with the federal McKinney-Vento legislation. As much as the school offers a vital safety-net for those traumatized and displaced from their home, the accommodations are unexpected financial burdens on already stressed budgets. Social workers and school psychologists are employed in much higher numbers than they were decades ago. Programs providing valuable and needed services to children suffering varied mental health illnesses have multiplied at a much faster pace than instructional programs. The different issues that plague learners is often a strong distraction that can interfere with instructional achievement. It all adds up to a significant challenge that leaves those obstacles I faced years ago as a pale and distant memory.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

At The End Of The Rope

There's an old expression often used to describe the point at which you approach and acknowledge inevitable defeat. Many public school educators jousting at windmills and toiling at teaching may subscribe to that adage. Public schools, particularly those considered "high need" (low in resources, high in need) are more than disappointed, at least in New York, at the inequitable distribution of state aid as it's constituted in archaic formulas that extend gaps in both opportunity and achievement. The primitive explanation of state aid distribution in New York resembles a card dealer who dispense cards to players in equal fashion. Personally, I've always viewed it in the form of watering plants. If you have a cactus and a tropical plant, two plants with very different needs for water, and insist on supplying each of them with the same amount of water one will die - due to either over-watering or under-watering.

That "end of the rope" expression reminds me of an experience during my first year in education, as an elementary school teacher on an island off the coast of Maine. It was fair to say that the children suffered in some part from the geographical isolation that led to a form of cultural deprivation as it related to assessment of learning designed by test creators operating in far different environments. For example, one question required the children to identify the beginning letter of an object by choosing from among the four selections. The object was a saucer for a tea cup. Suffice it to say that the kids ignored the "S" and were searching for a "P" for "plate because they had no idea what a saucer was, since few if any people were accustomed to serving tea or coffee in that manner.

However, a few months later I came across one of those short "IQ" tests associated with some group like MENSA that appeared in a magazine and quizzed people to discover whether they were super intelligent. Well, one of the questions went like this: "A boat rests alongside the dock by the ocean with a rope ladder descending off the side of the vessel, and each rung of the rope ladder is exactly one foot apart. There are four rungs exposed above the waterline. The tide goes out five feet. How many rungs are now exposed above the water?"

Many respondents would declare that nine rungs would be exposed because there were originally four showing and then the tide went down five feet, with each rung a foot apart so adding them simply produces a sum of 4+5 = 9.

Wrong. As all of the children on the island readily understood, the correct answer is four because the boat remains on the water level no matter how many feet the tide recedes. While this little quiz turned the tables and demonstrated in part the impact of cultural context in test construction and resulting discrimination, it left me reassured that the impoverished children of the island who couldn't identify a saucer were not as limited as the outcome of that national achievement test would indicate.

Reflecting on that experience caused me to continue with the subject of ropes and boats. High Need schools have much shorter ropes that those schools considered Average or Low Need. Imagine two boats identical in size and shape. One boat has a five foot long rope attaching it to the dock, the other has a fifteen foot boat connecting it to the dock. The tide goes out ten feet. The first boat in our example is hanging by its short rope, dangling from the edge of the dock above the water, half submerged in the ocean. Meanwhile, the other boat with the longer rope floats comfortably above the water with several feet of rope to spare.

High Needs schools have suffered from the benign neglect of those decision makers and policy makers who could intervene and support the equitable distribution of financial resources have avoided the discomforting task of doing "what is right" because they appear to be more driven by "who is right," as in those communities that exercise their affluence and connections to the levers of power to sustain a distribution system that maintains the gap and serves as an advantage for their own children and the property values and quality of life of their community.

High Need schools in New York are struggling precariously at the end of their ropes.....

Saturday, July 19, 2014


I became a full-time school building leader at 24 years old when I accepted the responsibilities of a principal serving a K-8 learning community comprised of 330 learners and 35 staff members. As I reflect on that early entry into administration I remain more surprised now than I was all those years ago. Perhaps naiveté would account for the fact I applied for the position without concerns that I was "too young" and lacking in sufficient experience. Nonetheless, I interviewed for the role and the superintendent and school board hired me after working two years as a teacher/principal at a 165 member K-6 school in another district.

That first leadership experience proved to be a challenging and rewarding opportunity. Maybe the best way to describe it would be to explain that it was analogous to a child learning to walk. I crawled and expended great amounts of energy disproportionate to the progress I was making. Optimism, persistence, time and effort were valuable resources that conspired to help compensate for the absence of past performance or well honed skills. I gradually gained my footing and some momentum to sustain commitment and achieve worthwhile benchmarks of success. Little by little, I eventually acquired confidence in my abilities and earned credibility by staff members who were much older, including several that had sons or daughters my age. But, I really had no indication of how I was doing as a principal. Although I met regularly with the superintendent, I had not been evaluated at all.

I finally made an appointment to meet the superintendent in quest of some feedback and any advice he might possess and offer. Following some chit-chat, I posed the question,
"Mr. Fairchild, how am I performing as a principal?"
He paused a moment before replying with a question. "Mike, did you get paid last Friday?"
"Yes, I did" was my answer.
"Well then" he offered, "Do you think we'd pay someone if they weren't doing a good job?"
"I guess not" was all I could muster in response.

End of discussion. It was as simple as that. Such was the state of assessing school leaders back then.

Work and Non-Work time

It's been said that people generally pursue opportunities during their leisure, non-work hours, that are quite different from their workplace environments and roles. For example, someone who operates in a work climate that is rich in human interactions (intense traffic with people on work teams or in a human service agency serving countless people) is likely to invest their time out of work on solitary or more relaxed activities, like hiking, gardening, relaxing and listening to music, photography.... Conversely, someone who spends eight hours confined at work in a cubicle laboring on paperwork, phone calls and individual tasks may spend their off-work hours in a group oriented activity, like team sports or group recreational experiences, or social gatherings, like book clubs or church groups.

Naturally, this Blog perspective was intended as a general observation that is certainly not universal. However, as I examine how my work time and leisure time I have found one explanation that may support the distinctions between the two points.

Most of my decisions as a superintendent are based on long-term issues. For instance, selecting a textbook series or developing an operating budget or hiring a staff member are all decisions that represent long-term investments and do not produce immediate results. It will be years before we can categorically state that the new texts have improved achievement or the budget will further our pursuit of our mission or the staff member will positively impact performance levels of others.

On the other hand, I find myself choosing to immerse myself, or prefer to immerse myself, in activities outside of work that are much more short term, which also provide more immediate feedback. That is, there is no question after a sporting event whether you or your team were successful or not. Likewise, at the end of an exhausting day of work around the house (painting the exterior of the house, planting shrubs, fixing a broken item) you can readily assess and quantify your progress and realize a sense of achievement without having to wait months and years to determine outcomes. It's rewarding to be able to check off tasks from a to-do list and realize closure - all in one day instead of waiting on and wondering about the outcomes of decisions.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Buying Education

Here are two articles that present alarming concerns about the nature and future of public schools in our country. Please read them both and think about the potential consequences of this massive intervention by corporations in shaping educational policies and, subsequently, instructional practices.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Invest Wisely

We have successfully experienced the annual gauntlet of presenting and receiving public approval on our proposed operational budget for the school district. We have not had a budget rejected in the four years I've been leading the district. In part it can be attributed to fiscal management that seeks to balance the needs of our learners to invent their futures with supportive programs, personnel and practices - on one side of the equation, with the needs of our taxpayers to preserve their future by avoiding debilitating tax burdens that threaten to move them from the community - on the other side of the issue.

However, I feel that the significant factor in the construction of an approved district budget involves adhering to the belief that the finances of the district should not be measured in  simple terms of revenue and expenditures. Instead, leaders must think in terms of revenue and "investments." It doesn't take much thought to spend money, but it does require wisdom to invest through strategic deployment of scarce resources in areas that make a difference and leverage success.

At the conclusion of my first year as superintendent in Green Island, in response to a perception I held that we were wasting valuable resources in unfocused pursuit of improvement, I presented a short you-tube video narrated by the late singer John Denver.

The vignette shared the problem of a small village that was financially overwhelmed by the frequent occurrence of drivers carelessly driving off the curve of a road that hugs a cliff above the village. The village was compelled by its leaders to purchase more ambulances to meet the need to respond to these emergencies. It was an expensive proposition. The real answer was not spending money in ambulances to react to the problem. The real answer was to address the cause of the accidents and invest in a guardrail and other safety measures that would prove to be far less costly than ambulances.

Now, let's look well beyond the classroom and the individual school district and examine how our society may be guilty of a similar case of misguided priorities in which spending more and more is considered a remedy to a growing problem, and investing funds in preventative measures is somehow obscured.

Now, it’s a perfect example of overlooking that time worn adage of, “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” Earlier this year our Governor proposed legislation, or “floated the idea” that the state should provide low cost higher education opportunities for inmates in an effort to reduce recidivism rates that result in an extension of costs of incarceration. While there is research to support that inmates released from prison with a college diploma are more likely to distance themselves from a return to the prison, it does sound like buying more ambulances when the problem is the absence of a guardrail – or, in this case, underfunded public school systems in New York that lose support programs and preventative intervention systems which contribute to drop-outs that in turn contribute to incarceration figures that reveal a vastly disproportionate percentage of inmates without high school diplomas.

We can’t spend our way out of problems. We must improve our ability to properly and accurately analyze issues to determine cause and effect to (as Peters and Waterman stated three decades ago in In Search of Excellence) look for a difference that makes a difference, and then respond with targeted investments designed to address root causes, not symptoms.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Girl Rising

Four of our secondary level learners and I attended a special screening of the documentary film, A Girl Rising, depicting the sad plight of girls throughout underdeveloped areas of the world seeking an elusive education. The film shared the inspiring tales of several different girls who had persisted in gaining an education despite overwhelming obstacles.

There was a girl in Nepal who escaped the life of indentured servitude (beginning at age six) with the help of a determined social worker. A girl who lived on the streets of India but still managed to attend school through the commitment of her family that valued education above all else. A girl from Afghanistan who endured the horrifying constrictions of her culture (forced marriage at age eleven, childbearing soon thereafter, beatings from her husband) and insisted on seeking an education despite the threat of death for doing so. A little girl from Haiti who had attended school, only to lose hopes and dreams as a result of a devastating earthquake that destroyed her school and deprived her mom of the means to continue to pay for her education, but regained her attendance through sheer willpower. There were several other vignettes of similar confrontations with adversity by indomitable girls intent on improving their lot in life through education.

All of the stories featured in the documentary included schools that require tuition. There were no free public school programs in the countries appearing in the film. While the finances certainly represented a potential barrier, that proved the least of their worries given the myriad impediments they all faced.

Given the nature of the documentary, our school selected four girls to attend the screening along with representatives of several other Albany area high schools. There was a question and answer session following the movie which involved the producer, a man associated with a Non-Governmental Organization in Pakistan devoted to educating girls, and a young man from the region who had spent a month in India researching the subject of education for girls in that country. The resulting discussion was enriching and enlightening.

After the movie, we stopped at a restaurant and enjoyed lunch while sustaining a conversation about the meaning and value of the documentary. One question stumped us as we reflected on our shared experience. Why, in the richest and most powerful nation on earth, do we have girls in America who willingly forego a free public education by dropping out of an opportunity that girls in underdeveloped countries pursue despite incredible odds against them?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Looking Through New Eyes

French novelist Marcel Proust suggested, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." This year has enabled me the opportunity to "see with new eyes." In August we welcomed a foreign exchange student from Russia into our home for the full academic year. This has served as a valuable source of learning for me as I view experiences with new eyes.

Kids have been known to employ the following phrase to describe a perplexing situation of comparison and contrast - "The same, but different." I now find myself referring to that expression when reflecting on the result of these interactions.

Anton is a participant in the FLEX program (Future Leaders EXchange) sponsored by the United States Department of State. It is a competitive, merit based program that selects promising young men and women from candidates representing Russia and the former countries that formed the Soviet Bloc (i.e. Armenia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan…). For each student admitted to the program after essays, reference checks, and extensive interviews, there are nearly three-hundred applicants who do not meet the lofty standards. The goal of FLEX is to provide the several hundred FLEX sponsored teenagers with a year-long experience designed to expand their awareness of our culture, political structure, economy and daily life so that they can understand our country as they aspire to productive futures in their native nations.

Modern media and the reach of social networks among youth can account for the discovery that Anton arrived from Russia with much more than a passing awareness of American culture. In fact, he possesses an astounding knowledge of American music, both past and present. In addition, he was well versed in language, both formal and informal, with a surprising command of slang and cultural nuances. Yet, he was stumped by the simple and overlooked everyday items that had escaped the scope of television shows, movies, and Facebook. For instance, he looked all over the counter at an ice cream stand searching for straws without realizing he was standing right in front of the straw dispenser. He was shocked as the straw appeared after a flick of the finger on the tab that released the straw from the container. He hadn’t seen anything like it. Ah, the blind spots of the mundane that fail to attract the interest of postings on websites or exported movies and television programs.

Anton is a curious and intelligent young man (seventeen years old) with a keen interest in the distinguishing characteristics of America, particularly the rights we too often take for granted, and a surprising grasp of world affairs, which is very evident as Russian intervention in events in Ukraine unfold. He has earned my respect with his ability and willingness to sort through the complexity of issues and attempt to analyze both perspectives – that of a native Russian, and that of a Russian currently enjoying the full spectrum of freedoms routinely available in a democracy that the people of Ukraine seek as a future goal. He explores Russian media, the British Broadcasting Corporation, The New York Times, and Al Jazeera in an effort to research a balanced perspective on the dispute that threatens the tenuous status of relations between his country and NATO, the European Union, and the United States. I wish that more American teenagers were as attentive and concerned as Anton is with world news and developments. Then I am reminded of the nature of the FLEX program that identifies the best and brightest applicants to bring to our country and realize that it’s not a fair comparison.

The most pronounced difference in education between Anton’s schooling in Russia and his experience here has been one of focal points and opportunities. That is, beyond attending school six days a week in Russia, the schools in his hometown (like those of most public schools outside of the United States – we’ve previously hosted foreign exchange students from Holland and Germany) lack the breadth of social activities that exist in schools throughout America, whether large or small, affluent or poor. Specifically, he has been pleased to discover a variety of sports and extra-curricular activities on the expansive menu of American schools. He has eagerly devoured these opportunities – playing on the school soccer team and baseball team, attending many dances and meetings of the Junior Class, student council… In addition, study halls are another new experience.

It appears that Anton’s typical school day in Russia is narrower and academic oriented and involves more rote learning or recitation on an individual basis that isolates each student as they comply with rigid guidelines and find the one right answer to algorithmic problems. Attention and debate on the Common Core controversy aside, this contrasts with the focus on the group effort and the desire to promote creativity through exercises that are heuristic in nature that is the goal of public school education in much of our country.

So, while Anton has assimilated himself rather easily into the social milieu of American teenagers because of his familiarity with our widely exported pop-culture across media streams, he has had to adjust to the flexibility and accessibility of school experiences and degrees of prioritization. Though he was baffled at first by the apparent discount of all things learning as measured against his education at home in Russia, he has come to realize and appreciate the benefits accrued through the menu of social/educational experiences in American schools that promote growth in the “whole child.” The manner in which teachers provide instruction and the wide range of opportunities available to American students has been confirmed to Anton by his fellow FLEX students from abroad during his electronic exchanges with them as they encounter similar perspectives in schools sprinkled across the map of the United States.

In short, though I could write on and on about the many experiences Anton has had, and his reactions to them, it seems that the culture has been rendered permeable on levels shared by teens and therefore is more the “same,” while the way we go about our daily lives is “different.” That is to say, while Anton enjoys the same movies (he can quote from many popular films) and the same music and similar clothing styles, he does not enjoy the liberties within a truly free environment, since he will return to a country with more guarded access to media (particularly with the propaganda emerging from the Russian view of the US in light of the crisis in Ukraine) and restrictions on expression (i.e. the jailing of members of the Russian music group Pussy Riot after singing a song protesting Russian leader Vladimir Putin).

I hope Anton has learned as much from me as I have learned from him. He is a terrific young man with a promising future. I think the world would be a better place if there were more frequent cultural exchanges like this so we can all learn that in many respects, we are more alike than different.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Why do we sustain a school calendar predicated on an outdated agrarian society of planting and harvesting cycles?

Why are we still teaching subjects in high school, in which knowledge has grown exponentially (i.e. Science, History...) within the same time constraints of 7,200 minutes (40 minute periods x 180 days of school) as we did fifty years ago?

Why do we continue to organize learners in grades based on their age instead of on their abilities?

Why are legislative bodies appropriating funds for public schools in arcane distribution formulas (equally) that sustain existing achievement and opportunity gaps instead of providing money based on needs and the ability to generate revenue (equitably)?

Why are schools marching forward bearing much the same instructional infrastructures that were prevalent fifty years ago, despite the advent of technology and the growth in brain research?

Why are a small group of publishers and corporations exercising such a vast and disproportionate voice and heavy hand in the policies and paths of public education?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

False Advertising?

Despite what you read about the state increasing money through state aid to public schools, please remember that four years ago when the state faced a budget deficit they turned to school aid and introduced what they called the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GAP). Essentially, the state closed the gap in the state budget by taking away money that had been targeted to public schools in annual operating aid. In that first year Green Island lost over $500,00 in state aid. This was supposed to be a one-time only fix. Instead, 90% of the public school districts remain with lower amounts of state aid now than they had five years ago. We have already lost over $1,600,000 in state aid in the last four years because of the GAP.

We are among those school systems with less state aid than we had five years ago. So, when you read that Green Island received an increase of $143,296 in GAP restoration in budget figures announced today, it really means that instead of taking away the full $357,602 in GAP, the state is only taking away $214,307. It's not really more, it's that the state is taking away less than they originally planned.

During the 2009-10 school year we received $3,451,997 from the state. Even with what the state claims as an "increase" in funding, we are projected to receive $3,047,823 in state aid for next year. That's not an increase, that's a decrease of $404,174 compared to what we received five years ago!

Meanwhile, our budget has gone from $6,966,569 for the 2009-10 school year to $6,711,259 for the current 2013-14 school year budget. That's $255,310 less in spending compared to four years before. We have eliminated staff positions and reduced programs in response to the state cuts. Yet, the taxpayers of Green Island have seen their tax bills go UP despite school spending going DOWN - because the state aid has decreased dramatically over the same time period. The district also receives revenue from the federal government as well as PILOT payments (Payments In Lieu of Taxes) and both of these sources of funding have decreased over the years as well.

Put another way, state aid represented 50% of our budget for the 2009-10 school year and the state portion of this year's budget is only 43%. Over the same time period, the local tax levy in Green Island represented 38% of our budget for 2009-10, while the current contribution for 2013-14 is 49%. It's a reversal of financial responsibility with the state shifting the burden to the local tax payer and prompting schools to reduce staff and programs. In other words, the state is balancing their budget with pomp and glory while transferring the financial "hot potato" of funding education to the local taxpayers (in economically diverse communities that range from impoverished to very affluent), with the requirement that they remain below the artificially imposed two percent tax levy limit (a mandate that does not apply at the state level). This is a path that is destined to lead to increased disparity and inequity in opportunities for learners depending on which zip-code they live in

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Calendar Versus Reality

The persistent but subtle rays of sunshine that have penetrated the wispy cloud cover seep through the large window behind me and peer over my shoulder as I type this brief Blog entry. It's March 21st. Accordingly, it's Spring. Yet it's not the calendar that will signal the change of seasons but something else more meaningful and majestic.

The calendar factually declares that Spring has arrived, yet it's begging to have the page turned from March to April in a merciful plea for warmer weather. Winter in upstate New York has ignored the meaning of dates and the official introduction of Spring this year. Snow lingers along the side of roads in heaps that have too slowly diminished in size and gradually turned from white to brown from the splatter of sand distributed on the roads to defend against the ice. Even the most patient and understanding of citizens of the Empire State have been rendered anxiety-filled as Winter remains relentless in it's grip. Today was no exception, with temperatures this morning in the low twenties and made more troublesome with steady winds that breathed a damp, cold air into any crevice it could find in coats or houses.

I turn toward the window and look, not expecting to find what I want, compelled by hope more than anything else. No. No sign of them.

There are three bald eagles that have seasonal habitats much like New Yorker's who have grown weary and opt to live in the sunshine of Florida or South Carolina for the long winter months. While freezing temperatures slowly form a thick crust of ice that coats the Hudson River twenty-five feet behind our school building from December through February, the eagles seek the vantage point of their nests a quarter mile upriver by the hydroelectric dam that supplies the Green Island Power Authority with electricity. From their perch there they can maintain access to the fish in the area at the base of the falls that escapes the formation of ice by virtue of the constant churning of water. That source of food provides the magnificent and regal birds with sustenance during the harsh Winter months with a steady diet of fish.

Although the ice that recently covered the Hudson like an ill-fitted wig has been broken up into stubborn ice flows that resemble jagged pieces of a giant puzzle, it has not been perceived as welcoming enough for the eagles to return to their warm weather nest at the edge of Center Island, a small slip of land that sits in the middle of the river that separates the city of Troy from the village of Green Island.

Ah, when I can spot the eagles in their nest high above the water at the fringe of the mature stand of trees that climb above the floor of the island, then I can relax and be confident that Spring has finally, and really, arrived. Shortly thereafter I can take the stairs to the roof of our school and be at the same height as the eagles and watch them, hoping to catch them in flight as they soar through the sky and suddenly dive down to pounce on unsuspecting fish in a series of movements that offer an aerial ballet that few people have an opportunity to witness.

Until then, we can only bundle up, be resolute, and endure the last vestiges of Old Man Winter.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Testing 1,2,3...

Think back to your school experiences between Kindergarten and high school graduation.

What is your best memory during those years in school?

Is it solely academically related? For example, the day you won the spelling bee after all those hours of studying? Or, is it a socially or emotionally based memory, as in the great big smile your teacher displayed when you won the spelling bee, or the high fives from your classmates after the spelling bee victory?

I strongly suspect that most of readily recall those experiences that involve relationships and interactions, not periodic tables or multiplication tables. That's why I'm concerned about the present and prevailing environment in public schools that are pressed and stressed to prepare children for fill-in-the-bubble tests that bear the weight of stringent assessments under the guise of accountability.

While it may be seem counter-intuitive to the layperson for schools to invest valuable school time in recess and the arts to prepare for high stakes tests in English Language Arts and Math, I think it's counter-productive to devote disproportionately high amounts of time to those two subjects in an effort to produce higher achievement levels on those assessments. The value ascribed to those two subject areas dwarf and diminish the worth of all other subject matter, especially the arts, as well as periods considered non-academic, like recess and lunch. Think of the phrase - "You measure what you treasure." Are we reducing the focus of schools, especially at the elementary level, to all things Math and ELA?

In a related issue, the ongoing fiscal crisis that imperils public schools has caused reductions in programs and personnel. It's not uncommon to read of school districts that have been confronted with decreased revenues and tax levy caps that precipitate required budget cuts in instructional programs. All too often, these cuts are in electives at the high school level, non-mandated programs throughout the school system, and subject matter that is not tested by the state. The Arts and Physical Education are frequent victims of such decision making.

While daydreaming recently, I thought of how interesting it would be if instead of testing the knowledge of learners on the fill-in-the-bubble assessments (how much higher order thinking can we expect in questions reduced to multiple choice questions?) we instead ask the learners to be inventive and take the sheet of bubbles and create something out of it? For instance, we'd probably get some terrific leopards and giraffes from our second graders. Imagine what the seventh graders could come up with.

I once worked in a school district that tested prospective candidates for the gifted and talented program by giving them a sheet of paper that was blank except for a single, fairly small object that appeared in the middle of the paper. They were asked to create something using the object in their composition. It wasn't a question of their artistic talent but rather how creative they were, and how they could extrapolate from that single object and produce something.

Another memory I have about testing took place when I was an elementary principal in Texas serving a school with a large Spanish speaking population. The required state tests were significant challenges to children who spoke English as their second language. In one test, the children in third grade were presented with a paragraph about a little mouse who lived in an area between the walls of a house. The test instructions directed children to imagine they were the mouse and describe what they saw when they looked out of the mouse hole. One child followed the directions and explained in English that his mouse was named Jose and then he proceeded to write everything that followed in Spanish. He was not awarded any credit for his answer because it was in Spanish and it was an English Language Arts exam. Think about that for a moment. He responded appropriately to the directions and was quite creative but it was all for naught. I'm sure that if his work was translated it would be as expressive and descriptive as his English speaking peers. However, the test was not eliciting or examining creative thought but simply grammar, spelling, punctuation....

The acquisition of skills and knowledge are fundamental platforms for future cognitive endeavors and success in disciplines, but significant advances and innovations emerge as much or more from creativity and imagination. Einstein suggested that imagination is more powerful than knowledge - and that's from someone who was a giant intellect!

I am hopeful that the current philosophy on testing and accountability becomes tempered by reason and discounted by reality.



Thursday, March 6, 2014

Where Are You Going?

I experienced several philosophy classes in college and attended a summer-long institute at Harvard on educational philosophy. I also enjoy reading inspiring quotes that can serve as a guide along life's journey. That said, I often find myself referring to the great author Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) for advice.

Here's a quote from his book, Oh, The Places You'll Go.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy
who'll decide where to go.

Our school does not, and should not, tell our learners what path they could or should take in life. Instead, our purpose is focused on equipping them with the knowledge, skills and experiences that will assist them in whatever direction their journey takes. We must promote the conditions and opportunities for our learners, at all stages and ages, to sustain their dreams and nurture their hopes throughout their time with us.

Few can accurately forecast the future, whether it's measured in years or decades. Who knew thirty years ago that we would be able to immediately connect with others thousands of miles away via the Internet, or use phones (hand held phones no less) to capture immediate pictures of life events and send them on to others, or access incredible amounts of information from vast resources on the world wide web? I didn't (or else I would be routinely having lunch with people like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffet).

Instead of streamlining graduates toward specific fields of study or occupations, we have to help them construct the vehicle they need to travel to their personal goals in a rapidly changing world where 20% of the jobs of today did not even exist in the marketplace of ten years ago. I would ask any adult who has been in the workforce for more than ten years to examine their current responsibilities and determine how much they have changed in that time period due to technology or other innovations and practices.

The task of preparing learners requires a broad array of skills and experiences that should not be limited by a curriculum suffering from inadequate financial support at the state and federal levels, or a curriculum narrowed by special interest groups (near and far) or corporations intent on defining learning experiences that reflect a politically motivated focus. Most importantly, schools must prepare graduates to be life-long learners, since the world of work will continue to change at an accelerated pace across a globe that has become more and more interdependent.

Where are you going?